California Trip Report Part One-June 2010

Aug 25th, 2010, 05:00 PM
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California Trip Report Part One-June 2010

My friend and I have both been to California several times before, but after deciding that we would travel together this summer, agreed that it was one of our favorite locations. We planned a trip that included places neither of us had been before (San Diego, Santa Barbara, San Simeon and the southern coast), places we had both been (Monterey and San Francisco) and places only one of us had been (Yosemite and Lake Tahoe). We had a fantastic time. Since I benefited from the advise of other travelers when planning the trip, I hope that this report will be helpful to others. Reviews of all hotels we stayed in are posted on Trip Advisor.

6/4 & 6/5 San Diego- Best Western Seven Seas
Arrived in Orange County and were promptly picked up by Foxx Rent A Car shuttle and taken to the rental location. We had rented from them for the first time since the rates for a two week one way rental were significantly cheaper than other companies. When we presented our confirmation for a compact car, they indicated that they had no compacts or intermediate size cars. They offered us an SUV, which we were initially reluctant to take due to reduced gas mileage or a dented economy car. After we considered and reviewed the economy car, we watched the ONE (!) SUV drive out of the lot. After surveying the few remaining cars, we asked to speak to a manager and an hour later we drove out with a Toyota Prius for the same rate we had paid for the compact. Turned out to be both comfortable and very economical.

We drove from the airport through La Jolla and south along the coast to Coronado Island where we toured the Hotel Del Coronado, drove through a neighborhood with early homes and enjoyed the vista from the ferry dock across to San Diego.

The next morning we arrived at the San Diego Zoo when it opened and spent several hours there, particularly enjoying the flamingo exhibit with new chicks and the polar bears lounging with ice sculptures. Walked through Balboa Park and investigated the gift shops in various museums but didn’t tour any. From there drove through the gaslamp district and walked around Old San Diego. Weather wasn’t great, and perhaps that influenced my perception but San Diego was my least favorite part of the trip. Not nearly as scenic as I expected, nor as interesting.

6/6 Disney-Best Western by Stovall
Since we were still on east coast time, we rose early this morning and arrived at our next hotel at 7:30 am. We were surprised that we were able to check in and invited to enjoy the continental breakfast. Entered Disneyland shortly after it opened. Most rides had no wait and we were able to walk on to rides. Since we had both visited Disney World multiple times, we focused on rides which were unique to Disneyland or which we had never taken at Disney World. I loved Splash Mountain (also at Disney World) which I had assumed was just a water ride and discovered told the story of B’rer Rabbit.

We decided to take a short break from the park and walk the 10 minutes back to the hotel and enjoy the pool. The property had two outdoor pools and hot tubs surrounded by 20 or 30 large topiary statues. Rather unique despite adjoining the parking lot.

Indiana Jones, which was highly touted in tour books was closed most of the day, but we finally got on at 11:30pm shortly before the park closed. Fantasma was interesting, but the effects (pictures projected on curtains of water) were somewhat spoiled by wind, not to mention crowds. We enjoyed the fireworks which were easily visible from the main street. In California Adventure, we loved Toy Story, the one ride with significant lines. Had it not been for the 45 minute wait, we would definitely have done it again.

6/7 Santa Barbara- Best Western Cavalier
Since we arrived in Santa Barbara at lunchtime, we decided to try La Super Rica, recommended by Julia Child, Fodors and fodorites. Would definitely have passed it by without these recommendations, but the food was delicious. We followed a walking tour from one of the tour guides and marveled at the magnificent courthouse with no security (coming from NJ where we have to walk through metal detectors we could not imagine this), fantastic mosaic tiles, and a room painted by the artist who designed many Cecille B. De Mille backdrops. Found the cheese and wine shop recommended by fodorites but staff were lounging outside because of a power outage. When I explained how we happened to be there, the manager offered to still sell us wine and cheese as long as we didn’t that he estimated the weight of the cheese. We also found the bakery Reynauds which came highly recommended by others, but unfortunately it closed at 3. Would have loved more time in Santa Barbarra.

We continued along the coast up to our hotel in San Simeon. Passed fantastic quilt-like fields of gladiolas. The hotel had a gorgeous waterfront site with a broad lawn fronting cliffs about 20 feet high. Three firepits dotted this expanse. We met a family traveling a similar route who shared their S’Mores with us. Enjoyed watching the moonlight and listening to the waves.

