A Triangle Trip: Yosemite, Big Sur, and San Francisco

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North America » United States » California
March 12th 2012
Published: April 27th 2012
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Over the past few years I’ve been trying to gradually take in the sites that California has to offer. So, this trip we flew to San Francisco, then made our way to Yosemite, next over to Monterey to take in the Big Sur coast, and then back to the city for a quick visit.Overall, it was a great trip that kept us going steady for a week.

Our original plan was to take in both Yosemite and Sequoia National Park. However, we did not get to Sequoia because most of the trails were closed and tires were required because of the icy roads. The positive thing about visiting Yosemite in March is that the numbers of people in the park are much lower than in the summer. Also, the views around Yosemite Valley with the snow covered slopes and peaks were beautiful. However, the negative side is that much of the park is inaccessible. You are pretty much relegated to the Yosemite Valley on your visit. If you are prepared to cross country ski or snowshoe you have a few more options for trails. So, we took in as much of Yosemite Valley as we could in the lower elevations.

We stayed just outside of Yosemite the first night at the Shilo Inn in Oakhurst. The Shilo turned out to be one of the best deals for our money that we have ever gotten. The room cost approximately $58 and was big enough for an arena football game. It included a fridge, microwave, extra sink, free internet, and breakfast. From Oakhurst it was a rather short drive to the entrance of Yosemite. Directly after entering the park you can veer off to the right to reach the Mariposa Grove of redwoods. This was a great side trip and I was able to get my “big tree” fix given that Sequoia was not in the cards for this trip. If you like seeing the sequoia redwoods I would highly recommend taking a 1-2 hour hike here to see these giants. The gnarly looking Grizzly Giant in the middle of the grove is very impressive as is the Bachelor and Three Graces along with many others.

After Mariposa Grove you have about an hour drive down into Yosemite Valley. The first memorable view of the park for most people comes after going through the tunnel to the Valley. Make sure to pull over take pictures of the great view. We would have liked to have then taken a detour up to Glacier Point (great for sunsets) but it is closed in the winter. So we headed to our home for a couple nights – the Yosemite Valley Lodge. We weren’t sure if we had made a good decision on that or not but were very glad we did. In the winter the rates are much lower (approx. $140/night). The drive into the park each day would have amounted to a tiring hour and half on curvy roads. The Lodge is situated in the middle of the Valley with great views of Yosemite Falls that are directly across the road. Our room was great (we were in the Maple building) and didn’t seem dilapidated as some of the reviews had described. The Lodge consists of a number of different buildings so the rooms might vary accordingly. We did listen to the not-so-great reviews of the cafeteria at the Lodge and stopped and grabbed some food, snacks, and drinks at Wal-Mart on our way in to the Valley.

Some of the major sites as you enter Yosemite Valley from the West will be the large rock face of El Capitan on your left and Bridalveil Falls on your right. As you move farther in the Lodge, Yosemite Falls, the Visitor Center, and then the Ahwahnee Hotel on the left. Towards the eastern end of the Valley you will see the Curry Village and then views of the massive Half Dome on your right. For hikes we first went out to Mirror Lake and that ended up being very disappointing. First, it is a fully paved trail (instead of soft surface) leading out to the lake. Second, the lake itself was not impressive at all as apparently it was at a very low level. Third, part of the trail extending to its outer reaches was closed. We then tried the hike to Vernal Falls. Again, we were disappointed as the trail going up to the Falls from the walking bridge was closed off due to potential rock slides. We didn’t have the time to continue on this trail to Nevada Falls. Also, the hike up Half Dome is closed in the winter but the cable portion leading to its top didn’t look appealing to us anyway.

You will see mule deer all over Yosemite Park. We had an amusing experience coming back down on the Vernal Falls trail as about five of the deer that had been grazing along the trail began following us. They would speed up or slow down as we did (even running with us for a bit). We felt like the Pied Piper leading them down the trail. It was one of the more humorous experiences of the trip. I’m guessing the deer are used to getting treats from the many tourists they encounter.

