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Yosemite, Monterey and Big Sur TR

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Nov 4th, 2009, 01:23 PM
  #1
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Yosemite, Monterey and Big Sur TR

We just returned from a quick one week trip to Yosemite NP, Monterey Peninsula and Big Sur with a dollop of San Francisco thrown in at the end - “we” is DW, DD and me. Thanks to Fodorites who helped in putting together our plans.

We left from BWI on a Southwest flight to Oakland with stops in Birmingham and Nashville along the way. The price of the flight were too good to pass up, plus the 3 stops each way meant we would accumulate enough pretzels and peanuts for all who stopped at our door on Halloween. Our one hour change of plane window in B’ham turned into almost 3 as the connecting flight from Denver was delayed; giving us the opportunity to find some food to replace the sandwiches made for the trip and left in the fridge at home. Note to the people of B’ham. Your airport really needs some decent place to find food, especially on the gate side of security. Making do with what was available, we arrived in Oakland about 11PM and picked up our rental car – we were given a Chevy Malibu instead of the car we had asked for and assured was always there but it turned out to be a roomy, nice driving auto. Our first night was at the La Quinta nearby. Not bad at all and a good price. The room was clean. The included breakfast was quite good actually, better than expected, and there is free wi-fi and a free workstation in the lobby.

Getting an early start and ignoring Fodorite suggestions, we left for Oakhurst, a town utterly without charm, located not far from the Park’s South Entrance. Fodorites suggested that we skip Oakhurst and either stay in the Park – but there were no rooms available- or stay in a town with more charm, like Mariposa. We chose Oakhurst because we wanted to see Nelder Grove in the National Forest near the South Entrance. The drive from Oakland to Oakhurst took about 3 hours and does not get scenic until past Merced. What Oakhurst lacks in charm, it makes up for in convenience. There are lots of well priced motels, fairly decent restaurants, a huge Raley’s supermarket where we were able to stock up on picnic goods, and the usual chains found in strip malls. We stayed at the Shilo Inn – a place that I would highly recommend. At a price of about $70 it was the lodging bargain of the trip. Our room was huge – I’ve stayed in so called suites that were smaller, well furnished and spotlessly clean. Shilo Inn offers free coffee and tea in the lobby 24/7, has a friendly staff, a small pool, sauna and work-out room. It is a scenic 20 minute or so drive to the Park’s South Entrance. It also has free wi-fi. The included breakfast was excellent – the best of the trip.

Since we arrived about noon, we had the afternoon to hike the Shadow of the Giants trail in Nelder Grove and visit the Mariposa Grove located in Yosemite near the South Entrance. The drive from Oakhurst to Nelder Grove and then on to Yosemite is a scenic one. Although Nelder Grove doesn’t have as many spectacular Sequoias as Mariposa, we were the only ones there and the feeling one gets being alone among the giant trees is moving and very different from the Yosemite experience. We entered Yosemite using what may be the best bargain in the USA – my $10 National Parks Senior lifetime pass that was good for entry for all in the car. Although we were far from alone in Mariposa Grove, it was not nearly as crowded as it would have been a few months earlier and both the weather and trees were spectacular, as the weather would be for most of the trip. After a few hours in the Mariposa Grove we returned to our hotel, visiting Bass Lake along the way to see a beautiful sunset.

Next – a day in Yosemite were we do things we did not thing we were capable of doing.
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Nov 4th, 2009, 02:22 PM
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Great beginning, basingstoke2! Looking forward to the rest of your quickie trip!

I've stayed in a couple of Shilo Inns in Oregon and agree that they are a good value.

Please keep it coming!
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Nov 4th, 2009, 03:48 PM
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Very much looking forward to more about Yosemite - one of my favorite places on earth.
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Nov 4th, 2009, 04:37 PM
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Love it so far!
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Nov 4th, 2009, 05:54 PM
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Great! It brings back such good memories. I love the huge trees.. and the hiking in the area.

Sounds like you are having a great time.
I look forward to more.
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Nov 5th, 2009, 01:30 PM
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Are We There Yet? Are We There Yet?

