Just about everyone who lives in Northern California is familiar with the region's ocean-beach experience. First you set up your towel and apply sunscreen, despite the complete absence of sun. Then you venture into the water up to your ankles, and your feet promptly go numb. When you attempt to retreat to your towel, you find it has blown away. Time to give up and go get some hot chocolate.
Turns out it's a lot more fun to go to the beach in an area where it really is summer. In the Central Valley, it's sunny just about every day from May to October, and it's so hot you'll actually want to get in the water. A plethora of rivers and reservoirs ― many of them uncrowded, especially on weekdays ― means that a cool swim and the chance to lounge on a towel on the sand aren't far from the area's major highways.
One of our favorite spots is Lodi Lake, which has a well-run public beach, lifeguards, and a wading pool for kids. Though the lake is manmade, the oak-ringed setting couldn't be prettier. The Mokelumne River feeds Lodi Lake, so the water's plenty clean.
Info: Lodi Lake's swimming beach is open Tue-Sun (from $2 per person; 1101 W. Turner Rd., Lodi; exit I-5 at Turner, about 10 miles north of Stockton, and follow it east about 4 miles to the park).
Four more inland beaches: www.sunset.com/inland