Mountain Biking Bend, Oregon: Funner & Tiddlywinks

If you’re following my Instagram, you might have seen that Greyson and I were in Oregon last week. We drove up from Truckee and my parents drove down from eastern Washington, and we met in the middle! Our first destination was Bend, Oregon, one of my favorite towns. It’s got climbing, hiking, river floating, amazing beer, and awesome restaurants. It’s also known as a popular mountain biking location, and Greyson and I have ridden there a couple times before, checking out a section of the Deschutes River Trail and riding a bit in the Phil’s Trail network. While I had fun riding on those trails, they didn’t seem “mountain bike destination” quality, and I wanted to check out the best of what Bend has to offer.

Mountain Biking Bend Oregon // tahoefabulous.com

From our research (internet based and talking to the super friendly staff at Crow’s Feet Commons), riding up Funner and down Tiddlywinks was the most highly recommended. The trailhead was pretty easy to find – we followed directions from MTB Project to the parking area at the green gate, located here, about 9 miles from downtown Bend.

Mountain Biking Bend // tahoefabulous.com
Via Strava

From the parking lot, we headed up on Storm King, which we only rode a small section of. After about 0.7 miles, the trail forked and we took a sharp right on to Funner. Funner has sections that are two way, and parts that are split into uphill and downhill only. Those are clearly marked, and it’s important to stay on the correct side, as people come bombing down the downhill sections, not expecting to see someone climbing up. The climb from the gate to the top of Funner (including the Storm King Section) is about 5 miles and 1,000 feet of climbing. It’s never super steep on the climb, but it can be sandy and leg sapping and there are very few breaks from the uphill grind. The trail is rated as intermediate, but it followed a trend I noticed in lots of the trails I’ve ridden in Bend – long, long stretches of easy riding, punctuated by very occasional volcanic rock gardens that are difficult-to-impossible for me to ride.

At mile 5, we hit the top of Funner and a parking lot. From here, the start of Upper Tiddlywinks isn’t super obvious but isn’t too hard to find. The first part of Tiddlywinks is a fun mix of bermed downhill stretches, short punchy climbs, and flat-ish rock gardens. That goes for about 1.1 miles, and then we started to climb again. We climbed about 200 feet in 0.8 miles, but at that point the climb felt pretty rough after so much time in the saddle climbing. Even though none of the climbing was very steep, 8 miles of riding that was mostly climbing or flat really wore me out!

With that, we were finally at the top and ready to descend Lower Tiddlywinks. The trail immediately launches into big, bermed corners, table top jumps and other man made features, with a few natural rock drops built in. I had a blast on the trail – it reminded me a lot of Freund Canyon in Leavenworth with the style of trail building. As for difficulty, all of the tabletops and rock features are rollable, though it’s a great trail for practicing getting some air. There are a few doubles and more complicated features, but everything has a very obvious ride around. We descended ~1,100 feet in just over four miles, and I had a smile on my face the whole time. At mile 12.3, we hit the intersection with Storm King and headed back to the car. Total, we rode just over 13 miles with almost 1,400 feet of climbing and a moving time of 2:12.

Mountain Biking Bend // tahoefabulous.com
Via Strava

I had a great time on Tiddlywinks and it was absolutely worth the climb up – this is the kind of riding I was hoping for in Bend. Additionally, the trails are very well maintained and very well marked. The only thing that was a little confusing to me at first were “Y” marker signs when the trail split. We figured out that this meant the fork was going to come back together soon, and often the “Y” sign delineated an easier and harder route for that short section. If you’re an intermediate or higher rider, I’d highly recommend this route. I think it would be doable for a more advanced beginner, but you’d have to walk quite a few sections and the downhill part might not be worth the climb to the top. If you’re more on the beginner side, I’d recommend Ben’s Trail in the Phil’s Network or the Deschutes River Trail for scenery.

Tahoe Round the Lake Beer Tour – Update

Back in 2016, I came up with a a round the lake route that stopped at my favorite beer destinations from Truckee to South Lake and back to Truckee. There’s been an expansion of the beer scene since then, and I just updated that post to include some of my new favorites.

Tahoe Round the Lake Beer Tour // tahoefabulous.com

Find a designated driver and check it out – Tahoe Round the Lake Beer Tour!

Mendocino Recommendations: Mountain Biking & More

Last fall, Greyson and I took a spontaneous long weekend road trip to one of my favorite parts of the California coast – Mendocino. Fall is the perfect time to visit Mendocino, if anyone is planning any trips. The weather is warm, but not hot and we didn’t get any rain or fog while we were there. In the afternoons, it got pretty breezy on the coastal cliffs, but that was about the only thing that wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t crowded at all, and though it was the tail end of abelone season, we were able to get a campsite at Russian Gulch State Park on Friday night with no reservations.

I’d been to Mendocino a couple of times before, once during a road trip with Greyson and once with my friend Katie. Both of those times we did typical coast things – beach walks, looking for tidepools, stuffing myself with smoked salmon. This time we brought our mountain bikes with the goal of exploring some of the singletrack we’d heard a lot about.

Mendocino Mountain Biking // tahoefabulous.com

Most of the mountain biking in Mendocino is in Jackson Demonstration State Forest, located between the towns of Mendocino and Fort Bragg. When researching mountain biking in this area, one thing we heard over and over is that the trails are nearly impossible to navigate without a guide. They’re not signed, you won’t get any service on your phone so you can track using GPS, and then you’ll get lost and murdered by weed farmers. We found this to be a slight exaggeration.

Since we’d heard about the navigation difficulty, we started our Saturday with a visit to Catch a Canoe & Bicycles Too, a local bike shop that came highly recommended. The staff at Catch a Canoe were super great – really helpful, very friendly, and willing to share route recommendations. We ended up buying a guidebook put together by a local expert with maps and suggested routes. The proceeds from the book went towards local trails and we found the maps helpful, though the routes we’re all much longer than what we were interested in this trip.

Manly Gulch/Forest History/Cookhouse
We decided that for day one, we wanted to ride Manly Gulch, one of the better known trails in Mendocino. We parked at the top of Manly Gulch on Little Lake Road/408. We had a little difficulty finding the parking area, but figured it out eventually. Manly Gulch is about 2.2 miles with almost 900 feet of elevation loss. The trail isn’t super technical beyond some roots and blind corners, but is just about a perfect example of a flow trail. It’s fast and fun, and can be ridden carefully by beginners and more advanced riders can challenge themselves with speed and small, natural jumps.

