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The Best of Bakersfield, California in 2 Days

Located directly on the Kern River and just below Sequoia National Forest, Bakersfield is a southern California city with lots of diversity. Visitors can go whitewater rafting in the morning and be cheering on a race car in the evening. If you’re planning to cruise through the national parks of southern California like Sequoia, Redwoods, or Yosemite, we recommend spending a few days in Bakersfield on your way. Fly into Meadows Field Airport for less driving time.

Bakersfield aerial shots

This story was created in partnership with Visit Bakersfield.

Day 1

Morning: Stretch the Legs

As mentioned, the city of Bakersfield offers plenty of diversity. For visitors with kids or those looking to feel like a kid again, head over to the locally-owned Flight Fit N Fun. This indoor athletic entertainment facility features wall-to-wall trampolines, a foam pit, a climbing area, dodgeball courts, and more. Just make sure you’ve had at least two cups of coffee if this is your morning activity!

Flight Fit N Fun athletic entertainment

If you’re looking for something quieter, rent a bike and cruise along the beautiful Kern River Parkway, a 30-mile paved bike path that winds through town to the Kern River Canyon in the east.

Pinterest Pin with street art photo for Bakersfield, California

Afternoon: Cheer On or Sing Along

While ice hockey may not be the first thing you think about southern California, it’s still one of America’s most popular sports. Lucky for travelers, Bakersfield has their own professional team in the American Hockey League known as the Condors. If you’re there during hockey season, which is typically October through March, try to get tickets to a game.

Condors playing hockey

If it’s not hockey season, take a look at Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace for live music and food. Walk their museum’s boardwalks, which are lined with memorabilia from the careers of great country music stars like Buck Owens.

Performance at Buck Owens' Crystal Palace

Day 2

Morning: Bring Out the Outdoor Adventurer in You

Once you’ve gotten a lay of the land, it’s time for some outdoor adventure! One of the best things about Bakersfield is that the Kern River runs through the city, making rafting very accessible and very popular. Spend the morning on the exciting river with Rivers End Rafting.

If your group wants an activity with a little less adrenaline, head out on a hike instead. You’ll have lots of choices to suite your interests and abilities.

Rafting on the Kern River

Afternoon: Sit Back and Relax

After all that fun in the sun, it’s time to replenish your body with some good food in town. As it may be your final night in Bakersfield before heading deeper into the mountains, we recommend having a night out on the town. Take it easy with a show at the classic Fox Theater or get tickets to the Auto Club Famoso Raceway to watch fast vintage cars race.

Collage of pictures in Bakersfield




Uncover California’s Central Valley in Yolo County

Getting off the grid in California can be hard to do, but not if you know where to look. Let us help you discover Yolo County in California’s Central Valley. Here, small town culture hemmed in by beautiful rolling hills and countryside connotes a slower pace of life, perfect for first-time visitors and return travelers alike. Take your time sipping, tasting, and pedaling your way through Yolo County. You’ll be amazed at how much this part of the Golden State has to offer!

This story was created in partnership with Visit Yolo.

Girl Cruising on Bike

Day 1: Explore by bike and overnight in Davis

Morning

The city of Davis, California is probably best known for their world-renowned University of California campus, home to roughly 30,000 students during the school year. But you may not know that Davis has recognition as the Bicycle Capital of America with over 100 miles of bike paths and trails and is home to the USA Bicycle Hall of Fame. That’s why Davis and Yolo County is the perfect place to explore on two wheels. Pick up a cruiser from B & L Bike Shop and hit the bike paths. First, stop for breakfast at Delta of Venus, a colorful cafe built into a historic house that has been serving hungry Davis residents for 20 years. Next, pedal on to the Arboretum at UC Davis. This 100-acre public garden features a 3.5-mile path. Park your bike and then walk the trail that winds through 4,000 kinds of trees, plants, and shrubs. Keep an eye out for native wildlife including reptiles, amphibians, and over 135 species of birds.

Davis in Yolo County

Afternoon & Evening

Later, wander through downtown Davis on foot. There is plenty of window shopping to be done, and the Avid Reader is a popular local institution for both students and residents. At this point you will have worked up quite the appetite. The eccentric food scene in Davis will not disappoint! Dig in to any number of options from sushi to steak, Mediterranean fare to ramen, Irish pubs and burgers, of course. This is also a great place to venture into the Beer-Muda Triangle of Yolo County featuring craft breweries to tempt your taste buds.

If you find yourself in town on a Wednesday or Saturday, the Davis Farmers Market is an experience in itself. It is ranked as one of the top 10 markets in America. Yolo County is truly all about the bounty of its agricultural offerings, and serves up some of the freshest local produce and craft food products anywhere.

