How To Conquer California’s Epic Outdoors, According To Pro Snowboarders
Summer Fenton and Jenise Spiteri are the tour guides you need in your life.
There’s no destination in the world for outdoor enthusiasts quite like California. First, there’s over 800 miles of coast line, dotted with rocky cliffs, redwoods and palm trees, and world-famous beaches. Then, there’s the chance to hit the slopes in the Sierra Nevada mountains, scale Yosemite’s Half Dome, swim in freshwater lakes, camp in a desert under the stars, and chill in volcanic hot springs. And no one appreciates the ability to snowboard, surf, hike, and eat tacos all in a one-day road trip like pro snowboarders and best friends Summer Fenton and Jenise Spiteri.
Competitive snowboarding has taken these two all over the globe, including to Japan, Chile, New Zealand, Canada, Spain, and Switzerland. However, Fenton and Spiteri, who both hail from the Bay Area, say the West Coast is most certainly the best coast. They duo recently got to live out that Cali love on a road trip in the brand new 2021 MINI Countryman, in which they spent the morning shredding in Boreal Mountain and the afternoon surfing in Stinson Beach — all in one day.
“[California] has literally every type of terrain you can imagine,” says Fenton, 26.
“When I settle down for my life, it will 100 percent be in California,” adds Spiteri, 28. “I don't know anything that you can't do in California.”
With the state’s more than 163,000 miles to take in, let Fenton and Spiteri act as your very cool, very chill California travel guides. From where to apres ski post hitting the slopes at Mammoth Mountain to the best surfing spots, the only thing you’ll regret about following their advice is that you can’t road trip along with them. And don’t worry, not all their recommendations will require you to break a sweat: “Summer is an athlete who eats pies and fries,” Spiteri says.
First, hit the powder (and the après-ski)
The friends first met in 2011 during a snowboarding competition, and together, they’ve hit just about every slope in California. Fenton started snowboarding when she was four years old and Spiteri went to ski school before she was even three. As true BFFs, they agree Mammoth is their go-to boarding spot, which is a mountain fit for all experience levels. “It's funny because people always ask me, ‘You snowboard all over the world. What's your favorite place?’ I know they want an exotic answer, but Mammoth is usually my answer,” Spiteri says. There’s also a chill nightlife and restaurant scene. (Plus The Rock Tub, a volcanic hot spring, is just a 25-minute drive away.) The duo’s go-to food spots nearby include breakfast and coffee at Stellar Brew and the perfect post-ski and snowboard burritos from Robertos. “The burritos are literally the size of a baby,” Spiteri says.
Beyond NorCal, there’s also powder just two hours south of Los Angeles at Big Bear Mountain, which Spiteri visited frequently when she lived in LA. If you head that way, she recommends a stop at Tropicali for poke bowls post-slope sesh, which is worthy of a road trip in itself. The staff and vibrant island-themed decor will transport you and your snow pants to somewhere in Hawaii. According to Fenton and Spiteri, if the staff is into you, they’ll apparently set a (safe) hibachi-style fire behind the counter for you. (Obviously, the girls made the cut.)
Explore epic mountain towns
Since they both grew up riding in Lake Tahoe, Fenton and Spiteri know that area of California intimately. The famed outdoor getaway, located three hours northwest of San Francisco, is known for its ski resorts as well as the largest freshwater lake in the state, which boasts an unreal crystal-blue color. (Your pics will look so good, don’t be surprised if you get accused of using a filter.) “I feel like Tahoe is the most beautiful mountain town I've ever lived in,” says Spiteri, who went to college in the area. “You have lakes, you have the mountains, but it has a small-town vibe,” Fenton adds.
Snowboarding there is, of course, a one-of-a-kind adventure, as demonstrated during the duo’s most recent powder sesh with MINI in Boreal Mountain, a 30-minute drive from Tahoe. The spring, summer, and fall also offer unparalleled watersport opportunities. Kings Beach, located on the north shore of the lake, boasts easy access for swimming, kayaking, and paddleboarding. Just 20 minutes north of Kings Beach, add a food and art gallery walking tour of downtown Truckee to your itinerary, a charming town that began as a railroad community in the 1860s. And because there’s always more Mexican to be had with these two, another Truckee favorite is breakfast burritos from the beloved Indian-Mexican fusion food truck, Red Truck.
