California is a dream destination for many adventure travellers, and for a good reason. This beautiful and diverse state has so much to offer for the outdoorsy and adventure savvy types, not to mention taking that dream road trip along the Pacific coast.
When ‘all the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey,’ in California the sky is blue, and the palm trees are tall. Autumn is a beautiful time to visit California, when is less crowded. California is a huge state, thus if you want to see it properly, you may not be able to do so during your one- or two-week holiday. In this post you will read about San Francisco and some of the Northern California highlights. In Part Two, we will go further South, taking a scenic Pacific route towards Big Sur. If your time allows, go off the beaten path and you may discover gems, you won’t find in the travel guides.
Somehow the great cities of America have taken their places in a mythology that shapes their destiny: money lives in New York. Power sits in Washington. Freedom sips cappuccino in a sidewalk café in San Francisco.
– Joe Flower
Let’s start here, as many people who will arrive by plane will either fly to San Francisco, Los Angeles or San Jose. San Francisco airport is conveniently located in the South of the city, with direct links to downtown San Francisco.
If you are planning on staying in San Francisco, choose a place downtown, as this is where you are likely to spend most of your time. Take comfy shoes and you may even want to download Uber app for when you are tired of walking. Let me tell you, I have never walked more in my life during a city break. It is good to make San Francisco your base and do some day trips from there. You can also hire a car and once you are done with the city, start your road adventure.
San Francisco has plenty to offer, and to cover all, I would need to dedicate this blog to the city alone, so l will tell you about my highlights and some practical information in part two, and leave the rest for you to explore.
North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf are the areas where you may want to start your little San Francisco adventure, accompanied by the noise of seagulls, sea lions and the city. If you are taking BART (practical tips coming in part two), the best stop to get off is Embarcadero. From there, you can take a walk towards the Ferry Building, with nice little shops and cafes inside, and further towards the famous San Francisco Piers. The most visited is probably Pier 39, a mandatory stopover to see a colony of sea lions sunbathing on the docks. These guys know how to chill. Before you get there, you will pass through a vibrant area of bars, restaurants and stalls. If you are thinking of visiting the infamous Alcatraz prison, this is the right place to be, as from the piers there are boats taking you there multiple times a day. You can also make a half day trip to a beautiful little town of Sausalito, North of San Francisco. Further along, you have Fisherman’s Wharf. You might be hungry by this point and there is no better place to try some seafood, like the famous shrimp or lobster sandwich or a clam chowder soup.
So, where do we go from here? Well, you have two options. Head to the most photographed spot on the planet - The Golden Gate Bridge. Or take an iconic cable car towards the Union Square and Chinatown.
If you decide to head towards the Golden Gate Bridge, make sure you will charge your phone before you arrive there, as it’s a photo opportunity not to be missed. The lengths people go for that perfect Instagram snap… From Fisherman’s Wharf it may take you up to two hrs walking to get there, through a beautiful route by Pacific Heights towards Presidio area. Alternatively, you can check public transport links, or hop into an Uber!
You may also want to dedicate an entire day to the Golden Gate Bridge and surrounding neighbourhoods and explore the beautiful and probably the wealthiest San Francisco area – the Presidio, as well as visit the Golden Gate Park.
Financial District, Union Square, Chinatown and Little Italy are the areas which you can all explore within the same day, and you can also take a cable car between Union Square and Chinatown. In little Italy, which is just next to Chinatown you will find one of the most unique culinary places to visit for some garlic infused feast – The Stinking Rose. That if you like garlic of course, as this is where garlic is served with your food, not the other way round. They process over 3,000 pounds of garlic each month to make the food. And besides stinky is really good!
Mission District is where you will find a lot of city’s art and street art, and it may be good to get a guided walk through the area. Here is where you will find another highlight of the city – The Painted Ladies, colourful Victorian houses near Alamo Square. Another Instagram worthy location.
There is so much more to San Francisco, from museums, parks, galleries, nightlife, that it’s impossible to cover all within one blog without putting you to sleep, so let me stop here and let’s move on.