Davis offers an array of lodging options for all traveler comfort levels. Any one puts you centrally located and close to the action.

Day 2: Hiking & Winters Wine Tastings

Morning

Journey 15 miles west to Winters, voted by USA Today as #4 of America’s best small-town culinary destinations. It’s also a gateway for a number of activities such as wine tasting and hiking. Enjoy breakfast and locally sourced coffee at Steady Eddy’s, the locals’ favorite, before an active day! Consider picking up some local varietals at Turkovich Family Tasting Room or Berryessa Gap Tasting Rooms, as well as cheese from local Winters Cheese Company for a mid-hike picnic.

Wine Tasting in Winters, California

Afternoon & Evening

That afternoon, stroll the historic downtown filled with quaint shops throughout its redbrick architecture and small-town charm. Yolo Traders Bistro serves mouth-watering seafood and appetizers like Korean BBQ Pork Belly Flatbread. Other options include: El Verduzco Taco Truck, Putah Creek Cafe, Hooby’s Brewery, Preserve, Buckhorn Steakhouse, or any number of other locally owned, specialty type dining establishments.

Lay your head at Hotel Winters, a boutique suite style property offering countryside luxury and an amazing view from its rooftop bar. You can also find the comforts of home at any number of Airbnbs in the area.

Day 3: Unlimited Adventure & Dining Await in Woodland

Woodland Yolo County California

Morning

Your third day of exploring Yolo County is a make-your-own adventure. Woodland was once the largest county in California and still serves as the county seat. Steeped in history, Woodland is a cornerstone of California’s (and the world’s) agriculture industry. It’s the perfect place to put your culinary adventure hat on! Start out early and head just 30 minutes north to Morgan’s Mill, a craft coffee bar which roasts its own beans from sustainable sources worldwide.

Downtown Woodland sets the stage for unique and diverse global dining experiences with something from just about everywhere in the world. Take a self-guided dining or history tour through the historic Victorian home neighborhoods. Historic buildings such as the Opera House extend the historic architectural experience, along with the well-preserved red brick construction of many of the corridor’s buildings. Quaint and unique shops make for fun strolling (and buying). For something unique, check out Father Paddy’s pub style grub and whiskey vault. More than 60 products from around the world line the bar for your tasting pleasure.

For some afternoon California adventure, check out Velocity Island Park , a great place for kids and families to let loose and play at this one-of-a-kind wake board and water park. Peak summer offers another great water experience choice at Cache Canyon River Trips , just over an hour away with guided access to some of the most fun whitewater rafting in the state. Less active but unique is Reiff’s Gas Station Museum, a local haunt where visitors travel back in time to the 1950’s. You’ll want to pose for photos with retro antique cars, jukeboxes, and more.

Evening

After a full day of fun, tuck into dinner at any one of Woodland’s 27 restaurants within a walkable stretch. For after-dinner entertainment, consider taking in a performance at the Opera House theater. Overnight at one of a broad variety of Woodland area hotels, ranging from familiar brands to locally owned, independent hotels.

Day 4: Yolo Countryside

Yolo County Countryside

Your final day opens up the window to Yolo’s Countryside area. Activities include exploring wide open spaces dotted with large and small farms, more hiking, biking, and wildlife viewing. Afterwards, enjoy restaurants and wineries galore! There are more than 10 locally owned wineries in the area. Each offers a very personal experience in their tasting rooms as well as unique varietals not found anywhere else.  Yolo County is a substantial grape growing area with much of its grape volume going to other nearby regions such as Napa Valley. But each winery saves the best for their own visitors. 

Finally, don’t forget the Sierra Railroad’s train excursions through the Yolo County farmland and along the Sacramento River.  Their new railbikes are definitely a rare experience!

Can’t get enough of Yolo County? Make plans to return in the near future! We recommend venturing out on Highway 128 from Winters west to Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. You might also look to other Central Valley area locations to further your California experience.

yolo county california pin




California Road Trip: Be Sure to Make This Stop

Not sure where to begin your next California road trip? Let us help! Just a few hours from the north entrance of Yosemite National Park is a lively city known as Stockton. Settled between the San Francisco Bay Area and the Sierra Nevada mountains, Stockton is ideal for a traveler looking to get a healthy mix of culture, food, and outdoor adventure. Plan your trip in advance—check out this sample itinerary

This article was created in partnership with Visit Stockton. All photos provided by Visit Stockton.

