A Road Trip in Northern California through the Redwoods has always been on my bucket list as I’ve always been fascinated by these incredible trees.
When our close friends shared their ambitious plan for a West Coast road trip, I couldn’t help but catch a case of wanderlust. The idea was simple yet enticing: a journey along the captivating Pacific coastline, covering some of the greatest sites that the west coast had to offer. And it included one of my bucket list items – Redwoods National Forest.
Little did we know that the grand adventure they had meticulously plotted for 2020 would take a detour, much like the rest of the world that year. Amidst the chaos and life’s other commitments – including our own wedding and a shared group venture to New England – it took a few years for our friends to breathe new life into their travel plans.
Our eagerness to join them was fueled by the fact that we had since made the United States our home, making the West Coast more accessible.
Their epic voyage would begin in Seattle and end in San Francisco. Yet, as much as we longed to partake in the entire odyssey, we could not take the necessary time off. Instead, we planned to rendezvous with them halfway through their journey, in the picturesque heart of southern Oregon, where the towering Redwoods were close at hand and promised to be a highlight of a truly fantastic experience. And so, our adventure began, a story of friendships renewed and the promise of ancient forests and golden vineyards awaiting our eager exploration.
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Saturday – San Francisco to Ashland, Oregon
We left the east coast very early in the morning, which gave us the added benefit of landing early on the west coast. Knowing that we would be driving the coastal route with our friends later that week I opted for a hotel option and a route that would take us via the inland route near Mt Shasta and into southern Oregon.
San Francisco Airport was easy to navigate, and their monorail helped get us to the car rental quickly. We had splurged on this trip, for the first time, and arranged to rent a Mustang convertible. It was summer in California and I couldn’t think of a better time to enjoy such an experience.
The drive from San Francisco to southern Oregon was going to take us almost 6 hours, so we planned to hit the road swiftly and make a stop outside of the city for lunch. While I navigated city traffic (which honestly wasn’t that bad) my husband searched for west coast chains that we wouldn’t get back home.
That’s how we ended up in Jollibee for lunch, which was incredibly delicious.
The route took us inland along I-5, through the country side and into the Cascade Mountains and past Mt Shasta. It was an absolutely stunning drive but a long one. Thankfully we had thought ahead and booked a hotel that had a restaurant and was set up for relaxation. We arrived at the beautiful Callahan’s Lodge, set in the mountain vista near Ashland, and settled for the first evening of our epic road trip.
Sunday – Ashland to Gold Beach, Oregon
Our hotel was on the outskirts of Ashland in the mountains with a gorgeous backdrop. The nearby town of Ashland seemed like a great stop on our way out of Oregon’s Cascade Mountains and onwards to the Oregon coast. Our friends were traveling down the coast to meet us at Gold Beach that evening.
The town had a small downtown area and was busy for a Sunday morning. We had breakfast at the hotel so we weren’t on the hunt for food, but when we stumbled upon a local tea shop my British husband was keen to visit. Dobra Tea had an amazing selection of teas and served them in a beautiful tea service. The experience was fantastic and provided a nice break before we started headlong into a stunningly scenic drive.
Driving Across Oregon
Carrying on from Ashland we continued along I-5, heading north and west, skirting the mountain range. Around Grant’s Pass we would switch to the Rt-199, that would take us back into California for a spell, and briefly through the Redwoods before we finally joined Rt-101, the coastal highway.
Similar to the Saturday we looked at what chains we couldn’t get on the east coast, and chose a Sonic drive in to be our lunch stop around the halfway point of our journey. While Sonic does exist on the east coast, it is not in the north east, but we always get commercials for them. So we tried the tropical drink they promoted and several items from the menu while having lunch in the convertible. It was definitely a unique and memorable experience, to say the least.
While the I-5 portion of our drive was scenic, it was nothing compared to the stunning beauty we saw along Rt-199. The glimpse we got of the Redwoods as magical, and unexpected. There were no signs to indicate we had entered the Redwoods but suddenly I recognized the uniquely beautiful trees all around us. With the top down driving through them was surreal.
