A couple of weekends ago, Greyson and I went down to South Lake Tahoe, we were able to check out a fairly new taproom and bottle shop – The Hangar.
The Hangar is an awesome venue – the taproom (featuring free popcorn) is a reused shipping container with only a few seats, and most of the seating is outside at long picnic tables. There are a few covered, heated geodesic domes for winter weather, too. The bar is leashed dog friendly, and there’s an off leash dog area right next door. The Hangar is just off of Highway 50 and next to the Upper Truckee River. The one downside to this spot is that it can get a little loud from traffic noise, but not anything that ruins the ambience. It’s a great spot to sit outside and enjoy the sun.
My parents came to visit over Thanksgiving weekend, and we took a short road trip to Nevada City while they were here. This quaint historic mining town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada is one of my favorite day trips from Truckee, especially in the winter and spring when I get sick of the snow. It’s only about an hour each way, but drops enough in elevation that it’s significantly warmer and drier than Truckee.
Despite its small size, Nevada City is home to two breweries, Three Forks (which I mentioned brieflyhere) and Ol’ Republic Brewery, both of which are great. I’d only been to Ol’ Republic once before, so we stopped by last weekend and split a sampler, and it was just as good as I remembered. Here’s what I tried (all descriptions by Ol’ Republic:
Dead Canary Lager (4/5) This lager begins with a water profile closer to the more mineral waters of Dortmund in West Germany. This allows for the wonderful malt characteristics to shine, exhibiting aromas of white bread and grits. Our painstaking step mashing process rounds out the flavor profile of pancakes. A touch of noble hops added at just the right moment in the boil underscores the subtle, yet complex interplay between the malts and the hops, while Saaz hops added at flameout keeps the sugars in check with it’s herbal spice notes. This beer personifies our brewing philosophy. Pair with triple creme cheeses like Humbolt Fog.
Frontier Amber California Common (3.75/5) This beer is somewhat of an identity crisis, as it’s neither an altbier nor a common, truly. This beer has a rich malt aroma, deep amber color, medium body and sweetness, balanced by an assertive hop presence, including a pass through a hop back with whole leaf Tettnang. A beer unlike many others, it borrows the grain bill from an altbier or an amber ale, lagering from a Marzen, uses Nevada City water with no adjustments, and is hopped like it was a Pilsner or a pale ale. The result could have turned out like a clown car of flavors, but, instead, it’s a car full of Jason Stathams. – I usually don’t like ambers or commons at all, but I was surprised at how much I liked this one.
Cosmic Fly By IPA (4.5/5) This beer is worlds away from our typical “cleanest lager in the land”. But we’re here to show that those that know how to play by the rules, know how to break them best. This beer pours opaque pale with a thick billowy head due to higher protein content from the flaked oats and wheat and softened water. This creates the backbone that gives this beer the thick and chewy body with a cracker flavor. Wakatu hop delivers slight floral touches and very light bittering notes, while bringing on the citrus. Amarillo puts a bucket of oranges in it, while keeping the funk alive. Liberal additions of Galaxy allow us to not only add to the tropical fruit salad with passionfruit and melons, but to take this beer into deep space. Carl Sagan sent music. We’re loading the capsule with this hazy IPA.
For a town with a population under 15,000, Auburn, California has a great beer scene. There’s Knee Deep Brewing, which is one of my favorite places to stop on the drive between Tahoe and the Bay Area; Auburn Ale House, located in Auburn’s historic downtown with good brewpub food, Crooked Lane Brewing Company, a newer brewery that I haven’t checked out yet, but is on my short list, and Moonraker Brewing which I had a chance to re-visit a couple of weeks ago.
Moonraker Brewing is off the beaten path and located by the small Auburn Airport – almost directly across the street from Knee Deep. The set up of Moonraker is pretty cool – there is a big open bar area with a few tables, a covered outdoor space that’s dog friendly and has a rotating food truck (last time I got amazing Peruvian food!), and quieter rooms at the front of the building where you can fit a large group.
