You’ve made it this far into the desert for Burning Man and the question now is what to do post-festival. It’s time to ditch the tutus and hula hoops and decompress with a 10-day road trip from Black Rock Desert to San Francisco, where you’ll catch your flight back home. The beginning of September is the perfect time to enjoy the stunning lakes and vineyards of Northern California, a necessary remedy after the week-long party in the Playa.
First stop: Black Rock Desert, Nevada (1-2 days)
When the ephemeral town of Black Rock City disappears, there’s the usual exodus of festival-goers so avoid the crowds and stay back a day or two to explore the rest of the desert – yes, there is more to it than Burning Man.
Black Rock Desert was part of the notoriously dangerous Applegate Trail in the mid-19th-century. Rent a four-wheel drive, make like a frontier explorer yourself and check out Fly Canyon and High Rock Lake, distinctive for its potholes. Then unwind at Soldier Meadows Ranch, where you can also take a dip in the nearby hot springs.
Just remember to have a full tank of gas, pack a spare tire and extra food and water. This is one of the harshest terrains in the United States and it helps to be prepared.
Second stop: Lake Tahoe, Nevada/California (3 days)
Arrive just after the Labour Day crowds have vacated and you’ll enjoy more of the lake to yourself. Lake Tahoe is huge – it takes about an hour to drive from North Lake Tahoe to South Lake Tahoe so three days here is ideal.
Park your car near Zephyr Cove and you’ll be close to Emerald Bay with its hiking trails that soar over the lake. First, stop at D.L. Bliss Beach, the starting point of the Rubicon Trail, where there have been bald eagle sightings. Here, you can rent a kayak or SUP or simply take a dip in the water. Check out the gravity-defying Balancing Rock near D.L Bliss Beach then head to Calawee Cove, a wonderful swimming spot.
Now you’re ready to commence the hike up Rubicon Trail. Bear in the mind the high elevation, though, especially coming from extremely flat land. Pack lots of water and it’s a good idea to keep the whiskey flask in the car.
Third Stop: Napa Valley, California (3 days)
You’ve arrived in Napa Valley just in time for the September harvest season and the next three days will be a blissful wine stupor. Make sure you have enough money on you as wineries charge an entry fee which can add up when visiting multiple wineries and especially when combined with Michelin-starred dinners.
Buehler Vineyards is a rustic, family-owned estate covered in creeping vines and overlooking St. Helena. Here, they’ve been making Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel for four decades and tours are given by members of the family.
By contrast, Domaine Carneros, is an ornate French-style château complete with manicured hedges and multi-tiered steps leading up to sprawling patios. Sample a few sparkling wines here then move on. For something historical, Beringer Rhine House, which was founded in 1875, is one of Napa’s oldest vineyards. The stone house remains almost unchanged since the late 19th-century with hand-dug caves storing wine.
If time permits, consider an oyster tour in Marin County, on the way down to San Francisco. Marshall and Inverness in Marin County is dotted with restaurants serving fresh oysters straight from the Pacific Ocean and September is the most atmospheric time to sit outdoors and eat oysters and drink wine. Stop by Hog Island Oyster Co., The Marshall Store and Saltwater Oyster Depot, which is also near Point Reyes Lighthouse.
Last stop: San Francisco, California (2-3 days)
It’s been a wonderful week getting re-acquainted with nature and now it’s time for a city break. San Francisco welcomes you with its craft breweries, pastries and art. Dogpatch is a wonderful neighbourhood for an introduction to the city’s craft brewing scene. You can’t go wrong with ribs and beer at Magnolia Brewing, and over at Harmonic Brewing, enjoy a golden ale or rye beer in a setting that’s quintessential NorCal warehouse.
Start another day with pastries at Vive la tarte in the Mission District, then have coffee number two at Sightglass Coffee. Pick a window seat and get cosy with your coffee and newspaper. The mammoth, multi-panelled windows are great for people watching and some interesting characters will definitely walk by. Mission District is also home to Clarion Alley, which boasts impressive murals and street art. End the day at Trick Dog, next to Sightglass Coffee. This warehouse bar has some of the best cocktails in the neighbourhood.
If you still can’t get enough of the great outdoors, a visit to Muir Woods is imperative. Though a tourist favourite, the sky-high redwoods impress every time. For a more local hike, Fort Funston’s dramatic brownish bluffs which lead down to sandy beaches will get the heart pumping. Go on a weekday and you might get the trail to yourself, making it an introspective end to the road trip.