Muir Woods and Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve
Only an hour drive North of San Francisco, are two magical places, where people not just come to visit. They come from around the world to see. Both Muir Woods and Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve are great for a day or a half day hiking trip, and even better if you stay overnight. Camping is not allowed directly in Muir Woods National Monument, but you can camp in Armstrong Redwoods. Why people come there? To see the oldest and tallest living organisms in the world. The trees’ ages range from 400 to over 1000 years old, with height up to 310 feet. These magnificent sequoias once covered most of the United States, but when logging industry came to California, they were largely destroyed. It is worth visiting what is left of them and escape the crowds of San Francisco.
If you aren’t planning of hiring a car, both can be visited as a half day, or a day trip from San Francisco and often combined with wine tasting in Sonoma and Napa Valley. However, if you book a day trip to do the redwoods and wine tasting, know that it will be a bit rushed. You can also take a ferry to Sausalito, and Muir Woods is a short Uber ride from there. You can make it a day trip to Muir Woods National Monument and enjoy staying as long as you’d like.
Sonoma County and Napa Valley
What would be a visit to California, without some wine tasting? Both Sonoma and Napa Valley are around an hour drive from San Francisco. Take a day for this trip, as you would want to soak in the sun, slow down and enjoy wine and food, in at least three of over few hundred wineries, ranging from rustic to regal. When you visit Sonoma, you can make a stopover for lunch in the picturesque city of Sonoma, or check which wineries offer food to go with your wine. You can also tour Napa Valley in style, taking a historical Napa Valley train, where you will have fine dining experience, coupled with… you guessed - wine. If your time allows, you can slow down further, by booking yourself overnight in one of many wine county’s B&Bs, as the weather, the wines and the scenery are to be indulged.
Yosemite National Park
Up to this point you are just a tourist. But if you are a true adventurer, in Yosemite you will have almost 1200 square miles of wilderness for you to explore. My advice – if you are staying in San Francisco, taking a day trip to Yosemite, to just ‘tick the box’ is a waste of your time and money. It takes four hours to get there and back, living you with just a few hours to explore the park. So, check out multi-day tours, or if you are driving, even better, you have all the time you want. Plan ahead, to make the best out for your visit. Camping, lodging and backpacking is very popular in Yosemite and your feet would most likely be the transportation of choice.
Adventure tribe will thrive here. Waterfalls, deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, hiking trails. If you are hiking, here are some of the most popular hikes you can take in the park. Yosemite Valley, The Glacier Point Road, Wawona Area Hikes, Hetch Hetchy, White Wolf, Tuolumne Meadows. Most people visit Yosemite between April and October. For the above-mentioned hikes, different times of the year may be suitable, so check before you go. Also, some are accessible by car first.
Did you know that Yosemite is one of the world's greatest climbing areas? Yosemite Mountaineering School & Guide Service offers guided climbing trips for all levels, as well as equipment rental. If you like your adrenaline rush triggered in a different way, you can try water rafting along the Merced River.
There is plenty more to enjoy in Yosemite, as it’s an ultimate outdoor playground for adventure seekers, and if Northern California is on your bucket list, you should definitely make it in one of the top places to visit.
Straddling the border of California and Nevada, in the Sierra Nevada Mountains lies the cobalt blue Lake Tahoe. It’s the largest alpine lake in the United States and the second deepest. If you are looking for more adventure opportunities, you will definitely find them here. You can explore the area on foot, or mountain biking using Tahoe Rim Trail, which is open between June and October. You will experience one of the most iconic views on this trail. For the most famous postcard view, head to Emerald Bay, the crown jewel of your Lake Tahoe experience, where emerald blue water meets colourful granite cliffs.
There is plenty to enjoy in Lake Tahoe and no shortage of sunny days. Water sports enthusiasts will thrive here, as swimming, kayaking, windsurfing and stand up paddle surfing (SUP) are all on offer.
Hiking, camping and backpacking in the wilderness and world class ski resorts in winter, are both Summer and Winter fun opportunities here.
Well… this itinerary alone should fill a couple of weeks of your California adventure, if you want to properly experience everything and make unforgettable memories. There is plenty more to see in California, so in the next blog we will be heading South.
You will also find some practical tips in Part Two, so subscribe to our blog and follow @tribdapp on social media to know when it’s published!
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