Santa Cruz: Sea Otters and Sea Otter Classic

I told Greyson that all I wanted for my birthday was to see some otters. We ended up going to Santa Cruz, and the trip delivered!

The first sea otter we visited was the Sea Otter Classic.

Sea Otter Classic // tahoefabulous.com

The Sea Otter Classic is a massive bike festival and expo that takes place in Monterey Bay, California over a few days in mid-April. Greyson had great memories of attending the festival when he was younger, and we were excited to check it out. The only word I can use to describe Sea Otter is…overwhelming. Maybe people who are more experienced with massive expos would have gotten more out of it than I did, but there were so many booths and exhibits and things going on that it was hard to find anything I wanted to see. We also went on Saturday (the festival started on Thursday), so I don’t know if it was our random wandering or if the booths were already cleared out, but we didn’t score any swag. I did get a good deal on some new bike gloves and I ran into my friends from TAMBA. While I’m glad that I went at least one time in my life, I don’t feel the need to head back to Sea Otter next year.

We drank Sierra Nevada beer, ate some expensive teriyaki, watched some cyclocross, and then it was time for the main event of the day – Men’s Pro Dual Slalom.

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The Men’s Pro Dual Slalom race kicked off with a race between two tandem teams!

Dual Slalom isn’t a super popular race anymore, but it’s a super fun one to watch. Two bikers race head to head on identical courses full of features like berms, drops and jumps. The riders then switch tracks, and their times are combined. The slower rider is eliminated and the other moves on to the next round, until a winner is declared.

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As much as I love biking and all things related, I was even more excited for the next iteration of otters – actual live sea otters in the wild!

Elkhorn Slough // tahoefabulous.com

Greyson and I drove south from Santa Cruz to the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve with one goal: to see some otters!

The Elkhorn Slough NERR is

“one of 28 National Estuarine Research Reserves established nationwide as field laboratories for scientific research and estuarine education. The Reserve is administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The 1700-acre Reserve is a hub of activity and hosts programs that promote education, research, and conservation in Elkhorn Slough. The Visitor Center has award-winning exhibits that invite everyone to explore the Unseen Slough. There are five miles of trails that meander through beautiful oak woodlands, calm tidal creeks, and freshwater marshes. We offer tours on the weekends and special events throughout the year.”

More importantly, Elkhorn Slough is home to the largest population of California’s sea otters, a fact I learned by watching Saving Otter 501 (a PBS Nature Documentary, available to watch online here and via Netflix!) over and over.

saving otter 501

Picture from Saving Otter 501 found here.

California’s southern sea otters were hunted nearly to extinction in the 18th and 19th centuries, but a surviving population of around 50 was found off of Big Sur in 1938. The population has grown to nearly 2,000, many of which live in the protected Elkhorn Slough.

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Greyson and I didn’t really have any concrete plans for finding the sea otters, other than going to Elkhorn Slough, and potentially renting kayaks. We ended up just pulling into a beach parking lot on vague instructions from Greyson’s sister, and we immediately spotted otters! We were on a little spit of sand with a manmade breakwater that made a perfect spot for otter spotting.

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I only had my phone camera, so my photos aren’t great. Greyson got some great shots though, and made an adorable video that I already posted.

Photo by Greyson Howard
Photo by Greyson Howard

A highlight was definitely the two juvenile otters who wrestled near us for 15 or 20 minutes.

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The shot I got with my phone.

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The shot Greyson got with his camera. Ha!

I also loved this otter that floated contentedly while a fisherman and his dog worked on a boat nearby.

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In addition to the dozens of otters frolicking about, the Elkhorn Slough was packed with other wildlife. We saw sea lions, harbor seals, cormorants, herons, and the ubiquitous Velella velella. If you’re in the Monterey or Santa Cruz area, I highly recommend a trip to the Elkhorn Slough. If you’re interested in the crucial conservation work they’re doing, you can learn more on their website, or become a member!

We did a few other fun things in the Santa Cruz area over the weekend. We hit up the Monterey Bay Aquarium just in time for the otter feeding and to visit the fluorescent-ly lit jellyfish:

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And we hit up Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing for some birthday beers just before we left town on Sunday. These weren’t my favorite beers of all time, and I probably won’t write up a whole review of the brewery. I did enjoy their Peoples Organic Coffee Porter and Devout Stout, and I loved their location with an outdoor beer garden and tap room.

