My Favorite Helmets – Bikes

I really love my brain. And I do a lot of activities that could damage it. So over the years, I have amassed quite a collection of helmets that cover a range of activities. I’ve tried good helmets and bad helmets, and I thought I’d share my favorites with you. Note: I have a pretty small head for someone as tall as I am – I’m usually a women’s small or medium in helmets.

helmet 01

Biking

I do both road riding and mountain biking (with a heavy emphasis on mountain biking) and I have different helmets for each pursuit. You can easily wear the same helmet for both, and I did for a long time before purchasing any mountain bike specific helmets.

Road Biking

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I have a Giro Indicator that I bought 4 or 5 years ago for about $40. It’s a great basic helmet for road riding. It has enough vents that it doesn’t get too hot, light enough to be comfortable and adjusts to fit a wide range of head sizes. Giro doesn’t seem to make it anymore, but it looks like there are a few still available around the web.

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For something comparable, Giro TrinityGiro Revel, and Giro Bishop are available at similar price points.

 

Giro Trinity, Revel, Bishop

From L to R: Trinity, Revel, Bishop

Specialized Sierra
Photo by Greyson Howard

Update (July 2016):  It was time to replace my Indicator after 6+ years, and I bought the Specialized Sierra. I wore it for the June Lake Triathlon and I really like it so far.

Mountain Biking

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The first mountain bike specific helmet I ever bought was a really awesome, light full face helmet by Rockgardn for more technical riding, like at Mammoth Mountain, Northstar or Downieville. Many people do rides like these without a full face, but I prefer the extra confidence I get from having my face covered. A couple of summers ago, I crashed at Mammoth hard enough that I needed a new one.  Unfortunately, Rockgardn stopped manufacturing helmets, and I was on the market for a full face helmet that was light, comfortable and safe.

helmet 6

I got a really amazing deal on a DOT certified One Industries Atom Helmet and tried that out at Northstar last summer. While it does have some advantages – it’s very heavy duty, sturdy and can be used on a motorcycle or dirt bike (neither things I’m interested in), I find it too heavy and uncomfortable for frequent wearing. I’m keeping it around, just in case I decide that I’m going to ride something super hardcore. It would be a good choice for someone who rides bikes and dirt bikes and does steep, high consequence downhill riding.

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This year, Bell came out with a helmet that is basically perfect for my kind of riding – Bell Super 2R. This helmet has a removable chin-bar that can take it from a basic mountain biking helmet to a full face with just a couple of easy steps.

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from bell.com

It’s also got 27 vents, so it’s super cool and really light. The Super 2R is only 24.5 oz, while another light full face, the Giro Cypher is 40.3 oz and the One Industries Atom is 47.6 oz. The Super 2R also has adjustable padding on the inside so you can get the perfect fit.

helmet 9

I love this helmet and I’ve worn it a bunch of times since I got it earlier this summer. I felt totally protected while riding at Mammoth and while doing the Downieville Downhill. Despite the name, Downieville has a few sections that require sustained pedaling, and it was about 90 degrees the day we did it. The Super 2R stayed comfortable even through that! Another cool technology that this helmet uses is MIPS (or Multi-directional Impact Protection System). MIPS helps to reduce rotational forces on the brain. The Super 2R is available in MIPS (which I have) and non-MIPS (which Greyson has – it fits his extra large head better) versions. Also, if you already have a Bell Super 2 helmet, you can buy just the chin bar to add on.

Mountain Bike Helmets Gear Review // tahoefabulous.com

My last bike helmet is the women’s specific Giro Feather. I wrote a long review of this helmet last summer after I’d been using it for a couple of months. More than a year later – I’m still loving it!

Note: I purchased all of these helmets with my own money, and I didn’t get any discounts beyond sale prices. 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!

Mountain Biking Mammoth Mountain

This weekend I checked a couple of items off of my Summer Bucket List: mountain bike at Mammoth Mountain and visit a local brewery (2 down, many to go). On Friday evening, Greyson and I packed up The Toaster with biking and camping gear and headed east towards 395, the Eastern Sierra, and Mammoth Lakes California. We made a pitstop in downtown Truckee to meet my grad school roommate Allison and her husband for happy hour at Pianeta, and we were off!

