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Face it: Adventure, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. For some, a walk in the woods is a great adventure. For others, it takes something a little more extreme—say, jumping out of a plane at 13,000 feet—to get their blood pumping and their hearts racing. We kept this in mind when crafting our guide to summer adventures in the Sacramento region and beyond, seeking something fun for everyone, from couch potatoes to daredevils. So this summer, get out of your comfort zone and try something new. We double-dog dare you.
UP IN THE AIR
What: Zeppelin ride over Sacramento, San Francisco Bay or Silicon Valley
Details: See the sights while cruising at 42 mph from 1,000 feet up
Cost: Starts at $199
Fear factor: Extremely low. This is one smooth, quiet ride. (Tours are canceled if winds are too gusty.)
Contact info: Airship Ventures: (650) 969-8100; airshipventures.com
What: Hot-air balloon ride from Rancho Murieta
Details: Drift at 20 mph over the Cosumnes River and surrounding foothills
Fear factor: Minimal. There’s virtually no sense of movement; it’s more like the planet scrolls underneath you.
Contact info: Sky Drifters Ballooning: (888) 359-0484; skydrifters.com
What: Sky diving from Yolo County Airport
Details: Attached to an instructor, you jump out of a plane at 13,000 feet; there’s a minute of free-fall before your parachute deploys.
Fear factor: Who are we kidding? Getting out of the plane is scary stuff—but free-falling is a blast.
Contact info: SkyDance SkyDiving: (530) 753-2651; skydanceskydiving.net
Explore the american river parkway with a naturalist
Ever hiked along the American River Parkway and wondered, “What’s the name of that butterfly?” or “Is that plant poisonous?” Wonder no more. Naturalist 4 Hire is a local company that provides a certified naturalist to take you on a custom tour of the parkway. Founder Traci Barsuglia creates an itinerary based on your interests: plants, animals, birds, butterflies, history, whatever. “There’s so much wildlife out there,” says Barsuglia. “We have deer, beaver, river otter, coyotes, turkeys, lizards, turtles, you name it.” Barsuglia and her partner, Lia Robertson, also do tours of local parks such as Capitol Park, William Land Park and Old Sacramento State Historic Park. The cost is $105 per hour. For reservations, call (916) 617-1383 or go to naturalist4hire.com.
Go on a hawk walk
Hawks are among nature’s most majestic creatures. At West Coast Falconry in Marysville, you can get up close and personal with these amazing birds on a hawk walk. Owner Kate Marden will outfit you with a leather glove and introduce you to her two hawks, Mariposa and Diego. Then you’ll set off on foot into the surrounding foothills, where Marden will explain the sport of falconry as the raptors soar overhead. Be prepared—the hawks will certainly land on your gloved hand. “They both really like people,” says Marden. “They’ll fly to anyone with a glove.” A two-hour hawk walk costs $100; call (530) 749-0839 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay at a working farm
“Farmstays” are all the rage in Europe. They’re not as common here in the United States, but for $80 a night, you can stay at Casa de la Pradera, a European-style bed-and-breakfast and organic farm in Fiddletown, not quite 50 miles east of Sacramento in Amador County. Farmer Alice Kaiser grows row crops such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and squash for sale at farmers markets and to CSA subscribers. During your stay, you can pitch in with the chores: harvesting crops, watering plants, feeding the chickens and collecting their eggs. “You can do as much or as little as you want,” says Kaiser. “Or you can just sit under the oaks and enjoy the country peace and quiet.” For reservations, call (209) 245-6042.
Take Your Clothes Off
Bet you didn’t know the Sacramento region is home to the largest nudist resort in the West. At Laguna del Sol (lagunadelsol.com) in Wilton, you can swim, sunbathe, play tennis or volleyball, barbecue, or just hang out and relax in the buff. If you’re a first-timer, you’ll get a golf-cart tour of the 250-acre grounds. (Yes, you and your guide will be clothed.) Then, you’ll shed your clothes and your inhibitions in order to enjoy the natural charms of this family-friendly resort. A one-day pass is $28 for adults, free for kids. The best part? No tan lines.
Learn to scuba dive
The 411: Sport Chalet (2401 Butano Drive) offers monthlong diving classes. For $410, you get three three-hour interactive workshops, three three-hour dives in the store’s 12-foot-deep pool and two days of open-water dives in the ocean.
