Paddle and play on a weekend escape to picturesque Pinecrest Lake in the Sierra

Pinecrest offers an escape into the central Sierra Nevada, but with some modern-day comforts. Where else can you spend the day paddling around a picturesque lake on a giant inflatable Pegasus before watching the latest “Spider-Man” movie under the stars? Pinecrest, between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park, features a 300-acre lake owned and operated by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. There’s an easy four-mile trail around the water; for the more adventurous there’s a hike to an off-the-beaten-path swimming hole called Cleo’s Bath.

The tab: $52 for two nights camping, $41 for movie tickets and snacks at Pinecrest Theater and $30 for breakfast burritos and coffee at Alicia’s Sugar Shack.

The bed

Near the lake and beach area are hundreds of campsites with picnic tables, campfire rings and restrooms. They can be reserved up to six months in advance at (877) 444-6777 or at If camping is not your thing, check out Pinecrest Lake Resort (421 Pinecrest Lake Road, Pinecrest; [209] 965-3411) for motel rooms, two- and three-bedroom cabins and townhouses with fireplaces. All accommodations are close to the lake and its marina, which rents kayaks, paddle and pontoon boats, and motorboats. My wife, however, preferred to check out the lake from her stand-up paddle board.

The meal

A general store and the Steam Donkey Restaurant & Bar are a short walk from the lake, while a short drive away is Mia’s (30040 Highway 108, Cold Springs; [209] 965-4591; closed Mondays and Tuesdays), which specializes in brick-oven pizzas and has a dog-friendly patio. For $30, we picked up a tasty margherita pizza and fresh pear manchego salad. Farther west on California 108 is Alicia’s Sugar Shack (24191 Highway 108, Sugar Pine; [209] 586-5400), which serves breakfast and lunch daily along with both sweet and savory pastries. Don’t miss the melt-in-your-mouth bacon maple sticky bun ($5).

The find

After enjoying the great outdoors, we ended the day with a lakeside movie under the stars. At night, the Pinecrest Theater ([209] 402-4870; tickets $7.50) screens current family-friendly films such as “Despicable Me 3” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” The theater’s elevation at 5,600 feet serves as natural air conditioning as moviegoers sip hot chocolate and munch on popcorn and candy. This is the theater’s 82nd consecutive year showing films outdoors. The amphitheater, which also hosts ranger programs, has benches made with wood salvaged from 2013’s massive Rim Fire. As a fun, nostalgic touch, children are invited to help lower the movie screen before showtime.

The lesson learned

From Southern California, you can access Pinecrest on California 108 from either the east or west (each with its advantages). Heading from the east (the longer of the two routes), motorists can take U.S. 395 to Sonora Pass. Be prepared for a curvy drive and steep grades — some up to 26%. But also be prepared to be blown away by the breathtaking mountain scenery. Arriving from the west is quicker, and you’ll have more options for camping supplies and food. Regardless of which way you enter, be sure to book early because campgrounds at Pinecrest fill quickly.

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