Hello California - Part 1

Trip Start Apr 12, 2011
Trip End Apr 01, 2012

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Flag of United States  , California
Monday, September 19, 2011

After a slight delay of a couple hours we arrive in San Francisco to meet Julie and Dave who had arrived earlier. We've decided to treat ourselves to the Hilton Union Square (or rather Jonny’s hard earned Hilton points did).  So we head out for dinner to catch up and end up in a Portuguese late night diner that does good burgers and wine until the small hours.

Next day, as we only have one day in San Fran, we try to hit everything.  A walk through downtown, Chinatown and down to waterfront show San Fran to be a very pleasant city and easy to get about.  We then hire bikes for the rest of the day and do the coastal route, past the many beaches and nice houses to the Golden Gate Bridge.  We cross the bridge to eventually cycle to Sausalito where the reward is ice cream and then a cold glass of white wine overlooking the bay – definitely an enjoyable way to spend the afternoon.  We then get the ferry back across the bay, pass Alcatraz and back to the docks where we visit the sealions at pier 39.  After all that hard work we go for a drink and the typical US pizza slices.  Finally ending up in Haight Street for a drink before all our tourist activity/jet lag catches up with all of us and we head back to the hotel.

Next day we’re up early for breakfast at Taylor’s Cafe for some typical US breakfast – the hash browns were pretty good.  And then we have to pick up our hire car from the airport, we get a transfer there with the hotel which give us a large black car, with blacked out windows and the biggest boot in the world considering it took four peoples’ backpacks/suitcases.  The first stop is Yosemite Bug Hostel, just outside Yosemite Park which is meant to be about a 3.5 hour drive.  In the end it takes us a little longer due to a traffic jam, a wrong turn and a stop at KFC which adds a good half hour onto the drive as the route we took back onto the main road took us through Hicksville and past some very interesting industrial areas.... But on the positive side the countryside was impressive, changing from dry scrub land to green fields of pistachios, almonds, corns and even vines. This is also where we introduced our road trip game – spot the most unusual/ridiculous sign which may explain some of the photos.  On this road 'the speed limit is enforced by aircraft’ – whatever that may mean. Other classics include: ‘No volleyball north of the sign before 6pm’, ‘Speeding kills bears’ and the many signs informing us that this building may damage our health....

The hostel is as it says on the sign – rustic, but good sized, clean dorms and its own restaurant, plus it’s located just outside the national park.  We decide to go and explore the local town called Mariposa, turns out that there isn’t too much going on and so we get some Chinese food in restaurant which has a real stuffed bear (a present from the locals apparently) and head back to the hostel for a beer.

It’s an early start the next day as we’re going to Yosemite and have to see as many trees as possible for Julie.  So first stop is Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias and they do live up to their name.  Very tall redwood trees dominate the skyline and as we walk around we appreciate their size as well as the local wildlife – chipmunks and squirrels run along the forest floor and appear to be completely unaware (or unbothered) by our presence.  Sequoias need fire to re-generate and can join together if they grow too close and so we see trees that have fused together, trees that are black from fire (caused by lightning) and one tree through which a pathway has been carved.  Although impressive, we’re pretty tree-ed out by now and so drive to our next stop of our trip.  On our way we pass deer and a pack (maybe three) of coyotes crossing the road in front of us – so our hopes are pretty high on seeing a bear.  The next point of interest is the viewpoint for Glacier Point and the Half Dome mountain – this landscape must be some of the most surreal we’ve seen so far – truly amazing.  We then head down to the valley floor where we can look up at the surrounding mountains and have some lunch.  Finally we take a walk to Vernall Falls – one of the waterfalls that can be seen from the views from Glacier Point.  The walk has good views but is tough at points even though we’re doing it late in the day – thankfully the view from the top of the waterfalls is worth it.  We then head back to the car to drive back to the lodge which turns out to be eventful thanks to the herd of deer that try to cross the road in front of the car (Jonny had to swerve around them) and a detour across a river and back.  We get back to the hostel at about 8.30pm (having left at 7am) and so we go to the hostel restaurant which turns out to be pretty good hearty food and helps us recover from our day along with a glass or two of wine.

Friday we’re up early yet again as have a few places we want to get to.  We have to drive back to San Fran which is a lot less eventful than our journey there and then to Half Moon Bay.  This appears to be a nice residential area on the coast where people could commute into San Fran.  We take a quick lunch spot and then go for a walk along the coast.  Unfortunately the fog has come in and we can’t see much but as we walk towards the harbour we find a pocket of clear sky.  After a walk around the harbour we discover a restaurant called Sam’s Chowder House overlooking the bay.  We quickly lose a couple hours in the sun here (much needed after a busy few days) and the driving is delegated to Dave.  We arrive at Pigeon Point Hostel which is located on a point next to a lighthouse – when we arrive we are offered the hot tub for free and so jump at the chance despite the fact that we can’t see much as the fog is here to stay.  After a rather windy hot tub we head to the local village, Pescadero, for dinner.  We eat Mexican food in what turns out to be a petrol station shop (the hostel recommended it) but it did serve very good Mexican food.  We then head to the local bar, where conversation did stop when we entered, but we soon made friends with the intoxicated locals – whom prove to be interesting characters.  And to round the day off nicely, on the way home Dave gets the opportunity to dodge some more deer that like to dance in the headlights.
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