CA Trip: Lake Tahoe and Donner Monument

May 31, 2012 – The day started with a relaxing breakfast at the hotel, then we checked out, got gas (watch out, some gas stations only accept debit cards at the pump) and headed towards Lake Tahoe.  We didn’t have any specific destination, we just wanted to do a bit of hiking near the lake. Actually, let me rephrase that – there are some really nice state parks near the lake, but none of them were open yet; something about cost-cutting measures. So we stopped at the first visitor center we saw, the Taylor Creek Visitor Center, but that wasn’t open either.  However, they did have a nice (and open!) nature trail that went down to the lake, curved along the beach and then cut back through a sparsely-populated pine forest. The walk was almot completely flat and pretty, with views of the (very clear) lake and mountains.

Lake Tahoe Trail

The Taylor Creek Visitor Center trails were open during our visit.

There were a few mosquitoes during the first part of the trip, but overall the bugs were minimal. The trail also includes a weather station being used to collect data in that area. We would have loked at it more if it weren’t for the bugs who caught up to us as soon as we stopped walking. The trail ends at the visitor’s center; even though it was closed, an exhibit on fish was open. The exhibit built glass around part of a stream that salmon use for spawning. Since we were there in the late spring there weren’t any salmon, though there were quite a few other kinds of fish happily swimming.

Taylor Creek

If you are looking for a leisurely stroll by Lake Tahoe, Taylor Creek is a good spot to begin.

Of course, hiking makes us hungry, so we headed back towards South Lake Tahoe. We had read good things about a little burger joint called Burger Lounge; ironically, this is the same burger joint that, when we drove by it earlier this morning, Louisa completely discounted since their giant beer mug sculpture looked like it had green beer in it (note: the beer wasn’t green, it was just the bottom of the mug; but the effect was still a little off). Anyway, undeterred by the giant green mug, we parked, walked in, and placed our orders. Two burgers, with an assortment of cheeses, bacon, BBQ sauce, and grilled onions. And an order of garlic fries. It was a gorgeous day so we ate outside (fresh air + a shaded picnic table = win). The food arrived quickly; the burgers are huge and cooked nicely, and the toppings are great. Tony enjoyed his cajun-seasoned burger, and I really liked my bacon cheeseburger – except for the grilled onions, which I thought were a bit overpowering. The fries were also fantastic (and very garlic-y), although the ketchup and mustard were starting to get warm from being outside. Which isn’t a problem if you don’t use condiments. Overall we highly recommend this restaurant, I don’t think you can go wrong with any of their burgers. You won’t leave hungry, the food is great, and they have outdoor seating.

Lake Tahoe Beach View

The beach at Taylor Creek has an impressive dead tree, and a great view of the lake.

After lunch we were almost ready to get back on the road, but first it was time for a coffee stop. It was a bit tough to find Alpina Coffee Cafe, mostly because Louisa forgot which side of the road it was on and tried to turn around in somebody’s driveway. But the point is, we made it. And Louisa found her new favorite coffee drink. They call it the Lucretia; it’s a mocha with cinnamon and nutmeg. Try it iced, where the ice is actually coffee ice cubes (so the drink gets chilled, without being watered down). There were almost 10 people just relaxing inside the funky little shop, which has a Bohemian vibe; we elected to take our drink outside, where we sat on a cute bench under a giant tree. There were bird feeders in the trees and customers’ kids playing in the grass. Like I said, Bohemian, but in a good way. And they make a darn good coffee drink.

Alpina Coffee Cafe

Alpina Coffee Cafe was a great place to grab an espresso-based beverage.

We resumed our drive around Lake Tahoe, pausing at a few overlooks along the way to marvel at the clear water, which varied from pale blue to dark emerald green as its depth changed.  After leaving Lake Tahoe, we made a quick stop at Squaw Valley.  This was the location of the 1960 Winter Olympics, and is definitely a secluded location.  By the early afternoon we reached Donner Pass. There’s a very well-done museum there, as well as a memorial to the Donner Party (so-named since it was led by a Mr. Donner, although several other families were also part of the group). That winter the snowfall reached the top of the base.  Pretty hard to believe.  Also hard to believe that they kept persisting along the “shortcut” they took, particularly after their guide refused to come back to guide them since it was too dangerous.  It’s just wild to think that they tried to go through those mountains, with wagons, in the late Fall.

Donner Pioneer Statue

The Donner Memorial State Park provides an informative overview of the Donner Party’s failed expedition over Donner Pass.

Fortunately for us, we could use a car to drive along the road, through the trees and over a few mountain ridges. Soon we were on the other side and headed towards (and blowing by) Sacramento. We could see the skyline in the distance, it reminded us of legos. Fortunately traffic wasn’t too bad, and we made good time until we started driving across some marshland. We debated stopping for dinner, but didn’t want to lose our place in the (ever lengthening) line of cars inching towards wine country. Eventually we reached our hotel in Windsor. First up, find dinner! Tony really wanted Thai food, we checked some reviews online and headed towards the downtown restaurant section. The area reminded us of an old-fashioned main street, lined with brick buildings and trees and bordering a small park. Our restaurant of choice was Tomi Thai - it was fantastic!

Links:

Burger Lounge on Urbanspoon Alpina Coffee Cafe on Urbanspoon