Sunday, April 26, 2015

Weekender: North Shore Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is one of the premier California tourist destinations…and rightfully so! The massive blue lake surrounded by a crown of Sierra peaks is unmatched in its unique and stunning beauty. This being said, it can be difficult to travel cheaply and experience the true wonder of Lake Tahoe. Unless you live in Sacramento or Reno it would be very difficult to make a day trip to Lake Tahoe and so you have to find a place to stay. For the sake of this post, I will be focusing where to stay and what to do on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe (my favorite side of the lake). The North Shore of Lake Tahoe is comprised of several small locales stretching 15 miles from Tahoe City, CA to Incline Village, NV.

Where to Stay:
One of the Rustic Cottages
The cheapest way to stay in Lake Tahoe no matter what shore you are on is to camp. I will not be covering where to camp in this post, but plan to do so in the future. Probably the next cheapest way to stay in the Lake Tahoe region is to rent a cabin of VRBO with a group of friends and split the cost. If neither of these options are open to you, then I have the place for you:  Rustic Cottages! The North Shore has more limited options to stay at and they are split between really overpriced dumpy/dirty motels or very expensive swanky resorts. Located in Tahoe Vista, Rustic Cottages is one of the few places on the North Shore that slips right into the middle of those two categories.

Rustic Cottages is made up of two separate parcels (Rustic Cottages and Tahoe Vista Lodge and Cabins) about a mile apart from each other. Both parcels are comprised of several small cabins, most of which include a small kitchenette. The cabins range in size from a studio with no kitchenette ($99 a night) to a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom, and 1,950 sq. ft. home ($399 a night). Not only do you get a kitchenette, which can help you keep your food costs down by eating in, you get free breakfast!

Here are some of the amazing benefits that are included in you stay: a continental breakfast of homemade muffins, waffles, orange juice and coffee in the lodge every morning, homemade treats, such as chocolate chip cookies, candy and brownies, souvenir Rustic Cottage mugs, over 500 movies on DVD and video tape for guests to borrow, free high-speed WiFi, firewood for cottages with wood-burning fireplaces, barbeque grills for guests to borrow, croquet set to borrow, and a horseshoe pit, and sleds, discs and snowshoes to borrow in the winter season.

I would recommend staying at the Tahoe Vista Lodge and Cabins if possible because you can walk across the street and hangout on the beach and take in the full view of Lake Tahoe. This is a great place to bring kids for a week or just escape for a weekend getaway.

Where to Eat:
If you are staying at Rustic Cottages, then the best thing you can do is take the short jaunt to Safeway and pick up groceries and cook your meals in your cabin. If you are allergic to cooking on vacation then I would recommend the following for lunch or dinner (All of the restaurants in Tahoe are a little more expensive due to the remoteness and lots of tourists):

Char Pit: Located in Kings Beach, it is a great burger joint. It has the all the classics including onion
rings. You really can’t go wrong with any of the burgers on the menu.

Jiffy’s Pizza: Located in Tahoe City. There are surprisingly not many pizza options on the North Shore, this one is pretty good. It is a little pricier then I would normally spend on pizza, but given the alternatives it is your best bet. Jiffy’s has a solid pepperoni pizza.

The Dam Café: Also located in Tahoe City, this is a great place for breakfast, but they also serve lunch. It is really easy to grab your food to go and walk across the street and stare at the lake while you eat.

Spoon: Located on the outskirts of Tahoe City, is worth the extra drive time. Maybe the best reasonably costing food on the North Shore. Their tagline is “Comfort food made with fresh healthy ingredients”. How can you go wrong with that? Plates run from $10-$15 and is only open for dinner.

Burger Me: Located in Truckee. I know that Truckee isn't really on the north shore of the lake, but this place is too good not to write about. If you have to opportunity to stop here on your way in or out of the north shore, you HAVE to stop. Burger Me has great burgers and diner style sandwiches, but that being said I don't believe there is one bad item on their menu.
Tip: This place is extremely popular by locals and tourists alike. If you arrive during normal meal times expect to wait a while for your food...but know that it is worth the wait.

What to Do:
There are more things to do outdoors in Tahoe then you can do in a lifetime. I will not try to capture them all here but give some highlights to some fun spots on the north shore and some resources to help you tailor the best activities for your adventures.

Commons Beach
Commons Beach: Located in Tahoe City, it is a fantastic place to spend a day on the beach and in the water. I would definitely suggest getting here early to stake out your spot. There is a playground for the kids and great safe swimming area. The water in Lake Tahoe is quite cold and swimming is usually only enjoyable on the warmest of summer days. Be sure to pack the sunscreen and an umbrella, there is not much shade available and the high elevation sun can be very intense.

