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Home » The Vine

The Vine: June 10, 2011

Submitted by on June 10, 2011 – 9:00 AM83 Comments

Your readers recently gave brilliant advice for a southern-U.S. road trip, and you and your readers were also really helpful to me in my running-related problem last year (thanks again!). I'd be interested to hear what suggestions you might have for this…

I am heading over to San Francisco for a three-day congress at the beginning of August this year. My husband and I thought we'd make a road trip of it. Neither of us has ever been to North America before. Taking into account time constraints (we have pets that will have to be taken care of while we're away, so it's three weeks tops), we've hashed out a preliminary plan.

We'd start in Vancouver and make our way down to San Francisco by train over the space of about a week, stopping in Seattle and Portland and whatever the best places to stop are along the way. There's nothing to stop us from renting a car for a day out during this part of the trip. Then it's the three-day conference in S.F., during which we'll be able to do plenty of sightseeing as well (plus there is a Bay dinner cruise as part of the conference). Then we'd rent a car and drive down the coast road to L.A. or San Diego and fly back from there. We'll have another week or so for the road trip, which makes it about 17-18 days in total for the whole trip. (Plus a couple of days for the trans-Atlantic flights.)

Of course we'll take a look at the major cities and do the "compulsory" sightseeing, but I was wondering what suggestions you all might have for things to do and see along the way — perhaps something a little different from the obvious. We love culture and history but we're also into nature, so one or more national parks is a given, hiking included. Yosemite would be an obvious choice, but is it too far out of the way considering the time constraints?

Neither of us is a wine drinker, so Napa is not a must for us. We'll probably have time to take in a couple of museums, but which ones? Also we thought a baseball game might be fun. Would that be in S.F.? Depending on dates, we thought we might take part in a fun run somewhere (e.g. the Golden Gate Bridge Vista 10K, if it is on again in August). Shopping we're not that interested in.

I'd also like to get an idea of how to divide our time — mostly we'll only have one day per town/site (aside from S.F.), but I guess we can stay longer in a couple of places.

I'm thinking of buying the Road Trip USA: Pacific Coast Highway book, or is there something better? From the previous road trip recs, I've already bookmarked roadsideamerica.com.

I'm excited about this trip already, and I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Eva

Dear Eva,

Maybe we can meet up for a drink; Big Country Little Car Tour II: The Minnesotaning is happening around that time. Watch TN for details.

In the meantime, visit the Safari West website and see what you think. Friends of mine got married there, and in addition to enjoying the lovely wedding, I had a really fantastic night's sleep in my cabin on stilts.

I'd also recommend the aquarium in Monterey (although I haven't gone in 15 years, so if it sucks now, somebody speak up in the comments). Yes, there's plenty of baseball in and around San Francisco; the Giants' park is really nice (and they've got a bunch of home games in early August). I haven't gone to an Oakland game, but they're on a road trip at that time — in Seattle, which I've heard has a nice park too. You can Google team names and "schedule" to see if there's anything you like — in L.A., you've got the Dodgers and Angels, too, so no doubt you can find some MLB to watch.

And the next time I head to San Fran, I plan to go on this.

My last piece of advice: layers. Fully three quarters of the scarves I own, I bought in S.F. in August.

Readers, it's time once again for you to plan a road trip. Keep it to three (3) suggestions each for ease of reading, please.

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83 Comments »

  • Ashley says:

    If you're looking for offbeat/quirky, you could do worse than the Museum of Jurassic Technology in LA.

  • PollyQ says:

    Yosemite is a must-see! The coast is nice, SF is nice, Monterey aquarium… has a bunch of fish, but there's nothing like Yosemite!

    (I say this as someone who's lived in the SF area most of her life, and takes most of my vacations in CA, because why not, really?)

  • Kristin says:

    There are some AWESOME natural things to do on the Olympic Peninsula. IF you come down from Vancouver through Victoria, you can cross into the U.S. at Port Angeles. That gives you a short driving distance to some really cool places. I recommend the Hoh Rainforest (the only rainforest in North America, I think), Hurricane Ridge (an awesome was to get a taste of the mountains), and the west coast beaches (like Ruby Beach, although someone more local may give you a better recommendation). I am from the Southern US and visited that area several times in the 1990s and would go back every year if I could.