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The whole weekend was a great way to celebrate my 31st birthday, and it will be hard to top next year!

Try This Beer: Mountain Rambler Brewery – Bishop, California

I have been waiting for Mountain Rambler Brewery to open for almost as long as I have been visiting Bishop! As awesome  as Bishop, California is (and it is incredibly great), they had been lacking a great place to get a beer, a delicious meal, and hangout with friends after a day outside.

Mountain Rambler Brewery Bishop // tahoefabulous.com

Mountain Rambler had its grand opening in early February, and it was already super popular by the time we visited in March. We ended up going there twice in two days, and it always had a good crowd. The brewery has high ceilings, and a light, airy feel, and the walls are covered with Eastern Sierra inspired art and photography. I heard a rumor that the bars and some of the tables were constructed from reclaimed bristlecone pine wood, giving Mountain Rambler a very Eastern Sierra feel.

We tried three of the beers while we were there – Peaklet Porter, Pale Ale First Release and Extra Pale First Release. Mountain Rambler offers very generous half pints, which we went with for sampling, and I went back for seconds (over the course of two days) of the Porter and the Pale Ale. We also had the polenta tots with delicious pesto aioli. Whether you’re staying in Bishop for a longer climbing trip or just passing through, a visit to Mountain Rambler Brewery should definitely be on your 395 bucket list!

 

Try This Beer: June Lake Brewing

When driving back from the Eastern Sierra this weekend, Greyson and I finally got to try the new-ish brewery in June Lake – June Lake Brewing.

June Lake Brewing // tahoefabulous.com

We sampled both tasting flights the brewery offered, and the awesome owner threw in samples of the other two beers on tap so we could have the full experience. Here’s what I tried (all descriptions from June Lake Brewing website):

Deer Beer Brown Ale (3/5): Having a love for traditional English Browns we used UK Fuggles and UK Goldings hops coupled with 2-Row Pale, Crystal 15 and Chocolate malts to craft this beauty.  By doubling the amount of Fuggles and Goldings recommended for the original style we introduced a slightly higher hop flavor (read Westcoast style) to the traditional English Brown, and complimented the hoppyness with the additional of Chocolate malt.  With an ABV of 5.8%, an IBU of of 24 and an SRM of 21, Deer Beer Brown is smooth, refreshing and packed with character.

Alper’s Trout Pale Ale (3.5/5): Working with Tim Alpers, father of the famed Eastern Sierra Alpers Trout, we put together a well rounded grain bill comprised of 2-Row Pilsner, 2-Row Pale, Munich, Crystal 15 and White Wheat malts to compliment the heavy additions of Cascade, CTZ, Mt. Hood, and Crystal hops.  This beer weighs in around 5.8% ABV with 35 IBUs and a light 6.6 SRM color profile.  Combined with our phenomenal water, the primarily Pilsner malt grain bill provides a nice, slightly creamy mouth feel, with the strong citrus notes compliments of the Cascade and CTZ hops.  In the finish hints of spicy can be found from the Crystal and Mt. Hood aroma hop additions after the boil during the whirlpooling process.

SmoKin Porter (4/5): Brewed and named in honor of TestPilot 001 Jeff Kramer the SmoKin Porter is a full bodied robust porter exhibiting a mildly smoky character complimented by a generous helping of CTZ hops for bittering and Mt. Hood hops for flavor and aroma.  With an ABV of 7.2%, a bitterness of 51 IBUs and a deep dark SRM of 32, the SmoKin Porter drinks remarkably smooth for such a dark colored beer.  With skills that rival Kramer’s own, the SmoKin Porter is a delicious choice for any occasion.

Hutte Double IPA (4.5/5): Working with our Brewfather and a number of our brewer friends we developed this Goliath of a beer.  Think big Westcoast style DIPA with a massive hop bill that includes Cascade, Millenium, CTZ, Ella and Nugget, countered by an even larger malt bill comprised of 2-Row Pale, Carapils and Crystal 15. Oh yeah and throw in 66lbs of dry hopped Cascade, Ella and Armarillo for a citrusy, orangy finish that accentuates the overall super hoppy goodness. Though light in color at 9 SRM, Hutte makes up for it in flavor and body with 9.5% ABV and 120 IBUs of palate crushing awesomeness!

This beer was my far away favorite, and reminded me of a couple of the beers I really liked at Crux. When we told the owner that, she said that she was super flattered, as Crux is one of her and her husband’s favorite breweries!