The Payoff: You end up with PADI certification, which allows you to fill up air tanks, rent scuba gear and go diving in oceans worldwide.
The 411: If you’re into extreme adventures, this is the sport for you. Harnessed to a kite, you ride a board across the water, using the wind as a power source. “It’s about as adventurous as it gets,” says Nathaniel Lincoln, owner of Edge Kiteboarding (edgekiteboarding.com) at Sherman Island in the Delta. “It’s a very physical, active sport.”
The Payoff: A big rush. The kite can take you 20 to 30 feet in the air.
Take a white-water-rafting trip
The 411: Whitewater Adventures (gotwhitewater.com) offers self-guided, two-day trips on Upper Cache Creek. You do the work during the day; at night, the staff cooks your dinner and throws a disco party. Cost: $149 per person.
The Payoff: An exhilarating ride down Class 3 rapids.
THE RIVER WILD
Fish for trophy rainbow trout
Fishermen come from all over the world to fly-fish on the Lower Sacramento River. In July and August, they’re angling for trophy rainbow trout, which can get as big as 13 inches long and 10 pounds. “They’re large and prolific,” says professional fishing guide Kirk Portocarrero (sacriverguide.com), who runs fly-fishing trips out of Redding. If you’re a novice, he’ll show you the ropes and supply all the equipment, then take you on the river in a drift boat. Just cast your line and start hauling in the fish. “When conditions are good, we can catch 20 to 50 fish a day,” says Portocarrero. The cost: $175 for a day of fly-fishing.
Stay on a houseboat
Fed by the San Joaquin, Sacramento and Mokelumne rivers, the California Delta has more than 1,000 miles of navigable waterways. One of the best ways to see this regional treasure is by houseboat. Operating from Paradise Point Marina outside Stockton, Seven Crown Resorts (sevencrown.com) rents three models: the Crownship (sleeps six), the Summit (sleeps 10) and the Grand Sierra (sleeps 13). Prices range from $1,050 to $2,250 for three days, two nights. Piloting a houseboat isn’t hard, says Seven Crown employee Chris Aldine, but parking and anchoring can be tricky: “When somebody comes in here with no boat experience, I think, ‘Wow, you’re brave.’”
ADVENTURES IN MIDTOWN
Who says you can’t have an adventure in the heart of the city? Midtown, Sacramento’s hippest neighborhood, offers all manner of civilized adventures, many of them related to food, drink and entertainment.
At Lounge on 20 (1050 20th St.), you can sip a glass of absinthe, which until three years ago could not be sold legally in the United States. The anise-flavored, highly alcoholic spirit was once mistakenly believed to be a hallucinogenic that caused drinkers to go mad. Trust us, you won’t go crazy, but you might have a hard time choosing from among the five brands on offer ($9–$15).
You may need that drink if you decide to take an improv class at Sacramento Comedy Spot (1050 20th St.). The drop-in classes, held Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7 p.m., start with a brief warm-up; within 10 minutes, you’re on stage acting out unscripted scenes with other students. The cost: $25 per month for as many classes as you can fit into your schedule.
If that’s not exciting enough for you, sign up to make your own wine at Revolution Wines’ new location (2831 S St.). For $4,800, winemaker Craig Haarmeyer will walk you through the months-long process, from sourcing the grapes and overseeing the crush to selecting the barrel, creating a label and bottling the wine.
And what’s wine without cheese? Through her company C’est le Cheese (cestlecheese.com), Jody Lagorio holds cheese-tasting classes at the L Street Lofts. In honor of Bastille Day, the July 14 class will feature French cheeses paired with French wines ($50).
On Second Saturdays this summer, Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates (1801 L St.) will serve $7 ice cream sundaes with a twist. Forget boring chocolate and plain old vanilla: July 10’s sundae will be made with Earl Grey and buttermilk ice creams, toffee-soaked cake, fresh Bing cherries and black sesame seed toffee crumble; the Aug. 14 version (pictured here) will feature lavender and lemon custard ice creams, crushed blackberries, lemon verbena raw-milk French toast and whipped crème fraîche.
