It’s almost Valentine’s Day, and the Tahoe-Truckee area is one of the most fun places you can go for a romantic getaway. Here are some of my favorite romantic things to do here!
Watch the sunset from the Donner Lake docks. We have been having incredible sunsets lately, and the public piers on Donner Lake is one of the best places to see it. Bundle up, pack a blanket, bring thermos full of Hot Toddy, and enjoy the incredible view. For more great places to see the sunset, check out my blog post here and here.
Have dinner at Cottonwood Restaurant. My favorite spot for a romantic dinner in Truckee is Cottonwood Restaurant. Situated on a hill overlooking historic downtown Truckee and the Truckee, you can’t beat the view. My tip is to get a reservation on the early side, so you can watch the sun set from their deck or out the picture windows. Other great restaurants for a romantic dinner are Jake’s on the Lake in Tahoe City, Moody’s Bistro & Beats in Truckee, and Artemis Lakefront Cafe in South Lake Tahoe.
Go snowshoeing! Snowshoeing might be the ultimate winter outdoor date activity. It’s fun and active, but you’re not too out of breath to have a conversation. I’d highly recommend Chickadee Ridge, especially this winter since there’s still enough snow. For other snowshoe hikes in the area, check out my post here.
Taste wine at the Pour House. Just off of the main street of downtown Truckee is a gem of a wine shop, the Pour House. It’s a funky little place that’s always pouring delicious wine. Dean and Christa, the owners, will have a great suggestion at any price point, plus you can stock up on gourmet cheese and other snacks. Pack up a picnic to take snowshoeing or to the Donner Lake docks! If you are taking wine to go, I highly recommend the Silipint silicone wine glasses – you don’t have to worry about glass and there’s no weird taste like metal glasses have. Other great places for wine in the region are Uncorked in Truckee, Squaw and Tahoe City and Revive Coffee and Wine in South Lake Tahoe.
Go for a climb at a climbing gym. Is there anything more romantic than climbing? When you’re belaying someone, you literally have their life in your hands. Also, spotting someone while bouldering can just be an excuse to get a little handsy. While climbing isn’t much of a winter thing in Tahoe-Truckee, there are a couple of great climbing gyms in the area – Blue Granite Climbing Gym in South Lake Tahoe and High Altitude Fitness in Incline Village.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I receive a small percentage of the sale as compensation – at no additional cost to you. I promise to only recommend products that I use and enjoy!
Who doesn’t love a dank breakfast burrito, flaky croissant, or amazing bagel sandwich? I am a huge breakfast person and will happily eat breakfast foods at any time of day. While I love a good, long brunch, sometimes you just need a quick meal on your way to the mountain, whether you’re snowboarding, biking or hiking. These are my favorite places to grab a quick and delicious meal when I’m in a hurry (in no particular order).
1. Truckee Bagel (11260 Donner Pass Rd. in the Safeway shopping center)
Truckee Bagel has been around since 1994, and they know what they’re doing. The bagels are great, and they have a wide variety of spreads and sandwiches. Tip: Get there early, they often run out of their most popular bagels by early afternoon. What to Order: The Castle Peak (Smoked Turkey, Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Onions, Capers, Sprouts, Cream Cheese & Larrupin’s Mustard-Dill Sauce) on a combo bagel.
2. Full Belly Deli (0825 Pioneer Trail Rd. Ste 103)
Full Belly Deli might be better known for their lunch sandwiches, but their breakfasts are incredible too. They serve the best breakfast burritos in town. Breakfast is served all day, and be sure to check their Facebook for the daily special – sometimes it’s a biscuits and gravy burrito! What to Order: GNAR Burrito (dry rubbed tri-tip, pepperjack cheese, green chilies, hash brown, southwest sauce and a fried egg)
3. Wild Cherries Coffee House (11429 Donner Pass Rd.)
Weekdays or weekends, Wild Cherries is packed and busy, but the service is usually fast and always friendly. It’s a great place to pick up breakfast for a crowd. There are bagels, pre-made breakfast burritos, pastries, smoothies – something for everyone. What to Order: Cranberry Bagel Sandwich (Turkey, Cream Cheese, and Cranberry Sauce) on a whole wheat bagel.
4. Coffeebar (10120 Jibboom St OR 12047 Donner Pass Rd.)
If you’re looking for excellent pastries, Coffeebar has what you want in two locations. Their menu is frequently changing, but usually has great standbys like several croissant varieties, energy bites, and seasonal muffins. The downtown location has a larger menu, with options like breakfast bowls and avocado toast. What to Order: At the downtown location – Ricotta Toast, At the bakery location – a savory cheese twist pastry.