The route leading into Gold Beach along Rt-101 was positively stunning, and I could finally see for myself how beautiful the coastal road was. We had received plenty of photos from our friend’s journey along the route and were excited to join them in Gold Beach.
Gold Beach was a great stopping point for our friend’s trip on their way to the Redwoods and Eureka, and we opted to join them there so we would get an opportunity to explore Oregon as well.
Our hotel was right on the water, with views of sunset that we enjoyed together from our balcony while catching up with our friends. We found a local restaurant that we visited for dinner, which was good fare, but the New Englander in me objected with their interpretation of “New England Clam Chowder” (at least it didn’t have tomato in it).
What we saw of Gold Beach in the evening was that it was a charming small town with incredible access to beautiful scenery and an easy stopover point in our journeys.
Monday – Gold Beach to Eureka, California
The goal of our travel on Monday was to relocate from southern Oregon into northern California, and make a variety of stops along the way. We had put a few pins on the map during a planning session the previous evening, but it was a simple approach – stop at pretty scenic vistas, find a place for lunch, and visit Trees of Mystery. It was shaping up to be a truly eclectic day of travel!
Our initial plan, to take a dip in the Pacific Ocean, was short lived. We walked down to the beach next to our hotel but the surf was strong and the water was freezing. We managed to wade a little in the water but eventually admitted defeat and continued on with our morning adventures after checking out of our Gold Beach hotel.
Oregon’s Scenic Coastal Drive
We had only a glimpse of what the scenic drive would look like when we came into Gold Beach the previous evening, but we set back out on the road heading back towards California.
The first stop we made was at Kissing Rock, a really beautiful beach just south of Gold Beach. The beach features gorgeous rock formations, and an absolutely stunning view of the Oregon coast. We saw hints of the mist beginning to roll in from the Pacific Ocean.
As the mist began to roll in off of the Pacific Ocean we made a brief stop at the Meyers Creek Vista Point.
We carried on to Spruce Island Viewpoint, which offered a short but stunning walk along the coast where we found multiple viewpoints of the beautiful scenic coast. We spent about 20 minutes here, longer than I expected, but a great opportunity to see all the views.
The Natural Bridges were a beautiful stop with a very short walk to a viewpoint to see stunning natural bridges over a teal blue ocean. It felt like a scene out of the Mediterranean, not the Pacific Northwest. While all the other scenes had been stunning this one truly took my breath away, and delivered on the promise of natural beauty.
We passed via a Dutch Bros Coffee, something I had discovered on the first day of driving, and sought out on our daily routes. Then we ended at the Oregon Welcome Center, where the staff were incredibly friendly and helpful. Even though we were on our way out of the state they were so excited to talk to us about everything that Oregon had to offer, and even had amazing recommendations for northern California.
Crescent City was one of the largest towns we passed through on our way south and we opted to stop there for a short lunch at SeaQuake Brewing, and peruse a few souvenir shops down by the ocean.
The city was in a very convenient location along Rt-101, with the city being surrounded by some stunning scenery. There wasn’t much more to see there than what we stopped for, but it was extremely convenient.
Enderts Beach Road
During our visit to the Oregon Welcome Center, we received a valuable local recommendation to explore Enderts Beach Road, and it did not disappoint.
This scenic route winds through lush coastal forests, offering stunning viewpoints of the rugged coastline, tide pools, and sea stacks. The road leads to Enderts Beach itself, where visitors can revel in the serenity of a secluded cove, making it a must-visit for nature enthusiasts and photographers seeking a tranquil coastal escape.
The drive was stunning but the weather was uninspiring by the time we reached the end of the road. We briefly considered the hike down to the beach, but opted instead to visit the viewpoints instead to see glimpses of Crescent City in the near distance.
Driving through the Redwoods
The route south from Crescent City to Eureka cuts right through the heart of the Redwoods National Forest. We were thoroughly entranced by the stunningly gorgeous and humongous trees that lined the highway. We knew we would be returning the following day to deep dive into this glorious scenery. It did give us a chance to spot some of the areas we wanted to explore more deeply, such as the “scenic route” and the Welcome Center.