Like many West Coast breweries, Moonraker is heavy on the IPAs and Pale Ales, but they have a large menu that updates often and there are always a variety of styles. Last time I was there I tried (descriptions by Moonraker):
Wet Hop Willy (4.5/5):
ABV 7.0%, IBU 50 – Wet hop IPA trifecta of whole cone “wet” hops. Simcoe, simcoe cryo, and simcoe pellet create bright flavors and aromas of evergreen forest, passion fruit, fresh cut grass and sticky pine sap over a simple bread crust grain bill. This beer is smooth and refreshing.
Puzzle Dust (4/5):
Puzzle Dust- sessionable IPA at 4.8%, IBU 35. This beer is like drinking an orange sherbet, with notes of citrus/grapefruit and cantaloupe. Hints of flower essence with a dry breadlines make this beer super crushable.
ABV 7.0%, IBU 50 – NE IPA using Nelson and Citra.
Other favorites from Moonraker include Northern Lights – an imperial IPA that doesn’t taste as strong as it is (beware!) and Amelia – a coconut IPA that’s not overwhelmingly tropical. Moonraker is on my list of must-visit destinations for beer lovers – it’s worth a detour on your drive to or from Tahoe or as a short drive from Sacramento.
After our hike in Big Basin Redwood State Park, Greyson and I headed back into town to meet Lexi, Chris, and Nori at my favorite Santa Cruz Brewery, Humble Sea Brewing Company.
Humble Sea is located on the west side of Santa Cruz, not too far off Highway One. It has a large beer garden and a small inside seating area, and it’s often packed. They have a small menu, but the food they do have is delicious. Greyson and I have been a couple of times now, and, this time, their beer menu was heavy on the IPAs.
This time I got the Socks and Sandals (4.5/5), a hazy, New England style IPA that Humble Sea describes as “One part fashion statement, two parts comfort. Three parts embarrassing the kids. We named this beer after our favorite Santa Cruz tourist phenomenon, in hopes that our beer might someday be just as popular. An unfiltered IPA made with oats, Citra, Centennial, Simcoe, and Chinook, using less traditional hopping techniques. More juicy and aromatic with less bitterness up front.” Greyson got the California AF Pale Ale (3/5), which I didn’t like quite as much, but he really enjoyed.
Humble Sea is a great brewery – check it out next time you’re in Santa Cruz!
Fall is definitely my favorite season in Tahoe. The crowds have died down, but there’s still stuff to do outside. The weather can be hit or miss – some days are rainy and cold, giving a preview of winter to come and some are a throwback to summer with clear skies and hot temperatures. After a long day on the trail or on the beach, it’s nice to wind down with a cold beer, glass of wine, or fancy cocktail.
If it’s sunny out, I want to soak up what might be the last nice day for awhile, so here are my recommendations for places to grab a drink outside. In South Lake Tahoe, MacDuff’s Public House has outdoor seating when the weather is good. It’s not right on the lake, but they have a full bar and usually an awesome beer selection. If you’re looking for something on the water, the Beacon Bar & Grill at Camp Richardson is just a little west of South Lake Tahoe and has the best deck view on the shore. Riva Grill at Ski Run Marina is higher end, and to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of their food, but they’ve got a great deck and everyone should try their signature drink, the Wet Woody at least once. Sidellis Brewery is located slightly off the beaten path, but has a large, fenced in outdoor area that is dog friendly and features cornhole and great beer.
On the north shore, there are quite a few restaurants and bars that offer the outdoor drinking experience. On the Nevada side, Alibi Ale Works in Incline Village has an awesome outdoor seating area out back that has live music some nights, complete with fire pits for low temps.
If the weather drives drives me inside, there are quite a few bars – from dives serving PBR to lounges with fancy cocktails that I enjoy. If you’re looking for a cheap place to get a beer in South Lake Tahoe, you can’t beat Turn 3 and its two-for-one happy hour beer prices. For fancier beer, head to South Lake Brewing Company. It’s in a large, warehouse-type building with lots of table games – so it’s perfect for days when the weather is awful and you’re looking for something to do. They also allow well behaved dogs. I also love the Himmel Haus, near Heavenly Ski Resort. They have a great selection of Bavarian beer, German food, a foosball table and a cozy fire. They often host events like trivia, ski movies, and theme parties.
