Beer and Camping in Whistler/Squamish, BC

So one thing I quickly learned when planning this trip is that, unless you’re staying in the Whistler village or on the mountain, you’re probably hanging out in Squamish, BC. That’s fine, because it turns out that Squamish is an amazing town. It reminded Greyson and me a lot of Truckee, actually.

Squamish Beer and Camping // tahoefabulous.com
Squamish, BC is an outdoorsy town on the northern end of the Howe Sound. It’s in a gorgeous setting, with towering granite cliffs and unbelievably blue water. It’s about 50 minutes from Whistler, and the drive is on the gorgeous but nerve wracking Sea to Sky Highway. In addition to miles of mountain bike trails, it’s also famous for climbing – especially Stawamus Chief. Think of an outdoor activity, and you can probably do it in Squamish – hiking, kayaking, trail running, rafting, etc.

After a full day of downhill mountain biking in Whistler, we were too exhausted to ride the trails of Squamish, which is probably our biggest regret of our whole road trip. Oh, well, we’ll just need to go back! Unsurprisingly, we visited several breweries in the Whistler/Squamish area and I really liked them. We were there in early-July, which is definitely high season in Squamish, so all of these breweries were packed. If you go during a busy time of year, prepare to stand or share a table with friendly locals. I also got to pet a lot of cute dogs at these breweries, too.

Beer
First up was Backcountry Brewing. This brewery has a full kitchen (we had good thin crust pizza) and was super busy. We tried two IPAs, Close Talker (3.5) and Sid Rogers Lil IPA (4.25) that appear to have gone off the menu. I really liked this place and would definitely go back. They also have cider, if you can’t do gluten.

Next was A-FRAME Brewing, which was just down the street. Here we did a four beer tasting flight, and this was my favorite Squamish brewery overall. We sampled (beer descriptions by A-FRAME):
Okanagan Lake Cream Ale (4.5/5): Okanagan Lake Cream Ale is pale gold with a sweet malty flavour, light in hop aroma and a smooth dry finish.

Elfin Lake Belgian Ale (3.5/5)

Shuswap Lake IPA (4/5): Shuswap Lake IPA is a bold, lean and assertive West Coast IPA. Brewed with Galena and Horizon hops in the kettle and dry-hopped with Centennial, Chinook and Cascade hops. This hop forward ale has a smooth, crisp, hop forward flavour with Centennial hops providing medium aromas of floral, grapefruit and mild citrus.

Sproat Lake Pale Ale (4.75/5): Sproat Lake Dry-Hopped Pale Ale is a fresh, light and sessionable ale where every new batch is hopped with an entirely different varietal. This batch of Sproat Lake Pale Ale focuses on the juicy side of today’s most popular hops. Brewed with Flaked Oats, Wheat and dry hopped with Amarillo, Mosaic and Citra. Smooth and silky malt body, light orange hues with aromas of citrus, orange zest and tropical fruits.

Finally, we have Coast Mountain Brewing, the only brewery we went to that was in Whistler. Here we tried (again, descriptions by brewery):

Forecast West Coast Pale Ale (3.75/5): Forecast gives us a peak into the future where fairer days breed serious mountain Apres sessions. The incredible Amarillo dry-hops here add tremendous, beautiful fresh-squeezed juice like character.

Day Dreamer NE IPA (3.75/5): Beautiful hazy, juicy goodness with notes of tropical fruits and citrus throughout. Brewed with generous additions of Canadian flaked oats, flaked wheat and tremendous late and dry-hop additions of Citra hops.

Lodging
There are not a ton of camping options in the Whistler/Squamish area, especially for non-private campgrounds. We ended up staying at two private campgrounds and one night in a hotel.

Our first night in the area, we camped at MTN Fun Basecamp in Squamish which I would highly recommend. The sites are spacious, the crowd wasn’t too rowdy and there are bike trails right from the resort. It also looks like a great base camp for rafting and climbing and booking guided trips as well. Post biking, we got a room at the Sea to Sky Hotel. The hotel was fine, the price was decent and the rooms were clean. They had a bike storage room, which was just a conference room, but better than nothing. I wished we could have locked up our bikes while they were in there, though. The best part of Sea to Sky Hotel was the restaurant within walking distance Pepe & Gringo’s (also known as Pepe’s Chophouse). Generally, when a place has a bunch of different cuisines on the menu, none of them are that good. But Pepe’s had Indian, Italian, and Indian and more, and everything we had was delicious. Finally, we stayed at Riverside Resort in Whistler. This is a private campground with walk in-only and drive in camping, motorhome spaces, and rental cabins. This was definitely the worst place we camped – very much a party campground and pretty pricey.

Overall, I’d recommend staying in and exploring Squamish and making the trek to Whistler when needed. If you really want to stay in Whistler, splurge and stay in the village. Overall, Whistler and Squamish are awesome and I can’t wait to go back.

