A Cross-Country Guide to the Best Adventure Bars
The best way to refuel after a perfect day of adventure? With your crew at one of these ideally located watering holes.
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Despite still being able to enjoy the outdoors this past year, many of us had to skip arguably the best part—having an après-adventure cold one surrounded by others doing the same. From a local’s hangout near Santa Fe’s popular Windsor Trail to a stuck-in-time joint overlooking a stellar surf spot on Cape Code National Seashore, these are the post-vaccine places to cap off big days outside.
Mike Hess Brewing
Imperial Beach, California
Close to: Surfing
Mike Hess is a pillar of San Diego’s robust craft-beer scene, and the new outpost in the funky border town of Imperial Beach is heavy on post-surf vibes. Just north of the pier and steps from the Pacific Ocean, the open-air taproom gives way to a beer garden. While the region has a reputation for busy breaks and occasionally grumpy locals, Imperial Beach is low-key, with crowd-free lineups and shifting sandbars that keep the surf firing year-round. If you can’t find a decent swell near the pier, head south along Seacoast Drive, where breaks can be found at the end of every side street. San Diego is an IPA kind of town, but for your après-surf meal, pair something light and crisp, like the excellent Claritas Kölsch, with a bite courtesy of the popular Mexican restaurant City Tacos. Try the Mahi al Mango, or get weird with a Mexicali—a taco with steak and mashed potatoes.
The Nugget Mountain Bar
Close to: Skiing
The Nugget Mountain Bar is a lesson in reverse gentrification. The owner converted his former vacation cabin, located a half-mile south of Purgatory Resort, into a bar. It still has a ski-cabin vibe, with the requisite upstairs loft transformed into a lounge. But the action is at the U-shaped bar on the main floor, where there’s a solid chance that owner Kevin Wright will invite you to partake in a shot ski. You’re also guaranteed to get sucked into Klackers, a communal dice game. Order a burger from the food truck parked out front, and be prepared to make friends fast—the Nugget is a place where people aren’t tetchy that you’re skiing their mountain. It’s easily accessible by car, but if you know your way around Purgatory’s backcountry, you can ski in. Or call Wright for a ride. He’ll pick you up and take you home. Seriously.
The Hub and Pisgah Tavern
Pisgah Forest, North Carolina
Close to: Mountain biking
The idea behind the Pisgah Tavern was pretty simple: Sam and Jordan Salman, owners of the Hub bike shop, wanted customers to have a place to drink a beer while the mechanic worked on their ride. The tavern originally consisted of three keg taps and four barstools alongside the repair pit. The concept has since grown, and there are now eight local drafts, a beer garden, and food trucks that rotate casual fare. You can’t beat the location—right at the entrance of Pisgah National Forest, where you can rip world-class technical singletrack like the Black Mountain Trail and pedal straight into the Hub for a post-ride tune-up and a little hydration. If you’re looking for more flow and fewer roots, head ten miles southeast to DuPont State Recreational Forest, where the Ridgeline Trail offers three miles of roller-coaster speed.
Tesuque Village Market
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Close to: Hiking, skiing, mountain biking
After a day playing at Ski Santa Fe or hiking or riding the nine-mile Winsor Trail, head to Tesuque Village Market. Known by fans as TVM, this general store meets bakery meets restaurant and bar is located just a few miles north of Santa Fe, in the hamlet of Tesuque. Settle in with local artists and athletes on the covered porch and order from a long list of New Mexican food. The fajitas and enchiladas are tough to beat, and the green chile stew is a justifiable classic. (Heads up: the kitchen doesn’t turn down the heat for visitors.) Come early if you want the famous key lime pie, which sells out on most days. TVM is also home to arguably the best margaritas in Santa Fe. Try the jalapeño if you’re feeling brave; otherwise, be like a local and order the Reevarita, named after co-owner Reeve Stein and made with El Jimador reposado. —Abigail Wise
Red River Gorge, Kentucky
Close to: Climbing
Red River Gorge has become the epicenter of sport climbing in the U.S. Spend the day on sandstone in this remote corner of Kentucky and soon enough you’re going to get hungry. Since the mid-eighties, Miguels Pizza has been at the heart of the Red’s vibrant scene. It’s where you go for breakfast and beta before trying the steep, bolted routes on Motherlode. It’s where you pick up a few more quickdraws (there’s a gear shop on-site) and maybe even spend the night (there’s a climbers-only campground, too). And yeah, it’s where you eat pizza, building your own pie from a stockpile of 50 ingredients, including unusual options like chickpeas and white beans. Miguels is beloved for its dirtbag vibe, but last year during the off-season—it’s closed from December to March—the joint got a new kitchen and an expanded dining room. It’s just like the old Miguels, but better.
Talon Beach Bar
Close to: Fishing
Alaska isn’t known for its beaches, but there is one spot that should be on your bucket list: a tiny sliver of sand on Big Apple Island. A private eight-acre key in Sitka Sound that’s home to the Talon Lodge and Spa, this adventurous outpost in Southeast Alaska has a maximum capacity of 24 and specializes in guided boat, ATV, and floatplane fishing expeditions deep in Alaska’s salmon country. The lodge has an open-air kitchen and a bar with fire pits on the deck, which looks out on the sound. The island is surrounded by Tongass National Forest and is part of the Inside Passage, so there’s a good chance you’ll spot a whale or a bald eagle from your barstool. You have to be a guest at the lodge to drink here—packages start at $4,095 for four nights, all-inclusive, from mid-May through early September.
Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts
Close to: Surfing, beach walks
A seaside hangout in the heart of Cape Cod National Seashore, the Beachcomber is frozen in time in all the right ways. The bar took over an old lifesaving service station in 1953, predating the national seashore that surrounds it by almost a decade. Fortunately, the establishment was grandfathered in and can still serve drinks. The building is set atop the 100-foot bluffs of Cahoon Hollow Beach and has a large patio overlooking the Atlantic’s surf. It’s the only oceanfront bar on the cape. The order? Wellfleet oysters and a Goombay Smash, made with apricot brandy, two rums, some fruit juice, and more rum on top. If there isn’t a Red Sox game on the TV, then there’s probably a DJ spinning. But don’t go looking for a drink after a chilly winter surf session—the Beachcomber is only open in summer.
Rikki Tiki Tavern
Cocoa Beach, Florida
Close to: Surfing
There’s no actual tavern here, just a thatch-roofed bar at the end of Cocoa Beach Pier. But that’s the charm of Rikki Tiki. While there are tourists to contend with, you can’t argue with the location—you’re sitting on a stool roughly 800 feet into the Atlantic, watching surfers jockey for waves. If you go out yourself, you’ll find that Cocoa Beach, around an hour by car from Orlando, has some of Florida’s most consistent surf. Low incoming tide tends to produce the longest rides, and with a relatively gentle beach break, year-round warm water, and plenty of local surf schools (Ron Jon is headquartered nearby), this is as beginner-friendly as the sport gets. For bigger waves, head to 2nd Light Beach, where a rock reef often serves up waist-high surf. At Rikki Tiki itself, embrace the tourism factor and order a Key Lime Pie—a mix of rum, ice cream, and fresh lime juice with a graham-cracker crust.
Pacific City, Oregon
Close to: Hiking, surfing
Pelican Brewing, which is set on the beach near the dunes and bluffs of Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area, has an expansive deck with a stellar view of Haystack Rock, a large sea stack on Oregon’s jagged coast. The surf is just as good as the view, with a beach break for beginners and a more challenging right peak farther out. Or spend your day hiking Cape Kiwanda, a rugged park best known for the tall sandstone cliffs separating land from ocean. You can also drive your 4×4 on the beach here. Whatever you get up to, have a dense and creamy Tsunami Stout, spread a blanket in the sand just beyond Pelican Brewing’s patio, and watch the sun set over the cliffs and the Pacific.
Eagle River, Michigan
Close to: Mountain biking
The singletrack in the Keweenaw Peninsula is now a huge draw. Especially in Copper Harbor, where some 35 miles of purpose-built trails offer everything from flow to freeride. Spend the day knocking out shuttle laps of wooden features on Flying Squirrel, tabletops on Danimal, and grin-inducing berms on the Flow, then head straight for Fitzgerald’s, a barbecue restaurant and bar within a hotel of the same name just 20 feet from the edge of Lake Superior. The interior is sea-captain chic, with dark wood paneling on the walls and ceiling. Fitzgerald’s has the best whiskey list in the Upper Peninsula, in addition to a selection of beers that reads like a who’s-who of midwestern breweries. If you feel good about your Strava stats for the day, order the Pitmaster’s Pie (brisket and pork smothered in mashed potatoes) and any number of beers from Short’s Brewing. Grab a table on the porch overlooking the lake.
Close to: Biking, hiking
Big Bend National Park, where the Rio Grande hooks a right as it divides the U.S. from Mexico, looks like something straight out of a western, with tall mesas, yuccas, and sand that melts into the sun-bleached horizon. The adobe-walled Starlight Theatre restaurant and saloon in the nearby ghost town of Terlingua fits the bill, too. It’s the perfect place for a bottle of Lone Star and some Texan food after a day riding singletrack in Big Bend Ranch State Park, exploring the endless canyons in the national park, or soaking in Boquillas hot springs, which bubble up at the confluence of the Rio Grande and Tornillo Creek. Knock out your adventure before the day gets too hot, take a dip in the river to cool off, then head straight to the Starlight. Live bands sometimes play on the stage, but the real show is on the front porch, where locals gather to jam and drink beer. After dark the sky fills with an impossible number of stars.
Vermilion Valley Resort
Mono Hot Springs, California
Close to: Hiking, fly-fishing
Perched on the shore of Lake Edison, deep in the Sierra Nevada, this rustic restaurant is perfect for fans of remote destinations. Spend the day fishing for big brown trout and kayaking in the lake or trekking in the John Muir Wilderness. When you’ve exhausted yourself, head to the resort’s restaurant and store to pick out your craft beer. The food menu changes daily, and everything is made from scratch, including Saturday night’s barbecue, a guest favorite. In June and early July, your company will be Pacific Crest Trail hikers starving for their first real meal in a week and eagerly knocking back the free beer they get upon arrival. From then until September, the place is full of John Muir Trail hikers nursing blistered feet. All summer long, you’ll find anglers and mountain types who return every year to stay in the resort’s tent cabins (from $70) and yurts (from $110). On your way home, be sure to stop at Mono Hot Springs down the road for a soak. —Taylor Gee