For something a little different, go see a movie at Tahoe Art Haus in Tahoe City. It’s an awesome locally-owned theater that serves beer, wine, and cider and has organic popcorn with a whole bar of toppings. They usually have the latest big releases, and show indies and local ski films during the slower season. For another off-the-beaten path option, the small bar in the very hip Basecamp Hotel Tahoe has a few beers on tap and wines available and the atmosphere is very different from your typical hotel bar.
In Truckee, wait out the bad weather downtown at Moody’s Bistro, Bar and Beats in downtown Truckee – the gorgeous ambiance, knowledgeable bartenders, and live music make the somewhat pricey cocktails worth it. Also in the historic downtown is the Truckee location of Alibi Ale Works which has a larger beer selection than the Incline Village location and also has kombucha and nitro brew coffee on draft.
If you’re looking for somewhere to watch a game, The Blue Coyote Bar & Grill is the main sports bar in town and is located in an area of town that is less touristy, if you’re looking for that. It has tons of tvs, so whatever you want to watch is likely to be on – or just ask! Their staff is very friendly.
Or if you have a designated driver, tackle my Round the Lake Beer Tour, taking you from Truckee and around the lake, hitting up by favorite breweries and beer bars along the way!
Back in 2016, I came up with a a round the lake route that stopped at my favorite beer destinations from Truckee to South Lake and back to Truckee. There’s been an expansion of the beer scene since then, and I just updated that post to include some of my new favorites.
Santa Cruz is many things – a hippie college town, a laid back surf city, a growing hub for tech, a great location for foodies, and it offers just about every outdoor opportunity. Different neighborhoods of Santa Cruz have distinct vibes, and nearby cities and towns offer different feelings as well. Everyone knows the big Santa Cruz landmarks, like the Santa Cruz Wharf or the brightly colored houses of Capitola, but I’m giving you some recommendations that you won’t find everywhere.
Food & Drink: While I’m in Santa Cruz, I have two must stops: Verve Coffee Roasters and The Penny Ice Creamery. Both are Instagram dream locations – Verve Coffee Roasters 41st Street location has a succulent wall, along with incredible coffee and their other locations are worth visits as well. At The Penny Ice Creamery, the toasted marshmallow topping tastes just as good as it looks.
Even in the last couple of years, Santa Cruz’s beer scene has exploded. I used to be unimpressed with the town’s beer selection, but now I have a couple of favorites. I haven’t written reviews yet, but I really like Humble Sea Brewing Company in Santa Cruz proper and Corralitos Brewing Co. a little south in Watsonville. Sante Adarius has a Santa Cruz and Capitola location.
For actual meals, I’m going to recommend two different Hawaiian restaurants – Hula’s Island Grill & Tiki Bar and Pono’s Hawaiian Grill. Hula’s is more kitschy – think velvet Elvis paintings and mai tais served in pineapples. The Big Sur Veggie Burger is one of the best veggie burgers I’ve ever had and the Caesar Salad is similarly amazing. Pono’s is a little more traditional, with a good beer selection plus full bar, outdoor seating, and live music pretty often. Go traditional here and get a plate lunch.
Another place I love to eat is burger. – the period is part of the name. It has a couple of locations – both Aptos and Santa Cruz and an absolutely bonkers menu. You can get a burger with a grilled cheese sandwich for the bun (the Snooki), a burger made with mac and cheese (Johnny Marzetti), or including a donut AND bacon (Luther). I like a more simple burger, the Johnny Cash which still has fries, bacon, and blue cheese. Even if you just get a few of their sides, it’s worth a visit.
I’m just scratching the surface of all of the awesome things to do in Santa Cruz. It’s one of my favorite California cities, and I can’t wait to get back. What are your favorite things to do in Santa Cruz? What did I miss?
June Lake, a small town north of Mammoth Lakes off of Highway 395 is one of my favorite places in the Eastern Sierra. It’s a tiny bit off the beaten path and often overshadowed by nearby Mammoth. Which often means it’s not nearly as crowded as other, more popular spots.