Food, Lodging, and Things To Do at the Sunshine Coast

Things to do on the Sunshine Coast // tahoefabulous.com
I already wrote about the mountain biking and the breweries of the Sunshine Coast, but that’s not all we did while we were there.  The Sunshine Coast is an awesome destination and I highly recommend visiting.

Camping
We camped at two different places on the Sunshine Coast – in both Powell River on the north end and in Roberts Creek towards the south.

In Powell River, we camped at a private campground located right in town – Willingdon Beach Campsite. Often, that combination is a recipe for a loud, un-scenic stay, but that wasn’t the case at Willingdon. The spots were pretty close together and we struggled finding a spot flat enough for our tent. Our neighbors were super friendly and respectful and a beautiful beach was a short walk away. It was also pretty cheap for a private campground, and it had laundry available if you needed it.

In Roberts Creek, which is between Sechelt and Gibsons, we stayed at Roberts Creek Provincial Park. This was a nice campground with spaced out spots in the old growth trees, but even in the height of summer it wasn’t staffed like the other provincial park campgrounds. This was the only campground we stayed at in all of BC where we put money in an envelope!

Other Lodging
We stayed at a couple of non-camping lodgings while we were on the Sunshine Coast. I was worried about finding camping when we took the evening ferry from Vancouver Island to Powell River, so we booked a night at the Island View Lodge for our first night. Now, the Island View Lodge is not the height of luxury, but I thought it was perfectly fine for a hotel on the cheaper end of things. It had recently been remodeled and had a better than average continental breakfast. It’s pretty close to a mill though, and, while we couldn’t smell it in the room, the distinct mill smell was noticeable outside.

If you’re looking for a nice place to stay on the south end of the Sunshine Coast, I highly recommend the Huckleberry Cottage in Roberts Creek. We stayed in the Carriage House, an adorable studio with all the amenities we could want after camping. There was a washer/dryer, a full kitchen, and an amazing soaking tub. The owners were so nice and friendly and had a great spot for locking up bikes.

Restaurants
While we did some camp cooking on the Sunshine Coast, we did eat out more often at this point in the road trip.

Costa Del Sol was an amazing Mexican restaurant in Powell River. It’s more a hipster type of Mexican restaurant, not a hole in the wall and it’s pretty small so you might have to wait for a table. I loved the Costa Cesar, which was made with tequila, and the Yam Tacos.

In Sechelt, we ate at The Lighthouse Pub, which was at the marina. The restaurant is right on the water, and we could watch sea planes take off and land from our table. We even saw a seal pop up its head while we ate! The halibut fish and chips were incredible! Seriously, I’ve eaten a lot of fish and chips in my life and these were #1.

Between Sechelt and Roberts Creek, we stopped at Gourmet Girl, another waterfront restaurant. I had Belgian waffles with local berries, which were delicious, but Greyson’s home fry poutine stole the show. If you’re looking for something quick and easy in the Roberts Creek area, the pizza from Pepper Creek was good, if a little pricey for basic pizza. The staff was also super friendly.

Finally, Smitty’s Oyster House in Gibsons is in an amazing location, but you’ll definitely pay high food prices for the view! They were also out of the oysters I wanted when we got there, which was a total bummer. The food we got was good, and Greyson found non-seafood things to eat.

Kayaking in Sechelt Inlet

We wanted to do some exploring on the water instead of via mountain bike while we were on the Sunshine Coast, so we booked a guided kayak tour with Pedals & Paddles, who have an incredible spot on Sechelt Inlet, almost at the end of the road. The two hour tour was only $75 per person, which included the boat and life jacket rental, which was a great price. Our tour guide was friendly and knowledgable, and the time flew by. The water was so clear that we could see down to the star fish hanging out on the bottom! The sea life highlight was definitely the moon jelly blooms where tens of thousands of translucent jelly fish turned the water a beautiful turquoise color. We also saw a mink playing along the shoreline!

Beer, Food, and Lodging on Vancouver Island

I realize I’m jumping around some chronologically, but I wanted to collect my Vancouver Island recommendations in one place.

Beer:
First, and most importantly, the beer.

Vancouver Island Breweries // tahoefabulous.com

White Sails Brewing, Nanaimo, BC
We stopped at White Sail Brewing in Nanaimo on our drive from the ferry to Englishman River Falls Provincial Park. The brewery is in an industrial type building, but beachy and full of light on the inside. I enjoyed all of the beers that I tried. Beer descriptions from the breweries, unless obvious. I tried:

Brickyard Beach Red Cream Ale (4.25/5)

Restrained hop bitterness with a balance of light caramel grain and a clean, dry smoothness to finish.

Mount Benson IPA (5/5)
Medium bodied. This beer offers a well balanced clean malty flavour characterized by its distinguished hop bitterness. Delicious aroma of fruit and citrus.

Ridge Ryeder Rye IPA (4/5)
This is a seasonal that’s not always available.