North Tahoe Regional Park: If lounging on a beach isn’t quite for you. This regional park is a bit of a hidden gem. In the winter is has a great (paid) sledding hill, but in the summer there are miles of hiking trails and a great Frisbee golf course! If you are traveling with kids, it has several play structures as well.

Tahoe City Visitor Center
Biking Tahoe City to Squaw Valley (Truckee River Bike Trail): This trail is great for walking or biking. It can be very busy in the summer. You can bike this paved trail the 8 miles up to Squaw Valley Resort. The ride is not very challenging and meanders next to the Truckee River the entire way. It is an absolutely fantastic ride in the spring time.

Hiking: There is a trail for every hiker, from beginners to mountaineers, in Tahoe. They are much more numerous than I can list and/or recommend in this post. I would recommend visiting one of the visitor centers to find a trail(s) best suited for your ability.  

Cost for Weekend:

2/nights Rustic Cottages (Tallac) @$129:
$258 + tax
Groceries for lunch and dinner:
Approx. $50
Cost for Activities:
Total Cost:
Approx. $310

Friday, April 17, 2015

Arnold, CA - A Hidden Sierra Gem

I stumbled upon Arnold more or less by dumb luck. I am so excited to have found this sleepy
mountain town.  There seems to be endless amounts of potential activities to satiate even the most rugged outdoors enthusiast. Arnold is often over looked by the much bigger attractions of Lake Tahoe to the North and Yosemite to the South. Situated on Highway 4, Arnold is the starting point of the Ebbetts Pass National Scenic Byway that winds across the Sierras to the east. Arnold stands as the launching point into the some of the most untouched Sierra wilderness.

Where to Stay:
Most likely you do not live within an hour or two of Arnold, so a day trip is probably out of the question. So then, where to stay? If you are coming from the Bay Area (only a 2-3 hour drive) odds are you probably know someone who owns a cabin in or around Arnold. Arnold seems to be the getaway for those in the Bay Area who do not like the Tahoe crowds and traffic. One of the best ways to experience Arnold is to stay in a cabin. If you don’t know a cabin owner then try getting a group together of your best friends and family and split the cost of a vacation rental. You have the online options of airbnb or VRBO, but the selection is limited. I would recommend working with one of the several vacation rental management companies in Arnold you can work with.  Barry Ward Realty has a friendly and accommodating staff with a great selection of vacation rentals. They can also offer insights into where to rent that you cannot get through the online sites.

Where to Eat:
If you have gone the way of the vacation rental, then the best thing you can do to travel on the cheap is cook at the cabin. Arnold has a great full grocery store in Big Trees Market. It is reasonably priced and has a great selection for being at 4,000 feet in the mountains.

If cooking on vacation is not your thing, then your options become a little more limited. However, there are a couple of gems in the few restaurants that are sprinkled around Arnold.

Bristol’s Ranch House Café - Good solid hearty breakfast, bacon, eggs, pancakes, you get the idea.

Suzie’s Diner – slight variation to Bristol’s, but is a typical breakfast spot.

Giant Burger – Great mom and pop burger joint. It has your standard burger and fries as well as great milk shakes.
Arnold Chinese Restaurant – it is the only Chinese food in town, but it is quite good.
Snowshoe Brewing Company – I can only recommend going here for appetizers and beer. Their “Snowflower” (blooming onion) is fantastic.

What to Do:
Where to begin is the real question. If you are wanting to just explore in and around Arnold, then checking out the Arnold Rim Trail (ART) is a must. It is a 17 mile long trail that winds through the majestic forest around Arnold. Highlights include White Pines Lake, San Antonio Falls Overlook, and Top of the World. The trail is great for beginner hikers and can be started a several starting points.

If hiking is not your thing, then White Pines Lake is the place to be. The small lake has beach access,
playground, picnic areas, barbecues, basketball court, and a sand volleyball court. In the summer, the water is cool but pleasant and great for swimming. Don’t forget your inner tube and bask in the glorious mountain sun. This is an amazing place to bring kids and can easily be an all day event.
Tip: For the best beach access, go past the playground area and head to the second parking lot. If you get here by 9-10am you can get a picnic table in the shade right on the beach.

Another nearby attraction and maybe the biggest pull to the area is the Calaveras Big Trees State Park. The short 4 mile drive up Highway 4 to the park brings you to some of the most majestic trees in the world. The Giant Sequoias are breath
taking. Take the time to visit the visitor center and store, then take the short stroll (1.5 mile loop) through the North Grove.
Tip: Go in the morning to experience the peace and tranquility of the North Grove before the tourists arrive. 

