Rich and I had been talking for a while of doing a road trip in California. He was really keen to explore Yosemite and I really wanted to go back to San Francisco where I had spent some time years ago. With this year marking Rich’s 30th birthday, we thought it’d be the perfect reason to hop across the pond and tick another trip off our (rather long) list of bucket list trips.
We decided to focus on Northern California because I already knew a lot of Southern California from a previous trip and most of the places we both wanted to see were further up north. We also quickly realised that covering most of California in under 2 weeks was simply not going to happen! Did you know the UK is about 57% the size of California? When we saw the amount of driving involved and the number of weeks we’d need to do everything we wanted at the pace we wanted, we thought it best to just pick one part of the state and stick to it. This also now gives us another reason to come back for another trip 😉
We started our trip in San Francisco. We were there for 2 full days and 2 half days. Looking back I so wish we had planned a couple of extra days there.
San Francisco to me is the perfect mix of city life and laid back beach life. It’s big but not as overwhelming as New York can sometimes feel. It’s buzzing with a good mix of creative and tech people. The city is pretty much surrounded by water (on three sides out of four) and they have some fantastic beaches with the most amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge. You can’t compare them to the beaches in Southern California of course but if what you’re looking for is a beach to go to for a walk rather than to work on your tan, I think this is a winner. I love the steep rolling heels and the views of the bay. And last but not least how could a foodie like me not mention the impressive amount of cool cafes and restaurants?!
I left feeling like there was a lot more I wanted to do and see but we did cram in as much as we could during our time there so I do feel like we made the most of it.
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
Our second stop was jaw-dropping Yosemite. We got on the road early afternoon and arrived just as the sun was setting with the mountains bathing in golden light. We were itching to stop the car at every shoulder on the road to take photos.
We were in Yosemite for 2 full days and a half day. We managed to go on a few hikes, a bike ride around the valley and we did some driving to some of the best viewpoints. We were pretty much in awe, mouth agape throughout the whole time. Mother Nature certainly knows how to put on a show!
I think if we had gone in spring when the waterfalls are still running, we would have probably wanted to stay for an extra day but since most of them are dry this time of year, we were actually quite happy with we had managed to see and do.
Our third stop was South Lake Tahoe. The drive from Yosemite to Tahoe includes some amazing scenery, especially at the beginning as you cross through Yosemite, halfway through when you drive past Mono Lake, and then as you arrive when you finally see Lake Tahoe ahead.
On our first night in Tahoe, we got talking to Patrick – the concierge at our hotel – and he immediately pulled a map out and recommended some great places for us to see in the area. Being a local, he was really excited to tell us about his favourite spots and where he likes to go to get the best views without the crowds or to see the sunset. We ended up following all of his recommendations and were so happy. I’ll be sharing his recommendations and tips in a separate blog post.
Our last stop was Sonoma valley. We thought we’d end the trip on a high with a few wine tastings in one of America’s most renowned wine regions. It was quite a drive from Tahoe so we ended up breaking the journey with a stop at Apple Hill to walk through some of the orchards and taste some apple doughnuts, and then another stop in Sacramento to check out the old town.
Initially, we wanted to do both Napa and Sonoma but we ended up having time for only one of the valleys and we picked Sonoma. We had a fantastic time but I really regretted not spending another full day or two there, which would have allowed us to see a little bit more of Sonoma and spend a day in Napa.
Northern California was truly stunning and good to us. Rich and I both vowed we’d go back and are already in full plotting mode! Have you been to Northern California before? What are some of your favourite places?