5. Dark Horse Coffee Roasters (10009 W River St)
If I want the best coffee combined with the best vibe, I head to Dark Horse Coffee Roasters. While they do have breakfast options, bagel sandwiches and scones, the coffee is the star of the show. They roast the coffee in house, the owners are incredibly nice, there’s always interesting art on the walls, it’s right next to the Truckee River – what’s not to love? What to Order: Cold Brew Latte with House Made Vanilla Syrup.
As much as I love Lake Tahoe, the California coast, Yosemite National Park, etc., they’re often busy with visitors and locals, especially on a nice summer weekend, taking away some of the natural charm. If I’m wanting a less crowded experience, I head north of Truckee on Highway 89 into the “Lost Sierra” of eastern Plumas and Sierra counties.
The Lost Sierra is a gem of a region, dotted with small towns and hundreds of outdoor opportunities. There’s really something for everyone there! Unsurprisingly, my favorite thing about this area is the awesome mountain bike trails – Mt. Hough (Quincy), Mills Peak (Graeagle), and the Downieville Downhill (Downieville) are all in the Lost Sierra. There are lots more great trails in this area, and the Sierra Buttes Trails Stewardship is constantly adding and improving miles of trails.
The Lost Sierra is well known for hiking, and you can get to some incredible destinations on your feet. The hiking the Sierra Buttes trail to the tallest point in the Lakes Basin. There are dozens of other great day hikes in this area – check out this link from Plumas National Forest as a resource. The Pacific Crest Trail goes through the Lost Sierra as well, with Sierra City and Quincy being popular town stops for thru hikers. Day hikes on this section of the PCT will take you to some incredible places and views.
There are quite a few rivers and streams flowing through the Lost Sierra which means there’s great fishing, swimming, rafting and floating. There’s rafting and whitewater kayaking on the Feather River, and it has gentle stretches and tributaries that can be tube floated or canoed. The confluence of the North Yuba River and the Downie River is in downtown Downieville, and it makes basically a perfect swimming hole. Nothing feels better than jumping in after a hot, summer mountain bike ride! For lake recreation, Bucks Lake, southwest of Quincy, and Gold Lake, north of Sierra City are great options. If hot springs are more your style, Sierraville is home to the Sierra Hot Springs, a private, relaxing resort in the Sierra Valley.
The Lost Sierra is also a great place to experience history, art, and culture. Did you know that Downieville was almost the capital of California? Also, it was the most populous city at one point during the gold rush. Located in a building from 1852 in the heart of downtown, the Downieville Museum is small, but worth a visit. There are also a few historic fire lookouts throughout the region. There’s one on top of Mills Peak that you can drive to (via rough road) and one at Calpine that you can reserve and stay at!
The High Sierra Music Festival is an incredible festival that happens in Quincy every year during the first weekend in July. Beyond the music, there is a parade, costume contests, art, comedy, a pool, great food and much more. Much smaller, but just as awesome is the Lost Sierra Hoedown, which takes place in September at the Johnsville Historic Ski Bowl. It’s got a focus on community, music, outdoor recreation, and it’s fundraiser for local groups.
Small rural towns aren’t usually known for their food scenes, but there definitely a few great restaurants in the Lost Sierra. The Brewing Lair (Blairsden) is one of my favorite breweries in all of California. They don’t serve food, but they sometimes have a food truck, and you can always bring your own. If we’re doing that, we usually stop at Graeagle Mountain Frostee to grab greasy, comfort food to go. Also in Blairsden is Bread & Butter, which is an excellent stationary food truck with outdoor seating. Quintopia Brewing in Quincy is fairly new, but already has great beer, delicious food, and reasonable prices. Try the chicken tikka masala fries! My favorite place in Downieville is Two Rivers Cafe. It’s a little on the pricy side, but the food is good and the deck seating overlooks the river confluence. Finally, Los Dos Hermanos is a good Mexican restaurant tucked away in Sierraville.
This is just scratching the surface of all of the great things to do and see in the Lost Sierra region. I hope you’ll plan a trip to the Lost Sierra this summer or fall and that you love it as much as I do.
I recently shared a bunch of Truckee summer outdoor adventures that I love, and I’m back to share more fun things to do! While not all of these activities take place outdoors, they still take advantage of the nice summer weather and beautiful environment of Truckee!
Food & Drink Beer: It’s no secret that I love beer, and our beer options in Truckee have been getting better and better! My #1 local brewery is still Alibi Ale Works, but the newer Truckee Brewing Company is quickly becoming a favorite. Mellow Fellow is a tap house in downtown Truckee with dozens of beers on tap (they recently had Pliny the Elder!). They’re also the northern California’s tasting room for Modern Times Beer, so they always have those beers on draft as well.
