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Where we’re at: I’m recapping my travels in 2019, including this trip to California in August.

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No, leaving Mammoth Lakes wasn’t easy. But we had come to California with a mission — watching our friends Bron and Ryan tie the knot at a another gorgeous Northern California body of water, Donner Lake in Truckee. 

Donner Lake Summer Weekend
Donner Lake Summer Weekend

I’d been to Truckee once before, when Ryan’s family generously hosted us for a BBQ the night before we all set off for Burning Man together in 2015 — the fateful week that Bron and Ryan would first fall in love! From where we all sat on the Playa, it was undeniable these two had a spark, one that would soon bring them to Thailand, where they’d live and work together in Koh Tao — often behind the bar at Banyan. Who would have guessed that someday we’d be back in Truckee at their wedding.

Donner Lake is about twenty miles north of the larger and more well-known Lake Tahoe — and may be known to some for its infamous place in 1800’s history.

For us, it was known as the site of our next Banyan Bar reunion! We’d snagged a big ‘ol Airbnb walking distance from all festivities (check out my discount code if you’re new to Airbnb) and arrived just in time to have shrieking hugs with the rest of our crew who’d arrived from elsewhere and get ready for the welcome dinner.

Airbnb in Donner Lake
Rehearsal Dinner at The Pub at Donner Lake

The dinner was at The Pub at Donner Lake, a laid-back local bar around the corner from the lakefront. We tucked into all-American comfort food classics (cheesy artichoke dip, be still my heart) while catching up with cold drinks in hand — the perfect reward after a long day of driving.

Rehearsal Dinner at The Pub at Donner Lake

Rehearsal Dinner at The Pub at Donner Lake

It was such a treat to catch up with old friends and get to know new ones, like Bron’s family and friends from Australia who’d come all the way stateside for the big day!

In fact, we almost had a second summer Real Housewives of Koh Tao reunion — but between our big Spice Girls weekend and this one, Janine found out she was pregnant (squee!) and had to hang back in Thailand and celebrate Bron and Ryan from afar.

Now, this is a bit of an off-topic side note but I once had a commenter giving me a hard time on Instagram saying something like, “it must be nice having wealthy friends who can fly around the world to meet you all the time.” Obviously my friends span many income levels but it made me laugh and wish I could just reply with the screenshot of a bank statement of your average dive instructor or island entrepreneur, including me back in the day! Nope, our globetrotting is not a sign of collective wealth — just a sign of being very comfortable being constantly broke in exchange for making memories like these. 

Rehearsal Dinner at The Pub at Donner Lake

The next day, it was already wedding time! After a group mission into the highly-recommended Coffeebar Truckee for breakfast followed by Shannon and I sneaking out for some tanning and unexpected bridge jumping into the lake (where we spied the groom and wedding party setting up the festivities by hand!), it was time to get gorgeous. 

Upon arrival, we were glad we did — it would have been rude not to match the setting.

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion
Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion

Honestly, when I’d first gotten the invitation and seen the location listed as The Donner Lake Pavilion, I pictured a very laid-back affair. Community pavilions were a popular place where I grew up to host graduation parties and family cookouts, and they were the definition of casual. 

Needless to say, I forgot that Northern California is blessed with a backyard that looks like a movie set. This was swank!

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion

And truly, I was blown away — Bron’s style and creativity transformed this gorgeous blank canvas backdrop into the boho wedding of a Pinterest boards’ dreams!

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion
Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion

We were so lucky that like I said, our three days on Donner Lake were not just a wedding but a big ol Banyan Bar reunion! Considering the rarity of this group being (A) in one place in the world and (B) dressed in anything beyond old Banyan t-shirts, we had to commemorate the occasion.

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion

When it came time to be seated for the ceremony I was again blown away — was this beautiful fairy tale setting actually real life? Our friend Will officiated the ceremony, which was such a sweet touch. I love when someone who really knows and loves the couple deeply does so.

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion

Are they not the actual cutest?

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion
ceremony photos by Sierra Shay Photography

And then, it was time to party! I can’t actually emphasize enough how much I loved this wedding — and I’ve been to a lot of them.

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion
Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion
Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion

Not only was the ceremony full of personal and DIY charm — the reception was too.

We swooned over the dessert bar of homemade goodies by “all the moms,” as Bron explained, over the cheese board layout of any Instagrammer’s dreams, and over the fun and whimsy of a bar tended entirely by different family members who would hop behind at various points through the night.

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion

Everyone pitched in on swapping the ceremony chairs over to the waterfront tables, because we were about to be treated to one of my favorite wedding meals ever — a taco bar catered by Chipotle (DREAMS COME TRUE).

I was beyond thrilled over this development because (A) Chipotle is life and (B) I have been to so many weddings where I ate course after course and then felt so full I was kind of ill. The grazing setup, I’ve found, is so more conducive to a good time. 

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion
Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion

We were touched when, while the professional photographer took turns calling different families up, the Banyan family eventually got called up, too — despite ya know, being an entire clan of black sheep. 

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion
photos by Sierra Shay Photography

I loved all the beautifully thought out details and touches, like the guestbook table, where we snapped polaroids, and I found photos of Ian and I from Bron and Ryan’s fateful first burn together. Ryan pulled off one of my favorite proposal stories ever when, years later, he drove Bron up to the Black Rock City Desert and proposed on the unrecognizably empty grounds of The Playa.