Day 1: Paddle on the California Delta & try new foods

Morning

Stockton, California food pin

For your first morning in Stockton you’ll be anxious to get outside and see the city, but firstbreakfast. Stroll down the city’s “Miracle Mile” and try something sweet or savory at Midtown Creperie.

Stockton is located at the furthest inland point of the California Delta, an expansive inland river delta formed near the coast. What better way to see the city than out on the water? Head over the the Downtown Stockton Marina to rent a kayak or a water bike. 

Visit Stockton Kayaking

Afternoon

After lunch at either Market Tavern or Garlic Brothers, take it easy and check out the local museum. The Haggin Museum has been referred to by Sunset Magazine as “one of the undersung gems of California.” The exhibits focus on art and local history, including 19th-century paintings. If you’re visiting with children, check out the Children’s Museum or even Pixie Woods Amusement Park, where kids can enjoy rides, a water play area, and playgrounds.

Collage of museums along a california road trip

Stockton was recently named the most racially and ethnically diverse city in the nation. That is important for many reasons, and one of those is food! Visitors can find great food from many different countries and cultures. Try something new for dinner on your first night. Maybe go with Mexican food at Nena’s or Korean food at Seoul Soon Dubu.

A plate of food in Stockton, California

Day 2: Shop the best farmer’s markets & watch the races

Morning

If there’s one thing you don’t want to miss in Stockton, it’s the farmers markets—there are three of them and they each have their own unique specialty. The biggest, and most abundant, is the Downtown Stockton Certified Farmers Market, formerly known as the Downtown Stockton Asian Farmers Market. This market is held every Saturday year-round and is considered to be one of the oldest and most successful markets in California. Locals say that there are items here that they just can’t get anywhere else. 

Farmers market in stockton, california

Another spot is In Season Market and Nursery. Not only can customers find unusual plants here, but they can also find organic produce as it comes in season. The market sells artisan food, olive oils, honey, jams, and even has a specialty coffee shop for folks to enjoy espresso by the garden. The third spot, The Fruit Bowl, is a 73-year-old, family-owned market and bake shop. Their specialty? Peach pies. Need we say more?

The Fruit Bowl, in Stockton California.

Afternoon

You don’t have to go to Napa Valley to enjoy fine wine in northern California. With lower prices and more family-owned operations, Stockton is the perfect place to enjoy an afternoon of wine tasting.

If you’re looking for something to do with kids, take the more exciting route and experience the Stockton 99 Speedway. The racetrack hosts car races, stunt bike events, and swap meets. 

wineries and race tracks in northern california

In the evening, see what’s showing at the historic Fox Theatre in the downtown area. Built in the 1930’s, the theatre was one of the few “movie palaces” in the Central Valley of California. 

Fox Theatre in downtown Stockton

Between one of the country’s most intriguing cities (San Francisco), and one of its most iconic national parks (Yosemite), Stockton is an ideal place to call home for a few days on the road between.

 




Your Perfect 4-Day Road Trip through Gold Country, California

Gold Country, California is one of our favorite off-the-beaten-path destinations for those who want to see a different side of the Golden State. Home of the original gold rush that forever changed a nation, this region is within striking distance of both Lake Tahoe and Sacramento, making it an achievable and creative destination for those who love history, outdoor adventure, farm-to-table food, and know how to enjoy a booming wine and beer scene.


This story was created in partnership with Visit Eldorado and Visit Placer.

Hidden Falls in California's Gold Country

Day 1: Zipline, Hike, Sip Wine & Farm-to-Tap Brews

Morning

After flying into Sacramento International Airport, begin your road trip toward the city of Rocklin. Only 30 minutes away from baggage claim, Quarry Park Adventures is the perfect place to cure yourself of any jet lag! Located in a 60-foot deep, 160-year old granite quarry, this family-friendly adventure park features ziplines, a ropes course, rappel wall, and more!

From there, quench your thirst on the robust Placer Wine and Ale Trail at one of the 20 wineries in the area. Several farm breweries offer unique experiences, including GoatHouse Brewing, where you can play with kid goats between sips of farm-to-tap brews. The best part of all these options is that the wineries and breweries are all within close proximity of each other, so every one of your travel buddies can find something to their taste.

Afternoon

In between stops, stretch your legs with a short hike on any number of trails at the 1,200-acre Hidden Falls Regional Park right in the heart of wine and beer country. Come dinner time, you will surely be ravenous! Indulge in the farm-to-table philosophy of Placer County at any number of nearby restaurants. That evening, overnight at the SpringHill Suites or any other hotel or bed and breakfast in the Auburn area to set yourself up for another day of adventure.