Then, grab a different board
Raised by a surfer dad, Fenton grew up a block away from Ocean Beach in San Francisco. Now, the pro snowboarder, avid surfer, model, and skater loves owning a giant wave just as much as nonchalantly coasting down a mountain. Same goes for Spiteri; when she’s not representing Malta (her parents are natives) in half-pipe competitions and training for the 2022 Winter Olympics, she thrives being out on the water and getting outside. As far as where to surf, Fenton is partial to Ocean Beach, of course, but recommends Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz, where the currents tend to be more friendly, and San Onofre State Beach in San Clemente.
Spiteri is all for San Clemente as well, citing Cottons Point as her go-to surf spot. Her other rec is 17th Street in Huntington Beach — a nice spot to get out on the water because it’s away from the main pier and less busy. (When you have a nickname like “Surf City, USA,” it’s bound to get a little crowded.) Stinson Beach, where the duo most recently paddled out together, is another go-to in the Bay Area. Plus, the drive through Muir Woods to get to the beach is one for the books on its own.
Hike it out
You don’t need a board to make the most of the Golden State, though. As the two friends know firsthand, Lake Tahoe is one of those California towns that has something for everyone, including cool hikes. For Fenton, trekking down the abandoned train tracks off of old Highway 40 on Donner Pass is a must-do. When it comes to redwoods and coastal views, they recommend Muir Woods National Monument, which offers both. Muir Beach Overlook has expansive views of the Pacific and is photo-op heaven. In fact, this entire area is located within Golden Gate National Recreation Area, full of hiking adventures to choose from. Make sure to check out the short hike to Point Bonita Lighthouse in Marin, which offers sweet views of the city and Golden Gate Bridge, they said.
Embark on a road trip
The duo’s favorite way to explore is hitting the open road. Besides her most recent Tahoe-to-the coast trip with MINI (which took about 3.5 hours), one of Spiteri’s favorite road trips is a three-day ride on Highway 1 from San Francisco to Fort Bragg. She recommends taking it slow to properly sightsee. “We did maybe 80 miles a day because we'd drive for 20 minutes and be like, ‘Oh, look at that view.’ And we'd just pull over on the side of the road and take pictures of every single thing that looked cool,” she says. Fenton enjoys heading south on Highway 1 from SF to Santa Barbara. “There's a mini skate half pipe in Half Moon Bay, so we'll stop there, skate and then we usually stop in Santa Cruz and go surf there,” she says. “We keep driving through and camp and surf in Big Sur for a couple of days.”
Both friends agree on three important road trip rules: on the way to Mammoth, pull over at the Lemon House on Highway 395 for a quirky photo shoot (fake dinos are involved). From SF to Tahoe, stop at Ikedas for a pie. And all buffets must be considered as viable meal options: “We actually used to go surfing and then we'd go to these all-you-can-eat buffets,” Fenton says. Spiteri adds: “I say one of the important parts of our friendship is buffets.”
Don’t forget to pack the essentials
If you didn’t already figure it out by now, the possibility of playing in fresh powder and hitting the beach in a single trip is likely in California. Since visitors may encounter drastic changes in both temperature and precipitation, packing layers is key to remaining comfortable during an outdoor adventure in the state. Fenton and Spiteri are adamant: don’t always assume it’s going to be warm. “San Francisco weather is kind of foggy and cold, but then if you go to LA, it's so much hotter,” Fenton says. “If you just have extra layers or don't just bring LA clothes with you, that's probably always a good move.”
Even during the summer, California has low to zero humidity, so there can be chill in the air at night (even in LA). Light jackets and sweatshirts are essential — as are sunscreen and a good water bottle. Whether you’re surfing, chilling on the beach, hiking, or hitting the slopes, keeping the sun at bay and paying attention to your hydration levels at high altitude is critical. Pro athlete tip from these two: stash electrolyte powders and post-workout snacks in your beach or slope pack for easy refueling.
Get ready to make some friends along the way
The snowboarding pals have traveled the world together for competitions since they met a decade ago, but they also love doing what brought them together in the first place: going on adventures at home. “The first time we hung out outside of snowboarding, I think we went skateboarding in San Francisco or went surfing, and that was when I was like, ‘Oh my God, wait. I think we're real life friends now. We're not just snowboarding friends,”” Spiteri recalls. Whether it’s a road trip down Highway 1, a mountain getaway in Mammoth, or a beach weekend in SoCal, California’s outdoors can be best enjoyed with someone who’s up for a constant adventure. “Everything's just better with friends,” Fenton says.