Manly Gulch Forest History Map
Via Strava
Manly Gulch Forest History Map
Via Strava

After all we’d heard about the un-navigable forest and non-marked trails, we didn’t find this to be true. Maybe it was the specific trails we rode (or our recent experience bushwhacking in British Columbia), but we thought the trails were well signed and we were able to use Trailforks on our phones to help us navigate.

At the end of Manly Gulch, we turned right onto Thompson Gulch, a fire road. We could see another trail ( Marsh Creek Trail) paralleling us, but it peels off and wouldn’t have taken us back to our car. After about 1.2 miles on the fire road, Thompson Gulch bends right, goes for about 0.2 miles before a sharp switchback in the road. Right at that switchback is the entrance to Forest History Trail and the beginning of the climb back to the car. We stayed on Forest History for about 0.6 miles, before hitting a fork. At the fork, we went left and got on Cook House, as Forest History recommends no bikes at that point. Between those two trails, we climbed about 850 feet in 2.2 miles. There are some steep sections on both, and there were some spots I was definitely pushing my bike up, but the majority of the trail is quite rideable. We took quite a few breaks, but it isn’t the worst climb in the world, especially since it was decently shaded and cool. Exhausted and sweaty, we made it back to the car with 5.94 miles, 952 feet of climbing in 1:09 moving time.

Russian Gulch
On day two, we decided to ride something really close to our campground, Russian Gulch State Park. Theoretically, we could have ridden from our campground to the trails, but that would have involved a long road climb that I was not into, so we were lazy and drove the mile or so uphill to the trailhead. We hopped on North Boundary Trail, which was an interesting riding experience unlike anything I’ve ridden before or since. After the first half mile or so of wide singletrack climbing, we ended up on something between double track and fire road, that was a mix of hard pack and sand pits. This mix of terrain, especially the strength-sapping sand made for a ride that was more challenging that it looked.

Mountain Biking Mendocino // tahoefabulous.com
Via Strava
Mountain Biking Mendocino // tahoefabulous.com
Via Strava

At mile 2.7, we crossed Caspar Little Lake Road. Almost directly across from where North Boundary Trail comes out, there’s a break in the forest that signals the start of a fork with two trails. We took the right fork onto Parallel Action, which we rode for about 1.5 miles. There are lots of little offshoot trails in this area, but if you pay attention to your route, we didn’t find it hard to navigate here either. Also, most of the trails stick pretty close to Caspar Little Lake Road, so you could always jump back onto the main road fairly easily.

Parallel Action was a fun trail – it reminded me a lot of the BC style of trails (minus wooden features). There were lots of quick, little turns, the trails were narrow and heavily wooded and you have to pay attention and not go off onto social trails that go nowhere. After returning on Parallel Action, we got back on North Boundary Trail, but decided that we were going to try some of the offshoot trails we’d seen on our way up. There are some trails that are hiker only in this area, but they’re clearly marked and they’re not trails you’d even want to take a bike on, from what we could see when we walked a little ways down.

At mile 6.4, we took a left onto North Cutoff, a ~0.1 mile trail that took us to North Trail. We turned right on North Trail to head back to our car and were treated to the most fun section of trail we’d ridden all day. This trail only dropped 80 feet in about 1.1 miles, but whoever built it did a great job. It felt like a consistent downhill where you could really let go, go fast, and play on its natural features. At about 7.6 miles, the trail forked and we went right to get back on North Boundary Trail and back to our cars. We think that the trail to the left might have gone back to our campground, but we weren’t sure, and, since it isn’t listed on TrailForks, it might not be bike legal. In total, we rode 8.68 miles with 628 feet of climbing in 1:14.

Mendocino // tahoefabulous.com
Sunset from Russian Gulch State Park

Where to Camp & Eat
We camped in Russian Gulch State Park, which we loved! It was pricey – $40 a night, but that’s the going price for coastal state parks now, I guess. The location was gorgeous in the redwoods, there were nice, clean bathrooms that had hot water showers, and, though you can’t camp super close to the beach, there is one in the campground within easy biking distance. One of the nights we were there, a wedding was going on in the park’s small venue, but our campsite was far enough away that we weren’t bothered by noise at all. I’ve also camped at Westport Beach Campground, which is a private RV park and campground, which I usually try to avoid. However, if you’re tent camping here, you can actually camp on the beach and you’re far away from the RVs! Westport-Union Landing State Beach is a nice cliffside campground, though you’re fairly north of Mendocino at this point.

Mendocino Camping // tahoefabulous.com
The beach at Russian Gulch State Park. Photo by Greyson Howard

Over a few trips to Mendocino, I’ve tried quite a few restaurants. My favorite overall is a pizza place in Fort Bragg – Piaci Pizza. There’s really nothing better after a long day of riding. Also in Fort Bragg, is North Coast Brewing Company. I wasn’t super excited about their food, but their beer is great, so I’d at least go for a tasting, even if you eat somewhere else. For seafood, I like Noyo River Grill in Noyo Harbor. The view is the best, and there are lots of fish sellers nearby where you can buy fresh fish to take back to your campsite or bring home. In the town of Mendocino, we had a great dinner at Mendocino Cafe and a delicious breakfast at GoodLife Cafe & Bakery.

Mendocino // tahoefabulous.com
One of the many beautiful from Mendocino cliffs. Photo by Greyson Howard

I love Mendocino, and I had a great visit last fall. I’m excited to go back!

Highway One Road Trip: Santa Cruz to Point Reyes, California

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.

HIghway One Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

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.

West Cliff in #santacruz.

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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.

#pigeonpoint on #hwy1

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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.

Welcome to #sanfrancisco! I spy the #goldengatebridge.

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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.

#lighthouse at #pointreyes #optoutside #okthiswasyesterday #latergram

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This drive from Santa Cruz to Point Reyes along Highway 1 is one of my favorites I’ve done, and I hope you like it as much as I do!

P.S. Check out my blog post on Road Trip Necessities here.

