San Francisco

Do you ever go somewhere and not totally enjoy it and then look back and realize you had an incredible time? That’s how I feel about our time in San Francisco. There were so many people and so many cars and so much waiting and so many traffic jams that I was ready to get outta dodge. But now that I’m looking though my pictures, I am reminded that we had a good time. We saw so many neat things and added memories to the memory bank.

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island

The reason we were in San Francisco in the first place is because Little Mister wanted to go to Alcatraz. It was a really cool experience and I’d recommend it if you are in SF. I had the great idea to book 9am tickets thinking the island would be less crowded. While that was the case, I didn’t realize we would be headed into San Francisco during morning rush hour. Doh. We had to leave the campground ridiculously early but we didn’t get caught in rush hour and we made our ferry with plenty of time to spare.

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island is gorgeous. Not only is the architecture cool, the flora is stunning, and the views are to die for. There are even good views from inside the prison.

Flora on Alcatraz Island

You absolutely must get the headphones for the Cellhouse Audio Tour. Get off the boat and walk to the very top of the island to get your headphones. The audio tour walks you though the prison and the grounds and gives so much history. You can go at your own pace so there’s time to see everything.

I did not realize that American Indians occupied Alcatraz Island for 18 months after the prison closed. They were attempting the claim the land for the tribes of North America but were unsuccessful in the end. Evidence from their time there is all over the island.

There are incredible views of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge around the backside of the island so be sure to go outside. If you’re listening to the audio tour it will take you out there.

Golden Gate Bridge

The hills at Alcatraz are no joke but if you have mobility issues there is a tram that will take you to the top of the island where the main prison is. Once at the top, the prison is easy to get around so as long as you can get on and off the ferry and can walk (ride or roll) around on flat surfaces you can enjoy Alcatraz.

Golden Gate Bridge

Driving across the Golden Gate Bridge is so cool and totally worth the $7 toll. At least once. We also stopped near the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center to get a closer view. We were hoping to grab some of the rentable bikes to ride across the bridge but they were all in use.

Muir Woods National Monument

I was surprised to find that Muir Woods National Monument is basically in the middle of the city. They have limited parking so if you want to park on site you have to make a reservation. The other option is to take a shuttle into the park. We made parking reservations for first thing in the morning and I’m glad we did. There were few people in the park and it was still very peaceful.

The canopy is dense and it was chilly! Be sure to bring warm clothes. One kid was in shorts and sandals so we didn’t stay terribly long. We walked the trails that bordered the stream and it made for a lovely morning walk. I would loved to have taken one of the trails that takes you above the tree line. Next time.

Walking through the redwoods at Muir Woods National Monument

Point Reyes National Seashore

After leaving Muir Woods we headed up the Pacific Coast Highway/Highway 1 to visit Point Reyes National Seashore. This was my first time on the PCH and holy moly is it narrow and windy. There are some great spots to stop and take pictures though.

There is a lot to do in Point Reyes but it’s pretty spread out. At the advice of a ranger we headed to Drakes Beach. Wowza…it is gorgeous.

Drakes Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore

There is a small gift shop that sells food and coffee and we were so thankful. It was cold and windy so we grabbed warm drinks before heading to the shore.

We spent sometime walking along the beach looking at all the neat rocks, shells and crabs.

We stopped at the Cypress Tree Tunnel on our way out of the park to take a walk through the trees. It was a beautiful walk, albeit people were illegally flying drones through the tunnel.

Cypress Tree Tunnel

We stopped by the Inverness Store to buy peanut butter because we left our jar at the campground. The store is rather pricey so I would advise not leaving your lunch at the campground. Since we were there we took the short walk behind the store to see the shipwreck.

Shipwreck, Point Reyes National Seashore

San Francisco North KOA

We stayed at the San Francisco North KOA and it is one of the better campgrounds we’ve stayed at. First of all, and most importantly, they have an awesome game room! We had a blast playing air hockey, teaching the kids to play pool, and setting high scores on the arcade games.

The park is huge and there is tons to do, particularly if you have kids. Every evening they had a train or wagon ride go though the park around dusk. They were bumping kids music and everyone looked to be having a ball. We had a back-in spot in the Redwood Grove Area and it was awesome. I would definitely stay in this spot and campground again.

Tips for Visiting San Francisco

Have a big ‘ole dose of patience with you. I am not use to big city driving which includes leaving extra, extra early to account for the seemingly never ending traffic jams. I have friends from the Bay Area and they know how to get around this so maybe next time I will go with one of them.

Make reservations in advance for all the activities you are interested in to avoid missing out. For us that included booking ferry tickets to Alcatraz and a parking pass for Muir Woods. There really is so much to do and is was neat to see some of the iconic San Francisco destinations.

After San Francisco we made our way back to Arizona but not before stopping at my favorite bakery in L.A., Erin McKenna’s.

