What to do, see and eat in Carson Valley and South Lake Tahoe

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There are some trips that you dream of taking,

When I was invited to South Lake Tahoe and Carson Valley, I didn’t know what to expect in the springtime/early summer.

I’ve been to South Lake Tahoe in the fall, and had a great (and chilly) experience then. I’ve been waiting to go back ever since.

In the Houston summer, it’s about 90 degrees outside and super humid. Summer is in full-swing, and everything is so busy.

Summer obviously starts in South Lake Tahoe and Carson Valley at the same time, but they’re easy, friendly, pastoral places. There’s just a peace about them that I don’t feel like you could get anywhere else.

It’s rare that I’ve been to places that ground me back in reality and remind me that I’m a tiny human in this big, beautiful world.

The other great part of this trip was that I got to make it a girls’ trip with my best friend, Katie.

We’ve known each other since we were basically babies, but never planned a true, adult girls’ trip in our 20’s. We’re almost 30, so it was overdue.

This was a whirlwind trip to the area – everything we did was done in about 48 hours. We left home on a Friday night and left Carson Valley and South Lake Tahoe on a Sunday night.

Our visit certainly packed things in, but a quick trip can be really rewarding if you plan your time well.

There’s so much to do in South Lake Tahoe, and Carson Valley. They’re both small destinations, but I highly recommend you plan some of these things into your upcoming trip.

Getting to Carson Valley and staying in Minden, NV

When I travel out of Houston, my favorite airport is Hobby Airport. It’s easy to fly out of, and much smaller to navigate than IAH.

I also tend to travel out of Hobby more because I typically try to fly Southwest Airlines. I always love their friendly service, boarding process and being able to pick your seat on the plane (#teamwindow).

From Houston, getting to Nevada has typically resulted in a plane change at LAX, but the gate has always been nearby for me, so it’s very little hassle, and usually a pretty affordable flight.

One thing you have to know about me to understand the rest of this trip is how much I love weekend getaways.

I love to leave town late on a Friday, and come home late on a Sunday while packing in the most in between. It’s really easy to maximize your time when you have very little of it on a trip.

Day 1: Carson Valley – Minden, Nevada

One thing I love about traveling West is that my body is on Central time, so I actually end up being a very early riser.

Katie and I headed to a local coffee shop called 88 Cups and More We grabbed coffee, tea, and of course photos. We met the owner of the shop and found out that he was from our neck of the woods. It was awesome to meet someone from close to home.

88 Cups Minden NV

88 Cups has a huge selection of coffees, teas and pastries you can sit and enjoy, or grab to go. We grabbed our coffee to go, but we hung out for a little while among the artwork and portraiture. It was a really neat way to start our morning.

Meeting Dwayne Hicks: The Horse Legend

Dwayne Hicks

I didn’t know what to expect when I found out that Katie and I were going on a wild horse Jeep tour as an initial way to get to know the area. I’m totally averse to nature, and the thrill-seeking of driving through the wilderness in a Jeep.

Enter Dwayne, a super cool, veteran who has always been fascinated by the beauty of nature. Dwayne grew up around Carson Valley, and when the chance arose, he came back to his childhood home to spend his retirement as a nature photographer.

Dwayne really immersed us in the stories of the horses (like there’s drama, and territories, and lots of history about the bands). His respect for the animals and the terrain were something that I really appreciated.

Living in Houston, there’s not a lot of nature to enjoy, so when you come to a place like Carson Valley, you see how much the people care for and respect the history of this place.

Wild Horse Tour Minden

Dwayne also took us around Minden and Gardenerville in Carson Valley to see the Dangberg Home Ranch, which has some interesting history and great mountain views.

And, as a cool send-off, we got to see the dragon of Carson Valley. Which was totally appropriate because Game of Thrones had just ended and I already missed it.

Carson Valley Dragon

This was honestly one of my favorite parts of our entire trip, and I highly recommend touring a city first to get to know it.

Off to lunch at Minden Meat and Deli

Carson Valley has some quaint restaurants, and of course as a foodie, I was really excited for the food options.

Minden Meat and Deli was a great stop. With salads, sandwiches and 31 beers on tap, it’s got lots of choices, especially if you’re heading in with people with different appetites.

Kim from Visit Carson Valley met us there, and we had a great chat about what it’s like to grow up in Carson Valley as she did. It really taught us about the tight-knit community and the value of a more intimate place to live.

I had the tri tip salad and a Firestone Walker Rosale (one of the best Rose-beers I’ve ever had, like ever). Katie had the tri tip sandwich, and it looked really good!

A tour of the Bently Heritage Distillery

Who doesn’t want to enjoy some spirits after lunch? I happen to love food, brewery and distillery tours, so I knew we would be in for a treat when we visited the Bently Heritage Distillery.

Like the original distilleries of the old world, Bently uses only grains grown right on their ranch in Carson Valley – in fact, 80% are grown onsite making it one of only five estate distilleries in the United States using this process.