Snake Island Cascadian Dark Ale (3.75/5)
Medium bodied. Full flavoured with hints of chocolate and coffee. A healthy dose of Pacific NW hops to balance the dark malt character. Dark colour profile that drinks like an IPA…. delicious!

Cumberland Brewing Company, Cumberland, BC
Cumberland Brewing Company has a hippie vibe and constantly has lots of high end bikes parked outside. It’s a good fit for the mountain bike focused downtown of Cumberland. We ate there and had a couple of beers. The food was delicious, if a little pricey. I wasn’t super into the the beers they had listed – their beer list leaned towards bitters, wheat beers, sours, etc. The beers we ended up getting were decent, but not on my favorites list. The brewery is definitely worth visiting because the food and atmosphere are great though. I tried Finally IPA (3.75/5) and Tropical Hop ISA (3.75/5.

Beach Fire Brewing, Campbell River, BC
Beach Fire Brewing was my favorite brewery on Vancouver Island. The staff was friendly, the beer was great, and the interior was beautiful. We got there right after it opened on a week day, so it was pretty empty, but it seems like it’s usually a popular place. I am usually an IPA all day person, but at this brewery I noticed the beginning of a trend. I was preferring BC Pale Ales over their IPAs. I tried

Beach Blonde Ale (4.5/5)
Light, refreshing and flavourful. Perfect for a hot day at the beach, or where ever you find yourself soaking up the west coast sun. A clean, light body with a touch of malt sweetness, this balanced brew sports a subtle hop bitterness and flavour. It‘s all yellow polka-dot bikini, without the peroxide.

Ember Red Ale (3.5/5)
A smooth drinking, crimson-coloured Scottish ale. Malt forward with caramel and subtle roasty and chocolate flavours, balanced with mild English hops. It’s perfect for keeping your fire pit glowing.

Hight Tide Pale Ale (5/5)
A hop forward, west coast pale ale with restrained bitterness, but a big hop aroma and flavour. Just as the tides change, hops in this beer may ebb and flow to showcase new and novel varieties. It will always reflect a stoic focus on a new-world hops with rising flavours of citrus, pine and tropical fruits.

Wheelbender Stout (4.25/5)

Gladstone Brewing, Courtenay, BC
We stopped in at Gladstone Brewing to kill time while we waited for our ferry to the Sunshine Coast. We only tried a couple of beers, which were pretty good. The location was really crowded and loud and we were feeling pretty overwhelmed, but would be fun for a rowdy night. I tried

Gladstone IPA (3.5/5)
The Gladstone Straight 6 IPA glints a dark copper, aromas of tropical fruit can be found, but resinous pine is much more prominent. Lightly malted, strong bitterness from West Coast hops is the focus, complimented rather than diffused by bright citrus flavours courtesy of a generous amount of Southern Hemisphere hops. What malt character remains is most apparent after swallowing, where the light sweetness works to hold the bitterness on the tongue.

Gladstone Pilsner (3.5/5)
A bright, clear, golden Lager, the Gladstone Pilsner smells of crisp yeast and lightly spicy hops. Noticeably bitter, the combination of generous hopping and Pilsen malt results in an extremely refreshing brew. A light toasted finish creates a full body that remains dry and does not linger on the tongue.

Lodging
We stayed at three campgrounds and a motel on Vancouver Island. I’d highly recommend the campgrounds we stayed at near Parksville (Hammerfest Trail Network) and Campbell River (trail write up coming soon!). We stayed at Englishman River Falls Provincial Park outside of Parksville and Elk Falls Provincial Park near Campbell River. These parks are quiet, clean, well maintained and CHEAP, especially if you’re used to California State Parks prices.

Camp 8 among the ferns and forest. #toasterroadtrip

A post shared by Greyson Howard (@greyson_goes_outside) on

We stayed at a private campground in Cumberland, which was very close to Cumberland Forest, but not the nicest. The campsites were small and close together and it was hard to find a flat place to pitch our tent. There’s not a lot of other camping options around Cumberland, so I’d recommend finding a motel or vacation rental. There’s a mountain bike focused hostel in Cumberland, The Riding Fool, that seems cool, but we didn’t stay there so I can give it a first hand review. Courtenay and Comox are a very reasonable driving distance as well.

Food
We cooked a lot of meals at our camps, but also tried a fair number of restaurants on Vancouver Island. We were more focused on beer and biking than food, but we ate a few places I can recommend. First up, Lefty’s Fresh Food, where I had probably my favorite meal on the island. I had an omelet with smoked salmon, artichokes and gruyere and parmesan cheese. I still think about that omelet. In Cumberland, I loved Rider’s Pizza. I pretty much never say no to pizza, especially after a bike ride. Finally, we hung out at the Broken Spoke in Courtenay for quite awhile. It’s a bike themed coffee shop with delicious and strong coffee, comfy couches, and plenty of magazines to read.

Oh, and Greyson tried his first poutine while we were on Vancouver Island.
 

