Mike and I both had to be in the San Francisco / Sacramento area for work in 2017, so we decided to make a long weekend out of it and do some exploring of northern California. To begin our trip, we headed to the north west to explore the Redwood Forest. There are actually multiple State Parks and a National Park with redwood trees along California’s US Highway 101.
Chandelier Drive Thru Tree
The first park we went to was the Drive Thru Tree Park in Leggett, CA. Earlier this year, the famous drive thru tree fell over during the rain storms. Fortunately, the Chandelier Tree still stands tall and proud at 315ft tall and 21 feet wide. The tree is estimated to be 2,400 years old, which is so incredible to think about. You do have to pay $5 dollars to get into the park, but I think it is worth it, and they give you $1 dollar off in the gift shop. We drove thru the tree in our Jeep Patriot with the windows extended. We were extremely close to touching the tree, but it was a really awesome experience. The park also had bear carvings out of old redwoods that had fallen over throughout the park. After we drove through the tree, we went into the gift shop and bought a little tree magnet in the shape of a tree made out of redwood to add to our magnet collection. It is a really cute magnet. When I picked it up, I accidentally touched a little mouse; that was a great start to the trip.
Avenue of the Giants (Humbolt State Park)
The Avenue of the Giants is a world-famous scenic drive that parallels the Highway 101 for 31-miles. Hombolt State Park is 51,222 acres of redwood groves, and it has the largest remaining stand of virgin redwoods in the world.
Founders Grove Trail
We hiked along the Founder’s Grove trail, which was the most amazing experience with nature I have had in a very long time. It is only about a half mile loop, but it is so delicate, and it seems much longer because of all of the ginormous trees surrounding you; there is so much to take in. I think when visiting a place like this, it is important to use all of your senses: seeing, smelling, touching, and hearing (okay maybe not tasting). You can probably only see 100 feet in front of you because the park is so full of thick trees. Walking through the forest was so quiet and errie but at the same time it was very peaceful.
The Founders Tree was dedicated to those who wanted to Save the Redwoods. The famous Dyerville Giant tree was recognized as the “Champion” Coast Redwood as certified by the American Forestry Association until it fell on March 24, 1991. Before it fell, it was at least 362 feet tall, which is comparable to a 30-story building. It is estimated to be 17 feet in diameter and 52 feet in circumference, and probably weighs over 1,000,000 pounds. Crazy to think about how long these trees have been around to grow so massive!
We drove to the Fern Canyon trail, which is in the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and it is 2 hours north of the Avenue of the Giants. Once you get to the Gold Bluff’s Beach Road off of the US Highway 101, you have to drive on this dirt road for 30 minutes to actually get to the trail. The road was extremely bumpy and had so many holes in it; I was extremely thankful we rented a Jeep. There is a park station where you can leave your donation for the park; we filled it out and left $10 dollars.
Because of all of the rain that Northern California has received in the Winter / Spring of 2017, the road was washed away, and we had to drive through a river to get to the actual trail head. We almost didn’t go through the river because we had a rental car, but when we were about to do a different hike, these three girls found us that had driven through the river and completed the hike. We drove them back through the river so they could get to their car, and then we began our hike of the Fern Canyon.
Fern Canyon is something truly unreal and special. It is an amazing display of ferns growing deep vertical walled canyon with the creek bed lining the canyon floor. At least 5 species of fern and dozens of other plants such as redwoods, mushrooms, clovers, hanging moss, which creates such a beautiful and exciting setting. Fern Canyon was used for several scenes in the movie Jurassic Park 2: Lost Worlds (1997), which was really cool to think about when walking along the trail. We were dinosaur hunting ;).
The Fern Canyon trail was a little challenging because we had to cross the creek bed by walking on top of logs and stumps, sometimes dipping our feet in the water (I was very thankful for my Ahnu waterproof hiking boots) and there is an amazing staircase built throughout. It was so quiet, we could hear the ocean crashing in the distance, insects and birds chirping, and the trees swaying in the wind. I would sometime get a little afraid that we weren’t supposed to be there, and that an animal would jump put at us, but nothing ever happened. On our way back, we saw multiple sets of Elk sun bathing and eating dinner.
On our way back, I had Mike stop on the side of the road so that I could take a photo hugging the largest tree I have ever seen in my life. It was really two trees that joined together to become one at the bottom. So beautiful and amazing.
Point Reyes National Seashore
Point Reyes National Seashore is a little over an hour north of San Francisco, or 2 hours north of San Jose / Silicon Valley where Mike and I lived. The following itinerary can be done within one day very easily.
