One of the best things about living in San Francisco and the Greater Bay Area is the incredibly easy access to the wonderland of the surrounding areas. When you decide to take a day or two off to go explore, think outside the generic big-name hotel for your lodgings! Trade in your plastic-wrapped free breakfast for homemade whoopie pies. Upgrade that beige boxed room with questionable floral bedding covers for a goose down nest in redwood treetops. The quaint and semi-creepy beach towns, the storybook inspired architecture, and the tucked-away hippie eccentric mountain retreats – if you can dream it up you can probably stay there. Sometimes that feeling you crave of being a million miles away is a lot closer and less expensive than you think.

1. Mushroom Dome Cabin, Aptos

Located in the hills in Aptos right outside of Santa Cruz, this tiny little geodesic dome home is the perfect getaway for anyone looking to live out their hobbit-y utopian-society dreams. The owners have carved out a gorgeous community on their property which boasts chickens, a goat farm, tiny gnomish houses with crystal pyramid tops, and a shaded serene wooded glen. The dome itself is equipped with a loft bed that looks out onto the forest surrounding, a kitchen with all the basics, board games, tarot cards – and the owners will provide a jar of fresh goat milk if you ask. Mention that you like Bjork and they might let you into their house to watch a music video their son made for her on a homemade 3-D machine!

$110/night (weekdays). Dog friendly, sleeps 2–4, book at least a month in advance.

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2. The Andiron Seaside Inn and Cabins, Little River

Even though this gem is just off foggy Highway 1 near sleepy little Mendocino, you feel as if you’ve left civilization and landed in a cabin oasis. Reminiscent of the ’60s and ’70s, this lodge is decked out with comfy couches, a potbellied stove, and decades worth of board games, books, movies, and an assortment of snacks. The incredibly personable and generous owners even host a complimentary happy hour with home-cooked appetizers and local beer and wine, and a toast bar on weekend mornings. They also leave handwritten notes and fresh baked goodies in your room for you and your dog. There are 11 vintage-inspired cabins on the grassy, sprawling property with kitschy names like Nature, Write, and Curious, and most have wooden decks overlooking the cliffs or surrounding trees. Don’t forget to check out the secluded hot tub in the woods illuminated by Christmas lights. It feels like those big-eyed cartoon forest animals are going to come join you.

Cabins start at $109, sleep 2–3, dog friendly. Incredible homemade dinners can be delivered to your room in very creative packaging for an additional fee. I highly recommend it. Book a few weeks in advance.

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3. Redwood Treehouse, Santa Cruz Mountains, Watsonville

Live out your Swiss-Family-Robinson-meets-Ewok-Adventure-movie dreams at this magical treehouse deep in the redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains. A short walk from where you park leads to the wooden bridge and up to the house, so pack lightly. It will all be worth it once you’re inside – you’ll truly feel like you’re the last person on earth. And you don’t ever have to leave because the kitchen is stocked full of everything for all your meals, and there’s a deck with a grill that overlooks the forest, and the most kick-ass hot tub. Grey, the outdoor resident tree cat, provides company and protection. This is a place you go to rest, eat, read, explore nature, soak, and drink whiskey whilst drawing up the blueprints for your future retirement treehouse.

$125/night. Dog friendly pending approval, sleeps 2, book at least a month in advance.

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4. Hidden Villa Hostel, Los Altos Hills

I was lucky enough to grow up going to picturesque Hidden Villa Summer Camp in Los Altos Hills. And as an adult, you can enjoy the country life that this farm has to offer.  Don’t be deterred by the hostel part, you can rent a private cabin as well as dorm-style beds. Cabins are simple, cozy, and just a few steps away from a 1,600-acre fully functioning farm with animals, Mongolian yurts, overflowing flower and vegetable gardens, and eight miles of hiking trails that ribbon through the shady woods of the hills. Forty-five minutes from San Francisco and you feel like you’re in Tuscany.

Cabins sleep 2–4, book 2 weeks to 2 months in advance.
Photo by Sho Sho Smith

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5. Lemon Drop Cabin, Cazadero

As you drive through the woods in the Russian River area, you can spot the cabin’s brilliant yellow hue. This wooden lemon drop is surrounded by lush green ferns and giant moss-covered rocks. The floor-to-ceiling windows allow the afternoon light to illuminate the cozy rooms. It has a wood-burning stove, a serene patio for outdoor breakfasts, and a sauna! Although it feels remote, you’re still close to a number of wineries, breweries, and bakeries, the river and ocean, and it’s a quick walk to a shady creek. You’re also just a short drive to Stumptown Brewery, where pint-sized margaritas make it feel like Christmas morning even when you’re sunburned in the middle of July.

$159/night, dog friendly, sleeps up to 4, book about a month in advance and earlier around a holiday.

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6. Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel, Pescadero

Pescadero has a few gorgeous B&Bs, but my favorite place to stay is the Pigeon Point Lighthouse. Built in 1872, it is one of the tallest lighthouses in America – and it’s surrounded by some gorgeous and unique local beaches. There are three houses to choose from, and although I don’t usually dig hostels, a private room is also an option. All houses have nice back porches with lounge chairs, BBQs, and big kitchens. And, you’re seconds away from the best hot tub on the planet. Be sure to reserve a time so you don’t have to worry about awkward leg touching with strangers. The hot tub is built into the side of the cliffs and has an almost panoramic view of the ocean. At night you can see the waves crashing into the rocks as the rotating light of the lighthouse goes by. It’s breathtaking. It’s also hostel-cheap, so throw down the extra money for the private room – it’s worth it. While you’re in town, check out Duarte’s for cream of artichoke soup and Phipps Country Store and Farm for berry picking.

$25.50 per dorm bed or $76.00 for private rooms. You can also book dorm rooms if you’re with a big group. Book a few weeks in advance for dorm rooms and at least a month for private rooms.

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