Things to Do In Oakridge, Oregon

Things to do in Oakridge OR // tahoefabulous.com

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.

Bend to Oakridge Map // tahoefabulous.com
Map via GoogleMaps

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.

Metolius Springs // tahoefabulous.com
Metolius Springs, Oregon

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.

Mckenzie River // tahoefabulous.com
Mckenzie River, Oregon

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.

Lodging
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.

Salmon Creek Falls Campground // tahoefabulous.com
Salmon Creek Falls

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.

Office Covered Bridge // tahoefabulous.com
The Office Covered Bridge, Westfir, OR

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.

Salt Creek Falls // tahoefabulous.com
Salt Creek Falls, Oregon

pensivewaterfallwatching

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.

 

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.

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.

Five Amazing California Road Trips

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.

Five Amazing California Road Trips // tahoefabulous.com

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. Check back next Friday for a detailed route and more suggestions.

Point Reyes to Redwood National and State Parks: In 2014, Greyson and I went on an amazing road trip from Point Reyes up the North Coast to Redwood National and State Parks. We camped on the beach in Fort Bragg, hiked some of the Lost Coast Trail from the remote Sinkyone State Park, and re-enacted The Lost World in Redwood National Park’s Fern Canyon. I’ve written up this trip in detail here, though it also includes our drive from Truckee and back home via Chico and Nevada City. The Point Reyes to Redwoods stretch is about 375 miles and 9.5 hours.

Lost Coast, #california

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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. I’ll have more details on this route later this summer.

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. More recommendations to come!

#pigeonpoint on #hwy1

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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. I’ll be writing this up in more detail later this summer.

Took a detour to #lassen national park yesterday.

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There you go – five awesome road trips that you can take in California! Stay tuned for detailed routes, and I hope you like this series as much as I do.

Big Island Day Trips

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.

Big Island Day Trips // tahoefabulous.com

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.

Polulu Valley // tahoefabulous.com

Polulu Valley // tahoefabulous.com

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.

Akaka Falls State Park // tahoefabulous.com

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!

Akaka Falls State Park // tahoefabulous.com

Akaka Falls State Park // tahoefabulous.com

Akaka Falls State Park // tahoefabulous.com

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!

Naalehu

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.

Kona Sunset // tahoefabulous.com

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!

Manini’owali Beach, The Big Island, Hawaii

We went to quite a few beaches while on the Big Island, but one stood above all the rest – Manini’owali Beach in Kua Bay. If you’re looking for an instagram-perfect white sand beach that’s perfect for swimming and has the most amazing turquoise water, this is the beach that you want!

Manini'owali Beach // tahoefabulous.com

One note Manini’owali Beach is CLOSED on Wednesdays. We actually drove out to this beach on a Wednesday and were flummoxed by the closed gate – especially since your basic googling doesn’t turn up this not so fun fact. So to repeat, Manini’owali Beach is closed on Wednesdays. Don’t get your hopes crushed like we did.

Like I said in my post on Hawaii breweries, Greyson and I had basically an extra day before our red eye flight on Thursday, so we headed back to Manini’owali, car packed to the gills with all of our luggage. Manini’owali Beach is north of the Kona Airport, and about 25 minutes north of the town of Kona, depending on traffic. The road out to this beach is also paved and safe for rental cars, which isn’t true for all of the beaches in the area. We got there around 11 am on a Thursday and didn’t have much trouble finding parking, but I think we got there as the early crowd was leaving. I imagine this place would be packed on a weekend. Also, the parking isn’t visible from the beach, so we were a little nervous about leaving our stuff (including computers/cameras) in the car. From the research we did, this beach seems pretty safe as far as car break ins go, and we didn’t see broken glass or anything. Our stuff was fine, but leave valuables in your car at your own risk.

Manini'owali Beach Hawaii // tahoefabulous.com

The pictures I saw ahead of time made Manini’owali Beach looked amazing, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up to high. When I got my first glimpse of the beach, though, I literally gasped. It is like a cartoon drawing of a Hawaiian beach. After changing in the public (very clean) bathrooms, I beelined straight for the sand. Growing up in Washington and Oregon, I know that sandy ocean beaches are a luxury that I do not take for granted. This sand is perfect for hanging out – soft and not filled with bugs!