Hwy 395

Driving down Highway 395 is always a gorgeous drive, but driving at sunset on this classic American highway is a must-do. It’s especially great if you can time your drive for watching the sunset from the Mono Lake overlook, but for this trip, we were too late and witnessed the sun set further north. The drive was smooth sailing (especially for high construction season!) and we arrived at our Airbnb rental by 10:30. I had plans for an early night since we were going to be biking all day on Saturday, but catching up with friends won out, and I didn’t go to bed until after one. I slept in a little, but Greyson and I and our two other friends were out the door and at the mountain before 11. It was now time for the fun part – mountain biking at Mammoth Mountain!

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I’ve been coming to Mammoth Mountain for lift-serviced mountain biking about once a year since I moved to Tahoe in 2010. Mammoth has diverse terrain, something for every level – beginner to advanced:

“Mammoth Mountain Bike Park offers terrain for every ability level, boasting 3,500 acres and over 80 miles of single track. We offer the best beginner experience in the industry with the Discovery Zone, miles and miles of forested intermediate trail riding and are the leaders in building diverse and creative gravity fed DH and all-mountain expert and pro level trails.” 

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Though it might seem silly to drive the three and a half hours to Mammoth Lakes from Truckee when Northstar at Tahoe is just 20 minutes away, the quality and condition of Mammoth’s trails and terrain blow Northstar out of the water. If I’m paying $50 for a lift ticket, I want amazing, fun and well maintained trails, which Mammoth delivers. The views from some of Mammoth’s trails are among the top in California, too!

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Mammoth Mountain Trail Map from here.

My Favorite Trails at Mammoth Mountain Bike Park

  1. Off The Top:This trail is my #1 everyone must-do trail at Mammoth Mountain. Ride the gondola to the very top of the mountain and prepare for amazing views! The trail itself is graded intermediate, but I think it’s pretty easy – nothing too technical, just exposure with some tight switchbacks (that are easily walked if you’re uncomfortable). This trail has views that are up there with the Tahoe Flume Trail. The steep mountain side covered in bare volcanic pumice means unobstructed views in at least 180 degrees. You can see the Minarets, as well as other stunning Sierra Peaks. If you’re a more advanced rider, take the Kamikaze cut off and bomb down the loose and rocky fire road, home to the Kamikaze Downhill race. Beginners and intermediate riders can follow Off the Top into the trees for a fun cross country trail of mostly smooth dirt, broken up by a few easy rock gardens. Take the easy Beach Cruiser trail to a fire road, and you’ll quickly be back at the base. Watch for faster riders speeding by on the fire road and stay right!
Off the Top trail (blue section) via Strava
Off the Top trail (blue section) via Strava
  1. Brake Through: This is another fun intermediate trail, though it involves more exertion and climbing that Off the Top and is slightly more technical. To ride brake through, you get off the gondola at McCoy Station at mid-mountain. After exiting the building, turn left and follow the signs to Brake Through. You’ll climb a slight incline for about a half mile, before turning left at the well-marked Brake Through trailhead. The first half mile or so after the turn off has the most technically difficult rock sections of the trail, including a small water crossing (that was already mostly dry in June 2015!). Brake Through weaves in and out through trees and exposed volcanic sections. The trail itself is mostly smooth dirt, with some loose pumice sections and small rock gardens. Towards the bottom, there are several intersections, but they’re well marked. Keep following Brake Through trail until it runs out (about 3.25 miles from the top) and hop on Downtown. You can continue on Downtown all the way into Mammoth Lakes, where you can catch the shuttle from the Village and head back to the bike park. If you’re looking for more of a challenge you can follow the signs to Shotgun – see more info below.
Brake Through (blue section) via Strava.
Brake Through (blue section) via Strava.
  1. Shotgun: This trail is more of a downhill trail than Off the Top and Brake Through. You’ll definitely want a full suspension bike with some travel to handle some drops and rocky sections. Shotgun is one of the “easier” advanced trails at Mammoth, but it’s definitely not for beginners. The best way to access Shotgun is from the Downtown trail which starts at the Mammoth Mountain base, and can be connected to from a bunch of higher mountain trails. There’s a very obvious sign pointing out the right turn onto Shotgun, and after a short, but butt kicking climb, you’ll have arrived to the fun part of this trail. The trail was fairly chopped up when I rode it, with lots of small drops and loose dirt and rocks, but it was still so much fun! I felt like I could ride it fast and aggressively (for me!) and take on features that I would normally chicken out on, because the trail is so well designed. It’s a short trail (~0.6 miles), and you end up in the parking lot of one of the ski bases that is closed in the summer. Ride downhill on the road coming out of the parking lot, and you’ll end right at the Mammoth Village shuttle stop.
Shotgun trail (blue section) via Strava.
Shotgun trail (blue section) via Strava.

