A year had gone by since the East coast road trip in ’14 so I was very eager for another big trip. Although this time I took to the air and was without my previous badass companions who were busy doing great things! Because of their support I felt very prepared for another long trip and my love and curiosity for nature, hiking and photography had significantly increased. Between these trips a lot of time was spent in the bush falling in love with the Chattahoochee River, its hiking trails and the surroundings of Atlanta. I’ll start writing about those day/weekend trips soon. They’ll be short and sweet or I’ll just make a list. I love lists!
Anyways this trip I traveled alone but was grateful to stay with a lifelong friend who lived in San Francisco. He was a fantastic host and introduced me to some incredibly interesting people. I could go on and on about the quality of people I met and how cool my buddy was but here is what we did and why you should take a similar trip. I had 10 days and was focused on exploring San Francisco and its surroundings. Remember I am always looking for the best views and the most interesting oddities!
The main points of interest were: San Francisco -> Yosemite National Park -> Golden Gate NRA -> Muir Woods -> Muir Beach -> Point Reyes National Seashore -> Big Sur -> Alcatraz Island
I arrived in San Francisco late on a Friday night and spent Saturday prepping for Yosemite. We actually just partied with a live band on their beautiful patio that has quite the view. Somehow we were still able to wake up early the next day and head towards the main reason for the trip: Yosemite National Park. I was a bit late when booking a campsite so we weren’t in the valley which should be your first option but we enjoyed our stay at Crane Flat. It was a short and scenic 20 minutes away. As soon as we arrived and set up camp we took to the valley I’ve heard so much about. Of course it all starts with Valley View.
Happiness, I found you! El Capitan on the left, Half Dome in the middle and Bridal Veil Falls barely dripping on the right. Hike up to Inspiration Point for an even better view point. Once my brain could process what I was seeing we headed further into the valley to get more info for the next day’s hike and to check out one of the tallest waterfalls in the world: Yosemite Falls.
The visitor center is a really cool place and has a ton of interactive maps to help plan hikes and best of all the friendly and experienced park rangers are there to assist. We were only looking for an alternative hike because we didn’t win the lottery for Half Dome permits. You have two opportunities to apply for the permit, in the month of March and two days before you plan to hike. Our options for a long day hike were Glacier Point which you can drive up to and in my mind kills part of the joy, Clouds Rest or we could take a chance going to Half Dome. We couldn’t make up our mind so we took a walk. We went on the 1 mile loop trail to Lower Yosemite Falls and noticed you could scramble up to the base of the falls so of course we did. It was so fun and felt like we were on a huge jungle gym of boulders. When we made it to the base we turned around and it became very clear what hike we would take the next day.
We were taking the risk and hiking up to Half Dome! It was the main reason for the whole trip so we had to go for it and just look at it, come on that is pure beauty. Once we made the decision we knew we should take it easy so instead of hiking up to Upper Yosemite Falls we visited Mirror Lake which was a bit dried up but was still cool. On the way back to camp we stopped frequently for amazing vantage points like this:
We woke up early the next morning and drove to the John Muir Trailhead having to park about a mile away. It was 7am by the time we took our first step towards Half Dome. If you want to shave some distance and don’t mind stairs you can take the Mist trail for the portion passing Vernal and Nevada Falls which are amazing by themselves as you can see.
We then connected back with the JMT meandering along the Merced River and through a rich and beautiful forest. We were very excited but also worried we would get turned away from the last and best 900 feet of the trail which you need the permit for as we did not have one. Once we reached that point we expressed how far we came and how we met people on the trail who had extra permits so the ranger said to hang out for a bit. Luckily after only 10 minutes our made up savior had arrived with two permits and we were off to make a dream come true. You first hike up the steep 500 foot Sub Dome using stairs carved into the granite which is almost more terrifying than the cables up Half Dome. After a short descent you arrive at the cables. Here is a picture in between the domes.
It may look like my friend is pumped for the cables but this was taken after we came back down. There were different emotions when we were choosing our much needed gloves from an old pile. Luckily we didn’t have time to think, there was a chance of storms so we went for it.