Wine: The best place to buy a bottle of wine is The Pour House on Jibboom Street in downtown Truckee. The owners put a lot of thought and effort into their wine choices and they have a huge selection. They’re always tasting something interesting and they have an excellent cheese selection as well. Though it’s not located on the river, Truckee River Winery is worth stopping by. They not only have good wine, I love hanging out in their outdoor space. Get snacks and a bottle of wine and play some bocce in the sun.
Happy Hour: There are some great happy hour deals in downtown Truckee, and my favorite is at Pianeta, an excellent Italian restaurant. Happy hour is only at the bar and it’s best to get there a little before 5. They have $6 house wine, $5 beers, $7 for certain cocktails and a great price on appetizers. I love the Bruschetta Two Ways and the Mozzarella Fresca. Best Pies has happy hour every day from 2-6 pm. It’s $5 for a big slice of pizza and a beer!
Outdoor Dining: When the weather is nice, I want to eat outside. My favorite restaurant patio is hands down Cottonwood Restaurant & Bar. It’s location on a hill, looking down at the Truckee River and downtown, means it has the best view. The food and drinks are great too, though on the higher end price-wise. For a cheaper option downtown, I like El Toro Bravo. Their patio is covered, so it’s a great option for really sunny days. I like their chile relleno best. Also downtown is Old Town Tap, which has great cocktails, and excellent beer selection and interesting toppings on their wood fired pizza. On the other side of town is Red Truck, which is located in the Truckee Airport. Red Truck is my favorite spot for vegetarian food in Truckee, and they have delicious breakfast bowls too. It’s a lunch counter style place, and you can take your food outside to picnic tables. This is a great spot to bring kids, as there’s a play area, big grassy spot to run around, and you can watch the small planes take off and land.
Coffee: I like coffee just as much as I like beer, and Truckee has some good spots. I work within walking distance of Coffeebar and Dark Horse Coffee Roasters and I’m a frequent visitor to both. At Coffeebar, I like the iced coffee and any of the baked goods and sitting outside on their patio. At Dark Horse, I HIGHLY recommend their cold brew latte with their homemade vanilla syrup. Pacific Crest Coffee Co. has been roasting and selling coffee for awhile, but their coffee shop is fairly new. It’s tiny, so not really a place to hang out for long, but the coffee is delicious and they have a selection of food to go.
Dessert: Self serve frozen yogurt is a great way to cap off a long hike or hot bike ride, and Summit Swirl has great options. It’s also open til 10 pm, which is late by Truckee standards. If you’re hanging out on Donner Lake, walk over to the Little Truckee Ice Creamery and have some of Truckee’s only locally made ice cream. I love the Truckee Trails flavor, which is sweet cream and pinenut brittle!
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.
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!
While it’s not the most efficient way to travel between Santa Cruz and Point Reyes, California, driving the whole way on Highway 1 is the most beautiful. Driving this way will take you about 3 and a half hours to cover 124 miles, but it’s one of the best stretches of coastal California, and so worth taking your time. I’d recommend doing the drive all in one leisurely day, but tack on a couple of days at least in your starting point of Santa Cruz and your destination of Point Reyes.
Start: Santa Cruz Check out my blog post here with suggestions for things to do, places to eat, and breweries to check out in Santa Cruz. When you’re ready to head out, start your morning off right with coffee at one of Verve Coffee Roasters four Santa Cruz locations.
Stop One: Davenport Roadhouse Restaurant & Inn (11 miles, 15 minutes) Stop for breakfast just a few miles up the road at the Davenport Roadhouse Restaurant & Inn. Breakfast is served from 9:00 to 11:30 am. The menu is based around fresh, local ingredients, and the food is as good as the view. If the weather is good, you can sit outside, and the patio is dog friendly.
Stop Two: Pigeon Point Lighthouse (17 miles, 20 minutes) The Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park is my next suggested destination. The Pigeon Point lighthouse is one of the tallest in the US, and was built in 1872. It’s a gorgeous setting, and there’s even a hostel you can stay at (with a cliffside hot tub!) if you want to really take your time on this route.
Stop Three: Pescadero (9 miles, 13 minutes) The small town of Pescadero is a slight detour off of Highway 1, but it’s worth it. First, stop at Arcangeli Grocery Company/Norm’s Market and buy a loaf (or two) of the artichoke garlic herb bread. The historic market is on Sage St., the main drag of the small downtown and it’s hard to miss. Next, head west on North St. to Harley Farms Goat Dairy. This place has seriously the best goat cheese I’ve ever had in my life! The farm store has samples of a ton of their delicious flavors – I wish I could have bought them all. My favorites were the lavender honey and the chive. You can even do a tour, which is definitely on my list for the next time I go. Even if you aren’t able to do a tour, you can wander around the grounds and see the goats. Be sure that you have a cooler so you can keep all your purchases cold. I’m a big fan of Yeti Coolers, and the Roadie looks like the perfect size for short road trips.