  • Emily says:

    I highly recommend visiting Crater Lake NP in Oregon. It is spectacular. Do the boat tour and drive all the way around the rim road at the very least.

  • Emily says:

    In fact, if driving is an option, I'd skip the train, at least through the northern part of the trip. You'll have much more flexibility, especially if you're into the natural wonders type stuff (which is plentiful along the west coast!)

  • Julia says:

    I second the Olympic peninsula. I was there last month and the Hoh Rain Forest is just amazing. There is also the most beautiful, clear lake I have ever seen (Crescent Lake) that would be perfect for kayaking or canoeing if you are into that.

    If you stop in Portland, I recommend you try to stay a night at the Kennedy School. We stayed one night and it was so much fun. Brew pub, lots of different bars, soaking pool. Fun stuff.

  • Jeanne says:

    If you're stopping in Portland, you must go to Powell's Books and Voodoo Doughnut. Powell's is enormous and filled wall-to-wall with every kind of book you can imagine. Voodoo makes the best doughnuts EVER. They're the only doughnuts I've had the past few years that don't give me heartburn. And the best part is, they're open 24/7. There's always a line but it's worth the wait.

    If you like zoos, the Oregon Zoo is awesome. Since you're going in a warm weather month more of the animals will be out than when I usually go in March.

    The Portland Art Museum is a cool little museum. I found it interesting just how many paintings of Mount Hood they had on display. It's practially all there is in the local artists galleries.

  • Georgia says:

    In LA, for food, you must go to In-N-Out Burger (for the burgers, obviously), and The Hat for onion rings.

  • Jenn C. says:

    If you happen to be fans of Peanuts (the comic), the Charles Schultz museum in Santa Rosa CA is a delight.

    Yosemite is a must see. Truly worth the extra time it would take to drive out and see it.

  • Leigh says:

    The Columbia River Gorge is so beautiful–it's just east of Portland and has amazing waterfalls and hiking trails. We spent our honeymoon there and I'd love to go back someday.

  • Bethany says:

    Drive from Seattle to SF if possible. That part of the coast is incredibly gorgeous and you'll pass through some amazing redwoods.

    Cheesy fun? The Mystery Spot, outside of Santa Cruz.

    Visit Santa Cruz, too. Hit the Boardwalk and the Penny Ice Creamery.

  • attica says:

    It may already be part of your SF congress, but I recommend taking the Alcatraz tour. A little bit macabre, a little bit history, a scenic boat ride both ways.

  • HLM says:

    In Seattle, the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame is hosting a Battlestar Galactica exhibit. The museum is also dedicated to rock and roll, because why not, and has exhibits related to music as well.

    Driving Route 1 is occasionally terrifying but rewardingly beautiful. If you're a history or geography nerd, you might want to stop at Fort Ross, a trading outpost that represents the southernmost point of the old Russian empire. It's a quiet, pretty place with stunning views, and not a bad place to stop for a picnic.

    One cure for the cold summer winds in San Francisco is at the Christopher Elbow shop in Hayes Valley. The hot chocolate with spices (Chinese five-spice or Venezuelan peppers) and a glorp of creme fraiche helps keep out the chill and strengthen drinkers for further exploring in the city. It's not far from the city center, so you can go from there to the Beaux Artes marvel of City Hall, or just take a bus wherever suits you.

    The trip sounds frabjous; enjoy!

  • LaSalleUGirl says:

    If you're driving down the coast road from SF, I recommend stopping in Santa Cruz, at least for an afternoon. It's a fun, quirky town with lots of bookstores and restaurants. I spent an afternoon there after a conference in SF (it's about 2 hours south), and I wished I could have stayed a little longer.

  • MelPo says:

    Portland is a great place–you do not want to miss it.

    One place I love there is Kennedy School–a school that has been renovated into a hotel, restaurants, movie theater. Really neat idea; fun place to go for a meal or a night:

    Kennedy School

  • Dayna says:

    I would highly recommend driving the Pacific Coast Highway from SF to LA, it is a spectacular way to see California. I was going to make a list of all the things there are to see and do, but National Geographic beat me to it. If I were drving the coast, I would bookmark this page, or print it and have it with me.

    http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/road-trips/california-pacific-coast-road-trip/

    One thing, much of the highway is two lane. Remeber to check for highway closures each day before you start out. You're gonna have a great time!