Silver Lake Saison (3/5): You’ve spoken, and we’ve listened… This is our lightest beer in color, flavor, alcohol and palate… But never ones to fully capitulate to other’s opinions we utilized a fruity/spicy Belgium Farm House Saison Ale (BFHSA) yeast as opposed to our standard California Ale yeast to keep it foot! Combining equal parts 2-Row Pale and 2-Row Pilsner with some White Wheat and Munich malts, we ended up with a light refreshing BFHSA that is lightly hopped with Cascade, Columbus/Tomahawk/Zues, Crystal, Ella and Mt. Hood.  Perfect for a long day at the downhill park, and/or a hot day in the sun, the Silver Lake Saison

Rock-N-Dirt Milk Stout (3/5): We love Mammoth Rock n’ Dirt so of course we wanted to make a collaboration beer with them to express our deepest feelings and gratitude. You may ask how a heavy equipment and excavation company can collaborate on a beer, well all we can tell you is that it’s got real dirt in it and that’s how you can tell it’s authentic (*does not actually contain dirt, we just think that sounds good). The combination of 2-Row Pale, Carapils, Chocolate and Crystal 75 malts creates the perfect backbone for the conservative Columbus/Tomahawk/Zeus and Mt. Hood hop profile. Brewed with English Ale yeast as opposed to our standard California Ale yeast, this brew has a smooth, slightly sweet finish.

Archimedes Red Ale (3/5): RIP Tyson Archimedes Montrucchio. Gone, but certainly not forgotten we brewed this kickass Red Ale for our fallen friend Tyson.  As a tribute to the intensity with which he lived life we packed this beer with a sh*t ton of love and respect.  From a grain bill comprised of 2-Row Pale, Crystal 75, Munich, Victory (that’s where the biscuityness comes from), and Chocolate malts, to a hop profile of Cascade and Mt. Hood, we didn’t pull any punches on this one.  As a full bodied Red Ale that isn’t over the top, the Archimedes Red is our TCB go to beer, and is a constant reminder that we all need to be thankful for each new day with our friends and family.  La Familia Por Vida!

8140 IPA (4/5): 8140 ain’t our altitude folks so don’t go telling our friends at Mammoth Brewing Company they aren’t the highest brewery in California. The 8140 Black IPA was brewed in homage to the eight thousand one hundred and forty square feet of sheet rock we had to hang in our brewery.  As the ring leaders of the monumental task we naturally asked our supreme friends Jonathan Widen and Dave Thomas from Premier Painting Plus what kind of beer they wanted and naturally they said BLACK. So before you sits a Black IPA with an ingredient list as ominous as the color (basically it has more ingredients than will fit on the page). So enjoy the black hoppy goodness and avoid hanging drywall at all costs!

ESBzar (3/5): Rest In Powder BZ! We hand crafted this traditional Extra Special Bitter to honor our fallen friend Larry “BZ” Miller, without whom it would have been very difficult to open our brewery. Utilizing ESB as our base malt (think English style malt similar to Marris Otter) we combined Crystal 15 malt with Golding and Fuggle hops to provide the perfect base for the WLP 002 English Ale Yeast to do it’s yeasty magic and create this full bodied, subtly hopped 7% ABV 32 IBU beauty. If big hop forward beers aren’t necessarily your thing, the ESBzar may be your new go to fermulation.

Not So Hoppy Holiday Ale (3/5): Picture Santa crying…. Taking a step away from our hop forward roots we crafted this recipe with the help of our Brew Father to highlight the tastyness of holiday spices.  Utilizing cinnamon sticks, fresh ginger, nutmeg, fresh orange zest, grains of paradise and amazing awesome sauce we concocted this wickedly good holiday mix.  With an IBU of 19 and 5.7% ABV, this crimson beauty can be sessioned all night without fear of praising the porcelain thrown.  Spicy, malty, goodness.

I really liked this brewery – it’s in a really cool space and Sarah the owner was super friendly, not only giving us a couple of free tastings, but offering mountain bike suggestions in the area. The brewery doesn’t do food, but there is an AMAZING Hawaiian food truck parked outside – Ohanas395. You can order at the truck, and they’ll deliver your food in the brewery. Try the Big Kahuna Fries!

If you’re road tripping up or down 395, June Lake Brewing is worth taking the scenic route on the June Lakes loop!