Trees of Mystery
The Redwoods are a massive area of land with different sections, due to the unique history of the area. I had researched the area quite a bit and the “Trees of Mystery” had been recommended by a variety of sources. At first glance, it seemed like it could be one of those quirky tourist traps, but what intrigued me was that it was consistently recommended. However, it wasn’t until we stopped at the Oregon Welcome Center, and they enthusiastically endorsed a visit, that we decided we couldn’t pass up the chance to explore this unique attraction.
It had all the makings of a proper tourist trap, but for all the right reasons. It was a unique experience and condensed the beauty of the Redwoods into a several hour experience wandering through the winding grove, exploring the canopy walk, and the skyline gondola.
I would now describe the Trees of Mystery as an enchanting attraction nestled in the heart of Northern California’s lush redwood forests. We learned that it exists as a tribute to these magnificent trees and the mystique that surrounds them. The history of this place dates back to the 1930s when Carl Ray and Grace Melgosa, a husband-and-wife team, embarked on a mission to share the wonder of the redwoods with the world.
Visitors to the Trees of Mystery can expect a captivating journey through towering groves of ancient redwoods. The centerpiece of the attraction is the iconic SkyTrail gondola ride, which soars above the forest canopy. Along the way, there are interpretive trails, informative displays, and larger-than-life statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, adding a whimsical touch to the experience. The commitment to education and preservation of the Redwoods is clear in every display. So, despite initial reservations, our visit turned out to be a delightful surprise, and I would absolutely recommend this.
Eureka was on our radar for a variety of reasons and proved to be a good starting point for our Redwoods adventure. This charming town had caught our attention through its frequent references in popular TV shows like Virgin River. Plus, its central location along the beautiful Northern California coastline made it an ideal base for exploration. When looking for hotels we stumbled across the historic and enchanting Eureka Inn.
Eureka is known for its access to the Redwoods and has a vibrant arts scene. It’s often referred to as the “Queen of the West Coast”, and has beautifully preserved Victorian architecture.
However, as we were exhausted from a packed day we opted not to spend too much time that evening exploring Eureka. We found a fantastic restaurant within walking distance to our hotel and planned out our next day and what we would want to explore in Eureka with more time.
Tuesday – Redwoods National Forest
Tuesday was a day dedicated to exploring the northern part of the Redwoods National Forest. We had stopped at Trees of Mystery on Monday and done a bit of exploration on the remaining drive into Eureka. We had a glimpse of sites we wanted to see on the way in, but knew the best option was to stop off at the first Visitor Center and speak to one of the park rangers for suggestions. I had a list of groves to visit as well, and various recommendations, but I know from experience that Rangers know the area better than I could source through research.
The Redwoods National and State Parks have always been at the top of my bucket list, and I was fascinated with their unparalleled natural beauty and storied history. This unique landscape boasts some of the tallest and oldest trees on Earth, the magnificent coast redwoods and giant sequoias, whose sheer size and age are humbling.
Beyond their remarkable stature, these ancient forests have borne witness to centuries of change, including the arrival of indigenous peoples and early settlers. The establishment of the Redwoods National and State Parks in 1968, a conservation effort spurred by the threat of logging, reflects a commitment to preserving not only the trees but the rich tapestry of life that thrives beneath their towering canopy. This convergence of natural wonder, cultural heritage, and a dedication to preservation is what makes the Redwoods a truly iconic destination for any traveler and a dream come true for me.
This was the day I was most anticipating the most on our trip, and I was eager to get started. For the first time on the trip we opted to share a car for the day, and we joined our friends in their spacious SUV (with a delightful moonroof).
Redwoods Visitor Center
The first visitor center we came across was the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center, in Orick, so at the southern part of the northern Redwoods. It’s a well equipped visitor center with plenty of Rangers on hand, and exhibits on the history of the area.