Try This Beer: Buoy Beer Company; Astoria, Oregon

We went to 18 new breweries on #toasterroadtrip, our beer and biking focused honeymoon, one brewery reigned supreme: Buoy Beer Company in Astoria, Oregon.

Buoy Beer Company // tahoefabulous.com

My best friend Jodi and her boyfriend Jeff (co-owner of the awesome Independent Beer Bar and beer expert) recommended it, and we were so happy they did. First of all, the brewery is in a beautiful location with a view of the water. It’s in a refurbished industrial building and the setting adds to the delicious beer and tasty food. I ate an amazing clam chowder and Jodi recommends the deep fried cheese curds.

Now, the beer (all descriptions by Buoy Beer Company unless obvious):

Cream Ale (4.75/5 stars): Crispcleanclassic. Where Ales meet Lagers, a uniquely American brew is born. Our Cream Ale is fresh and inviting, with a restrained use of Willamette hops for a crisp, familiar finish. It’s like those days we get here, where impossibly big clouds frame the purest, sunniest sky you can imagine. This was my favorite beer at my favorite brewery.

Pale Ale (4.75/5 stars): Buoy Pale Ale mixes subtle sweet notes of Pale, Crystal, and Munich malts followed by a wave of floral and citrus flavors from a tri-fecta of Oregon grown hops. Beers up! Close second to the cream ale.

IPA (4.5/5 stars): Full of flavor, this NW IPA is proof that you can go big without the bitter bite. No hop shock here. Well-balanced and lovingly dry-hopped with Meridian and Crystal hops for a rich, citrusy finish. Beer with a backbone – born from a place where a little heavy weather never hurt anyone.

Northwest Red Ale (4/5 stars): Big, malty, hoppy. Five malt varieties commingle to create a dark red color with a balances malt base. Late kettle additions and dry-hopping with Ultra and Sterling hops bring out the NW Red’s defining character. A lot’s happening under the surface here; like it is with the mighty Columbia River, rolling right outside our window.

Amarillo Single Hop IPA (4.25/5 stars): This single-hop series uses the same traditional IPA malt base for each edition, with the only change from batch to batch being the type of hops that are used. This non-complex malt base allows for the varying hop profiles to be showcased in each release. Amarillo offers citrus and grapefruit flavors with fruity spectrum of aroma descriptors: grapefruit, orange, lemon, melon, apricot and peach

You should definitely stop by Buoy Beer Company for food and beer if you’re traveling 101 between Washington and Oregon. It’s also so good that you should make it a destination if you’re on a beer tour. I can’t wait to go back!

 

Beer, Pickles and Donuts: Quick Portland Trip

I went up to visit my college friends for a Halloween cabin party in Washington last weekend. I ended up finding a super cheap flight to Portland, and my friend Michelle, who organized the weekend, happens to live there. I asked her if I could fly in a little early and catch a ride up. Voila, mini trip to Portland!

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I hung out in Portland on Thursday evening after my flight, during the day on Friday, a few hours Sunday night and during the day before my flight on Monday, so I was able to hit up quite a few places while I was there. Mostly, I focused on food and beer – specifically strong & bitter IPAs, pickles and donuts.

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My friends live in a super cute neighborhood (filled with gorgeous fall trees) that’s just a short bike ride/walk away from the awesome Mississippi and Woodlawn neighborhoods. When Michelle wasn’t showing me her favorite spots, I was able to borrow a bike and explore on my own.

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First up, the beer. If you haven’t been living under a rock, you know that the Portland beer scene is one of the best on the planet, especially if you like strong, hoppy IPAs. I was able to check out a few breweries while I was there and I really liked or loved most of what I tried. All descriptions from the breweries’ websites, unless otherwise obvious.

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Burnside Brewing Company

Sweet Heat, 4.9% ABV, 9 IBU. Apricot and Scotch bonnet pepper wheat beer. Spice level varies per batch. 2012 GABF gold medal winner. (4/5 – I don’t normally like fruity beers, but this was great! It reminded me of the spicy dried mangos from Trader Joe’s.)

Burnside IPA, 6.5% ABV, 85 IBU. Malt hop balance, Galena, Cascade, Meridian. Dry hop amarillo. (4.5/5)

Too Sticky to Roll India Red Ale, 6.2% ABV, 78 IBU. Quaffable yet chewy India Red Ale. (4/5)

StormBreaker Brewing

Opacus Stout, As dark and rich as the thick cloud formation it is named after, the light roast coffee flavors with subtle hints of chocolate really warms the soul. This creamy, full body oatmeal stout makes this the perfect beer to enjoy when sitting fireside with a blanket on our patio in those long winter months. (4/5)

Breakside Brewery – my friend Chris works at this brewery (check out the beer and bike blog he has with his girlfriend), and we tried a bunch of great ones that I forgot to record. Just believe me, this brewery is great. We definitely tried an IPA, a couple of sour-er beers and an apple ale.

