The most consistent surf in Southern California gets supersized in December, when 20-foot waves crash onto remote Jalama beach, luring surf kayakers to the west-facing sands. But if the waves are too big, no worries: Jalama is a great place just to watch the frothy acrobatics. Pitch a tent in the 117-site, dog-friendly beachfront campground ($20; countyofsb.org/parks) and grab one of the Jalama Beach Store and Grill’s “world famous” burgers. The drive there is part of the charm: Roll south on Highway 1 from Lompoc, then take winding Jalama Road 14 miles through oak-shaded ranchland. Arrive early for a site, then stroll the 4.5-mile beach, watch the stand-up surfers and kiteboarders stake their claims, and savor a slice of California as it used to be.
The only quality that Hope Valley, 20 miles south of Lake Tahoe, shares with its northern neighbor is great snow. With aspen-studded meadows, a peaceable demeanor (Alpine County is California’s least populous), and a dearth of big resorts, the valley’s a world away from the touristy ski lodge and casino scene to the north. Family-owned Sorensen’s Resort typifies the vibe—25 Scandinavian-tidy cabins scattered among the aspens and centered around a café serving beef burgundy stew and berry cobbler at all three meals ($125; sorensensresort.com). A mile west is its sister, Hope Valley Outdoor Center, where you can work up an appetite on 60 miles of Nordic trails (rentals, $18; hopevalleyoutdoors.com). Cost of a trail pass? Free.
Stevens Pass is no secret to Seattle skiers, but few venture to the pass beyond the pass. That’s the resort’s quiet side, five miles to the east, where the Stevens Pass Nordic Center’s 17 miles of groomed trails spread into the Wenatchee National Forest, as do a few miles of snowshoe-only paths ($19; stevenspass.com). The center is something of a hotbed for biathlon (skiing and target shooting). It hosts races January 23-24, February 6-7, and March 6–7 and a clinic on January 9 ($25). Attend the clinic and you’ll score bragging rights as a certified competitor in one of the more arcane winter sports. Stevens Pass has no lodging; your best bet is to proceed to Wenatchee on the sunny east side of the Cascades.
[SAVE THE DATE: Dec. 3-6] Each year, the Whistler Film Festival competes for crowds with, well, Whistler: 5,280 feet of vertical, the largest tract of skiable acres in North America (8,171), and 402 inches of snow a year. But you can’t ski forever. Even here. Tickets are available in advance or on-site for films, ceremonies, and forums (whistlerfilmfestival.com).