Take a Scenic Drive June Lake is located on the June Lake loop (Highway 158), a u-shaped road connected to 395. I’d driven by June Lake Loop probably a dozen times before I finally took the scenic detour – and it’s worth it, even if you’re just driving through. While it’s pretty either direction, I’d recommend turning in at the north end and driving south. This is the entrance further away from the town of June Lake, but your views will be more dramatic. The towering Sierra peaks are hardly noticeable from 395, but dominate the sky only a couple of miles in. There’s a reason that they call it “The Switzerland of California.” If you’re there in October, the loop has some of the best fall colors in the Eastern Sierra. Along the way, you’ll pass the lakes this area is famous for – Grant Lake, Silver Lake, Gull Lake, and, finally June Lake. The town of June Lake is situated between Gull and June lakes. The exit back to 395 is just a few minutes past town. Note: Highway 158 sometimes closes in the winter, so while there is access to June Lake, you can’t drive the full loop.
Lodging There are all kinds of options for lodging in the June Lake area – from camping to resorts to vacation rentals. I’ve had two great experiences at the Oh! Ridge Campground and I’d highly recommend it. It has running water, flush toilets and easy access to a great beach on June Lake. I’ve also stayed at the June Lake Campground, which has convenient access to town, but it was really loud the one time I’ve stayed there. Reversed Creek Campground is very close to town, and Silver Lake Campground has great access to Silver Lake. While I’ve never stayed at any of the hotels or resorts, I’ve heard really good things about the Double Eagle Resort. There are also old school style cabins and lodges, like Fern Creek Lodge, which dates back to 1927. I’ve also stayed at a couple of vacation rentals in town, and there are plenty to choose from – I prefer VRBO for rural places like June Lake.
Eats June Lake doesn’t have a ton of dining options, which isn’t surprising in a small town. However, it does have my all time favorite food truck, Ohanas 395. Ohanas is a fresh twist on classic Hawaiian food crafted with care and generous on the portion sizes. Greyson and I usually split two dishes – one regular and one small and that’s typically plenty. I love the Kahuna Chips – Hawaiian style nachos on kettle chips topped with kalua pork or huli huli chicken, sesame cabbage slaw, jack cheese, pepperoncinis and homemade bbq sauce. Their kalua pork is so good that it was better than any I got on the Big Island in June!
Another fun place to eat is the Tiger Bar & Cafe. It’s pretty typical pub food – heavy on the burgers and fries, light on the veggies, but good, if not good for you. Tiger Bar is historic – it was established in 1932, and it supposedly has California Liquor License #2 and is the longest legally operating bar in California.
Beer June Lake is home to my favorite brewery in the Eastern Sierra – June Lake Brewing. I write in more detail about what makes the beer and the brewery so great in my June Lake Brewing post here.
This area is also getting famous for it’s awesome June Lake Autumn Beer Festival. I went in 2016, and it definitely wasn’t your typical local beer festival. It’s put on by the June Lake Brewery crew, who moved to June Lake from the San Diego area and still have a ton of connections down there. While my local favorites (Mammoth Brewing Company, Mountain Rambler, etc.) were there, there were also a ton of farther flung breweries, many that I tried for the first time, like Pizza Port and Alpine Brewing Company. If you want to go, start planning early as tickets are very limited and in high demand – they sold out in early February for the 2018 festival happening on September 29th. If you happen to be in the area, sometimes there are extra tickets are available at the door. This is my favorite beer fest that I’ve been to – lots of beers, small enough that it’s not overwhelming, and a beautiful location and time of year.
Activities There’s tons of stuff to do in the June Lake area, whether you stay in the loop or venture out a little farther. What there is to do in June Lake varies according to the season, but there’s something awesome all throughout the year.
In town, you’ve obviously got the lakes. For swimming, I like June Lake Beach, which is sandy with room to spread out and the water is clear and refreshing. Gull Lake has a nice picnic area and playground, and is great for a family picnic. June Lake is at 7,600 feet so the lakes are pretty cold, but definitely swimmable in July, August, and September.
