Highway 395 takes a short jaunt through Nevada from Topaz Lake to just outside of Reno before wandering back into California. The Nevada portion of this guide will feature food and adventure in Reno and the Carson Valley area as well as a couple of side trips.
West of Carson City is Lake Tahoe: home of world-class skiing, boating and entertainment. To the northeast is the nineteenth century boomtown, Virginia City. The recently restored V&T Railroad offers roundtrip historic train rides between Carson City and Virginia City from late May to October. In the shadows of the Sierras lies Genoa, the oldest settlement in Nevada.
Before you travel be sure to search local websites, such as, and check the calendar page. There is always a festival or special event going on in this neck of the woods, not to mention the usual fun and games that make Nevada a popular vacation destination.
At the break of dawn anglers are lining the lake shore, eyes fixed on the tip of their fishing poles, waiting for the slightest twitch. A few rods are doubled over. The fight is on. Breakfast and bragging rights are on the other end of the line. More fishermen are in boats scattered across the lake. They are all vying for that trophy trout to fill their stringers. Must be opening day at Crowley, right? Nope, it’s Topaz Lake on New Year's morning and that gives you almost a four month head start on the Sierra Nevada trout season.
Topaz Lake straddles the California/ Nevada border. Fishing licenses from either state are valid. The season is from January 1st through September 30th. Both states stock the lake. Nevada plants over 20 tons of trout per year, mostly during the off season. Trout angling is best during the winter and spring months. By summer the lake has turned over causing the fish to scatter and inhabit cooler, deeper waters. Not to worry. As the top water warms up so does the bass and catfish action.
Topaz Lodge and Casino sponsors a trout derby from Opening Day to April 15th. Catching a tagged fish gets you cash, comp play or a chance to win prizes. This year over $6,000 was given away on New Year’s Day alone! There are rumors of a $10,000 trout released a couple of years that hasn’t been caught yet.
During the summer recreational craft take over the lake. Boats, water skiers and jet skis all get in on the action. There are beaches to sun bathe and take a swim. Boat launching is available at Topaz Marina or Douglas County Park.
Other activities around the lake include hiking and mountain bike riding. The county park has horseshoe pits and a volleyball court. Topaz Lake and its environs are an excellent bird-watching locale. It is on the Pacific Flyway; migration season brings a multitude of bird species. There is a pair of bald eagles nesting nearby. When you have had all the fun you can outside head over to Topaz Lodge for some gaming and libations. There’s even an arcade downstairs for the young’uns.
Topaz Lake makes for a good base camp to explore the surrounding region. It seems everything is only an hour and a half away. 90 minutes to the north is Lake Tahoe, Reno, Carson City and Virginia City. Nearby in California is the ghost town of Bodie, Mono Lake and Mammoth Mountain. Once it’s time to settle down Topaz Lake has three campgrounds to choose from with sites for tents and RVs. There are also two hotels and a handful of dining choices.
On Hwy 395 at the California/Nevada border
After reading the reviews on Yelp this taproom sounded like any number of video poker bars in the Carson Valley. I told Debbie to imagine the bar on the right side of 395 heading into Gardnerville and she would get an idea of the type of dining we could look forward to. Imagine my surprise when it turned out this was the place I was talking about! This is a bar/ pool hall /diner. If you are not into cheap silverware wrapped in a paper napkin on a wood grain laminate table, keep going. But if you’re like the rest of us, come on down!
The décor here is late ‘80s sports bar with TV monitors all around. Team jerseys, pennants and posters cover the walls. The bar is lined with video poker machines. On one side of the bar is the dining area, on the other is the poolroom. With a pitcher of beer, some friends and a bite to eat you've got the start to a great afternoon!
After scanning the menu, I went with the Hamdog; a variation on a meatball sandwich. Hamdog's chefs shape their meatball mixture into a log the length of a hogie bun, cover it with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese, and voila, the Hamdog! Kind of ingenious when you think about it. You get meat in every bite, and that last meatball doesn't keep trying to escape out the back. Not only that, it's pretty darned good.
Debbie ordered the half rack of ribs, one of Hamdog's signature dishes. The meat does not fall off the bone like ribs that spend the better part of the day in a smoker; but when you sink your teeth into one of these the pork pulls off the bone easily. You pick up the smoky flavor with the first bite. The BBQ sauce covering the ribs has the tang of a Carolina sauce and the sweetness of Cattleman's, nice combination. We rounded our lunches off with an order of chili fries and a couple of Buds.
Fun Fact! Hamdog's Hamdog is not really a Hamdog! That honor goes to Chanler Goff, owner of Mulligan's Bar in Decatur, Georgia. He came up with the idea and actually had it trademarked in 2005. The original Hamdog consists of a hot dog wrapped in ground beef then deep fried. After being placed in a hoagie roll it is smothered in chili then topped with a couple of handfuls of french fries and a fried egg.
Doctor Nicholas Lang, Professor of Surgery at the University of Arkansas advised against "ever consuming a hamdog at any point in one's life". Thanks for the tip, doc!
1267 Hwy 395 suite K Gardnerville, NV (775) 782 6835
The Chocolate Shoppe
At first glance, it seems like Lynn Falcone and Harvey Jasny got this whole dot com thing wrong. After running a successful wholesale internet business for years they chucked the idea and opened up The Chocolate Shoppe in Gardnerville. According to Lynn, "We're one of the few businesses that came out of the internet and went into brick and mortar. I love it. Having a store is so much fun." No argument here. Her time is much better spent cooking up incredible sweets than maintaining a website.
The Chocolate Shoppe is more of a chocolate tasting room than a candy store. As you check out the confections on display Harvey is close by, offering samples and answering questions. Visit the store at the right time and you can watch Lynn and Dev work on their latest masterpieces. Everything is produced at the store; the open kitchen is in plain view.
Lynn has been creating gourmet sweets for over 25 years. The recipes for her chocolates come from France and Germany. Her Bordeaux shows Lynn's passion for the art. Creamy pillows of brown sugar, butter and spices are hand dipped in milk or dark chocolate. The Chocolate Shoppe offers premium truffles, turtles, fudge and cremes to name a few. Non chocolate treats include toffee and peanut brittle. Sugar free chocolate is also available. Special delights are brought out for the holidays. What kind of candy store wouldn't have long eared chocolate bunnies for Easter? How about peppermint bark at Christmas or chocolate dipped strawberries for your Valentine? The Chocolate Shoppe can fill a custom gift box for any occasion. The boxes are made of, what else, chocolate!
The Chocolate Shoppe can create an original remembrance for your own special event. Provide them with a picture and they will transfer it to a chocolate bar or any of a half dozen other edible products. Perfect for weddings, birth announcements or anything else you can think of.
TRIP TIP! If Carson Valley is not in your travel plans, the Chocolate Shoppe maintains a display case of their delicacies in the mini mart at Topaz Lodge and Casino. Mail order is also available.
1363 Hwy 395 N Ste. 7 (In Raley's shopping center), Gardnerville, NV 89410 (775) 267-1002