 

My Favorite Restaurants in Nevada City, California

I get to go to the adorable historic mining town of Nevada City for work fairly often. There are a ton of great environmental non-profits based there that I work with, and nearly half of our AmeriCorps Members are based in the area. I was there in January for the Wild & Scenic Film Festival, last week for site visits, and I’ll be back in April for a training and watershed restoration project.

Nevada City 1

Nevada City is a California Gold Rush town about an hour from Sacramento, and the entire downtown is a National Historic District filled with funky shops and great restaurants. There are a ton of outdoor activities in the area – mountain biking, hiking, road biking, fishing and exploring the amazing Yuba River, as well as art events, concerts, festivals, and plays – Nevada City is an arts and culture hub for the Sierra

After a long day of playing outside or festival-going, there’s nothing better than something good to eat and a nice beer/glass of wine. Here are some of my favorites:

Best Restaurants Nevada City // tahoefabulous.com

Best Beer/Breakfast Baked Good Joint: 3 Forks Brewery

Named after the three forks (North, Middle and South) of the Yuba River, 3 Forks Brewery does great beer and baked goods. (So you can have beer for breakfast!) I had and amazing millet muffin when I was there, and I love the Emerald Pool IPA. The brewery supports local farms and sources as much as possible from local, organic producers.

Favorite Coffee Shop: Cafe Mekka

There are several great coffee shops in Nevada City, but my favorite is Cafe Mekka. This place has a crunchy feel – frequented by the hippie population, funky decor, dinosaurs made from appliances hanging from the ceiling, and a great coffee and chai. I recommend the dirty chai for early morning wake up calls after late nights out at the Wild & Scenic Film Festival.

Best for Scenic Dining: Lefty’s Grill

Lefty’s Grill has a great location with an outdoor deck overlooking Deer Creek in downtown Nevada City. Sit outside on the deck, order the Napa Style Pizza or anything with onion jam and you will not be disappointed.

Best Adult Grilled Cheese/Beer Selection: Matteo’s Public

I love a fancy grilled cheese sandwich, and Matteo’s Stinky Grill Cheese is awesome with cheddar, parmesan and blue cheese. The onion rings are great as well. I’ve always been impressed with their beer selection (they always have IPA 395) with fun microbrews from all over the Sierra and California. Additionally, Matteo’s Public is another Nevada City restaurant with a focus on local, organic ingredients whenever possible.

Favorite Food Truck: Fudenjuce

After a long, hot day of invasive blackberry removal last spring, one of the Nevada City AmeriCorps Members introduced us all to the amazing Fudenjuce and their delicious smoothies. Fudenjuce also has wraps, rice bowls, salads and other healthy dishes with a lot of gluten free options. Fudenjuce is a little out of town, but worth the drive or bike ride.

Best Dive Bar: The Mine Shaft Saloon

The Mine Shaft Saloon is more than just a place to get a cheap beer and check out the vintage Budweiser posters hanging from the ceiling. Despite its main street location, it’s a true locals hangout, and you can get a feel for the “real” Nevada City by spending some time here.

Bend: The Beer

So I’ve already waxed poetically about the beer at Crux Fermentation Project, but I tried A LOT of beers when we were in Bend. Here are some of the highlights:

Bend: The Breweries // tahoefabulous.com

After purchasing a bike lock and rear flashers for our Bend Ale Trail bike tour at The Hub Cyclery, we rode over to 10 Barrel Brewing Company* for dinner and beer. Despite it being fairly early on a Wednesday, the place was packed! We headed for the bar to wait for our table, where I ordered the Apocalypse IPA (I ranked it 4/5) and Greyson got the India-Style Session Ale (3/5). We were seated at the long, bar-style community table where we got to eavesdrop on lots of interesting/awkward conversations. I also had a P2P American Stout (4.5/5).

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*10 Barrel Brewing Company was recently bought by AB-InBev, so it’s technically no-longer a craft brewery, if that matters to you.

We then biked over to McMenamins Old Saint Francis School, a converted Catholic schoolhouse from the 1930’s. There’s a bar, restaurant, hotel, movie theater, and even a soaking pool! I only found out about all of the other amenities after I was back home, but I definitely want to check out the pool on my next trip to Bend. I had the Star Trip IPA (which did not have an entry on Untappd! So, honestly I don’t remember how much I like the beer, other than it was not my favorite, but I enjoyed it.) and Greyson got the Hammerhead American Pale Ale (1.5/5 – did not like it!). We called it a night after McMenamins after the long drive and headed back to the condo we stayed in our first night there.

