A High Sierra Playground

An adventure for families and the young at heart, this trip explores California’s rich history while taking explorers from the Tahoe Basin to the Central Valley. Discover local cuisine and outdoor recreation in all seasons with the whole family. The Reno-Tahoe airport is the gateway to the region and offers daily shuttle services to Truckee, North and South Lake Tahoe.

Concerts on Commons | Courtesy Tahoe City Downtown Association

Concerts on Commons | Courtesy Tahoe City Downtown Association

Day One

Located on the Northwest shore of Lake Tahoe, Tahoe City is a center of family activity. From beaches and bike paths to a movie and dinner, there’s plenty to do during a day on the town. Start with breakfast at the Gear & Grind Café. They offer a variety of breakfast sandwiches and burritos along with coffee, pour overs and espresso drinks to start the day. During lunch, Panini sandwiches and ice cream cones take center stage on the menu. As an alternative, just a quick jaunt south from the wye, the Tahoe House has amazing baked goods and coffee as well as gourmet sandwiches, salads and soups.

Located near the Tahoe City Marina, the Gear & Grind is a short walk away from the Lakeside Trail, which visitors can follow to Commons Beach. A great place for families with younger kids, Commons Beach has a playground with a large, green lawn. The sandy beach and shallow water is a great place to splash around with little swimmers and Tahoe City Kayak rents kayaks, paddleboards and other beach toys. Sample some local California produce every Thursday morning during the weekly Farmers Market and enjoy live music every Sunday afternoon throughout summer during Concerts on Commons. Thetahoeweekly.com offers a full entertainment and events schedule for the area.

After a morning on the beach, continue west down Lakeside trail to Fanny Bridge and the Lake Tahoe Dam, the only outlet for the lake and the mouth of the Truckee River. During the summer when the water level permits, visitors may float the Truckee River from Tahoe City to the River Ranch Lodge near Alpine Meadows. Rafts are available for rent from Truckee River Rafting and Truckee River Raft Co. near Fanny Bridge. The float can take between a few hours and all day depending on how often one chooses to stop and enjoy the sights.

For lunch, head to the Tahoe Mountain Brewing Company for home-brewed suds and a menu that includes everything from wood-fired flat breads to burgers and tacos. The restaurant is centrally located in the Cobblestone Center in downtown Tahoe City making a good spot for strolling the town’s shops and boutiques. Those looking to get out of town can rent a bike from Willard’s Sports or the Olympic Bike Shop and explore Tahoe City’s bike paths. Choose a 6-mile ride along the Truckee River to Squaw Valley or head south and enjoy the secluded pines along Tahoe’s west shore. After a long day, unwind with a drink and a view at the Sand Bar, owned and operated by Christy Hill.

Top it off with dinner and a movie. The Tahoe Art Haus & Cinema plays both independent films and new hit releases. The Tahoe Art Haus also partners with local restaurants including Za’s and Zia Lina to offer discounted dinner and movie specials.

Spend the night at Granlibakken Tahoe. Situated just outside of town, Granlibakken offers a full conference center and cozy secluded rooms for families and workers. In the summer the Treetop Adventure Park is a great activity for kids and adults alike and in the winter the hill opens for sledding and skiing. For those looking to stay in downtown Tahoe City the Pepper Tree Inn Tahoe is centrally located and the Tahoe City Inn is the place to check for those on a budget.

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Courtesy Squaw Valley

Day Two

Rise and shine and head to Olympic Valley to enjoy breakfast in the Village at Squaw Valley. Mountain Nectar is the one-stop shop for coffee, smoothies, and breakfast burritos and sandwiches. Squaw Valley is a year-round destination for fun. During the summer, hiking in Shirley Canyon provides beautiful views, roaring waterfalls and the opportunity for lunch near an alpine lake. The Village is a bustling center for shopping while the kids enjoy Mind Play or rock climbing, lawn games, a Sky Jump or the ropes course. Head up the Tram to learn more about Squaw Valley’s Olympic History at the Squaw Valley Museum or to lounge by the pool after a round of disc golf.

