After a few days in San Francisco & North California, we spent two days in Yosemite National Park. The drive from San Francisco to Yosemite takes about 4 or 5 hours. Driving through the terrain to even get into the park was scenic and dangerous at times with many curving high altitude roads. The park itself is humongous, we have only seen a small portion of it. It took us over an hour just to get to our camp and lodging in the Yosemite Valley.
It may seem quite tedious to get to but the scenery is worth it. You are surrounded by lush fauna and beautiful mountains as you drive into the park. There are many scenic views on the way you can stop over and take pictures. By far this is one of the most beautiful and unique places we have seen yet. The far distance into the park is worth it when you can actually see the stars in the sky at night. If ever you find yourself in an isolated park like this, make time to see the night sky.
We only had 2 days to go hiking in the park. Realistically you probably need a week or so to take advantage of all the park has to offer but we were strapped for time and had many other stops to see before leaving the West Coast. Once arriving at our camp/tent we were surrounded by friendly deer all around us...seriously, this park is FULL of adorable deer that have no fear of humans.
Due to a severe drought throughout the west coast, as well as the timing of our visit (late September) many lakes and waterfalls were out of season. While we hiked to Mirror Lake, and several Waterfalls, there was simply rock formations where water would ordinarily be during season.
Deer grazing in what would have been Mirror Lake
View of Half Dome from Glacier Point
This is where you would find Mirror Lake, if it were present year round.
Again, this boulder is about in the center of Mirror Lake. You can see some of the water line on the rock surface.
Gorgeous meadow across from our camp ground.
Half dome at sunset is worth making time for.
Overall, we loved our stay at Yosemite. Although it was a second visit for Kaili, it was a first for Josh. We'd love to see some of the other areas that the park has to offer outside of the Valley.
We had one big reason to head down to San Jose - The Winchester Mystery House. While many travelers may like to seek out fine dining or fancy shopping locations, we like to seek out the strange. And while at first look it may seem a bit of a tourist trap, the Winchester Mystery House is an incredibly unique location worth exploring.
Built by Sarah Winchester (married to Winchester Rifles heir William Winchester), the Winchester House is legendary for its architecture and story. The legend goes that following the death of William and their daughter, Sarah believed herself to be cursed. Her reasoning was that the ghosts of all the people who were shot by a Winchester rifle were haunting her, so she began to be very fascinated by the supernatural. A visit from a psychic left her with the premonition that she would have to build and build a house until the end of her life. One common theory is that she believed that the bizarre maze of rooms would cause spirits to get lost and confused within the house. There was no real plan for the house structure, and so there are windows throughout the house, and doors that go nowhere.
A tour is required in order to explore the house, and we did the full house tour with a supplemental tour of the basement and grounds. While they do not allow photography within the house, it's worth the tour to see this unique work of architecture.
While we didn't stop for long in Big Sur, we spent the day driving along the coast and exploring some gorgeous secluded beaches. Big Sur is a beautiful stretch of coastal highway through State Route 1 between Carmel and San Simeon. We stopped many times to take in the sights and attempt to capture them with our cameras, it was so beautiful it seemed almost unreal.
The Bixby Bridge is about half way through Big Sur and about 120 miles South of San Francisco. It's a rather iconic viewpoint so of course we had to stop. The view here is incredible. Driving along the California coast is absolutely an unbelievable experience that I hope everyone can experience at least once.
While we tend to prefer mountain hiking over beaches, I don't see how anyone couldn't appreciate the amazing sights that the Golden Coast has to offer.
While the coast was incredible on it's own, we made a point to stop and visit some beaches as well. One of the beaches even had subtly purple sand, as a result of minerals from the surrounding cliffs. We also made a stop at McWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to see the gorgeous cove which includes a small waterfall. While a lot of these beaches are hard to find, they are well worth the effort.
While it was out of our usual price range, we stopped for a nice meal at Nepenthe, a restaurant directly off the highway and with gorgeous views of the surrounding mountain range. While pricey, the food and service was great and the view was worth it.
One of the most famous cross streets in the USA is Haight & Ashbury. This area is well known for it's history - having a part in the origin of the hippie movement. While the hippie movement is no longer as present, this is still a rather artsy, bohemian spot. There's plenty of vintage or thrift shops, along with record stores and other small businesses. You can spot a lot of creative graffiti throughout the city, but we saw quite a lot around this area in particular. If you like unique one of a kind shops this is a great destination.