We spent Thursday afternoon at Crux Fermentation Project, and that was our only brewery that day.

On Friday, we had a leisurely morning around camp (I finally tried a Picky Bar and really liked it! Got to love that there are getting to be more and more soy-free bars out there!), and took on the Deschutes River Trail via mountain bike. It only seemed appropriate to visit the Deschutes Brewery after!

Deschutes Brewery, Bend, OR // tahoefabulous.com

My favorite six pack that I can get fairly easily in California is Deschutes’ Fresh Squeezed IPA, and Greyson waits all year for Red Chair NWPA, so we were excited to try our favorites and more at the source. In addition to Fresh Squeezed and Red Chair, we had samplers of Bachelor Bitter (3.5), In Version Experimental Inversion IPA (3/5), Obsidian Nitro Stout (3.5/5) and Chasin’ Freshies. I’d never had Red Chair on draft, and I really liked it, it may have been my favorite out of the ones we tried there! We also split a pint of Deschutes Black Butte Porter (my favorite porter!) at Crow’s Feet Commons later – because who can resist getting a beer at a bar in a bike shop?

We grabbed dinner Friday night at a mediocre Mediterranean restaurant – nothing worth writing about, but there I was able to order a happy hour pint of Boneyard Beer Company RPM IPA (4/5). This brewery had come recommended by Emily and the bartender at Crux, so I was excited to try it out. I really enjoyed it, and I wish we could have made it to the actual brewery during our time there. Next time!

We decided to hit one more spot on the Bend Ale Trail before heading back to our campground out at Smith Rock. We walked over to Bend Brewing Company and ordered pints of Elk Lake IPA (4/5) and Metolius Golden Ale (3/5). I liked the Metolius Golden Ale way more than I usually like that style of beer.

After climbing in the cold on Saturday morning/early afternoon, we headed into town famished and ready for more beer. We had a late lunch at the most amazing Thai restaurant I’ve ever been to – Wild Rose (this place deserves its own post!), where I had a pint of 3 Sisters American Red Ale (4/5) from Wild Ride Brew, just down the road in Redmond, Oregon.

Our final stop on the Bend brewery tour was Silver Moon Brewing, my second favorite brewery of the trip. Also, the brewery was located across the street from a DONUT TRUCK which was, unfortunately, closed both times we drove by. Next time. We sat at the bar, and the friendly bartenders poured us samples of HopNob IPA (4.5/5 – the only beer in my Top 8 NOT from Crux!), Voodoo Dog American Amber (4/5), Get Sum American Pale Ale (4/5), IPA 97 (2.5/5) and Mango Daze ISA (3.5/5) which was surprisingly good for a fruity beer!

Bend is a perfect destination for the outdoorsy, the beer lover, and, especially, for those who fall in both categories. We honestly just scratched the surface of breweries in the Bend area. I can’t wait to go back and try all of the other beers from the breweries I didn’t get to visit. And (honestly), probably spend another day at Crux and Silver Moon!

P.S. We also stopped by Sierra Nevada Brewing Company on our way up north!

Sierra Nevada Brewing, Chico, CA // tahoefabulous.com

 

Try This Beer: Crux Fermentation Project in Bend Oregon

I tried A LOT of beers while I was in Bend. In fact, brewery visiting was one of my top 3 motivations for this semi-spontaneous road trip. Most of the beers I tried ranged from good to excellent, but one brewery blew all of the rest out of the water: Crux Fermentation Project

Crux Fermentation Project Bend Oregon // tahoefabulous.com

At Crux, I tried eight beers, and seven of those beers were the seven best beers I had in Bend. And the other one was still delicious, just not my favorite type of beer. In addition to the amazing beers, the staff was super friendly and generous with their time and their pours.

One bartender (whose name I didn’t get) asked us which beers we liked the most, then poured us another couple of samplers he thought we would like and needed to try. He also recommended several other breweries to try, and we took his suggestions seriously on our list of places to visit.

Here’s the list of the beers I tried (all descriptions from Crux’s website) and my rankings at the time according to Untappd.

Prowell Springs Pre-Prohibition Lager: 5 out of 5

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Sugar Daddy American Pale Ale: 5 out of 5

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Outcast American IPA: 5 out of 5

“The name “Outcast” gives a nod to the origin of the Galaxy hops used. The hops came from Australia, which was originally populated by English “Outcasts” or outlaws.”