  • mspaul says:

    I'm not sure how far inland you want to go driving from San Fran going south, but if you're looking for some small-town America and want to save a little money, I highly recommend going to a Visalia Rawhide (http://web.minorleaguebaseball.com/index.jsp?sid=t516) minor league baseball game instead of a major league one. It's a more intimate way to enjoy a game, and their stadium is top-notch. Plus it's where there was an opening when Crash Davis got released. And Sequoia National Park is gorgeous and less than an hour away.

    One tip: if you go to Coit Tower in San Fran, the stairs outside are wickedly uneven. Be very careful going down them, lest you badly roll your ankle less than an hour into your mostly-walking vacation. Not that this happened to me less than 3 weeks ago.

  • Whitney says:

    I can't add recommendations, but I'm so glad you asked this! My boyfriend has family in Seattle and half a dozen of our friends are moving to Portland this summer so a West Coast (or at least Pacific Northwest) road trip is likely to be our next major vacation.

  • Rebecca says:

    I live in San Jose (~1 hr south of San Francisco) and am a silicon valley tech nerd as well as an outdoor sports person. I go to Yosemite as frequently as possible. From San Francisco it is a 3.5 hour drive to the entrance in perfect conditions (no traffic, no road construction, no accidents on the twisty roads, no forest fires, etc). Once in the park it's another hour+ to the Valley or other popular destinations. I can't imagine coming here and NOT seeing Yosemite, but make sure to budget plenty of time. Also, August is a prime season there so I'm guessing the lodging in the area is all booked up by now.

    I'm not sure what topic your conference is about, but if it's the typical Bay Area tech conference and you're interested in the history of the industry you could spend some time in Silicon Valley touring some sites. Check out http://paulgraham.com/seesv.html and http://scobleizer.com/2010/10/04/silicon-valley-places-that-paul-graham-cant-get-into/. I have some techy friends that love to do the "Google-Facebook-Apple-etc" campus drives when they visit.

  • Valerie says:

    I would second the suggestion to skip the train, even though I am a huge supporter of public transportation. Pretty much the entire Oregon coast is undeveloped, thanks to visionary public officials in years past, and is an absolutely lovely drive – one state park after another, with public beaches along the whole coast. One of our favorite little side trips there is the short hike into Fern Canyon. And I'll add my vote for the Columbia R. gorge and its waterfalls.

    The Monterey Bay aquarium is one of the best I've been to, but Oregon Coast Aquarium is also very nice – IIRC, it features more of the local marine life, and less of the world-wide species.

    I WOULD be pushing the Olympic Penninsula, but it's a haul to get there – it'll take a chunk of your time. However, if you are in the Seattle/Wash. Coast/San Juan islands area, sea kayaking is fun. You might see sea otters, porpoises or whales.

  • Valerie says:

    D'oh. Fern Canyon is actually in California. Still pretty, though!

  • Lisa M. says:

    Spend time in Vancouver and/or Victoria (south tip of Vancouver Island, get to Vic by ferry) – they both have tons to do and many lovely restaurants. The Museum of Anthropology on the UBC campus in Vancouver for native american totems/carvings/lore. If you like rocky coasts and tidepools (with side of very tall trees), the west coast of Vancouver island (Tofino-Ucluelet or Botany Beach) are *amazing*.

  • LunaS says:

    I drove Pacific Coast Highway from L.A. to the Oregon border last year. It was *amazing*. The drive is supposed to be even more spectacular going North to South.

    Definitely do the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The only problem is that it will be full of families because school will still be out. So bring your kid-dodging shoes. The 17 Mile Drive in Carmel is beautiful. Lastly, just about all of the state parks on the coast are worth a look. You can walk all over them without too much effort, and the scenery is gorgeous.

    Have fun! :)

  • Stephanie says:

    These suggestions may be not at all helpful if you aren't looking for active stuff to do. But you mentioned a fun run so…

    Depending on how not-scared-of-heights you are, consider a drop-in flying trapeze class. No, really. Both the Circus Center in San Francisco (http://circuscenter.org/) and Trapeze Arts in Oakland (http://www.trapezearts.com/index.php) have drop-in classes. Circus Center has a more polished overall look and a slower approach, but you fly more (have more turns) at Trapeze Arts. That catch they show on the TA website? You'll probably do that in the first class. At both places.