Matcha Milk Stout, A full bodied stout brewed with milk sugar and matcha. Grassy and lightly bitter with a lingering sweetness. (4.75/5 This one came recommended by my friend. It’s not one I would have chosen on my own, but was probably my favorite beer I had this weekend.)

Ecliptic Brewing – the bartender at this bar was super friendly and gave me a ton of recommendations. Unfortunately, I didn’t visit until my last afternoon, so I didn’t get to check any of them out on this trip.

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Canopus IPA, The supergiant Canopus shines in the southern constellation Carina.  Brewed with a special blend of malts for a smooth body and a dry finish, Canopus IPA pays homage to the second brightest star in the night sky.  Sterling hops impart a crisp bitterness, and dry hopping with Simcoe and Centennial completes the ale with tropical and citrusy hop flavor. (3.75/5)

Trans Pacific Pilsner, This collaboration was brewed with The Garage Project Brewery in New Zealand. We met up with Jos during Oregon Brewers fest to craft this American/New Zealand Pilsner. This is a very hop forward pilsner with a dank hop aroma from Simcoe and NZ Nelson Sauvin hops. The malt flavors are creamy with a very crisp finish. (4.5/5)

Altair Fresh Hop Ale, Brewed to celebrate the annual Hop harvest! Altair a bright star in the Constellation Aquila the Eagle. Fresh Amarillo Hops were used making this beer. A light biscuit malt character is balanced with wonderful aromas of orange and slight tropical fruit. This beer was dry hopped in the fermenter. It’s a classic American pale ale! (4.75/5 The bartender found some of the last of this – I’m so glad I got to try it!)

Orbiter IPA, Orbiter IPA unites a constellation of “C” hops (Cascade, Centennial, Chinook and Columbus) to create a formidable IPA. Bright and  citrusy hop flavors shine in a medium body with caramel malt character. Dry hopped to amplify the hop aroma and flavor. (4/5)

I also had some amazing lemon lavender cider at Bushwhacker Cider. Lavender is one of my favorite flavors, and it was delicious in the lemon cider. It would be perfect for a hot sunny day on a patio – or, you know, the rainy cold evening we were actually experiencing. Bushwhackers seemed like a pretty cool place, but it was almost totally empty. We took advantage of that by hogging the free shuffleboard table the whole night.

I managed to fit in a few things other than brewery hopping. I had phenomenal short rib kimchi quesadillas at the KOi Fusion food truck.

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I bought some adorable book-related limited edition prints and hipster coloring books at Reading Frenzy. I checked out the ReBuilding Center – I wanted to bring home a souvenir, but couldn’t fit an antique light fixture into my carry on.

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I had three pickle plates (homemade and at Burnside & StormBreaker) and fried pickles (at Breakside).

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And most importantly, I finally tried a Voodoo Doughnut, and Old Dirty Bastard is the way to go. I also tried a couple of donuts at Blue Star Donut. I loved the blueberry bourbon basil.

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Finally, there was this creepy Doll Asylum for Halloween. I did not go in.

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I had an awesome time in Portland, and I can’t wait to go back and visit more breweries. Maybe I’ll even get a hike in!

 

Things to Do in Mammoth Lakes, California

This weekend, Greyson and I were in Mammoth Lakes, California. We were mainly there for mountain biking, but there are so many awesome things to do in the area, it’s definitely a worthwhile summer trip. Mammoth Lakes is a decent sized (pop. 8,000) town in Mono County in the Eastern Sierra. It’s about three hours from Tahoe, five hours from LA and the Bay area. There’s a ton of vacation rentals in town, which I’ve used pretty much every time I’ve stayed there, as well as hotels/motels, and camping in and out of town. There’s a bunch of great restaurants, bars, hikes, and outdoor activities, among other things. Here are a few of my favorites.

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  1. Ride the gondola to the top of Mammoth Mountain: Even if you have no interest in mountain biking, you can still ride the gondola to the top of Mammoth Mountain for some scenic hiking. Two kids can ride for free with every paying adult!
  2. Mammoth Brewing Company: This was the first brewery I visited in the Sierra, and it probably remains my favorite. The first time I visited, the “tasting room” was just a small area in a big warehouse that housed the brewing equipment, and the woman working the taps poured us more free tastes than we could drink, and we walked away with a growler filled on the cheap. Over the years, they made improvements to the tasting room, and started charging (a very cheap fee!) for tastings.

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Last year, Mammoth Brewing Company moved into a beautiful new location, and, as of our visit this weekend, they are now serving food. They also have an outdoor seating area and a place to hang backpacks for through hikers. The brewery offers tasting flights of their Originals and their Seasonals for a very reasonable $7 each, and you can get pints, pitchers and growlers to go. My favorites to get on draft at the brewery are Golden Trout Pilsner and Epic IPA. Those are actually two that you can get in bottles and cans in stores, but they taste so much better on draft!

