On starting our California national park road trip we arrived in Los Angeles and check-in to our hotel The Garland. The hotel is located next to Universal Studios Hollywood, so of course we had to visit Universal for the day! We also visited Santa Monica Pier and the Pacific Park; the Pacific Wheel offers one of the best views out over Santa Monica Beach and LA in the distance. Some of my other Los Angeles highlights included hiking up to the Hollywood sign, driving down Rodeo Drive, and walking along Venice Beach Boardwalk!
We then began to make our way along the Pacific Coast Highway up to Santa Barbara, but on the way to Santa Barbara we detoured and visited Malibu to catch an epic sunset. In Santa Barbara we checked into our hotel the Santa Barbara Inn, which was just a short walk from the beach. From Santa Barbara we headed to our first National Park of the Road Trip: the Channel Islands National Park. We explored the Islands via boat from the sea before being dropped off on the Island of Anacapa where we hiked to Inspiration Point; from Inspiration Point we were treated to insanely stunning views out over the sea and of the neighbouring Channel Islands. We also decided to spend a day relaxing on one of Santa Barbara’s amazing beaches before taking a stroll down Stearns Wharf and trying some amazing seafood at Santa Barbara Shellfish Company!
Our journey up the Pacific Coast Highway then took us to the fantastic Pismo Beach where we were lucky enough to try our hand at surfing with the California locals- though we could barely stand up on our boards, it was still fun to sit and bob among the waves and grab a sweet treat from Old West Cinnamon Rolls after! From Pismo Beach we carried on up into California’s most iconic stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway- Big Sur State Park. Big Sur State Park was one of the most beautiful stretches of highways I have ever seen; our first stop within Big Sur State Park was at Elephant Seal Vista Point where down below the cliff edge were hundreds of elephant seals sitting on the beach soaking up the sun. This was truly an amazing experience I’ll never forget. Our drive through Big Sur State Park took us to our hotel Big Sur Lodge, but before we checked-in we pulled over at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park Falls and admired the waterfall from the road. Staying in Big Sur Lodge was a rustic yet chic experience where we truly felt like we were in the wilderness, but also had all of the conveniences we needed.
The next stop along our National Park California Road Trip, and Pacific Coast Highway tour, was Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey. Monterrey was a beautiful, quaint town with an authentically coastal Californian feel. One of the best things to do in Monterrey is to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium- not only is it a world class aquarium but it is a Wildlife Refuge. The most surprising thing about Monterey was the sheer amount of wildlife including otters, seals, sealions and whales if you venture out into the ocean. The hotel we stayed at in Monterey was Casa Munras Garden Hotel & Spa - a charming hotel with clear Mediterranean villa influences, next to Old Fisherman's Wharf.
The next section of our California Road Trip was reached after a short drive around Monterey Bay: Santa Cruz. In Santa Cruz we checked-in to our hotel the Hyatt Place Santa Cruz - this hotel was about a 15 minute walk from Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and just a mile off the Pacific Coast Highway. We didn't have long in Santa Cruz though and visiting the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, home to California’s is oldest amusement park, was definitely a great thing to do whilst in the city. We also drove to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park where we were able to walk amongst California's beautiful Redwood Trees; in Santa Cruz we also rode a steam train through the Californian Redwood Trees at Roaring Camp Railroads… a truly novelty and amazing experience!
The time had come to make the drive we had been most excited for - the drive in-land to Yosemite National Park. We knew this drive would be our longest yet, so we decided to make a few stops along the way. Firstly, we stopped in San Jose, the city synonymous with Silicon Valley, which was full of really amazing architectural landmarks and lovely cafes where we could grab a bite to eat. After just under an hour of travelling we then came to the San Francisco Premium Outlets where we decided we were going to have a little look around and see what bargains we could snap-up, and of course re-fuel for the next leg of the journey. About an hour and a bit later we came to the small town of Modesto, which actually means modest in Spanish, and though the town was small it had an amazing farmers market where we purchased some fresh fruit to eat in the car as we completed the final leg of the journey to Yosemite National Park.
When we arrived in Yosemite National Park we checked straight into our hotel, the Yosemite View Lodge, and went to bed after a long day of driving. The next morning, reenergised, we visited Yosemite Valley where we saw Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls. We decided to hike up to Lower Yosemite Falls - as this was the easier hike and still provided amazing views of Yosemite National Park. On our second day in Yosemite National Park, we drove to the scenic look out for Bridalveil Falls, by the entrance to the park, and were treated to amazing views of the waterfall plus a great view of El Capitan. That evening we also drove up to Glacier Point where we made the short hike to the stunning look out over Yosemite Valley. Thankfully, we decided to stay until nightfall for some amazing star gazing! On our final day we did something little off the beaten track for visitors to Yosemite National Park as we left the park slightly and visited Hetch Hetchy - Yosemite’s Mountain Fjord. The clear blue water between the surrounding mountains was just stunning and the trail around the Fjord was nice and easy.
On our journey back to San Francisco we decided to do it in one hit to get back to the city as soon as possible, but this is a long trip so definitely make some pit-stops if you need to: perhaps in Oakland where you will get some great views over San Francisco Bay to the city itself. Once in San Francisco we checked into our hotel the Hotel Zephyr San Francisco on Fisherman's Wharf. From outside our hotel we could see stunning views of Fisherman's Wharf, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz Island. Instead of biking up and over the Golden Gate Bridge like we had read about so many times, we hopped on an electric scooter and rode it down Fisherman's Wharf and up to the Golden Gate Bridge! This is a great alternative to biking, but be warned you will have to swap scooters as the batteries die pretty quickly. On our second day in San Francisco, we had booked a trip to Alcatraz Island where we were given our audio guides to wander around the abandoned prison. This was a very interesting but harrowing experience that I really recommend for anyone visiting San Francisco. The National Park, well National Monument, we visited in San Francisco was Muir Woods National Monument; here we got to walk beneath some of the tallest trees I've ever seen in this Californian Redwood Forest. We easily spent an entire day here wandering through the trees and learning about the ancient Redwoods. This was a great final day in San Francisco before flying home back to London.