In a mere matter of days, the rush and crush of the festive fray shall pass, and we will move into that limbo-like week flanked by the heavy holiday hitters of Christmas and New Year's. It's a time when many companies close for the break, the kids are home from school and -- with luck -- you're on vacation yourself. This week is a great opportunity for day trips, maybe even an overnighter, so you can reacquaint yourself with the Bay Area's beauty and history and ponder the year ahead. Here are some suggestions:
Rise above it all
Mount Diablo, Contra Costa County
It's said the best viewing of the year from Mount Diablo's 3,849-foot summit is often on the day after a winter storm. Drive the windy road to the top, then look to the west beyond the Golden Gate Bridge to the Farallon Islands, southeast to the James Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton, south to Mount Loma Prieta in the Santa Cruz Mountains, north to Mount St. Helena in the Coast Range and still farther north to Lassen Peak in the Cascades. North and east of Mount Diablo, the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers meet to form the twisting waterways of the Delta. To the east beyond the Central Valley, the crest of the Sierra Nevada seems to float in space. Some visitors have even spotted Half Dome on a particularly crisp day. The Summit Visitor Center is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Its tower was constructed during the late 1930s of fossiliferous sandstone blocks quarried in the park. Details: www.parks.ca.gov.
History on a Segway
Once off the short ferry ride from the East Bay, San Francisco or Tiburon, you'll find Angel Island offers something for everyone -- spectacular Bay views, wildlife, hiking and biking along trails through quiet woods, scrub bush, thickets of hazelnut and sandy beaches. Plus there are historical sites -- military garrisons and compounds from every major conflict dating back to the Civil War, and Angel Island's Immigration Station, the first stop for millions of Pacific Basin, Asian and Russian immigrants entering the United States in the early 1900s. A fun way to check out the island is by zipping around on a Segway. Tours are $68 for two hours, starting with a short training session to teach you how to ride a Segway, then a guide leads a group along the island's Perimeter Road. There's also an hourlong tram tour for $15. (Note, from now to February, tours are only available on weekends. Check the website, www.angelisland.com, before you go.)
Marine life, plus a ghost
Moss Beach, near Half Moon Bay
Explore the tide pools and see sea urchins, sea stars, harbor seals, mollusks and even the elusive red octopus along the rocky shore of the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve at Moss Beach. Then make your way up the cliffs to the Moss Beach Distillery to learn about its salacious history as a speakeasy during Prohibition -- even Dashiell Hammett used to frequent the place and used it as a setting for one of his detective stories. Plus, there's said to be a ghost, the Blue Lady, who still roams the grounds. Bundle up under a plaid blanket on the deck overlooking the waves, swill down a favorite beverage and munch on crispy calamari. Details: www.fitzgeraldreserve.org; www.mossbeachdistillery.com.
Japantown, San Jose
Walk the streets of one of the last three historic Japantowns in the country, near downtown San Jose just off North First Street between Taylor and Empire. Granite benches around town provide a timeline back to the origins of the neighborhood, and the Japantown Mural Project, on a plot of undeveloped land, is a celebration of the area through works by local artists, covering the chain-link fencing with large mesh panels of color. Explore the art, history and cultural exhibits at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose to learn about immigrant families who settled here in the early 1900s. Then check out shops with Japanese embroidery, temari and origami. A stop at the San Jose Tofu Co. on Jackson Street is a must for fresh homemade tofu -- be sure to try the silken tofu with ginger sugar syrup. Then if you stay for the evening, grab some sushi at Kubota Restaurant and sing your karaoke heart out at 7 Bamboo. Details: www.jtown.org.
Giving and getting
Pelican Inn's Boxing Day, Muir Beach
Every Dec. 26, the Pelican Inn, a charming English restaurant and pub out along Highway 1 at Muir Beach, celebrates Boxing Day, also known to those of the British Commonwealth as St. Stephen's Day. Traditionally, boxes and gifts were bestowed on that day to those less fortunate. And at the Pelican, guests are encouraged to bring tins of food or gifts meant to be passed on to charities. Plus it's just a lovely post-holiday event with music and food. They don't take reservations that day, but pub fare items will be available from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Even if you don't go on the 26th, this chilly winter's week is the perfect time to grab a mug of cider and tuck in by the huge fireplace in the dining room. The inn is not far from Muir Woods, Stinson Beach and other attractions. Details: www.pelicaninn.com.
Follow Angela Hill on Twitter@giveemhill.