Stop Four: Half Moon Bay (19 miles, 27 minutes) The goat cheese and artichoke bread are just too good not to dig into, so head to Half Moon Bay State Beach for a perfect snack spot. Work up an appetite with a beach walk or a hike. There’s four miles of sandy beach in Half Moon Bay, and a 4 mile paved multi use trail as well.
Stop Five: Pacifica (11 miles, 15 minutes) For one more stop at the beach before you head into the city, stop at Pacifica State Beach. It’s pretty small, but there is swimming and a beach area if the weather is good enough for it. If you want to stretch your legs, there are hiking trails in the Pedro Point Headlands, which leads to a coastal view.
Stop Six: Marin Headlands (17 miles, 40 minutes) Get ready for some city driving, though this route will take you through Golden Gate Park and The Presidio, both of which are great stops if you need to take break. After the Presidio, you’ll drive over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. Just after the bridge, there’s a pullout view to the right. It’s usually pretty busy, but that’s for a reason. I think it’s one of the best views of San Francisco. It’s one of the few places that you can get a view of the city’s skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge. If you want to hike up to one of the viewpoints in the Marin Headlands, get off on the Alexander exit just past the scenic viewpoint turn off.
Stop Seven: Stinson Beach (17 miles, 40 minutes) Stinson Beach is an adorable beach town in Bolinas Bay with gorgeous views of Mount Tamalpais and the coast. My favorite thing to do in Stinson Beach is to eat at the Parkside Cafe. You can eat outside on their deck or stop at the snack bar to pick something up and take to the beach. Get the garlic-cheese bread, if you’re not too carb-ed out already! Parkside also has a bakery, where you can pick up delicious fresh pastries.
Stop Eight: Gospel Flat Farm Stand (5 miles, 10 minutes) Before your final destination, make one more crucial stop – Gospel Flat Farm Stand. This incredible farm stand is a slight detour from Highway 1 on the other side of the narrow Bolinas Lagoon. Here you’ll find incredible, fresh produce. In addition to the usual, in season staples they often have unique and heirloom veggies like panisse lettuce and watermelon radishes. The stand is on the honor system and cash only, so come prepared with small bills and your own bags.
Destination: Point Reyes National Seashore (13 miles, 23 minutes) One final stretch of driving, now through the scenic Point Reyes National Seashore, and you’ll arrive in Point Reyes Station, the main town in this area. Check out my blog post about Things to do in Point Reyes for detailed recommendations of sites to see, places to eat and drink, and outdoor activities.
Point Reyes National Seashore is one of my favorite coastal California destinations. I mean, Greyson and I got married there, so of course I love it. Point Reyes is an easy trip from Tahoe, so when we’re feeling a need for saltwater, that’s usually where we’ll head. The fact that his parents live there and we have a free place to stay doesn’t hurt either!
The Point Reyes area has everything you could want in a coastal California oasis. There are breathtaking vistas, sandy beaches, breaking waves, wildflowers, wildlife, hikes for every ability level, a historic lighthouse, world famous cheese, farm fresh food, and much more. It’s only ninety minutes from San Francisco and even closer to wine country.
After dozens of trips to the area, I’ve amassed quite a list of recommendations, so here are just a few of my favorites.
Whales, Elephant Seals, and Other Wildlife
PRNS is famous for its varied and interesting wildlife. Depending on the time of year you visit, you might see whales, elephant seals, river otters, bobcats, weasels, harbor seals, tule elk, foxes, and dozens of species of birds. You will definitely see the happiest cows in California. If you want to learn more about wildlife viewing in PRNS,click here or visit the Bear Valley Visitors Center. Elephant seals are among the most charismatic of the megafauna at PRNS, and if you want to spot the huge nosed males that give them their name, your best bet is June & July or November through March. You’ll have a good chance of spotting some variety of elephant seal in Point Reyes every month except August, and even then you might get lucky.
If you are an avid birder,Abbot’s Lagoon is a popular location and nesting site for snowy plovers, and you can spot birds of prey like osprey, peregrine falcons, red tailed hawks, kestrels, and more throughout the seashore.