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  1. Local hikes: There are a ton of great day hikes around Mammoth Lakes, and it’s a popular stopping place along the John Muir Trail. The Mammoth Lakes Trail System has more than 300 miles of trails. There are trails for every ability level, from an easy nature stroll to rugged trails with 6,000 feet of climbing. Mammoth Lakes is at elevation, so if you’re not used to that, be prepared for an extra challenge and be sure to drink lots of water. You can also use Mammoth Lakes as a jumping off point for multi-day backpacking trip.
  2. Day Trip to Mono Lake: One of the best things about Mammoth is its proximity to other great Sierra destinations. It’s only about a half hour drive to Mono Lake – the unique alkaline lake that inspired massive conservation efforts in the 90s. The weird chemistry going on at Mono Lake has led to amazing formations – tufa towers being among the most iconic.

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There’s also interesting bird watching, as it’s an important stop for many migratory birds. Check out the Mono Lake Committee’s website for more information, including guided hikes and tours.

  1. Visit the Restaurants: Here are just a few of my favorite places to eat and drink in Mammoth Lakes.
  • Base Camp Cafe has really good vegan chili and breakfast burritos
  • Stellar Brew is where I go for coffee, chai and wifi
  • Latin Market is a tucked away gem with the best burritos and a killer salsa bar
  1. Mammoth Festival of Beers & Bluesapalooza: This is an awesome festival featuring dozens of amazing breweries and great blues performances. A group of us went last year, and we had an amazing time.

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We camped within walking distance of the festival, and tried dozens of amazing beers. This year’s performers include Jonny Lang, Jelly Bread, and Robert Cray. This is the 20th Anniversary of the festival, and tickets often sell out – so if you’re interested in attending, get them sooner rather than later.

Climbing at Smith Rock in Oregon

At the beginning of the month, Greyson and I took a road trip up to Bend, Oregon. I’ve already written about the beer and biking, but we did one other main activity while we were there: climbing and camping at Smith Rock State Park.

Smith Rock State Park, Bend, Oregon // tahoefabulous.com

The Oregon State Parks website says this about Smith Rock:

If you enjoy scenic views of deep river canyons or rock climbing, Smith Rock State Park is the place for you. There are several thousand climbs in the park. More than a thousand are bolted routes. We also offer miles of hiking and mountain biking trails. Along your trip through the canyon, you might see golden eagles, prairie falcons, mule deer, river otter and beaver.

Smith Rock is a major rock climbing destination and the birth place of North American sport climbing. The Mountain Project describes the climbing at Smith Rock as:

“…Oregon’s premier rock climbing destination, and one of the best sport climbing areas in the United States. This world-renowned sport climbing mecca has more than once been at the focal point of the climbing world. Extensive development took place in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s by locals and international climbers alike, who put up scores of classic climbs on the tuff and basalt cliffs; development continues to this day with new moderates and cutting-edge routes going up each year. Ranging from classic beginner routes to hardcore testpieces on a wide variety of rock, there is truly something here for everyone. Although best known for its sport climbing traditional climbers can find plenty to be excited about here as well.

Located in the high desert in central Oregon, Smith Rock State Park’s cliffs and hillsides take a commanding presence over the surrounding terrain. The main cliffs are made of volcanic welded tuff, and surrounding bands of columnar basalt lie above the winding Crooked River…the prominent walls overlooking the Crooked River are home to many of Smith Rock’s most famous routes, but for those seeking some solitude and adventure there is plenty to be found on the back side or among the basalt columns in the Upper and Lower gorge. Monkey Face, perhaps the park’s most recognizable feature, sits proudly on the back side of Smith Rock with spectacular views of the Cascade Mountains and the arid landscape below.”

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Our first night in Bend we stayed in a vacation rental downtown, as we weren’t sure how late we would be getting in, and wanted to avoid setting up camp in the dark. The other three nights, we camped in the walk-in only camping at Smith Rock State Park, about a half an hour outside of Bend, and a quick walk to the climbing area and Crooked River. All of the camping is walk in only, and $5 per person (which includes hot showers and nice bathrooms!). It’s only about a two minute walk from the parking to the camping area, so carrying stuff from the car was really easy. There’s no fires or cooking at the campsites, so we just left all of the cooking implements (food, stove, pots & pans, etc.) in the car to make it even easier. The camping spots are just flat areas spread beneath the juniper trees, so pick your favorite and set up camp! This is definitely one of the best State Park campgrounds I’ve ever stayed in.

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Smith Rocks from the campsite at the state park.

One of the first things we did when we arrived in Bend was head to a gear shop and pick up a guidebook for climbing at Smith Rock. The friendly and helpful staff at Mountain Supply recommended Falcon Guides Rock Climbing Smith Rock State ParkWe started pouring over it while back at our campsite cooking dinner. Luckily, we a friendly local overheard us chatting and gave us a ton of great advice for fun climbs at our skill level.