6/8 & 6/9 Big Sur-Asilomar
The next morning we walked on the small beach below the hotel and then drove a few miles back to Moonstone Beach. We hadn’t made reservations at Hearst Castle assuming that we wouldn’t have any problems mid week in early June. When we finally called, we were astonished that in order to get a reasonable tour time, we would need to dash back to the hotel to pack up and jet up to Hearst Castle. Took Tour #1, recommended for first time visitors and loved it. With more time, we would have lingered and taken additional tours. Wish we had skipped the film.

After leaving Hearst Castle we stopped to see the Elephant Seals. The beach was covered with young males which were fascinating to see and hear. We made many additional stops to gape at the scenery as we drove up Big Sur. At one point, Deb stayed in the car while I walked to an overlook. Since it was gorgeous, I insisted that she come back with me. Unfortunately for her, (since she is petrified of them) she noticed a small snake which I missed. Similarly she had a raccoon encounter later than day, which I, the wildlife lover, also missed. After we unloaded the suitcases at the hotel, I moved the car to the parking lot a few hundred feet away. Apparently the door to the room was left slightly ajar. Deb went into the bathroom and emerged a minute later to find “Rocky” in the doorway. Over the rest of our trip, the racoon’s “size” kept increasing to that of a pony. I didn’t hear her scream nor did I see him.

Of the various lodging I had booked for the trip, Asilomar was the one property that had the most mixed reviews. I had booked a “standard” room with a view (as opposed to a “historic” room) which was a mistake. I recommend asking for a property map and further description. At first I was put off by the tacky room, but Asiolmar grew on me. I loved the free audiotape describing the various buildings and natural surroundings and seeing the CA Arts and Crafts architecture. Both Hearst Castle and Asilomar were designed by Julia Morgan-one opulent and one spare. The beach was gorgeous, but not right outside the room as I had imagined. Breakfasts which were included in the price were quite good (e.g. multigrain pancakes with raspberries, fresh strawberries, granola and yoghurt, etc.)

We drove along the ocean from Pacific Grove to Monterey. Tried eating lunch at Lover’s Point, but it was too windy. The Monterey Bay Acquarium had a gorgeous mounting of a sea dragon exhibit. We also liked the jellies. The aquarium had great areas for young kids, but was overpriced. Enjoyed an albatross demonstration-though they were extinct!. We drove around downtown Monterey to see old buildings and save time. Spent several hours walking around different sections of Point Lobos, where I lost both my cell phone and Deb (we misunderstood which parking lot were were supposed to meet at). Toured 17 mile drive late in the day and saw preparations for the US Open (golf).

Spent some time in the morning walking on the beach and walking around the grounds of Asilomar listening to the audiotour. Followed recommendations of tour guides and fodorites and booked the Elkhorn Slough Safari. While out on the pontoon boat we saw a raft of 78 otters, sea lions, and harbor seals.

Amused by road names, Avenue 15 ¾ and 20 ½, the latter of which we took towards Yosemite.

We arrived at lovely Wawona shortly before sunset and enjoyed dinner on the porch of our cottage.

Part Two to follow----
stillhouse is offline  
Aug 25th, 2010, 07:14 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
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You're putting a lotta miles on, but keep it coming. So far, So good.

In the Central California counties, San Joaquin Valley, in the early days, roads were numbered, and those numbers pretty much survive today outside city limits.

Avenues run east/west; roads run north/south. They are numbered from some starting point, say the southern most tip of a county.

Each number is a mile from the other, so Ave 12, for instance is 1 mile from Ave 11 and Ave 13. Ergo, once in while you will get a number like 15 3/4, or 11 1/2, if no one comes up with an original name, like Daffodil Lane, or something like that.

So if someone tells you they live at the SW corner of Avenue 13 and Road 22, you'll know right where to find them. (If you have the right county.)

