The Three California Road Trips That’ll Make Your Summer

Helicopters, ghost towns and elk chops. Let’s review.

By Diane Rommel

The Three California Road Trips That’ll Make Your Summer
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18 May 2016

Summer is three months long.

It is our professional opinion that in order to maintain sanity, you must skip town for at least one long weekend per month.

We even wrote you a scrip’.

For “The Journey Is the Destination” Acolytes: Eastern Sierras via U.S. 395

Hop in the car for this trip through the Eastern Sierras, on the far (read: Nevada) side of Yosemite. Pick up the trail where U.S. 395 crosses from Nevada into California, and take it south as far as you can. You’ll pass ghost towns, Mt. Whitney and an Instagram feed’s worth of deep blue lakes and frosty mountain peaks.

Stay
In a tent? Otherwise, embrace the vibes and pull off where and when it suits you. U.S. 395 is chock-a-block with atmospheric motels like the Walker River Lodge in Bridgeport or friendly B&Bs like the Cinnamon Bear Inn in Mammoth.

Eat
Lodge restaurants, burger joints and town bakeries dominate here. Sometimes you just want a hearty slab of meat, and for that, trust The Mogul in Mammoth, which serves prime rib the way it should be: alongside a baked potato and steamed vegetables.

Do
Name a mountain-based outdoor activity and you can find it here. Catch some Golden Trout on an alpine lake with the help of a guide service, soak in Bridgeport’s hot springs or explore a genuine Gold Rush ghost town.

For Helicopter Optional Lakeside Retreats: Tahoe

We know: At this point of the year, few things are less appetizing than that straight shot across I-80 until you hit Nevada. (Fly, if you must.) Once you get to our hotel of choice, though, you won’t need — or want — to leave.

Miles from the Ferry Building: 195

Stay
We prefer a private home rental during ski season, but come summer, we’re happy to shack up at the best address on the lake: the Ritz-Carlton. Make everybody happy with a two-room mountainside suite with soaking tub and multiple fireplaces (chilly nights ahead).

Eat
Manzanita for dinner: We recommend the rack of Colorado lamb and dream of the Castelvetrano olives, served with Meyer lemon, piquillo pepper, roasted garlic and pickled cauliflower. Follow this with drinks at the Highlands Bar, which is less derivative than the name suggests.

Do
As little as possible. Pop in for a movie at the Village Cinemas’ two-screener (now playing: Mother’s Day and The Jungle Book). Head off on a North Shore kayak tour. Stare at the mountains until it’s time for sundowners. OK, sure, if you must, sign up for a helicopter tour over the lake. But it’s only an option.

For Outdoorsmen Looking to Disconnect Entirely: Crater Lake

You’ll need a long weekend (plus maybe a day either side) to get the most out of this trip. Luckily, we’ve got three coming up. Or skip the drive and fly into Medford.

Miles from the Ferry Building: 395

Stay
Unless you’re tenting it, book a lakeview room at Crater Lake Lodge. No phones. No TVs. No guarantee of a shower (only if you call, and even then, not always). Natural splendor trumps all of this.

Eat
Dine in: The lodge’s dining options are the definition of eclectic, and range from wild Alaskan salmon and grilled chicken breast to elk chops and Oregon mussels meunière. Just don’t tell the tourists about the bison meatloaf.

Do
It’s a hike worthy of a bucket list. The 33-mile tour of the rim above the spectacularly blue lake can be done on foot, bike or by car. Hikers are spoiled for choice, though snow cover can hang around until July. To access the lake’s shore, try the Cleetwood Cove Trail — noting that it’s steep and switchback-intensive.

This is but only one installment of 37 Things a Man's Gotta Do This Summer, our annual compendium of everything worth seeing, doing, eating, drinking and generally making time for in your neck of the woods between now and September

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