Day tripping; Hop off the hill to spend the afternoon in one of these quaint small towns
Looking to beat the beach crowds for the day? Head out of the basin to explore a historic small town just a short drive away. From laid-back vineyards and whitewater rafting to relaxing natural hot springs and antique stores, choose your own adventure on one of these easy day trips from Tahoe.
Less than 20 miles from the South Shore, over Kingsbury Grade and in the valley, sits Nevada’ oldest settlement — a small town of roughly 1,000 people steeped in history and the perfect spot for a relaxing day trip off the hill. Originally established by Mormon pioneers in 1851 as a trading post in Utah Territory, an 1864 act of Congress created the Nevada Territory and Genoa became its first settlement. Today, the quaint town is best-known for the annual Genoa Candy Dance Arts & Crafts Faire every September. But it’s certainly worth a visit during the other summer months, too.
Grab lunch at The Pink House, a cafe with a cheese and charcuterie shop located in a restored Gothic Revival-style home built in 1855. Gourmet sandwiches, soups and salads are best enjoyed on the wrap-around porch while watching the ever-present mule deer graze in nearby lawns. After perusing antiques at Antiques Plus and Petersunn Antiques, grab a cold one at Genoa Bar and Saloon, Nevada’s oldest “thirst parlor.” Built in 1853 and filled with old West memorabilia, the historic bar has welcomed the likes of presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Theodore Roosevelt. A number of movies have been filmed there, including “The Shootist” with John Wayne and “Honky Tonk Man” with Clint Eastwood. Cap the trip with a stop at David Walley’s Resort for a day-pass to soak in one of the five geothermally-heated mineral hot springs with views of the mountains.
In 1848, flecks of gold were discovered on the South Fork of the American River in the Sierra Foothills, kicking off the California Gold Rush. Placerville — originally called Hangtown after a jury condemned several men to hangings — was at the heart of the mining boom and once held the position of third largest city in California. Since its incorporation in 1854, the industry has shifted from mining to lumber, agriculture and recreation, including award-winning wineries with a laid-back atmosphere. Just 60 miles west of the South Shore, El Dorado County is home to over 50 wineries with more than 2,000 acres of vineyards. With elevations ranging from 1,200 to 3,500 feet, the county has hundreds of microclimates that offer a range of temperatures, exposures and soils. This allows for over 50 different types of grapes to be grown in the region, from the cold-loving Gewürztraminer to the warm-ripening Barbera and Zinfandel. Boeger Winery, Lava Cap Winery and Madroña Vineyards are just a few of the popular destinations for wine tastings.
In downtown Placerville, enjoy seasonal dining at Heyday Cafe, where you’ll find upscale woodfired pizza combinations, like a truffle-brie-chicken, alongside salads and paninis. Need a sweet treat? Pop into Sweetie Pie’s Restaurant and Bakery, a local favorite since 1991.
For an outdoor adventure, consider taking a whitewater rafting trip on the South Fork of the American River from one of the local guiding companies, such as All-Outdoors California Whitewater Rafting or American Whitewater Expeditions.
About an hour west of Truckee sits the former mining town of Nevada City. In 1849, the community developed along the banks of Deer Creek, where miners searched for their big payday. A year later it was given its current name, which is Spanish for “snow covered” — a term that was later borrowed for the neighboring state. As a young man, former U.S. President Herbert Hoover even lived and worked in the town as a gold miner.
Today, the Sierra Foothills community is lucky to still have the colorful Victorian era buildings and architecture that characterize its historic downtown. Surrounded by pine-covered hills, Nevada City has an artistic flair, with vintage shops, top-notch dining and a revamped hotel with an eye for design. Browse new and vintage vinyl at Tiger Alley or carefully-curated housewares and accessories at the much-loved Kitkitdizzi. Healthy fare gets the five-star treatment at Heartwood Eatery where you’ll find colorful grain bowls, soups and fully-loaded toast. On the warmly-lit patio, dig into Pad See Ew at Sopa Thai, or grab a pint at Three Forks Bakery and Brewery Co.
To get a feel for your surroundings, walk the 1-mile, out-and-back Sugarloaf Mountain Trail to look out over downtown Nevada City. Alternatively, the South Yuba Trail — a nearly 20-mile point-to-point trail — offers beautiful vistas of the snaking Yuba River.
And if you’re too tuckered from exploring, book a night at The National Exchange Hotel, an 1856 lodging restored with the perfect mix of vintage and modern design.
Roughly 30 miles southeast of South Lake Tahoe is the small community of Markleeville, home to just shy of 200 residents. Like many small towns outside of Tahoe, its foundation stems from mining. In 1861, Jacob J. Marklee established a toll bridge across the Carson River as the silver rush played out in nearby Silver Mountain City. A year later, he laid claim to 160 acres that would eventually house the town of Markleeville following his untimely death in a gunfight.
Tucked in a valley surrounded by towering pines and views of the snow-topped mountains lies Markleeville’s main attraction, Grover Hot Springs State Park. After exploring the trails in the park, soak in the mineral pool fed by six natural hot springs before popping into the cool swimming pool for a rinse. (Please note: The hot springs were closed due to the 2021 Tamarack Fire so check http://www.parks.ca.gov for reopening details.)
For the anglers, the East Fork Carson River below Hangman’s Bridge is a scenic and abundant stretch for catching mostly rainbow trout. Guide services such as Off the Hook Fly Fishing and Alpine Fly Fishing Services are available for newbies or those looking for local knowledge.
Afterwards, quench your thirst at nearby Cutthroat Brewing Company with the namesake American lager or West Coast IPA, as well as a selection of beers from Truckee to South Lake Tahoe. For elevated wood-fired eats, head to Stonefly where you’ll find charbroiled prawns wrapped in prosciutto and basil and duck breast drenched in cherry port wine sauce and sprinkled with pistachios.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the Summer 2023 edition of Tahoe Magazine.
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