In the winter, it’s all about the skiing and riding. Although Squaw Valley is known for its extreme terrain, skiers and riders of all ages and abilities will find plenty to suit their taste. Lessons and guided adventures are offered daily or by the hour. Squaw Kids provides a fun and safe learning environment for the littlest of tykes. After a lesson, be sure to grab a homemade cookie at Wildflour. Wildflour also serves sandwiches and handcrafted dishes featuring healthy alternatives for lunch.

Après skiing? Head to Uncorked for a glass or two of regional California wines, before stopping by Fireside Pizza for dinner. Uncorked also has locations in Tahoe City and Truckee. In the summer, Tuesday nights are Bluesdays in the Village featuring live music and dancing. During the winter, the Auld Dubliner and 22 Bistro are the spots to jam before calling it a night. After dancing the night away, head to Squaw Valley Lodge for a good night’s sleep.

All About Kids Babysitting is a local babysitting service located in the heart of Squaw Valley for parents who need a romantic night out.

Emigrant Trail Museum

Emigrant Trail Museum

Day Three

Start your day at Squeeze In, located in downtown Truckee, for one of the best omelets in the region before heading out to explore Truckee and Donner Summit.

Head to the Royal Gorge Cross Country Center to experience North America’s largest network of cross country ski trails. Ski lessons and rentals are available for adults and kids. In addition, guests can enjoy snowshoeing, winter biking and snow kiting. Sugar Bowl Ski Resort is also perched on Donner Summit offering one of the highest base elevations in the area.

During the summer, the hiking around Donner Summit offers gorgeous views of Donner Lake. Head to Donner Memorial State Park and learn about the infamous Donner Party family who spent a winter stranded on the shores of Donner Lake. Explore the Donner Memorial State Park Visitor Center and the Lakeshore Interpretive Trail.

Be sure to check out all the unique stores in Historic Downtown Truckee, walk parallel to the Truckee River along the Legacy Trail or take an afternoon to wine taste and play bocce at the family friendly Truckee River Winery. If you decide to make more than a day of it, Truckee’s lodging options range from quaint B&Bs, to historic and hip hotels.

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Day Four

Grab a quick bite for breakfast in Truckee at Wild Cherries and pack a picnic lunch from New Moon Natural Foods before hitting the road to explore more of the rich history of Donner Summit. The Donner Summit 20-mile Museum includes 28 interpretive signs where visitors can stop and discover petroglyphs, mountain peaks, emigrant routes and historic buildings.

Those looking to stretch their legs can enjoy plenty of hiking in the area at Martis Valley or Waddell Ranch. The Pacific Crest Trail passes through Donner Summit providing great views of Donner Lake and Truckee as well as surrounding peaks. The Loch Leven Lakes trail is a moderate trail that explores the Loch Leven Lakes chain. The fishing is usually good and dispersed camping is allowed.

After exploring the summit, continue to head west. For another treat along the way, stop at Cisco Grove. The campground is the perfect basecamp for a day of exploring the surrounding lakes, waterfalls and trails. Those with off-road vehicles will enjoy rock crawling the Fordyce Trails. The Guitarfish Music Festival takes place every summer at the end of July, featuring four days of family fun with regional Americana bands.

Stop in Auburn and grab a late lunch at Ikeda’s Country Bakery. The burger bar and fresh produce will definitely hit the spot for lunch, but Ikeda’s is most well-known for their fresh-baked pies made with fruit straight from the store’s own orchards.

The American River valley just outside of Auburn is home to some of the country’s best rafting. The South Fork of the American is one of the most rafted stretches of river in America and for good reason. Enjoy beautiful views and a personal tour of California history while floating through the first site where gold was discovered in the 1840s. Guests can explore Sutter’s Mill and learn more about the start of the gold rush. The area is also riddled with plenty of hiking and biking trails for an afternoon of adventure.