Probably our most enjoyable time in Yosemite Valley was spent wondering around in the meadows in the middle of the Valley. You can get some very picturesque viewpoints if you wander around a bit. One day we were “treated” to snow that lasted most of the day. While it was still snowing we hopped on the free park bus and took it down to the Ahwahnee Lodge. I would recommend a quick stop here if you are in the park or, even better, staying here if you can afford it. Also, if you are staying in the Valley you can get in a nice run of about any distance when you follow the paths that line both sides

After our stay in the Yosemite Valley we headed for the Big Sur coast given that Sequoia was not possible. I wish we had had more time to properly explore the coast but it was great all the same. I have been on the California coast multiple times but this was my first time on the Big Sur. We stayed in Monterrey where housing options are aplenty. The highlights our time here were the numerous, incredible sites of the coast as you drive and also the Point Lobos State Park. Point Lobos is just south of Monterrey at the north end of the Big Sur coastline. We really enjoyed just parking the car at Whalers Cove and then hiking the trails around the coast. I love sea otters and we were able to see them in 2 or 3 different coves. The highlight was watching a mom and her pup playing and eating kelp and other things from the sea in Headland Cove. If you go ask one of the volunteer docents where the otters have been spotted recently. One pointed out gray whales to us that were swimming a ways off of Sea Lion Cove. We also spotted some mule deer on the trail as we walked and seals in the secluded coves. In addition, there are many sea lions hanging out on the rocks in the cove named after them.

Driving down the coast south of Point Lobos you can go for a couple of hours with great views and numerous pull-offs. We stopped at the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and did a couple of the trails (Pfeiffer Falls & Valley View Trails) but we weren’t impressed. The best part was probably the grove of trees around the lodge. Also, I had always wondered what the actual ‘community’ of Big Sur looked like. I found out that it is really just a series of a few buildings along the west side of the road. We didn’t have time to explore these so we just drove through. A great view that you should take in if you have the chance is the McWay Waterfall in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. In the early 20th century a family actually had a beautiful view of the waterfall from their bedroom and later gave the land to the state. Back at Monterrey we took in the Wharf and got some good sweets at Carousel Candies after watching the sea lions bark at each other. We also took a walk around Cannery Row, the neighborhood made famous by Steinbeck. This was an interesting side trip. If you are looking for a good, but not expensive, restaurant in this area try out the Sea Harvest Fish Market and Restaurant. They have great fish sandwiches!

Our last day and a half was spent taking in as much of San Francisco as possible. We only had the late afternoon and evening the first day so we headed right for Coit Tower to watch the sunset. After hiking up the stairs on Filbert Street the views from the Tower were amazing. Next, we headed back down the stairs and walked through Little Italy until we found a pizza place (BaoNecci Café) for dinner. They had good thin crust pizza in a true Italian family atmosphere, however the prices were a little steep compared to those in Italy. The next day we headed straight for the visitor center at Powell and Market Street and purchased one-day public transportation tickets ($14 each). The employees here were very helpful in case you have questions. Luckily it was Saturday and the farmer’s market was going on at the Ferry Building. So, we were able to see the Ferry Building and wonder around looking at an amazing array of goods at the same time. It’s definitely worth checking out if you are downtown on a Saturday. Next, we were off to Donuts and Things via cable car. After reading their reviews they sounded yummy and we certainly weren’t disappointed. You might try the one in the picture (cinnamon crunch or something similar) as they were excellent. After filling up on donuts we bused it to the Golden Gate Bridge and worked out some of our sugar by walking across and back. This was good fun and exercise that we followed up with a walk to the Presidio. The views of the Bridge from the Crissy Field area and of San Fran coming down from the bridge were great. After the Presidio it was off for a snack at the Inn and Out Burger place near Fisherman’s Wharf. The burger and fries were ok but we won’t be making a point to get back there on our next visit. From here we checked out the cool boats docked along the Wharf and then went to Ghiradelli’s Square to load up on their dark chocolate, caramel, sea salt squares! We then trudged it up the hill from the Wharf to Lombard Street to get a look at the curviest road in the world. Our last stop as it was becoming dark was Alamo Square to get a look at the ‘Painted Ladies’ and the view of the city. Finally, dinner was a great find at this little Mexican place called Olivo’s (1017 Larkin St.). It was definitely not fancy but was a great find with tasty and affordable food. We will definitely try to go back on our next trip.

We had a power packed week in CA seeing so many great things. I’ve been several times but there is still so much to go back and see!

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