Nitro Stout: 5 out of 5

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Half Hitch Imperial IPA: 5 out of 5

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2014 Tough Love Imperial Stout: 4.5 out of 5

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Bert Scotch Ale: 5 out of 5

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On the Fence American IPA: 5 out of 5

“It’s not a Pale and it’s not an IPA – it’s “on the fence”. A solid malt backbone with significant hop flavors and aromas (Centennial and Citra), medium alcohol and bitterness.”

We ended up buying a half growler (in this awesome double walled growler from Hydro Flask) of the On the Fence to take back and enjoy at our campsite. We even stopped by on our way out of town and filled up the growler with Half Hitch and bought a couple of bottles of Outcast! We weren’t kidding around with our Crux Fermentation Project love.

 

Planning a California North Coast Road Trip

So I’ve mentioned a few times that Greyson and I went on an amazing road trip up the North Coast of California. We managed to hit a bunch of must-see spots, both well known and off the beaten path.

Planning a CA North Coast Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

I’ve already written about one of the hidden gems we visited, Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, but I thought I’d share the other stops on our amazing road trip.

Road Trip Map via Google Maps

  1. Truckee, California to Inverness, California (200 miles, 3.5 hours):We stayed at the Cottages at Point Reyes Seashore in Inverness, California for Greyson’s sister’s wedding. I’ve written about what to do in Point Reyes in the past – it’s an amazing place full of tons of things to do.
  2. Inverness, California to Westport, California (163 miles, 4.5 hours via Hwy 1):We headed north on the legendary Highway One, on our way to Fort Bragg and Westport-Union Landing Beach. In the Fort Bragg area, I knew I wanted to return to Pacific Star Winery and eat fresh seafood. I got my wish, and we tasted wines and watched a new batch of grapes be unloaded at the winery while the staff gave us a tour and let us taste test the different grape varieties. We ate dinner at Sea Pal Cove restaurant, where I had local rockfish fish and chips.  I had been to the area before, and I knew that I wanted to stay in a private that I had discovered allowed camping on the sand, north of Fort Bragg on Westport Beach – Westport Beach RV Park. Though it is also an RV park, the tent camping sites are secluded from the rest of the park, and all we heard all night were crashing waves.
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Beach camping at Westport Beach near Fort Bragg, CA. Photo by Greyson Howard
  1. Westport, California to Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, California (75 miles, 2.25 hours via Garberville, CA):I’ve already written about the amazing Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, but I just want to emphasize again how incredible it is! If you enjoy the outdoors, it should be on your California Bucket List. On our way to Sinkyone, we stopped for lunch in Garberville at the Eel River Cafe – a cute diner with good food in generous portions.
  2. Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, California to Redwoods State and National Parks, California (142 miles, 3.5 hours): On our way to the Redwoods, we drove through the Avenue of the Giants, a well known drive that’s definitely worth getting off the highway for.
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Avenue of the Giants. Photo by Greyson Howard

 

One of the main things Greyson wanted to see on this trip was Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park(part of Redwoods National and State Parks). We found that Gold Bluffs Beach Campground was the closest access to Fern Canyon, and open on a first come-first serve basis in early October during our trip. We arrived fairly early on a Thursday, and by Thursday night the campground was pretty much full, despite it being a weeknight during the off season. If you plan on staying at Gold Bluff Beach, Fern Canyon is a pretty much year-round attraction, so plan on getting to the nearby campgrounds early in order to find a spot. Our campsite was tucked away behind some bushes for a wind break, and a quick walk to the ocean beach, surrounded by the gold cliffs that give the area its name. Fern Canyon can be accessed by a less than quarter mile hike from the parking area, but we chose a longer 7 mile loop through old growth redwoods to access the back side of the canyon. The longer hike was definitely worth it, full of wet forest plants and creatures that we don’t get to see in the Sierra, and not very strenuous at all.

Banana Slugs in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Banana Slugs in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Fern Canyon was like nothing else I’ve ever seen – sheer walls entirely covered with ferns – and worth a trip to the Redwood State and National Parks just on its own.

