Today’s itinerary is an ambitious one. And covers just about everything Kevin and I love — foodie destinations, active volcanoes, snow-covered hiking trails. Actually, I’m okay without the snow! And of course, any itinerary with me includes a little bit of shopping (Kevin has no choice here). And yes, all the places mentioned in the post are in California. One minute you’ll find yourself on a bubbling volcano and the next trudging through piles of snow in the middle of July.
Yesterday, we covered the first leg of our long journey from Los Angeles to Lodi — California’s lesser known wine region just South of Sacramento. Today we’ll cover even more ground – that would take about 6 1/2 hours if you went non-stop. Check out the main points of interest on the map below:
Stop 1: Lodi’s Cheese Central
Before leaving Lodi, we headed downtown to check out the shops. On the top of that list was Cheese Central. We visited Lodi last year and must have made an impression. As soon as we walked inside, we were greeted by Karen who remembered us! Talk about good customer service.
After sampling about 10 different cheeses (no exaggeration!), we ended up picking out our typical go-to ones (cheddar, gouda). Though did mix it up by buying a block of Prairie Breeze from Milton Creamery…. which we later learned from Karen is basically a twist on a well-aged white cheddar. Well, at least we know what we like!
Before you leave, be sure to ask for their free “picnic set.” It includes a few napkins, a plastic knife and wax sheet to hold everything. Lodi is a much more laid-back wine region compared to Napa. After you’re done buying cheese, you can actually take it to nearby tasting rooms and pair with the wine. Now that’s our kind of wine tasting!
Stop 2: California’s Olive Capital in Corning
Originally from the East Coast, I’ve heard of Corning, NY (makers of the iconic ceramic casserole dish). But Corning, California? Truth be told, there isn’t a lot to do here. But it’s a nice place to stop and break up the trip after driving about 2 hours from Lodi. It’s branded as the “Olive City,” and you’ll find olive oil stores, factory tours and plenty of free samples. I’m sold!
We turned off the incredibly boring Highway 5 and headed straight to Lucero Olive Oil Farm. I was ready for a break from driving. The store at Lucero feels like a high-end boutique with the polished hardwood floors and metal tin canisters filled with oil lining the walls. We got our own private tour that took about 15 minutes, sampled some oils and ended up buying a jar of olives. I mean, when you’re in “Olive City” I feel like there is no other choice?
Stop 3: Shopping in Red Bluff, Like a Movie Set for Main Street America
Just 20 minutes North of Corning, you’ll hit Red Bluff, a blip of a town that feels like Hollywood’s version of Main Street America. In fact, its shopping district is on Main Street. I mean, how appropriate? Red Bluff is kind of in the middle of nowhere — and far enough from Lassen National Park that it misses out on much of the tourist traffic, according to several shop keepers we spoke with. Despite the lack of tourism, it has some notable shopping, particularly Enjoy This Store and Holbrook Stoneware.
Stop 4: Lassen National Park, Volcanoes and Snow Fields
Lassen National Park is what started the entire journey. It’s a 1 hour drive from Red Bluff over mountains and through thick forest (and little to no cell reception). A major piece of advice — fill up your tank of gas before leaving Red Bluff. You won’t find any stations along the drive to Lassen. And the nearest gas station is 45 minutes away from the ranger station. We were running on empty and wondering how far the car would actually cruise if it ran out. Yep, it was that bad!
Besides the gas situation, we also learned that several areas of the park were closed due to heavy snowfall… in July! The ranger informed us that the hiking trail called Bumpass Hell was also closed. I was so bummed – since this was the main hike I planned for us to do and passed through the largest hydrothermal area in the park. Apparently, this is pretty common so be sure to check the National Park website for updates.
But all was not lost — after stopping at the visitor center and reading about the volcanic activity in the area, we got some ideas on other places to see.
We set out through the snow to check out Sulphur Works with its thumping mud pots, boiling pools and steaming ground. Oh, and you’ll definitely smell the sulphur.
We followed the VERY windy road (without any guard rails) North through the park. There are plenty of pull-off spots along the way because trust me, you don’t want to try to snap photos as you drive here. It is straight down off the highway.
Driving is one of the best ways to see a lot in a short time. But I was pretty set on hiking even if the Bumpass Trail was closed.
Back at the ranger station, they recommended the Manzanita Lake Trail to take in some scenery in about 1 hour. Plus we were just about out of gas, and there was a station located at the nearby campground (phew, we found it!).
This is a spectacular hike – and completely shaded. The trail (mostly) hugs the lake making it difficult to get lost. Though we did somehow get off for about 10 minutes and wandered through who knows where! But you’re not too far from civilization and people. It’s one of the more popular spots in the park.
Stop 5: Burney Falls Hiking
It was starting to get late, but we were determined to fit in yet another hike. From Manzanita Lake, continue about 1 hour North until you reach Burney Falls. There is a loop trail that takes about 1 hour and goes straight down a ravine where you’ll find a wall of rocks with multiple falls. It’s easy on the way down, but will get your heart rate up for sure on the way back.
Stop 6: Mt Shasta, Dinner Time!
As we wrapped up at the falls, the sun was starting to set. And we headed out on the last leg to Mt. Shasta, located 1 hour Northwest of the Burney Falls. Mt. Shasta is another tiny town and goes to bed early. So you won’t have many options to choose from if you’re looking for dinner. Really about 3 places only! But one place you won’t want to miss is Mike & Tony’s.
It reminds me of the type of old-school Italian places I grew up going to with big booths, dark lighting where the dining room merges into a bar room. The place is the late-night hot spot in town (open to 10:30 PM on Fridays and Saturdays). Besides the atmosphere, the food was delish. And not just because we were starving after all the hiking.
Eventually we checked into our hotel — the Mount Shasta Resort. It was pitch dark as we rolled in.
It felt worlds away from LA, because it really was! Be sure to look up at the night sky to remember what a starry night looks like. And take in the fresh air.
Before you go:
- Fill up on gas before you leave Red Bluff to Mt. Lassen National Park. You’ll be sweating bullets like us, because the nearest gas station is 45 minutes away from the ranger station by Manzanita Lake campground
- Visit the Lassen National Park website before you go – to help plan your trip. Bumpass Hell is one of the best trails but often closed due to the snow. Another hydrothermal trail is Devils Kitchen. But we didn’t have time to make it to this remote trail since it was getting too late (plus we were nervous about not having enough gas since we didn’t fill up).
- Use Google Maps to take you to Burney Falls. There is a secret back entrance that has plenty of parking and normally there is a fee. Somehow we didn’t have to pay and didn’t realize this until we got halfway through the hike!