Lost Sierra Road Trip

The stretch of the Sierra from north of Truckee to Lassen, or the “Lost Sierra” is one of my favorite parts of the whole state of California. Even better, it’s highly underrated and much more lightly travelled than the coast or other parts of the Sierra. Here’s my recommendation for a five day trip through this incredible area.

Lost Sierra Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

Truckee to Downieville (60 miles, 1.5 hours)
Head north from Truckee along the scenic Highway 89 corridor – be sure to watch for migrating deer on the road because this is a very active wildlife corridor. If you want to start your day out with a hike before you get on the road, there are a couple of options very close to Truckee. There’s Emigrant Trail, which is a popular mixed use trail, so you’ll likely see hikers, mountain bikers and horses. It’s an out and back, so just walk until you feel ready to turn around. For a scenic loop of 5.3 miles, try the Sagehen Creek Loop Trail, an easy meander along Sagehen Creek that’s a good spot for wildflowers in the spring. Both these trails are right off Highway 89, so they’re very convenient for this route.

After about a half hour of driving, you’ll be in Sierraville, a gorgeous open valley that’s home to cattle grazing and hot springs. There aren’t any free hot springs open to the public here, but you can drop in at Sierra Hot Springs Resort if you’re interested. At Sierraville, you turn left to get on Highway 49 and head to Downieville.

Downieville is a historic gold rush and timber town that was slowly dying, but has been bouncing back with a growing tourism economy – especially mountain bike tourism through the efforts of the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship. While Downieville is a mecca for mountain bikers due to the world famous Downieville Downhill trail and a fast growing network of new trails, there are plenty of other things to do. There’s fishing, gold panning, swimming, and even a little museum downtown if you’re into history. The Pacific Crest Trail crosses nearby around Sierra City, so there is plenty of hiking as well. I think that Downieville is worth staying for a couple of days at least to take in a few of the many activities available.

Downieville Downhill // tahoefabulous.com

If you’re at all interested in mountain biking, that’s something that you have to do while you’re here, if only to say that you did it! While I wouldn’t recommend the full Downieville Downhill route unless you are a strong intermediate+ rider, there are plenty of other options in the area. See my trail report of the Downieville Downhill here. Visit Yuba Expeditions bike shop in downtown Downieville to help you plan a route, book a shuttle, or rent a bike.

When I’ve stayed in Downieville, I’ve camped. I like the Union Flat campground. While it’s a few miles out of town, it’s right on the North Yuba River, which is  great for a post ride or hike soak. If you’re looking for something unique, you can stay the night in an old fire lookout! I haven’t got to do that yet, but some friends did and said it’s awesome. The Calpine Lookout isn’t far from Downieville and would be a great basecamp for a few days. There are also lots of little resorts, cabins, and vacation rentals in the area if camping isn’t your thing. For food, I’d recommend bringing groceries and camp kitchen set up to supplement eating out. There are a couple of restaurants in Downieville (literally a couple), and they’re okay, but a little pricey. Definitely support the local businesses, but eating there every meal would get expensive.

Downieville to Quincy (60 miles, 1.5 hours)
Head back east on Highway 49 from Downieville toward your next destination of Quincy. You’ll head north on 89/70 and pass through the small town of Graeagle, which is a fun place to stop. If you’re a mountain biker, there’s the awesome Mills Peak Trail, which is worth a ride, even if you’re exhausted from Downieville. See my trail report linked above with tips for shuttling or riding from the bottom. If you’re not into biking, you can drive up to the Mills Peak Fire Lookout (which is a working lookout and offer tours during the summer) and take in the gorgeous views of the Sierra Buttes and the Lakes Basin. A few miles of the road are unpaved, rough, and narrow, so I’d recommend high clearance and all wheel drive.

Gold Lakes Basin Lost Sierra // tahoefabulous.com

Graeagle has a bunch of little shops and restaurants, so wandering around the town is a good option. For food, I’d recommend picking up a to go order from the Graeagle Mountain Frostee and heading a few miles up the road to The Brewing Lair in Blairsden. This is one of my all time favorite breweries. They sometimes have a food truck and live music, so check their facebook for updates.

Mills Peak Fire Lookout // tahoefabulous.com

Quincy is one of the bigger towns in the Lost Sierra, and it’s located on the gorgeous Feather River. Similar to other spots in the area, there is lots of hiking, fishing, swimming, and rafting. It’s home to the High Sierra Music Festival, which is a must do for festival fans who want a more mellow experience. For mountain bikers, it’s also home to the Mount Hough trail, which I haven’t ridden yet (on my bucket list!), but I hear is awesome. There’s lots of campgrounds around Quincy, and plenty of resorts, RV parks, and vacation rentals for lodging.

Quincy to Lassen Volcanic National Park (71 miles, 1.5 hours)
Compared to more popular parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone, Lassen Volcanic National Park is practically deserted. While lacking iconic landmarks like Old Faithful or Half Dome, Lassen is worth spending a couple of days exploring the park. The National Park’s website gives a great overview of places to stay and things to do while you’re there.

There are literally dozens of day hikes you can do in the park, and in the summer, you can climb Mount Lassen with a reasonable level of fitness and some hiking experience. It’s also a popular backcountry ski destination, since there’s some level of snow all year. Like Yellowstone, Lassen Volcanic National park is home to thermal areas. The most well known area, Bumpass Hell is currently closed for a rehabilitation project, but there are many others you can visit.

Lassen Volcanic National Park // tahoefabulous.com

One of the coolest things about Lassen is how little light pollution there is. It has incredibly dark skies, making it a great area for stargazing. The Park even hosts a Dark Skies Festival in August, which would be an awesome reason to plan a visit.

Just a 45 minute drive from Lassen is the McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park. This park is home to the incredible Burney Falls, which is another one for my California bucket list. If you’ve got a couple of days in Lassen, a visit to Burney Falls is worth the drive.

Lassen Volcanic National Park is a little off the beaten path – which is why it’s so quiet, and the park doesn’t have huge infrastructure of the larger parks. While there are a few places to eat in the park, you’d be better off stocking up on groceries in Quincy or Almanor. While you’re staying in the park, be sure to be bear aware and store your food and garbage in the proper way.

The entire trip is about 190 miles and 4.25 hours of driving, not accounting for any scenic detours or side trips. While you could drive straight from Truckee to Lassen, I think that taking multiple days to explore the Lost Sierra is worth it – especially if you bring your mountain bike or fishing pole.

