Autumn evokes a wonderful sense of adventure in Scout. There’s just one problem with Scout’s adventurous plans: they’re expensive. Of course, I agree with Scout that traveling California in search of autumn foliage, lattes, and wine sounds perfect. It also sounds perfectly unattainable on a budget. Scout disagrees. According to Scout, California is full of iconic and affordable fall destinations. His “Definitive Guide to Affordable Fall Destinations” details where and how he found the best deals on the best destinations.
(Full disclosure: This story is part of our Whole40 Challenge series. Scout stuck to his $40/week budget. However, he is a benefactor of Team Frymire who bankrolls his lodging and transportation. We’ll share Scout’s budget and Team Frymire’s budget so you can compare costs and plan your own affordable fall destinations. This story does NOT include affiliate links or sponsored content. Just good, old-fashioned recommendations.)
1. Enjoy Napa’s autumn colors & wines
The Napa Valley is one of the most sought-after destinations in the world. A quick Google search for “Napa vacations” will highlight resorts, restaurants, and tasting rooms most people can afford once in a lifetime. But this is false advertising. Napa is full of boutique wineries, bakeries, coffee shops, and scenic drives that everyday people (and rabbits) like us can afford.
An hour drive on the historic Silverado Trail is always worth it. But in the fall, it’s nonnegotiable. There is, quite possibly, nothing in the world more gorgeous than vineyards in autumn.
If these pictures aren’t enough to persuade you, then maybe the savings will be. This scenic drive costs $0. We know, we know. You don’t go to Napa to soak in breathtaking autumn foliage. Then again, why wouldn’t you?
You may or may not remember the harrowing tale of four sisters lost in Napa. It’s a little something we published earlier this year. It was a cautionary tale about what not to do when you visit Napa. Fortunately, the story ended happily at Stewart Cellars. Scout was feeling nostalgic and insisted that we return to the Yountville tasting room that “saved” us earlier that year.
Think of it this way: wine tasting is an experience. Sip slowly, ask questions, and treat it like a tour. It’s not just a glass of wine.
What you may not know is that many tasting rooms (like Stewart Cellars) offer generous tasting flights and waive your tasting fee with a purchase. Before you shrug and think, “with a $100 purchase”, you should know that there are some lovely bottles of wine for $25 or $30 (like the 2018 Stewart Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc). Think of it this way: wine tasting is an experience. Sip slowly, ask questions, and treat it like a tour. It’s not just a glass of wine.
If you want the ideal experience, you must choose the ideal tasting room. Stewart Cellars is one such tasting room. Scout loves it here because the staff is friendly without any pretentious airs. As for the wine, it’s notably anchored and “clean”. We know that might sound odd for wine, but some wines are decidedly “heavy” and that heaviness leaves an unpleasant aftertaste like an overcooked roast. Scout and I can’t pretend to be wine experts, but we can tell you with confidence that the wines at Stewart Cellars showcase the real star of the show: meticulously fermented grapes. And when it comes to wine, you really can’t ask for more.
2. Bike the Golden Gate Bridge
There are few destinations more iconic than the Golden Gate Bridge. (Pretty sure that EXACT sentence appears in a million+ searches across the interweb.) The gorgeous Art Deco bridge welcomes millions of visitors a year which is cool for the bridge, but not so cool for the visitors. As a rabbit, Scout loves a good crowd. But the human traffic jam on the Golden Gate Bridge from May-August is unbearable for all species. This is why fall is the perfect time to visit the Golden Gate. There are fewer crowds and the weather is better. (Scout tip: The Bay is foggy during the summer. As much as we love Karl the Fog, he obscures the views. No offense, Karl.)
If you walk the Bridge, be prepared for a long day. It’s beautiful, but fatiguing. In contrast, a bicycle ride across the bridge is just fast enough to eclipse the sad foot soldiers and just leisurely enough to enjoy the unbelievable views across the Bay.
Alcatraz Bikes & Tours
Of course, Scout did his bicycle rental research and was exceedingly happy when he found a Groupon for the highly rated Alcatraz Bikes and Tours. Right now, the Groupon is $16.50 for one full-day bike rental (sanitized helmet, bike lock, day bag, and map included). Of course, when Scout purchased this Groupon, it was an additional 50% OFF. That’s right: this 24-hour bike rental cost $8.25/person. (Scout tip: When the Groupon says 24 hours, it means 24 hours. You can take that bike back to your hotel and return it the next day.)
If the Groupon deal passes, visit the Alcatraz Bikes and Tours website directly. They run deals constantly. We cannot overstate how impressed we were with their exceptional customer service. Scout loved this location so much that he snapped a photo of the manager, Miguel, with his wife.
3. Ride a ferry to Alcatraz Island
If you go to San Francisco, you have to go to Alcatraz Island (or so we’ve been told for the past year). This fall, Scout was exceedingly determined to visit Alcatraz and hunted for the best ferry deal.
