Buenos Aires, by Noelia Diaco. Photo is not visible, used only for sharing on social networks.

Happy birthday Ben!

March 24, 2015
Happy birthday!
I'm someone who loves birthdays. I especially love my own birthday, but I also get pretty excited about Ben's, especially as it presents a perfect excuse to plan a weekend away (see Point Arena Lighthouse, 2013). Ben's birthday falls during the best part of ski season, so where better to spend his birthday than Tahoe?

Our typical Tahoe weekend involves waking up at 5 a.m., driving four hours, skiing, driving an hour, relaxing in the hot tub, eating dinner, collapsing at 9 p.m. in our cheap motel room, eating quick bread at Starbucks, driving an hour, skiing, then driving four hours home. As you can tell, it's exhausting and not particularly luxurious.

Ben's birthday weekend started out differently. He left work early and we drove up to Gold Country for an Iberian-themed tapas dinner at Runquist winery. The winery is located in the Sierra Nevada foothills in Amador County, one of California's newer wine-making regions. They almost exclusively make red wines, with some unusual varietals and a focus on balanced, not-too-tannic wine (we discovered them on my birthday trip and are members of their wine club). We hadn't attended a wine club event before, but after this one, we'll definitely be going back for more. We sat by a fire, eating delicious food and drinking unlimited amounts of excellent wine while the winemaker fed the fire with old oak barrels and cooked up "dirty steak." I even got a dozen strangers to sing "happy birthday" to Ben.

We stayed at a bed and breakfast in Sutter Creek, where the innkeeper implied that we were a bit younger than their standard clientele (we were also by far the youngest attendees at dinner). The next morning, we wandered around the towns of Sutter Creek and Amador City before continuing to Tahoe.

Objectively speaking, this ski season has been a bust —we've had fun, but 159 inches is pathetic for resorts that average more than 500 inches. Less than thrilled about the skiing conditions, we decided to hike instead. A lot of roads close in the winter so it took us a while to find an accessible trail. We finally settled on a 6.5-mile hike to Dardanelles Lake, which worked out perfectly — it was a good length, a good level of strenuousness and terminated at a beautiful alpine lake (see photos at end of post). We realized we hadn't done any real hiking in months and definitely want to come back to Tahoe to hike this summer.

Instead of staying at our standard motel, I booked a room at 968 Park Hotel, which bills itself as a "pinnacle of sustainability, style and comfort." We knew it could be our last weekend in Tahoe for the winter so we chose our restaurants carefully. The first night we ate at our favorite Basecamp Pizza and for Ben's birthday we tried a new brewpub, Cold Water Brewery and Grill. Our beer flight lineup: Water House Wheat, Mr. Toad's Wild Rye, Ninkasi Oatis Stout, Heretic's Evil Twin Amber, Le Freak Belgian IPA and Ellie's Brown Ale.

For our final day, we planned to finally hit the slopes at Heavenly, but they shut down the mountain due to 30mph gusts. We drove up to Northstar, where the snow wasn't great, but we found a few good runs to potentially cap off the season. Fingers crossed we'll get one more storm.

Birthday selfie
dardanelles lake tahoe
Granite cliffs above Dardanelles Lake

Must climb rock
Big Meadow
bridge hiking lake tahoe
Almost back to the trailhead
Don't fall
Dwarfed by the trees

We're scheming how to get our hands on a wine barrel.
dirty steak
"Dirty steak" at Runquist winery

- Steph

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