Paths less traveled

    Top San Benito County destinations for 2019

    OUT AND ABOUT San Benito magazine has rounded up five fun not-to-be-missed outings to put at the top of your bucket list.

    With 2018 squarely in the rearview mirror, many might be reviewing things they wish they’d accomplished in the last year.

    San Benito magazine has rounded up five of the best activities in and around San Benito County that are sure to please the adventurous wanderer. From hiking and history to spas and stargazing, there’s something for everyone’s bucket list.

    Cal State Gem Mine

    Adopted as the state gem in 1985, benitoite is among the rarest in the world. The gemstone was first found in San Benito County in 1907 while James Couch was prospecting in the New Idria Mercury mining district.

    Although the New Idria Mine is closed today, the Cal State Gem Mine located just miles south of the San Benito County line in Coalinga still offers the public a chance to get their hands in this rare gem.

    According to a 2015 Forbes article, benitoite is one of the top 12 most expensive gemstones in the world.

    Cal State Gem Mine co-owner John Shriner says the stone fetches $8,000 per carat for a flawless round.

    Shriner and his staff collect material from the local mine and invite people to participate in a real prospecting experience.

    “We actually aren’t doing tours to the mine itself,” he says. “We pull material and we take it to an offsite location. We don’t look through it before we put it out there and we don’t salt the piles. We wanted it to be an actual experience.”

    The mine is accepts groups of up to 15 and is open by reservation only. Panning outings begin at 9am and continue until 3pm.

    Shriner says they show prospectors what to expect.

    “We will show you what to look for, the indicators and stuff to get your on your feet, and then we give you a quart-size bag and anything you can fit into that bag you can keep,” he says. “There is not guarantee of finding benitoite, though the majority of people do.”

    Shriner says the largest piece to come out of the mine in recent years was about 50 carats.

    “That went home with the customer because it fit into the bag,” he says. “Fifty carats is probably only the size of half of your thumb.”

    The fun of the hunt is the most exciting for guests says Shriner.

    “Getting out and getting your hands dirty spending time with family,” he adds.

    Cal State Gem Mine is located at 48242 Los Gatos Creek Rd, Coalinga, CA. For information and to make reservations visit: or call 559.287.4096.

    Fremont Peak Observatory

    Opened in 1986, the Fremont Peak Observatory is located 11 miles south of San Juan Bautista in Fremont Peak State Park and offers scheduled viewings and educational programs.

    Operated by the 100-member, all-volunteer Fremont Peak Observatory Association, the observatory has been a favorite stargazing destination for more than 30 years.

    Perfect for amateur astronomers, the association offers evening multimedia presentations and permits guests to gaze at the night’s sky through a 30-inch Challenger Telescope.

    According to state park history, more than 50 Ohlone villages were located in the area before their lives were interrupted by Spanish missionaries and soldiers. Named after army captain John. C. Fremont, the peak was first established as a fort in 1846, when the area was still part of Mexico.

    Due to negligible conduct in war, Fremont was “arrested, court-martialed and found guilty of mutiny, disobedience.”

    The charge of mutiny was later dropped, and Fremont went on to become a U.S. senator.

    The 159-acre park off State Highway 156 offers day and overnight use including hiking, biking as well as tent and TV camping activities.

    For information and directions to Fremont Peak observatory, including its 2019 evening program schedule and weather notices, visit

    Mercey Hot Springs

    Located along a former stagecoach route in Firebaugh, just east of San Benito County, Mercey Hot Springs is a tranquil getaway for those who appreciate the soak.

    Once bottled and sold in pharmacies, the water from these therapeutic springs runs between 102 and 106 degrees.

    In addition to the 20 outdoor hot tubs, Mercey Hot Springs offers its guests other therapeutic benefits at its eco-friendly retreat.

    “We have a dry sauna and a warm swimming pool, which in the winter now is 90 degrees,” says assistant manager Jerzy Aust. “In the summer the pool is mid-70s to low 80s.”

    Aust says the 144-acre property offers a great weekend trip with opportunities for hiking, bird watching and stargazing.

    “There are also nine cabins here,” Aust adds. “Three of them are just finished recently.”

    Besides the cabins, Mercey also has two airstream trailers available for rent and a house that sleeps seven.

    For the eco-conscious, Mercey promises affordable luxury with an Earth-centered focus. The resort uses solar panels to provide nearly 80 percent of its power and eco-friendly soaps and cleaning products on the premises.

    Mercey offers more than sights and soaks at its resort, providing massages and springtime yoga classes. Aust says they will be opening a cafe sometime in spring 2019.

    Visit Mercey Hot Springs at 62964 Little Panoche Road, Firebaugh, CA. For more information, call 209.826.3388 or visit

    Pinnacles National Park

    Established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt, Pinnacles National Park is a historic monument made of natural volcanic formations.

    The 26,606-acre park is a natural wonderland for wildlife and adventurers.

    Home to the endangered California condor, Pinnacles also is a haven for prairie and peregrine falcons and golden eagles.

    Hikers and campers will find plentiful grasslands, varied chaparral and oak woodlands to walk about.

    “Pinnacles is a beautiful, beautiful park,” said Beth Hudick head of interpretation and education in a May 2018 interview with San Benito magazine. “What I really love about it is the diversity. We have five different ecosystems with tremendous biodiversity. There’s so much to see here.”

    The large park, with two entrances, caves and interesting flora and fauna is a popular destination for hiking, rock climbing, camping and birding.

    Pinnacles National Park is located at 5000 Highway 146, Paicines, CA. For more information call 831.389.4485 or visit

    San Juan Bautista Historic Walking Trail

    First occupied by the Mutsuns, San Juan Bautista was founded as a mission town in 1797, when Franciscans monks settled there for its fertile countryside and ample supply of potential converts.

    Though the Mutsun are long extinct, the town remains a microcosm of early California history with 49 historic sites densely packed into an area less than three-quarters of a square mile.

    Beginning at the Mission San Juan Bautista, the self-guided walking trail offers residents and visitors an opportunity to explore Native American history as well as Spanish and Mexican influences into early 19th-century America. Structures include adobe, stone, wooden and western false front-style commercial architecture popularized after the California Gold Rush.

    Visitors along the trail will find Plaza Hall, originally a single-story adobe building designed to house unmarried Indian girls of the mission. Later purchased and rebuilt by Angelo Zanetta, the building eventually became the family home.

    Other notable structures and homes include, a town jail, livery, the Honeymoon House—formerly used as a bordello—the Rozas house, which is still used as a residence today, and the Castro/Breen Adobe, named after the Castro family, the home’s original owners, and later occupants the Breens—who were among the surviving members of the Donner party.

    For more information visit, or pick up a walking trail brochure at the Welcome Center, 319 Third St.

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