Best views I’ve had to date!
After 20 glorious minutes of rest and a well deserved lunch it was time to descend. We opted for the JMT switchbacks on the way down and I’m glad because that took us to the top of Nevada Falls where we had a swim or in my mind a victory bath. After a change of clothes we continued down the trail and were blessed with more amazing views like the one below of Nevada Falls and Liberty Cap. We also had ourselves a scary encounter. I was cutting off a switchback which I now know is terrible trail etiquette and my friend was moving forward as normal when a Mountain Lion jump on the trail. Luckily it just froze looked at each of us dead in the eyes and went on its merry way. Don’t do what I did; stay on the trail in case you need to battle a mountain lion with your friend. Hope for the best but plan for the worst and know your potential threats. For a mountain lion, the book says to fight back so we would have been screwed regardless. Don’t feel so bad now!
After 10 hours, 17 miles and 4,800ft of elevation change we completed our hike to Half Dome! It felt like we were running from a potential storm the whole time so when it started to downpour just as we drove off I knew there was something very special about this day. It was certainly one of the greatest days of my life. My home is on the trail! We celebrated that night by going straight to sleep and woke up super early so we could spend or last day soaking up as many views as possible. We hit all the main overlooks along Glacier Point Road which gave us a beautiful perspective of our previous day’s hike.
Here is the view from Washburn Point which makes our hike to Half Dome seem pretty rad in my opinion. We were all over that terrain! The view from Glacier Point (below) is also incredible.
I highly suggest making the drive (or hike) for these inspiring vantage points. The last hike was saved for Taft Point. It is a normal walk in the woods until your reach these immense vertical gashes in the valley wall called The Fissures. If you enjoy living on the edge you’ll feel at right at home. The whole time you’ll have a gorgeous view of Yosemite Falls. The best view at Taft Point is considered one of the greatest BASE jumping spots but the sport is banned in all National Parks.
There’s always been some plan that just doesn’t work out but not on this quick trip. I’d do it all over again if I only had 3 days. Of course if you have more time then get outside the famous Valley and explore Mariposa Grove, Tuolumne Meadows, Hetch Hetchy and The Pacific Crest Trail. It was sad to be leaving but it lit a fire in me and validated my dream to visit all 59 of the major National Parks. That dream became a goal!
Now it was time to see what San Francisco was all about. It was Day 5 and my plan was to walk along each of the beaches west and east of the Golden Gate Bridge. I started at Land’s End and got there inexpensively thanks to Lyft Line. Just like the first view of Yosemite Valley when I first laid eyes of the Pacific I was overcome with joy! Even though it was overcast and very windy it was so peaceful walking along the coastal trail with windswept trees and beautiful ocean views.
After a few miles I saw my next 3 beaches (China Beach, Baker Beach, Marshall Beach) and some bridge. China beach was small, secluded and a perfect resting spot before refueling with a delicious goat cheese sandwich from Angelina’s Deli Cafe. From there I hopped back on the coastal trail stopping at the battery to bluffs trail which lead to my favorite beach, Marshall beach.
Apparently it’s a clothing optional beach so if you can deal with a possible naked dude sighting then you’ll have the best view of the Golden Gate Bridge in my opinion. For the record I did not see a naked dude but a buddy that I told to go here did. “That’s not a seal.” Getting to the other side of the bridge was confusing and before making it back to the beach I stumbled upon the Palace of Fine Arts. It was very interesting but wasn’t as nice as relaxing at Crissy Field watching the crazy windsurfers. By then my feet had enough and I was in dire need of a big meal. Luckily my friend decided to take me to his favorite Mexican joint in America, Tropisueno. Order the Tampiqueno and you will 100% agree with my friend just as I did.
Day 6 I stole my buddy’s Mazda and went north on Hwy 1. As soon as I crossed over the Golden Gate Bridge I stopped to hike the Point Bonita Lighthouse Trail. Unfortunately the last portion of the trail ending at the lighthouse was closed but there was a unmarked trail that got a little closer and offered stunning views South and North.
