“Come to LA first and we go on a road trip to San Francisco together.”
The unplanned invitation Bridget made at a party in Zurich, June 2017, after a couple of drinks actually brought me to LA. I’m still not sure if she knew that I would take this as a promise. Before having the beer and gin tonics I had just planned to go to San Francisco and then head to Canada.
The idea developed quickly into a 8 days car camping road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway with returning route via Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks.
- Getting just out of LA on Friday evening after work and sleeping in the car along the roadside in Malibu
- Cruising on Saturday along the PCH and stopping for car camping in the national park around Big Sur
- Reaching San Francisco Sunday later afternoon and exploring the city til Wednesday
- Staying Wednesday to Friday in a cabin near Yosemite and hiking the winter Yosemite valley on Thursday
- Car camping Friday to Sunday at a camping ground close to Sequoia and exploring the park on Friday and Saturday
- Driving back to LA on Sunday
Let’s do this!
Road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway
We got out of LA after the obligatory pizza & beer Friday and reached Malibu around 8pm. None of us wanted to get up on Saturday crazy early to make it out of LA so we decided for our first car camping attempt.
Just pulling to the roadside and sleeping in the car is not really a legally accepted practice. So the first night was not only the first try of sleeping in the car but also the one we didn’t really know how it would work. Car camping means that we pushed the backseats of Bridget’s car down and made a camping mats and blankets improv bed inside. Always hoping that we calculated well and it wouldn’t be too cold in the car – temperatures were meant to drop to freezing point at night at our designated camping sites.
Smart as she is Bridget found a remote road leading up to a trailhead on Google maps and we thought to give it a try. We settled across the street of a big nice Malibu estate, covered the windows with a black blanket, spend some time watching the stars and a very late suspicious UPS delivery from inside the car before we shifted of in a quite unsettled night.
At 6:30 am we decided the night to be over and took an early start into Saturday which got us…
- a breakfast at Malibu beach
- a sunny coastal road to follow
- a Danish village with an European store and an interesting collection of “German music”
- a rock n roll diner in an old train which we couldn’t say no to
- a drive through an army garrison with a very curvy road due to the still partly closed PCH
- a “camp wherever you want” inside a remote National Park
- a dog as our car camp dinner guest
- a couple of Chinese poker games with bottles of dark ale sitting on the edge of the open trunk and
- a beautiful night sky view out of the rear window before shifting off to sleep
And the day fixed our work split for the trip: she’s the driver, I’m the chef of camp kitchen.
Not that bad of a life.
The day awarded Bridget the title of “Best rallye driver comeback” due to a side comment of me while she was taking the curvy road. “Ah, these streets remind you of your old Rallye days, right?” My father used to say that every time he drove and drifted quite bolt through the Italian mountainside during our summer holidays while my brother and I were acting (or for real) to be thrown around in the back of the car and my stepmom added a typical “Christoph!” exclamation – years and years ago. Isn’t it wonderful to remember these unique and quirky family habits?
The Big Sur
Driving along the Big Sur is beautiful. Guide books and travel journals tell you that you think you just need about 3 hours driving through but you will need way more. Because you have to stop. No matter what you thought at first when planning the trip. The views of the coastline and the ocean make you wanna stop and breathe. Again and again.
Not only the views but also the need for coffee lures you out of the car into the well spread good coffee roasters in the small and smaller towns along the road and the colorful fair on the boardwalk of Santa Cruz is a “You don’t wanna miss this!” walk before you reach the suburbs of San Francisco.
So it was late in the afternoon when we arrived in the city by the bay and used the remaining hours for good talks, beer and food with Berk – Bridget’s friend who we were happy to stay with – and his friend Cenk at their place.
Follow your dreams to San Francisco
Since we started the trip I’ve been carrying a picture of my grandmother with me.
My grandma always wanted to go to San Francisco. I remember here talking about it again and again, from times when I was a kid to 5 years ago. It was her dream destination and I tried more than once to convince her to go. I even started to get all the information together to do a guided tour for disabled people once she wasn’t that fit on her legs anymore. But she never pursued her wish.
A year or two before she passed away she told me “I would have really loved to travel with you to San Francisco. It’s sad we didn’t make it.”
I remember how heavy I felt and still feel when I think about it. So I took her with me on my journey and brought her to San Fran. Walked with her over the Golden Gate Bridge and found a nice airy spot in a tree on Twin Peaks for her to stay with a gorgeous view over San Francisco and the Golden Gate, a little pin from our hometown to her side. I still miss her so much.
What have you always dreamed of? Where would you like to go? What is on top of your bucket list? What have you done lately to get a bit closer towards it?
After the very emotional part we spent inspirational days and nights. Seeing the city during the day, enjoying fine and tasty food and the public transportation. And of course – like LA – the buses had their own special charme. Less scary but no less unique people riding them. One group of alternative guys had an intensive chat about the world and doing a road trip to Louisiana to find inspiration and a break from the hectic city life when one of them suddenly reaches into his pocket, gets out a foam Mickey Mouse nose, puts it on his nose and all the while keeps talking seriously. No one seemed bothered. I nearly cracked up laughing.
In the evening we felt the fresh winter air around our noses while taking the cable cars through the lighted streets, warmed up in a nice beer and bbq pub and talked into the night with Berk and Cenk about traveling, work and pursuing your ideas – and having maybe a beer or two and a blaze alongside.