After a great breakfast at the Shilo Inn, we had an early start heading back to "do" Yosemite. Our agenda was to begin with Sentinel Dome and then Glacier Point since they are on the same road. We started early because we knew the road to those 2 sites had construction delays of up to half an hour and we wanted not only to beat the asphalt trucks but the crowds as well. Our Senior pass proved its worth again and the Ranger at the gate said that he hadn't seen any trucks yet so off we went. It turned out that trucks are not necessary for construction and we had a 23 minute delay until the road opened and we followed a pilot truck for a few miles. Since Sentinel Dome comes first, we pulled into an almost empty parking lot. The sign said it was 1.1 miles from the trailhead. Only about a mile? That is not bad so with resolve to pull my old bones over that short distance, off we went. It was a sunny, crisp day. I was comforted that we were with DD, a newly cum laude graduated RN who had fresh knowledge of CPR should it be necessary.

Now, I really didn't do my homework and did not know what Sentinel Dome looks like from a distance. I had only seen pictures from up on top and knew that when I saw the "Jeffrey Tree" we would be there. So, when we saw the Dome off in the distance, we did not believe that could be the place, since it looked like the kind of climb where you need ropes and pitons and such to get up.

The trail began pretty easily but soon it became clear that it was a good thing that the scenery put me on an adrenaline high. The views on the way to the Dome were magnificent and that kept our motivation up. The footing though was difficult in parts and I was amazed that DW was doing well in her Wolky sandals that is her standard touring gear. After about an hour or so which seemed right for a mile considering the trail, we came to a wide clearing with trail signs and a dead fallen tree. THE SIGN! This must be the Jeffrey Tree. As we were taking celebratory photos, some other hikers – it turned out they were older than us too- came by and gently let us know that we weren’t there yet. Yes, it was that big round dome, still off in the distance that looked impossible to climb. Our new friends who were doing a day hike of the entire area let us know that we did not have to climb what looked to be a shear face of rock, but that the trail curls around the back and although quite steep and with difficult footing, is far more kind to folks like us. And off they went, leaving us in their dust. With an extra sip from our water bottles, we soldiered on, made it to the top - DD was there well before us old folk and reveled in what has to be one of the most spectacular views on earth. You have a 360 degree view and it seems that you can see the entire park from there. After taking celebratory photos around the real Jeffrey Tree and of the Valley, Waterfalls, El Capitan, Half Dome etc. it was time to return. The hike up took nearly 2 hours. The hike down about a quarter of that. Our lesson is that we are far more capable than we thought.

Next: We go to see the wimps at Glacier point, some animal surprises and more stuff.
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Nov 5th, 2009, 06:28 PM
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For those planning Yosemite in the near future -DW, who is a good citizen, reminds me to note that the Glacier Point Road, that also passes Sentinel Dome, closes sometime in November until sometime in May.
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Nov 5th, 2009, 07:25 PM
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Just joined and was excited to see this thread! I'm going to have a Weds-Saturday free (flying out Sunday) after a conference in San Francisco and I'm wondering if it would be possible (while still being pleasant) to do Yosemite, Monterey whale watching and possibly Pfieffer/Big Sur in that time? Or should I just choose either Yosemite or the coast?

Any recommendations would be appreciated!
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Nov 6th, 2009, 03:37 AM
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deforme: you'll get a lot more responses and more direct responses if you posted a thread of your own. Just click "Start A new Topic" in the Upper left.

Welcome to Fodors!
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Nov 6th, 2009, 06:08 AM
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Hi dcforme

I will try to give you some time frames to help with your decision.
Driving time SF to Yosemite is about 3 hours. From Yosemite to Monterey about the same. From Monterey back to SF about 2 hours + depending on traffic. If you can stay in Yosemite do that. Be aware though that if you choose to stay in Mariposa or near Mariposa, there is a road closure between there and Yosemite that can increase your driving time to the park by up to half an hour. Based on our experience, we would still choose Oakhurst as a place to stay outside of the park not only for its better hotel values, but also because it is not far from the South Entrance and thus near the Mariposa Grove that IMO is a must see.

You can see the main highlights of Yosemite in one day, but of course more time is better if you want to do hiking and such.

