Swimmers take a dip in the Yuba River.
Swimmers at the Yuba River.
Creekside Hideaway's front porch.
Curly Wolf pours springtime lavender lattes.
Diving into Donner Lake.
A peaceful view of Donner Lake.
Silent films play on the wall at Moody's Bistro.
You know that you’re in the capital of chill when you see the local police patrolling on stand-up paddleboards. Such is the state of Donner Lake, the Ambien-dosed little sister of Lake Tahoe, 20 miles north of Tahoe City. It’s beloved for its summer camp flavor, free of hordes of speedboats and beer guzzlers.
Take your time getting there. From Sacramento, head east on Highway 20 into the Sierra foothills. Follow the signs with a grape cluster to mellow wineries—some with sprawling patios and live music, like Pilot Peak. Far from Grass Valley's [from S.F., Mile Marker 143] antique store–riddled drag is a find— Diego’s, a family-run Chilean restaurant that serves up homemade South American specialties like panqueque (a southern hemisphere take on a savory crepe) amid gaudy mosaics.
Just north of the historic mining town of Nevada City [MM 147], the iceberg-blue Yuba River begs for a running leap into its chilly waters (clothing is optional). In town, Matteo’s Public, which pours local gold country ales, and the new podunk-chic Crazy Horse Saloon (530-265-4000) are post-adventure decompression zones.
A few blocks away, you can have the renovated and aptly named Creekside Hideaway cottage (rates start at $155) all to yourself.
Fuel up with gourmet coffee at Curly Wolf (530-264-7338) for the rambling drive through an evergreen forest. Instead of hitting 80 gridlock, opt for Historic Highway 40 over Donner Summit for 17 miles of valleys, views, Native American petroglyphs, and signs detailing the local history.
At Donner Lake [MM 196], plop yourself at the Loch Leven Lodge (rates start at $130), right on the water. This is where the real summer action happens: Families lounge on the large deck after water volleyball, while kids race to the floating raft bobbing on the lake. Fry up local rainbow trout on the barbecue, and once the kids are asleep, uncork the bold zin you picked up in Grass Valley to drink in the hot tub under a ceiling of stars.
Should you want to return to modernity, it’s only five minutes away in evolving downtown Truckee [MM 200]. Silent films play on the wall for martini-sipping patrons at Moody’s Bistro in the renovated Truckee Hotel (rates start at $79).
Local intel: Truckee has a buzzing art scene: Seven galleries populate a half-mile stretch downtown. pop into Riverside Studios for functional crafts, Art Obsessions for modern wall pieces, or Coffeebar for a strong latte and a rotating sample of local art.
More Summer Get Aways:
S.F. to Santa Cruz: Highway 1 via two wheels
Three days (suggested time), 123 miles (one way), $$
S.F. to Borrego Springs: Desert funk
Five days, 769 miles, $$
S.F. to Truckee: Summer camp flashbacks
Two days, 200 miles, $$$
S.F. to Venice Beach: Paradise hopping
Four days, 448 miles, $$$$
S.F. to Humboldt: Oysters, hot tubs, martinis
Three days, 330 miles, $$
S.F. to Mendocino: Wine country underground
Three days, 165 miles (bring a designated driver), $$$
S.F. to Bear Valley: Sierra camping without the masses
Three days, 182 miles, $
Originally published in the May 2013 issue of San Francisco.
Have feedback? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow us on Twitter @sanfranmag
Follow Jenna Scatena on Twitter @Jenna_Scatena