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.
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.
Greyson and I went down to Santa Cruz last weekend to hang out with our niece and my sister in law and brother in law. Usually, we bring mountain bikes when we head to Santa Cruz, but Greyson was between bikes, so we had a bike free road trip. This opened us up to do some activities we normally skip in favor of bike rides, like hiking. We decided to check out a park I’d never been to before – Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
“Imagine a time when the whole peninsula from San Francisco to San Jose shall become one great city; then picture, at its very doorstep, this magnificent domain of redwood forests and running streams, the breathing place of millions of cramped and crowded denizens of the city.”
– Carrie Stevens Walter, Sempervirens Club, 1901
Big Basin Redwoods State Park is California’s oldest state park, and contains the largest continuous stand of redwoods south of San Francisco. The trees are huge and old – some are more than 300 feet tall and over 1,000 years old. There are plenty of hiking trails to explore, and the Skyline to the Sea trail meanders through Big Basin on its way to Waddell Beach. There are also lots of campsites in the park, but I imagine they book up quickly due to the park’s proximity to Santa Cruz and the Bay Area. Big Basin is about 40 minutes from Santa Cruz – it’s only 20 ish miles, but the road is windy and narrow.
When we got to Big Basin, we checked in with the visitor’s center to ask for hiking suggestions. We wanted a pretty easy hike, and the ranger suggested the hike out to Sempervirens Falls, which is about 3.5 miles round trip and has the option to tack on additional miles if we wanted to. We ended up taking Sequoia Trail to Sempervirens Falls, continuing on Sequoia Trail to Skyline to the Sea Trail, and then following Skyline to the Sea Trail back to the visitor’s center, which was 5 miles and almost 800 feet of climbing.
The Sequoia Trail to Sempervirens Falls is pretty easy. It doesn’t have much elevation gain, probably around 150 feet in ~1.7 miles. The trails in Big Basin are very well marked – every intersection has a sign. This section of our route had the most impressive redwoods, and there were a few that were hollowed out that we climbed inside. Sempervirens Falls is not a huge waterfall, and it was running pretty low in October. I imagine it’s more impressive in the winter and spring, but I’m glad we checked it out.
Almost directly after Sempervirens Falls is the hardest part of the trail. We climbed basically straight up a steep, sandstone slab. We gained 200 feet in ⅓ of a mile! It was a cool rock outcropping, and we found some grinding holes in the area. This part of the park is really interesting. The trees are a mix of redwoods and oaks, and the oaks seemed like they were attacking us with acorns! We didn’t get hit at all, but there were a couple of close calls with falling acorns. I love hiking in the trees, and this trail is great for that, though not really a route for sweeping views. The redwoods are just too tall and thick.
As we got closer to the visitors center, the trail started to get more crowded. For such a popular park, most of the route was pretty deserted. We saw more people when we got close to parking areas and trailheads, but it wasn’t overly crowded, even on a sunny Saturday. The hike ended up taking us about an hour and 45 minutes, including photography time at the waterfall. If you’re looking for a moderately easy hike in the Santa Cruz area that gets you in the redwoods, I’d highly recommend this route. See my Strava route here.
After our hike, I was starving. I wasn’t in the mood for state park cafeteria food, so we headed 15 minutes down the road to the small town of Boulder Creek. I voted for pizza (like always), and we ended up at Boulder Creek Pizza & Pub. It wasn’t anything incredible, but the pizza was pretty good and they had a decent local beer selection. Which is exactly what I want after a hike.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park is a really neat wilderness park in a heavily populated area. If you’re in the Santa Cruz area, I’d highly recommend checking it out. I’m excited to get back and do some more exploring in that area! If you want other recommendations for things to do in Santa Cruz – check out my blog post here.
Hiking Gear Recommendations
Here are a few of my favorite pieces of gear for hiking! Shoes: I like light weight, low profile trail runners like Salomon XA Elevate. GPS Watch: I am a data and numbers nerd, so I like to track my hikes, bikes, and runs with the Garmin Forerunner. Hydration Pack: My CamelBak Solstice is technically a mountain bike pack, but it does double duty and works great as a hiking pack as well. This version is from 2016 and is a great deal at $75!
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!
Despite being born in Oregon, I had never been to Crater Lake National Park before our trip this September! Since it was only a little out of our way, we decided to make the detour on our way from Oakridge to Truckee. Since it was just a quick trip, we didn’t do much more than pull over at the viewpoints and poke around at some of the exhibits. The day was absolutely gorgeous, and I’m glad that we stopped. Here are some of my favorite pictures!