Fern Canyon. Photo by Greyson Howard
Fern Canyon. Photo by Greyson Howard
  1. Redwood State and National Parks, California to Nevada City, California (328 miles, 6.25 hours via Chico): The only problem we ran into on our whole road trip came on this leg. We had planned to stop in Chico, California for our last night and do a tour and tasting at Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, and just get a cheap motel room when we go into town. It turns out that we arrived on the Saturday of Parents Weekend at Chico State, and there wasn’t a room to rent within 50 miles. We ended up just having an early dinner/beer tasting at Sierra Nevada, and we pushed on to Nevada City. We grabbed a couple of beers at Matteo’s Public, and were asleep before ten in our room at the Emma Nevada House.
  2. Nevada City, California to Truckee, California (102 miles, 3 hours via Hwy 49 & 89): Since our inadvertent night in Nevada City meant that we were further along on our road trip, we decided to take the long way – Highway 49 to Highway 89 through Downieville. This route has beautiful views of the Sierra Buttes, and our quick stop in Downieville had us lamenting the fact that we didn’t have our bikes. This meandering, scenic route was the perfect end to a perfect Northern California road trip.
Looking back at the Sierra Buttes from Hwy 49
Looking back at the Sierra Buttes from Hwy 49

And finally, in true data-nerd form, here’s my spreadsheet of trip mileage, travel time and a few notes, for reference:

CA North Coast Road Trip Plan // tahoefabulous.com

Try This Beer – Sierra Nevada Brewing Company

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company isn’t exactly a tiny, unknown microbrewery in need of promotion, since you can buy their beers in pretty much every state. But I recently got a chance to visit their headquarters in Chico, California and try some of their beers you can’t get in the store or are much more difficult to find.

SNBC 1

Greyson and I went for an early dinner at their Taproom (be sure to order the beer cheese if you’re there!) and split two samplers. The samplers were pretty small, which is why we ended up going for two. We were glad we ended up being able to try so many different beers, and the samplers were very reasonably priced (I want to say somewhere in the $5 range? Sorry, I don’t remember!). One note – they don’t tell you which order to drink the beers, which is usually standard when ordering samplers for maximum taste enjoyment. We organized them by IBUs, going from least bitter to most bitter, which seemed to work just fine.

I tracked my tastings using the Untappd app (which isn’t my favorite, but it’s the best I’ve found so far. Any suggestions?) Spoiler alert – I really, really enjoyed most of them, but the overall winner for delicious drinkability (#1 qualification for growler purchase) was the Pilsner *- a result that surprised myself! We shared the growler with 2 friends when we got home, and it did not last very long! The Best Bitter was another surprise for a close second place and I would also recommend in the growler volume.

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company // tahoefabulous.com

Here’s what I tried (all descriptions from Sierra Nevada Brewing Company website):

Knightro Dry Irish Stout: A fully nitrogenated beer designed as our take on the creamy dry stouts of Ireland with a decidedly Sierra Nevada twist. Knightro is black in color, but surprisingly light in body with rich caramel and chocolate malty flavors. It has a creamy mouthfeel and gentle carbonation from the use of a high percentage of nitrogen instead of the typical carbon dioxide. My score: 2.5/5

Narwhal Imperial Stout: Narwhal Imperial Stout is inspired by the mysterious creature that thrives in the deepest fathoms of the frigid Arctic Ocean. Featuring incredible depth of malt flavor, rich with notes of espresso, baker’s cocoa, roasted grain and a light hint of smoke, Narwhal is a massive malt-forward monster. Aggressive but refined with a velvety smooth body and decadent finish, Narwhal will age in the bottle for years to come. My Score: 4.5/5

Northwest Hemisphere Harvest Wet Hop Ale: Northern Hemisphere was the first wet hop ale and it inspired the wet hop craze here in America. Wet—undried—hops go straight from the fields into our kettles within 24 hours. Because hops are incredibly perishable, using hops wet preserves all of the precious oils and resins for a unique drinking experience as evidenced by the intense herbal green flavors and citrus-like and floral aromas. Northern Hemisphere is part of our five-bottle Harvest series which features single hop, fresh hop, wet hop, and wild hop beers. My Score: 5/5

Hoptimum: Hoptimum is a hurricane of whole-cone hop flavor. Hopped, dry hopped and torpedoed for incredible hop flavor and complexity, Hoptimum is the pinnacle of whole-cone hoppiness and the biggest Imperial IPA we have ever produced. It features resinous hop varieties: Magnum, Chinook, Simcoe and a new experimental hop variety exclusive to Sierra Nevada. With intense hop flavors and aromas of grapefruit rind, pine, herbs and tropical fruit, Hoptimum is an aggressive drinking experience. Originally created as part of our Beer Camp program, Hoptimum throws down the gauntlet to all other IPAs. My Score: 5/5

