Published: November 24th 2009September 25th 2009
From Valley View
So… The United States. We count ourselves as being fortunate enough to say that we’re well travelled, so how come the USA or the North American continent for that reason have managed to escape our foot fall? To be honest, there was never anything we wanted to see that was high enough on our ‘list’. There were certainly places on the list, just not high enough to justify spending the money getting there.
Faye is pregnant again and was just about to enter her third trimester so it was the perfect time to travel, I’m also being made redundant from work at the start of next year so who knows if we’ll be able to afford to go another trip any time soon, not to mention having a new baby and all the responsibilities that brings, so we had to travel and there was a very narrow window on when to do it, mid September.
Normally when looking for a holiday, I know exactly where I want to go as I’ve been thinking about it for a while, this time though I found myself lost for inspiration. We wanted to go somewhere new, so that ruled out most of
South East Asia. Last time Faye was pregnant, we travelled through India for 7 weeks, and although we look back with fond memories of the time we spent there, I remember it being difficult and tiring trying to protect our unborn child from the experience that is India, the food, the pollution and the filth. We certainly didn’t want to experience that again, so that ruled out most developing countries and once I factored in time of year, we were left with few options.
Looking around for flights and inspiration I narrowed it down to two options, Calgary with Banff and Jasper National Parks, or San Francisco with Yosemite National Park. Sorry Canada, The US was cheaper but you’re moving up the list…
It was a quick flight to San Francisco at only 10 hours and Nate was the most perfectly behaved kid you could imagine, he was the only child on the flight and the cabin crew adored him, making him a very happy boy indeed.
Once in SF we went straight to pick up the rental car that we had booked for the entire period we were there, and
From Tunnel View
due to a couple of free upgrades at various points along the booking progress we were soon standing in front of our car, a Chrysler 300 touring. Faye thought I was kidding when I said it was ours as it was huge, its engine is bigger than both of our cars at home put together, and probably about twice the length of one of them as we’ve got a classic Mini. Faye vowed that she wasn’t going to drive it… ever, and once behind the wheel I had my own doubts as it took me a while to get to grips with the automatic transmission. It took about five minutes just to get the thing to move out of the parking space.
It didn’t take us long to get to our hostel near Union square where I handed over the keys and got the car parked (I love valet parking, especially when it means I don’t have to park that tank). We got ourselves sorted in our room where Faye and Nate caught up on some sleep while I had a little explore around the local area.
San Francisco is a fairly compact city, so we decided to
Yosemite National Park
walk everywhere first, taking a stroll through Union Square, down to the Ferry building, where I bought some of the tastiest organic tomatoes I’ve ever eaten. We then walked along the Embarcadero to Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf, which although very touristy, were well worth a look. We got a good view of Alcatraz from the end of pier, but the coastal fog had almost completely obscured the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, so we had to hope it would clear a little, when we got a closer look later. Nate especially liked the Sea Lions hauled up the end of the pier, constantly doing his new pointing gesture whenever one made a sound or slipped into the sea.
Our plan from here was to get the Cable car up Russian Hill, but the queue was massive so we thought we’d just walk up it instead. It wasn’t too strenuous as although it was incredibly steep it was quite short, and didn’t take long at all.
At the top of the hill the famous section of Lombard Street joins up, this block is touted as the crookedest street in the world due to its 8 tight switchbacks. The only
From Sentinel Bridge
problem was the pedestrian routes down either side were stairs and not very stroller friendly we had no choice but to run down it while there were no cars…
From the bottom of the street we decided to call it a day and strolled back through the city to our hostel.
The following day we decided to make use of the car and drive around the city taking in some of the other sights. First we parked up in the Castro and took a walk around, then drove onwards to Alamo square to enjoy the sunshine in the park and take a look at the ‘painted ladies’, a row of pretty painted Victorian houses. We then took a trip past Golden Gate Park to Bakers Beach so we could get some views of Golden Gate Bridge. There was still some wisps of the famous fog
curling over it, but it was a much better view than we got yesterday, so I wasn’t complaining, Nate didn’t seem too impressed though as he promptly threw up all over himself, which meant we had to make a trip back to the Hostel for a quick clean up before our Alcatraz cruise.
We decided to grab a cab from the hostel, as we didn’t want to deal with parking and almost didn’t make it on time to the pier where our cruise would be leaving from, thankfully though the cab driver understood our sense of urgency and raced through the city to get us there just before the boat left.
It was a short cruise out to Alcatraz, and once we were given a quick orientation from a park ranger we were left to explore at our own leisure. An audio tour was included in the price of the cruise ticket which was pretty informative about the islands history as a military fortification and more famously as a prison. It was a really good trip and one I’d definitely recommend if you’re in the city; it was busy though so it may be worth booking ahead. San Francisco to Yosemite
Our next destination was going to be Yosemite National Park but rather than head straight there we decided to take a more scenic route via Lake Tahoe, meaning we could enter the park via the Tioga Pass.