We asked a Ranger to help provide, and reinforce, recommendations for what we could see in this part of the Redwoods in a single day with light hiking requirements.
The Ranger produced a fantastic map of the area, and started marking notations on it specific to our requests. He suggested the scenic route, which is a bypass that goes through the beautiful Prairie Creek section of the Redwoods. Since we had already driven Rt-101 the day before this seemed like a great opportunity for us to explore a new area.
The grove he recommended for us – with a short hike, lots of Redwoods, and a beautiful drive – was Stout Grove. This matched my own research and I was keen to see and explore the grove. We also earmarked Lady Bird Johnson grove and a nearby Redwood Creek Overlook.
The different groves throughout the National Forest are a reflection of how it all came together through a remarkable conservation effort. Established in 1968, this unique national forest was formed through a collaborative partnership between federal and state authorities, with key support from the Save-the-Redwoods League. The project’s goal was to safeguard these majestic trees and the ecosystems they harbor from the threat of logging. To create a comprehensive preserve, the park incorporates various state parks, resulting in a patchwork of protected sections that collectively constitute the magnificent Redwoods National and State Parks we can explore today.
The primary route through the northern part of the Redwoods is Rt-101; an absolutely gorgeous, winding route that passes through the heart of the Redwoods. There are a few scenic routes, usually leading to overlooks, hiking paths or groves.
The scenic bypass is actually called the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway (if you want to add it to your GPS) and passes through the Prairie Creek region of the Redwoods. It’s a gorgeous drive through the heart of the ancient forest, and is an essential detour for visitors.
As a tranquil alternative to Highway 101, this winding road immerses travelers in the lush setting, where towering coast redwoods create a shaded canopy overhead. With the double sunroof/moonroof combination in our friend’s rental car this was particularly gorgeous and immersive. This section of the Redwoods has peaceful meadows, where we caught a glimpse of native elk, and plenty of short hike opportunities (that we sadly didn’t have the time for).
During our short detour we enjoyed briefly seeing the Elk, and made a brief stop off at Prairie Creek, where we could see some of these peaceful meadows. It was in stark contrast to the surrounding area and drive we had been doing, with the thick and towering forest dominating the landscape of this area.
There is a reason that every travel guide, blogger and Ranger recommends visiting Stout Grove – it’s simply breathtaking. Every bit of research I had conducted pointed to this being one of the most impactful and beautiful of the many groves, and when the Ranger recommended it we were keen to visit.
The Ranger also had another key bit of advice – to approach the grove from the south to enjoy a longer trek through the Redwoods themselves to reach the parking and trailhead.
As one of the most popular groves, parking can be quite challenging. We were lucky that we found a spot on arrival, but it is important to adhere to the parking rules, and to be patient while waiting for a spot.
Stout Grove is one of the most iconic of the groves, absolutely pristine in its preservation. In the mid-20th century the grove was privately owned and faced the threat of logging, a similar story to be found across the Redwood Forests in this region. In the 1920s, Clara Stout donated a portion of the grove to the LEague of American Foresters in an act of philanthropy. And in the 1950s, the Save-the-Redwoods LEague acquired additional portions of Stout Grove to ensure its protection. These lands were all integrated into the Redwoods National and State Parks when it was established in 1968.
Stout Grove, with its majestic trees and tranquil ambiance, now stands as a testament to the successful preservation efforts that have safeguarded these ancient giants for future generations to enjoy.
Running along the edge of Stout Grove was a fantastic river, with absolutely gorgeous scenery. As we saw swimmers and loungers there I wish I had known this before we came, because I would have packed my bathing suit for the experience. It turns out that there was a campground on the other side of the river as well, which must have had exceptional views and unparalleled access to the Redwoods.
The last stop we made, before heading back to Eureka for the evening, was back on the Scenic Bypass and that was a stop at Elk Meadow near the Prairie Creek Visitor Center.
Elk Meadow is a natural sanctuary within the Redwoods National Park. It offers visitors a chance to witness herds of Roosevelt elk in this pristine habitat.
