The Best Vacation I Ever Went On Was In The Most Unexpected Place

by Alexa Mellardo

I recently went on a trip to Lake Tahoe and Reno, Nevada, and it was one of the most underrated Instagram havens I’ve ever visited. If you’re in your 20s just trying to live your #bestlife, Reno Tahoe needs to be on your radar. From the open air and outdoor activities by the lake, to the awe-inspiring art and foodie scene, your Insta game will be lit, to say the least. The most adventurous things to do in Reno Tahoe will make it the biggest little escape for your next girls' trip. (You can thank me later.)

I never envisioned falling for this slice of paradise, saturated in the sweetest shade of Nevada sunshine, but I did. Prior to jetting off into the clouds, the Sierra Nevada mountains popped into my mind, and thoughts of how intense the heat would be in Reno. I also scrolled through endless Instagram photos of bloggers paddle-boarding in Lake Tahoe. What I didn't expect was that a sweater and jeans would have worked wonders in the early hours in Reno. (It was literally 49 degrees in the beginning of September one morning and my espadrille sandals were just not cutting it.) I also didn't expect such a hip bar scene that reminded me of some of my favorite spots in NYC. (My traveling companions and I came to the conclusion that the bars gave off major Brooklyn vibes.)

And as for seeing Lake Tahoe up close and personal, my jaw literally dropped. The pictures don't even come close to doing this place justice. I had never seen water that clear and turquoise before in my entire life. I won't give everything away quite yet, but there were many beautifully unexpected surprises that came my way when I touched down in Reno Tahoe. When I boarded the airplane, I was just a girl in her Lululemons with a whole lot of unexpected adventure ahead of her — and that was the best part.

Reno Tahoe ruined me in the most wonderful way possible, and every trip I go on in the future has a lot to live up to. These are just some of the incredible things I experienced in my jam-packed itinerary while visiting this colorful oasis. Warning: You'll be catching a flight (and feels) with your girlfriends after you're done reading.

This Hot Air Balloon Ride Brought My Wanderlust To New Heights
Alexa Mellardo

I realized I hadn't been living life in color until I experienced the Great Reno Balloon Race (GRBR) up close and personal. It's the biggest free hot air balloon festival in the entire world, where locals and travelers alike head to the grounds to claim the perfect patch of desert far before dawn to witness an unreal sight.

This dreamy tradition took my wanderlust up, up, and away to cloud nine — and I was lucky enough to score a golden ticket into the sky with one of the pilots (a ride I never imagined taking in a lifetime).

I swooned as I watched 80 massive balloons come to life around me, and then it was our turn to take off. We floated across the Reno sky, and soared high above the mountaintops as the people down below turned into tiny specs.

The #Views At The Top Of Monkey Rock Were Perfection
Alexa Mellardo

Naturally, I had Fat Joe's "All The Way Up" stuck in my head when I hiked from Tunnel Creek Café *all the way up* to Monkey Rock, via the Flume Trail. (The rock's shape resembles a monkey.)

The hike itself, which is around two miles, went by super fast. I highly suggest wearing a good pair of sneakers or hiking boots for the trek. The majority of the hike is perfect for beginners, but after about 10 minutes, you'll reach a steep incline that's the final stretch up to Monkey Rock. If you're a beginner, you'll likely want to take this part slow. Don't rush it, and pay attention to your footing. Once you reach the top, the #views will be worth all of the hard work, sweat, and happy tears.

It's safe to say, my paradise was found at the top of Monkey Rock. I wanted to set up a sleeping bag and stay forever for endless sunrises and nights spent underneath the starry sky. But alas, a girl can dream.

Parasailing Over Lake Tahoe Was The *Reel* Deal
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Keepin' it reel at the lake, am I right? Parasailing over Tahoe was one of the raddest things I've ever experienced, and I highly recommend doing it at least once in your life.

When the Action Watersports team got the parasail prepped to fly on the back of the boat, I was hooked (quite literally), and surprisingly wasn't nervous at all. I felt like I was peacefully floating on top of the world; it's so serene and quiet up there, and a harsh wind isn't trying to steal the spotlight. The turquoise waters glistened ever-so-perfectly in the sunshine, and of course, my friend took her iPhone along for the ride for some solid #content. (Hey Captain, I'm ready for another spin!)

If you want to experience some unparalleled thrills, it costs $100 per person to go up in the parasail, or $30 to chill and watch on the boat. The crew leaves every hour, and the boat ride lasts an hour. (The parasail flight itself lasts for seven to 14 minutes in the air, depending on how many people are on the boat to parasail.) Keep in mind that July is their busiest time!

