ROAD TRIP – PART 1: CALIFORNIA
Five years in the making and finally the Smith family road trip was happening. I’d spent so long planning activities, dreaming of seeing so many places and plotting the perfect route that I felt like I was about to burst with excitement and anticipation! It truly was an amazing experience, one I will never forget because of the insane and ridiculous beauty I witnessed over those 16 days. So let’s start at the beginning…
Day 1 to 5: San Francisco
12 hours in the sky and we had landed stateside. We spent 4 days in the city so had to pack as much as possible. Day 2 (but our first full day) was spent walking along Golden Gate Park from the Panhandle all the way to the Pacific Ocean – my favourite place we visited, you have to stay near it or definitely visit it if you go to San Francisco. There are endless things to do, including a botanical garden, museum, lookout point, frisbee golf and a field of Bison. Yes actual real life Bison. Then we boarded our “sunset” cruise, that was a little bit more fog than sun but also included some unexpected visitors in the form of Humpback Whales, so my day was instantly made 200x better! Day 3 and we were in Oakland, by the way the BART system is insanely easy and literally took us all of 5 minutes to cross the bay, perfect! 10am isn’t too early for ice cream right? Seen as we made a quick pit stop at the Ben & Jerry’s store and I had my first taste of Tonight Dough, it was heavenly! We didn’t actually see much in Oakland but the waterfront is definitely worth a visit and Lake Merritt is the ideal place to sunbathe on a sunny day. The main reason we crossed the bay in the first place was to see a Baseball game and boy was it worth it, as a Brit abroad it was entirely necessary for us to get a taste of a good ol’ US of A sport. Oakland A’s vs Chicago White Sox, not a particularly eventful game but I was bursting with excitement for the FIREWORKS!! I am very easily pleased, but especially when it comes to watching an insanely good firework show while sat on a Major League Baseball field, when will that ever happen to me again? Madness! Day 4, our last whole day in SF and it was Independence Day, Happy Bday ‘Murica! Typical sightseeing day – Lombard Street, FIsherman’s Wharf, Fort Mason, Palace of Fine Arts, Coit Tower and finally MORE FIREWORKS! This time they weren’t very successful, we’re talking way too much fog and not much to see as a result. But pretty memorable to be in the USA for Independence Day.
Day 5, 6 and 7: Yosemite and Tahoe
Onwards and upwards (literally, to higher than I’ll probably ever be, other than on a plane). The drive into Mariposa County was, and I will keep repeating this word because it was, insane! Mountains for days, sunshine galore and the quaintest, more perfect little town. Just wandering around this historic town with independent shops, a museum and the oldest still functional courthouse in California, is well worth a visit on your way into Yosemite. Day 6 and a 6am start to make the most of our day in the Yosemite National Park. I’m not a morning person, but it had to be done. Driving down into Yosemite Valley, surrounded by cliff edges, rivers and trees, was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. And the waterfalls, my goodness, they are of epic proportions! Especially Yosemite Falls, nearly 3000ft tall and split into 3 parts. It’s madness. Just standing under Lower Yosemite Falls at only 300ft was impressive (and very wet, but again very much worth it). Wandering along the valley, surrounded by such beauty that I just could not stop staring at, I couldn’t believe it was real. And once we reached the end of the (short) valley trail, Half Dome was in sight. It looks over the entire valley and was framed perfectly by the sun and clouds.
Next up for the day’s journey was to follow Tioga Pass up and out of the east of the park with various stops along the way to marvel at the INSANE views. One $130 parking ticket later at Tuolumne Grove, all because we wanted to see some giant Sequoia’s and we were onwards again. I’d recommend not parking in bus only parking, despite there not being anywhere else and about 20 other cars having done the same thing. Next stop along the pass after reaching the peak of the road at about 9000ft, easiest mountain I’ll ever climb, was a short but sweet stop at Lake Tenaya. Bit too chilly for a swim, but good for a paddle and definitely an amazing view. Snow capped mountains reflected in the lake, you don’t get much of that in England. After venturing into Nevada, just because we could, we followed an impromptu cycling time trial (much to the delight of my brother) over the final peak before reaching Lake Tahoe and boy were we greeted by an amazing view of the setting sun over such a huge expanse of water. The next morning we drove up from South Lake Tahoe to Tahoe City and I could not stop gasping at the size and beauty of the lake …and the hills …and the bay’s …and the beaches …and the BOATS! My goodness I wish I owned a boat and lived around Lake Tahoe, that would be the dream! Having only spent the morning at Tahoe, and only half a day at Yosemite also, I’ve decided I NEED to go back, the lake life is calling for me.
Day 8: Redwoods
Easily one of my favourite days was (finally) meeting up with Highway 1 and driving north up the many Redwood national and state parks. There was just something about being surrounded by nature in all its grandeur and beauty, that just made me feel at home. It made me feel small, insignificant, but appreciative of everything nature does to help us survive and thrive. We started Day 8 by driving from Redding to Highway 1 through some, at times very precarious, canyon roads which finally, after about 3 hours, led to the Avenue of Giants. Thankfully it lived up to its name. The size of these Redwoods is insane, and this time I truly mean it, I’ve never seen trees so big, I loved it. Onwards up Highway 1 and we stopped in Eureka to explore the Victorian houses, because I’m obsessed with architecture and buildings with character, so I was in heaven. Carson Mansion was so unbelievably pretty. Never before did I know the west coast had so many Lighthouses but we saw our first, and certainly not our last, one in Trinidad. Classic red and white, overlooking the bay, slightly foggy (much like every day), but the pacific ocean looked pretty despite all that.
Architecture spotting for the day done and we continued north. I was still shocked by the sheer size and vivid colour of the trees as we entered the National Park, and then we stopped at Elk Meadow. The amazingness of this day continued – fields, trees and apparently Elk for days – heaven exists, and it is the Redwoods. Next up on the agenda was Big Tree, and it didn’t disappoint, it really was a big arse tree. 70ft in circumference and suggested to be 1000 years old, it was ginormous and surrounded by equally huge trees. Once again I felt at home, I swear in another life I must’ve been a bird who lived in a nest at the top of the trees. One day I’ll own a treehouse, I’m just adding it to my life goals list now, a girl can dream right?!? We ended the day in Crescent City, so close to the Oregon border that we were ready to tick off all the beaches on our long list starting the next day, but we needed a well earned break after about 6 hours on the road in total and our longest day so far. One insanely tasty grilled cheese, with an equally insane view overlooking the pacific ocean (slightly blurred by the fog), and an amazing night’s sleep in our super kingsize beds later and we would be on the road to Oregon the following day!
California you were a dream – an entire week spent in the state, road tripping and witnessing beauty unlike anything I ever thought was possible. I will be back, one trip just isn’t enough, there’s so much more for me to see, experience, fall in love with and tick off my bucket list!