We enjoyed staying in Pacific Grove on the Monterey Peninsula. It was only a 10-15 minute drive to Fisherman's Wharf and Monterey and about the same to Carmel. Pacific Grove has a charm of its own and a beautiful, dramatic coastline.

The 17 mile drive is worthwhile and takes as long as you want it to take. We found an hour was plenty, but that is because we had already driven to Big Sur and hiked in Point Lobos State Park. If I had to choose between Pfieffer SP or Point Lobos SP I would choose the latter and hike the trails at Cedar Point. Point Lobos is not far from Carmel. From there you can drive the Big Sur coast on Highway 1 stopping at the many observation points as you wish. Figure a couple of hours to Nepenthe, a good place for lunch with fabulous views and for us, the turning back north point.

As far as Whale watching, the trips are either 3 or 5 hours. We chose the 3 hour tour on the Monterey Princess and were well satisfied.

I hope this helps. Have a great trip.
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Nov 6th, 2009, 08:14 PM
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We were just near Oakhurst a couple of weeks ago! I grew up in a nearby town. I really like that Raley's.

Lee Ann
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Nov 7th, 2009, 02:30 PM
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A bear! A bear!

Returning to our car from our Sentinel Dome extravaganza we continued on to Glacier Point - the end of the road. While we were climbing up to Sentinel Dome a lot of other cars must have come up the road because the much larger parking area at Glacier Point was full, but we lucked out as an SUV abandoned its attempt to fit into a too small space. Squeezing into the parking slot we started to "hike" the 200 paved yards to the overlook when we saw a large crowd next to one of the restrooms, pointing and snapping pictures. Joining them and following the direction of the pointing fingers we spotted a black bear far up a tree. The crowd seemed happier than the bear. It was our first bear seen outside of a zoo. For that matter, it was our first animal other than a couple of squirrels seen the day before in Mariposa Grove. It was surprising how far the bear would go out on a branch - now THAT is balance. After a while the bear must have grown tired of the finger pointing, shimmied down the tree and disappeared into the woods.

We completed the "hike" to the overlook and overlooked, seeing much of what we saw from Sentinel Dome but without the same satisfaction that comes of earning our view. Snidely we looked at our still fresh looking and smelling company for the wimps they were since their view was given, not earned. There is nothing like a good feeling of superiority.

The rest of our day in the park were spent visiting all of the sites recommended in our guidebook. This meant for the most part parking and seeing the things we saw from Sentinel Dome but from different distances and angles. We especially enjoyed getting up close and personal with some of the waterfalls which contrary to what our guidebooks told us to expect, were still running strong at that time of the year. If you take a day trip to Yosemite, try to stay at least until the very late afternoon. The low sun angle changes the character of the magnificent granite formations.

Next: On to Mariposa, the town not the grove. Is that all there is?
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Nov 9th, 2009, 05:42 PM
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First, some photo posting: Nelder Grove in the Sierra Forest, Mariposa Grove in Yosemite and Views on the trail to Sentinel Dome and from its summit. www.flickr.com/photos/basingstoke2/sets

I am editing the rest of the pictures and will post them as I complete sets.

Mariposa, the town. Don't get me wrong, Mariposa is a nice town, even a quaint town, but, IMO I would rather not stay there going to Yosemite. There is not much to choose from in the way of hotels and the ones there cost more and give you less than the ones in Oakhurst. I also do not see where one saves any driving. the drive from Mariposa to Yosemite is longer than the one from Oakhurst and is now made even longer with the landslide closing the road, leading to delays of up to half an hour on top of that. In any case, when visiting Yosemite, one would definitely want to see the Mariposa Grove, which in fact is considerably closer to Oakhurst than Mariposa so essentially you are not backtracking by going past Mariposa to Oakhurst.

In Mariposa we stayed at the Mariposa Lodge. It was a nice motel and had good reviews from all sources. However it cost $28 per night more than the Shilo Inn, did not include breakfast and in general was not up to the Shilo Inn room and overall standard. It was a decent motel, no more no less and the best of those that were under $250 per night according to reviews. For those that were closer to the park, some of those looked nice, but there really is nothing around them.

Compared to Oakhurst however, Mariposa has much more of interest to do in town. Although quite small, there are a lot of interesting little shops, interesting buildings, a number of good restaurants. We had dinner at The Butterfly and can recommend it highly. If the weather is right, the garden seating is delightful.

