Guide to California Trails and Taquerias

There’s nothing more gratifying after a long hike than a plate full of tacos and a cold cerveza. Trust us, we Toads are experts. With half of HQ born and bred Californians and the rest happy transplants, we’ve got this state pretty well covered. If you find yourself in the Golden State, here’s where we recommend heading. And we know you know, but stay on trails and pack-in-pack-out. Save your reckless abandon for the taquerias.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SAN DIEGO

Torrey Pines State Park – Easy trail along the Pacific coast with a glimpse of the rarest pine tree around.

The Taco Stand – Tacos al pastor, Mexican street corn, mango chile paletas. YUM.

JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK

Willow Hole Trail – Big rocks and an oasis; great spot to see wildlife like big horn sheep.  

Algobertos Taco Shop – Hole in the wall taqueria with burritos bigger than the front door.

LOS ANGELES

Bronson Canyon – Part of LA’s Griffith Park, so hike up to the Observatory and channel James Dean.  

Ricky’s Fish Tacos – There are 3 options: fish, shrimp, and special. Get all 3.

OJAI  

Horn Canyon – Crisscross streams toward an epic pine grove with distant views of the Channel Islands.

Ojai Tortilla House – Cash only, handmade tortillas daily. Buy some to go if you know what’s good for you.

SANTA BARBARA

Rattlesnake Trail – Named for the twisty nature, not the inhabitants. Moderate to the meadow, then steep for .5 miles to the top. Good views abound.

Mony’s Tacos – Great salsa bar (hello pistachio salsa) and 5 minute walk to the beach.  

SANTA CRUZ

Old Cove Landing Trail – 3 of the 34 miles of trails in the Wilder Ranch State Park. Bonus: Wheelchair and stroller accessible!

De La Hacienda Taqueria – Carnitas are bomb, but so is the veggie burrito. Something for everyone!

BISHOP

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Trail – 4.4 miles through the oldest trees in the WORLD. Like 5,000+ years old.

Taqueria Mi Guadalajara – A sedentary taco truck with bizarro hours and delish barbacoa.

EAST BAY/OAKLAND

East Ridge Trail – In Redwood Regional Park; you can see SF on a clear day then hike down into the redwoods.

Mariscos La Costa – Cash only so you know it’s legit. Great ceviche tostada. 

SAN FRANCISCO  

Golden Gate Park – Start at 9th and Lincoln, mosey through the Botanical Garden, loop around Stow Lake.

Taco Shop at Underdogs – sports bar-slash-taqueria. $1 margaritas Fridays 6- 6:30.

 

NORTH BAY/MILL VALLEY

Dipsea Trail – 9.5 mile trail from Muir Woods to Stinson beach. Steep grades = amazing views of San Francisco Bay, Golden Gate Bridge, Mt. Tamalpais and the Pacific.

Parranga – Tacos and ceviche; get the slow-roasted rotisserie chicken plate. 

 

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE

Maggie’s Peak – Make your way to Granite Lake and keep on going. The sweeping views of Lake Tahoe are worth it.

Chimayó Tacos y Tortas – Taqueria meets BBQ meets bar. Not as “divey” but just as delicious.

 

SHASTA-TRINITY NATIONAL FOREST

Pacific Crest Trail – A portion of this epic 2,650 trail makes a great day hike to Middle Deadfall Lake; start at the Parks Creek Trailhead.

El Zaguan Food Truck – Parked in Weed, CA. Cheap street tacos with a million dollar view of Mt. Shasta.

 

Field Notes: The Temple

Japanmonk

This is the third in our series of Field Notes from our Toad Warriors – the folks who hit the road and spread the Toad&Co ethos: Live well, do good and keep good company. They’re the people we’ve met over the years who embody the Toad lifestyle and practice what they preach. Jeff and Jen live in Santa Barbara, CA and are bonafide weekend warriors. Here are their Field Notes….

2007_Sakura_of_Fukushima-e_007_rotatedKyoto is covered in sakura trees, or cherry trees. In late March the cherry trees blossom and people flock to see the pink and white flowers explode across the city. It’s a big deal in Japan. In fact, the national weather service tracks the movement of the “sakura front,” a wave that travels south-to-north every season and heralds the blooming of the sakura and the coming of Spring across Japan.

We were in Kyoto when the sakura front hit. Kyoto is the historical capital of Japan, where traditional Japanese culture coexists perfectly alongside modernity. Shrines were full of worshipers in kimonos, businessmen and women bustled in downtown intersections and tourists flooded the monkey forest. Naturally, we had to sample everything Kyoto had to offer.

We explored the city by following the cherry blossoms from temple to temple. Some were crowded with tourists and locals marveling and taking selfies with nature’s spectacle. And other temples were virtually empty. Tipped off by a local, we escaped up a hillside trail to sit in silence and bathe in the mountain light at one final temple.

For almost an hour we were the only people there – or so we thought. We strolled the grounds and were surprised to see a smiling monk and his dog sitting quietly at the dragon fountain. There wasn’t much shared language between us, save for some laughter and light in our eyes. But we didn’t need to say much to fully understand each other. It was calm and silent – a full exchange. We stayed with the monk and his companion for an hour or so, then departed just as sweetly as we’d arrived. Arigato. Sayonara. Thank you for the talks.

Field Notes: Coffee With A View

JacksonCoffee2

coffee

This is the third in our series of Field Notes from our Toad Warriors – the folks who hit the road and spread the Toad&Co ethos: Live well, do good and keep good company. They’re the people we’ve met over the years who embody the Toad lifestyle and practice what they preach. Jeff and Jen live in Santa Barbara, CA and are bonafide weekend warriors. Here are their Field Notes….