Things to do in Santa Cruz, California

Santa Cruz is many things – a hippie college town, a laid back surf city, a growing hub for tech, a great location for foodies, and it offers just about every outdoor opportunity. Different neighborhoods of Santa Cruz have distinct vibes, and nearby cities and towns offer different feelings as well. Everyone knows the big Santa Cruz landmarks, like the Santa Cruz Wharf  or the brightly colored houses of Capitola, but I’m giving you some recommendations that you won’t find everywhere.

Things to do in Santa Cruz // tahoefabulous.com

Food & Drink:
While I’m in Santa Cruz, I have two must stops: Verve Coffee Roasters and The Penny Ice Creamery. Both are Instagram dream locations – Verve Coffee Roasters 41st Street location has a succulent wall, along with incredible coffee and their other locations are worth visits as well. At The Penny Ice Creamery, the toasted marshmallow topping tastes just as good as it looks.

Toasted marshmallow fluff topping. 🍦🍦🍦🍦#icecream #santacruz

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Even in the last couple of years, Santa Cruz’s beer scene has exploded. I used to be unimpressed with the town’s beer selection, but now I have a couple of favorites. I haven’t written reviews yet, but I really like Humble Sea Brewing Company in Santa Cruz proper and Corralitos Brewing Co. a little south in Watsonville. Sante Adarius has a Santa Cruz and Capitola location.

For actual meals, I’m going to recommend two different Hawaiian restaurants – Hula’s Island Grill & Tiki Bar and Pono’s Hawaiian Grill. Hula’s is more kitschy – think velvet Elvis paintings and mai tais served in pineapples. The Big Sur Veggie Burger is one of the best veggie burgers I’ve ever had and the Caesar Salad is similarly amazing. Pono’s is a little more traditional, with a good beer selection plus full bar, outdoor seating, and live music pretty often. Go traditional here and get a plate lunch.

West Cliff in #santacruz.

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Another place I love to eat is burger. – the period is part of the name. It has a couple of locations – both Aptos and Santa Cruz and an absolutely bonkers menu. You can get a burger with a grilled cheese sandwich for the bun (the Snooki), a burger made with mac and cheese (Johnny Marzetti), or including a donut AND bacon (Luther). I like a more simple burger, the Johnny Cash which still has fries, bacon, and blue cheese. Even if you just get a few of their sides, it’s worth a visit.

Activities:
My favorite thing to do in Santa Cruz is mountain biking at Wilder Ranch State Park, but there are other great trails right in the city like Emma McCrary and the ones in DeLaveaga Park. My second favorite thing to do is to walk along the multi-use path along West Cliff Drive and look for otters. Bring your binoculars, because I’ve seen whales, dolphins, seals and sea lions in addition to dozens of otters. West Cliff Drive ends at Natural Bridges State Beach, which is gorgeous and FREE, but usually packed.

Gray day in #santacruz

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Obviously, Santa Cruz is a major surfing destination, but surfing isn’t my sport, so I don’t have any recommendations that you couldn’t find using google. Climbing at nearby Castle Rock State Park is supposed to be great, but it’s still on my to-do list. There’s hiking in Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, and at Pogonip Open Space, if you want a more local flavor.

Another slightly off the beaten path activity is visiting the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum & Botanic Garden. The totally bizarre plants of the Australian Garden are my favorite, but you can definitely spend an afternoon wandering around the whole thing. We were even lucky enough to see one of the extremely rare white hummingbirds when we were there last. If you’re in Santa Cruz between late fall through early winter, go see the monarchs. They like to hang out in the eucalyptus grove in Natural Bridges State Park, and guided tours are available from mid-October through mid- January at 11 am and 2 pm at the state park.

I’m just scratching the surface of all of the awesome things to do in Santa Cruz. It’s one of my favorite California cities, and I can’t wait to get back. What are your favorite things to do in Santa Cruz? What did I miss?

Eastern Sierra Highway 395 Road Trip

While not as popular or well known as a Big Sur or North Coast road trip, a route down Highway 395 through the Eastern Sierra is just as spectacular.

Eastern Sierra Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

While you could spend months adventuring in the Eastern Sierra and not hit everything, you can do a more abbreviated trip and hit quite a few highlights. I’d take a week at minimum to do this route, but you could cut out some stops for a weekend version. Since the Eastern Sierra can get really hot during the summer, I’d recommend doing this trip in early spring, late fall, or even winter if you are a confident snow driver. I love camping in the Eastern Sierra, so all of my lodging suggestions revolve around camping – though many places have a variety of motels and vacation rentals in addition to my camping suggestions.

South Lake Tahoe to June Lake via Monitor Pass  (137 miles, 2.75 hours)
The most scenic route between South Lake Tahoe and June Lake isn’t the fastest, but it’s worth doing, especially in the fall. The aspens on Monitor Pass and throughout the June Lake Loop make the extra fifteen minutes so worth it.

On your way down, be sure to stop at the Mono Lake overlook, and take in your first glimpse at this practically alien lake. It’s also worth the detour or to navy beach and/or the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area Visitor Center to check out the tufa towers and learn about the natural and human history of Mono Lake.

#monolake panorama from #hwy395

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Just past Lee Vining, turn right and stop at the world’s best restaurant located in a gas station – Whoa Nellie Deli. The Mobil Mart is on the way to Tioga Pass into Yosemite National Park, so there’s usually an interesting crowd of climbers, locals and tourists. There’s even live music on Sundays and Thursdays throughout the summer.

At @junelakebrewing, my favorite #brewery in the #easternsierra.

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Be sure to take the June Lake scenic loop into town – the view just keeps getting better and better. See my detailed recommendations for where to stay, what to do, and where to eat and drink in my Things to do in June Lake post from earlier this week.

June Lake to Mammoth Lakes (20 miles, 30 minutes)
Mammoth Lakes has lots going on – no matter what the season. If you’re there in the winter there’s skiing or snowboarding at Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort or in the backcountry. In the summer, lift serviced mountain biking at the resort is world class! Don’t worry if you’re new to it, Mammoth Mountain has trails for all levels, and rental gear is available at the resort and in town.