After much research, Scout discovered that the only authorized concessioner is Alcatraz Cruises. The National Park Service manages Alcatraz and Scout doesn’t mess with the federal government (at least not publicly) so he bought Team Frymire’s authorized tickets for $39.90 each. (If you’re cringing that this is just 10 cents under our $40/week budget, you’re not alone. I confronted Scout on this, but he said he falls under the “Toddlers 4 and under are free” clause and was, therefore, technically within budget. He’s an exceedingly sneaky traveler.)
Scout booked our ferry ride for 3:15 p.m., the last day tour departure time. It was a dramatic time of day to make our mini voyage. The Bay glimmered in the afternoon light as threatening waves tossed the ferry from side to side. That ferry ride was both beautiful and bitterly cold. (Scout tip: pack a coat. Not a jacket. A coat. But please, no fur coats… out of respect.)
History at “The Rock”
Visiting Alcatraz Island or “The Rock” is both exciting and sobering. This Island is shrouded in history, myth, and ghost stories. It offers the most incredible view of San Francisco that Scout and Team Frymire have seen. It’s also a reminder of how the U.S. government mercilessly punished its traitors and “criminals”. You just can’t get around the fact that Alcatraz Island sits atop a history of sordid politics.
Politics aside, “The Rock” is home to a unique ecosystem. Birds and plant life unexpectedly flourish on the harsh landscape. (Scout says there’s a life lesson in there somewhere.) It’s an eerily beautiful place and, the rumors are true, you simply have to go.
4. Picnic & bonfire at Ocean Beach
Over the past two years, Daniel of Team Frymire mentioned beach bonfires at least a dozen times. He grew up in Southern California so we assume he just kind of lived at the beach the first 17 years of his life. Scout and I are constantly envious of Daniel’s “beach bonfire childhood” so when Daniel suggested a bonfire at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, Scout was all ears. (Puns… always puns.)
Ocean Beach is located near the Presidio and historic Crissy Field. Just getting there is a mini driving tour with great views. Once you arrive, parking is FREE. After that, you can hunt for an open fire pit. Or, you can build your own pit with wire and rocks (we don’t technically condone this).
Picnic packing list
Before you go, you’ll want to pack a few essentials:
- dry firewood (free if you know someone with a lumber pile)
- newspaper for kindling
- lighter/matches (please tell us you own one of these)
- beach blanket/towels (don’t pack your Instagramable favorites… this is a fire and they’re bound to get burn holes)
- bottled water/flask/cider/canteen (again, we’re not technically recommending that you bring alcoholic beverages to a beach but we’re also not technically telling you how to live your life)
- hot dogs and buns
- s’mores fixins’ (but please avoid those weird, square marshmallows that are a thing now…)
- skewers or an old hanger fashioned like an aluminum weapon
- napkins or your t-shirt (why complicate things?)
(Scout tip: For picnic provisions, Scout recommends Trader Joe’s. They’ll have everything you need and you can try Team Frymire’s favorite organic grass-fed uncured beef hot dogs. Just thank us later… Oh, and put in a good word for us at TJ’s.)
Go at sunset
Beach bonfires are fun any time of the day, but it kind of goes without saying that they’re best at night. Watching the sun set as the fire crackles and you sip your water, makes for a pretty perfect autumn night.
(Scout tip: Extinguish your fire with water. Please never extinguish your fire with sand because some unsuspecting person will step on the smoldering, unmarked pile. Stick to the old adage: leave no trace.)
5. Hike & grab a beer in South Lake Tahoe
If you haven’t been to South Lake Tahoe, you haven’t seen a Northern California autumn. Despite popular perception that it’s all beaches and cities up here, California is wildly scenic. If you’re anywhere near Northern California or Nevada, it’s worth the drive to South Lake Tahoe (or “Tahoe South” as the cool kids call it).
Eagle Falls Trail
Scout’s friends recommended the Eagle Falls Trail for a 1.5 hour, moderate hike. This hike will take you over streams and up a steady incline toward the falls. Along the way, you can take in the blazing autumn colors against dark evergreen backdrops. (Scout tip: Check out All Trails for more info and driving directions.)
Emerald Bay Lookout
Scout’s friends also recommended Emerald Bay. In their words, “you don’t leave Tahoe without seeing Emerald Bay”. We’re glad we took their advice. The view from the lookout was extraordinary. (Scout tip: The lookout is perfect for those who want an incredible view without the hike. Scout thinks hiking to the view is the most fun, but understands that hiking uphill may not always be ideal.)
Sidellis Brewery & Restaurant
Before and after the hike, everyone will need a warm meal with a solid craft beer. After all, hikers need electrolytes and protein for their trek. Whether it’s lunch, dinner, or a post-hike recharge, Sidellis Brewery and Restaurant has you covered. Their “OckTAHOEfest” beer is smooth, light, and refreshing. We also recommend their brats, burgers, and nachos. Maybe try all three! You did just hike a few miles uphill. (Scout tip: Go to Tahoe with friends. The laid-back breweries and abundant hiking trails make it the perfect place for groups.)