Pilsner*: Our Pilsner won a gold award in the bi-annual “Olympics of Beer,” the 2010 World Beer Cup, in the German-Style Pilsner category. This traditional Bavarian lager is straw colored with a pinpoint balance between nutty malt flavors and aromatic noble hops. Our Pilsner is an excellent example of this light-bodied traditional style. My Score: 4/5

Nooner Session IPA: There’s no better way to start a lazy afternoon than with a group of friends and a few beers. Nooner IPA is a session beer that’s light in body yet big in hop flavor. By using intense, whole-cone American hops in our Hop Torpedo we pack this small beer with a hefty hop punch. Traditionally, IPAs have been bigger, stronger beers, but this session beer offers the same hop assertiveness with an easy drinkability. My Score: 4/5

Flipside Red IPA: Just when it feels like the dog days will never end, suddenly, the switch is flipped, the air gets cooler and it’s clear that autumn is on the way. Featuring a ruby-red hue and abundant tropical fruit and citrus hop flavors, Flipside Red IPA is the perfect beer for the final flash of summer. My Score: 2.5/5

Best Bitter: Brewed with imported English malts, this medium-bodied, copper-colored beer is a rendition of the popular English Bitter. Best Bitter is a true “session” beer that features a smooth toasty, biscuit-like malt character and finishes with a clean, spicy hop note. My Score: 5/5

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company is a brewery with an environmental focus, delicious beers, and is always supporting great local and regional causes, and I’d heartily recommend their beers you can regularly find in stores (especially their original Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in a can). If you ever get a chance to visit their brewery in Chico or sample some of their less available brews, you won’t regret it!

Try This Beer: Orlison Brewing Co.

I have a special connection to Orlison Brewing Co: it started in my neighbor’s barn! I’ve tried Orlison’s Lagers every step of the way, and I couldn’t be happier about their success!

Orlison Brewing // tahoefabulous.com

Here’s what they have to say about themselves:

“Orlison Brewing Co., located in Airway Heights, WA, is a small craft lager brewery looking to convert ale enthusiasts everywhere into true lager fans. Originally founded in 2009, years of tried and true brewing methods provide our team with the knowledge and capabilities needed to create the best craft beers available in the Pacific Northwest. We are also the first Inland Northwest brewery to can our beer, a distinction we are proud of.

Our motto, Brew No Evil™, is a statement of our commitment to brewing the cleanest, clearest and tastiest lagers available today. Our award-winning crisp beers stand as a representation of everything we want our customers to enjoy in a real lager. Whether you’re interested in a smooth, light Pilsner like our Havanüther or Orlison’s IPL, our crazily hoppy lager, try out a glass of real beer from Orlison Brewing Co. today.”

As a tried and true IPA (the hoppier the better!) fan, I was a little skeptical of the appeal of a lager. And, let’s face it, the vast majority of lagers I’ve tried are in the Busch Light/Budweiser realm. Not true about Orlison’s lagers.

Orlison Brewing Co. only brews the finest craft lagers. Brew-master Bernie Düenwald stays true to his heart by producing clear, crisp and refreshing lagers. With only the finest Northwest ingredients we create full bodied and delicious finishing lagers that stand apart in the craft ale world. A Lager takes longer to ferment, requires a cooler temperature and closer monitoring than your typical Ale. These cool temps and attention to detail give lagers their distinctly crisp, refreshing taste and set them apart from other craft beers.”

While all of Orlison Brewing Co.’s lagers are worth drinking, my favorites are their IPL (India Style Pale Lager), Pilsner 37 (a portion of the proceeds from this beer go to Team Gleason – a charity that provides life improving technology and services to individuals with MS) and the best light beer I’ve ever had – the Havanuther.

Orlison Brewing // tahoefabulous.com

You can find Orlison is near you by clicking here.

Try This Beer: Mighty Mo Brewing Co

So I thought I’d just pop in with a quick beer recommendation: Mighty Mo Brewing Company in Great Falls, Montana.

Mighty Mo Brewing Co // tahoefabulous.com

We stopped into this awesome local brewery on a long drive between West Glacier and Gardiner, Montana. My dad and I tried a few of their beers (all delicious!) including the Rendezvous Red Ale and Smoke Jumper Strong Scotch Ale. I settled on the Rising Trout Pale Ale, which I thoroughly enjoyed. If you’re anywhere near Great Falls, Montana and looking for a fun space with great beer, I couldn’t recommend Mighty Mo Brewing Company and more highly!