After a long day of adventuring, you’ll probably be thirsty, so be sure to check out Mammoth Brewing Company! If you’re looking for restaurants recommendations, hikes, or other things to do in the area, check out my post – Things to do in Mammoth Lakes here.

For lodging, there are tons of options. There are even campgrounds in town! I had a good experience at Old Shady Rest, but there are quite a few options in the area. There is also dispersed camping in the area.

Mammoth Lakes to Bishop (42 miles, 45 minutes)
One of the best reasons to do this road trip during the milder weather is the abundance of hot springs! On your drive between Mammoth and Bishop, turn left at the old green church and visit Wild Willy’s Hot Spring. If Wild Willy’s is too crowded, there are quite a few others in the area, so look around.

Scenic drive in the #easternsierra.

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My favorite place to stay in Bishop is actually a little north of the town at the Pleasant Valley campground on the Owens River. This campground can be kind of mixed bags – we’ve had wind, loud RVs, and biting ants on one trip and a perfect rural oasis on others. One of the reasons that I like it so much is its proximity to the Happy Boulders. While not as famous as the Buttermilks, the Happy Boulders are more my grade (beginner).

The scene. #happyboulders #bishop #easternsierra #bouldering

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Head into town for two must try spots: Mountain Rambler Brewery and Black Sheep Coffee Roasters. The brewery doubles as a music venue and the best dinner in town. If you are in the mood for something quick or need sandwich supplies, I like Great Basin Bakery more than it’s more famous cousin, Schat’s.

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest
Photo by Greyson Howard

An amazing day trip from Bishop is to visit the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. These gnarled trees can be up to 4,000 years old! During the winter, the gate is closed and you can’t drive all the way to the top, but it is a popular spot for snowshoeing and cross country skiing.

Bishop to Independence (42 miles, 40 minutes)
If you want to get taste of high Sierra hiking, but don’t want to commit to Mount Whitney or the John Muir Trail, I suggest hiking into Kings Canyon National Park via Kearsarge Pass from the Onion Valley trailhead. You can make it a day hike just to the top of the pass and back (~9.5 miles round trip with ~2,500 feet of elevation gain). You’ll be rewarded with amazing views of the Kearsarge Pinnacles and alpine lakes. You can also use this trailhead to launch a backpacking trip – like the famous Rae Lakes Loop.

If you’re going to hike Kearsarge, I’d highly recommend staying in the Onion Valley campground. You’ll be able to leave right from your campsite and start hiking. It’s at 9,000 feet so you’ll be able to get out of the heat of the valley, too. The campsites here are pretty small – so a huge tent might not fit in the space available. Some of the sites are a bit of a hike (<0.25 miles), so keep that in mind with your packing.

Entering John Muir Wilderness #jmt #latergram

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View from the top of Kearsarge Pass at 11,760′

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Independence to Lone Pine (16 miles, 16 minutes)
Just down the road from Independence is the town of Lone Pine, best known as the gateway to Mount Whitney. However, there’s more to Lone Pine than the town you drive through on your way to Whitney! The Alabama Hills around Lone Pine have a long history of filmmaking – from spaghetti westerns to standing in for the Middle East in current films to the setting of Tremors! This history is celebrated at the Museum of Western Film History in downtown Lone Pine, and it’s worth a stop.

On a more sober note, the Manzanar War Relocation Center was one of the 10 internment camps where Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War Two. It’s now Manzanar National Historic Site and  “was established to preserve the stories of the internment of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II and to serve as a reminder to this and future generations of the fragility of American civil liberties. Manzanar National Historic Site is between Independence and Lone Pine.

Alabama Hills in the #easternsierra #hwy395 #roadtrip #camping

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While you’re in Lone Pine, you should definitely camp in the Alabama Hills dispersed camping area. You’ll be able to find solitude, but the roads are easy enough to navigate. Camp spots are located throughout alien-looking rock features and the night skies are some of the clearest I’ve ever experienced. Since camping is dispersed, there are no services, so be sure to bring your own water and practice Leave No Trace camping principles. As long as you’re in the Alabama Hills, stop by the instagram-famous Mobius Arch.

With that, that’s the end of the trip! Like I said, you could spend months exploring all the Eastern Sierra has to offer, and I hope this route inspires you to visit. All in all, you’re looking at about 4.75 hours of drive time and 250 miles travelled, not counting any day trips or detours.

Things to do in June Lake, California

June Lake, a small town north of Mammoth Lakes off of Highway 395 is one of my favorite places in the Eastern Sierra. It’s a tiny bit off the beaten path and often overshadowed by nearby Mammoth. Which often means it’s not nearly as crowded as other, more popular spots.

Things to do in June Lake California // tahoefabulous.com

Take a Scenic Drive
June Lake is located on the June Lake loop (Highway 158), a u-shaped road connected to 395. I’d driven by June Lake Loop probably a dozen times before I finally took the scenic detour – and it’s worth it, even if you’re just driving through. While it’s pretty either direction, I’d recommend turning in at the north end and driving south. This is the entrance further away from the town of June Lake, but your views will be more dramatic. The towering Sierra peaks are hardly noticeable from 395, but dominate the sky only a couple of miles in. There’s a reason that they call it “The Switzerland of California.” If you’re there in October, the loop has some of the best fall colors in the Eastern Sierra. Along the way, you’ll pass the lakes this area is famous for – Grant Lake, Silver Lake, Gull Lake, and, finally June Lake. The town of June Lake is situated between Gull and June lakes. The exit back to 395 is just a few minutes past town. Note: Highway 158 sometimes closes in the winter, so while there is access to June Lake, you can’t drive the full loop.

Lodging
There are all kinds of options for lodging in the June Lake area – from camping to resorts to vacation rentals. I’ve had two great experiences at the Oh! Ridge Campground and I’d highly recommend it. It has running water, flush toilets and easy access to a great beach on June Lake. I’ve also stayed at the June Lake Campground, which has convenient access to town, but it was really loud the one time I’ve stayed there. Reversed Creek Campground is very close to town, and Silver Lake Campground has great access to Silver Lake. While I’ve never stayed at any of the hotels or resorts, I’ve heard really good things about the Double Eagle Resort. There are also old school style cabins and lodges, like Fern Creek Lodge, which dates back to 1927. I’ve also stayed at a couple of vacation rentals in town, and there are plenty to choose from – I prefer VRBO for rural places like June Lake.

