I’ve just returned from the trip of a lifetime; a two week road trip driving down and around California’s Pacific Coast Highway.
Over two weeks our stops included (in order):
- San Francisco (part I)
- Santa Cruz
- Santa Barbara
- Los Angeles
- Yosemite National Park
- Napa & San Francisco (part II)
We covered over 1,000 miles and every stop had a different vibe. We drove from the crisp and foggy 20°C/68°F sunshine of San Francisco (SF) to the dry 35°C/95°F scorching heat of Yosemite National Park. So quite the contrasts, and my Roots hoodie definitely came in handy in SF. June is actually quite cold and the hotter months aren’t until around October.
Naturally, we visited Alcatraz. Book tickets in advance; if you decide to just show up it’s very likely you’ll be unlucky, as these sell out quickly. I’d recommend taking a windbreaker or a sweater as it gets quite breezy on the boat trip.
Two phrases will come in useful for visiting SF and ensure you don’t stand out like a complete tourist;
[quote text_size=”small” author=”Mark Twain”]
The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”
[quote text_size=”small” author=”Tammy (our Airbnb host!)”]
I left my heart in San Francisco….and my jacket!”
Even along the Pacific Highway coast, passing through Monterrey, Carmel and Big Sur, the chilly Pacific breeze was felt until we hit the beach of Santa Barbara.
Coming from Europe, long distance driving for me is anything longer than 2 hours! The thought of driving 5 hours on the monotonous UK roads didn’t sound fun. However, the novelty and scenic roads of North America made it much more appealing. Tip: listen to everyone when they say, “Check out the aquarium in Monterrey.” Our Airbnb host let us borrow their members pass for free entry, and it was totally worth it.
Big Sur (highway 1) is a coastal scenic highway. So it’s best not to take this route if you’re in a rush (definitely allow for more time than Google plans out). Highway 101 is the alternative and will be quicker. Once in Santa Barbara and LA we finally soaked up some sun on the beach.
Palm trees, EVERYWHERE! 🙂
Naturally, we had to visit Hollywood Boulevard.
Be sure to check out the view from Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles too. Get there early evening if you want to see it at night, as parking can be a slow nightmare. We arrived at 21:30 (the Observatory closes at 22:00) and ended up driving back down to the exit to find a space.
We left LA and drove a few hours North through Bakersfield and Fresno to Yosemite National Park. The temperature felt like it sky rocketed when we hit Bakersfield, pushing a scorching 40°C/104°F!
We hiked to the top of Yosemite Falls. Started off at 10:00 and it took around 3 hours for us to hike to the top.
Some tips that we can pass on for other people wanting to visit for the day:
- We entered the park via the south gate though Fish Camp; the parking near the Yosemite Falls hike is around an hour’s drive from there. Fill up on gas before entering the park, as there’s only one near the gate and the ongelating roads will guzzle it up.
- Take plenty of water on this hike. Yosemite classify it as “strenuous” and recommend 4 litres per person on the 5-7 hour round trip. We managed to carry 10 x 50cl bottles and guzzled through them (around 7 on the way up and 3 on the trip down, which luckily was shaded in the afternoon).
- Food-wise, we prioritised water and just stocked up on semi-dried fruit and Clif energy bars (the nutrition of the Clif bars are debatable!). I never really felt hungry during the hike, just constantly thirsty from the heat.
- Wear appropriate footwear. We purchased some cheapo mid-length hiking boots from Decathlon for £12.99, did the job just fine.
- Do not wear jeans…wear some loose fitted shorts. On the way down we advised people wearing jeans and carrying nothing but a single bottle of water what they were in for!
- Right at the top of the Falls there’s a natural pool that you can swim in. However, accessing it is not for the faint of heart. You have to detour from the path over and across sloped rocks; it’s not a designated path. Once you are there though, diving in to the cold water is so refreshing.
- Sunblock, which is a given.
- The views are stunning at every level, so charge the camera!
After Yosemite we drove back to the streets of San Francisco before our return flight to London. With the car upgraded to the Mustang we drove north over the Golden Gate to Napa for some fine wine. No jackets needed here.
California, until next time!