One day in between Oakland and Reno
March 28, 2022 2:24 PM   Subscribe

Driving from Oakland to Reno in mid May, what should I do, what should I know?

Hey everyone! I'm going to be in Berkeley for a family thing in mid May, then picking up a rental car and driving to meet my partner in Reno for a trip down the eastern Sierra.

I'll most likely spend the morning in San Francisco and then pick up a rental car at the Oakland Airport at around 1pm. From there, I'm pretty flexible with what time I can get in to Reno as long as I get to the airport by 10:30pm, but I'm assuming I want to be doing any windy mountain driving during the daylight. So I have maybe 7.5 hours for the trip.

I've never been to this part of California.

What should I do en-route? Will be looking for interesting sites, quick delicious food, maybe a short hike (I'm pretty into hiking... if there is a great short-but-intense hike that is seasonally appropriate I'll probably be into it).

What route would be best? Looks like it's fastest to go through on i-80 but would it be worth going through Placerville south of Lake Tahoe? Or maybe Donner Pass?

Anything else I should keep in mind? Thanks!
posted by geegollygosh to Travel & Transportation around Los Angeles, CA (6 answers total)
I-80 is definitely the direct route, anything else would be a pretty big detour.

Truckee is a cute touristy mountain town with lots of shops and restaurants along the main street. Donner Pass is just west of it - if you want to see it, get off 80 at the Soda Springs exit and you can take that road all the way to Truckee, going past a couple of ski resorts along the way. Gorgeous scenery but definitely trickier driving than just staying on the interstate.

One thing that I think is cool on this route is how abruptly the environment changes when you cross into Nevada and go down the eastern side of the Sierras into Reno. The mountains block all the moisture coming from the west so you go from verdant alpine forest to high desert in a few minutes. It's really something.
posted by theodolite at 3:06 PM on March 28 [2 favorites]

A detour to Tahoe for a quick hike or a walk around some of the lake would be my choice. (There's lots of cool stuff along the Sacramento river and connected waterways, but it's hard to explore in a hurry.) Cheers!
posted by eotvos at 3:22 PM on March 28 [2 favorites]

Auburn and Grass Valley are cute little towns with Gold Rush history. Auburn is conveniently on I-80, Grass Valley is a bit off the beaten track, with a scenic twisty mountain road to get back to the freeway. Truckee has lots of hikes, and an acceptable brewery.
posted by phliar at 4:48 PM on March 28 [1 favorite]

N-thing the "Placeville is a bit out of your way". Gold country is cool and all, but not "I have 3 extra hours".

My suggestion: Drive up 80 'til you get into the Sierra proper, park the car, spend your 3 hours wandering around the granite , get back in the car, drive to Tahoe.

Somewhere like the Loch Leven Lakes trailhead. May is a bit early for this, the trail proper will likely be snowed in, I've only done it in October, and many years ago, but you can still see some fantastic granite expanses, some cool rocks, and even if you don't get all the way to the lakes you'll probably see some Aspen groves and other natural beauty.

Dinner at Rainbow Lodge should be super tasty. It's been that way the times I've been there, though that's always be after a long hike.

Be careful, I don't wanna send you off to be the dude that search-and-rescue didn't find, and you are gonna be at altitude fairly quickly, but if you're conservative in how far you go I think there's generally enough hikers in that area that you won't be entirely alone.
posted by straw at 4:52 PM on March 28 [1 favorite]

If you'll be taking 80, a 20-minute detour onto 267 (in Truckee) will get you to the Stateline Fire Lookout hike in Kings Beach. It's a short but popular hike with amazing views of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding mountains.
posted by zombiedance at 5:09 PM on March 28 [3 favorites]

I live in Grass Valley, which is sort of on the way. The drive to Reno will take you about 4 hours without traffic. If you leave Oakland at 1pm on a weekday you shouldn't have any traffic. I'd try to get clear of Fairfield by about 3:30pm (should be no problem on your schedule). I-80 to Reno is a big easy to drive interstate. I don't like driving at night but wouldn't have any concern about driving I-80 in the dark. No matter how you do this you'll arrive in Reno well before 10:30pm if you don't want to drive at night. Easy to kill an hour or two in Reno just poking around downtown, seeing the remnants of the old casino stuff and the funky motel neon signs on the main drags.

Grass Valley is nice! It adds about a 30 minute detour on the trip; you go north on Highway 49 to Grass Valley and then east on Highway 20 back to I-80. It's a pleasant nice smaller road detour. (It's not very windy, but 20 can be a little spooky at night). Grass Valley has two cute gold rush towns with little downtowns. Also some good but not super exciting food. I'd recommend Three Forks for a beer and a wood fired pizza or other fresh light meal. The Empire State Mine is a nice visit if you want an hour or two.

If you're really ambitious and it's late June or later you could plan a swim in the South Yuba River. This will add at least 2 hours to your day, between driving and hiking and swimming. Here's a guide to swimming holes. Bridgeport is easiest, Hoyt Crossing is my favorite (note there's a low-key skinny dipping section there.)

Sacramento itself is kind of nice. Old Town is the classic touristy area. The State Capitol is a pleasant visit. Truckee is also a reasonable stop although you're pretty close to Reno by then. Donner Lake is an interesting state park with lots of hiking. Both Auburn and Colfax are good for a quick visit and to find something good to eat.

I wouldn't recommend 50. It's an interesting drive and the lake is beautiful, but it'll add a full hour to the drive (at least) and it's more demanding. If you do do that, Placerbille is interesting and South Lake Tahoe has lots of tourist amenities. Leave a little time to stop and enjoy the views of the lake from 50.

If you like buying fresh produce, Ikeda's in Auburn is great. So is Pedrick Produce between Dixon and Davis. Both are overgrown farmer's stands that are more like produce-oriented specialty food stores now. Ikeda's has good pies and in July/August, amazing peaches.
posted by Nelson at 6:07 PM on March 28 [5 favorites]

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