Whitewater rafting in Coloma, California

Day 2: Go Whitewater Rafting, Take a History Lesson, And Drink More Beer

Morning

The adventure begins in earnest on day two! Spend the morning whitewater rafting on the famous American River. The South Fork is a great place to start for families, beginners, or novice rafters, pairing fun and splashes with stunning scenery and maybe a grand finale at Folsom Lake. More experienced river-runners may prefer the adrenaline pumping rapids of the Middle Fork. You will find a wide assortment of rafting guides and experiences to fit your skills and comfort level in California’s Gold Country. And if a single morning on the water isn’t enough for you, you can book trips up to two days long.

Afternoon

That afternoon, dig into the history of the area on a walking tour and visit to the Placer County Museum. Don’t forget to visit the historic and photogenic Auburn Fire House and Bell!   

Pour Choice in Placer County, California

Evening

Next, reward your efforts with a refreshment on the patio at Pour Choice—a unique craft coffee bar and tap room. That evening, stay in Old Town Auburn for dinner at either Auburn Alehouse or the Alehouse Annex across the street for award-winning ale and American fare. Other local craft beer options in town include Crooked Lane, Moonraker, and Knee Deep; all of which have rotating food trucks most evenings. 

Bridge over a trail and river in California's Gold Country

Day 3: Become a Part of California’s Gold Rush History

Morning

Continue on Historic Route 49 to Placerville by way of legendary Coloma. It was here that gold was first discovered in 1848, changing the fate of California and the entire nation forever. (There’s a reason we call it Gold Country, California!) Take a hike in the Auburn State Recreation Area at Lake Clementine or Cronan Ranch, followed by lunch at Argonaut Farm to Fork Cafe. 

Argonaut Cafe in California's Gold Country

Afternoon

Then, check out where the gold rush began at Marshall Gold Discovery State Park! The whole family will enjoy learning to pan for gold and exploring the museum and the many original and restored buildings. Even the volunteers are dressed in period clothing to bring the experience to life.

Evening

Dinner at Smith Flat House, Placerville, California

Watch the sunset and sip some local wine from one of 70 wineries in the region. Lava Cap is a particular favorite! For dinner, try Smith Flat House (pictured above), whose restaurant is accessed through the original entrance to an 1800’s goldmine. Overnight in Placerville at the woodsy North Canyon Inn or another nearby hotel.

Day 4: Celebrate Your Time in Gold Country with Wine & BBQ

Morning

On your last day enjoying Gold Country, explore a real mine only a mile away from downtown at Gold Bug Park and Mine. After you’ve tried your luck panning for gold a second time, dig into lunch at one of the great choices on Main Street, like The Farm Table or Heyday Cafe. Afterwards, stroll to the oldest hardware store west of the Mississippi and pick up a souvenir. 

Panning in Gold Country California

Afternoon

Take an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) on a unique guided tour of David Girard Vineyards. You’ll enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, learn more about regional history, and taste unique and exclusive wines. There’s also a cheese tasting to follow!

Vineyard in Gold Country, California

Finally, tuck into a savory dinner at the iconic Poor Red’s BBQ—a former stagecoach stop turned popular roadhouse. Poor Red’s is known for its award-winning barbecue and signature Golden Cadillac Cocktail—a perfect choice to savor your wonderful road trip through Gold Country, California. 




Bishop, California is a huge playground with a great downtown

If you’re outdoorsy like myself, then Bishop, California is one of those fairytale destinations. You might be rock climbing in the morning and mountain biking by the afternoon. The trail options are limitless, and I bet that even the multi-generational locals won’t have enough time to explore everywhere. Though the town is a bit remote in the Eastern Sierra, there isn’t a dry time with so many shops and restaurants to explore, and fascinating historical and cultural sites to see.

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This article was created in partnership with the Bishop, California Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau. All photos by Emily Sierra Photography.

Around Town in Bishop, California

On sacred land

A short walk from downtown, I wandered into the Owen’s Valley Paiute Shoshone Cultural Center. In particular, I loved the intricate beadwork, but there were also many more artifacts and environmental collections on display. Departing the museum, I left with a better understanding and appreciation for the region’s roots.

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Sip, shop and dine

Most hotels in Bishop are within walking distance of every resource a traveler might need: coffee, food, souvenirs, laundry, etc. I loved starting my morning with a fresh-roasted coffee from Black Sheep Coffee Roasters. From there, my routine would take me down the street to Spellbinder Books and Pupfish Cafe. In one building, I could thumb through books, shop from local artisans, and even get a heaping dose of avocado toast. For family gifts, I visited Nuts n Twigs—an earthy shop with wonderfully eclectic gifts.