The ocean side of Point Reyes is a great place to spot the gray whale migration as they head back and forth between their northern feeding grounds of Alaskan waters to the warm shallow seas of Baja in the south. January is the best time to see them southbound, while March and April is when they head back north. I prefer the northern migration, because the mothers are traveling with calves, so their usually moving more slowly and closer in to shore. Since whale watching at the lighthouse is so popular, the park operates a required shuttle on weekends and holidays from Christmas to Easter.
Hiking, Biking, and the Great Outdoors While Point Reyes is worth a visit year round, II love visiting in the spring. The hills are be green and the wildflowers are going off. While it’s usually impossible to completely avoid fog there, spring gives you a good chance for sunny days. Even days with some fog, it will often roll out for a few hours.
When it’s foggy, there are still great places to explore. My favorite hike for wildflowers is theTomales Point Trail, a 9 mile out-and-back, fairly flat hike that also lends itself to whale watching and Tule elk spotting. Chimney Rock trail is another one known for wildflowers, and it’s only 1.75 miles round trip with barely any elevation change. If you’re looking for something with more of a climb, get to the highest spot on the point with theMt. Wittenberg Loop. While the high point doesn’t have a view, there are spots along the way that will give you an incredible vantage on the seashore.
Despite being the birthplace of the sport, Marin County isn’t known for being friendly to mountain bikers. However, we often bring our bikes for a quick ride on the Estero Trail. It’s nothing gnarly, but you’ll get gorgeous views of the bay. Be sure to stop on the bridge and look for bat rays passing underneath! Watch out for cows. If you ride all the way out to Drake’s Head, you’ll get awesome views of the whole seashore.
In the summer, Tomales Bay is warm enough for swimming due to how shallow it is. Chicken Ranch Beach on the west side of the bay in Inverness is a good location, though it can get crowded on nice weekends. Parking is on the road only, so you might have to walk in for a bit to get to the beach. Tomales Bay is also a great place to kayak, since it’s usually so flat and calm. Blue Waters Kayaking rents kayaks and offer guided trips and lessons. You can kayak up to some secluded boat only beaches pretty easily.
During the fall, there’s bioluminescence in Tomales Bay and you can go on night kayaking trips to check it out. Several local outfitters offer guided tours and provide the boats. I still haven’t done this yet, but it’s on my to do list.
Oh, and you can’t go to Point Reyes without visiting the three most famous attractions: the Lighthouse, the Boat, and the Tree Tunnel.
Eating and Drinking Marin County has some of the best farm to table restaurants in California, and you’ll be able to find fresh, local produce, meat, and seafood wherever you go.
For quick sandwiches, burritos, and picnic supplies, I likeInverness Park Market. You can head right next door to the Tap Room for an excellent sit down meal as well. The Tap Room serves breakfast on the weekends – try the chilaquiles. For wood fired pizza, Cafe Reyes in Point Reyes Station is my favorite. If you’re looking for a meat-heavy option, there’s a tinyMarin Sun Farms butcher shop/restaurant just outside of downtown. Vegetarians be warned, there might be nothing on the menu that doesn’t have meat.
Finally, my favorite place in Point Reyes Station –Heidrun Meadery. Heidrun makes their mead champagne style, so it’s fresh, bubbly and not overly sweet. It’s definitely not your typical mead. Each varietal comes from honey made by bees exclusively collecting pollen from a specific flower. The varietals available vary season to season and year to year, but some favorites are almost always on the menu, like California Honey Blossom and Macadamia Nut. My current favorite is Arizona Desert Mesquite, which is a little weird but wonderful. Tours are by appointment only, but you can stop in to taste and buy during business hours.
Lodging I’m biased, but my favorite place to stay is the Cottages at Point Reyes Seashore in Inverness, which is owned and operated by Greyson’s parents. It’s within walking distance to the beach, has a pool, hot tub & tennis court, some of the rooms are dog friendly, the prices are affordable, and it’s the lodging that is closest to the National Seashore entrance.
“Blythe design co created this space as a personal sanctuary from our busy city lives and a place to recharge in a truly gorgeous cabin with the wilds of West Marin just outside our doorstep… This Bohemian Modern A- Frame is a two bed two bath spacious cabin located in Northern California in beautiful West Marin county. …Commune with nature, connect with loved ones or gift yourself a personal retreat with a view amongst a forested acre of bay trees, redwoods, and mature oaks….The A-Frame is a sanctuary for all to rest, recharge and create. Designed with a ‘slow’ pace in mind, our hope is that you enjoy every part of your stay; from making breakfast in our open kitchen, to choosing the perfect record to put on as the sun sets, or relaxing on the deck in the heated seats under a moonlit sky. When the weather turns enjoy watching the storm pass over black mountain cozy by the fire with a hot drink in hand.”