Established in 1956, Winter Lodge is the first and only permanent outdoor ice rink west of the Sierras and an esteemed Palo Alto tradition. Winter Lodge offers daily public skating from Sept. 24 through April 14 and is bound to get folks into the holiday mood with charming holiday decorations, random snow falls, and a Christmas tree anchored in the middle of the rink to gaze upon as skaters skirt on by.
Besides open skating, Sunday evenings is designated family session and Wednesday evenings are reserved for adults. The vigilant and helpful ice guards will smother skaters with caution and when that fails, people can cozy by the fireplace and soothe themselves over 50-cent hot cocoa. Guests can try looking into lessons offered for children and adults. Once the skating shoes have been worn into, turn up the "cold" on the ice rink with a private ice party or broomball competition.
Where: 3009 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Information: 650-93-4566; http://winterlodge.com
Bedwell Bayfront Park
Bedwell Bayfront Park, with its 2.3-mile trail of undulating hills and scenic views, attracts people year-round for hiking, running, bicycling, kite flying, and photography. But winter is an especially good time for bird watching as the season brings species from colder climates up north that travel to the Bay Area in search of food. Friends of Bedwell Bayfront Park, a group dedicated to preserving the open space of the park, hosts bird-watching activities on the second Saturday of each month.
"(Some people] haven't ever looked at a duck to see how beautiful its plumage really is," Chris MacIntosh, a founding member, said. The group was established in 1995 to counter the development of a golf course at the park. In addition to the bird viewing, the park collaborates with Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge to organize a walk that covers the history of the park and the restoration of the surrounding salt ponds, which is protected under the Refuge.
"The thing that we really want to do with our bird watching and the activities we put on there is to help people learn more what they are seeing in the park and learn how to value it," MacIntosh said.
Where: Bayfront Expressway and Marsh Road
Information: www.friendsofbayfrontpark.org; firstname.lastname@example.org
Birding by Bike:
If simply bird viewing isn't enough for the adventurers out there, there is an option to go Birding by Bike. Organized by the Baylands Nature Preserve, the free class allows bikers to range further infield. Participants should bring a bike and a helmet, and if available, binoculars and a guidebook. A checklist is provided to mark down the many type of species that are bound to be flocking around. Participants can expect to find great egrets, American coots, sandpipers, turkey vultures and Canadian geese.
Where: Ranger Station, 2500 Embarcadero Road, Palo Alto
Save The Bay
It doesn't take nice weather and clear skies to help the San Francisco Bay ecosystem. Since 1961, Save the Bay has grown to be the "largest regional organization working to protect, restore and celebrate San Francisco Bay," according to its website. The organization and its 40,000 supporters, volunteers and advocates work year-round to re-establish 100,000 acres of wetlands.
On Dec 16, from 9 a.m. to noon, volunteers will continue to plant native plants whether or not the world ends on Dec. 21 as the Mayan calendar predicts. Even if the world ends then, this will be the last day for volunteers to get their hands dirty in 2012 and help Save the Bay reach its goal of planting 30,000 plants this season.
Volunteers can celebrate National Bird Day on Jan. 5, from 9 a.m. to noon, by planting native plants to restore their habitat. At Faber Tract, volunteers will have the opportunity to view some of these birds like great egrets, canvasbacks, godwits, willets, black-necked stilts and long billed curlews. Attendees can also enjoy Mother Nature while avoiding her elements in Save the Bay's Palo Alto nursery on Jan. 9. Save the Bay will honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 9 by planting native species in Menlo Park's Ravenswood Pond and Palo Alto's Baylands. From 9 a.m. to noon, volunteers can do good in the world by restoring local wetlands.
Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District
This 60,000-acre regional greenbelt system is preserved so that the general public can enjoy untouched nature. Multiple hiking trails allow hikers to choose how long and strenuous of a hike to choose. Docents also lead moderately paced hikes most weeks throughout the year.
Dogs can celebrate Christmas Dec. 15 on a "Fleas Navidad Hike." Docents guide a 3-mile hike where dogs on leashes are welcome to join. Enjoy the Russian River on Dec. 21, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., without traveling all the way up to the Russian River Valley. Docents will share some favorite solstice readings along this 3.5-mile hike to the top of Borel Hill along the Ridge Trail. Volunteers are encouraged to bring a hot beverage and a favorite poem or short essay.
Bird lovers will enjoy the "Birding by the Bay" hike Jan. 1. Hikers are encouraged to bring binoculars and birdwatchers of all levels are welcome to come and learn. This greenbelt system needs volunteers Jan. 12 and 26 to remove broom for habitat restoration. For more docent lead hikes and volunteer opportunities, visit their website.
Palo Alto Adult School
The Palo Alto Adult School offers classes during the colder months of the year on a variety of subjects, from exercise to art. Instructor Candice Simpson offers a class on Sustainable Home Vegetable Gardening Tuesdays from 7 to 9 p.m. This six-week class starting Feb. 5 teaches sustainable environmental gardening practices to grow vegetables and herbs during the cold season. Celebrate health and the great outdoors by taking Hike For Fitness. The class is offered for five alternating Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to noon and will have an organizational meeting on Jan. 8.
Where: Most classes are held at Palo Alto High School, 50 Embarcadero Road, Palo alto
Information: 650-329-3752 or www.paadultschool.org
California Riding Academy
The Menlo Park horseback riding center offers horseback riding classes to children and adults of all abilities. The academy offers riding instruction in English, Hunter/Jumper and Dressage. Students can train and show their horses through the academy as well. California Riding Academy will be putting on a children's holiday horse camp from Dec 20-24.
Where: 100 Ansel Lane, Barns 2 and 15, Menlo Park
Information: 650-740-2261; 650-854-1037 (barn); http://californiaridingacademy.com/