Lake Tahoe and Big Sur, California

One of the perks of living in Los Angeles is it’s relatively close proximity to A TON of beautiful state parks and outdoor destinations. So we decided that summertime meant we needed to take full advantage of California and do some serious camping. We took a three-day weekend from work and headed north to Lake Tahoe.

The Drive

From Los Angeles, the drive is around 7 hours straight through so we got off work at 6 PM, did a quick final pack of the car and drove through the night to get to the campground. And we almost made it. About an hour from Tahoe we pulled my little Toyota Camry over and slept in the suburbs. This is yet another time that having a camper van would come in handy. (Vanlife is coming soon, just you wait.) We woke up bright and early and finished out the drive to D.L. Bliss State Park.

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Getting a quick morning dip in shortly after arrival at D. L. Bliss State Park.
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The violet skies come from a filter but that view is spectacular.
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Emerald Bay is at the south end of Lake Tahoe on the California Side.
The key to doing Tahoe right is to get there early.

Get everywhere early. After 10 AM Emerald bay is packed with people and if you wanted to get a spot on the sand at D. L. Bliss you better forget about it.

If you want secluded wilderness (well as close as you’re gonna get), you want to stay at Fallen Leaf Campground. Just a 10 min drive from Emerald Bay and D. L. Bliss State Park (The BEST parts of Tahoe, if you haven’t picked up on that by now) and off the main lake giving you a bit more privacy.

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Lake Tahoe is HUGE, but it’s still possible to drive around in a few hours. Another useful tip to note is that it sits between two states: California and Nevada.  This means you will need two different state parks passes to stop in at all the beaches. We opted to pay 10$ each day to stop at whatever sites we pleased (this was only for ONE state if you crossed into Nevada you needed an additional 10$ Nevada state park pass).

Animal Spotting.

I love wildlife and any opportunity I have to feed/pet/get close to any animal I take. Lake Tahoe has an abundance of fat chipmunks that will come eat straight from your hand, blue jays jumping around your campsite, and in the summertime… bears. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see a single bear while we were in the area but there were 16 sighting! So make sure to not keep any food in your tent and to lock ALL food in the bear safe containers provided at your campsite.

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All the hikes are well-marked and if you get there bright and early you can have the trails to yourself. We chose to do the Eagle Lake loop (pictured above) and have a day relaxing by the water instead of attempting a 10-mile loop.

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The fires burning in Yosemite changed the trajectory of our trip and made camping near the park impossible.  So we crossed our fingers that the views would be clear from the newly reopened Big Sur Highway 1 and headed west to the sand.

And it was SO worth it.

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This is the second time I have driven Hwy 1 but because of the landslides, the section from Monterey through Big Sur was closed. Although the entire route is beyond stunning this is my favorite stretch by far. The highway curves around the cliffs and gives you endless vistas to view the arching bridges and crashing waves. If you can time your drive so that you are reaching the bridges by sunset or ‘golden hour’ you’ll get the most beautiful view of the sun setting over the ocean behind the bridges. 

After watching the sun start to set by the bridge we headed to the first tent campsite we could find. Bid Sur campground had 180 sites and lucky for us ONE was vacant. So unless you want to wander from campground to campground I would try to book ahead of time. This area is busy year round but especially in the summertime.

We got on the road early and were far above the morning clouds.

The GPS estimate of Route 1 from Big Sur to LA is 6 hours. I would count on it taking around 10 hours. We stopped frequently for photos, lunch, and to relax on some pretty beaches so it ended up taking us almost 12.

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Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
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The wildlife hanging out at our campground.

I’ve always been more of a beach than a mountains kind of person. Naturally drawn to the sand and surf we stumbled upon a great secluded beach just off the highway to take a quick break from our drive.

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My favorite stop along the route was at Elephant seal beach. Not quite as cute as a sea-lion but still fun to watch wrestle around and wiggle across the sand.

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If you didn’t think about city traffic like us you might be arriving in the Santa Barbara area right around rush hour…we took a break from driving and decided to wait out the traffic for a little bit.

In just three days, I felt we were able to fully experience both Lake Tahoe and Big Sur and it just goes to show you that ANYONE has the time to travel. Even if you work a 9-5 Monday through Friday job a three-day weekend is more than enough time to get out and explore some national parks near you. Camping is a dirt cheap travel option and you would likely spend more money staying at home for the weekend. And you would miss out on amazing views like these 😉  …..

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Question? Comments? Let me know here!