    As you are driving down to the LA area, take the 101 / 1 instead of the 5. It is slower but more scenic. And that way you can stop and go sea kayaking. I've done the cave tour with Central Coast Kayaks (http://www.centralcoastkayaks.com/) but there are several companies that offer kayaking tours all up and down the coast.

    Or you could travel slightly inland and go white water rafting. I've rafted the South Fork of the American River and Kings River, both are great. I also did the North Fork of the American River once – only try that if you have white water rafted before. The only time I have ever fallen out of the raft was on that trip. There are a bunch of companies that do rafting trips. I've gone with Tributary (http://www.whitewatertours.com/) and White Water Voyages (http://www.whitewatervoyages.com/) and could recommend both. And if you want or have to do the camping out the night before the trip thing? REI rents tents.

  • Amanda says:

    I actually really recommend the Pacific Coast Starlight Train : http://www.amtrak.com/servlet/ContentServer/AM_Route_C/1241245648567/1237405732511

    The views are spectacular in SoCal and I think there is some kind of deal where you can buy full trip tickets with the flexibility of getting off and back on after you've spent a few days in a city.

  • Erin says:

    We went to a Giants game (in SF) last year, and absolutely loved the park! Highly recommend catching a game there if you can. (Bonus: there are vendors walking around with backpack tanks of Ghirardelli hot chocolate–they even have holsters with cans of whipped cream. Hysterical and delicious!) We saw a game in Seattle a couple years ago, and the park was nice, but SF is better. (Double bonus: both parks have awesome garlic fries!)

    And yes–SF in August is chilly! Pack lots of layers.

  • nancy says:

    Golden Gate Park in SF has many museums/science centers, an awesome aquarium, the Japanese Tea Garden… you can spend a full day there.

  • lbn says:

    I'd also second the idea to skip the train and get a car, if you can. You have so much more flexibility. Also, you say that you can rent a car for a day, but just as a heads-up, we honeymooned in Oregon and reserved a car in downtown Portland– and they were all out of cars all around the city that day (some weekday in June). We finally got one four hours after our original pick-up time (12pm vs. 8am). Not the best scenario for a day trip.

    We absolutely loved the Portland area. I'd highly recommend driving down the Columbia River Gorge– or at least heading that direction, the view from Crown Point is wonderful and it's very close to Portland. If you want to go deeper there are hiking trails and waterfalls. Driving down the Oregon Coast is also beautiful though a little touristy. There are plenty of places to stop and have meals looking out over the ocean, or take short hikes out to amazing vistas.

  • Juju says:

    If you're avid runners, we've got nice running trails here in Eugene, OR (aka "Track Town USA"). Hendricks Park, quite lovely this time of year, is full of great hiking trails and the site of the Pre's Rock memorial. If you plan to spend a bit of time here, I recommend that you climb Spencer Butte at the south end of town; on a clear day, you can see the peaks known as "The Three Sisters."

    We can't offer as much to do as Portland, but on the upside, we're not nearly as congested or lousy with hipsters. We do have a Voodoo Donut (yawn). Restaurants can be hit or miss, but you can't really go wrong at Belly http://www.eatbelly.com/menus/ (unless y'all are vegan). If you think you might like to stop in Eugene, ping me (susurrant, Gmail) and I can tailor food recommendations to your tastes.

  • Driver B says:

    I've lived in SF for almost ten years (with a brief break for grad school) and only recently made the easy trip across the Golden Gate Bridge to visit Muir Woods. The redwoods, the quiet, the most amazing air you'll ever breathe.

  • Bev says:

    1) Even if San Francisco is hot in the day in August, it won't be hot all the days in August; and it will be COLD and humid at night. Sars suggested layers, i suggest a coat for nighttime – more than a sweater. a regular trench coat would be fine. bring a couple pairs of socks if you plan to tourist in the city at night. or buy socks in SF as a souvenir. Mark Twain said the coldest winter he ever experienced was in San Francisco in August. (ok, it was something like that, my quote has the essence, but is probably not exact.)

