We spent a night in lovely Carmel, CA.  We had been there briefly before, but this time we stayed for the night.  The area is pretty and quirky.  For example, there are no addresses.  Houses have names and directions are given via cross streets.   This made putting our hotel into the GPS a challenge, but we still got there.

When we woke up on Saturday morning, we were surprised to see the sun and not a single cloud in the sky.  Carmel is not known for the best weather.  Turns out the reputation was correct and a few hours later, it had clouded over.  We spent the morning walking around downtown and checking out the ocean.  The downtown area has lots of restaurants and a candy store for some fudge.  Shockingly, we did not see an ice cream store.  I’ll need to contact the chamber of commerce.

After lunch, we went to Garland Ranch Regional Park, which was suggested to us by the folks in the hotel.  It’s inland about ten miles or so from the hotel.  Being inland, it has the advantage of being slightly warmer, less breezy, and sunnier.   The volunteer at the visitor center suggested a nice loop for us.  While the views were wonderful, it turned out to be a little steeper than we had anticipated and we gained 1300 feet in elevation in about a mile and a quarter.  There were some spectacular wild flower blooms to make it worth it.  The park had a great variety in vegetation and views which made it an enjoyable afternoon.

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Today the Maverick’s Surf Contest was held off of Half Moon Bay.  It’s not visible from the beach, but they only hold the contest when there is a high surf.  While there might be 20 foot waves out at Mavericks, along the coast it’s a little more tame, with 5-10 foot waves.  We went to check out the coast and see them.

The temperature was very pleasant, but as usual it was very windy.  We walked along the beach and watched the waves.  In the distance, we could see a lot of boats trying to get a glimpse of Maverick’s.  The coast, as always, is very scenic.  View all the pictures here:

We were able to book a room at Yosemite Lodge last minute and thus make a weekend getaway to Yosemite Valley.  This was my first time in the park in the fall.  Since last year was a relatively dry year (only about 50% of normal rain/snow), the major waterfalls were either completely dry or only a trickle instead of a thunder.   While still spectacular, I can’t help but miss the thunder and site of Yosemite Falls.


Unlike in the Spring and its fill of snow, higher elevation sections of the park were more accessible.  We took a one way bus ride up to Glacier Point, 3200 feet above the valley floor.  From here, there are wonderful views of Half Dome and the valley.   We then left the crowds and starting hiking down the Panorama Trail towards the valley floor.  The signed distance is 8.0 miles, but our total hiking for the day was closer to 9.5 miles, according to the GPS.  I was quite sore for a few days afterwards, but it was worth it.  The trail takes you by three waterfalls with almost continuous spectacular views.

To start our second day, we drove up to Tuolomne Meadows.  Along the way, we stopped at Olmstead Point for a different vantage point of Half Dome.  While it was around 70 degrees yesterday and today, on Friday there was rain, fog, and snow.  This had the added benefit of a light snow dusting of the upper elevations.  Tuolomne Meadows is above 8000 feet and the peaks visible from here are thousands of feet higher.  The views were even prettier thanks to the snow.  We hiked up Pothole Dome (much easier than Lembert Dome), and had wonderful views of the area.


Before heading home, we stopped at a vista point along the road and made a quick stop to Saddlebag Lake.  That area is over 10,000 feet in elevation and there was still snow on the ground.

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We had an enjoyable couple of days in the wine country.  After work on Friday, we headed north through the Golden Gate on our way to Guerneville.  We stopped in our favorite restaurant in San Anselmo (Cucina) to break up the drive and properly feed ourselves.  The trip up was uneventful with traffic more or less what is expected on a Friday evening.

On our first full day, we headed to nearby Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve.  We initially planned on a relatively moderate three mile hike, but instead did a bit more adventurous 5.6 mile hike (with a steep climb up, gaining about 1100 feet).  The view from the top was pretty good and the hike did take us through various climates.  There were lots of big trees, although mostly second growth.  The Colonel Armstrong tree was the the oldest at over 1400 years old and 300 feet tall.  The Colonel chose to preserve the park so it is now named for him.

After such a big hike, we went into town for lunch since we were quite hungry by now.  We enjoyed our lunch at Boon and from there we departed for a little wine tasting.  Since we’ve liked DeLoach wines from TJ’s, we figured we would stop at their winery.  It wasn’t too far away and they had some good wine that we added to our collection.  Now it was time for the all important nap which we had both earned.  That refreshed us for dinner and a wonderful end of the day.

On Sunday, we got the suggestion to go on a walk through a nearby neighborhood.  This was a nice stroll and there were lots of tall trees there too.  After a nice loop, we got in the car and went to the Korbel Winery which was right down the street.  They make California Champagne and also some regular wine.  It was now a reasonable time to start wine tasting.   We took their tour which was somewhat interesting (although I think the Domaine Chandon tour over in Napa is more informative about the making of sparkling wine).