As we drove through Elk Meadows twice on that day we noticed cars lining the roads, which seemed to chase the elk away, rather than give them the free reign to roam in this beautiful area. When we did catch glimpses of the elk it was when they were at peace, wandering near the road, and not being the center of attention for hoards of visitors and cameras.
Elk Meadow has its own visitor center and car park, which can be used to grant access to viewing the meadows from a respectful distance and without parking cars on the verge of the road.
Wednesday – Redwoods to Santa Rosa
Wednesday provided us another opportunity to explore the Redwoods one last time before we headed south into wine country, towards Santa Rosa. We didn’t have a chance to visit the Lady Bird Johnson grove or the Redwood Creek Overlook, which had been recommended to us the previous day by the park Ranger. So we started our morning heading in that direction with a plan to visit the Avenue of the Giants afterwards, visiting it on our route heading south.
Redwood Creek Overlook
As we approached Lady Bird Johnson Grove we could see that the parking lot was already full, as cars were lining the road heading in and blocking through traffic.
Among all the groves and scenic drive the Redwood Creek Overlook offers a unique perspective and viewpoint within the Redwoods National and State Parks. It offers a serene vantage point to witness the convergence of lush redwood forests and the Pacific Ocean. Its unique appeal lies in its breathtaking panoramic views.
We really loved the panoramic view that provided us with a great view of the lush scenery of the Redwoods. The drive up towards the viewpoint was also particularly beautiful, aside from the traffic jam around Lady Bird Johnson Grove.
Avenue of the Giants
Avenue of the Giants is another scenic bypass through the Redwoods to the south of Eureka, still bypassing a portion of Rt-101. This particular section of the Redwoods is more touristy and includes more campgrounds and small businesses, whereas the more northern section of the Redwoods was more undeveloped and uncommercial.
This stretch of the Redwoods is a renowned 31-mile scenic drive that winds through a beautiful section of the Redwoods inside Humboldt Redwoods State Park.This portion of the Redwoods is a living testament to the conservation efforts of the 1920s when the Save-the-Redwoods League intervened to protect these ancient giants from logging, ensuring their survival for generations to come.
There are quite a few stopping points on the trail for hikes through groves, along with some traditional roadside attractions. These include ancient trees, drive-thru trees, and viewpoints.
During our journey through the Avenue of the Giants we took the opportunity to drive top-down in the convertible. We made a few stops along the way:
- Immortal Tree: A Redwood that is over 1,000 years old and has survived fires, floods and a variety of other natural and human challenges.
- Dyerville Bar viewpoint: This unique viewpoint glances over what used to be the town of Weott, which was swept away in a flood, and the Dyerville Train Truss Bridge. We stumbled upon this beautiful viewpoint, as it was not marked, but included a few signs explaining the history.
- Shrine Drive Thru Tree: There are a few drive thru trees within the Avenue of the Giants – Redwoods so large when hollowed out at the base a car can drive through them. Driving through it with our friends in the Mustang was great fun.
There were so many other sites to see but we were keen to get on the road and head to Santa Rosa in time for dinner, so we set off for the 3 hour drive.
Drive to Santa Rosa
The drive to Santa Rosa had us leave the beautiful lush Redwood forests and enter a mountainous and rocky region of California, with absolutely stunning vistas. The drive was full of winding roads, stunning scenes, and logging trucks. There weren’t many places to stop along the way so we were grateful that we had filled up the car back in Eureka, as it was a very rural drive.
Thursday – Wineries in Santa Rosa
My husband and one of our friends had previously made this part of the trip back in 2015, and knew that they wanted to return to Santa Rosa.
The California wine region consists of three prominent valleys: Sonoma Valley, Napa Valley, and Russian River Valley. What sets Santa Rosa apart is its strategic location at the crossroads of these valleys, offering easy access to the diverse terroirs, microclimates, and wineries of each, making it a perfect hub for wine enthusiasts looking to explore the unique flavors and varieties of this celebrated region.
This made it a perfect location for us to call base for a day of winery visits and exploration. We found an incredibly cute, mid-century modern inspired, motel in Santa Rosa that was perfectly placed for our visit.
