© 2011 jemma

The great Californian Road trip

From San Fran to Sonoma; Sonoma (the better Napa) to Sonora (Yosemite); Sonora to San Simeon; San Simeon to Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara to Los Angeles all in a week and a half. It was to be the road trip of the summer – well the only one. We got our car in San Fran, a trusty VW Jetta, packed our things and sat in traffic along the 101 Northbound to Sonoma.

Traffic jams along large stretches seem to be a bit of an issue here. You would think 5, 4 or 3 lanes for both directions was enough, however alas it is not in some cases, so it took us a little while to get to Sonoma. The wait was worth the heat, the pool and the nice dinner.

Next day while Jess worked, Tina and I walked the streets of Sonoma, checking out the shops, the Mission and the barracks. This was the location where the Californians raised the bear flag for the first time, signifying the end of Mexican/Spanish rule. You have got to love adobe bricks though, great architecture.

When Jess finished, we headed towards the wineries hoping to have a picnic, but were faced with a very unfriendly wedding planner who decided we couldn’t use the grass. So we headed away from the winery to Spring Lake state park, where we fought off the Canada Geese to enjoy a nice picnic by the water. Then it was off to check out the Petrified forest and drive through Napa Valley to get to Sonora.

Poor Jess drove and drove. We went through so many different environments, from desert to forests. We travelled through the delta area with it’s hundreds of wind turbines, past Rio Vista all the way to the Sierras arriving at Sonora at 9:30pm.

We woke early the next morning, all of us excited to be heading to Yosemite. It was hot, even early in the morning. Even though we headed out early for the long drive to the park, we still had to line up at the gates. We had unfortunately picked the busiest weekend in Yosemite history to visit the park. Go us!! All thanks to an above average winter snowfall, to better than average waterfalls.

The place everyone wants to visit is the valley and its not hard to see why. It has the giant granite cliffs that stretch up to the sky, massive waterfalls that spill over the edge of cliffs, a beautiful river flowing through the valley, mountains, fields and MILLIONS OF PEOPLE!! Although it is beautiful, is is hard to share such a small place with lots of people.

The first thing you see driving into the valley are the cliffs. They are beautiful. El Capitan is amazingly high and I cannot believe people climb it! Beside El Capitan sits beside Bridalveil falls. These falls are beautiful and one of the best points was that we got to get wet on a hot day. The spray from these falls is magical and you can see where it got it’s name.

After Bridalveil we stopped to look at Yosemite falls and take a walk across the fields beside the river. It was so hot and the water was so tempting. Shame the water was absolutely freezing!

We then spent the rest of the time looking for a car park, not finding one and then enjoying a picnic beside the river further down the valley. After our picnic we headed back to the hotel stopping on the way at Hetch Hetchy. Hetch Hetchy is a water reservoir with two waterfalls falling into it. It is beautiful and it was full of water. When you walk over the bridge you walk through a tunnel to move around to the other side and the view gets even better. Jess even found a snake.

The next day we checked out of Sonora and made our way to see the giant sequoias in Mariposa Grove. Again there was so many people there and we had to wait half an hour at the gate. The trees however are worth the wait. They are so huge! We walked up to see the Grizzly tree one of the oldest in the park. Although it isn’t the tallest – the tops begin to die off (snag top) – it is the thickest tree with one heavy thick branch. It is a beautiful place though and deserves to be protected.

From Mariposa we drove all the way back across the middle of California to Monterey on the ocean. This would be our first official drive on Hwy 1, and the official beginning of our coastal journey. Monterey was really pretty. It has old Mission architecture and the place we stayed at was was built around the original hacienda of Don Esteban Munras, the last Spanish diplomat to California. It was beautiful.

The next day we had a true American breakfast of eggs, English muffins and potatoes. Hmmmmm delicious. After breakfast we checked out fisherman’s wharf and the sea lions. Almost every shop along the wharf was giving out Clam Chowder which was apparently quite tasty. We then checked out a few historical houses but were eager to get away because we had a long way to go and lots more to see.

From Monterey we headed towards Carmel. T was very excited to visit, because her parents had rather enjoyed it when they visited. We drove to Carmel via the 17 Mile Road which costs $9.50 to go onto the private land of the wealthy. It follows the ocean and along the way you pass some very famous golf courses – notably Pebble beach. You also get to see some great scenery, seals, birds and beautiful homes/mansions.

