Brief Best of California

Backdating again, another brief but awesome roadtrip I went on!

This one took place during my one year anniversary, and also my cousin-in-law’s wedding. My cousin got married one year and four days after us, and they had a destination wedding in Big Sur. That means Inna and I went to Big Sur for both our minimoon and our one-year anniversary, the latter of which I’ll cover in this post!

DAY 1 – My cousin’s wedding was on a Thursday evening, so we drove up that day (stopping at my favorite central coast restaurant, Firestone Grill in San Luis Obispo, for lunch) to minimize our time taken off from work. We arrived at our lodge in the mid-afternoon, then got ready and went to the venue: a vacation house on the cliffs. It was a spectacular place.


Our lodge in Big Sur wasn’t on the ocean, but it was next to the Big Sur river. And behind the lodge, they put out chairs and made the river into a relaxing sitting area. It was really cool.


We didn’t take many pictures at the wedding (we didn’t want to step on the photographer’s toes) but we did take this one of the view up the coast. Big Sur really is a spectacular place.

My wife and I, ready to watch our cousin get married!

That’s pretty much all the wedding pictures we took. Just know that it beautiful and tons of fun.

DAY 2 – Since Inna and I spent our minimoon in Big Sur a year ago, we decided to go somewhere completely different on this trip. We wanted to go somewhere we’d never been before, so we drove across the state. We drove by a lot of cool stuff on our way, including Carmel by the Sea, Monterey, San Francisco, but we didn’t stop at any of these places. Instead we stopped near Sacramento, near Davis. 

Davis is a college town, it is quaint and quiet, friendly and charming; Inna and I liked it a lot. And even though we’d never been here before, the main reason we visited was not for the city itself, it was to visit our friends, one of whom was getting his PhD at the UC in town.

Unfortunately we didn’t take any pictures our entire visit. We also didn’t stay long because Davis was just a stop on the trip our ultimate destination, another place in California we’d never visited: Lake Tahoe. And once we arrived, we started picture taking again, so enjoy!


Our first glimpse of Lake Tahoe, as we descend into the Sierra Nevada mountain. Even from here we could tell we were going to a special place.


Our hotel was on Stateline, the street that marks the California-Nevada border in South Lake Tahoe. We were on the California side, and right across the street, at an outdoor venue in the back of one of Tahoe’s Nevada resorts, was an Aerosmith concert! We had no idea it would be there and while we couldn’t see it, we could hear it loud and clear. It was awesome.

DAY 3 – Today was the fourth of July and the best fireworks viewing area in the city was at a beach walking distance from our hotel. So by evening, that’s where we went.

What to do in the daytime though? We originally wanted to drive around the lake, but we nixed that idea when we saw how much traffic there was coming into the city. Also, at one point, there was a huge downpour that lasted about thirty minutes; it was some of the most intense rain I’ve ever seen. We were in the supermarket when it happened, and so we held up there until the storm passed.

After the rain ended, the skies were clear. We really wanted to explore the lake, and since traffic was prohibitive, we rented bikes. Our first stop: a lakeside campground on the Nevada side of South Lake Tahoe.


Camping at Tahoe in Nevada. I think this is one of the best panoramas I’ve ever taken.

How about some Lake Tahoe information? Lake Tahoe is situated on the California-Nevada border in the Sierra Nevadas, north of Yosemite and southwest of Reno. The lake has a 6225 foot elevation, making it the largest alpine lake in North America; it is also the second deepest lake (after Crater Lake) and six largest lake by volume (after the five great lakes) in North America.

North and South Lake Tahoe offer very different experiences. North Lake Tahoe (Tahoe City specifically) is one of California’s best nature destinations; it is calm and quiet, and hiking reigns supreme. South Lake Tahoe, however, is a party city. There’re resorts and casinos on the Nevada side and bars and liquor stores on the California side; it is a major destination for college students who want to drink and have fun and get away.

Despite these differences, North and South Lake Tahoe do have two things in common: they offer beautiful views of the lake they are situated on, and both offer excellent winter sports opportunities.

Anyways, back to our bikeride. After riding to the campground, Inna and I rode to a nearby abandoned cabin neighborhood. The cabins were really nice and it seemed weird that no one was there. It was an interesting find.


These cabins must’ve been abandoned recently, because they were in great condition and seemed very nice.


View from the cabins. You can see the alpine-ness in this picture, just check out the trees that surround the lake.

At this point we headed back to California and returned our bikes (we wanted to ride further, but the rental shop closed early since it was the fourth of July). We then waited for nightfall, at which point we went out to the prime firework viewing point on the lake.


On the beach waiting for fireworks. This beach was such a popular spot that at some point they actually had to close it off. Lucky for us, our hotel gave us passes to the beach, so we could access it even after it was no longer admitting people.


I didn’t take any pictures of the fireworks show, but it was great. I did however take this picture, of Jupiter (left) and Mars (right).

DAY 4 – Today we drove home. We elected to take the scenic route, down US-395 on the east side of the Sierras. This route took us by Mono Lake, Topaz Lake, Lake Crowley, Mammoth, Yosemite, Manzanar, Mt Whitney, and lots of small towns in the Sierras and Owens Valley. We didn’t stop at many of these places, for three reasons. One, we stopped by Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe before we left, causing us to leave late; two, because of traffic, it took us forever to get from Lake Tahoe to the beginning of the scenic route (two hours to drive 20 miles to be exact. Thankfully there was no traffic on the scenic route once we got there). And three, today was the day of the women’s World Cup finals: USA vs. Japan.


Emerald Bay, part of Emerald Bay State Park, is one of the most picturesque locales in Lake Tahoe. This bay represents about 1.3% of Lake Tahoe, which hopefully gives some idea of how big the lake is.


A map of Lake Tahoe. See the highway 89 marker on the southwest corner of the lake, and that little bay that is next to/under it? That’s Emerald Bay. 

Emerald Bay has lots of stuff to explore, most notably Vikingsholm, a 38 room former-mansion-now-museum and one of the greatest examples of Scandinavian architecture in North America. But as I mentioned earlier, the Women’s World Cup final was today, and we  wanted to watch the game at Mammoth, so we left Lake Tahoe early.

Unfortunately, we arrived in Mammoth to find that we had the game’s start time two hours early. And Mammoth doesn’t have many two hour or less activities (Mammoth is a ski resort, so other than mountain trekking/hiking, there’s not much happening in the summer), so we left and drove to Lone Pine, two hours south.

Lone Pine, a small town in the Owens Valley on the east side of the Sierra Nevadas, is a beautiful but unremarkable place. The town was a popular filming location back when westerns were popular, and today it is mostly know as an access point for the many nature destinations in the area (Mammoth, Yosemite, Sequoia, King’s Canyon, Mt Whitney, Death Valley, Manzanar – not a nature destination – is also nearby). While watching the game, we met two guys who were spending the night in Lone Pine before scaling Mt Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental US, the following day.

Oh, and the soccer game? USA dominated, 5-2, and won their third World Cup. Go USA!

After the game we drove home, through the Mojave Desert and back into LA. Unfortunately, we didn’t take any pictures on US-395, but driving it was awesome, just like the rest of our trip.

0_brief best of california

A map of our brief best-of-California trip. 1057 miles and 10 highways driven, seven miles biked, four major events celebrated (a wedding, our anniversary, the fourth of July, and the Women’s World Cup), and two states, two hotels, four state parks, one national natural landmark, two beaches (and a third coastline), and two friends visited.



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