Sometimes a major route will get a name, but old timers will still refer to it by it's former number. Very simple and easy, really. Enjoy California.
BillJ is offline  
Aug 26th, 2010, 02:26 AM
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lovely report.
planning a similar route in december after christmas. Driving from LA early morning we would want to spend a night at big sur/carmel. any suggestion where we should spend the night? is hearst castle a must see?
how far is it from monterey to yosemite? how is the drive?
ih is offline  
Aug 26th, 2010, 04:12 AM
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We did the route in the opposite direction, Yosemite first, thanks for the memories!!
emalloy is offline  
Aug 26th, 2010, 06:40 AM
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Weather wasn’t great, and perhaps that influenced my perception but San Diego was my least favorite part of the trip. Not nearly as scenic as I expected, nor as interesting.
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Thanks for your report stillhouse. While I agree, weather, no doubt, can influence our experience of somewhere; could you explain in more detail to your audience what wasn't interesting or scenic about San Diego? Just curious since I happen to love the place.
Last year, we met a couple from the mid-west in San Francisco, who said 'they didn't get the big deal about SF and thought it was filthy'. News to me.
Sincerely, I am just interested in what others are 'expecting' that lets them down.
So glad you seem to enjoy Santa Barbara. I'm sure some aren't wowed by SB either.
SOCALOC is offline  
Aug 28th, 2010, 04:32 PM
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BillJ-Thanks for the explanation! There have been trips where I felt that I spent my vacation in the car, but this wasn't one of them. We travelled 1-5 hours on days when we changed hotels, but there was often an intermediate destination and the scenery was usually spectacular.
stillhouse is offline  
Aug 28th, 2010, 04:40 PM
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ih-Whether Hearst Castle is a must see depends on what you like. I've been to California at least 6 times before and never made it to this area. It was definitely a must see for me. If you like historical figures, great scenery and decadent homes, you'll enjoy it. With more time, I could easily have spent a day riding up to the castle and back and taking each of the 4 tours. If you are driving from Los Angeles to Big Sur/Carmel in one day, there's a lot to see. We spend the night at San Simeon and then spent an entire day driving up the coast to Pacific Grove, a few miles from Carmel. We stopped multiple times so it would certainly be possible to skip the elephant seals and some of the hidden beaches, vistas that we stopped at and visit Hearst Castle. If you do decide to do this, I would suggest that you book a tour ahead of time to be sure that the timing works for you, and do the tour before the movie. That way if you find the movie boring as I did, you can save 30-45 minutes by walking out and continuing on your travels.

Can't really help with lodging suggestions other than to tell you where we stayed-Asilomar. About 10 years ago we stayed in a cabin in a state park near Big Sur with great views, but can't recall the name. I had friends who stayed at the Big Sur Lodge and felt that it was adequate but expensive and nothing special.
stillhouse is offline  
Aug 28th, 2010, 04:56 PM
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SOCACOC-I've thought about your question for a day before answering since I thought it was a good one. We had debated about including San Diego in our itinerary because it took us farther south than we would otherwise be and meant that we'd have to cut off a day or two elsewhere (we'd both been to Los Angeles and didn't want to include in our trip). However, I'd heard from other people and read that San Diego was gorgeous. I had high expectations of a sunny coastline and interesting city. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) this was the only place where we experienced "June gloom". The coast was pleasant, but no more enticing than other areas I had visited, and there didn't seem to be as much of a walkable downtown as I had anticipated. Areas like the gaslight district and Old Town San Diego were horrible touristy. As I noted earlier, I thought Balboa Park was wonderful and had I realized that I would not have found some of the other areas interesting I would have spent more time visiting various museums. I also enjoyed Coronado Island.

I had hoped that we could enjoy a Shakespeare performance at the Globe Theatre and a Mariner's game, but neither of these were available when we were there.

Our time was devoted to sightseeing and not eating out, so this didn't factor into my perspective. What one likes or doesn't is always subjective, so this is just one perspective.
stillhouse is offline  
Aug 29th, 2010, 05:07 PM
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Part Two-Trip Continued

6/11-6/14 Yosemite Lodge
I had hoped that by visiting Yosemite in the first half of June we would be able to drive across the Tioga road and miss some of the crowds that happened once schools were out. The first assumption was correct (the road opened about a week before we came, although the meadows were still deluged and the wildflowers I remembered hadn’t come up yet.). The second assumption was wrong, but mainly due to tour buses and visitors without children. Yosemite Valley was crowded! When we drive into the valley on Saturday morning, we were in stop and go traffic. One ranger indicated that on Memorial Day weekend, it had taken cars 2-4 hours to traverse the one way loop. Although there were shuttle designated lanes, they were poorly marked and cars moved into them. At one point, the shuttle driver let passengers off a bus that was not moving, at a non-shuttle stop. I ran a mile to get to a naturalist program on time. I was surprised and irritated that I had been almost as close to the original destination where I had boarded the shuttle.