Eats
June Lake doesn’t have a ton of dining options, which isn’t surprising in a small town. However, it does have my all time favorite food truck, Ohanas 395. Ohanas is a fresh twist on classic Hawaiian food crafted with care and generous on the portion sizes. Greyson and I usually split two dishes – one regular and one small and that’s typically plenty. I love the Kahuna Chips – Hawaiian style nachos on kettle chips topped with kalua pork or huli huli chicken, sesame cabbage slaw, jack cheese, pepperoncinis and homemade bbq sauce. Their kalua pork is so good that it was better than any I got on the Big Island in June!

Another fun place to eat is the Tiger Bar & Cafe. It’s pretty typical pub food – heavy on the burgers and fries, light on the veggies, but good, if not good for you. Tiger Bar is historic – it was established in 1932, and it supposedly has California Liquor License #2 and is the longest legally operating bar in California.

Beer
June Lake is home to my favorite brewery in the Eastern Sierra – June Lake Brewing. I write in more detail about what makes the beer and the brewery so great in my June Lake Brewing post here.

June Lake Brewing // tahoefabulous.com

This area is also getting famous for it’s awesome June Lake Autumn Beer Festival. I went in 2016, and it definitely wasn’t your typical local beer festival. It’s put on by the June Lake Brewery crew, who moved to June Lake from the San Diego area and still have a ton of connections down there. While my local favorites (Mammoth Brewing Company, Mountain Rambler, etc.) were there, there were also a ton of farther flung breweries, many that I tried for the first time, like Pizza Port and Alpine Brewing Company. If you want to go, start planning early as tickets are very limited and in high demand – they sold out in early February for the 2018 festival happening on September 29th. If you happen to be in the area, sometimes there are extra tickets are available at the door. This is my favorite beer fest that I’ve been to – lots of beers, small enough that it’s not overwhelming, and a beautiful location and time of year.

Activities
There’s tons of stuff to do in the June Lake area, whether you stay in the loop or venture out a little farther. What there is to do in June Lake varies according to the season, but there’s something awesome all throughout the year.

In town, you’ve obviously got the lakes. For swimming, I like June Lake Beach, which is sandy with room to spread out and the water is clear and refreshing. Gull Lake has a nice picnic area and playground, and is great for a family picnic. June Lake is at 7,600 feet so the lakes are pretty cold, but definitely swimmable in July, August, and September.

The whole loop is well known as a popular fishing area. While you can fish in all of the lakes, Silver Lake is known for the best shore fishing, June Lake for early season catches, Gull Lake for bait fishing, and Grant Lake for trolling. Nearby, Rush Creek and Lee Vining Creek are typical fly fishing spots.

Tuolumne Meadows // tahoefabulous.com
Tuolumne Meadows // photo by Greyson Howard

Tioga Pass into Yosemite National Park usually opens between late May and late June, and it’s a convenient trip into the park from June Lake via this route. The drive is gorgeous, but steep and exposed, and it gets you into the much less crowded high, east side of the park. From this side, you’ll have easy access to Tuolumne Meadows, Tenaya Lake, Olmstead Point and all the typical Yosemite summer activities, like hiking, climbing, paddling, swimming, etc. There are far fewer services in this side of the park compared to the Valley, so plan ahead for food and water, gas, sunscreen, bug spray, and any other accessories you might need. Tioga Pass is usually closed by late October.

Olmstead Point // tahoefabulous.com
Half Dome from Olmstead Point

June Lake is home to a ton of hiking trails, though many are difficult to the steep elevation changes. Fern Lake trail is one of those short and steep trails, gaining 1,600 feet in just 1.75 miles to the lake one way. Once you make it though, the fishing is supposed to be amazing. On the easier side of things is the 2 mile Gull Lake Loop Trail. It’s right in town and doesn’t have much elevation change – perfect for kids or anyone who wants an easier hike. The Parker Lake Trail is a good middle ground. It’s 3.6 miles round trip with 650 feet of climbing, and you’ll be rewarded with a gorgeous lake at the end. Some friends have used this as an easy backpacking destination, and they said it’s great for newbies or if your time is limited and just want an easy overnight.

I also have to plug the June Lake Triathlon – it’s my favorite race I’ve ever done. It’s got a small town, local feel, but it’s still incredibly well organized and the field is big enough that you never feel like you’re out there on your own. The course is challenging, and so beautiful that you get distracted from your suffering. The whole town seems to get involved, whether they are volunteering at the event or on the road cheering you on. They offer sprint, olympic, and half iron distance races, as well as aquabike and relay opportunities- plus Mammoth Brewing Company beer and a home cooked meal at the finish line.

June Lake Triathlon // tahoefabulous.com
Photo by Greyson Howard

If you’re visiting in the winter, there are still plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy. June Mountain Ski Area is basically right in town, and though it’s owned by Mammoth Mountain, it still has a small town feel. If backcountry skiing or riding is your thing, there are guided tours available from Sierra Mountain Guides and through June Mountain. For non-adrenaline junkies, there is snowshoeing and cross country skiing nearby as well.

If you enjoy the outdoors, you’ll find something to do in June Lake. I hope you check out this awesome hidden gem, and enjoy it as much as I do!

Big Sur Coast Road Trip

Back in February, I had some time off between jobs, and Greyson and I were able to go on an amazing road trip along the Big Sur Coast. We drove from Truckee to Big Sur, driving down Highway One as far as we could go. Until recently, the road ended near Gorda, due to the massive landslide, so that’s where we stopped. We stayed a few days in Big Sur, then drove up to Santa Cruz to visit friends and family before heading home.

Big Sur Coast Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

This trip inspired me  to plan a three-day Big Sur Coast Road Trip itinerary – from Monterey, California down to Gorda and back. This road trip would work great as a long weekend, but now that I’ve experienced Big Sur during the week, I have to recommend that if you’re able to swing it.  I’ve always had a great experience in Big Sur in late winter, so I’d go then as well, but you’re more likely to get storms than a summer trip, but there will be fewer crowds. Quick note about Big Sur parks – some of the state parks are managed by outside vendors, so your State Parks Pass won’t work at all of them and you’ll have to pay an entrance fee. Bring your pass, but beware of that!