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Outside of Bishop

A climber’s paradise

Admittedly, I’m a novice rock climber. Hence, staring up at Bishop’s big walls was a bit intimidating at first, but the community is welcoming and friendly. Fortunately, there are climbing routes around Bishop suited to every skill level. Exploring the Pine Creek area, we enjoyed the cool breeze that tore down the canyon, and couldn’t stop looking around at all the views. Of course, come the cooler months, Bishop becomes quite popular with the bouldering community, with the fire truck-sized boulders scattered throughout the valley.

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Hiking through the ancients

“Keep in mind, most of the trees in this area are over 4,000 years old,” advised the Ranger at Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Visitor’s Center.

The 4.5-mile hiking loop took me through some of most incredible, natural “sculptures” that I have ever seen. Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest contains gnarled trees that have weathered and survived for thousands of years! Actually, just saying that statement out loud gives me the chills. Their branches twist and curl, and the bark emits hues of yellow, orange and red. Amazingly, no one was around, and the evening light cast a soft, lovely glow on the hillsides.

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Mountain bikers: get ready to roll

Of course there’s great riding in the Bishop area! On the Lower Rock Creek Trail, we came upon a few technical sections, but overall just fun, flowy singletrack. Next time I’m in the area, I’ll be sure to check out the Wagon Wheel Trail, where a historic track was cut into the slickrock. Mountain biking in this area just adds to the endless list of “fun things to do in Bishop”.

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So, whether you decide to play in or outside of town, you’ll find heaps of entertaining opportunities. Planning to visit Bishop, California in the wintertime? Read up on our winter report of fun things to do in the Owens Valley.

california high-sierra bishop sunset-mountains




Granite & Gold in Tuolumne County, California

Gold and granite have been enticing visitors to central California since the mid-1800’s. All around Tuolumne County there are nods to the region’s roots, from Gold Rush era experiences to fantastic museums that educate visitors on the state’s history. Meanwhile, granite continues to beckon travelers from around the world to the same area. Tourists still flock to the Yosemite area to witness the breathtaking domes, sheer walls that reach sky-high, and waterfalls that drop to the valley floors. The combination of granite and gold make Tuolumne County one of the most interesting places to visit.

This article was created in partnership with Tuolumne County, California. All photos by Emily Sierra Photography.

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Hetch Hetchy’s Granite Walls

We’d heard Hetch Hetchy Reservoir was a much less-visited part of Yosemite National Park and jumped at the opportunity to walk on quiet trails and listen to the sounds of water cascading. We crossed O’Shaughnessy Dam, moseyed through an extinct train tunnel and cruised up the lakeshore toward Wapama Falls. We knew we’d enjoy the time around the lake, but were unprepared for the beauty surrounding it. Actually, it is believed that the views in Hetch Hetchy Valley rivaled that of the popular Yosemite Valley before it was dammed. Granite walls seem to cup the lake like two hands lifting water from a pool. The falls sprayed from the natural granite stairs, not in a rush, but rather a smooth cascade.

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Columbia State Historic Park

The town of Columbia went above and beyond to preserve their history. Exploring Columbia State Historic Park is truly an experience, not just another museum. Mixed among exhibits are functioning stores and saloons. Shopkeepers dress in period clothing and transport visitors to another time. The saloons tout sarsaparilla, and the blacksmith has the irons hot and ready. For a little extra dough, you can even pan for gold!

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Coupled with our visit to Columbia State Historic Park, we paid a visit to Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. In the roundhouse we watched a gentleman delicately work on a steam engine and marveled at the variety of tools and train cars inside. On the short train ride, we learned more history about the railroad and films that made some of these trains famous!

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Gold Country by Horseback

Before the light faded, we explored Tuolumne County the pioneer way… on horseback! We met our guide from Aspen Meadow Pack Station and our steeds for the afternoon. We gently navigated the pine forest near Pinecrest Lake. Riding horses made us feel like true frontiersmen, in search of a new life. We bobbed and swayed along the trail, listening to our guide regale us with tales of ranch life.

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Finding rest and play in Gold Country

When we entered the adorable town of Twain Harte, we knew it would be hard to leave. Our car weaved through the hills, and we eventually found respite at the Lazy Z Resort. We slept so soundly in our cozy cabin, and felt just a touch closer to nature. To cool off from the day’s heat, we melted into the resort’s pool—a turquoise waterscape surrounded by natural rocks.

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On our initial drive through Twain Harte, we were immediately struck by the quaint miniature golf course on the side of the road. We found vintage fun there one evening, playing multiple rounds on the wonderfully simple course.