Bently Ranch sustainably grows and harvests the winter rye, wheat and barley which is used to malt in-house on their own malting floor. The distillery’s home is the more than 100-year-old Minden flour mill which sits proudly on the National Register of Historic Places.

Once the largest operating mill in the area, today it’s restored to modern LEED certified standards. The goal is not only to set a new standard for sustainable production in the state of Nevada, but also in the world. 

Bently Heritage Distillery Carson Valley

There’s a great tasting room and bar on site, so you don’t have to just stop in for a tour. Bently has a seriously stacked, and original menu of cocktails using the product, and it’s one of the best ways to try it out.

This place is impressive, extremely high tech and has some of the best gin I’ve ever had.

I wanted to share a special thanks to our tour guide, Lucas. I really appreciated how he answered our questions so that we could understand more about the process, and shared some great history about the distillery.

Off to the Carson Valley Hot Springs at David Walley’s Resort

Something I haven’t mentioned yet is the weather. In Carson Valley it was around 50 degrees (to compare, Houston was about 90 degrees on the same day). On average, Carson Valley is usually a crisp 60 degrees around this time of year (although you might see snow on the mountains until after July at some points) , so we caught some cool weather.

David Walley's Spa Minden Nevada

We were a little bit scared of what it might be like at the hot springs because the overall temperature being so cold made us feel like it might be a little too cold getting out.

The hot springs are an interesting experience. The pools are essentially heated by the earth, so the warm water is completely natural which is pretty satisfying. One good thing to know is that there’s a bit of a sulfuric odor — so be prepared for that. The views are absolutely gorgeous. You’re surrounded by mountains and it’s really nice to just sit back and look around. It’s a really relaxing experience.

Carson Valley Hot Springs

The spa at David Walley’s is really nice, and it’s also kid friendly in case you want to bring the kiddos along. It’s also equipped with showers and steam rooms, and your pass there is solid for the entire day.

Dinner at Overland Restaurant & Pub

You must be thinking there isn’t anything more we could have possibly done, but I told you, I’m always trying to make the most of my vacation times!

Carson Valley - Overland Pub

The last thing Katie and I did in Carson Valley was have dinner at Overland Restaurant. Overland is a historic pub with lots of great beer and bites. I got an order of cheese curds and a really great hefeweizen to go along with it. It was the perfect bite before heading into the mountains of South Lake Tahoe.

Day 2: Into the Sierra Nevada Mountains, South Lake Tahoe

After a full day of activities, Katie and I took a 45 minute drive up Kingsbury Grade into the mountains to get to Lake Tahoe. There’s something really beautiful about watching the twinkly lights of one city disappear behind you as you ascend into the mountains.

The other really awesome thing is when the weather drops 20 degrees and you feel it in the car. As we climbed, we started to see little snow flurries, and we both knew we didn’t bring enough jackets for this trip!

We arrived at night, so there wasn’t much to see, but we did have a great experience checking in to our hotel, Harvey’s Lake Tahoe.

Harveys sits on the border of Nevada and California, so it’s really cool to feel like you’re in two places at once!

The room we stayed in was incredible. It had enough space for both of us to lounge out, and really nice views of the trees!

One of the really amazing things that happened was that when we woke up in the morning around sunrise, we noticed that it was REALLY snowing. Katie had never seen real snow, so it was so fun to see her get excited about how pretty it was.

There’s also a great restaurant on site, but we were a little lazy from the day before and opted for room service, which was a great choice.

What to see in South Lake Tahoe

Since we only had a few hours before we needed to be back at the Reno airport, we decided to do two things: see nature and eat.

Cave Rock State Park

We headed over to Cave Rock State Park, which is a beautiful area overlooking the lake, mountain and trees. For $2, you can stop for a few minutes and take some photos for $10, you can stay much longer. We of course didn’t hesitate to have a mini photoshoot.

It was a really quiet day out too, so we found a bench to sit on and meditate for a little while. The sound of the water and the breeze was so calming. Sometimes you don’t realize how much your brain needs to slow down.

Lunch at Edgewood

Edgewood South Lake Tahoe

I mentioned Edgewood in my last blog about South Lake Tahoe. This time, Katie and I went to the Bistro at Edgewood for lunch and cocktails. As with most places in South Lake Tahoe, the views are everything. We managed to snag a table near the window so we could soak in more of the beauty.

We had a fabulous lunch, too! I love sharing food, so we both chose what we wanted and shared (like true besties). We split a veggie flatbread and lobster roll.

After our perfect meal and views we headed to the Reno airport. After some delays in Reno and LAX, we made it back home to Houston at 3:00 a.m.! What a ride.

So, why make the trip to South Lake Tahoe and Carson Valley?

Carson Valley and South Lake Tahoe are two places with a lot of goodness.

The natural beauty is breathtaking, the people are so kind, and there is a lot to do whether you’re aiming for a girls’ trip, family vacation, or romantic getaway.

Both of these places will remain memorable vacation spots for me, and I hope you follow this guide on your trip there!

Let me know in the comments what else you would like to see and do!

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