The whole loop is well known as a popular fishing area. While you can fish in all of the lakes, Silver Lake is known for the best shore fishing, June Lake for early season catches, Gull Lake for bait fishing, and Grant Lake for trolling. Nearby, Rush Creek and Lee Vining Creek are typical fly fishing spots.
Tioga Pass into Yosemite National Park usually opens between late May and late June, and it’s a convenient trip into the park from June Lake via this route. The drive is gorgeous, but steep and exposed, and it gets you into the much less crowded high, east side of the park. From this side, you’ll have easy access to Tuolumne Meadows, Tenaya Lake, Olmstead Point and all the typical Yosemite summer activities, like hiking, climbing, paddling, swimming, etc. There are far fewer services in this side of the park compared to the Valley, so plan ahead for food and water, gas, sunscreen, bug spray, and any other accessories you might need. Tioga Pass is usually closed by late October.
June Lake is home to a ton of hiking trails, though many are difficult to the steep elevation changes. Fern Lake trail is one of those short and steep trails, gaining 1,600 feet in just 1.75 miles to the lake one way. Once you make it though, the fishing is supposed to be amazing. On the easier side of things is the 2 mile Gull Lake Loop Trail. It’s right in town and doesn’t have much elevation change – perfect for kids or anyone who wants an easier hike. The Parker Lake Trail is a good middle ground. It’s 3.6 miles round trip with 650 feet of climbing, and you’ll be rewarded with a gorgeous lake at the end. Some friends have used this as an easy backpacking destination, and they said it’s great for newbies or if your time is limited and just want an easy overnight.
I also have to plug the June Lake Triathlon – it’s my favorite race I’ve ever done. It’s got a small town, local feel, but it’s still incredibly well organized and the field is big enough that you never feel like you’re out there on your own. The course is challenging, and so beautiful that you get distracted from your suffering. The whole town seems to get involved, whether they are volunteering at the event or on the road cheering you on. They offer sprint, olympic, and half iron distance races, as well as aquabike and relay opportunities- plus Mammoth Brewing Company beer and a home cooked meal at the finish line.
If you’re visiting in the winter, there are still plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy. June Mountain Ski Area is basically right in town, and though it’s owned by Mammoth Mountain, it still has a small town feel. If backcountry skiing or riding is your thing, there are guided tours available from Sierra Mountain Guides and through June Mountain. For non-adrenaline junkies, there is snowshoeing and cross country skiing nearby as well.
If you enjoy the outdoors, you’ll find something to do in June Lake. I hope you check out this awesome hidden gem, and enjoy it as much as I do!
The Brewing Lair in Blairsden, California might just be my all time favorite location for a brewery. While it’s address is Highway 70 right near the intersection with California 89, its location is tucked away in the forest up a dirt road. You won’t hear the cars speeding by – only the creaking of the tall pines and an occasional happy bark from one of the dog visitors.
The Brewing Lair is all outside, with wooden picnic tables, adirondack chairs, a spacious lawn, disc golf course, and even barbecues that you can BYO-meat to and grill out. The often have live music throughout the summer, too. We usually stop by the Brewing Lair after a day of biking at the nearby Mills Peak Trail. Though the Brewing Lair occasionally has a food truck on site, you can bring your own food, and we tend to pick up greasy fare at the burger spot in downtown Graeagle.
As if the amazing location isn’t enough – the Brewing Lair has seriously good beers. Over the past few years, I’ve tried quite a few. (All descriptions by the Brewing Lair)
Uncle Elliot’s IPA (3.75/5): A heavy-hitter IPA with a strong grapefruit flavor
Ambush IPA (4/5): A well-behaved IPA, notes of fresh baked bread and dank weed. Our most popular beer.
Take a Hike Red IPA (4.5/5): A spicy-floral red IPA
Deep Cover Black IPA (4.5/5): Dry, espresso & pine
Dope is King Pale Ale (4.25/5): Simcoe and Citra hops with a hint of caramel. Early 1900’s miners raced down Eureka Peak on 12’ wooden skis, claiming that the victory relied on “good dope”—ski resin.