Next- on to Pacific Grove and a complete change of scene, stopping at one heck of a fruit stand.
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Nov 11th, 2009, 06:05 PM
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The morning we were to leave Mariposa, we had breakfast at a place called Pizza Plus, recommended by the lady who took our payment at the gas station. It is a good neighborhood type place for a good standard breakfast, everything was fresh, the grits cooked by the batch - not from envelopes etc. Prices were very reasonable. Decor is animal heads on the walls, so if that would ruin your meal, be forewarned and go somewhere else. The place is more plus than pizza featuring such delicacies as crawfish and frog legs. I asked the counter guy/cashier/waiter if he could suggest any interesting places between Mariposa and Pacific Grove. It turns out that he is originally from somewhere around Monterey, drives that route regularly and assured me that there is nothing worth stopping for along the way. Then, he thought and corrected himself and said we might want to stop at Casa de Fruta just off of highway 152 a little past half way. If a fruit stand is the main sight on a cross state drive, we wanted to see it for ourselves.

Stop at the Casa we did. It is one heck of a fruit stand! A great variety of fresh fruits, dried fruits, nuts of all sorts with different and unusual coatings, lots of other stuff. There is also a restaurant, gas station, small playground and some activities. It was a good place to stretch our legs for a half hour. We are still eating dried fruits and nuts purchased there.

Arriving at the Anton Inn, a rather unimposing looking place in Pacific Grove, we were shown to our room. Uh-oh! It was clear that there was a mix up in our reservation. We were 3 people and the room had one king sized bed. They offered to put in a roll away for the first night until a more suitable room was available. That may have been acceptable except that the bathtub/shower was in an alcove off the bedroom. That is alcove, not room. A bathtub/shower in full view of the bedroom may be erotic for a romantic weekend but not so much for a guy traveling with his wife and adult daughter. To their credit, the manager told us to come back in an hour or so as they took a suite with a separate sitting room, took out the sofa and put in a double bed for DD. That was a really good set-up for us giving all the most privacy that we had on the trip.

The rooms at the Anton Inn come as a nice surprise after seeing the plain exterior of the place. They come with an electric "fireplace" that also can give off heat, fridge, linens that are several cuts above the ones found in most motels - more like those in upscale hotels and in general are very nice. The Inn advertises a wine and cheese reception on weekday afternoons. They are modest- it is far more than wine and cheese. Crystal, the very pleasant and helpful desk clerk prepares quite a repast that is different every day. The included breakfast is also very decent with good coffee, cereals, yogurts, a delicious freshly made fruit salad and various pastries and donuts that seem to come from a shop rather than a box.

There seems to be a motel every few feet in the area of the Anton Inn but the area still has a residential feel. Other motels nearby are the Sea breeze, Butterfly Inn next to the Monarch Butterfly Park, Best Western and others. The Anton Inn is about a 10 minute walk to a most beautiful coastline that is part of a State Park. We spent time there each day - several hours the first day, the highlight being fabulous sunsets.

Our first day in Pacific Grove was spent looking at the many Victorian homes and B&Bs nearby and a few hours driving over to Old Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey - about a 10-15 minute drive. We spent the time waiting for our room to be prepared at the wharf and had a very fine lunch at the Sandbar & Grill, located not on the wharf with all of the restaurants and shops, but the one a few hundred yards away. The restaurant is on the water with nice views and seems to be extremely popular, particularly with residents. I recommend it highly.

We ended our first day in Pacific Grove sitting on a bench on the coastline well past sunset. I am editing photos of the nearby coastline and will post them in the next day or so.

Next: Big Sur, here we come.
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Nov 11th, 2009, 11:31 PM
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Basingstoke: Great pictures! Especially great shots of Half Dome and El Capitan.

Were those pilots in Photo #4 playing tic-tac-toe in the sky?

I remember the Casa de Fruta when it was just a stand by the roadside. It's certainly grown to be much more than that!