After hanging around the historic Coast Guard rescue station ruins I was moving on up. Next stop was Muir Woods and I was a bit disappointed. It was very crowded and too touristy for my liking so I quickly jetted to Muir Beach and scrambled along the sea cliff to find my very own sanctuary.
It was a feeling of being reconnected with Mother Nature but I was still hungry for more so I continued north. Once I arrived at Point Reyes National Seashore I stopped at the first trailhead I could find which lead to Palomarin Beach. This place was gorgeous! The rocky beach made the tide sound like a beautiful instrument that could put anyone to sleep and the lush green forest was the perfect contrast to the blue Ocean and blue sky.
If the sun never went down I’d never leave but once it started to I had to pack it up and head back to San Francisco. I’ve only seen a sliver of Point Reyes but I will be back for more and I have to put it right up there with my favorites. The drive back around sunset was incredible and I even saw a whale! Well kind of.
The following day I walked around the North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf areas. I first got my nerd on at the Exploratorium and then had some delicious Fish and Chips from the Codmother food truck. After an easy going day it was time to experience Friday night baseball at AT&T Park.
Watching the defending champs and being able to see the kayakers in the Bay made it a very entertaining game. It has to be my second favorite ballpark behind Fenway. I mean Comerica, Go Tigers! After the game we took it easy so we could be ready to wake up early and drive down the coast to the famed Big Sur. I was lucky to join a group of lovely people and our first stop at the Big Sur Bakery was delicious. We filled up on pastries then set off to McWay Waterfall & Cove. I was in charge of directions and passed the trail head. We went about 20 minutes past but the coastal views were amazing so complaining was hard to do. The Trail is short but extremely memorable. The bluest blue water, an untouched beach and a hidden waterfall make this oasis backdrop worthy.
Not far from there was Pfeiffer Beach. It was a pleasant beach with cool rock formations. We hung out here for a bit pretending there wasn’t 30 mph winds although the rest of the day we were reminded having sand in every crevasse of our body. It was also difficult to toss the frisbee anywhere near where you wanted to but it was part of the fun. After fun in the sun we classed it up in Monterey. We had a long wait to be seated for dinner so we stopped for some wine tasting at Pierce Ranch Vineyards which had tasty wine and a great homey feel. Dinner was at the Sea Harvest Fish Market for perfectly fresh fish.
Like always we packed in as much as we could but I messed up with one plan. That was to see Alcatraz Island. I quickly found out that if you don’t have a ticket you could wait in line early in the morning and the first 100 people each day would be sold a ticket for some time later that day. I figured waking up early would help with the jet lag so I got there by 5:30am and was probably the 90th person in line. Shortly thereafter they began turning people away. I may have been tired and hungry but I was happy knowing I’d get to have one more San Francisco experience. My ticket was for the 10am ferry so I had some time to kill. Once again this ended up being lucky as the breakfast was one of the best I’d ever have. I had an amazing egg, bacon and cheese croissant sandwich but it was the mound of fresh fruit that made this the great dish that it was. Hollywood Cafe is perfect if you are about to go to jail or any other time.
Alcatraz was badass! I took my time walking everywhere you possibly could. The inmate stories were crazy and every abandoned building was interesting and photo worthy. The best part was being guided by headphones through the cell house learning about the odd prison.
After soaking up as much as I could it was time to get back to Atlanta. Before my flight we stopped by In and Out for the last supper and it was super! Great company, stunning experiences and delicious food (almost forgot to mention the Dutch crunch, the best bread) made this a perfect trip. Until next time!
2 thoughts on “To Yosemite and Beyond”
Hey Grant. We envy your travels! I am taking Sean and his brothers to San Fran., Big Sur, Yosemite and Lake Tahoe in June 2017. Looking forward to what you have experienced. Great photos and blogging. Keep up the good and fun work. Happy and safe travels
Thanks so much! I wasn’t able to get to Tahoe so I’m very jealous. Can’t wait to hear about your trip!