Ledson Winery & Vineyard
When I was preparing for our visit to Santa Rosa I asked a colleague who was a wine aficionado for recommendations – Ledson was one of his top recommendations for this region and we chose to book a tasting with them as our starting point for the day.
Ledson Winery is set in an enchanting French Normandy-style castle and opulent tasting rooms. What makes it special is its luxurious ambiance and the chance to savor award-winning wines amidst grandeur. Ledson is renowned for its exquisite Sonoma County varietals, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, offering a taste of California’s wine excellence in a fairytale setting.
Despite being well known for the red wines we actually fell in love with their white wines during our tasting and visit, and had an incredible experience within their stunning property.
Kendall Jackson Estate – Wine & Food Pairing
We found an incredible wine and food tasting at the Kendall Jackson Estate vineyards. Given that Kendall Jackson was a favorite of my mother’s I thought that this would make for a good second winery visit on our trip.
Kendall-Jackson Estate represents a higher tier within the Kendall-Jackson portfolio. These wines are typically sourced from specific estate-owned vineyards and are crafted to reflect a more refined and premium style. Kendall-Jackson Estate wines may be produced in smaller quantities and are often associated with single-vineyard or limited-release offerings. They aim to showcase the unique characteristics of their estate vineyards and terroir.
The offering for their meal was high quality, as well as their wines, and we had a fantastic lunch in their garden. The entire property felt delightfully elegant and the service was top notch. The wine was particularly great and well rounded.
Hook & Ladder Winery
Our final winery visit for our day in Santa Rosa was the more modern vineyard. This was a winery that we stumbled upon just through searching the internet, so no recommendations or brand recognition.
The winery is known for its commitment to sustainable farming practices and crafting wines with a sense of place. They were founded in 2003 by the De Loach family with a rich history in winemaking. The wines feature unique characteristics of the Russian River Valley vineyards.
We enjoyed the wine tasting in their outside space – with an old red fire truck and plenty of lawn games including corn hole. It was an entirely different vibe to either Ledson or Kendall Jackson Estate.
Friday – Santa Rosa to San Francisco
The last leg of our trip was to spend a few days in San Francisco before flying back to Massachusetts. There were a few more stops to enjoy on the way to the city, where we would return our cars and check-in to our hotel in the Mission district.
We knew it would be a busy day so we were able to get an early start and head straight out to Muir Beach. We wanted to ensure that we would have time to explore all the stops we had planned, and still return the cars on time. We also had reservations that evening in San Francisco.
The drive wound its way through foggy mountain side roads and the fog, coming in off the ocean, only got thicker the closer we got to shore.
On the way we made a wrong turn and ended up in a hillside neighborhood overlooking the beach. Once we headed back down the hill we found the signs for the beach and parked up.
Muir Beach is a serene coastal destination just north of San Francisco, cherished for its stunning natural beauty and the opportunity to commune with the Pacific Ocean. Visitors are drawn to its pristine shoreline, ocean vistas, and easy access to hiking trails, making it an ideal spot for relaxation and outdoor exploration.
It was easy to see on arrival why this was such a popular destination. Despite the cooler weather and fog there were plenty of families setting up on the beach for a day out. The boardwalk leading to the beach had a constant stream of food traffic of visitors to the beach, but it still felt like a private retreat.
Sausalito was the request of one of the pair who had visited California previously, as they had not been able to include it in their previous trip. It seemed like a no-brainer to visit, and an easy stop on the way back into San Francisco.
Sausalito, a picturesque waterfront town just across the bay from San Francisco, offers a charming escape with its Mediterranean-style architecture, boutique shops, and world-class dining. It’s a delightful place to stroll along the marina, admire the scenic views of the city, and soak in the artistic and bohemian atmosphere.
We saw fantastically beautiful views of San Francisco, across the bay, and even Alcatraz. The mist hanging over San Francisco was impressive to see how it clung to the city itself and left the bay clear. We walked around the town, enjoyed a local ice cream parlor, and admired the views from several great viewpoints along the waterfront.
