West for the Week
This post is going to be one of few words. Perhaps that's for the best- the beauty of the west is best shown in pictures, after all.
Three of my best friends from college- what a weird sentence, now that we're not in school together- put together a low budget, one week trip out west. Rachel, Jenny and I flew into LA where we met up with Emma. Emma played hostess for the week, touring us around her home state. We managed to cover Los Angeles, San Fransisco, Yosemite, and Sequoia National Park in 6 days. I can't explain to you how many hours we spent in a car, but man, was it worth it.
Scroll down below to see a few of the highlights from our whirlwind California tour and a few recommendations for maximizing a short stay in each destination.
Paradise Bowls- the king of all acai + pitaya bowls... which is a fancy way of saying a smoothie that is served in a bowl with a spoon and delicious, fresh toppings.
Petros- For delicious Greek food in Manhattan Beach, I highly recommend.
Lemonade- A California cafeteria-style chain with the most amazing food. Bonus points for being pretty affordable.
East Coast Bagel- Super cheap, super filling breakfast stop. Amazing bagel selection, plus they have options beyond bagels.
Cafe Vida- If you're in Culver City for brunch, this line is worth the wait. They're known for their healthy latin food, but I'd argue they're more famous for their incredibly tasty dishes.
Manhattan Beach- beaches, piers, shopping, food... just yes.
Palos Verdes- don't miss the overlooks and the steep hikes down to the beaches
Century City- shopping, hello!
Brewport Tap House- If you're into beer, wine, or margaritas- and want to make your own "sampler" flight of one (or each)- you're in for a treat. You get a wristband that activates the beer, wine, and margarita taps where you can sample or pour glasses to your liking. The tap measures how many ounces of beer you pour, and at the end of the night, the bartender scans your wristband and prints out your tab. So cool!
Getting there + where to stay:
We parked about an hour outside of SF and caught a CalTrain into the city. Since we were planning to stay in the city less than 24 hours, we paid a daily rate of $6 to park. That way, we wouldn't have to pay to exorbitant parking rates in San Francisco or brave the crazy confusing streets. We parked at the Redwood City stop and paid $6 for a one way ticket that spit us out in downtown SF. It was $6 back to our car the next day too! Check out the CalTrain website here.
HI San Fransisco City Center Hostel- Not my favorite hostel, but not the worst either. It was Rachel's first time staying in a hostel, and she loved it. Their breakfast was free and yummy, and our rooms were super nice. Plus, the price was hard to beat for a San Fransisco accommodation.
To do + to eat:
Palace of Fine Arts Theatre- Ornate, opulent, and seemingly plucked from ancient Europe, this is a great outdoor venue to roam around for free. If you packed a camera, you'll definitely want to use it.
The Marina- Bop around and see the big and small boats, walk along the beachside trail, detour to the actual beach, see Alcatraz in the distance. It's an easy walk to the Palace of Fine Arts, too!
Pacific Catch- Casual restaurant with great pacific-inspired dishes. I can't vouch for the seafood, but apparently the fish was great. The drink menu was also lovely.
Yosemite National Park
We decided to stay in an AirBnB in a precious town called Mariposa. I can't recommend this AirBnB enough- everything was perfect. The bathrooms, the kitchen, the beds- all renovated and super comfortable. For a small town, Mariposa has quite a bit to pick from in terms of food and shopping. The drive to Yosemite was about an hour each way, which, if you're not staying in the parks, is actually pretty average.
Note- if camping is your scene, I was told the tent camping sites inside of Yosemite are a mere $6 a night. Hold me while I scream!
The Mariposa Pizza Factory- We ordered two pizzas after our first afternoon of hiking and fueled up on the leftover pizza the next morning
Packed breakfast/lunches! We made a stop at Trader Joes before we left LA and stocked up on lots of portable food. We bought apples, bread and peanut butter, granola bars, granola, popcorn, and pretzels so we could eat our meals on the go and very cheaply.
To see + to hike:
First thing: entering the park + parking. The park entrance fees as of June 2018 are $35. Upon paying, you will be handed a ticket in the form of a receipt that is valid for 7 days. Tape that sucker to your windshield so you don't lose it and the park rangers can clearly see your ticket as you enter and exit.
As for parking- park at the visitor center and take advantage of the free transportation that will carry you around the park. The buses begin to run at 7 am- the earlier you get there, the less crowded they will be! Note that there is no bus route to Glacier Point- you have to get there yourself!
Glacier Point- If you're up for setting an alarm and getting to the park around 6 or 7, head straight to Glacier Point for immaculate views of Yosemite Valley. You can either hike (4 miles, all uphill) or drive an hour or so up. For hikers and drivers alike, it's important to get an early start and head up the mountain first thing to avoid trail and road congestion. Plus, the earlier you arrive, the clearer your views. Fog and clouds like to set in towards noon, and traffic starts to form around 9 am. Seriously, fake being a morning person for this- you won't regret it.
Tunnel View- The classic Yosemite postcard pic, and another place you've got to drive to in order to see. Definitely one of my favorite views of Yosemite. Again, you won't have to fight for the limited parking spaces if you get there early!
Vernal Falls Footbridge- A relatively easy, scenic 2 mile hike to a beautiful waterfall. The views of Yosemite on the hike up (and down) are amazing, too. This is one of Yosemite's most popular hikes, so the earlier you get to the trail, the less crowded it will be.
Cooks Meadow Loop- I'd hardly call this a hike, but the views from here are amazing. You're in an open meadow with amazing views of Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls. You can access the trail easily from Yosemite Village.
Lower Yosemite Falls- Another super easy "hike", but with a great view at the end. Get up close to the bottom of Yosemite Falls and snap some amazing pictures. The trail leading to and from the falls is beautifully adorned with trees of all types. Again, accessing this trail from Yosemite Village is super easy.
If you park at the visitor's center, make sure to check out Yosemite Village. There's a cafe with (overpriced) food and drinks, a store, and a counter service restaurant. While there's bathrooms at most trailheads, the ones here are the nicest. There's many other buildings in the village, so make sure to check them all out as you walk through!
Sequoia National Park
Getting to the park:
While there is bus service throughout Sequoia, I would highly recommend driving through the park. That's a treat in itself because you can see so many trees at your own pace. Also- avoid traffic by arriving to the park early. Seriously, when we left the park around noon, we whizzed past a mile or two of standstill, bumper to bumper traffic.
The entrance fee to Sequoia National Park as of June 2018 is $35. Again, this is for a car load of people!
Edge Water Inn: We booked a room here and loved it. Breakfast was included, the staff was amazing, and it was a 30-45 minute drive to Sequoia (which, of all of our options, was one of the closest, ironically). Not to mention, we got an amazing rate on our room!
To do + hike:
General Sherman- aka the highest volume living tree. That is, the tree that is the largest in terms of length x width x height. It's absolutely huge. Mind blowing, truly. You can't touch the tree or get super close to it, though. The NPS is trying to protect the tree by keeping visitors at a distance.
Sherman Tree Trail- hike this easy trail to get up close views of General Sherman. It's .8 miles and all paved. I did feel like the air was thinner because we were at a higher altitude, so be cautious if you get winded easily.
Honestly, we were planning on staying and hiking more... but (and it kills me to say this) we felt like once you hiked one trail and saw the biggest tree in the park, the rest was underwhelming. I hate myself for admitting that, but hey... honesty is the best policy.
. . .
And if you made it down this far- here's a sneak peak into something I'll be announcing later this week. I'm going to leave this as ambiguous as possible.. but you could give it a solid guess and be spot on, no doubt ;)