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Basing our vacation around the granite walls of Yosemite National Park and the historic charm of central California, we fell in love with Tuolumne County.




Sorry, busy adventuring in North Lake Tahoe!

North Lake Tahoe Pin

I was so enchanted by North Lake Tahoe, that I started scheming on where’d I’d like to live! The water sparkles an enticing shade of blue, and the forest and mountains surrounding the lake are chock full of trails and outdoor adventures.

This article was created in partnership with North Lake Tahoe, California. All photography by Emily Sierra Photography.

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On the lake

Lake Tahoe is beautiful no doubt, but the best way to enjoy the lake is to actually be on the lake.

Paddling

Kayaking, canoeing and stand up paddleboarding (SUP) are all excellent ways to get some human-powered exploration on the lake. One step further though, we took out some clear kayaks from Wild Society in Kings Beach, and paddled over large boulders and white sands. To me, there is no better way to glide over the transparent, turquoise waters than a kayak with a window to the lake’s floor. From Kings Beach, it took us some stiff paddling to reach the highly Instagrammable rocky lakeshore, but was well worth the effort! You can also launch from other points across North Shore for different paddling experiences.

Pro tip: prepare a playlist to play through the bluetooth speaker on the kayak.

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Sailing

Aboard a chartered sailboat, we sailed over the largest alpine lake in North America. We watched a storm roll over the mountains in the distance; one that actually left behind a dusting of snow! Opposite, the sun was setting and we sipped Prosecco and enjoyed light snacks. With a swift breeze, we traveled over the waves and found ourselves mesmerized by the moving water and surrounding landscapes. Our captain from Tahoe Sailing Charters was down-to-earth and we loved hearing about his family’s worldly travels and love for Lake Tahoe.

Pro tip: bring a camera strap so that you don’t lose your photos overboard.

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Off the lake

The recreation in the mountains around North Lake Tahoe might be just as exciting as that on the lake. These are two of the best ways to explore North Lake Tahoe off the lake.

Biking

The Flume Trail is a bucket list experience for any mountain biker. Though, seeking something a little more laid-back, we rented bikes and took to the freshly designed East Shore Trail. The paved trail follows Tahoe’s east shore, passing impossibly blue vistas and overlooking coves where waves splash on massive granite boulders. The trail finishes at Sand Harbor State Park, worthy of the $2 fee to explore the water’s edge on bike.

Pro tip: pack a swimsuit and hop in the water at Sand Harbor before biking back.

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Via Ferrata

Via what? If you’re not familiar, a via ferrata is a fixed climbing route in which you constantly trace a cable up and along a cliffside. This was definitely one of the safest ways I’ve experienced an adrenaline rush! Aside from the gentle climbing, there were moments when we were essentially tight-rope walking between rock walls! Fortunately, Alpenglow Expeditions in Squaw Valley has another route, and are working to set even more routes. The next time I visit, I will be excited and ready for more via! You can’t go wrong staying at the Village at Squaw Valley either. The hotel is super close to mountain activities, shopping, restaurants, and one of the hippest coffee shops in the area!

Pro tip: bring your GoPro to mount on your helmet. You don’t want to miss out capturing this adventure!

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These experiences were only a sampling of what we could discover in the North Tahoe area. I can’t wait to get back and dive deeper into the lake and the trees!

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Fossils to Falls: Visiting Yosemite, California

“Hi, do you have the ‘Sandy the Squirrel’ card?” I asked, standing in the Yosemite National Park Visitor’s Center. See, I was on a mission. Essentially a scavenger hunt leading through Yosemite National Park and beyond. By collecting two or more trading cards, I could win a serious vacation package to return to some of the most amazing country in the USA! What I didn’t know was that this “highway” of sorts would bring me to some incredible places while visiting Yosemite.

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This article was created in partnership with the Southern Yosemite Visitor’s Bureau, California. All photos by Emily Sierra Photography.

Some of the stops along the Fossils to Falls “Highway”

Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias

We hopped on the morning shuttle and headed up the winding road to crane our necks at some of the most massive living trees on the planet. One of the first sights in the grove is the “Fallen Monarch”. To me,  this giant downed tree resembled a large dinosaur that had fallen—there was just an archaic feeling about it. Moreover, each tree in the grove took on its own personality, illuminated by their name and shape. If I wasn’t seeking ‘Galen, the Great-Horned Owl’ card, I’m not sure I would have explored this natural wonder.

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Fossil Discovery Center

We peered around at over 15,000 fossils in the Fossil Discovery Center in Chowchilla. Life-size replicas and a variety of exhibits offered us a glimpse into the ecosystem that once ruled the area. We learned about flat-faced bears and dire wolves—species we didn’t know existed! Not only did we score our Fossils to Falls card here, but it was an easy stop on our way back to San Francisco for our flight home.

