A Grand Tour of California

At the start of June, Luke’s parents came out to California for a visit. While this isn’t our typical trip, we have some pictures we’d like to share, and maybe you can use our experiences as an action packed outline for your next visit to the Golden State.

Luke; Sharon; california; san francisco; san francisco bay area; san francisco maritime national historical park You can walk the pier for free, but boarding the ships will cost you. Unfortunately we left our inter-agency pass at home :(

You can walk the pier for free, but boarding the ships will cost you. Unfortunately we left our inter-agency pass at home ūüôĀ

San Francisco

We spent the first¬†day in San Francisco riding the trolley, sampling chocolate at Ghirardelli, and freezing on the Golden Gate Bridge. The weather is San Francisco is ever changing so you really never know if you’ll get a warm day with clear skies, or a chilly, foggy one like we did.

For other ideas on San Francisco, check out our previous blog: Stairway to Coit Tower

If you have more time in the city consider visiting Angel Island State Park: our review here.

Mt. Diablo State Park and Napa Valley

We started the morning of the second day with a less frequented Bay Area sight. We drove to the summit of Mount Diablo which provides a nice panoramic of the area before whisking them to Napa Valley for some wine tasting.

california; castello di amorosa; napa valley; wineries This little guy will likely end up someone

This little guy will likely end up someone’s turkey sandwich at V. Sattui’s deli.

Yosemite National Park

The real fun started on the third day, as we packed up and headed out for a 5-day tour of the Sierra Nevada.

Luke and I often feel cramped in our Jeep Wrangler. Luke built a box for the back that provides an added layer of storage as well as a sleeping platform. We also have a roof rack to store our goods but for some reason, we often lack room.

So when his parents decided to come for a visit, I was apprehensive about the truck’s ability to hold 4 people and all their crap.

What does a Jeep owner do in this situation? Add another mod.

With new wood crossbars jerry-rigged to the roof, we could store 2 Rubbermaid boxes as well as the roof bag. Luke also added a couple more layers of storage on the inside such as netting above our heads. Man did that Jeep swallow a ton of gear! So off we went to see the Sierra Nevada!

california; half dome; olmsted point; sierra nevada; yosemite national park The view from Olmsted Point, approaching Tuolumne Meadows from the West, was amazing.

The view from Olmsted Point, approaching Tuolumne Meadows from the West, was amazing.

This was a trip of highlights; we had seen most of the sights already but also threw in some new roads and a National Monument to keep us interested.

Our first stop was Yosemite National Park ($20/7 days or interagency pass) where we spent half a day touring the valley by shuttle bus. We camped in Tamarack Flat Campground ($10/night no water spigots). This campground is at the end of a dirt road and was fairly busy; we suspect it fills up quickly most weekends.

california; river; sierra nevada; tuolumne meadows; tuolumne river; yosemite national park The water is shallow and very, very clear.

The water is shallow and very, very clear.

We drove out via Tioga Pass Road (CA 120). This route was new to us (at least in the daylight hours) and we were excited to see Half Dome from Olmsted Point. We also took note of the trailhead for potential backpacking and day hiking into the valley.

More on Yosemite National Park in our photography weekend in The Valley here

Mono Basin National Scenic Area.

california; california state parks; inyo national forest; lake; mono basin national scenic area; mono lake; sierra nevada This view is right from the observation platform behind the Mono Basin Visitor Center in Lee Vining.

This view is right from the observation platform behind the Mono Basin Visitor Center in Lee Vining.

CA 120 leads in to the Mono Basin National Scenic Area in Inyo National Forest. Mono Lake¬†is currently being revived after years of being cut off by dams. The¬†inland sea was declared the first National Scenic Area by Congress in 1984. It has higher salinity than the oceans and incredibly high alkaline levels. Brine shrimp and Alkali Flies¬†have adopted to the unique environment but are struggling to survive the damage inflicted¬†by humans. The limestone tufas are a big attraction for the many visitors that walk the shore. There’s an $5/person fee,¬†but interagency passes are accepted. The basin is jointly managed by California State Parks and Forest Service.

california; california state parks; inyo national forest; mono basin national scenic area; mono lake; sierra nevada; tufa These towrs formed below the lake

These towrs formed below the lake’s surface when carbon rich water from underground springs met the alkaline water. Agencies are working to restore the lake to historic levels.