Enjoy a hearty meal in a rustic setting at the Bootleggers Tavern. Whether it’s the filet, the fried chicken or the Israeli Cous Cous you’re sure to leave satisfied. Settle in for the night at the Auburn Holiday Inn.

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Day Five

Stop by Courthouse Coffee for hand-baked treats, fresh breakfast sandwiches and hot coffee to start the day before heading south on Highway 49 to Placerville. This area of California is home to sprawling farms giving visitors the opportunity to sample some of the freshest produce and farm products around. Apple Hill Growers celebrates 50 years of offering tours and self-pick orchards. The farm is open year-round with apples, pumpkins and even Christmas trees. Wine tasting and fresh-baked pies are also available on site.

Over 40 vineyards and wineries in the area offer tours and tastings of regional varietals. Many offer the option to enjoy a picnic while sampling the various wines.

Be sure to stop by the The Farm Table for the best sample of farmstead food including preserves and whole harvest cookery using locally sourced foods.

In the fall, Placerville is home to the Hangtown Halloween Ball. This three-day festival takes place over Halloween and brings together some of the country’s favorite Americana Bands, including annual headliners Railroad Earth, for a celebration of the spirit of the Wild West that still lives in this region.

Located in downtown Placerville, near shopping and wine tasting, the Cary House Hotel is a historic hotel with modern amenities. The iconic hotel has been open since 1857 and has housed guests including Mark Twain, Elvis Presley and John Studebaker.

Calaveras Big Trees State Park | Courtesy OARS

Calaveras Big Trees State Park | Courtesy OARS

Day Six

Enjoy breakfast at Sweetie Pie’s before continuing along Highway 49 to Angel’s Camp. Head east on Highway 4 for an outdoor adventure, exploring Calaveras Big Trees State Park. Take in the North Grove of Giant Sequoias or take a 5-mile hike through South Grove. Ranger talks are offered and are great for those with younger children.

Head back down Highway 4 to the Arnold Pantry and grab a freshly made sandwich with organic, locally grown fresh fruit to go. Enjoy your picnic al fresco at nearby White Pines Lake under the shady pines at a picnic table or sit on one of the sandy beaches. Then stroll next door to the Sierra Nevada Logging Museum to learn about the fascinating history of the lumber industry.

Continue on to Murphys and consider wandering your way through this charming downtown with nearly a dozen wine tasting rooms. If history is more your thing, just head a few miles out of town to Heritage Museum at Ironstone Vineyards. Here you can see the largest crystalline gold leaf specimen pulled out of the Mother Lode and many interesting Gold Rush artifacts. There’s even a jewelry gift shop filled with pretty pieces to entice you.

On your way out of town, stop by Elements Spa for a couples massage or infrared sauna before driving 15 minutes to Angels Camp and settling in for the night at the cozy Greenhorn Creek Vacation Cottages.

Courtesy Snowplay

Courtesy Snowplay

Day Seven

Head out early on Highway 49 making your way through downtown Sonora and up Highway 108.  Look for Alicia’s Sugar Shack (known for their bacon maple bars) for a power breakfast on your way to Dodge Ridge Wintersports Area.

Dodge Ridge is one of the closest ski areas to the Bay Area and it’s the perfect mountain for a family getaway. Ski lessons are offered for all ages. First timers may purchase lesson packages with the option to earn a season pass.

Ski in for lunch at the Local’s Café before spending the afternoon with the family. Sledding is offered daily at Leland High Sierra Snow Play or head to the Long Barn Lodge for an evening of ice-skating.

Enjoy an indulgent dinner at the Steam Donkey Restaurant and Bar at Pinecrest Lake Resort. A two-time Award of Excellence winner from Wine Spectator the restaurant features specials including rack of lamb, rib eye steaks and sautéed shrimp plates.

In the summer, the Pinecrest Lake Resort is a great spot for a day of fishing, kayaking or paddleboarding. Enjoy the views while hiking around the lake or work on that tan in a paddleboat. Stay the night in one of the resort’s chalets on the lake and enjoy a night of solitude in the California High Sierra.