We planned to stop at Sacramento on the way to
Tahoe to break up the drive but while looking at the road map I noticed that we’d drive past the Jelly Belly Jelly Bean factory and Faye said she’d seen a flyer for it in the hostel lobby, so we decided to stop there instead. It was only a short drive from San Francisco, but the difference in climate was incredible… The heat was brutal; it made us so glad climate control in cars has been invented.
The factory gave free tours and even more importantly free samples and it was pretty interesting seeing how they were made and trying the multitude of flavours, even more exciting was the factory shop, which we went seriously crazy in like, err… kids in a candy store?
A few more hours drive and we were in Tahoe, and what a change to the scenery, we stopped at Emerald Bay first, it really was just beautiful. We arrived quite late so after admiring the lake for a while we went into town, found somewhere to eat and bedded down for the night at a motel.
The next day we crossed the Nevada state line and drove around the eastern side
of the lake enjoying more views before continuing south to Mono Lake, the turn off for the Tioga Pass and the eastern gateway to Yosemite National Park. Yosemite National Park
Almost as soon as we took the turn off we were immersed in the beauty that is the Sierra Nevada, the views of the surrounding mountains were amazing and they just got better the further we drove. We made several stops along the way to admire the views and take pictures and also stopped at Tenaya Lake as we wanted to let Nate have a paddle and enjoy the crystal clear water. We also managed to spot a Coyote, some Pika
and a Marmot on the journey too which was cool.
Once we started to descend into Yosemite Valley we really saw what all the fuss was about with this national park, the view was jaw droppingly spectacular. Words and photos simply cannot do it justice, we were blown away, Yosemite Valley ranks up there as among the most incredible single view I’ve ever seen, it took our breaths away. We drove down into the valley floor and were struck by just how large it was too,
The 'Painted Ladies'
Alamo Square, San Francisco
it didn’t look so big on the map. By this point it was getting dark so we made our way straight to Housekeeping Camp
which we’d be calling home for the next few days.
We spent three days in the Park exploring the valley floor and visiting the many vista points, constantly being amazed both by the scale of it all and its sheer beauty. We also drove up to Glacier Point
, which was well worth the long drive as it was stunning, it puts you at eye level with Half Dome, and makes the valley deceptively small looking as you can see virtually everything. Yosemite to San Francisco
Our plan from the park was to drive straight to the coast but it proved too far and Nate was getting uncomfortable so we stopped in Fresno for the night, where we didn’t plan on seeing anything of interest but after we came back to our motel from dinner, there were a couple of cops in the parking lot outside our room, standing and writing details over two guys and a girl cuffed on the floor. We thought nothing of it and went into our room, but more
Alamo Square, San Francisco
and more police kept turning up, so we couldn’t help but stand at the window watching the ‘show’ unfold. In the end there were five police bikes, three police cars and two police K9 units. We never really figured out what they were looking for but there was no way I’d want to be in their shoes at that moment, I just wished I’d had some popcorn.
From Fresno we drove to Cambria, a really nice town on the coast, filled with art and antique shops where we spent the night before heading up the coast. On the journey we visited Hearst Castle
which was pretty interesting, and also stopped to sea the Elephant Seals basking on the beach.
We continued up on Route 1 enjoying the scenery of Big Sur before reaching Monterey our next stop before reaching San Francisco. Monterey was a beautiful city, but we were there for one reason in particular and that was Monterey Bay Aquarium. It’s one of the largest in North America and one of the best we’ve ever been to. It highlights the marine life found outside in the bay and further out in the Pacific Ocean. It’s even
managed to cultivate a healthy Kelp Forest in one of its exhibits, which was fascinating. Earlier in the year we had the fortune of visiting Osaka aquarium which blew us away with two Whale Sharks and a Manta Ray. In terms of large stuff I thought that would never be beat, but Monterey Bay aquarium had a WHITE SHARK! They’re notoriously difficult to keep in captivity, and it’ll be released eventually but I never thought for one moment I’d come face to face with one in an aquarium.
After Monterey we spent our final night in a motel outside SF airport as we had an early flight in the morning, and we still had to return the car. A sad time, as although we were apprehensive at first driving such a beast of a vehicle we’d really come to love it.
Lasting Impressions of Our Trip
1. Yosemite National Park - Breathtaking
2. Yosemite National Park - Stunning
3. Yosemite National Park - Spectacular
4. San Francisco - Reminded me a little of Sydney, beautiful, laid back and fun.
5. Monterey Bay Aquarium - One of the best we’ve been to
(and we’ve been to hundreds), fascinating, well presented and suitable for all ages.
6. American hospitality - Not sure if we were given preferential treatment as we had a 1 year old with us but we were treated so well by everyone we met.
7. ‘Tipping’ - I was a bit worried by this and consequently probably over tipped everywhere, but the costs were so low, it didn’t matter. At the end of the day you get what you pay for, the level of service surpasses any other country we’ve been to.
There are more photos below