Fall in Love in California!
I still reminisce about my trip to California. It has been a few years since going on the nine day road trip, but something about the holiday sticks out clearly in my mind. Having limited time we decided to stick to Northern California, not really being drawn to the hype of Los Angeles or San Diego. We wanted a little bit of city, a little bit of nature, a few glasses of wine and some amazing beach views - and we got all of those things and more!
After only a few months of being together, my partner and I embarked on our Nor-Cal road trip at the end of August 2013. So if a trip wasn't already exciting enough, it was heightened by the excitement of new love. It was going to be one of those 'couple learning experiences' - people have always said that traveling with a significant other for the first time could be a make-it or break-it situation. You can learn a lot about someone when you are away together! Fortunately for us, traveling together was like breathing - natural and easy. It was one of the best times of my life.
I cannot begin to write all of the amazing places we saw and did, but I can share some of my favourite moments and experiences. I can only hope I do them half the justice they deserve. California, oh my goodness, you should go!
My personal highlights: Alcatraz, Musee Mecanique, champagne and oysters.
We hadn't allotted nearly as much time to San Francisco as it deserved. This was our start and end point on our trip (which often seems to get neglected), but we made the most out of our time there.
We hit the typical tourist places, but I really had an amazing time checking it all out - Golden Gate Park, Fisherman's Wharf, Pier 39 and Alcatraz - none of which were disappointing. I personally LOVED the Alcatraz tour - we enjoyed a nice ferry ride, did the audio tour and wandered the creepy prison. Pier 39 was also surprisingly entertaining! Watching the seals swim, sun bathe and bully each other for dock territory was entertainment that literally lasted for hours. I just didn't get bored of it.
I had great fun at the Musee Mecanique a completely retro coin arcade with antique games and musical machines. There was no entry free and pretty much everything was a quarter - it was nostalgia at its best! Whenever I hear someone is going to San Fran, I always recommend checking it out. It is so nostalgic and fun.
Yosemite National Park
My personal Highlights: Half Dome hike
Yosemite was the highlight of the trip - I wanted to see the mountains, the massive trees and I wanted to physically push myself. When we decided to book our California trip it was too late for us to reserve a permit to complete the Half Dome hike, our only option was to put our names in a lottery 48 hours before we would arrive. We found out the day we arrived in San Francisco that our names were drawn in the lottery and we would be able to hike our first full day there.
I had totally been up for the challenge, though had not expected to get the opportunity to actually do it. That e-mail changed it all, and the prospect of this hike became very real.
The Half Dome hike is is roughly a 14-16 mile hike with an elevation of roughly 5,000 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor. We were told the round trip could take upwards of 10 hours, and it would be imperative to make it to the cables early afternoon to ensure you were making it off the trail in day light. I was a bit nervous having never done anything like it before, but was optimistic - sure, I was fit! I had done a try-a-tri only weeks prior! I could do it, right?
It was a long tiring morning and I was gassed by the time we hit the never-ending switchbacks in the last stretch before the cables. Finally, sitting at the bottom of this immense rock dome my nerves really set in. (I swear I could write a single post about this experience). I couldn't remember the last time I had an anxious stomach, but I did that day. Making it to the top was probably one of the coolest things I have ever done - it felt like such an accomplishment. At the top we sat, ate some lunch and marvelled at the view.
During our time in Yosemite we also checked out many of the look-out points and did a few extra small hikes to see the massive sequoias - so beautiful. During our time in Yosemite a forest fire was raging in parts of the park, making particular areas and roads inaccessible. On the day we left the smoke was starting to dip into the valley, leaving a dull haze in the sky - even our car was covered in small pieces of ash. It was time to move on - though it was most certainly sad to leave.
My Personal Highlights: Wine tour at Benziger and picnic in the park.
After spending a few days hiking in Yosemite, it was time to slow things down and relax. We had opted to check out Sonoma Valley instead of Napa Valley, having heard Sonoma was a bit more friendly and affordable. The small town was quaint and lively during the day. The main square is an alcohol-friendly zone and there was a lovely little wine and cheese shop across the road. We bought wine, cheese, olives and prosciutto and had a picnic in the park, we used our California map as our blanket and laid out our delicious spread. We napped on the map while a local band played music at the mini-ampitheatre. It was an oddly and peaceful moment that I can still recall clearly, life felt perfect. We did some wine tastings at little restaurants in the square, getting tipsy and filling out score cards about the wine varieties - we had no idea what we were doing.
We signed up for a wine tour at Benziger (which ended up being a private tour, since no one else was there). We roamed the vineyard, ate grapes off the vine, and explored a wine cave where we had a private tasting. Our guide taught us all the steps in tasting wine - the swirling, the sniffing, the slight sips exploring different parts of the tastebuds. There was a spit bucket, but none of us used it.
We went to a few wineries in the valley, sampling and buying bottles along the way.
Pacific Coast Highway south to Monterey
Highlights: Point Reyes, winding coastal road.
The last leg of our trip had no specific main attraction or destination, rather we merely wanted to experience the beautiful Pacific Coast Highway. I did not photograph this experience, but the ocean views, winding roads and plummeting cliffs were breathtaking.
Point Reyes National Seashore and its lighthouse was a beautiful little day trip located on the most easterly point of California. It had a different feel then I expected, reminding me of the maritimes.
We continued south stopping in Santa Cruz, a small be achy town with a boardwalk full of rides, games and fried food. The concept of it had seemed better in my mind than the reality. Truth was after the coolness of San Francisco, the beauty of Yosemite and the tastes of Sonoma, the beach boardwalk felt kind of cheesy. We continued as south as Monterey (I will call it a San Francisco wannabe), where we ate fresh sea food and laid out on the beach to soak up the last of the ocean air. We headed north for our final night before catching our flight home.
I remember standing in the parking lot in Monterey before leaving, hugging my boyfriend and unsuccessfully choking back tears, being truly sad for the end to be near. I don't know if it was my love for the places we had been, my sadness of our first trip together (and an amazing one at that!) coming to an end, or if I was just disappointed to be heading back to reality.
Regardless of what it was, the Nor-Cal road trip went in the books as one of the best vacations I have been on - so much variety and so much to offer! Love you Cali!