Thinking of making a pit stop on the road to Lake Tahoe?
There are a number of small towns scattered around the Sierra Nevada mountains and the Virginia Range that are worth checking out.
Nevada City, California: Farm-to-Table Food, Brewpubs + Street Fairs
This small but bustling town in Nevada City (about 30 minutes from Truckee on Highway 20) is booming with local and regional farm-to-table dining, holiday parades and street fairs, breweries and pubs, and fresh fall fruit including the juicy Mountain Mandarin. Check into the National Exchange Hotel(211 Broad St.), and 1856 Victorian landmark with a sultry, history-tinged bar, then check out the fresh seafood at Lefty's Grill(101 Broad St.) on Deer Creek and the patio dining at Tofanelli's(302 W Main St. #6510) in Grass Valley.
Apple Hill, California: Plentiful Produce + Photo Ops
There's a reason that the Apple Hill area in the Sierra Foothills (about 50 miles west of Lake Tahoe) is a traffic nightmare in the fall. The farms and ranches between Pollock Pines and Placerville offer a plethora of fall bounty: pumpkins, chestnuts, pears, berries, grapes, and of course, apples. All of Sacramento and Reno seem to show up to this small area on beautiful fall weekends to load up for the winter. There's now a shuttle bus to the various farms and you can drop off your car at the two shuttle stops: one at the corner of the Schnell School Exit 48 and Carson Road, and the other near the Cedar Grove Exit 54 and Eight Mile Road. When you visit, make sure to pick up a delectable apple cider donuts at Rainbow Orchards(2569 Larsen Dr.).
Genoa, Nevada: Western Stores + The State's Oldest Bar
This cute town at the foot of the Tahoe Range is not pronounced like its Italian counterpart: It's Juh-NO-ah, not JEN-o-wah. Get there from Lake Tahoe on Kingsbury Grade or from Highway 395 South. The tiny hamlet has a lot to entertain visitors including western antique stores, the Mormon Station historic monument, and David Walley's Hot Springs Resort(2001 Foothill Rd.). In the evening, hang with the locals at Nevada's oldest thirst parlor, the Genoa Bar(2282 Main St.).
Virginia City, Nevada: The Real Wild West
This historical Wild West town in the mountains above Reno is known for its annual camel and ostrich races, haunted places, and a spooky cemetery, making it popular at Halloween. Come Christmastime, look for sleigh rides, Santa sightings, and the Grinch Made Me Do It Saloon Crawl. Plus, take a tour of the underground gold and silver Chollar Mine(615 F St.), which was first staked in 1859 and may or may not be home to some paranormal activity. Just past Virginia City, visit the bar and restaurant at the Gold Hill Hotel and Saloon(1540 S. Main St.).
Markleeville, California: Fishing, Hot Springs + Harleys
Located about 30 minutes south of South Lake Tahoe, the tiny town of Markleeville is becoming a popular stop for Harley riders, fishing enthusiasts, hot spring seekers, and hikers. This beautiful area has some artsy cabins and shops, a few restaurants including the Cutthroat Saloon(14830 CA-89), and a campground at Grover Hot Springs State Park which has views of the surrounding mountain peaks. (Note: The state park is currently closed due to damage from the Tamarack fire. Check for updates at NPS.) For a comfy stay, check into Wylder Hope Valley, a glamping site with its own cafe and general store about 15 minutes away.