We ended up spending our day of climbing on the campground side of the river at the Rope de Dope block. This particular block had a number of fun top rope climbs within my range (occasionally 5.10a) and access to the top anchors via a rope ladder. Greyson ended up leading up a 5.7 sport route to get to the top and set up our toprope (note: Smith Rock is known for HIGH first anchors), but it was nice to have the option.

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Greyson getting our gear set up at Rope de Dope block

Though we waited for the sun to come out and melt the frost before we headed down to climb, Rope de Dope was in the shade. It was February in the high desert, so we were dealing with freezing cold fingers. I spent more time trying to warm up my painfully cold hands in the sunny spots down by the river than climbing.

I made it up 5.7 How Low Can You Go (though it felt like a hard 5.7 for a warm up!). I flailed around quite a bit on the crux of 5.9 Shamu, but I persevered after a couple of attempts and made it to the top! The rocks of this area are very different than the Sierra granite that I’m used to, so that was fun to experience. There were a lot more little pockets for finger holds, but I didn’t realize how much I relied on smearing my feet on the granite until I was up there sliding all over the face of Rope de Dope.

After my successful ascent of Shamu, I was physically done and mentally exhausted. Climbing is hard work! I can’t wait to get into better shape so I can spend longer days climbing. Greyson agreed with me, so we packed up our gear and headed on the hike back up to camp. I was worried the climb out of the valley would be miserable, but it wasn’t too bad! Plus we had gorgeous views of Smith Rock, the Crooked River, and a clear look at the Three Sisters way off in the distance to distract us.

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Obviously, one of the best parts of climbing is the meal you eat immediately following. You’re usually hungry enough that a peanut butter sandwich or cheese quesadilla you packed tastes like the nectar of the gods. But since were were on vacation, we decided to live it up and head into Bend and really feast! We planned on hitting up an Indian restaurant that Greyson had been to before, but fate intervened and they weren’t open for the early bird special dinner we were looking for. I was freezing and hangry, so we stopped in a coffee shop to figure out our next step, and the barista recommended Wild Rose Northern Thai Eats – saying it was the best Thai restaurant she’s ever tried. She was right! I love Thai food and living in the Pacific Northwest spoiled me, but this was the most amazing Thai food I’ve ever tasted. Since the menu is all food from northern Thailand, the Thai restaurant staples like pad thai and hangover noodle that I’m used to seeing were not on the menu. We ordered curried basil noodles off the menu, and something off the (huge) specials board that the waitress recommended. Everything we ate was so good! Everything everyone around us ordered looked so good! I can’t recommend this place enough – it’s a little different than the typical Thai restaurant, but unique in the most delicious way.

 

My Favorite Restaurants in Truckee

Truckee Restaurants // tahoefabulous.com

My Favorite Restaurants in South Lake Tahoe is one of my most popular posts, so I thought I’d do a similar post for another place that I frequent – Truckee! Greyson lives in Truckee, so I end up spending a lot of time up there. Though I love South Lake Tahoe, I think of Truckee as South Lake’s slightly more charming neighbor to the north. The Truckee River flows right through town and is parallel to Truckee’s adorable historic downtown. These choices might be a little more well known that my South Lake favorites, but they’re great and I’ve hopefully exposed a few (slightly) hidden gems.

Best Happy Hour:

Pianeta: This upscale Italian restaurant has a fantastic happy hour on weekdays from 5:00 – 6:30. You have to sit at the bar, and it can get crowded, so I suggest showing up right at 5:30. They have $3 microbrews, $5 house wine, $5 well cocktails, $6 martinis and a few other cocktails on special. They also have happy hour appetizers that are generously sized – we often go in groups and split a few plates. I love the bruschetta duo and the caprese.

Best Mexican:

Taco’s Jalisco: South Lake is definitely lacking in the Mexican food arena, but Truckee delivers! Truckee has several great Mexican restaurants, and Taco’s Jalisco is by far my favorite. I love their veggie burrito, burrito bowls, and chicken tacos.

Best Hipster Coffee Shop:

Dark Horse Coffee Roasters: I’ve mentioned that I can be a bit of a coffee snob, and I love Truckee’s newest coffee shop! It’s a great place to hang out with a slightly funky vibe. Dark Horse is not at all style over substance – all the coffee I’ve had is to die for, the homemade chai is delicious, and they even do their own vanilla syrup. There’s also a Dark Horse in San Diego.

 

Dark Horse Coffee Roasters – Truckee, California
Dark Horse Coffee Roasters – Truckee, California

Best Sandwiches:

Full Belly Deli: This place is pretty well known, but for a good reason – the sandwiches can’t be beat. This is a super popular lunch spot for locals, so be prepared to wait during the lunch rush. The sandwiches are worth the wait, and there is outdoor seating for the nice weather days. I love the Cuban sandwich or build your own on the asiago bread.

Best Barbecue/Brunch:

Smokey’s Kitchen: Barbecue was the food I missed most during my 5 years as a vegetarian, and Smokey’s does not disappoint! I love the pulled pork sandwich and the garlic fries, but prepare to be garlicky for hours afterwards. They also do awesome (huge) brunch meals with a decent beer selection and big screen tvs, so it’s an off the beaten path place to watch football in the fall.