Greyson hadn’t been biking at Mammoth Mountain since the mid-nineties, and he had a great time exploring the trails on his new bike. This is the first time I’ve ridden at Mammoth since I put the improved fork on my bike, and the difference it made was incredible. We had beautiful weather and didn’t wait in line once! Whether you are an experienced mountain biker, or want to try it for the first time, Mammoth Mountain Bike Park is a great destination.

mammoth 8

Santa Cruz: Sea Otters and Sea Otter Classic

I told Greyson that all I wanted for my birthday was to see some otters. We ended up going to Santa Cruz, and the trip delivered!

The first sea otter we visited was the Sea Otter Classic.

Sea Otter Classic // tahoefabulous.com

The Sea Otter Classic is a massive bike festival and expo that takes place in Monterey Bay, California over a few days in mid-April. Greyson had great memories of attending the festival when he was younger, and we were excited to check it out. The only word I can use to describe Sea Otter is…overwhelming. Maybe people who are more experienced with massive expos would have gotten more out of it than I did, but there were so many booths and exhibits and things going on that it was hard to find anything I wanted to see. We also went on Saturday (the festival started on Thursday), so I don’t know if it was our random wandering or if the booths were already cleared out, but we didn’t score any swag. I did get a good deal on some new bike gloves and I ran into my friends from TAMBA. While I’m glad that I went at least one time in my life, I don’t feel the need to head back to Sea Otter next year.

We drank Sierra Nevada beer, ate some expensive teriyaki, watched some cyclocross, and then it was time for the main event of the day – Men’s Pro Dual Slalom.

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The Men’s Pro Dual Slalom race kicked off with a race between two tandem teams!

Dual Slalom isn’t a super popular race anymore, but it’s a super fun one to watch. Two bikers race head to head on identical courses full of features like berms, drops and jumps. The riders then switch tracks, and their times are combined. The slower rider is eliminated and the other moves on to the next round, until a winner is declared.

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As much as I love biking and all things related, I was even more excited for the next iteration of otters – actual live sea otters in the wild!

Elkhorn Slough // tahoefabulous.com

Greyson and I drove south from Santa Cruz to the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve with one goal: to see some otters!

The Elkhorn Slough NERR is

“one of 28 National Estuarine Research Reserves established nationwide as field laboratories for scientific research and estuarine education. The Reserve is administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The 1700-acre Reserve is a hub of activity and hosts programs that promote education, research, and conservation in Elkhorn Slough. The Visitor Center has award-winning exhibits that invite everyone to explore the Unseen Slough. There are five miles of trails that meander through beautiful oak woodlands, calm tidal creeks, and freshwater marshes. We offer tours on the weekends and special events throughout the year.”

More importantly, Elkhorn Slough is home to the largest population of California’s sea otters, a fact I learned by watching Saving Otter 501 (a PBS Nature Documentary, available to watch online here and via Netflix!) over and over.

saving otter 501

Picture from Saving Otter 501 found here.

California’s southern sea otters were hunted nearly to extinction in the 18th and 19th centuries, but a surviving population of around 50 was found off of Big Sur in 1938. The population has grown to nearly 2,000, many of which live in the protected Elkhorn Slough.

sea otter 07

Greyson and I didn’t really have any concrete plans for finding the sea otters, other than going to Elkhorn Slough, and potentially renting kayaks. We ended up just pulling into a beach parking lot on vague instructions from Greyson’s sister, and we immediately spotted otters! We were on a little spit of sand with a manmade breakwater that made a perfect spot for otter spotting.