    2) The Las Pulgas Water Temple or the Sunol Water Temple, depending on your other stops. Check Wikipedia for more info, and even directions. Not on the regular tourist track. IF I remember correctly, both are in the greater San Francisco area, and both are modeled to different degrees on the Temple of Vesta in Tivoli, Italy. They are beautiful – i think breathtaking, and give you an idea how important water and irrigation were to the area.

    3) in Seattle, Ivar's is a small seafood restaurant chain. If you can't get to Alaska for fresh salmon, Ivar's the the next closest thing. ( more info at Wikipedia)

  • iiii says:

    Yes, see a Giants game. One of the cool things about the park is that on a clear day you can see San Jose from the upper tiers. Also, garlic fries.

    If you pass through Santa Cruz, take the UCSC tour. The campus is spectacularly beautiful.

    For the "history" part, you could check out the mission churches. All of them are close to Highway 101. Some are still used as parish churches, some are ruins. San Juan Bautista is the best-restored. (Also a good spot to see the San Andreas Fault. It's the steep hillside out back of the church there.)

  • KTB says:

    As far as Portland goes, the Kennedy School is great, but there isn't much around it. I'd recommend the brand new Crystal Hotel, which is smack dab in the middle of downtown, across the street from Powell's (which is a must), and within walking distance of the streetcar, the MAX, the train station, and two or three food cart pods, including my favorite one.

    Crystal Hotel: http://www.mcmenamins.com/CrystalHotel
    Powell's Books: http://www.powells.com/
    Food Carts PDX: http://www.foodcartsportland.com/

  • Marie says:

    If you're a foodie, you should check out Salumi in Seattle – it's owned by Mario Batali's dad and family.

  • Hoolia says:

    Check out Sunset Magazine's website (sunset.com). It is THE magazine of life in the western U.S. (plus parts of Canada and Mexico) and they have tons of suggestions for travel activities all along the west coast, as well as cool places to stay.

    Victoria and Vancouver B.C. are definitely worth an extra day. I love wandering around Stanley park; there's so much going on. Balloon artists, cricket, a spray park, beaches, woodsy paths, skating along the seawall. Then taking the ferry down to the Olympic Peninsula is a nice way to travel.

  • Anne says:

    Definitely do some baseball while in SF! The Giants have a gorgeous park (bring plenty of layers to wrap up in) with lots of fairly good, and unexpected food, like sushi. Definitely give the Gilroy garlic fries a whirl. The ballpark franks are good too, and you'll want to have some CA beer with your nibbles. Anchor Steam is a great San Franicsco brewery, and Sierra Nevada also makes excellent beer. What's more, the Giants have an ace young pitcher, Tim Lincecum, who's really fun to watch – so I'd definitely shoot for one of his games.

    I'd also suggest driving rather than flying or taking the train down to LA. Drive down the 1 for gorgeous views (visit the tidepools! Gently poke sea anemones!), or the 101 to see a few of the famous CA missions. Historical attractions are very well marked along CA highways, so you can always follow the signs (an unmistakable brown) and visit all manner of interesting things. Some of the lesser-known missions are really fun, and not crawling with tourists like the famous one in Santa Barbara.

    Have a great time!

  • Nicole says:

    In downtown Seattle, there's a hotel called the Arctic Club (it's now officially a Doubletree, so that's somewhere in the new name), which was originally a gentleman's club for arctic explorers. It has neat walrus stonework on the exterior and does a lot to keep the spirit of the place in the lobby. It's also only about a mile from Pike's Place Market, so when we're in Seattle that's where we like to stay since it's a good home base for most downtown Seattle activities.

    I haven't yet been to a Mariner's game (baseball) at Safeco field, but that's definitely on our to do list for this summer.

    I agree with the suggestion that you drive along the PCH from San Fran to LA. A bit south of Monterey (where you should definitely check out the aquarium, also the calamari restaurant on the pier) is Big Sur, which has phenomenal hiking. Then, once you get past the really windy part (slow going!), but north of San Luis Obispo, there's the Hearst mansion. I really recommend that you go and do the regular tour (I haven't been on the variants, which might also be awesome), but you'll get to see some really amazing things on the regular tour, including various ruins, ceilings, and fireplaces imported from Europe and a pool made of Murano glass and gold leaf.

