Written by Bill Zavestoski
Bundle up and hit the road. These local winter wonderlands in the Bay Area are full of adventure—and are less than a tank of gas away.
Union Square (corner of Geary and Powell)
San Francisco, CA 94102
Why Go? Take to the ice in the heart of the city and contribute to a good cause: a portion of rink proceeds benefits the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco and the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department.
Must Do: Purchase skate tickets online to avoid lines.
Insider Tip: A new app provides special offers, incentives and a “virtual queue” that enables skaters the freedom to explore Union Square while waiting for their turn to skate.
The Fine Print: The rink operates from 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. daily through Jan. 20. The 90-minute skating sessions start on every even hour. Admission is $11 for everyone 9 and older; kids 8 and under pay $7. Skate rental is $5 though you may bring your own.
19749 Boreal Ridge Rd.
Soda Springs, CA 95728
Why Go? This trip is doable in under three hours since it's just off the I-80. Along with the Playland Tubing runs that the entire family can enjoy, the resort offers skiing and snowboarding, with some of the lowest rates in the Donner-Tahoe area.
Must Do: Without compromising safety, have each family member record a video clip of one of their runs so the experience can be relived for years to come. Maybe tuck that phone cam into a knit cap?
Insider Tip: Get there around the 10 a.m. opening and access the tubing area from the far west end of the Boreal parking lot. Your admission includes a tube (no personal ones allowed) and use of the “moving carpet” lift service. Though there is no age minimum, children must ride their own tube.
The Fine Print: It's $26 for a two-hour session Sunday-Thursday and $29 Friday, Saturday and holidays (including Dec. 25-Jan. 4). Open 10 a.m.–4 p.m. daily, with extended hours to 8 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, and holidays.
19320 Donner Pass Rd.
Norden, CA 95724
Why Go? Donner Ski Ranch is the place to go if you're new to the sport. The family-run operation has a learning center that caters to newbies and can have you on the slopes skiing or snowboarding after just a 90-minute lesson.
Must Do: Reserve a few hours for the Tubing Hill if you're just looking to have some fun in the snow. A $20 ticket gets you a tube and access to the hill and its moving carpet to the top for a two-hour period.
Insider Tip: Save money with a combo “Learn to Turn” package that includes equipment, a beginner's group lesson and a beginner's lift ticket. It's just over $50 for children 7 to 12, $60+ for teens 13-17 and under $70 for those 18 and older.
The Fine Print: Full-day (9 a.m.-4 p.m.) lift tickets range from $10 to kids 6 and younger to $49 for adults and there are half-day (12:30 p.m. - 4 p.m.) packages as well. The rental fees for skis and snowboards include boots but not helmets.
Justin Herman Plaza
San Francisco, CA 94101
Why Go: “It's lovely skating outdoors in the fresh air, either during the day, or at night, surrounded by the lights of the Embarcadero Center,” said one Yelp commenter. The shopping and dining options are also a plus.
Must Do: Check out the great eats at the nearby Ferry Building, and if you're planning to skate on a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday, the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market is open until 2 p.m.
Insider Tip: Private-party bookings and rainy weather may mean that some sessions (sometimes the entire day) will be unavailable, so call ahead if you're planning on skating at a specific time.
The Fine Print: The rink operates through January 6. Hours are 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with 90-minute sessions starting at every even hour.