Manini'owali Beach Hawaii // tahoefabulous.com

We sunscreened up using Think Sport (Thinksport) and Alba (Alba Botanica ) which don’t contain oxybenzone or octinoxate – the coral harming sunscreen ingredients, and hung out on the beach for a bit. I only lasted a few minutes before heading into the perfect looking water, and it felt just as good as it looked. The temperature was perfect, the swell was gentle, and there were no rocks or urchins to worry about.

Manini'owali Beach Hawaii // tahoefabulous.com

We floated around, playing in the gentle waves. We even saw a sea turtle lazily swimming by! I could have stayed at Manini’owali Beach forever, but we did have to get out eventually. I can’t use enough superlatives to describe how awesome this beach is, so you’ll just have to visit it yourself.

Manini'owali Beach Hawaii // tahoefabulous.com

While Manini’owali Beach was far and away my favorite, we went to quite a few beaches on the west side of the Big Island, and here are my recommendations. For a sandy beach right in Kailua-Kona, Magic Sands Beach is great. We swam around and did a little snorkeling, but it’s not ideal for that. For snorkeling in the Kona area, we had better luck just a few minutes south at Kahalu’u Beach Park. It’s murky close to shore where most people hang out, but Greyson and I found some live coral and interesting fish further out towards the breakwater and the water is much clearer out there. Wear booties and watch for urchins though! If you want to get out of Kailua-Kona and do some body surfing or boogie boarding, Hapuna Beach Park towards the north end of the island is a good option. This beach is huge and has a ton of parking, so it could be a good option on a busier weekend when the smaller beaches are more crowded.

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!

Manta Ray Night Snorkel – Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

In early June, Greyson and I went to the Big Island of Hawaii with his family. It was an amazing trip, and one of the highlights was definitely a night snorkeling trip to see manta rays.

Manta Snorkel Kona Hawaii // tahoefabulous.com

We had hoped to do a SCUBA dive while in Hawaii, but I had a sinus infection that made diving impossible, so I got to work looking for something to do instead. We’d planned on doing a night SCUBA dive with mantas, and I stumbled on this post by Simply Taralynn about a night snorkel with manta rays, and I knew that we had to do it. I did a little research, and I ended up booking the same company, Big Island Divers. They were a reasonable price (only $105), just down the street from our vacation rental, and had great reviews.

We had brought our own snorkel gear that we used, but the cost of the excursion includes mask, snorkel, and fins and you can rent a wetsuit for $10. We checked in at the dive shop ahead of the excursion – we were a little confused by this, but you just need to check in ahead of time to get sized for your wetsuit and get directions to the boat. There is also a ton of cute merchandise and gear and the shop, and if you show up before noon, there’s a discount! I had thought that the snorkel was near the downtown of Kailua-Kona, but it was actually a 20 minute boat ride from the marina – and you end up right by the airport.

Manta Ray Night Snorkel Kona Hawaii // tahoefabulous.com

The crew of Big Island Divers were awesome – funny and knowledgeable. While they got the boat ready, one of the SCUBA guides gave us all a lesson on mantas. Mantas are filter feeders that eat plankton, and, years ago a hotel on the water put in underwater lights to entertain hotel restaurant guests at night. These lights attracted plankton, and surprise – mantas showed up! Once this happened, tour operators realized the draw these amazing creatures have and started running night snorkel and dive tours. Now there are two spots with underwater lights – at the original hotel and at another, less busy spot near the airport where we went. I’m always a little weirded out by tourist activities that alter wild animals behavior, but, apparently these tours are really safe and low impact to the population, and humans have already had a hugely negative impact on these animals already, and the lights help provide them a steady food source.

Manta Ray Night Snorkel Kona Hawaii // tahoefabulous.com

We hopped on the boat and got the best sunset of our whole vacation. I sadly didn’t get a picture, though. It got dark quickly, and we arrived at the snorkel site. There were a few boats in the water, and it was already starting to become a bit of a zoo. This is definitely a tourist attraction, so you’re not going to have a relaxing, solo experience. One thing that I really appreciated about Big Island Divers is that they obviously really cared about the health and safety of the mantas, and we held off getting in the water until it had cleared out a bit so we didn’t overwhelm the awesome creatures.

While mantas show up most of the time, they are wild animals and their appearance isn’t guaranteed. While we geared up, our guides pointed out that the underwater lights appeared to be flashing. This was actually mantas swimming in front of the lights! I got so excited and couldn’t wait to get in the water. We did have to wait, though, until the SCUBA divers got in the water.