Pier 39 - The Fisherman's Wharf
The most tourist-centric area in all of San Fransisco is spread out around Pier 39 - aka The Fisherman's Wharf. Within this area is the famous Ghiradelli Square as well as beautiful views of Alcatraz and the adorable sea lions. If you aren't a fan of tourist traps, this area doesn't have a lot to offer. There are a lot of chain restaurants, it's crowded, and extremely commercialized. However, the sea lions are worth a visit. We also stopped by Musée Mécanique - a neat little stop full of antique arcade machines and games located a little further on Pier 45. Admission is free, so it's worth a stop if you appreciate bizarre, beautiful, and often creepy automatons.
If you are into Gothic architecture, the Grace Cathedral is hard to miss. It is a very beautiful building in the heart of San Francisco. At the time we were there, the cathedral was hosting a wedding party so we could not get inside for more than a second or two.
We spent our final night and day on the West Coast in San Francisco visiting China Town. It is a great place to get out of your car and walk around to take in the atmosphere. It is a double edged sword as there are many tourist traps but the scenery makes you feel like you're in a different part of the world. We really enjoyed walking around, getting some delicious Chinese food as well as bubble tea, which are in abundance in the area. There are many shops full of trinkets and Chinese souvenirs if that is your thing.
On our way to San Francisco from Napa we decided our first venture in the area should be into the Muir Woods. This was quite a congested and slow drive but it was our first time really getting to see the beautiful views that CA 1 (the Pacific Coast Highway) offers.
John Muir Woods Park
We were very limited in our time in the area so we made the best of it and took a short hike through Muir Woods. Its a very peaceful place to hike, and very quiet in contrast to the loud & busy city it neighbors. You are engulfed under the Redwood's canopy so there is little light that shines through and it is quite cold. Seeing these amazing Sequoia's in person is something that should be on everyone's bucket list. They are rare, ancient, and honestly mind-blowing in size. Photographs can never quite capture the full scale of these things. Unfortunately we had to make our way out quite quickly to be able to enjoy the cities attractions.
Golden Gate Bridge
Coming into San Francisco over the Golden Gate can be just as intimidating as passing the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan. The Golden Gate Bridge is an amazing piece of engineering and it is very surreal to be able to drive over it and see the landscape of the city in the distance. The bridge is often partially covered by the surrounding fog which adds to the dreamy appearance. We decided to take a drive around Golden Gate park to get some great views of the bridge and bay.
Palace of Fine Arts
Built in 1915 and rebuilt in 1965, this amazing structure was made for the Panama-Pacific Exhibition. It is easy to access and at the time we were there they were filming something inside the structure. Quite an iconic structure, it is notable for being featured in many films including Hitchcock's Vertigo.
Following our stop in Humboldt County, we made our way towards Wine County. We are not wine snobs but we do enjoy drinking some delicious grapes (in fact we actually prefer two buck chuck wine from Trader Joes than most expensive wines that we have tried). Josh is kind of a beer snob - if only they had a beer country... I guess Asheville and Portland will suffice for now. Anyways, we made a few stops around Napa county to visit some vineyards.
Calistoga - Chateu Montelena
Since we were not sure which vineyards had the best wine we decided to go to places based on location and scenery. There are hundreds of vineyards in the area so it is quite overwhelming to decide where to go. Chateu Montelena appeared castle-like, which appealed to us for the sake of photos. We did try some of the wine, but it was out of our price range for purchase.
Calistoga - Castello di Amorosa
Since we had a lot of time leftover after Montelena we decided on going to the famous Castello di Amorosa. A bit of a tourist trap, but this place can be fun for some photos. We did a wine tasting here as well and actually ended up purchasing a bottle of Fantasia - a sparking Rose that was very sweet. Our wine guide was super friendly and we really enjoyed visiting this location.
An added bonus - this location has a residental cat named Lancelot.
Saint Helena - Beringer Vineyards
On our way back to the hotel we passed by the Beringer Vineyards and decided to just take a walk around the property. Beringer is one of the more well known wines found in your local grocery store and not too expensive. The grounds are actually quite gorgeous, and we even spotted some hummingbirds.