If it weren't for summer camp, I would have never learned how to make a daisy wreath or shoot a bow and arrow. Both surfing and sewing would be foreign to me, and I'd never have starred in Annie: The Musical either. But all of these things did happen — thanks in large part to my parents, who were too busy to watch my sister and me during the week, and dumped us off at summer camp instead — and I'm better for it.
If you missed out on creating your own fond memories of summer camp as a youth, here's your chance to make up for it. There are a number of camps geared toward grown-ups hoping to recreate those halcyon days (and an estimated one million adults attend them each year, according to the American Camp Association).
Whether you're craving a bit of nature, a bite of campfire-roasted s'mores, or a night's rest in a bunk bed, there are plenty of opportunities around the Bay Area to let your inner kid out this summer. Here are our top five picks.
June 14 – June 19
707-984-6507; $725 for six days or $145 per day
For 30 years, this 35-year-old sleepaway camp — founded by hippie cultural icon Wavy Gravy, who is one of the hosts — has hosted getaways for adults in addition to children and teens that last anywhere from a weekend to six days. (It's your choice how long you stay.) Nestled in a black oak-studded campsite in Mendocino County, campers sleep in teepees, eat meals al fresco on picnic tables, and perform talent shows and plays on the rainbow-backdropped outdoor stage. Each camper gets to choose their own activities, whether it's walking on stilts, performing magic, weaving, making origami, or flying in the air with aerial acrobatics. Expect to see a lot of campers in costume — even some clowns — among attendees ranging in age from 18 to 80.
Culinary Institute of America
2555 Main St., St. Helena
If you've ever wanted to improve your culinary skills and food knowledge, now's your chance. The Culinary Institute of America offers boot camps ranging from two to five days for both experienced chefs and novices. Brush up on cooking methods and techniques, such as sauce-making, soup and stock production, and the importance of station organization, with the Institute's four-day basic training camp — or learn about sustainable meat and seafood practices, organic produce, and preservation techniques in their farm-to-table series. If you'd rather learn more about the region, take the Flavors of Wine Country course, by the end of which you'll be able to distinguish an Oakville Cabernet from a Rutherford. The Mediterranean camp will have you cooking pane Sardo and tagine of lamb like a pro, while the pastry classes will have you whipping up meringues, ganaches, and mousses in no time. Plus, you get more than just knowledge and experience from these boot camps: For each course you enroll in, you'll receive two chef's uniforms (replete with a jacket, pants, and neckerchief).
Camp No Counselors
Ages 45+: Sept. 29-Oct. 2
All ages: Oct. 7-Oct. 10
OK, so this camp isn't happening until the fall — and it also doesn't have counselors — but it's about the closest thing to having a Wet Hot American Summer experience as you'll get. Located east of Fresno in Sanger, with views of the Sierras, you'll sleep in bunk beds in cabins — don't worry, you can request to bunk with certain friends or register as a group to ensure that you're together — and eat gourmet camp-style food in a mess hall. (Think BBQ baby back ribs, rosemary skirt steak, fish tacos, and corn on the cob.) Activities range from archery, kayaking, dodgeball, and Slip 'N Slides to talent shows, tie-dyeing, hiking, and friendship-bracelet-making — but perhaps the best part of this camp is the never-ending assortment of booze. Bloody Marys and mimosas are served for breakfast, beer and wine for lunch and dinner, and then there's an open bar in the evenings (which is also when the DJs and bands start playing). So if you're feeling a bit too chained-down with your grown-up life in the city, this is your chance to let loose and act like a kid again, while getting hammered — at least for the weekend.
Crown Memorial State Beach, Alameda
For those looking to have a more active summer camp experience, Boardsports School offers weekly lessons in kiteboarding, windsurfing, and stand-up paddle-boarding. The classes are held at Crown Memorial State Beach — one of Alameda's best-kept secrets — where the water is warm and clean and the surf is shallow. While most of the lessons take place in Alameda, there is also a beginning kiteboarding class held on Wednesday nights at Crissy Field in S.F. Don't worry about skill level, as most of the classes are introductory courses and you'll receive plenty of guidance and tips on how to wrangle the wind and glide over the wave like a pro.
If you've ever wanted to recreate that I Love Lucy scene where Lucy stomps grapes in Italy to make wine, here's your chance — and you don't even have to take a plane. Every year, the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission holds a “grape camp” during the harvest season in September, where for three days, you'll learn how to make wine from start to finish, including picking grapes and crushing them into juice. Instead of bunk beds, you'll sleep at Vintners Inn, located on a 92-acre plot in the Russian River Valley. Throughout your stay, you'll visit as many as 10 different vineyards and learn essential sommelier skills, such as food pairings and how to blend your own wine. Though you might return home with a slightly elevated blood alcohol content, just think of all the handy new information you'll be able to show off at your next dinner party.