  • Sherry says:

    I recommend the underground tour in Seattle. http://www.undergroundtour.com

  • fizzchick says:

    Two recommendations: One, Nth-ing the suggestions for Olympic NP, if you have time – it's gorgeous and lots of fun, but it will take you a couple of days to do. The other is to strongly recommend a visit to the Fremont neighborhood in Seattle – it's an easy bus ride if you don't want to rent a car while in the city, and when my husband and I went to Seattle a few years ago, it was our favorite day in the city. There's an excellent zoo, lots of entertaining street art/sculpture, fun little restaurants and galleries, and great local beer and wine at the various pubs and restaurants. Oh, and the Theo Chocolate shop, which is worth a stop even if you can't get in to one of their heavily-booked tours – free samples of many many wonderful chocolate bars.

  • Shanon says:

    If you spend any time in Seattle, please consider a Mariner's game. Safeco field is huge, but charming. Also, since you're nature lovers, my (jaded, local) recommendation is to skip the Space Needle and Seattle Center and see the Arboretum instead. You can drive, walk, bike, or rent a kayak and explore it from the water. Or take a ferry ride to one of islands. Olympic National Park is worth two Space needle trips and an underground tour. If Space Needle you must, under no circumstances should you eat there! :-)

  • Kate says:

    We did a road trip down the west coast (Seattle to LA) for our honeymoon a few years back. We had a great time! I concur about staying on 1/101 as much of the trip as it's possible. Interstate 5 is fast but BORING.

    We hit Cannon Beach in Oregon (http://www.cannon-beach.net/); a small town in Northern California near Eureka called Requa (we stayed at the Requa Inn http://www.requainn.com/, it had great breakfasts and it's in Redwood National Park); Half Moon Bay, just south of SF; the Hearst Castle (totally worth it!); and Santa Barbara, which was a splurge. Solvang is a little Norwegian-themed town near Santa Barbara that is kitschy but fun if you're into it.

    If you want to go to Yosemite, it's beautiful and worth it, but make your reservations ASAP – campsites and hotel rooms book up incredibly quickly.

    Have fun!

  • Leah in SoCal says:

    If you make it all the way down to San Diego, I'd really recommend spending a day at Balboa Park. It has all of our major museums, and is built almost entirely in the Spanish Colonial style. And the Zoo is right there, too.

    Also, Torrey Pines State Park has some great hiking trails alongside (and down) the cliffs that line the Pacific. And in August, Southern California isn't as chilly as SF.

    Finally, I second the suggestion above about visiting the old Spanish mission churches up and down the coast.

  • SarahBeth says:

    I love Seattle and the PNW, so here are my suggestions – have never been to SF so I can't help you there.

    – Pikes Place Market in Seattle. Literally there is everything there. Also while you're wandering around downtown, its worth a trip up the space needle.

    – If you've got a car, I recommend going to the Ballard Locks in Seattle. There's a really pretty garden there and its fun to watch them lock the boats through. (The water level of Puget Sound and Lake Washington are very different so they literally have to raise or lower the water depending on which way you're going. Plus on a clear day, you can see the mountains.

    – Columbia River Gorge in Oregon. My friend took me there my first trip to the PNW and its incredible. So gorgeous – the waterfalls and the views and just – beautiful. I also got to hike in and go swimming in a glacial pool, which was pretty wild. Biggest rush ever.

    Have a GREAT trip. Oh and pack a ton of layers. :D

  • Lianne says:

    In Oregon and Northern California, there are several places that I found really neat that I kind of lump together in my head since I did a road trip around that area: Crater Lake National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, and the Lava Beds National Monument. The lava beds in particular were lots of fun because you get to explore the lava tubes on your own.

    I also highly recommend the drive down Route 1. The ~100 mile stretch between Monterey (yes, the aquarium is good) and San Simeon in California is one of my all-time favorite places. There are lots of pullouts (and yes, do be aware that it's 2-lane road), campgrounds, beaches, hiking (Sanddollar Beach and Jade Cove are some of my specific favorites)… once you get to San Simeon, there's Hearst Castle. I think it's a really neat place to visit, and I'm not much of a museum person.

    Deviating from the coast in mid-California, you might be interested in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks/forests. I think at that time of year Crystal Cave is still open if you'd like to dive underground.