More information on Arnold and its surrounding adventures to come later... 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Traveling And Cheap Coffee: A Guide

If you are as much of a coffee addict as most of America is then you know that getting the coffee fix on the road can get very costly. I hope to impart a few inexpensive ways to get your coffee fix while traveling. Please note, if you are passive or an occasional coffee drinker, this article may not make sense to you.

Starbucks/Coffee Shop Tips
1. Starbucks Tip One - There is one on every corner, thus making it the easiest place to get coffee when traveling. It is also the quickest way to soak up your travel budget if are ordering Grande White
Mochas every morning. The cheapest option in any coffee shop is to just get plain coffee. If you are the plain coffee type, order a Grande Coffee in a Venti cup, often the cashier is in such a rush they give you more than just a grande’s worth of coffee, giving you more bang for your buck. (Also, if you are like me, you need the extra space for cream and sugar)

2. Starbucks Tip Two - If a plain ole cup of joe isn’t for you. Try ordering a double espresso over a grade cup of ice. Then, at the condiment bar, add milk to your liking and you will have an iced latte. This will save you over $2 off the iced latte price at the counter and it is the same drink.
Tip: some Starbucks no longer put out milk and you have to ask the barista for the milk…that can be a little awkward at times.

3. Starbucks Tip Three- This is a variation of tip number two. If you really can’t go without your sweet treat coffee, try ordering a double espresso over a grande cup of ice and add 2-4 pumps of your favorite flavoring. I usually add 2 pumps white mocha. When you get your drink, add milk. You now have an iced white mocha. This again saves you about $2 off the white mocha counter price.

Road Trip/Day Trip (Most economical in the long run)
If you are traveling on a road trip or just out for the day bringing or making your own coffee is usually the cheapest option for getting your fix. There are a few economical ways to do this.

1. The easiest if you are out for a day trip is to make your coffee at home and pack it in a thermos. Another option if you do not have a thermos is to make your coffee and pack it in an ice chest and have iced coffee.

2. If you are road tripping or camping coffee can be a little trickier to come by or your hotel coffee is just horrendous. I would recommend making three small investments up front in order to save in the long run. The first investment would be in a portable gas stove.  These can be purchased rather inexpensively on amazon and fuel is not very expensive.

The second purchase is a portable tea kettle for boiling your water. This is not an essential purchase as you probably have something at home that you can already use. But, it can be nice to have a light compact kettle for traveling.

The third part of your investment comes in a few forms depending on your fancy and cost preference. The cheapest option is to by a plastic pour over and filters. The next cheapest would be an AeroPress or French press. I would recommend the AeroPress as it makes a superb espresso shot that can be made into an americano, if desired.

With these thee inexpensive investments, you can make your coffee anywhere at any time for a fraction of the cost. You also get the benefit of using your favorite roast from your favorite coffee shop (or Costco in my case).

Total cost to get setup is approximately $57. If you spread that cost over the next 10 years it comes out to about $6-7 a year depending of fuel usage. Cost of coffee is not factored into this total because it will vary based on consumption.

Happy sipping and saving on all your coffee travels.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Insider’s Guide: A Cheap Day Away in Santa Cruz, CA (Day Two)

Address: 23040 E Cliff Dr., Santa Cruz, CA 95062
Point Market is best known for their killer breakfast burritos that run from $5-$7. They have a burrito to suit everyone. The “Barrel” is a burrito masterpiece of eggs, potatoes, bacon, avocado and cheese. Once you have your new favorite burrito, walk across the street and watch the locals surf.
Tip: You only need order a small burrito as the size difference between a large and small is minimal. This will save you a buck or two.

Lunch: Cheese and Crackers (Grocery Store)
There is a grocery store to fit everybody’s fancy in Santa Cruz. They range from Savemart to Staff of Life, small to large, and traditional to organic. Whatever your preference, go select your favorite cheese(s) and crackers and head to the beach.

Dinner: Carpos
Address: 2400 Porter St. Soquel, CA
Carpos is a true family restaurant. There is something on the menu for everyone. With its accessible pricing, the wide selection of fish entrees are attainable even for those on the tightest budgets. Never fear you non-fish eaters, Carpos has an incredible skirt steak and chicken tender dishes.
Tip: Carpos also has an award winning salad bar that can be paired with the soup of the day or chili. For around $10 this is a deal with the salad bar being all you can eat.

Address: 504 Bay Ave, Capitola, CA 95010
Pop into Gayle’s to discover your new favorite cake or pastry. Gayle’s is one of the best bakeries in the Santa Cruz region. This local gem serves up premier cakes by the slice or whole. Try their Salted Carmel cake or Princess cake to get a little taste of heaven, slices of cake run from $5-$7.
Tip: If you are lucky or at the shop early in the day, look for the day old section, slices of cake, pastries, and sandwiches in this section are half off. This area is not usually marked so you may have to ask the attendant if there are any day olds available.