Devils Postpile National Monument

california; devils postpile national monument; geology; mammoth lakes; sierra nevada The formation (columnar basalt) came into being about 100,000 years ago by a lava flow.

The formation (columnar basalt) came into being about 100,000 years ago by a lava flow.

After exploring the tufa formations, we headed to the Twin Lakes Campground ($21/night), near Mammoth Lakes, to prepare for our visit to Devils Postpile National Monument ($10/day use or interagency pass). During the summer, a shuttle runs from Mammoth Lakes to the different sights but we were there the weekend before the shuttle started running (most years the park does not open until mid-June, when the snow clears). The area was originally part of Yosemite National Park but was removed under pressure from mining companies. Luckily, President Taft saw its value and protected it again with a presidential proclamation in 1911. The hike to the postpile is short and easy. If you have the time, you can hike to the top of the pile; we are told the climb is tough.

Manzanaar National Historic Site

california; manzanar national historic site; sierra nevada Nearly 10,000 Japanese Americans spent the latter part of WWII in barracks like these at Manzanar. 120,000 were interned in concentration camps scattered around the country, typically in isolated, inhospitable places such as this.

Nearly 10,000 Japanese Americans spent the latter part of WWII in barracks like these at Manzanar. 120,000 were interned in concentration camps scattered around the country, typically in isolated, inhospitable places such as this.

Heading south along US 395 you will find the Manzanar National Historic Site, a little less than half way between Independence and Lone Pine. The monument sits atop the site of a WWII Japanese relocation/internment/concentration camp. At a point, nearly 10,000 individuals of Japanese ancestry were forcefully relocated to this barely-hospitable place. It is surely a dark part of American history worth exploring.

Mount Whitney

california; mount whitney; river; sierra nevada; whitney portal; whitney portal falls Even if you

Even if you’re not climbing the mountain, there’s still plenty to see at Whitney Portal.

From Lone Pine, heading West along the Whitney Portal Road will take you through the Alabama Hills, BLM land most famous as a backdrop for Hollywood films. You can also get the best views of Mount Whitney, at 14,505 feet, the tallest mountain in the Lower 48. We camped at the BLM operated Turtle Creek Campground ($5/night). Though we opted to do the drive to Whitney Portal, you don’t get a view of the mountain from there.

Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks

california; kings river; river; sequoia  kings canyon national parks; sierra nevada Be careful playing around the river. It is swift moving and the granite can be slick. All it takes is one slip to become a statistic.

Be careful playing around the river. It is swift moving and the granite can be slick. All it takes is one slip to become a statistic.

From here we headed to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks ($20/7 day or interagency pass). We entered the park pretty late in the day as the drive from Whitney Portal through Kennedy Meadows is a REALLY long one. We camped at Stony Creek Campground ($24/night) in the National Forest lands that sit between the parks.

In the morning we took the park road to Kings Canyon to glimpse the immense river and canyon. We also made stops to admire the General Grant and Sherman Trees before the long drive back to Pittsburg. I am still amazed we all fit.

Winter Trip idea for Sequoia National Park here.

The beginning of Woods Creek Trail in Kings Canyon National Park can be found here.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park and The Golden Gate Bridge

california; golden gate bridge; golden gate national recreation area; ocean; san francisco; san francisco bay area Because one can never take too many pictures of the GGB.

Because one can never take too many pictures of the GGB.

No visit to California is complete without dipping your toes in the Pacific Ocean. As a cool-down, we took the parental units on a drive down Skyline Boulevard, a scenic route through the Santa Cruz mountains to the West of San Francisco Bay. We drove through Big Basin Redwoods State Park, to see the the coastal redwoods (compare and contrast with the giant Sequoias of the Sierra Nevada). From there we headed towards CA 1 (stop in Santa Cruz if you have time) to visit Waddell Beach and take the scenic drive North along the coast.

It all ended where it started, with another visit to San Francisco to view the Golden Gate Bridge from its other end.