After a couple of days in Bend, we headed west to Oakridge. Bend and Oakridge aren’t too far apart as the crow flies, but, the route isn’t super direct, due to the Cascades being in between the two. You can make the drive in under two hours by heading south on 97 then west on 58, but we decided to take a slightly more scenic route.
After a delicious breakfast at Rockin’ Dave’s Bistro & Backstage Lounge, we went north on Highway 20 towards the town of Sisters, taking in the beautiful mountain view of Mt. Bachelor, Broken Top, the Sisters, and Mt. Washington. We regrouped with my parents and decided our destination was going to be Metolius Springs, where the Metolius River pops out of the ground. It’s pretty incredible – the river just appears out of nowhere.
From there, we detoured to tiny Camp Sherman where we tried to spot fish in the Metolius River, but were unsuccessful. We headed west from here, climbing up Santiam Pass and watching the forest quickly change as we went from the eastern slope of the Cascades to the western slope.
This drive took us along the Mckenzie River, which both Greyson and I were excited about. There are some gorgeous views along the drive, though several of the places we tried to pull over to explore were already full of cars. Eventually, we found an empty spot and climbed down to the river. There’s a 26 mile hiking/mountain bike trail that follows the Mckenzie River. We just walked along a tiny bit of it, but it gave me a taste and I’d love to come back and ride it someday.
Finally, we got on 58 and headed back east towards Oakridge. This part of the drive was also beautiful – lots of deciduous trees mixed in among the firs and cedars, and some of the leaves were already starting to turn. Greyson and I visited Oakridge in 2016, but my parents had never been before and we were excited to show them around.
After a couple of visits to Oakridge, I’ve found a few awesome spots that I wanted to share.
This time we stayed in a really great vacation rental – Jasper Lodge. It was really nice, inside and out, with 3 bedrooms/2 bathrooms and a garage for bike storage, located close to everything in Oakridge. I’d highly recommend it – especially if you’re coming to Oakridge to mountain bike. Having the garage to store and a place to wash our bikes was amazing.
On our last trip, we stayed in one my all time favorite campgrounds, Salmon Creek Falls Campground. The spots are all first come-first serve, so your best shot is probably if you’re arriving mid-week. There’s a creek with a falls and a swimming hole that run right through the campground, which was awesome after a hot, July mountain bike ride. There are a few motels in Oakridge and other AirB&B and VRBO options as well.
Food & Drink
There aren’t a ton of restaurants in Oakridge, but there are definitely a few worth checking out. On both trips, we hit up Brewers Union Local 180, which is definitely the hippest spot in Oakridge. All their beers are cask aged (so not carbonated), but they have beers from other regional breweries if that’s not your style. The food is really good, and portions are large. I got vegetarian poutine and it was better than a lot of the poutine I’ve gotten in Canada.
Be sure to visit Lee’s Gourmet Garden, which Greyson and I went to after riding the Alpine Trail shuttle this time. The food is delicious and the owners were super friendly, plus we got a ton of food for under $30. It really hit the spot after a cold, wet morning of riding. Another delicious surprise was Cedar Creek Meats – I got the best Cuban sandwich of my life here.
For a throwback, there’s an A&W in Oakridge that’s still a functioning drive in! We went there for dessert one night. Fun fact: I worked at an A&W for one summer in college, and I am excellent at making root beer floats. Double Trouble Espresso is a small roadside coffee stand that has pretty good coffee, when you need your early morning caffeine fix.
Things To Do
While mountain biking is probably the most popular reason to visit Oakridge, there are other fun things to do in the area as well. Just outside of town is the Willamette Fish Hatchery, which might seem like a strange thing to visit, but we had a great time. There are informational displays and signage, so you can learn about the hatchery, the fish raised there, and the larger ecosystem. There’s a short, interpretive loop trail (~0.5 miles), mini golf, and a small historical museum. My favorite part was feeding the rainbow trout and marveling at the large sturgeon in one of the ponds.
The Office Bridge, a historic covered bridge built in 1944, is about 4 miles from Oakridge, in the even smaller town of Westfir. It’s the longest covered bridge in Oregon and has some really cool engineering. You can walk or drive through, and it’s a great place to take pictures. There’s a small park on the other side, with a picnic area and a playground. This is also the base of some local hiking trails, and the end of the Alpine Trail.
The second tallest waterfall in Oregon, Salt Creek Falls, is less than a half hour east of Oakridge, just off of Hwy 58. The viewpoint is only 50 yards or so from the parking lot and ADA accessible. You can also take a short hike down to the falls, but the hike is steep and mostly stairs. The view from the top is gorgeous, and we took a ton of pictures.
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, amazingbeer, 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 Trailand 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I love Mendocino, and I had a great visit last fall. I’m excited to go back!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.