Manta Ray Night Snorkel Kona Hawaii // tahoefabulous.com

Finally, it was our turn to jump in! How it works is that Big Island Divers have a surfboard with a light on the bottom and a PVC pipe rack around the outside, which the snorkelers held on to. It’s a lot of just holding on and floating, you only kick when your guide directs you to move somewhere. As soon as we were in the water and situated, the mantas showed up. They corkscrew through the water, feeding on the plankton. It was such an incredible experience. In Indonesia, we saw oceanic mantas while diving. While those oceanic mantas are even bigger than the Hawaiian ones and it was one of the coolest things I have ever done, this snorkel was just as cool. Mantas are incredibly smart – they recognize themselves in mirrors, which not even dogs can do! Some have even learned that humans can help them and will go up to diver to get fishing hooks removed.

We were in the water for almost an hour, just watching their acrobatic dance. I could have stayed in the water forever, but it was time to get back on the boat. I was pretty cold at this point – my wetsuit is only a 2.5 thickness and too big for me, and we weren’t moving around at all. When we got back on, the guides had fresh towels and hot chocolates for us. As soon as everyone was aboard (they did a roll call to be sure), we headed back to the harbor.

All in all, it was such an amazing experience, and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting the Big Island. Big Island Divers was great, and be sure to bring cash to tip your guides. Also, here’s a video Greyson made of our snorkel – check it out!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kayaking in Sechelt Inlet

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

BCXC in Campbell River

After a fun couple of days in the Cumberland area, we headed north to Campbell River. Taking the advice of locals, we got off of Hwy 19 and drove up the coast. The drive was gorgeous and worth the slightly longer trip. Considering that it only added about 20 minutes, I would highly recommended the scenic route.

Hazy #mountains from the #beach #vancouverisland #toasterroadtrip

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As I mentioned in my lodging post, we stayed at Elk Falls Provincial Park. This was yet another amazing BC Provincial Park with access to a waterfall. A brand new suspension bridge giving new access to amazing views had just been completed so we made sure to check it out.

We had fun exploring Campbell River, which had a more rustic and ocean-y feel than the other spots we’d visited on the island so far. I especially liked driving out to Dick Murphy Park at the very end of a long spit and getting my feet wet in the ocean. Next time we’ll have to go on a whale watching or kayaking trip out of Campbell River. My parents did a multi day kayaking trip off of Quadra Island, which looked amazing!

#seaweed in the waves. #toasterroadtrip #vancouverisland #britishcolumbia

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Of course, we also went biking while we were in Campbell River. I ride a 2016 Transition Smuggler, a shorter travel 29er that was basically designed for the rooty XC trails of Campbell River. I, on the other hand, am not used to that type of riding, and spent a lot of time getting stuck on short, steep, punchy and rooty climbs. I was also surprised by how narrow lots of the trails are up there! The forests of BC have a lot more biomass that the Sierra and we were frequently fighting our way through overgrown trails. Note: ferns are better than blackberries, but will still scratch you up! There were some frustrating moments along the trail and I didn’t feel like I was riding very well.

Mountain Biking Campbell River BC // tahoefabulous.com

I did have fun on the trails we rode in the Pumphouse area of Campbell River, especially on the return trip when I finally loosened up. We rode Water Tower , which is a gradually climbing, wide trail (basically a double track) to the Ridge Trail for about a third of a mile before turning onto Dean Martin. Dean Martin had some really steep climbs – I could have used that twelfth gear. We then took Lower Deliverance until we hit the Forest Service road. I decided that with the struggle riding I’d been doing so far that day that I was ready to turn around. We headed back down Lower Deliverance until we came to Connector which took us to Alligator Rock. I enjoyed Alligator Rock much more than Deliverance, so I’m glad we came back that way. Though it was rockier, it was less exposed. After that we were back on Dean Martin and back the way we came.

Mountain Biking Campbell River BC // tahoefabulous.com

Mountain Biking Campbell River BC // tahoefabulous.com
Trail Map via Strava

Trail Stats
Location: The Pumphouse, Campbell River, BC
Trails: Water Tower, The Ridge, Dean Martin, Lower Deliverance, Alligator Rock
Mileage: 9 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,000 feet
See my Strava route here.