From here we began our trip back home with a stop for lunch in the town of Graton.  This left us in a good position for one last wine tasting which we did at Merry Edwards (a winery recommended to us).  We added a few bottles to the car and then departed home.  Since it was only mid afternoon we were able to stop in Marin County at the Olompali State Historic Park.  This was the site of one of the largest Coast Miwok settlements. Luckily for us, the day we visited they were also giving tours and had guides out to give you  more information about the area.  It was a good final stop on our way home.  We got home just in time to take a look at the partial solar eclipse before the weekend finally came to a close.

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We went away for just one day to visit Pinnacles National Monument.  We also stopped in at the Mission in Soledad, officially known as Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad. IMG_2061 It’s one of the smaller missions, but it’s the last one that we haven’t been too except for a few that are right in the Bay Area.  It was small and scenic, but unfortunately closed on the inside because of a lack of power.  As L’ pointed out, weren’t these things built before electricity?  We’ll have to return for an inside tour, but the outside was a nice quick stop.

From the mission, we stopped to pick up lunch and then were on our way to Pinnacles National Monument.  We’ve been there a couple times before and spring is usually a good time to visit since it can be very hot in the summer.  With our dry winter, the wildflowers were nothing like a couple years ago, but the rock formations were scenic and interesting as they always are.

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After a rainy russianridge04March and a few busy weeks, we finally got a hike in that was out of the neighborhood.  We went back up to Russian Ridge which is a good Spring hike. This year with the bizarre rainy season, we weren’t expecting that much as far as wild flowers.  There were some, but nothing like years where we actually have substantial rain.  In any event, we had an enjoyable hike.

Here are some photos:

It had been awhile since we went away during a long weekend, so over the President’s Day long weekend we went down to Atascadero.  It’s only a few hours drive and it is in the middle of more Central Coast wineries.  We had a book about weekend trips in our area and one for this time of year was to visit Lake San Antonio to see a bald eagle nesting ground.  Unfortunately, this didn’t pan out and we didn’t see any bald eagles.  We did enjoy a couple afternoons of wine tasting and visits to a couple new missions.  Our continued lack of rain this winter made for nice outdoor activities.


Here are the photos:

With a  lack or rainy in the rainy season comes the advantage of good hiking weather.  Last weekend was an exceptionally clear one and we headed for the coast.   There is a newly opened trail, the Cowell-Purisima Coastal Trail, that we visited.  It was most enjoyable and the coast is spectacular as it always is. 


Here are all the photos:

We had an action packed weekend in the Sierra Nevada mountains.  After leaving mid afternoon of a holiday weekend, the traffic was expectedly terrible.  We stopped for dinner at Pinocchio’s Italian Café in Sonora after several hours of driving.  The food was decent and it was inexpensive and quick, two nice qualities when you’re heading out on a road trip.  From there it was clear sailing on our way to Bridgeport for our first night.



We began Saturday with a trip to Bodie State Historical Park.  The town of Bodie had a fast boom and bust in the 1870s when gold was discovered and now it is a ghost town.  At its peak, it had 10,000 residents in a sea of lawless craziness.   Unlike Columbia State Park that we visited last year, this place is kept in a state of “arrested decay”.  Most of the town was destroyed by a 1930s fire, but much remains to be seen.

Following lunch, we did some hiking along the Virginia Lakes trail.  It’s a pretty place and surprisingly cool when windy.  As we get tired and it gets late, we turn around and drive to our evening accommodations in Mammoth Lakes.  Unfortunately tonight’s dinner choice was disappointing and we wouldn’t recommend eating at Angel’s Restaurant (despite their extensive beer selection – even Moosehead).

On Sunday, we went to Devils Postpile National Monument.  In the busy time (that is, now) they operate a shuttle bus that leaves from Mammoth Mountain to take you to the park.  This cuts down on cars driving in on the narrow road.  We get our shuttle bus tickets and are in the Monument by mid morning.   The namesake Postpile is a rare geologic formation of “columnar basalt”.    The columns are over 60 feet high and are neat and unusual to see.  Before visiting the actual postpile, we take a hike to Minaret Falls which are pretty and we are the only ones there which makes it even better.  From Minaret Falls, we hike past the postpile and stop for lunch at the café which was fine, except for the very disappointing milkshake.  Once we are fed, we take the hike to the spectacular Rainbow Falls, a 101 foot waterfall.  It is so named because it is in the sun and there are frequent rainbows through all the mist.  Well worth the hike.

Hoping to redeem ourselves on the dinner front, we eat at Nevado’s Restaurant which had good reviews on Yelp.  The chatty host/owner asked where we were from and then replied that the restaurant compares well even with the higher standards that we have from the Bay Area.  He was indeed correct and dinner was excellent.

