California is well known for its beaches and theme parks, but equally impressive are the many mountain getaways that span from the Oregon border all the way down to Big Bear Lake, just a couple of hours drive from Los Angeles. If a "cabin-in-the-woods" is in your vacation plans this summer, there are vacation rentals within an easy drive from most California cities.
One of our most recent discoveries is Shaver Lake, a little more than an hour's drive northeast from Fresno and an ideal spot to include in a Northern California vacation. The change in scenery during that short trip is dramatic, taking you from the flat farmlands near Fresno through wooded, rolling foothills and then up nearly 6,000 feet into the pine forests that surround this idyllic lake. Central Valley residents have long known that Shaver Lake is a great spot to experience the Sierras; now - judging from the area's real estate boom - people from all over California have started to catch on.
Shaver Lake is tucked between Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks and hints at the same natural beauty found in the parks. The difference is that Shaver remains largely undiscovered and therefore not quite as prone to seasonal traffic congestion. Shaver is still "off the beaten path" for vacationers who want the experience of visiting a small mountain village with just a couple of general stores and a handful of restaurants serving home-style grub. Only about 3,000 people live in the entire area.
All of this is exactly what we wanted as we set out on our own "cabin-in-the-woods" getaway. We contacted Vacation Rental Specialties to reserve a cabin meeting our specifications. With pictures to study on the internet, we were able to see exactly what kind of place we were renting, both inside and out. We wanted a true log cabin experience, but with modern conveniences - and that's exactly what we got.
We use the word "cabin" here a little loosely - our rental was really a complete vacation home built like a cabin. Almost everything was constructed of logs, all right, but the home's amenities are more modern than most people have in their primary residence. We learned that this particular "cabin" is owned by a Monterey family who uses it part of the time themselves and puts it into the Vacation Rental Specialties rental pool for much of the year.
Our rental, the "Whalen Log Cabin," was a million-dollar home with two bedrooms, a loft, 1.75 baths, dishwasher, cable TV, DVD and a washer and dryer. A 1,750-square-foot deck is the perfect place to barbecue or watch the sun set over the mountains. Out back there are plenty of pine trees reminding guests that, yes, this is the mountains and, in fact, the edge of the wilderness. These aren't exactly cheap vacations but when you consider the cost of premium hotel rooms nowadays, the rental fee of $225 a night plus a cleaning and booking fee is one of the best travel deals around.
Our family of three was swimming in extra space and, according to Bill Wingo, owner of Vacation Rental Specialties, many guests are bring another couple or family and stay for a week at a time. It's a new trend called "togethering" - sharing vacations with other family members or friends and thereby reducing rental costs while at the same time getting the chance to visit and experience new places and activities together.
According to Wingo, there also is a trend in vacation rentals now toward high-end properties such as the Whalen Log Cabin. In the business for nine years, Wingo says it was not long ago that people were just looking for a rustic getaway in the mountains - a simple cabin with few amenities but located in the wilderness. Today, guests are looking for all the extras and willing to pay extra to make their home away from home both relaxing and luxurious.
Also, guests are starting to expect the property rental firm to be more service-oriented, Wingo explained. Instead of just handing over a set of keys, property managers today also have to put on a concierge hat and do such things as make reservations for boat rentals, dinner or whatever else the guests may have planned for their stay. It used to be that guests were responsible for taking out garbage and providing bedding - nowadays, those often are among the services provided by the rental firm, although sometimes at an extra cost.
Equally important is the location of the vacation rental, and the Shaver Lake area is proving popular with active vacationers. With 23 miles of shoreline, Shaver Lake has plenty of activities to choose from including fishing, boating, water skiing, windsurfing, hiking and, in winter, all the winter sports including downhill skiing at a nearby ski area. The lake actually is part of a hydroelectric project owned and operated by California Edison. Shaver Lake was first constructed and filled in 1927 as part of the Big Creek Hydroelectric project. It was named for pioneer lumberman C.B. Shaver, who logged in the area during the late 1890s.
For many visitors, Shaver Lake actually is a jumping off point for treks further into the Sierra National Forest and two other lakes, Huntington and Edison, are nearby. Eighteen small lakes are located in the Kaiser Wilderness, just north of Huntington Lake.
In our case, we were just looking for a quiet few days "away from it all" where we could do a little hiking and soak up the local culture down in Shaver Lake's stores and restaurants. We enjoyed our steak dinner down at the Trading Post - the floor is tilted downhill in a few areas, but the big rock fireplace sets the mood perfectly.
The fireplace back at our vacation home also helped set the mood for this "cabin-in-the-woods" experience - instead of watching television like we might normally do at home, we put some games on the spacious floor in front of the crackling fire and thoroughly enjoyed a family respite from everyday life in the city.
If you're planning a Northern California vacation, you can get more information on cabin rentals at Shaver Lake by contacting Vacation Rental Specialties at (800) 730-8688 or visiting www.goshaverlake.com. Nightly rental fees are about 15 percent lower when properties are rented a week at a time. Ask about Vacation Rental Specialties' special vacation packages—they can arrange to have boats, restaurant reservations, horseback riding and many other activities scheduled for you before you arrive. Even if you have last minute travel plans, call for availability—surprisingly, there sometimes is a last-minute opening.
Other vacation rentals
As vacation rentals grow in popularity, options are now available in most popular California vacation areas. Two additional areas to consider would be:
Big Bear Lake - located just a couple hours' drive east from Los Angeles, Big Bear Lake has become one of the most popular vacation spots in California. Visitors use modern, well-maintained highways to climb to 8,000 feet where the lake is surrounded by pristine forests. The downtown area at Big Bear Lake has developed into a busy small city with dozens of restaurants and plenty of modern services including major supermarkets and large chain stores such as K-Mart. Water activities are the big draw in summer, while the downhill ski area brings visitors in winter. Hiking is popular, with many excellent trails located throughout the area. Vacation rentals are available in all shapes and sizes, some close in to the city, others located several miles out. For more information on vacation rentals in the area, contact All Seasons Resort Rentals at (800) 752-4020 or visit www.allseasonsbigbear.com.
Bodega Bay - if your idea of a "cabin-in-the-woods" is more a "villa-on-the-green," consider a vacation rental on or near one of Northern California's coastal golf courses. Or, you can rent a vacation home overlooking the spectacular ocean scenery near Bodega Bay. Many people first came to know Bodega Bay when it was featured in the Alfred Hitchcock movie, "The Birds" - and when you visit Bodega Bay, they'll never let you forget their 15 minutes of fame. But they really don't need a movie to make the area stand out - the natural beauty of Bodega's shoreline and the nearby coastal mountains offer breathtaking views in every direction. The area is an easy spot to reach and is just 60 miles north of San Francisco. Point Reyes National Seashore is nearby and there are even wineries in the area to visit. Vacation Rentals USA has a selection of California beach vacations, offering vacation homes for rent on Bodega Harbor as well as on the coast, in beach areas and on local golf courses. For more information, phone (800) 548-7631 or visit www.vacationrentalsusa.com.
(Editor's note: CaliforniaWeekend.com is California's leading source of information on getaway travel in the Golden State. Visit the site often to find the latest getaway specials, a comprehensive list of resorts and lodgings and to use the Getaway Machine travel calculator to match up your needs and preferences with exactly the right lodgings and location.)