We had very little time to explore Carmel. We went to the beach, walked the main street and checked out the Carmel Mission – I told you they are everywhere! Its a charming Mission with a beautiful church and garden. We didn’t go into the mission this time, just looked from the outside and saw a Nun wearing Crocs.

The last stop in Carmel was a ranch/hotel property owned by Clint Eastwood. Tina had wanted to stay here but it is pretty expensive. It has tennis courts, separate houses, stunning views and what Jess thought was the best thing….sheep in a paddock. Although he was upset you couldn’t touch them.

From Carmel it was onwards down hwy 1 towards San Simeon. Now everyone had warned us about this stretch and you can kind of see why. The views are so spectacular that people crash into one another, people speed over from the other side of the road into the lookout bays and the locals, obviously sick of such a nice views, want to speed by you. Tina and I however felt very safe with Jess behind the wheel.

We stopped at many of the lookouts and Big Sur lodge. Some of the highlights along the way were the bridges, the views, the cliffs, McWay Falls – a waterfall dropping straight into the Pacific Ocean – and the elephant seals in San Simeon.

Thought to have been extinct, the elephant seals have a solid population on the beaches in San Simeon and certainly know how to protect their territory. In the hour we stood watching them as the sun went down we saw so many fights up and down the beach whilst the majority were all trying to bunch up with one another to sleep. The next day when we went back the lady told us they are all men just chilling out and waiting for the ladies to return. They were huge! But apparently they were only the small ones. So cute, yet so smelly.

I wouldn’t normally write that the next day we went to a bakery in CAMBRIA and ate croissants for breakfast, but Cambria is such a nice town that needs our support. So next time you are in Southern California, drop by and grab a coffee and a pastry…ok! 🙂

Our next part of the trip would take us through more southern Cali countryside and lead us down to Santa Barbara. We stopped in at Morro Bay and saw the famous rock, Pismo Beach where we ate our lunch and snow cone on the pier, the sand dunes, stopped in at Lomboc where Tina wanted to go to Good Will, saw Vandenberg Air Force Base and then suddenly we were in Santa Barbara.

Our hotel was gorgeous. We had a kitchen – finally! – and free hire of rather nice cruiser bikes. We rode around in the sun on the first afternoon along the beach and the pier and then checked out the farmers markets where I bought a really nice vintage dress. That night we had chicken salad for dinner, the first home cooked meal in weeks!!

The next day we took the bikes out again along the water. It is so beautiful by the beach there. We then drove around Hope Ranch to check out the beautiful homes there. They are all big and have private roads. We then walked along the beach. That evening we went riding again around the historical down town, checking out the amazing court house, barracks and all the old historic homes.

The next morning when figuring out what we should do for the day Jess and I found out that you can see blue whales in the channel between the mainland and the Santa Barbara island chain. In a matter of minutes we were booked on the whale watching cruise and out the door, lucky jess and I had gotten up early for a jog.

The captain had warned us the seas would be rough and he wasn’t wrong. Jess, T and I stood out on the bow for about the first hour riding the waves and getting a good view of the massive pods of dolphin following us. They are so fascinating how they can keep up with the boat!! Then it got a bit more rough and T and I got wet and so we went inside to find people being sick and looking like death. Some didn’t even get up when finally the captain spotted the blue whale.

They are HUGE! Even though you don’t get to see all of it they are so big. Usually they take a few breaths and dive under, but this one stuck around and we followed it for about an hour. It went from one side of the boat to the other and even underneath. We saw its tiny dorsal fin – when compared to the rest of it – and its two blow holes, two because apparently all baleen whales have two – like nostrils – and toothed whales have one. Fun fact!! It was incredible being out there with them but I think most people were just excited and thrilled when we returned to shore.

For our last night in Santa B, we went out for dinner where the Belliveau/Owens got lobster for dinner and I got beer battered fish and chips. We got free desert too, so Santa B will always have happy memories for me. 🙂

The next day we headed down the coast towards LA. My job is to write up to Malibu because Jess didn’t want to, even though Malibu is in LA. All he had to say was we ate a very nice lunch on the beach and walked along the shore checking out all the big houses. Was that too hard Jess? 🙂 Oh and T made me chat to some lifesavers.

Anyway this part of the trip is over, LA on the way!!

Enjoy!