    Sounds like an awesome plan!

  • HollyH says:

    Chiming in on the Yosemite experience — I did this last summer. I actually drove from Monterey across to the Arch Rock Entrance, rather than the northern Big Oak Flat entrance, but I think it is all rather of a piece. It did indeed take me 4 to 4.5 hours to get to the Valley. Once you're within the park boundaries, you really won't be driving very fast (or, you shouldn't be, if you want to avoid death).

    I just can't recommend going to Yosemite enough. The more time there you can eke out, the better. I did a fairly short trip that allowed me to see some big stuff, and whetted my appetite to return. There are a bunch of websites, and a few small guidebooks, that point out "easy day hikes"; I used one and it helped me maximize my time. It's not really just a day-trip. I'd suggest one night if you can spare it, 2 nights would be even better. You can spend the entire time in the Valley, but if you are able to get up to Tuolumne Meadows, do it. Something like 90% of visitors to Yosemite never do get out of the Valley, so the high country can feel blissfully empty in comparison. The Mariposa grove of giant sequoia is a great thing to hit on your way out the South Entrance and back across to Monterey and points south.

    I actually managed to make all of my lodging reservations last year at the end of June for an end of August stay, in the Valley, so if you get right on that, you may luck out. If you guys are outdoorsy types who like roughing it, the Curry tent-cabins really aren't bad. If you need more comforts while traveling, I thought the Lodge was basically fine. Wider web-searching will turn up a bunch more places right on the outskirts of the park, too.

    God, I want to go back.

  • Alan Swann says:

    Can't second/third/fourth/whatever enough driving the coastal route south from San Francisco, especially through Big Sur. To give you an idea of the beauty, the Big Sur Marathon (a toughie — all hills) goes from Big Sur to Carmel, and it's the only marathon I've ever done in which a large percentage of the runners carry cameras.

    Our favorite foods along the way:

    – Mexican seafood and pomegranate margaritas: The Whole Enchilada in Moss Landing (small town, midway between Santa Cruz and Monterey on the Bay)

    – carrot cake: Taco Temple, Morro Bay

    – clam chowder (in a warmed bread bowl): Splash Cafe, Pismo Beach

  • Sara says:

    I second the recommendation for the new Crystal Hotel in Portland; you won't have to drive anywhere. Both the Crystal and the Kennedy School are McMenamin's establishments, which is Portland's mini-empire of craft beer, music, and funky accommodations.

    I also second a stop at Crater Lake. I've been there a dozen times at least, and it is stunning every time.

    If you are looking for a place to spend the night near the California border, Ashland is worth a stop. Summer is the busy season there (they have a world-renowned Shakespeare festival) so I'm not sure how easy it would be to get a room if you don't call ahead, but they have great restaurants, a beautiful park downtown (Lithia Park), and a free Green Show before the evening plays.

  • Sarah says:

    If you're going to stay in Yosemite, the campgrounds are undoubtedly booked by now [they book up 5-6 months in advance, as soon as reservations open]. You might be able to get a spot (if you have camping gear) at a walk in campsite, those are first come, first serve. Otherwise, check the tent cabins in Curry Village -permanent tents, beds, walk to toilets and showers. Other options include the Wawona Hotel, which is not on the Valley Floor, but the bus will take you there in a few minutes; campsites in the National Forest; or staying outside the park and driving in/bus in every day.

    Technically reselling campsites on craigslist is illegal, but it is done, so if you really want to camp, try that.

  • mcm says:

    The Exploratorium in San Francisco! Yes, it's considered a kids' museum, but totally fun and absolutely worth paying extra for the Tactile Dome (which their website describes as "an interactive excursion through total darkness, where your sense of touch becomes your only guide!") A unique experience the likes of which I've never seen anywhere else.

  • seedless grape says:

    If you decide to visit the aquarium in Monterey, as Sars suggested, I highly recommend spending the night in Carmel, which is nearby. Monterey is very touristy (lots of souvenir gift shops and fast food joints), while Carmel is more resort-y (more boutiques and bistros) and, in my opinion, more charming. I was there for a long weekend last year and it was fantabulous–beautiful scenery, lots of good places to eat (try Basil and La Bicyclette!).

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