Best Grocery/Convenience Store:

Sticks Market: So you’re hanging out on Donner Lake’s awesome public docks and you run out of beer/chips/sunscreen/gourmet cheese. What are you going to do? Luckily, there’s Sticks Market. This adorable little market has pretty much everything you could need for a day at the beach and a great beer selection too! Note: I bought so much Deschutes Fresh Squeezed there this summer that the owner started (good-naturedly) teasing me about it.

 

I bought this Ninkasi Total Domination at Sticks Market!
I bought this Ninkasi Total Domination at Sticks Market!

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

My Favorite Restaurants in South Lake Tahoe

I am lucky enough to live in a beautiful tourist destination that I hope everyone has a chance to visit some day. And when you do, I hope you have an amazing time exploring the outdoor highlights I’ve featured on this blog. After a long day hiking/biking/skiing etc., there’s nothing better than a delicious meal (and a beer) to finish out the day.

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When friends and family visit, these are the places I insist we go to. Hopefully this list will highlight some places you wouldn’t find via Yelp or by wandering the normal tourist locations.

Best Apres Ski/Ride:

The Himmel Haus: Located directly across from the parking lot of Heavenly’s California Base, this place can get pretty busy, but it’s worth the wait. This place is a mecca for German beer lovers, and they often have beers on tap that you can’t get anywhere else in the area. While you can order a smaller beer, I’d recommend ordering a liter to get the full German beer stein experience. My favorite thing to order is the Warsteiner Pilsner and the pretzel (mustard cheese is to die for), kase-spatzle (fancy macaroni and cheese) or anything that comes with a side of mashed potatoes. During the week, they have a whole host of activities – I’m often at trivia on Wednesdays, and the on the weekends they frequently have live bands and theme parties (like Wigs and Onsies or Bierfest).

 

My roommate Kelly enjoys the three liter boot we earned with a first place trivia finish.
My roommate Kelly enjoys the three liter boot we earned with a first place trivia finish.

To Watch the Game/For Pizza:

MacDuff’s Public HouseMacDuff’s has, hands down, the best pizza in Tahoe. They also have a large beer menu, several big screen tvs, delicious fish and chips, and the spiciest wing sauce I’ve ever tried. It’s located just off the main road on Fremont Avenue, and has outdoor seating in the summer. After dinner, head to the bowling alley across the street for some cheap indoor fun.

Best Strip Mall Experience:

Artemis Mediterranean GrillOne thing you should know about South Lake Tahoe is that we have a lot of strip malls. This might not be something you’d notice if you stuck to the tourist/casino side of town. If you venture to where the locals hang out, you’ll definitely notice this. While strip mall after strip mall is not exactly the most aesthetically appealing form of city planning, there are some real gems to be found if you do some exploring. One of these gems: Artemis Mediterranean Grill for some seriously delicious Greek food. When my office was located near by, at least once a week someone went to pick up lunch there, and everyone in the office requested the same thing: Artemis Fries. They are thick cut fries topped with their secret seasoning blend and dipped in their seasoning sauce. I usually order the Super Veggie Pita. (Note: they now have another fancy marina location that’s just as delicious), but you’ll miss out on some of the local charm by avoiding the strip mall).

Best Dive Bar:

Turn 3: Located in the same strip mall as Artemis, calling Turn 3 one of my favorite places to eat is a stretch. It is my favorite dive bar, and it does have free peanuts and popcorn, so I say it counts. Turn 3 has a great 2 for 1 happy hour,  good prices the rest of the time, free bingo (with prizes!) on Tuesdays, microbrews and cheap lagers, pool tables, and you can throw your peanut shells right on the floor. What more do you need?

 

Best Restaurants in South Lake Tahoe // tahoefabulous.com
Pool and peanuts at Turn 3.

Best Overall Menu/Brunch:

Getaway Cafe: This is a place where you could close your eyes, open the menu, point randomly and know that your meal is going to be delicious. Despite this, I almost always order the parmesan crusted grilled cheese sandwich. Come one, there’s two cheeses inside AND one on the outside? Can’t beat that. I even order it at breakfast! I have ordered a few other things, and I always make my dining companions share their food, and can vouch for the quality of nearly everything on the menu. Getaway Cafe is located about 6 miles outside of South Lake Tahoe in the adorable town of Meyers, a gateway to great back country adventure and on your way in or out via Sacramento.

Best Coffee:

Free Bird: As a Pacific Northwest native, I love good coffee, and Free Bird delivers. It’s a tiny, tiny space with standing room for maaaaybe three people (so all coffee is to go). The staff is friendly, the store supports tons of great local causes, and they totally embrace the hipster local organic free range fair trade bird aesthetic (you can buy “put a bird on it” stickers!). They also have amazing chai.