Looking forward to more!
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Dec 8th, 2009, 12:15 PM
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Well, I have been tardy in finishing up this trip report, so I will try to make it short. Really, the rest of this TR would be about exploring the coast down to Big Sur and this is one case where the trite "a picture is worth a thousand words" is true. So, if you have the time, take a look at the rest of the pictures www.flickr.photos/basingstoke2/sets. There are some nice ones there that will be better than any verbal description I could write.

In a nutshell, some highlights were hiking in Point Lobos Park, trail riding in Andrew Molena State Park (they put me on a Percheron - is there a message in that)? The trail riding was a lot of fun even though DW and I had not been on a horse in 20 years. Dismounting provided the gift of hilarity to DD. Also of course, we drove the 17 mile drive as required by tourist rules and were glad that we did. Sometimes tourist attractions are such for good reason. We also took a whale watching trip out of Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey that turned out to be a dolphin and porpoise watching trip. We were aboard the Monterey Princess - a very clean, well kept boat and although there were no whales that morning, the dolphins and porpoises were very entertaining - we saw hundreds. The porpoises were particularly entertaining as they would ride the bow pressure wave - surfing if you like. I have a photo set of the dolphins and porpoise playing
using the above link. There is also a set of some very nice sunsets that were a spectacular nightly joy.

As far as restaurants, two stand out in addition to the Sandbar and Grill. They were Paridiso in the Cannery row area of Monterey - we ate there twice and really enjoyed the fresh sardine dish, and Nepenthe in Big Sur, the latter more for the view than the food. The food is OK but is more like the hamburger is served on french bread rather than a bun, you get the picture. However, the view from up there is spectacular and worth the wait for a table, don't miss it if you are in the area and, be sure to get a seat on the terrace.

We drove back to San Leandro to overnight before our flight home the next morning, staying at the Marina Inn, a place that turned out to be an excellent choice and is just a few minutes from Oakland Airport without having to use a highway -very convenient, really! They include a good breakfast as well. There is also a nice restaurant next door- I forget the name but if there, give it a try. The Inn offers a free shuttle to the BART including pick up at the end of the day. We took advantage of that and spent the afternoon and evening in San Francisco. All in all, it was one heck of an enjoyable trip - one of those that easily surpased our already high expectations.
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Dec 8th, 2009, 12:17 PM
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Oops! I screwed up the photo link - left out the dot com part. It is www.flickr.com/photos/basingstoke2/sets
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Dec 8th, 2009, 01:02 PM
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Thanks for the report and trip. I hope to be there the 3rd week in May.
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Dec 8th, 2009, 05:21 PM
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Very nice basingstoke, thankyou. I'm just starting to work on an eleven-thirteen day trip departing 26 April using United IAD-SFO $239.40 taxes inc. We'll be staying in Monterey the first night so I'll look into the Anton Inn. Will also look at the Shilo in Oakhurst.

From Monterey we'll work our down to Ventura and then head for Sequoia N.Forest and Sequoia N. Park and on to Yosemite. I like your suggestions for Nelder and Mariposa Groves also.

We then head back to the coast, so we can see Redwood N.P. and then drive slowly back down the coast to SFO. I haven't decided on stops for this section yet.
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Dec 9th, 2009, 01:35 PM
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ronkala - Sounds like a wonderful trip. As I noted, the Anton Inn is in Pacific Grove, about 10 minutes from Monterey. The same owners also run the Lighthouse Inn which seems somewhat more upscale and I would imagine, more expensive. However, the Lighthouse Inn is very close to the ocean - maybe a 1-2 minute walk. Check that out too.

The drive from Pacific Grove to Oakland Airport was a bit under 2 hours.

I should have mentioned earlier that our entrance ticket at Point Lobos, our first stop on the way to Big Sur was also good for all of the other state parks that day. The trail riding entrance at Andrew Molena State Park is just before the entrance booth, so you do not have the extra expense of the park entrace fee.

Also, if you saw my photos of Pfeiffer Beach, you may want to go there. It is not in the Pfeiffer State Park. To get there, driving south on US 1, you will pass the Pfeiffer State Park entrance on your left. The road to the beach is unmarked as such and is about 1/2 to 1 mile past the state park entrance. It is a very narrow road that will be on your right - not a regular right turn but a hairpin U turn to the right on to the road. Follow the road 2 miles to the beach.
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