Time flew by and just 3 days in San Francisco is definitely not enough. But that’s good. It left us hungry for more.
And I’ll be back for sure. I mean I have to make sure grandma is having a blast here, right?
Side trip to Endor’s forest moon
“My friends said they filmed some parts of Star Wars in the woods somewhere around San Francisco. Maybe we should look it up and it’s worth a visit.” “Original trilogy, prequel or sequel trilogy?” “Original, of course.” “Ok, I google it.”
And so we found out about the Muir Woods, a redwoods forest north of SF, which played an important role for the scenes on Endor’s forest moon in Return of the Jedi. Remember the Ewoks? Yes, that’s the moon. It’s definitely worth a visit, not only but especially if you are a Star Wars fan!
“I wish I had a kid to put into an Ewok costume and let it run around here to surprise the adults.” Goals.
The road took us inland towards Yosemite all along fields and fields of orange, cherry, lemon and apple trees at our side. And the temperature started to drop further down from fresh San Francisco to icy cold Yosemite. Good we have a cabin with a fireplace reserved for the next two nights.
A winter’s tale in Yosemite
We drive down into Yosemite Valley, snow chains rattling and slowing us down. We brought the snow chains as it is a requirement to enter the National Parks in winter. But we didn’t really believe we would need them. New items unlocked: how to put on snow chains as quick as possible and how to drive with them as a California driver.
“Through all the sun, rain, snow and temperature changes the window hold pretty well,” Bridget says while stroking one hand over the black duct tape we used to glue the window to the car frame at the start of our trip. Yes, duct tape as impressive as always.
We pass the tunnel and stop for our first scenic glimpse. The parking lot for the famous tunnel view is surprisingly empty. Although I have seen pictures of Yosemite before – especially with the picture of MacOS Yosemite being quite a while my background on my Mac – it’s incredible to see it live with your own eyes. The blue sky is hidden behind the clouds which promise snow. Soon.
Just an hour after we left the tunnel view it started to snow. First in soft flakes falling to earth which didn’t hold us back to start a hike and then in a growing constancy to cover trees and paths in white.
Most of the roads in Yosemite are closed for the winter and there are only a couple of hikes you can start from the valley. We chose one to bring us at the end of the valley up to a water fall. As it was already passed noon this 3-4 hour roundtrip was perfect to be back before dusk.
The scenery stayed disguised in clouds and mist most of the time only to clear up on random times to give us a short Aww moment as we stared at the rough stone walls closer or further away and all around us. I can’t believe that I’m still in California. This state shows diversity in more than one meaning.
Just when we returned to our car from the hike the snow started to become thicker and dusk settled even quicker. It took us more than 3 hours back to the cabin – for comparison: on a snow and ice free day you need 1 hour – because of a snow storm and a couple of tourists and/or Californians who didn’t know how to drive through this although snow chains or a 4WD with winter tires were mandatory. Bridget drove the whole time as I don’t have an insurance for her car that would cover anything. She did a brilliant job in the dark and the snow and the loud rattling of the car hearting and got herself the “Californian snow driver certificate”.
We rewarded ourselves with hot apple cider & bourbon and some red wine back in the cabin. Her reward for driving through snow and night. And mine for not giving too many side comments.
Sequoia’s silent giants
Giant beautiful trees. Some of them over 2000 years old. Can you imagine that? 2000 years. We walk a snowy trail around the sequoia grove and through the forest. Looking for tracks in the snow. Maybe a deer, maybe a bear. Or something else? We left all the other people behind. No ones here with us today. Too cold and too much snow. And whatever you try you’ll never get a good full shot of one of these giants. So prepare for a lot of cropped shameless topless pics.
One of my boot laces decided to quit during yesterday’s hike along the small path at the other end of the park. I’m pretty happy how good these boots adapt if it was a long distance flat walk in Spain, crossing the Alps with heaps of ups and downs, days of being covered in thick mud in New Zealand or the sharp cliffs and lava stones of Hawaii’s cliffs. Some emergency cord fixed my boot good enough so we could get new laces in the evening – along with pizza and beer to warm up for the night and the next day.
Hiking in North America confronted me with totally new things to consider. Snakes, bears and mountain lions. And for the first two ones I had at least an idea how to prepare and act on my mind. But mountain lions? “Seriously? What?” I stared unbelievingly back at Bridget when she told me what her biggest concern for hiking alone is. Mountain lions. “Don’t leave your kids behind or walk in front of you. Be loud, stand together and look big. Throw stones. Otherwise fight back!” The information in the park map said. I have never read somewhere before “otherwise fight back”.
“Why are all these animal tracks following the one trail that we are also supposed to take?” I wonder out loud when we stop again to try and read some of them. “This one looks way bigger than the last ones. Maybe this is actually a bear,” Bridge says while we’re looking at the clawed footprint in the snow.
We keep the campfire going. The temperature drops quickly close to freezing point as the sun sets. While we’ve been hiking in Sequoia our new camp neighbors stole our firewood. So we collected even more wood than before and gave them the glare every time we passed their tent. At some point they must have recognized their mistake and it gets even funnier for us to look serious across our hot chocolate mugs and the fire at their spot. The baked beans taste delicious. The guitar sounds sweet. It’s getting colder so a mulled wine has to warm us up for the last camping night in the car.
Thanks for the amazing trip.