Box of goodies from Erin KcKenna’s Bakery

If you missed the other posts from this trip check out:

Highway 395 in California

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe

The next major stop on our California road trip was Lake Tahoe. Oh man…Tahoe is gorgeous. If we lived closer we would visit all the time.

Sand Harbor Beach, Lake Tahoe

I completely underestimated the size of Lake Tahoe. I had all these activities planned around the lake but once we got there I realized that was more driving than we wanted to do. The lake is 72 miles around but the majority of that is two lane mountain roads. After driving two days to Tahoe the last thing we wanted to do was spend another day driving. We ended up staying mostly on the south end of the lake and that was perfectly fine.

Sand Harbor State Park

We visited several of the beaches and they are all gorgeous. You really can’t go wrong in Tahoe. That being said, Sand Harbor was definitely our favorite. Crystal clear water with large boulders below the surface. This is what dreams are made of.

Kayaking at Sand Harbor

We rented kayaks from Sand Harbor Rentals and spent the morning paddling around. It was my favorite activity of our vacation and definitely at the top of my list of favorite things we’ve done.

Kayaking at Sand Harbor

The day we were at Sand Harbor Seabreacher was there doing a photo shoot. Seabreacher makes mini submarine like watercraft that look like dolphins and fish. They go super fast, do barrel rolls, dive, and jump out of the water. They were so much fun to watch. Every time they would start doing tricks on the lake we’d paddle out there and watch.

Sand Harbor is the most popular beach in Tahoe so if you want to go you need to get there early. Once the parking lot is full the only way to enter is by public bus. There is no nearby parking and they do not allow parking on the side of the highway – there really isn’t anywhere to park anyway. Since we were there in the “off” season and it was a weekday, we arrived around 9am. There were still plenty of places to park and the beach was not yet crowded. By lunchtime the beach was completely full and the rental line was long.

One more Tahoe tidbit. The day we were at Sand Harbor lake winds were expected at 1pm with 4 foot swells so we were told we had to be back in the cove by noon. I rarely visit lakes so this was new to me. Sure enough, by early afternoon the lake was super choppy and we had beach waves. We sat on the beach eating our lunch, taking in the lake, and watched two different kayakers get rescued. It was really cool to see, minus the poor people that were stuck on the lake. I have no idea how common this is but for what it’s worth, lake winds are a thing.

Mountain Biking the Tahoe Rim Trail

The Husband rented a mountain bike from Over the Edge Tahoe and rode a segment on the Tahoe Rim Trail.

Tahoe Rim Trail

The kids and I dropped him off at the trailhead and went and played mini golf while he was riding. Figuring out when to pick him up was tricky in that cell service is spotty all around Tahoe but in the end it worked out perfectly.

Magic Carpet Golf in South Tahoe (supposedly there is also one in North Tahoe) was a fun stop and a great way to spend a few hours. We played 18 holes and then a few games of air hockey. For the record, I’m the air hockey champ. And since we’re stating things for the record, Little Mister is the mini golf champ. Little Miss and I were talking a bunch of smack the entire game. He stayed quiet and whooped us at mini golf.

Back to the Tahoe Rim Trail, the Husband had a ball and loved almost every single minute of his ride.

Tahoe Rim Trail
Tahoe Rim Trail
Tahoe Rim Trail

There are bikes shops all around Tahoe so it’s probably best to find one near the trail that you want to ride. Most also offer shuttles if you don’t want to drive.

Fallen Leaf Lake Campground

We stayed at the Fallen Leaf Lake Campground in South Tahoe. I struggled with where to stay because there are so many campgrounds and everyone has an opinion on north versus south. We never made it to North Tahoe so I can’t compare the two ends but we had a thoroughly enjoyable time in South Tahoe. It’s definitely a populated area but Fallen Leaf Lake Campground is in the woods and very relaxing. I’d recommend it if you like camping.

Fallen Leaf Lake Campground

All of the sites at Fallen Leaf are nice and spacious. We were in 49 and it’s a pull thru site. Some of the sites are more in the trees, some have meadows backing them, and some back to the river. You really can’t go wrong.

The walk to Fallen Leaf Lake

Access to Fallen Leaf Lake is towards the backside of the campground. It took me two days to figure this out. There is a road to the lake but it’s not the best and is mostly one lane. There are some incredibly gorgeous cabins along the lake and a marina. But that’s it. If you want to sit on the shore you need to access it from the campground.

If you’re not a fan of narrow roads I would not recommend driving to the lake. Little Miss and I decided to go on an adventure one evening and ended up on the one lane road with a boat on wheels coming towards us in the opposite direction. I kid you not. It didn’t look like a boat you’d want to ride in so I assume it had some other offical purpose. Fortunately, we met up with this boat near a driveway so I was able to get out of its way. We ended up being behind the boat on our way back from the lake and he was driving literally like one mile an hour. Nothing like driving down a one lane mountain road behind a boat going slower than walking speed. It was such a strange situation that all we could do was laugh.