6. Eat & drink at Apple Hill
At last, we arrive at Apple Hill: a collection of farms, markets, and orchards. It’s an idyllic area bursting with autumnal warmth and happiness. It’s also bursting with crowds, lines, and traffic jams. But it’s all worth it for hard cider and the best donuts you’ll ever eat.
Boa Vista Orchards
After much research, Scout discovered that the historic Boa Vista Orchards is supposedly the best orchard on Apple Hill. Ready for everything apple, Scout, Team Frymire, and our loyal friends braved the crowds in search of the perfect autumn afternoon.
It should please you to know that wine tastings and beers are $5.50 here. This means that you can have a drink (or two) without breaking the budget. It also means you can try one of each. We tried the hard cider and apple-blackberry wine.
If the prospect of apple-blackberry wine isn’t enough, you should know that you can pair said wine with the best cake donuts you’ll ever eat. We know that “best” is a strong word, but seriously, these cake donuts are the best. They’re freshly baked, a touch crispy, and lightly sweet. In a way, we’re a little disappointed. We just ate the best cake donuts of our life. Where do we go from here?
I guess we go back for more.
That’s a legitimate plan too since Boa Vista Orchards is open 363 days a year. With that in mind, you might be asking why we braved crowds, lines, and traffic jams on a weekend in October when we could stroll up there literally any other day (except Christmas and New Years) without crowds, lines, or traffic jams? Because this is what people do in the autumn. They fight their better sense and overwhelming crowds to eat apples at apple orchards in October. It’s just what people do.
And you should do it too.
7. Try craft beers in Winters, CA
Scout’s last recommendation is nestled on an unassuming back road in cozy Winters, CA. If you aren’t familiar with Winters, it’s essentially a Hallmark movie. It’s one of those towns you believe only exists in the minds of sentimental movie producers. Then you go and realize that your grandma was right about the wholesome places of days gone by.
But even the perfect people of wholesome Winters, CA, need a place to relax after a long day. Green River Brewing & Taproom is their place.
Green River Brewing & Taproom
When you visit Green River Brewing, you’re among friends. Literally. It feels like everyone in there knows each other. It’s like the whole neighborhood went out for a beer and brought their kids. It’s a welcoming environment brimming with craft beers and live folk music. If we’re honest, the ambiance feels like Hobby Lobby’s fall decor aisle with some American flag placards thrown in for good measure. But we kind of love that here.
Best of all, Green River is a self-serve taproom. You just swipe, pour, and sip. At the end of the night, hand your card in and settle up with your bartender/neighbor/new best friend up front.
When we went, we poured ourselves a beer flight and ordered some freshly cut fries. There are few things in life better than craft beer with fresh fries (or so our doctor tells us).
And that’s the last of Scout’s affordable fall destinations. He wanted to end someplace cozy and approachable. According to Scout, people over-complicate adventures and overlook the destinations hidden in their own town. (If you ask me, he’s a touch overly confident about his tastes and recommendations.)
As previously agreed upon, we list Scout’s budget and Team Frymire’s budget, respectively. Scout came in at just under $40. Team Frymire’s budget was a bit more realistic, but still very affordable for adventures at seven vacation destinations.
- Silverado Trail scenic drive: FREE
- Stewart Cellars wine tasting: FREE (tasting fee waived… That’s not why we love them, but we appreciate the generous gesture.)
- Biking the Golden Gate Bridge: FREE (Scout rode with Anna)
- Alcatraz Island ferry and audio tour: FREE (persons/rabbits under 4 years old are free)
- Bridge trolls/tolls: $6
- Beach bonfire picnic: $5 (Scout’s contribution)
- Hiking in Tahoe: FREE
- Sidellis beer brat and brew: $12
- Apple Hill wine tasting and donuts: $7.48
- Green River beer flight: $7
- Grand total: $37.48
Team Frymire’s budget
- Silverado Trail scenic drive: FREE
- Stewart Cellars wine tasting: $30/person
- Biking the Golden Gate Bridge: $8.25/person
- Alcatraz Island ferry and audio tour: $39.90/person
- Bridge trolls/tolls: $12 (total for all tolls)
- Beach bonfire picnic: $10
- Hiking in Tahoe: FREE
- Sidellis beer brat and brew: $12/person
- Apple Hill wine tasting and donuts: $7.48/person
- Green River beer flight and food: $20/person
- Grand total: $139.63 (individual) or $257.26 (couple)
Affordable Fall Destinations
Scout’s “Definitive Guide” is an early Christmas gift from Scout to you. Why the sentimentality? Because Scout believes everyone deserves a little more adventure and those adventures are a little more attainable when you visit affordable places.
Readers, you’re the people (and rabbits) that inspire us. Where are you headed on your next adventure? Leave us a comment with your applause or even your objections. Either way, we hope to meet you and maybe even adventure with you someday soon.
Cheers to autumn, friends, and affordable fall destinations!