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I only had my phone camera, so my photos aren’t great. Greyson got some great shots though, and made an adorable video that I already posted.

Photo by Greyson Howard
Photo by Greyson Howard

A highlight was definitely the two juvenile otters who wrestled near us for 15 or 20 minutes.

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The shot I got with my phone.

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The shot Greyson got with his camera. Ha!

I also loved this otter that floated contentedly while a fisherman and his dog worked on a boat nearby.

otters-and-sailboats-elkhorn

In addition to the dozens of otters frolicking about, the Elkhorn Slough was packed with other wildlife. We saw sea lions, harbor seals, cormorants, herons, and the ubiquitous Velella velella. If you’re in the Monterey or Santa Cruz area, I highly recommend a trip to the Elkhorn Slough. If you’re interested in the crucial conservation work they’re doing, you can learn more on their website, or become a member!

We did a few other fun things in the Santa Cruz area over the weekend. We hit up the Monterey Bay Aquarium just in time for the otter feeding and to visit the fluorescent-ly lit jellyfish:

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sea otter 13 sea otter 14

And we hit up Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing for some birthday beers just before we left town on Sunday. These weren’t my favorite beers of all time, and I probably won’t write up a whole review of the brewery. I did enjoy their Peoples Organic Coffee Porter and Devout Stout, and I loved their location with an outdoor beer garden and tap room.

sea otter 15

The whole weekend was a great way to celebrate my 31st birthday, and it will be hard to top next year!

Trail Report: Mountain Biking Sawtooth Trail, Truckee, California

I’ve officially given up on winter. Not that I haven’t been riding/climbing/hiking all “winter,” but I’ve now officially given up on having any real winter in California this year. In honor of this revelation, I went on my first hard mountain bike ride of 2015, the Sawtooth Trail in Truckee, California.

01

Sawtooth is a really fun and challenging lollipop trail through pine forests and across rocky pumice. The trail is easy to access, with the trailhead at a gravel parking lot on Sawtooth Court, just a couple of miles south of downtown Truckee. Click here for Google Maps directions.

Map via Google Maps
Map via Google Maps

Though I used to be more into riding trails that went generally in the downhill direction (via shuttle, chair lift, steep push up, etc.), I’ve gotten more into technical cross country style trails, hopefully with a mix rollers, technical sections, short but hard climbs, fast, flowy sections and awesome views. Sawtooth Trail delivers across all of these requirements!

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Sawtooth Trail is an 11 mile lollipop with about 750 feet of climbing. The 750 feel of elevation gain definitely worked me, though I don’t know if I should blame it on being out of shape, or the fact that a lot of the climbing is more technical that I’m used to. Though there are long, smooth sections of the trail, Sawtooth is rocky enough that I would strongly recommend a full suspension bike for it. It would definitely be doable by a skilled rider on a hardtail, but I don’t think it would be very much fun!

There are some really long rocky sections, but I didn’t find anything un-rideable (and rocks are definitely not my strong point!), but my wrists and hands were exhausted by the end, and loose rocks made the short, steep climbs lung busters. It took Greyson and I about 2 hours to complete the whole loop, which included several breaks for scenery, water, mechanical difficulties, etc – we definitely weren’t in a rush.

04

The one main recommendation I would make with this trail, is to be sure to ride the lollipop clockwise. At about two miles in, you’ll hit a fork in the trail with a sign pointing straight to “Sawtooth Trail” and left to “Sawtooth Road”. Take the left toward Sawtooth Road! The trail crosses the dirt road and keeps going, eventually looping back to this intersection. I’ve ridden the trail in both directions, and riding the trail clockwise is way more fun! Otherwise you’ll be climbing up some nasty loose pumice.

Map and Elevation via Strava

This trail is closed to ATVs, and though it was a beautiful Sunday, we didn’t run into too many other mountain bikers, though I imagine it will get more crowded as more people give up on winter. It’s also fairly shaded for most of the trail, so I imagine it will be a little cooler in the summer than some of the other area trails.

Sawtooth is a really fun trail, and a great place to practice your rocky climbing skills. I can’t wait to go back! Also, Greyson has playing with the slo-mo feature on his new phone, and took a silly slo-mo video of me riding on Sawtooth Trail. You can check it out here.