Visiting the Brewing Lair is a one-of-a-kind Sierra experience, and I highly recommend that you try it out!
Next up on our Big Island vacation – the breweries of Hawaii!
Of course, we had to go to Kona Brewing Company. Especially since it was within walking distance of our vacation rental. Greyson and I didn’t walk, because I stepped on an urchin! But that’s a story for another blog post. Pretty much everyone who likes beer has had a Kona beer- I love their mixer pack.
Here’s what they say about themselves:
Aloha. That’s how most conversations begin here. It’s also how many of them end. But “Aloha” doesn’t just mean hello and goodbye and love and welcome. It means more than a word can express. It’s a feeling. A way of life. “Aloha” is the idea that we are all connected to everyone and everything around us and that true joy is found in respecting this connection. And it’s in this aloha spirit that the Kona Brewing Company was founded back in 1994 by Cameron Healy and his son Spoon Khalsa. They combined their love of Hawaii and its pristine, natural beauty with their fondness for delicious, local brews, and lucky for us, their dream lives on more than 20 years later.
One of the many awesome things about Kona Brewing is their commitment to sustainability. They use solar power, recycle water at on-site gardens, and use spent grains in the pizza crust at their brew pub. They also brew beer on the mainland to reduce transportation and shipping impacts! The brewery is definitely worth a visit if you’re in town. They have a few beers that you can only get in Hawaii that aren’t available on the mainland. Also, all the food we ordered was delicious, especially for such a large location. I really liked the poke and the kalua pork nachos!
Here’s what I tried (all descriptions by Kona Brewing):
Kanaha Blonde Ale (4/5): Our brewer’s were inspired by the trade winds to create this smooth, refreshing blonde ale with the adventures of summer in mind. After a day riding the winds over shimmering waters, Kanaha Blonde ale is a bright, sessionable beer that will ease you ashore without weighing you down. Real mango fruit adds a juicy, tropical flavor that is easy like the islands. This crisp Kona brew will take you up, up and away.
Rift Zone Red Ale (3.25/5)
Hanalei Island IPA (3.75/5): Hanalei Island IPA is an easy-drinking, sessionable beer that combines the hoppy aroma of an IPA with a tropical Hawaiian twist. Passionfruit, orange and guava balance the hops to deliver a coppery, session-style ale that reflects the flavors and spirit of the islands.
Lemongrass Luau (4.25/5) Lemongrass Luau is a crisp, refreshing blonde ale brewed with a touch of wheat malt, ginger, and fresh lemongrass. With its modest alcohol content Lemongrass Luau can be considered a session beer, perfect for pau hana, sharing pints with friends, and great with almost any meal.
Kua Bay IPA (4.5/5): Kua Bay IPA is a bright, bold, copper-colored India Pale Ale. Piney hops, spices, and a subtle caramel maltiness make it a delicious beer that’s both full-bodied and flavorful. Only available in Hawaii!
Gold Cliff IPA (4.75/5): Gold Cliff IPA features real pineapple, along with bright, tropical fruit aromas of Mosaic and Citra hops and a hint of smooth caramel malt.
Of course, we weren’t done after Kona Brewing. Greyson and I had a red eye flight, so we had a quite a few hours to kill after the rest of the family left, and, after some beach time, we headed to another brewery. We basically stumbled on Ola Brew, seeing signs for a new brewery as we drove around Kona.
Ola Brew was awesome – friendly staff, great beer (and interesting looking cider, that we didn’t get a chance to sample), and a spacious location that is great for hanging out. They aren’t currently serving food, but there was a food truck parked outside when we visited. While Kona was fun to check out, it feels pretty corporate, while Ola Brew felt more local. My favorites were the A’a IPA (New England style 4.25/5), the Lager (4.5/5) and the IPA (4.75/5). I also tried the Luhia Pale Ale (3.75/5) and the Old Industrial IPA (3/5), which I didn’t like as much as the first three, but were still enjoyable. If I make it back to the Big Island, I will definitely head back to Ola Brew.