When we arrived in the valley my friend volunteered to check in while I attended a program on bears. I was quite surprised to still see her in the lobby two hours later. Check in was later than we had been advised, the line was half an hour long and she had checked out 6 different rooms prior to my arriving. Apparently central reservations had not communicated our request (which I checked on several times) for a second floor room with two beds and a view, or at least quiet. We finally ended up with a 2nd floor room in a newer building with a slightly obscured view of Yosemite Falls. I would highly recommend obtaining a plan of the buildings and speaking directly to Yosemite Lodge at the Falls (or whatever park lodging you intend to stay in). All park programs were wonderful, as usual, including programs on bears, bats, the development of the Ahwanee, and a watercolor seminar on plein air painting (water falling over rocks behind the Ahwanee—clearly not my talent). At Mirror Lake I took the horsetrail to avoid the hordes, sat for a bit sketching in my new watercolor pad and lost my new lens cap. Deb and I took the one way narrated shuttle up to Glacier Point, and after half an hour or so of enjoying the scenery and taking pictures, Deb hurt her back and needed to take the bus back to the valley. I continued on the Panarama trail as anticipated, hiking the first two miles with a ranger. The trail was relatively level until ascending over Nevada Falls and then descending past Nevada and Vernal Falls where it became quite crowded. Spectacular views and my favorite day in Yosemite.

6/15 Lake Tahoe
We left Yosemite via the Tioga road, stopping to take many pictures. After stopping at the gas station recommended by other fodorites to enjoy a great lunch, we went on to Mono Lake. Hiked around the weird tufa spires for an hour or so and then headed on to Bodie State Park. It’s quite fitting that the last few miles to this park are not paved. Enjoyed a short talk about the history of Bodie and then wandered around with a town map. Continued on and arrived in South Lake Tahoe close to 8pm—in time to enjoy one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen over the lake.

6/16 Lake Tahoe-River Run Inn
Enjoyed the free bike made available by the motel for about an hour and discovered that there was a beach across form the hotel that we weren’t able to see below the road. Wandered around for awhile and then spent the rest of the day driving to north lake tahoe. Visited the Tallac Historic Site, Vikingsholm, where parking was nearly impossible, and finally arrived at Ehrmann Mansion just after it had closed. Nevertheless, the beach and dock had lovely views across the lake.

That night we stayed at the River Ranch Inn where I had stayed with my parents 20 years ago. That was nostalgic, since both died in the 1990’s. The rooms were updated of course and the restaurant was still tasty, but the river views were now only 25 feet across, with condos on the other side.

6/17 & 6/18 San Francisco-Le Meridien
Both Deb and I had been to San Francisco many times before, but what would a trip to California be without another visit? Since we love walking tours and had read about the San Francisco City Guides, we decided to check out the one in the Japanese Tea Garden, since the time coincided with our arrival in San Francisco. Great tour focused on the history of the garden. In the afternoon we once again enjoyed the 49 mile drive before checking into Le Meridien. We had reserved a great rate of $107 and were offered the opportunity to upgrade to the 22nd floor for $10 more. The views spanned the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Bridge and we were able to watch ferry traffic between San Francisco and Sausalito. This provided great entertainment as we sat on the floor and ate dinner in front of the windows.

The next day I took another San Francisco City Guide tour of City Scapes and Public Places which wandered up to roof top gardens and surveyed great architectural motifs, all of which I would have missed. Deb and I met in Chinatown and had lunch at a Dim Sum restaurant the concierge recommended. We then walked up to Coit Tower and surveyed the depression era motifs, before walking down again, stopping at the Levi Strauss building, and the Embarcadero. Purchased cheese, wine and bread and again sat in the window surveying the expanse of San Francisco.

The next morning, before going to the airport we wandered through the Saturday market, hopped on a cable car, which we had previously eschewed, wandered back through Union Square and finally left for the airport, agreeing that if the plane were overbooked we would volunteer to stay on..
stillhouse is offline  
Aug 30th, 2010, 06:52 AM
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I had high expectations of a sunny coastline and interesting city.

What one likes or doesn't is always subjective, so this is just one perspective.
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Thanks for your thoughtful response stillhouse.
And I should know better that it is usually our 'expectations' and 'experience' of a place that create our perception. I can think of a couple of popular tourist destinations that don't tickle my fancy, either. Then there are places I love visiting but you couldn't pay me to live there. It's a good thing we're all different.
This is the second report I have read that Yosemite was a mess this year. Sorry to hear that.

Great report. Thanks!
SOCALOC is offline  
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