Trail Stats:
Location: Sawtooth Court, Truckee, California
Mileage: 10 miles
Elevation Gain: 775
Difficulty: Intermediate

 

Mountain Biking Hirschman Trail – Nevada City, California

Hirschman Trail, Nevada City, Ca // tahoefabulous.com

I was back in Nevada City this week to do Site Visits at some of my AmeriCorps host sites. The weather down in the foothills was perfect – sunny and low 70s! While I have been complaining about the lack of snow in Tahoe, I certainly don’t mind basking in the sun!

Hirschman 2

Greyson lived in Nevada City for awhile a few years ago, and he remembered a short, easy trail that’s a just quick ride out of town that he rode a few times. We brought bikes and planned to do the ride after I finished up with work on Thursday. We pedaled up Broad Street from the Emma Nevada House, turned left on Highway 49 and were at the trailhead in less than a mile.

Trail Map via Strava

I was excited to see that the trail was the Hirschman Trail, a project of Bear Yuba Land Trust, one of my AmeriCorps host sites! The trail is pretty easy, both technically and exertion wise, with only about 500 feet of elevation gain over the 4.8 mile round trip trail. The trail is really well marked with signs letting you know how far you’ve come, and honoring the supporters and volunteers that keep the trail in great shape.

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The trail is all on hard packed dirt, though it was pretty covered in pine needles when I rode it, as it goes mainly through the forest. There are a few spots where you pop out and parallel Highway 49, but that’s just a couple of short sections. There are a few tight switchbacks along the way, but nothing overly difficult. This is a great trail for a beginner or someone looking to do a short, mellow ride after work or while on vacation. Another highlight is Hirschman’s Pond where some of my other AmeriCorps Members are conducting frog surveys and doing other wildlife tracking. Early morning and evening riders might glimpse some local wildlife!

Hirschman 5

After our ride, Greyson and I got Mammoth Brewing Company’s IPA 395 and dinner at Matteo’s Public. That beer is great, but be careful! They’re strong! PS It’s National AmeriCorps Week! Be sure to thank a volunteer, and thanks to those who’ve participated in National Service!

Hirschman 6

Trail Stats:
Location: Cement Hill Road, Nevada City, California
Mileage: 4.8 miles
Elevation Gain: <500 feet
Difficulty: Beginner

Flashback Friday: Point Reyes Weekend

Back in April, I headed to Point Reyes with some friends to do my Dirty Thirty Birthday right. Coincidentally, my good friend Becky also turned 30 on April 19th, so we did a co-birthday weekend filled with friends, hikes, laughter, mountain biking, wildflowers, sea mammals, birds, beer and cheese!

A Weekend in Point Reyes National Seashore // tahoefabulous.com

Greyson and I headed down from Tahoe early on Friday so we could get a quick mountain bike ride in. We ended up riding Estero Trail, which, aside from dodging cows and cow pies, was a beautiful, easy little ride.

 

Mixed use in #Marin County. #mountainbiking alongside cattle grazing. #pointeyes #esterotrail #ag

A post shared by Lynn (Tahoe Fabulous) (@tahoefabulous) on


Note: the trail was SUUUUPER rutted in sections, to the point where I had to push my bikes up a couple of hills. It had rained fairly recently, so it might be in better shape now. (Note: As of 2017 the trail has been graded and graveled in a lot of sections, so it’s pretty smooth cruise.)

Estero Trail // tahoefabulous.com
Trail map via Strava

We grabbed a snack at Station House Cafe (I had the delicious mac and cheese) and headed back to the Cottages at Point Reyes Seashore to wait for the rest of the group. Everyone else arrived that evening, and we went to bed fairly early in order to get an early start on the day. Much of the group, including me, had never been to the Point Reyes Lighthouse, so we drove there for our first stop. The park ranger stationed there told us they’d seen a bunch of whales the day before, so my hopes were high! Unfortunately, we saw zero whales. But we did see a sea lion or seal. The day wasn’t too foggy, so we could see the Farallon Islands off in the distance.