Big Sur Road Trip Route
Map via Google Maps

Day One: Monterey to Lucia
While you’re in Monterey, check out the world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. It’s a major tourist destination, but for good reason. Spend some time on their deck – I’ve seen everything from otters to humpback whales. Cannery Row is pretty touristy, but fun to check out at least once. There’s actually a lot to do in Monterey, and if you have extra time, it’s worth adding on a day to explore – especially if you’re into John Steinbeck.

Big Sur Coast Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

Head south on Highway One towards the tiny town of Lucia. You’ll drive through the thick redwood forest of northern Big Sur (don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to explore this area) before popping out in the more open oak woodlands characteristic of the central coast. It’s about an hour and a half drive to Lucia from Monterey, but be sure to keep your eyes out for whale spouts in the Pacific – we saw dozens when we were driving down in February. Less than 20 miles from Monterey you’ll arrive at the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge. There’s a large pull out area on the north side of the bridge, so it’s easy to stop and take photos. Otter related fact: Bixby Creek is where the last remaining population of southern sea otters was found in the 70s, when they were thought to be extinct!

Bixby Creek Bridge // tahoefabulous.com

There are a few lodging options near Lucia. I’ve camped at Limekiln State Park and Kirk Creek campground. Both are great and fill up fast, so be sure to get reservations ahead of time. Limekiln has a slight advantage with beach access, though. There are also some non-camping lodging options including the Lucia Lodge, glamping at Treebones Resort, and the super fancy Esalen Hot Springs retreat center.

Limekiln Park View // tahoefabulous.com
View from Limekiln State Park Campground

For meals, I’d suggest bringing a picnic dinner to eat on the beach or at a scenic cliff – charcuterie and sauvignon blanc on Limekiln Beach at sunset is one of my top ten meals of all time. If you’re looking for a restaurant, both the Lucia Lodge and Treebones have restaurants that are open to non-guests and Whale Watchers Cafe is a restaurant in Gorda.

Big Sur Picnic // tahoefabulous.com

Day Two: Explore Big Sur
If you’re up early, morning is the best time to take photos of the iconic McWay Falls. McWay Falls is one of only two California waterfalls to pour directly on the beach. It’s got to be one of the most photographed spots on the Big Sur Coast, but it’s worth the hike to the view point. While people occasionally do hike down to the falls and the beach, there is no developed trail and it’s an incredibly dangerous undertaking. Stick to the walk to the viewpoint, the view is still incredible and you won’t die. If you don’t make it in the morning, and you want to take good photos, come back in the evening.

McWay Falls Big Sur // tahoefabulous.com

McWay Falls Big Sur // tahoefabulous.com

The Henry Miller Memorial Library is about 15 minutes north of McWay Falls and is quirky spot that’s worth a visit. It’s part bookstore/part performance venue/part museum.

“The Henry Miller Library is a public benefit, non-profit 501 (c) 3 organization championing the literary, artistic and cultural contributions of the late writer, artist, and Big Sur resident Henry Miller.  The Library also serves as a cultural resource center, functioning as a public gallery/performance/workshop space for artists, writers, musicians and students. In addition, the Library supports education in the arts and the local environment. Finally, the Library serves as a social center for the community…The Library hosts events throughout the year, but particularly in the summer months (May-October), including music, lectures, book signings, and countless community events…”

Another worthy stop is Pfeiffer Beach – this is a big sandy beach with a very recognizable sea arch. The walk from the parking to the beach is kind of long, but this would be another great spot for a picnic. If you’re looking for a quick snack and amazing coffee, stop by Big Sur Bakery or at Big Sur Taphouse for a bigger meal. There are also a ton of unique shops filled with local items, perfect for gifts or souvenirs.

Big Sur Coast Road Trip // tahoefabulous.com

One of the best parts of the Big Sur Coast is that there are so many amazing view points. When you’re driving along, be sure to pull over and stop anywhere that looks appealing – you’ll be sure to see something spectacular. After your leisurely day exploring the coast, you’ll be ready to get a good night’s sleep, whether that’s on an inflatable mattress or in a super nice hotel bed. I’d recommend heading back towards where you stayed on night one since the drive is so short and scenic, but there are plenty of lodging options closer to the town of Big Sur.

Big Sur to Monterey
One of the best known restaurants in Big Sur is the ultra-fancy Nepenthe, but one of the best kept secrets in Big Sur is the fact that Nepenthe has a less ritzy breakfast and lunch restaurant called Cafe Kevah. Cafe Kevah’s menu is smaller (and less expensive), but you can eat out on their amazing deck – one of the best views on the Big Sur coast. I’d call it a good trade off and recommend waking up early enough on your last day to make it to breakfast here.

After a leisurely breakfast, head north to the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. Point Lobos is a spectacular part of the California State Parks system and a can’t miss stop on the drive between Big Sur and Monterey. Guided walks are available every day, or you can just wander around and see the sights. When we were there, the water was so clear in some coves that we could see the baby harbor seals swimming around. We also saw a bunch of sea otters – including a tiny baby tied up in the kelp! You can even SCUBA dive and snorkel in Point Lobos – more information here.

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve // tahoefabulous.com

Point Lobos // tahoefabulous.com

Extend your last day with a final stop in Carmel by the Sea. This tiny and ritzy town is always worth a visit. Wander around the cute downtown and pop into a restaurant for lunch – chances are wherever you stop will be delicious. Monterey is only about a ten minute drive from Carmel, so savor your last glimpses of the ocean. With that, your road trip is complete!

I hope you like this new blog feature, and check back next week for a more inland, but just as epic road trip.

Car Camping Road Trip Necessities

On the scale from ultralight backpacking to yurt glamping, I prefer to do my road tripping on the luxurious side. There’s a time and a place for cutting down your toothbrush and sitting on the ground, but, for me, road trips are not it! I’ve done a lot of car camping and road trips, and I have some great suggestions to make your time on the road and in your tent as comfortable as possible. I found options at lower and higher price points, so you can get a pleasant set up, no matter your budget.

