Planning a good ol’ American road trip? Classics like Route 66 or California’s Pacific Coast Highway are not the only way to roll. Let us broaden your horizons with a more off-beat but assuredly epic Burning Man road trip.
But isn’t Burning Man that festival? In a desert?
Yes, it is – but it’s also a central point on a fantastic, looping route that takes in the beaches of California, the desert splendour of Nevada, the turquoise lakes of Tahoe and the wine lands of Napa valley. Coming along?
Start here if you are flying in from abroad – it gives you the chance to shop for any last-minute Burning Man clogs before heading towards the desert. Known for its hippy vibe (well, you are in San Francisco), head straight to Haight Street for some early morning outfitting before grabbing a great breakfast and bottomless amounts of coffee at Pork Store Cafe. There are blueberry pancakes galore for the sweet tooths in your clan, or try the ‘Scralifornia’ scrambled eggs with avocado and feta ($10.95) if you’re a savoury fan. The Mill, just off Divisadero, boasts a more sophisticated ‘coffee and toast’ experience – but be warned, the queue might well go down the street. Work off the morning’s feast with a bike ride over the mighty Golden Gate bridge to Sausalito (8 miles) for stonking ocean views. Don’t worry if you haven’t the energy for the return pedal – just hop on the ferry from Sausalito to come back via Pier 41.
Image: The Mill
Burning Man Festival and the Nevada desert
Next stop, Black Rock City. Every year this purpose-built, radial camp in the middle of the desert gets blanketed with 60,000+ people for the Burning Man festival. The drive from SF to Burning Man HQ takes around 10 hours but the gorgeous Nevada landscape provides colourful sunsets and sunrises as compensation. Turning up in an RV makes it easier to camp and enjoy some of the most innovative art pieces in the US, alongside music, dance, talks, workshops, bars…and all this with no money involved. Usually held in late summer, see the festival website for 2016 dates. But before you go, check out our guide to planning and preparing for this, one of the most extreme festivals on the planet. Tip: if you’re in a hurry to get to Burning Man, you can fly straight into Reno and take the much shorter 3 hour drive to BRC. Either way, make a stop in Reno to stock up on food and drink somewhere like WinCo (open 24 hours, S Virginia St) before you get to the festival – the desert’s not famed for its refreshments.
Image: OwensImaging / Thinkstock
Think Lake Tahoe, think of rising conifers, the Sierra Nevada mountains and of course the heavenly calm of green-blue waters, lapping at lakeshore beaches. What better place to decompress from Burning Man? From Black Rock City, take the US-395 S back down through Reno (around 7 – 8 hours) to this prime summer camping location. After the festival, the temperatures should be around the mid-twenties, ideal for all the barbecues and paddling you can handle. Park in Zephyr Cove for a few days, and you’ll be close to Emerald Bay for myriad hiking trails and access to Eagle Falls, home to the bay’s osprey and bald eagle population.
Image: Lezaan Roos
Tahoe provides just enough rest to take on an adventure of a different kind. Napa Valley is just over 3 hours drive back towards the West Coast, and the place to sample world-acclaimed wineries, Michelin-star restaurants and enough arts and culture to stuff an antique chaise longue. Ready for a history lesson after all that time outdoors? Beringer Rhine House is the longest operating winery in the vicinity and offers atmospheric tunnel tours underneath its elegant nineteenth century building. Alternatively, go Mediterranean at Castello di Amoros, an Italian-style winery and recreated thirteenth-century Tuscan-style castle that takes you as close to Medieval times as you’re likely to get in California.
And when you’re done, you’ll be ready to cruise on back to San Francisco (around 90 minutes via the CA-29 S and I-80 W) to catch your flight home.