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Vineyards

Who would ever suspect that you’d be able to sample wines and collect a cartooned trading card? At Ficklin Vineyards, we did just that. We sampled award-winning port and learned the nuances that delineate port from wine. Almond and pistachio crops dominate the region, but grapes have grown there for a long time also. Madera County is now establishing itself with tasting rooms and a place to explore wine country. This is a convenient stop while visiting Yosemite National Park.

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Bass Lake

We paddled onto the lake at sunset and watched the water dance with colors from the sky. It was smooth and easy, and the water was a great temperature for swimming. With more time at Bass Lake, we’d definitely consider a motorized option for other lake fun and fishing! It’s really no wonder that this lake was named one of “The West’s Best Lakes” by Sunset Magazine.

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“I had no idea…!”

I don’t recall how many times I used this phrase. Chasing the ‘Fossils to Falls’ trail, I visited places I wasn’t previously acquainted with. We enjoyed uncrowded areas while visiting Yosemite National Park, and found unique experiences along the way. Collecting the playing cards was a fun pursuit for us, and I imagine that it would be a wonderful family road trip activity as well.

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For more road trip ideas in California’s High Sierra, check out our custom itinerary!




Winding through California’s High Sierra: 11 Experiences between Yosemite and Tahoe

Deciding on experiences in some of California’s most sought after country was a real challenge! Amber and I set parameters though, and stuck with them. We needed a mix of scenery, adventure, adrenaline, and relaxation for our California road trip–and we found it, all of it! From sunup to sundown, we explored California’s High Sierra, stretching from Yosemite National Park to Lake Tahoe. Here’s what we were able to experience and loved!

This article was created in partnership with California’s High Sierra Visitor’s Council. All photos by Emily Sierra Photography.

1. Moro Rock

The smells of pines and damp soil drifted in our car windows in Sequoia National Park leading to the parking area for the Moro Rock. The trek to the top of the rock was steep, but fortunately pretty short. From the summit we enjoyed 360-degree views of the surrounding granite peaks and valleys.

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2. Bass Lake

We pulled up to Bass Lake and were immediately entranced by the golden light filtered through the surrounding pines. We rented a couple of stand up paddle boards (SUP) and glided onto the lake under the setting sun. The water was such a welcoming temperature, and the perfect respite at the end of a hot day.

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3. Glacier Point

I’m sure that everyone has their own opinion on the best view in Yosemite National Park. Not surprisingly, there isn’t a bad one! Taking in the valley views from Glacier Point was high on our list, and we decided for a sunrise session to avoid the crowds. Boy, we made the right move! We found a lovely spot to watch the sun come up, and imagined what it would be like to cross country ski out to this spot in the wintertime.

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4. Mammoth Mountain

The gondola up Mammoth Mountain escorted us to insane views of the eastern Sierra. We looked out over the valleys below, back toward jagged peaks, and down on multiple sparkling lakes. From the gondola station at the top, we walked on a hiking trail to explore the summit. I will admit, I was envious watching mountain bikers rip down the mountain park trails!

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5. Lake Sabrina to Blue Lake

Scenic Sabrina (pronounced sah-bry-nuh) is nestled majestically against jagged, 13,000-foot peaks. Alongside the lake, the marina serves up a variety of homemade pies, so naturally we had a slice before the hike. Doesn’t everyone do that? Strutting up the trail, we kept our heads on swivels, looking down at the lake and valley, watching the trees change as we gained elevation. A few miles later, we arrived at Blue Lake where the entire landscape was reflected in the high alpine lake. Next time, I will remember my fly rod!

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6. Mono Lake

From above, Mono Lake is completely unassuming. The real attractions on the lake are the tufa structures “growing” on the lakeshore. From the south tufa area, there is a small trail system leading to the lake’s edge and around these unique salt structures. Once again, we rolled up to the area at sunrise, and no surprise: we were basically alone! The water shimmered shades of pink and orange, reflecting the mountains soaking up the sunlight. Mono Lake was easily one of the most unique places we explored in the area!

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7. Wapama Falls & Hetch Hetchy Reservoir

The northern side of Yosemite National Park is uncrowded and highly underrated. The water held in Hetch Hetchy Reservoir supplies San Francisco (167 miles away) with glacial drinking water. We crossed the dam and immediately entered a historic train tunnel. By the time we emerged, we were walking along the northwest shore of the reservoir, looking across the way at massive granite domes. Furthermore, the hike to Wapama Falls was easy and rewarding, and I was impressed with how much water was still cascading given our September visit.