Golden Gate Bridge
The last stop we made, before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge back into San Francisco, was at the viewpoint of the Golden Gate Bridge.
The iconic Golden Gate Bridge is not only a marvel of engineering but also a symbol of San Francisco itself. Its striking orange-red hue, art deco design, and the breathtaking backdrop of the city and the bay make it a must-visit landmark.
The primary viewpoint on the north side of the bridge is on the northbound side of the road, but we also found there is a parking lot on the southbound side, which enabled us to walk under the bridge. The northbound side is the H. Dana Bowers Memorial Vista, with an incredible viewpoint of the Bridge and the bay.
After parking on the southbound side we were able to cross under the bridge (a unique experience) and catch a glimpse of the bridge from the northbound side. While we had been in Sausalito the day had proven to be sunny and beautiful, but when we reached the bridge it was covered in fog.
I grew up watching Full House so of course I wanted to visit San Francisco as an adult. As a teenager the Rock was one of my favorite movies. I was excited to see what San Francisco had to offer as a cultural melting pot and iconic cityscape.
San Francisco is known for its diverse neighborhoods, iconic landmarks and vibrant arts scene. It’s popular with visitors who want to explore its historic streets, ride the famous cable cars, indulge in gourmet cuisine and take in some exceptional panoramic views. The city’s rich history, unique culture and stunning geography make it a truly captivating destination.
The first glimpse I’d had was earlier in the trip, as we made our way north from the airport and over the Oakland bridge. The hint of the San Francisco skyline promised me a great visit when we returned. This time, after seeing the skyline from Sausalito, we were able to cross the Golden Gate Bridge on our way back to the airport. We participated in early rush hour in the city but returned the car right on time.
From the airport we jumped on the BART taking it almost all the way to our hotel. It was a struggle to buy and load a card for the journey and not as smooth as I’ve experienced in other cities, but the trains were spacious and clean.
The Stinky Rose
When our friends asked if we would go with them to the “Stinky Rose”, they described the cuisine as garlic seasoned with food, and it was a no-brainer to try this unique restaurant.It’s renowned for its garlic-infused dishes and provides a unique culinary experience. We were all garlic lovers and excited to try even the most adventures of items on the menu, like a garlic-tini or garlic ice cream (some were more successful than others).
Throughout the trip we had some really spectacular meals, but none held a candle to the Stinky Rose. We ordered a variety of dishes that were exceptional, tasting the full spectrum of the menu. My husband ordered the garlic-tini and that was the only dish was felt was out of place, but even the garlic ice cream had redeeming qualities. The more traditional offerings, like my 40-clove garlic chicken, were exquisite.
Saturday – San Francisco
Saturday was our main day to explore San Francisco. We had booked an Alcatraz tour in the evening, but wanted to make the most of our day before heading towards the waterfront for an early dinner and departure for the tour.
We jumped on the double decker bus and headed out towards Golden Gate Park, enjoying the scenes and views along the way. It was a unique way to get a glimpse at the hilly streets of San Francisco.
Golden Gate Park & Ferris Wheel
We jumped off the bus at Golden Gate Park; my husband had previously visited it and wanted to share it with the rest of us. We found the park to be absolutely gorgeous with a lot of great displays.
This beautiful park is a sprawling urban oasis, and it’s renowned for its diverse attractions. In the middle of the park, near the California Academy of Sciences and the deYoung Museum. Between the two was a ferris wheel, and we booked a ride to see some unique views of the city. We caught a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge (covered in fog, again).
Golden Gate Bridge (again!)
The bus took us back over the Golden Gate Bridge. We could see the fog covering the bridge and grabbed jackets just in time to wrap up before we crossed the bridge. The fog was frigid, compared to the sunny warm weather in the city, and was brisk as we crossed.
The views were similar to the previous day, but crossing on the top of an open deck bus was incredible. Despite the cold it was fascinating to see how different the weather was between San Francisco and the fog over the bridge.