Tips For Visiting Lake Tahoe

We visited towards the end of June and were surprised to find that Tahoe isn’t fully operational until July. The visitor centers are only open on the weekends in June and some businesses aren’t operating yet. The kids wanted to ride the mountain coaster at the Heavenly Ski Resort and we wanted to go on a river float but neither business was open. I wouldn’t worry about this if you visit in July but if it’s any earlier check to make sure the activities you want to do are available.

We have Verizon and had terrible reception in most of Tahoe. Our phones did not work at the campground nor in most areas. Our phones worked best on every lake shore and in the BevMo parking lot. Be sure to have your activities planned before coming to Tahoe. Being that the visitor centers were closed the entire time we were there and we had terrible reception, we made our way to the BevMo parking lot at least once a day to research activity options and such. Insider top: Don’t buy ice at BevMo. It’s crazy expensive.

If you missed the other posts from this trip check out:

Highway 395 in California

San Francisco

Highway 395 in California

We recently returned from our annual summer road trip and California was the destination this year. Little Mister (he’s not so little anymore so I probably need to come up with a new name) has been wanting to visit Alcatraz for years so we centered our trip around Alcatraz. Per usual, I then added on as much as possible within driving distance from said destination. I am fairly certain the family has a love/hate with this tactic but I don’t care. 🙂

Our first destination was Lake Tahoe and we took Highway 395 to get there. If you’ve not taken a trip down 395, add it to your list. Not only is the scenery gorgeous, there is so much to do! We only stopped a handful of times but we will definitely be back to explore the area further.

Our first stop was the town of Randsburg for a soda from their soda fountain. Randsburg is about a mile off the highway so it didn’t add too much time to the day. It’s an old mining town and has some cool looking buildings and a jail you can explore. The Randsburg General Store serves food, sells groceries, and has a soda fountain that has been in operation since 1904. I tried the lime phosphate soda while The Husband tried the root beer. Both were good and it was neat to experience a bit of history.

Old fashioned sodas from the Randsburg General Store

At this point we had been driving all day so we spent the night in Lone Pine at the Boulder Creek RV Resort. I was rather impressed with the campground. The sites are nicely spaced and clean and they have a well stocked store. They also have quite a few fun things to do on the grounds. There is a pool, playground, birds, desert tortoises, and a handful of swings to relax in. We didn’t spend much time at camp but it made for a nice place to stay on the way up the 395. The only downside is you have to actually call to make reservations. I run into this every so often and it boggles my mind.

Our next stop was the Hot Creek Geological Site. A chamber of magma lies below the surface causing boiling hot water, colored pools, fumaroles, and occasionally geysers. It’s a couple miles off the highway and easy to get to. The first two miles are paved and the final mile is dirt but well maintained. There is a short, steep paved path down to the river.

Hot Creek Geological Site

You cannot go in the river or walk over to the pools but you can get close enough to see the steam coming off the pools. That blue color is really incredible.

The Earthquake Fault in Mammoth Lakes was a little farther of a stop than I expected but the area is beautiful and the fault was cool to see. Technically it’s a fissure but it was caused by an earthquake and you can see how the two sides of rock go together. Aside from the neat history lesson and geology, the forest is gorgeous and the trees are huge. I’d love to come back to this area to camp and ride bikes.

Earthquake Fault – Mammoth Lakes

Our final stop on the 395 was Bodie Historical State Park, a gold-mining ghost town. Bodie is a little farther of a journey off the highway, about 20-30 minutes each way, but definitely worth a stop. Because Bodie is a state park there is a small entrance fee. Additionally, for $2 cash, they sell a brochure that tells the history of each building. I would recommend getting the brochure. It made walking through the town more exciting because we knew what we were looking at.

My favorite stop in the town was the bank, or what’s left of the bank. I spent many years working for a bank and have a soft spot for all things banking.

The only downside of driving the 395 was the gas prices. We paid $4 – $5 a gallon in all of California, but the highest prices were definitely along the 395. It’s a collection of small towns so high prices are expected but it definitely hurts the wallet.

If you are planning a trip to this area check out California Thru My Lens. Josh has tons of information on all the stops along the 395.

To read about the rest of this trip visit:

Lake Tahoe

San Francisco

Yosemite National Park

*For the beginning of this road trip check out Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

After Sequoia we headed to Yosemite.  Yosemite spans nearly 1,200 square miles but the majority of the visitors stay within the seven square mile area know as Yosemite Valley.  Many of Yosemite’s well know features can be accessed or seen from the valley.   Read more

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

After our Yellowstone trip we fell in love with the National Parks.  We immediately started planning our next National Park trip and picked Yosemite as the destination.   Read more