After checking out of the hotel on Monday, we drove to a hot spring that L wanted to visit.  Since the water was too hot, we stopped at a more pleasant one nearby.   It’s in a scenic spot and from there we visit the nearby Hot Creek Geological Site which is interesting.  It turns out that the entire area is really a caldera and that the cold river has places where hot geothermal steam comes up.  It is unsafe to swim in because you can be burned it is so hot. 

For our return home, we drove through Yosemite since Tuolumne Meadows is open this time of year.   We did a nice hike to the top of Lembert Dome.  We could really tell that after a couple of days at altitude we were finally adjusted.  The view from the top was beautiful and well worth it.  I even took a panaorma from the top which came out well.  From here it was back down, a quick ice cream stop, and the drive back home.

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Panorama from the top of Lembert Dome:

For the long 4th of July weekend, we spent some time on the Central Coast.  After learning that Santa Barbara is a lot further than it seems like it should be, we settled on staying in Santa Maria, about an hour closer.  It’s a bit past San Luis Obispo that we visited a few years ago.  The central attraction in the area are the numerous wineries, but we squeezed in hiking and sightseeing as well.

santamaria060On our first day, we headed towards the Oceano Dunes Recreational Area.  This is primarily an area for ATV’s, but there is a preserve adjacent that is vehicle free, protected, and open to hikers.  The dunes are upwards of 500 feet of sand, so this isn’t your ordinary beach.  It was more of a struggle to find the hiking zone than it should have been, but we made it in through a back way and were delighted with a nearly empty place.  Lots of sand and one of the more unique things to be hiking through.  The photos don’t do it justice.

After a lunch stop, we went to the town of Arroyo Grande for lunch and, more importantly, a stop at Doc Bernstein’s Ice Cream Lab.  Doc’s does have times when they design new flavors before your eyes, but today it was just a regular ice cream shop with phenomenal ice cream.  The oreo cookie mint ice cream was fantastic.   After ice cream, we did a short walking tour of the downtown area.

With full stomachs, we headed back towards Santa Maria to a winery (McKeon-Phillips) that was listed on the AAA winery map.  It was really a hole in the wall in an industrial section of town.  We were surprised that there were others there and that the wine was actually good.  After our wine tasting, we returned to the hotel for showers and then went for dinner. 

santamaria107On our second full day, we started at the La Purisima Mission State Historic Part, the location of another California Mission.  This one has an informative visitor center and we then tour the grounds and buildings.  The buildings were rebuilt in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corp since the original ones were destroyed in an 1812 earthquake.

After a quick pizza lunch in the nearby town of Lompoc (surely you’ve heard of it), we head to a wine tasting room that is not too far away.  We enjoyed our wine at dinner last night and found that the winery was virtually on the way to our next stop.  And how could we not go to a winery called Flying Goat whose winemaker is also the “Chief Goat herder”? 

santamaria118Following wine tasting, we went to Solvang whose claim to fame is that it is a Danish town in the middle of California.  Being inland, it’s hot – 100 degrees.  As the cliché goes, it’s a “dry heat”, but 100 is hot regardless.  We wander the streets (which feel like Epcot center) and then do a tour of another mission,  Mission Saint Ines.    This one is a mix of original and rebuilt, but is interesting nonetheless.  It was damaged in the same earthquake that destroyed the La Purisima Mission. 

Now that we are good and hot, I get a scoop of ice cream to cool off before we depart for some afternoon wine tasting.  This time we’re going on the Foxen Canyon trail of wineries. It’s getting late and the wineries close early so we only had time to stop at Fess Parker.  As Lionel Hutz used to say, you might remember him from such TV characters as Davy Crocket and Daniel Boone.  The wine here was also good. 

Stopping at the hotel to shower, we then go for dinner in Pismo Beach.  We finally had a really good meal on the trip as we dined at the Ventana Grill.  Service was a little slow, but the food was good and the fog cleared out for a spectacular ocean view. 

santamaria153For our last day, we started our way north with a stop in San Luis Obispo and a hike up Bishop’s Peak.  It was a well graded, moderately steep climb of 1000 feet over two miles.  The view from the top was good, but we are so used to hiking in cool weather, that the mid 70s and full sun felt hot. 

We have lunch in SLO and then make one final wine tasting stop on the way home.  L’ did some research and found a well rated winery on yelp.  Their website is quite entertaining so we figure we should check it out (my comment was that they must smoke a lot of good cork).  The bathroom at Le Cuvier Winery confirmed their funkiness. The wines are mostly unusual blends, but they also include food with the tasting and we enjoyed a few of the vintages. 

It’s now time to return home as the three day weekend comes to a close.  We had a fun time on the central coast and are returning home with our biggest haul from a wine region. 

See all the photos here:

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