THRILLS, CHILLS AND SPILLS
Drive a racecar
At Jim Russell Racing Drivers School at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma (jimrussellusa.com), you learn to drive an open-wheel race car—the kind the pros drive—at superhigh speeds. The half-day ($995) and full-day ($1,895) programs start with a “chalk talk” in the paddock, where an instructor goes over the basics of braking and downshifting. Then you’re outfitted with safety gear and taken to the track, where you climb into a Lola Formula 3 race car. Before long, you’re flying around the 2.52-mile racetrack at 100 mph, with 3Gs of downforce on the turns. “You’re going a hundred miles an hour, but it feels like 500,” says Meredith Crotty, the track’s marketing manager. “It’s a very challenging course.” The thrill, of course, is in the danger, says Crotty: “This is no hot-air balloon ride.”
Do the Death Ride
If you’re a cyclist—a serious cyclist, that is—there are few events to compare with the Tour of the California Alps (deathride.com), a one-day, 129-mile ride that begins and ends just outside Markleeville, south of South Lake Tahoe off Highway 89. Known as the Death Ride, it’s a brutal test of skill, stamina and determination that requires you to climb through 15,000 feet of gorgeous scenery as you push yourself (and your bike) over five treacherous mountain passes. The July 10 event is sold out, but you can snag a ticket by showing up the night before, when organizers release spots made available by no-shows. Complete the grueling ride, and you get a pin and lifetime bragging rights. FYI, this is a ride, not a race. “You’re competing against yourself, not other riders,” says Teresa Burkhauser, the tour’s executive director. “It’s for the adventurous soul willing to take on five mountain passes.”
Rent a Harley
What? You don’t own a hog? No worries. You can still cruise the highway on a Harley this summer, thanks to Iron Steed Harley-Davidson in Vacaville (ironsteedhd.com). It’s the only Harley deal-ership in the region that rents the massive motorcycles. The store has 28 new, well-maintained bikes for rent. For $99 a day, you can tear up the road on your borrowed Harley. But make sure to call ahead and reserve a bike; they go fast, especially in the summer months.
Enroll in trapeze school
If you’ve ever yearned to fly through the air with the greatest of ease, 49’er Flying Trapeze (530-621-3830) is for you. Located about 13 miles outside Placerville, this trapeze school is operated by Christy Power, who worked as a circus performer back in the ’70s. Now she teaches others to fly on a trapeze, using a flying rig that she set up on her property. “It’s the real deal, like you’d see at Ringling Bros.,” Power says. Each session lasts three to four hours and costs $59. By the end of the first class, you’ll be hanging upside down by your knees from the flying bar. Isn’t it scary to be flying 25 to 30 feet above the ground, praying that your partner will catch you? “Yes,” admits Power. “But it’s an awesome rush.” And once you get a taste of flying, she adds, you’ll be hooked. “We have a saying: Forget about the fear. Worry about the addiction.”
The Sacramento region offers a multitude of exciting activities for pint-size explorers and their parents. Spend a night at the Sacramento Zoo through the Family Overnight Safari program (saczoo.com). Show up at 6 p.m. with your own tent and sleeping bag, and set up camp near the reptile house. Meanwhile, the zoo staff prepares a spaghetti dinner, organizes a campfire and leads you on a nighttime tour that allows you to catch a glimpse of rarely seen nocturnal animals such as the hyena and the sloth. In the morning, staffers serve breakfast, then take you on another walk through the zoo. The cost is $60 for adults, $56 for children 4–17.
Want to bring your kids’ fourth-grade history lessons to life? Go gold panning in Jamestown’s Woods Creek. Gold Prospecting Adventures (goldprospecting.com) will teach you everything you need to know to prospect for the shiny stuff of legend. Best of all: You keep what you find. “It’s definitely a gold-bearing creek,” says coordinator Beverley Gulseth. “We hardly ever have anyone go home with nothing. Occasionally, someone will even find a gold nugget.”
Trail Mix (116B I St.), which sells kids’ outdoor gear and educational toys, offers a free scavenger hunt of Old Sacramento. Go to the store’s website (blog.trailmix.net) and download a map that takes you to local landmarks such as Eagle Theatre and the Old Sacramento Schoolhouse. After you visit the spots on the map, answer 10 questions related to your tour. (Sample: The Pony Express Trail connected Sacramento to ________.) Answer all the questions correctly and you can claim a free prize at the store.
Introduce your kids to geocaching, a high-tech treasure hunt using GPS equipment to find hidden containers (called geocaches). There are hundreds of geocaches in the Sacramento region, all of them located outdoors, many along the American River Parkway. Typically, a geocache is a waterproof container that holds a logbook and, sometimes, small toys or trinkets for trading. For a list of caches in the area, go to geocaching.com and plug in your ZIP code.