“For me, there is no other place like Jackson in the world. I haven’t found anything better. Except maybe a corner of Switzerland.” Such were the words of Stefan Grainda, the quirky, Jack-of-all-trades owner of Jackson Hole Coffee Roasters in Jackson, WY.

You can tell what kind of people run JH Coffee from the second you walk into the shop – it’s warm and inviting, smells incredible, and the slight din of a whirring machine lulls you into pure contentment. Metal tableaus of cowboy life line the walls and a mix of locals and tourists trade tips on which roads are snowed in and which runs are primo for an epic day on the slopes.

Stefan is a chatty man and more than happy to talk all things coffee with anyone who asks. He told us how he came to the U.S. eleven years ago from a long line of coffee brewers in the Czech Republic. He began his search for an American home in California, but soon decided that beach towns were too “full of laziness.” Instead, he followed his best friend to the mountains and moved his coffee business to Jackson.

Precision is key to good coffee. Stefan hand-roasts, hand-brews and custom-builds all the machines that line the shop. And he only uses the best organic coffee beans – strictly 100% organic. He’s proud of the fact that JH Coffee Roasters was the first coffee joint in town to go all-organic. He hand-roasts the beans in small batches, without a computer, the old school way: Everything by eye and smell. Everything by hand.

When Stefan isn’t brewing, he’s out playing in the Tetons. “It is wonderful. You work 3-4 hours until the snow builds up, and then you pack up and go.” He says the first time he saw Jackson, he knew it was his home. And after a simple yet perfect cup of coffee, watching the sun rise higher over the mountain range, we understood exactly what he meant.

Field Notes: The Whale Boat

This is the second in our series of Field Notes from our Toad Warriors – the folks who hit the road and spread the Toad&Co ethos: Live well, do good and keep good company. They’re the people we’ve met over the years who embody the Toad lifestyle and practice what they preach. Jeff and Jen live in Santa Barbara, CA and are bonafide weekend warriors. Here are their Field Notes….

Iceland

It was July in Reykjavik, Iceland and though the sun had been up since 4am, it was colder than Southern California in January. It was early, a crisp harbor morning, and the harbor docks were full of excited passengers in orange jumpsuits preparing for the high seas. We, like many tourists in Iceland, had succumbed to the whale watching tour brochure, beckoned with images of fierce breaching orcas and majestic humpbacks dancing. Touristy or not, it seemed like an experience we shouldn’t pass up.

An hour into the tour, we spotted a minke whale – a small, common ocean dweller. We ran to the edge in great anticipation, because where there’s minke there’s orcas. But two hours passed and only one more minke sighting. By hour three, the same two minke were still on the horizon. The captain tried to lift our spirits as he fawned over the beauty of the minke. But after hours shivering in plastic jumpsuits, the minke lost it’s luster.

Jeff and I found ourselves wishing for some rehearsed pirate stories or even an Icelandic cover of “Copacabana”. But alas, nothing save for hours left at the sea with n’er a true whale in sight. So we did what any respectable tourists would do: We authored corny whale jokes and presented our material to the crew (formally, on napkins, of course). Perhaps they were as bored as we were, but one of the crew members actually handed us a microphone.

Jeff stood tall, took center stage – errr, ship – and posed the question: “Where do whales go for a fun Friday night?”  Nothing. “The orchestra!” Crickets. But like the whale watching tour, we forged ahead. Jokes about a porpoise’s purpose, how a humpbacks’ favorite band is “The Killers”… One by one, our jokes ebbed and flowed, some getting a chuckle here and there while others utterly tanked. But when all was said and done, and we’d finally docked without a single orca sighting to boast of, Jeff and I agreed – it’d been a whale of a good time!

Field Notes: The Stranger

This is the first in our series of Field Notes from our Toad Warriors – the folks who hit the road and spread the Toad&Co ethos: Live well, do good and keep good company. They’re the people we’ve met over the years who embody the Toad lifestyle and practice what they preach. We met Jeff a few years ago when one of the Toads brought him to a photo shoot. He was good company, so we hit it off right away. Jeff and his partner Jen live in Santa Barbara, CA and are bonafide weekend warriors. Here are their Field Notes….

Silence3GrandCanyon

Sometimes it’s the vistas and the landscapes that stick with us. Sometimes it’s an unforgettable meal that stays in your mind for years. This time, it was the stranger we met at the diner counter in Arizona.

Jen and I had driven 6 hours south from Arches National Park to set up camp at Jacob Lake on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We rose early, before sunrise to tackle the 28-mile Grand Canyon loop and stopped in at the Jacob Lake Inn to fuel up. We found a seat at the counter next to another regular Joe.

We started chatting over a cup of coffee and egg casserole – we mentioned that we’d been to Bryce Canyon and were headed for The Loop that day, he said he was just passing through. We shared a bit more about where we were from and he told us how he’d been adopted from Austria by American ex-pats living in Venezuela. He explained that his father’s expertise in South American oil expeditions had led to his family’s relocation to Las Vegas. His father’s job was to drill holes deep into the earth’s core to test nuclear bombs miles under Sin City. He casually shared all of this over mediocre coffee, in the middle of nowhere, in the midst of a landscape that screamed of infinite possibility. But was it all true?

We never got the guy’s name. He left as mysteriously as he came, off to his law enforcement job in Vegas – or so he said. We finished our coffee n’ casserole and set off on our own journey, deep into a hole in the earth. As I descended further into the paths and pools of the Grand Canyon, I couldn’t stop wondering if the stranger’s story had been real. If it was, then what’s the story with those holes now? Are they still there? Do they still operate? Who’s drilling the new holes? I’ll probably never know. But if I could find the answers to my questions, would I want to?