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8. Utica & Union Reservoir

Obviously a local’s spot, this pair of scenic reservoirs is a great spot for camping, picnicking, and unmotorized watercraft. We opted for a relaxing afternoon and packed an array of snacks from Big Trees Market & Deli. We explored the rocky outcroppings around the lake and enjoyed the quiet and serene scene, sans crowds.

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9. Zephyr Cove

We were welcomed aboard the MS Dixie II with a glass of champagne and encouraged to explore the upper deck. The boat motored up and we cruised along Lake Tahoe into the sunset. After a multi-course meal downstairs, we enjoyed the live band playing everyone’s favorite songs on the second deck. We had a great introduction to Emerald Bay and gazed at Vikingsholm Castle from a short distance.

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10. Kings Beach

Tahoe’s blue waters are undoubtedly enchanting, and the best way to explore is with a clear kayak. I actually felt like I was sitting right on the water inside my kayak! We paddled down the coastline and drifted over massive boulders that glowed under the clear water. Mediterranean Sea or alpine lake? Lake Tahoe is one of the most impressive and gorgeous bodies of water that I’ve ever seen!

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11. Donner Pass

We decided to end our California road trip with one final adrenaline rush. With the help of the Truckee Chamber of Commerce, we met our climbing guide near Donner Pass. He showed us the ropes of rock climbing (pun intended!). We surprised ourselves with this new sport, and actually ended up climbing multiple pitches. The views down the valley over Donner Lake and Truckee made all of the efforts worthwhile.

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For more information on taking a California road trip thorugh the High Sierra, check out our travel guide to the region.




Relax and Unwind in South Lake Tahoe

I had no trouble rolling into South Lake Tahoe, California and adapting to the city’s mellow pace. From the moment the valet whisked my car away at the Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel, I was in walking distance to the lake, hiking, live music, dining, and great entertainment.

This article was created in partnership with South Lake Tahoe, California. All photos by Emily Sierra Photography.

South Lake Tahoe Pin

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South Lake by day

Lake Tahoe blows my mind. It’s so massive, so blue, and so darn beautiful. My wishlist of activities on the lake ran long, but I honed in on those lending themselves well to a relaxed vacation.

Emerald Bay

Leaving South Lake Tahoe, we drove through the forest and wound up hairpin turns on Emerald Bay Road. Our first glimpse into Emerald Bay was breathtaking. Small boats and kayaks below zipped around Fannette Island (the only island on Lake Tahoe!). We eventually parked and moseyed down the short trail to Vikingsholm Castle, a mansion inspired by Scandinavian architecture with incredible lakeside views. Gazing through the ornate entryway toward Fannette Island, we imagined what it would have been like to have tea parties out there like Lora Josephine Knight had done back in the day. Restoration and preservation continue on the property, and I can’t wait to return when the wildflowers are blooming on the rooftops! With a bit more time, we would have definitely rented a kayak and paddled out to the island for a bit more exploration.

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Beaches

Gentle sloping beaches abound in South Lake Tahoe. If it weren’t for the towering mountains on all sides of the lake, I would certainly feel that we were on a beach in Caribbean with the white sands and clear, blue waters. By late summer, the waters of Lake Tahoe warm to an incredibly comfortable swimming temperature.

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Van Sickle Bi State Park

Reaching the trails at Van Sickle Bi-State Park is an easy walk from downtown South Lake Tahoe. We got out early in the morning, and only passed a handful of mountain bikers and fellow hikers on the trail.  A hot air balloon rose from the lake, and blue jays hopped around the bushes on the trail. Hiking toward the Tahoe Rim Trail offered some of the best views on Lake Tahoe, and such a serene escape.

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South Lake by night

Heavenly Village kept our mellow beach vibe rolling. We wandered in and out of shops and stopped to enjoy live music at multiple outdoor venues in the village. I couldn’t help but notice all of the advertisements for Magic Fusion at the Loft Theater, so we finally gave in and bought our tickets for the nine-o-clock show. Having never attended a magic show previously, I was curious and excited, but honestly had many doubts. To say I was proven wrong is a total understatement. On the contrary, I was completely blown away! There was a great balance of humor, crowd banter, and mind-boggling magic. After the show, we sipped creative cocktails at the lounge, crafted by an award-winning mixologist. The nightlife ended there for us that evening, but certainly doesn’t have to for other night owls. South Lake Tahoe can certainly keep the party going until the wee hours of the morning!

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Our stay in South Lake Tahoe left us feeling rejuvenated and ready for more California adventures!

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