As I mentioned earlier, I created a survey to rank the mountain bike trails and beer for smaller cities and towns. So far, I’ve gotten 18 responses, and here are the preliminary results. Bellingham seems to be the highest rated town, with the highest beer rating at 9.25 and a high trail score at 9.00. Whistler/Squamish had the highest rating for trails, an average of 9.86, with a decent beer score of 7.43. Interestingly, Bend had the second highest beer score of 8.89, but a fairly low trail score of 5.89. Reno had the lowest overall score with a trail score of 4.75 and beer score of 6.25. (I think that Reno beer score is seriously too low. If you need a recommendation for better Reno beer, let me know.)
Because several destinations had as few as two responses, I also did a chart with only the towns that had at least 5 responses.
Survey is still open, so you can still respond here. Thanks!
I know this is a time where many people want to retreat to nature, to social distance in the wilderness, to travel somewhere the pace of life seems more relaxed and less crowded. I love sharing the special places and fun adventures available in Tahoe, Truckee and the Sierra. Even though my audience is small, I would feel irresponsible if I didn’t join in the chorus of voices encouraging people to stay close to home and adventure responsibly during this critical time of “flattening the curve”. I especially appreciated this email sent out by Visit Truckee, our tourism bureau.
“Our beloved travelers, now is not the time to visit Truckee…While the Truckee community is reeling from business impacts due to COVID-19, we extend our deepest thoughts to beloved visitors who have supported our tourism economy. With immense compassion for everyone’s wish to be in the fresh mountain air, now is NOT the time to visit Truckee. Truckee’s healthcare system is excellent, but limited. The consequences of COVID-19 for our small town would be devastating. Our first positive case was reported Monday, March 16th and is under self-quarantine. Right now, please support Truckee-Tahoe businesses from afar. Rebook lodging for a later date. Reach out to businesses you enjoyed in the past. Send an email, post a photo and tag words of encouragement. Consider making donations, buy gift cards, ask for credit versus refunds, pay for an online yoga class, order books and sports gear online from our local shops. Cash flow is critical for us right now. If you can afford it, reconsider canceling memberships. If you are here, dozens of restaurants, sports shops and grocery stores are offering deliveries, curbside pickup, rentals drop-offs, etc. But again, now is not the time to visit. Some restaurants, retail shops, and lodging establishments are CLOSED. All ski areas are closed. We are facing heartbreaking, serious decisions and will need the help of our tourism family on the road to recovery. Over the coming weeks, we will share photos and stories to keep you entertained and hopeful when happy times are here again. Truckee will be ready to welcome you when the world is ready to travel again. Good karma, pay-it-forward, BE STRONG and we will see you soon. Our mountains, lakes, rivers, forests, and trails will be here to welcome you back. There will be many more winters and fresh pow in the years ahead!”
This has already become an issue in places like Moab and Bishop, where hundreds or thousands of visitors are overwhelming limited local resources. Please don’t travel to these rural outdoor adventure destinations right now. The local residents truly appreciate it, and will welcome visitors with open arms when it is safe again.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Starting today, I’m launching a new blog feature that I’m excited to run for the rest of the summer – Road Trip Fridays. One of my best (and sadly underutilized at work) skills is road trip planning. In the past 4.5 years, Greyson and I have gone on some great road trips through California and beyond, and I’ve done the bulk of the planning. With Road Trip Fridays, I’m going to pass my best ideas on to you! I’ll cover the routes (including estimated mileage and time), sites to see, outdoor adventures to go on, and my favorite restaurants and breweries along the way.
To kick things off, here are a few of my favorite California itineraries. I’ll be posting detailed trip routes throughout the summer, so keep watching. If you’re interested in a specific route and don’t see a detailed post, feel free to get in touch and I’ll help you out!
Big Sur Coast: One of the most classic California drives of all time is Highway One along the coast. While the whole thing is great, the stretch between Monterrey and Gorda is one of the most breathtaking drives you can take. Distance: 67 miles, 2 hours one way. While you can do the route in an afternoon, why would you want to? Take at least a weekend and savor the drive. Highlights along the way include Carmel by the Sea, Point Lobos Natural Reserve, and McWay Falls. Click here to see my Big Sur Coast Road Trip Guide.
Tahoe to Lone Pine on 395: The drive from Tahoe to Lone Pine along 395 will take you alongside the epic peaks of the Eastern Sierra. While the views alone are worth the drive, there are so many amazing places to stop, you can spend a week or more just on this stretch. It can be quite hot along this drive, so this is a perfect early spring or late fall road trip. It’s even great in the winter if you can handle potential snow around Mammoth Lakes. Stop for hot springs and ancient pines; skiing, climbing, or mountain biking; and surprisingly good food in tiny roadside towns. South Lake Tahoe to Lone Pine is about 230 miles and 4.5 hours of driving. Click here to read my Eastern Sierra Road Trip Guide.
Santa Cruz to Point Reyes via Highway One: Sure, driving from Santa Cruz to Point Reyes taking Highway One the whole way isn’t the most efficient route, but it is the most scenic! You’ll pass by Pescadero (fresh goat cheese & artichoke bread), Half Moon Bay (views and seafood), scenic oases in San Francisco (Golden Gate Park and The Presidio), Stinson Beach (surfing and cheesy garlic bread), and much more. This drive is only a little over three hours and about 120 miles – I’d recommend doing it in a leisurely day and tack on a few days on either end. Click here to read my Highway One – Santa Cruz to Point Reyes Road Trip Guide.