Point Reyes Light House // tahoefabulous.com
Photo by Kelly Miller

We headed back to Point Reyes Station to grab some Cowgirl Creamery cheese and called ahead to our (hopefully!) next destination – Heidrun Meadery. We were luckily able to book the last tour of the day, so we scarfed our lunches, piled in the cars and made the short drive to the old dairy farm where Heidrun Meadery is located. Here’s what they have to say about themselves:

“Located in Point Reyes Station, California, Heidrun Meadery produces dry, naturally sparkling varietal meads using the traditional Méthode Champenoise.

Mission: Our goal is to be involved in the meadmaking process from the flower that provides nectar for the honey bee to the flute from which we drink.

Company Overview: Heidrun Meadery was founded in 1997 in Arcata, California. In 2008 we purchased a slightly funky and defunct dairy farm in the agricultural and culinary oasis of Point Reyes Station, Marin County, California, with the ambitious objectives of relocating the meadery nearer to the Bay Area, expanding our mead production, setting up a commercial beekeeping operation, starting a bee forage cultivationprogram and establishing a modest visitor’s center and tasting room.Visitors are welcome on a reservation-only basis Monday-Saturday, 10am to 4pm. You can join us for a tour and tasting, just do a tasting and skip the tour, or enjoy a glass or bottle of mead while soaking up the sun on the patio. Call or email to make reservations.

Our trademark Champagne-style of mead is light, dry, delicate and refreshing, with subtle exotic aromas and flavors found only in the essence of honey. We pride ourselves on producing our mead in the most sustainable manner and supporting beekeepers around the country.”

This place was phenomenal! The mead was delicious, and I could hardly believe that the only difference between each variety was the type of flowers the bees visited. My favorites were a sweeter Orange Blossom Honey Mead and the almost beer like Carrot Blossom Honey Mead. One thing that we learned from our tour guide was that the Meadery is trying to make mead from honey they cultivate themselves, but have been having issues with colony collapse each year.

Heidrun Meadery // tahoefabulous.com
Our tour guide walks us through the process of making champagne style mead.
Heidrun Meadery // tahoefabulous.com
Enjoying the tasting outdoors.

That night we played some tennis and HORSE on the tennis/basketball courts back at the Cottages at Point Reyes Seashore and explored the property (watch out for poison oak!) We finished the night with a birthday barbecue back and soaked in the hot tub.

After a leisurely Sunday breakfast and Easter egg hunt, we  decided to check out the Tule Elk Reserve and Tomales Point Trail. Tomales Point Trail is an easy, fairly flat 9 mile round trip hike to the end of Tomales Point. Here’s how Bay Area Hiker describes it

“The Tomales Point tule elk reserve is not only a great place to watch wildlife, it’s one of the quietest trails on Point Reyes.  The single trail drifts north away from the trailhead, eventually reaching Tomales Point, nearly 5 miles from the nearest road. Squeezed on three sides by water, the only sounds are wind, surf, and bird cries. At a bluff overlooking the ocean you can spy on pelicans, cormorants, and seagulls, while elk bellow in the distance.”

Tomales Point Trail, Pt. Reyes National Seashore // tahoefabulous.com

While the elks, bird, and ocean views were beautiful, the mid-April wildflowers were incredible! My pictures in no way do them any justice. The whole Point Reyes area was stunningly green. I would highly recommend mid-April as a wonderful time to visit.

point reyes 07 point reyes 08 point reyes 09 Tomales Point Trail, Pt. Reyes National Seashore // tahoefabulous.com

Tomales Point Trail, Pt. Reyes National Seashore // tahoefabulous.com

I would highly recommend Point Reyes as a quick weekend away from the Bay area or Sacramento, or even as a destination by itself if you are traveling from further away.

Where: Point Reyes National Seashore

When to Go: Anytime! The weather is fairly mild, though it can get foggy and cold and wet, so bring appropriate layers. I loved how green it was in mid-April!

Where to Stay: Cottages at Point Reyes Seashore in Inverneess

What to Do: Visit the Heidrun Meadery, Hike or bike Estero Trail, hike the Tomales Point Trail, visit the Point Reyes Lighthouse for whale spotting, birding at Abbott’s Lagoon

What to Eat: Cowgirl Creamery for cheese and good coffee, Station House Cafe for beer and mac & cheese, Inverness Park Market for picnic supplies and sandwiches