Road Trip Must Haves // tahoefabulous.com

Sleeping:
Being comfortable while sleeping makes a huge difference to your quality of life on the road, and I think it’s the most important area to splurge on. I love having a big-ass tent. Greyson and I are both tall people, and, while we can both fit in a two-person tent, it’s a tight squeeze. We have the Big Agnes Tensleep Station ($449.95) and the footprint ($50.00), and it is incredible. The tent is tall enough to get dressed in and there is enough room for both Greyson and me, and our bags. It also has a large vestibule, so you can take off wet and muddy gear, but stay dry. The tent is easy to set up – though it definitely helps to have two people, it can be set up by one. It has plenty of guylines, so you can stake it out and make it stable in high winds, despite its height. It doesn’t pack down very small and is heavy, which is the only real downside. For four-person tents under $200 from reputable brands, you could look at the highly-rated REI Co-op Camp Dome 4 or the Kelty Salida 4. For sleeping, I want something long, wide and cushy, and the insulated Nemo Cosmo in long and wide is perfect ($139.95). It also has an integrated foot pump for easy filling. For comfort under $100, try Kelty Weekender ($59.95), ALPS Mountaineering Comfort Series Airpad ($39.99), or the old reliable close-cell foam Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest.

Car Camping Must Haves // tahoefabulous.com

After more than 5 years, I’m still really happy with my Sierra Designs Zissou ($144.95). With water-resistant down, it has the benefits of down without the drawbacks in wet weather. For warmer weather, Greyson prefers a backpacking quilt-style sleeping arrangement, even for car camping, like the Enlightened Equipment Revelation ($255). With quilt bags, you can cinch up the sides and bottoms when it’s chillier, or use it like a blanket on warmer nights. If you opt for synthetic, affordable and reliable sleeping bags are easy to find. There’s the Mountain Hardwear Bozeman Quilt ($69.27) or the REI Co-op Trail Pod ($89.95) or the Marmot NanoWave ($89.95), which also comes in long. I didn’t use a sleeping bag liner until our honeymoon, and now I can’t imagine camping without one. I have the easily-washable and light Sea to Summit Expander Travel Liner ($34.95) which is on the cheaper end of liners. If you tend to sleep cold, you could get the Sea to Summit – Reactor Extreme Thermolite liner ($59.99) which can add up to 25 degrees of warmth! You could even use it as a standalone ultralight bag in really warm weather. Don’t forget a pillow! You can just bring a pillow from home for the cheapest and easiest option, but I have and like the NEMO Fillo ($39.95). A cheaper travel pillow is the Cocoon Ultralight Pillow ($25.95).

Car Camping Must Haves // tahoefabulous.com

Eating:
I’ve found that having a nice and easy to use kitchen set up makes us much more likely to cook and less likely to cave in to eating out. First up, a really nice cooler is worth the money. We are so impressed with our YETI Tundra cooler ($249.99). Stuff stays cold for so long! At a lower price point, the old school Coleman Steel-Belted cooler has good reviews and holds a ton ($94.99). For cooking, nothing beats the Coleman Classic 2-burner Stove, ($32.99) for both price and performance. If you want something that packs down smaller, there’s the Jetboil Genesis 2 ($239.59). We also have a Jetboil Flash ($99.95) that we use if we’re just heating water for coffee in the morning. On the cheaper side, the MSR PocketRocket ($44.95) is a classic for a reason – it works and, while not quite as easy to use as a Jetboil, it’s quite simple.

Car Camping Must Haves // tahoefabulous.com

I like the ease of an all in one camp cookset, like the GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Camper ($139.95). For a smaller cookset, look at the Snow Peak Personal Cooker ($29.95). You’ve also got to have utensils, and nothing beats a Titanium Spork ($9.95). You can also go super budget with this reusable GSI plastic spork ($1.75)

Car Camping Must Haves // tahoefabulous.com

Miscellaneous:
If you’re not spending more than a day in each of your stops, and you have a lot of time on the road, you can probably get away with charging your phones via a car charger. If you’re spending a few days exploring a destination or you have bigger things (computers, cameras, gps units, etc.) to charge, you’ll want a battery system. No matter what, this isn’t going to be cheap, but it’s better than camping out in Starbucks for hours! We have the Goal Zero Yeti 150 Portable Power Station ($199.95), which can charge up to five devices at once, via USB ports, regular plugs, or car chargers. You can recharge the power station from a wall outlet or via Goal Zero solar panel ($125.49).

Once you’ve settled in to your campsite for the night, you’ll want to be comfortable and entertained. While a lot of developed campsites have picnic tables for seating, dispersed or primitive camping lacks that amenity. Plus, a chair with a back is so much more comfortable! I’m not a fan of the ultra light or small packing camp chairs – if I’m bringing a chair, it needs to be the real thing. The REI Co-op Camp X chair ($39.95) is perfect. It’s roomy, has cup holders, and they seem to last forever. I’m also big on having a hammock whenever possible, and I’ve had no complaints about the ENO DoubleNest Hammock ($52.46). Don’t forget the Hammock Suspension System ($29.95) – you won’t be able to swing without it.

Car Camping Must Haves // tahoefabulous.com

Hopefully, you’ll be stopping for outdoor meals in gorgeous places on your road trip. I’ve found that having a water-resistant picnic blanket for these occasions is a must have. We’ve given the Nemo Victory Blanket ($79.95) as a gift, and the recipients love it. It’s truly waterproof (non just resistant), and you can even stake down the edges if it’s windy out! There are much cheaper options out there, like this one ($9.99) or this one ($21.99), but they aren’t going to be fully waterproof.

Camp games are a great way to entertain yourself and to make friends with your neighbors. I’ve played Spikeball ($55.99), Bocce Ball ($29.95) and Ladder Golf ($37.49) while camping and had a blast. Get waterproof versions of playing cards ($8.99) or games like UNO ($9.95) for durability and to protect from spills or sudden storms.

Finally, we love our solar powered, inflatable, multi-color Luci Lanterns ($19.50). While they might just seem like a silly gimmick, we truly use ours a lot. They don’t take up very much space at all, charge quickly (we put ours on the car dash while we drive), and the white is bright enough to read by. The multi-color function is fun for the wilder nights and for entertaining kids. If you just want white light, you can get the Original Lucy ($17.95) for a little cheaper.

There are some of my suggestions to make your next car camping road trip a little more luxurious! I didn’t hit everything, so what did I miss?

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!