From sand to snow: After a week on the coast we left San Diego to head inland. For me this was one part of the trip that I was particularly excited about since I hadn’t made it to the national parks or Lake Tahoe on past trips to California. Now we had a whole week to explore and experience a completely new side to the beauty of this state.
Planning this section of the trip wasn’t as easy as the others. The roads leading to the national parks aren’t always accessible, especially in the off-season. It can be the case that many of the streets are closed due to snow. As such I’d definitely recommend checking online each day to see whether the routes you’re planning to take are open or not.
We had already heard that Highway 120 through Yosemite National Park would still be closed when we visited in April, so we then had to decide which “side” we wanted to approach the national parks from. We went for the western stretch of road in the end, even if this meant just missing out on seeing “Death Valley”.
Day 8: From San Diego to Big Bear Lake
From San Diego it took us around three hours to get to Big Bear Lake. I had already spent a day here in 2009 and even then I was fascinated by the tranquil, peaceful and even sleepy atmosphere of this place nestled among the San Bernardino Mountains, reached after a long, curving ride up through the forested mountains. Skiers flock to this area in winter, while in summer it attracts stressed-out urbanites who retreat to one of the small vacation homes here – but in the weeks between you can enjoy the peaceful quiet that falls over the place. We rented a beautiful little house that was decorated completely in an “Apple Pie” theme.
Day 9: From Big Bear Lake to Three Rivers
It is often said that the journey is the reward. On this day we had the longest and perhaps most unusual stretch ahead of us – for the next five hours it would be us and the road. After leaving the San Bernardino Mountains our route took us through an arid valley, offering wonderful views of long roads, cacti and barren expanses. Driving through abandoned towns, we felt like we were making our way through a film set, taken back to a time past.
In the afternoon we found ourselves back on higher ground, where things became lusher and greener. We then spent the night in a motel filled with tourists visiting the national parks, listening to the sound of the rain outside and slurping on canned soup from the tiny convenience store around the corner.
Day 10: Over Sequoia und Kings Canyon national park to Oakhurst
We spent Day 10 in the neighboring parks Sequoia and Kings Canon and it was one of the most wonderful days of our whole trip. Just a few days beforehand we’d been walking along the beach in San Diego our flip flops slapping on the sand, now we were standing among colossal, snow-capped evergreens looking out to the mountains in the distance. The weather changed from sunny and warm to wet, foggy and snowy within minutes – and then back again. After the drive through this beautiful landscape we arrived back at the hotel in a state of wonderment and contentment.
Day 11: Over Yosemite National Park to Twain Harte
Yosemite National Park is the oldest in the States, probably the most beautiful and as such the most popular too. We’d heard that it is packed in the summer with campsites and hotels fully booked months in advance. We managed to avoid the school break and high season but even at this time the full parking lots were a clear reminder of how full it must be in the summer.
Nonetheless we were still able to enjoy the beautiful landscapes in Yosemite Park; there were plenty of opportunities to avoid the crowds and find your own viewpoints, undiscovered by the crowds.
Day 13/14: From Lake Tahoe over Guerneville to Menlo Park
The last two days of our round trip had suddenly come upon. The drive back led us through the wonderful wine region north of San Francisco, world famous for its great wines – it’s rich green, hilly landscape abundant with trees and vines reminding of Germany’s Baden region.
On the final day we returned to the coast, though this time we were north of San Francisco. Travel experts still argue over which part of the west coast is the prettiest: the southern or northern. At this point we were able to say that the northern stretch of coast we drove along was a lot quieter, a little more rugged and definitely less touristy. Whether that’s better or worse is a matter of taste I suppose. But buy the end of our trip we had decided that on our next US tour we’ll be taking the route from, San Francisco up to Portland and Seattle.
Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and driving on Highway 101 through San Francisco our journey had almost come to an end. When we arrived back in Menlo Park, it was a little like “coming home”. It hasn’t been easy recalling and recounting all of the impressions we had gathered over those two weeks – but now it is even clearer to me what a wonderful, exciting journey we had.