Prevent frozen pipes. Broken and frozen pipes, and the resulting damage, are the second leading cause of home insurance claims in the United States—following only hurricanes. Guard against these mishaps by insulating all exposed pipes and setting your thermostat no lower than 55 degrees when you’re away. Also, make sure you know how to turn off your main water line quickly if necessary.
Take a ride on a holiday train. Put on your pajamas and head to Sunol, California, to hop aboard Niles Canyon Railway’s festive Train of Lights. Visit the snack bar to munch and marvel at the lights and music as you ride in the railway’s antique coaches and open cars for an hour-long chug.
Inventory your winter gear. Your cold-weather wardrobe has been gathering dust for a year (or more if you didn’t venture out much last winter), and now is the perfect time to shake out the cobwebs to see what still works—and what doesn’t. Separate clothes and accessories you’ll use this winter and donate what you no longer need.
Pack it up. Save your outdoor furniture from rain damage by covering it or putting it away for the season. Store it in a dry place, like the garage, to keep it fresh for next year.
Check out a good book. Gather around the fireplace and crack open a family-friendly read. It's a great opportunity to enjoy some quality bonding time and spark creativity in the minds of the little ones around you.
Prepare for winter driving. A new season brings new road conditions. Make sure your tires are in good shape, windshield wipers work well, and headlights are clean and bright. Run through our winter weather tips.
Watch for whales. Head to the coast to see one of nature’s great spectacles. Starting in November, you can spot whales migrating south from the arctic to warmer waters off Mexico’s Baja peninsula. Catch gray whales breaching along Marin County’s Point Reyes National Seashore, or join a whale-watching tour in Monterey Bay to spot humpbacks.
Have a peaceful season. One in three adults feels anxiety around the holidays, according to the American Psychological Association. Fend off stress, get organized, and stay ahead of tasks with this handy prep list.
Get frosty. Outdoor winter fun doesn't always require a lift ticket. From riding fat-tired bikes through the snow to viewing elk from a horse-drawn sleigh, the West's best cold-weather adventures await! Looking for ideas or inspiration? Here are 13 snow play ideas across the West.
Check your chimney. A crackling fire creates coziness. But before you start one, you'll want to make sure your fireplace and chimney are in good working order, so they won't leak smoke, gas, or carbon monoxide into your home. Technicians from AAA House Manager, a Bay Area–based home maintenance service, can repair gas and wood fireplaces, and help you schedule a chimney inspection and cleaning. AAA Members get 10 percent off an annual House Manager membership. (Note: House Manager is only available in Alameda, Contra Costa, Solano counties, and Milpitas.)
Winterize your car's emergency kit. Stash an ice scraper, snow shovel, and snow brush in the trunk near all the gear you usually carry: tools, flares, jumper cables, and a flashlight with batteries. A box of nonclumping kitty litter can come in handy, too, if your tires get stuck in snow. (Trust us, it works!)
Do your part. More than 40 million people in the United States—one-third of them children—don't have reliable access to nutritious food. To help feed a child in need this holiday season, go to feedingamerica.org.
Don't forget your flu shot. Vaccination can cut your risk by 40 to 60 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Sniffles season starts in October, so if you haven't gotten a jab yet, visit your doctor or your local pharmacy.
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This article was first published in Fall 2019 and last updated in November 2021.