The piers in San Francisco are a huge part of the city’s culture, and a reflection of the maritime heritage. The historic piers have played a vital role in trade, immigration and the development of the city. Today they are a buzz with diverse activities, incredible seafood eateries, bustling ferry terminals and scenic promenades.
We chose to visit Pier 39 and grab a bite to eat from one of the seafood restaurants on the pier. It was fascinating to see the hustle bustle along the pier, and the multiple levels of shops and visitors. The food was fantastic, and it was fun to explore the multitude of shops.
Alcatraz Tour – Behind the Scenes & Night Tour
There are a variety of tours available when visiting Alcatraz, but the most popular day time tours were all sold out by the time we got around to booking. We were able to book a special tour for behind the scenes and a night tour, which seemed like a great opportunity to get to the island and explore it at length.
Alcatraz holds a long and storied history as a former federal penitentiary. Its strategic location in San Francisco Bay made it a critical military fortification and later, a notorious prison for some of America’s most notorious criminals. Today, Alcatraz stands as a historic landmark, and it attracts visitors who come to explore its intriguing past, witness the legendary escape attempts, and appreciate its enduring significance in shaping the identity of San Francisco.
The normal Alcatraz tour grants access to public areas of the island and the old jail building. The Behind the Scenes tour of Alcatraz opened several private areas of the island and dug deeper into some of the stories – either from the prison or the movies filmed on location. We saw a tunnel that was excavated for The Rock, but never used in the production film. The tour was absolutely fantastic and we were accompanied by a Ranger with great insights, and a nifty list of locations used in movies.
The night tour was interesting but not much different than the day tour due to timings, and it being summer (with long evenings). The tour was the same as the day tour but with the chance of being there after sunset, and in the dark to make it a different experience. However, it did allow us to see a truly spectacular sunset on returning via the ferry to San Francisco.
Sunday – Baseball at the Oakland Coliseum
A bucket list item of mine is to visit all the ballparks in Major League Baseball. As it so happened one of the friends we were traveling with was also a big baseball fan, and when I suggested we go to the Oakland Coliseum to watch the Athletics they agreed to the outing. We chose the Sunday afternoon game against the San Francisco Giants.
We had a lazy morning exploring the area around our hotel and briefly looked at joining the long queue waiting for the trolleys. We estimated that the line, early on a Sunday morning, would take a minimum of 2 hours for us to actually get on a trolley. We did see that much later in the day that the line was a lot smaller, so that was our takeaway.
We took the BART to the Oakland Coliseum, which was an easy journey from where we were staying in downtown San Francisco. It was interesting to cross into Oakland and see all the shipyard elements and containers as we approached the Coliseum.
Once at the Coliseum we could see plenty of signs and t-shirts against the ownership of the Oakland Athletics due to the rumors that they would be relocating the team. I had already known of the reputation that the Coliseum had and saw t-shirts calling it the “last dive bar in baseball”. Yet when we got inside the stadium I was surprised at how lovely it was. Yes, it was absolutely rough around the edges with cabling barely attached to the railings, but I loved the atmosphere, the views and the vibes.
The Athletic fans were fun, the team won the game, and the experience was definitely one I’m glad we could enjoy! Especially with more recent news that the team will relocate, and this was potentially one of my last opportunities to visit that stadium. I can add it to the list of defunct stadiums I’ve visited, which includes the old Vet in Philadelphia.
Reflections & Learnings
As we waited at the airport for our plane my friends and I discussed some of what our learnings were:
- Pack a bathing suit if you’re visiting Stout Grove, I regret not getting to swing in the river.
- Make a plan for your Redwoods visit, but be flexible along with the weather.
- San Francisco trolleys are packed and with long queues, plan to visit them in the afternoons.
- Book your Alcatraz tickets as far in advance as you can, or you might be left without tickets or only the expensive packages.
Overall we had an absolutely brilliant 10 days on the west coast, far better than I would have expected at the outset of the trip. The Redwoods were as magical as I could have hoped for, and the road trip has given us memories to last a life time.
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