Brunch At Chez Louie Seduced My Palate And I'll Never Be The Same
Alexa Mellardo

Bon appétit. This sweet spot at the base of the Nevada Museum of Art had my brunch senses tingling. When you find yourself in Reno, I cannot stress enough how much you need a little Chez Louie in your life (and in your tummy).

This French-inspired eatery gave my favorite brunch spot back home a run for its money. Chez Louie has Sunday music brunch where the "crème brûlée French toas" is topped with vanilla bean whipped cream and apple-wood smoked bacon, and the mimosas (and Bloodys) are aplenty.

This Private Beach Rivaled The Clear Waters In Mexico
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Calling all beach babes. This serene stretch of beach decorated with plush cabanas, colorful boats, and quaint docks spoke to my soul. It looked like it popped straight out of a postcard or one of my favorite dreams.

I basked in the Tahoe sunshine after grabbing a bite to eat at the Hyatt's Lone Eagle Grille, and found myself in the most satisfied state ever. (Maybe that sounds a tad on the dramatic side, but it's true, nonetheless.)

If you're a foodie like me, I suggest kicking off your afternoon with some ahi tuna poke and an Aperol spritz for a highly successful lunch. Next on the to-do list, your girl crew can't go wrong renting a cabana at the Hyatt's private beach. (The rental fee, exclusively for hotel guests, is $400 Monday through Thursday, and $450 Friday through Sunday during the 2018 season.)

Stick around and take a dip in the bluest, clearest water you may ever set your sights on. At sunset, you can cozy up to the fire pits, snap a selfie with your merlot, and toast to a day well-spent.

This Food Tour Made Me Believe In Love At First Bite
Alexa Mellardo

I ate my way through the best and trendiest of the city's downtown district with Reno Food Tours. $65 scores you food and beverage tastings at six different restaurants, and the tour lasts two and a half to three hours.

My foodie self has a couple of choice thoughts to share. Number one, the pies at Wild Garlic Pizza made me believe in love at first bite — and it takes a lot to impress me when it comes to a pristine slice of pizza. The restaurant suggests dipping any remaining crust in honey, which is a life-changing experience. No crust left behind!

Number two, the Smoked Salmon Crepes at Chez Louie are no joke. (Yes, those are edible flowers on the top, creating the most aesthetically-pleasing of presentations for Instagram. And yes, I did finish every single bite of this masterpiece — duh.)

I suggest bringing your full appetite if you embark on tour of this underrated foodie central. You're going to need it.

The Insta Opportunities Were Endless And So Diverse
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Imagine waking up to this view every single morning? Talk about #blessed. It's quite different than the views from my New York City rooftop, and after going on this trip, I'd trade the skyscrapers for the mountains any day of the week. (Peace out forever, East Coast. The heart wants what the heart wants.)

After exploring the Nevada Museum of Art, do yourself (and your Insta game) a solid and head up to the Sky Room and Plaza — you won't be disappointed. Get your sunnies out for some polaroid pics, with the Sierra Nevada mountains serving as the perfect backdrop.

The Highest Artificial Climbing Wall Was The Adrenaline Rush Of A Lifetime
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Standing at the bottom of this outdoor climbing wall next to the famed Reno sign, I felt so tiny. The Guinness Book of World Records dubbed this wall at the Whitney Peak's BaseCamp the "Tallest Artificial Climbing Wall," and it's safe to say it lives up to the hype. Just like Jack's beanstalk, it looks like it stretches all the way up to a faraway land amongst the clouds.

Obviously, I had to give it a try, and it was such an adrenaline rush. I was so focused on where I would place my hands and feet next, it didn't really dawn on me how high up the wall was from the cars and people on the streets below. Although I didn't make it the whole 164 feet to the top, it was a bucket list experience I'll truly never forget.

Happy Hour At Rum Sugar Lime Made Me Feel Regal AF
Alexa Mellardo

It's always 5 o'clock somewhere, am I right? Just sitting next to this gorgeous rose gold cocktail (called the "Deathly Mahalos") made me feel like pure royalty at happy hour. With hints of pineapple decor throughout, exposed brick, and a unique menu of libations centered around rum, Rum Sugar Lime stole my heart. (Seriously though, when can I move in?) If I lived in Reno, I would claim this trendy bar as my weekend spot.

Bottoms up.