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion

A few spiked seltzers down, Amy and I couldn’t help a photoshoot of our own when the bride and groom were done!

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion

It was basically just a warm up — because this gorgeous couple is up next! We are so excited for their wedding in May of 2021, in France! (It’s going to be my first time, so hit me up with any recommendations.)

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion
Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion

Again, I just can’t get over how gorgeous this whole day was.

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion
Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion

photos by Sierra Shay Photography

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion
Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion

Laid back, casually stunning, overwhelmingly fun — it was a dream. I love weddings like this so much, where everyone pitches in a bit, a true community affair.

And it’s so very Bron and Ryan. You could feel the love radiating off these two, true soul mates, and see how they have already become parts of each other’s families and an irreplaceable pair in their Truckee community. 

It warmed the heart — and was a reminder that sometimes the best parties are the barefoot ones.

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion

And on that note, when the sun went down, the heat went up, and we all ditched our shoes to dance the night away with the grass under our toes.

Dancing at Donner Lake Wedding

Dancing at Donner Lake Wedding

Dancing at Donner Lake Wedding

Dancing at Donner Lake Wedding

Dancing at Donner Lake Wedding

Of course, we couldn’t pull up the stakes and leave town after a party like that! 

Peddle Boats at Donner Lake, California

The next day, we headed right next door to the pavilion where the wedding had gone down, West End Beach. After loading up a bunch of coolers and snacks, we payed our $6 entry fee and staked out a big corner in the shade for the crew we knew would soon descend. 

West End Beach, Donner Lake
West End Beach, Donner Lake

But first, we went sparkle boating — and I gave the teenage staff manning the booth some extremely polite constructive feedback that perhaps they could instruct renters not to ya know, hover by the wedding ceremonies nearby, causing extreme stress to guests who worried for all the photoshop magic the photographers would have to pull to get them out of their shots. Just ya know, an idea.

Peddle Boats at Donner Lake, California

Peddle Boats at Donner Lake, California

We had an embarrassing amount of fun racing, leapfrogging, and roughhousing around with our paddleboats (wine coolers, needless to say, discreetly in hand.) It was the best day-after wedding party ever, capped off with an epic barbecue back on the deck of our Airbnb.

Peddle Boats at Donner Lake, California

Peddle Boats at Donner Lake, California

The next morning, we packed up to leave — but not before a group photo in our Banyan shirts and hats! What a legacy.

Banyan Bar T-Shirts

We decided, en masse, to have a casual Sunday brunch in downtown Truckee on our way out to various airports, with no reservation of course. Ha! Most places just giggled at us, until we found Jax at the Tracks, which we later found was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.

It hit the hangover spot perfectly and was a little peek at all the charm of downtown, which I hope I explore more thoroughly on a future trip — because this one just flew by.

Downtown Truckee
Downtown Truckee

Downtown Truckee

And then, before I knew it, the week was over and I was on a flight back to Albany. It was hard to leave California without seeing my dad! But I’d been away from home long enough.

The weekend consisted of little else but wedding festivities and being in or on the lake as much as possible (best of all, in rented sparkle boats) — and it was perfect. I was so inspired by Bron and Ryan’s beautiful wedding and their sweet marriage and couldn’t have been more thrilled for them that a spark lit at Burning Man is still burning today in such a magical way, and loved getting to know Ryan’s stunning hometown a little bit better.

Gosh, sometimes that year I forgot how good it feels to be surrounded by these wonderful people who are more than just friends — they’re family.

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion

Summer Wedding at Donner Lake Pavilion

Here’s to the next reunion full  of love! <3

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8 Comments...
  • Jane
    May 17 2020

    What a beautiful wedding! Northern California looks incredible. 3 of my best friends (and myself) all got married within 4 months of each other – it was madness and felt like almost every other weekend we were piling into someone’s car and heading cross-country to the next wedding. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way – the reunions with old friends, the long catch-ups over hangover breakfasts and enjoying how each wedding was so unique. And as for that snarky Instagram comment – well clearly you and your friends just have your priorities right!

    • Alex
      May 17 2020

      That sounds so fun Jane — kind of like the makings of a rom com 😉

  • becky hutner
    May 17 2020

    Very happy to see California getting lots of love on here! It is such a glorious, varied state with an incredible sense freedom. The very best place to kick off your shoes and feel the wind in your hair and the sun on your skin, in my humble opinion!

    • Alex
      May 17 2020

      Yes! More California content to come someday for sure, over many many visits to see my dad! I’m loving exploring different corners of the state.

  • Lynn
    May 17 2020

    Beautiful! I’m glad you had so much fun in Truckee. Funny story- until fairly recently Donner Lake Pub used to be a real estate office with an apartment attached, and my husband lived in that apartment for the first ten years he was in Truckee!

    • Alex
      May 17 2020

      Ha, oh wow! What a small… lake 🙂 I’d love to return someday!

  • Tatum Clayton
    May 22 2020

    What a beautiful place! Gives me major summertime sadness. I love traveling so i will definitely have to put California on my bucket list!

    • Alex
      May 25 2020

      I have SO much of California left to explore. Very grateful for this unexpected trip to see this new part of it!

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