Truckee to Mount Lassen: It’s no secret that I love the Lost Sierra – the stretch of the rural northern Sierra north of Truckee and extending up to Lassen Volcanic National Park. This route takes you from Truckee north on Highway 89, through the Sierra Valley, a quick side trip to the historic town of Downieville, and back toward Graeagle and along the Feather River, and finishing at one of the least visited National Parks in the continental US. I’d take at least five days for this trip, and the mileage is about 190 miles and four hours of driving time. Click here to see my Lost Sierra Road Trip Guide.
While we were on the Big Island, volcanic fog (or “vog”) from the devastating eruption of Mount Kilauea was causing unsafe air quality conditions in Kailua-Kona where we were staying, so we went on quite a few day trips to the parts of the island that were less affected.
Our first day trip was a drive north to Pololu Valley and the (literal) end of the road. This viewpoint and short and steep hike give you dramatic views of tall cliffs, verdant rainforest, and crashing seas. Part of our group headed down the trail while the rest remained at the view point. The trail is very sketchy! It’s steep and eroded and the clay mud is extremely slippery. We made it less than halfway down before stopping at a break in the trees to take a few photos and turning around. If you decide to hike to the beach, I’d recommend decent shoes and trekking poles or a walking stick, though I’m sure many people make it down in flip flops.
From there, we headed about an hour to Waimea, to have lunch at The Fish and The Hog, which had come highly recommended from some local friends. I had the best Cuban sandwich of my life, and Greyson’s kalua pork tacos were also great. We also stopped at the Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company, which is definitely a tourist trap. I ate my weight in free macadamia nuts, though, so I’d say it was worth it.
Our next day trip took us to the Hawaiian Vanilla Company, which, while touristy, I absolutely loved. It’s on the rainforest-y side of the island and up a long, winding the road. The drive from Kailua-Kona to this area takes you through so many different biomes and from sea level to over 6,000 feet. The Hawaiian Vanilla Company is in an old house, and stuffed with tons of different vanilla products. I got an iced vanilla coffee and Greyson got a vanilla milkshake and they were both to die for. I bought some vanilla Kona coffee to bring home, and I’m already kicking myself that I didn’t buy more. You can do a tour of the factory, but it’s an hour plus in length and we figured that a four month old baby wouldn’t be very into it. For lunch, we went with Italian at Cafe Il Mondo in Honokaa. You can’t go to Hawaii without getting Hawaiian pizza (pineapple on pizza forever!), and Cafe Il Mondo’s wood fired version did not disappoint.After lunch, we headed back south to Akaka Falls State Park.
We attempted a quick detour at a swimming hole we read about in a guide book that came in our vacation rental, but it turned out that the park had been closed due to lead contamination. Yikes! Akaka Falls is a very impressive, 422 foot waterfall in the midst of a dense jungle. The hike to the falls is a paved loop less than half a mile and pretty easy, though the heat and humidity in the jungle were oppressive. The falls are incredible, but I was even more wowed by the verdant plant life just off the trail. This is a pretty popular spot, so be prepared for lots of tourists!
We drove back through Hilo and along the base of the imposing Mauna Kea. On that stretch of Highway 200, we had to come to a screeching halt while a herd of hundreds of goats crossed the road.
Our final day trip, we headed south to Naalehu. Naalehu is now a tourist destination because it’s the furthest south city in the US, but we went there for another reason. Greyson’s mom spent some of her childhood growing up on the Big Island, and she lived in Naalehu when it was just a sugar cane plantation. Even though it’s still very rural, it’s grown a lot since she was living there, but we found the house she lived in and the building that had housed her dad’s doctors office. We were there on a Tuesday, and a lot of the shops and restaurants were closed, but Punalu’u Bake Shop was open! Since we’d arrived in Hawaii, I’d wanted to try a malasada – a Hawaiian donut. I finally got my chance here. Greyson and I shared a plain one and a lilikoi one. The rest of the family tried their favorites, and we got a dozen to bring back with us. When you’re in Hawaii, track down a malasada. I’m a huge fan of donuts and I loved these!
I have one final recommendation for the Big Island. On our last day, I was looking for an interesting place to grab lunch, and I ended finding my best meal of the whole trip. We went to Broke da Mouth Grindz, a Filipino/Hawaiian restaurant in a strip mall in Kona. It’s definitely a local’s place on island time – don’t expect to get in and out quickly, but the food is worth the wait. I got adobo pork, kimchi fried rice, and potato salad and they were all phenomenal. It was the best adobo pork I’ve ever had! The kimchi fried rice was delicious and super spicy, and I could have eaten a gallon of the potato salad. Why can’t I get purple sweet potatoes in Truckee? We also caught one final sunset before we had to go to the airport.
All in all, our trip to the Big Island was amazing. We visited beautiful beaches, lush jungles, crashing waterfalls and awesome wildlife. The food was fresh and delicious and the beer is highly recommended. I can’t wait to go back!