Point Reyes Shipwreck
Start the trip out by stopping at the Point Reyes Shipwreck, which was a 380-foot cargo steamship that crashed over 100 years ago and sits perched on a sand bar off the shoreline of Tomales Bay. It is a super quick walk from the parking lot to the ship. I would not recommend climbing on it!
Chimney Rock Hike
Drive down to the Chimney Rock hike, and take the trail upward. The road was closed when we visited, but I read that in the springtime, you can hear the elephant seals matting. I would like to come back and do this hike some day.
Point Reyes Lighthouse
The Point Reyes Lighthouse is probably the most famous landmark in the Point Reyes National Seashore. The road was also closed to get here, but they have a shuttle system that you can take to get there if you still want to see it. They are finishing renovations that should be done in Spring 2020.
Point Reyes Beach South
Since we couldn’t make it all the way down to Chimney Rock or Point Reyes Lighthouse, we stopped at the Point Reyes Beach South to take in the views. We visited in January 2020, and the waves were the largest waves I have ever seen before. They had to be at least 20 or 30 feet high. There are signs all over stating that the surf is dangerous (which is obvious when you are there). It was still really amazing and peaceful to hang out and listen to the waves crash.
Bull Point Trail
Make sure to stop at the Bull Point Trail and check out the free roaming cows. We started to walk towards the cows on the trail, but there were so many of them and they were walking towards us quickly and moo’ing so loud, so we didn’t want to get too close! It was really nice to see them with so much grass to eat!
Cyprus Tree Tunnel
The Cyprus Tree tunnel is made up of Monterrey cypress trees, and it it is beautiful to either drive or walk down. They look very rugged, secluded, and beautiful. They are perfect for a photographer, and I would imagine it would be nice to visit during sun rise or sun set.
On your way to Hog Island Oyster Company (next section), stop at the Cowgirl Creamery to pick up some cheeses for a picnic. There are so many farms in the local area, and they sell many local cheeses. If you are unsure what you want to buy, you are allowed to sample as many as you want (and ask for recommendations!).
Hog Island Oyster Company
Hog Island Oyster Company grows and harvests oysters in the Tomales Bay, and you can stop at their restaurant to eat and/or have a picnic. They have really popular shuck-your-own tables where you can have a picnic (with the cheese mentioned before). Mike and I visited by ourselves, so there weren’t enough people for a picnic, but we still stopped by and enjoyed some oysters. It was a really unique place to visit.
Sacramento is the capital of California. Mike and I visited for one night in 2017. We explored the city a little while he was in town for work, and I was also in Northern California for work.
California State Capitol
We visited the California State Capitol building, and it was so beautiful. I loved how they had palm trees and redwoods in front of the building; very perfect to represent all of California. Around the Capitol building were other beautiful court buildings and government buildings. It was fun to walk around and see the area where so many important decisions for the state are made.
We also visited Old Sacramento, which seemed like it did not belong in this Century. The buildings were raised on stilts because of the historic flooding that occurs along the river, and everything had old store fronts. There were also horse and carriage rides. It reminded me a lot of New Orleans in Louisiana.
We ate dinner at the Delta King – Pilothouse Restaurant, which is on a ferry boat that is docked in the river. The restaurant was small, but we shared a lovely salmon wrapped in prosciutto dinner with a cheese board and some wine.
Mike and I visited Mammoth Mountain, which is part of Yosemite National Park, and let me start by saying that I have never seen so much snow in my life as I did in Mammoth. For the 2016-2017 snow season, Mammoth Mountain has received 510 inches of snow, and the mountain expects to remain open until July for skiers and snowboarders.
We rented a cabin with some of Mikes friends, and we also rented snowboards for a day. We ended up buying someones passes because they were leaving, so we got a really good deal for only $70 per pass per person; Mammoth’s lift passes are about double that regularly. It was only Mike’s second time snowboarding, but it didn’t matter at all because we had an amazing time. He would ride down the mountain first and I would follow him. He got a lot more confident on the board, which was really great to watch!
The drive from Los Angeles to Mammoth Mountain is about 5 hours along the highway 395. While driving north, the highway is surrounded by the Sequoia National Park to your left, and Death Valley National Park to your right. It is amazing to drive along the highway for miles and see the same mountains in the distance. On our way back, we stopped in a little town called Lone Pine, and ate at a little cute diner. We also drove along the Alabama Hills to check out some of the crazy land formations that have been left behind. Typically, I do not enjoy long drives, but this one was really not so bad because it was really beautiful to look at and think about the history.