Activities: Beach Day
Santa Cruz has many spectacular beaches, which can make it difficult to settle on which one to go to. If you happen to be in Santa Cruz on a busy summer day, I would recommend heading to Blacks Beach. The crowds tend to be a little less thick and usually you are only contending with locals and vacation renters for prime beach real estate. The beach is great for swimming and has ample space to play games in the sand.
Tip: In the summer, permits are required on the weekends to park here between 11am-5pm. Parking is strictly enforced so either pay the $7 for a permit or park a few blocks back in a non-permit zone.

Total Cost for the Day (for one)

Insider’s Guide: A Cheap Day Away in Santa Cruz, CA (Day One)

Are you looking to travel on the cheap? Santa Cruz is a fantastic place for fun and cheap adventures. The city full of hidden gems if you know where to look. This is my first post of several on day adventures in Santa Cruz.

Address: 816 41st Ave, Santa Cruz, CA
Start your day of right, head to one of two Verve Coffee Roasters locations. Both locations are full service coffee shops and provide and environment of modern yet artsy décor. Verve has arguably the best coffee in all of Santa Cruz. It is a local favorite, a drink will run you about $4-$5.
Tip: You can expect a stop for coffee here to take 10-15 minutes at minimum in the mornings. Verve is all about the experience and great coffee.

Address: 1815 Soquel Dr., Santa Cruz, CA 95065
This is a classic liquor store and deli set up. The value here is unbelievable. Sandwiches run between $6-$8 and range from a hot pastrami to a turkey, bacon, and avocado. The six inch subs are packed full meat and toppings. Each sandwich is made on the spot and to custom order. This is a midweek hot spot for local employees to grab lunch on the run.
Tip: The deli is closed on Sunday, so be sure to come during the week or on Saturday so you don’t miss out.

Address: 1141 Soquel Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95062
Affectionately known as “Charlie’s”, this establishment is the epitome of Santa Cruz. The colorful design, communal dining, and organic Asian fusion fare spell out success in Santa Cruz. A truly cheap eat, rice bowls run about $6-$8, Charlie’s has something for everyone. The servings are quite large and depending on your appetite could be shared if you really wanted to keep it cheap.
Tip: If you are not into peanut sauce and curries, then the hoisin pork rice bowl is for you. This could be considered their signature dish and sits well with even the pickiest of eaters.

Dessert: Marianne’s Ice Cream
Address: 1020 Ocean St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Marianne’s is a Santa Cruz staple. It is the last of the classic ice cream shops. You can’t miss the bright red exterior paint job and amusing dancing cow wall paper inside. There are over 30 flavors unique flavors including, green tea, 1020, cinnamon caramel, bubble gum, and more.
Tip: Be sure to grab a number right when you get inside. The shop is often very busy and the number assures that you will be served. Also, get a “double junior” and get two flavors for less. The portions are huge so you will still get lots of your favorite flavors.

  1. Grab your coffee from Verve to go. Stroll the two blocks to East Cliff Dr. This is a popular surfing spot and amazing to watch the locals do their thing. You can continue walking down East Cliff Dr on the paved walking path. If you walk the whole path and back to Verve it is about 1.5 miles round trip.
  2. Santa Cruz has many great attributes, but the best has to be the ocean. Take your sandwiches and head down to Sunny Cove (dead end at the end of 17th Ave), if you are lucky enough there is a bench that overlooks the beach. It is great vantage point for wildlife viewing and people watching. This can also be a great place to clamber about the rocks and explore the coastline. Tip: In the summer, permits are required on the weekends to park here between 11am-5pm. Parking is strictly enforced so either pay the $7 for a permit or park a few blocks back in a non-permit zone.
  3. If you are not ready for dinner yet, but need a break from walking and exploring, check out Beer Thirty Bottle Shop & Pour House. This is an up and coming beer garden located in Soquel. They have 30 rotating taps and over 250 different bottles, many from local breweries. If the weather is nice, sit in the outdoor patio with picnic style seating.
  4. After dinner, grab your favorite ice cream flavor and head out to West Cliff Dr. In the summer, it is the best place to catch the sunset. Go for a walk, grab a bench, or watch the surfers. This is the best way to cap an amazing day in Santa Cruz.
Total Cost of Day
$7 (with pastry)


Thank you for reading my blog. This is my humble attempt in joining the blogging world. I love to travel and explore new places and that usually leads to eating local food and shooting some amateur photography. However, as I do not have millions of dollars, nor see any huge windfall in the near future, I travel on the cheap. I hope to shed some light on my experiences and how you too can travel on the cheap and still experience the greatness of the places you visit.