california travel series: yosemite and sonoma valley

PicMonkey Collage

Continuing on with my Pacific Coast Highway travel series, we have recently left off in San Francisco. Here is what we did on days 3 and 4 of our California adventure.


Saturday was bound to be a long, scenic day, as we chose to drive to Yosemite National Park–a lenthy, yet beautiful journey four hours east of San Francisco. Whether you’re seeking relaxation or adventure,  you will find that the drive is worth your while. The distance is less than 200 miles, but the windy mountain roads are slow and make San Francisco’s steep grades look elementary. The entrance to the park is $20 per vehicle and entirely worth every dime. We went in March, when the climate was fair and the park was uncrowded. At 400 feet elevation, the air was warm and the sun was bright, but a thick blanket of snow covered the forest. This unusual combination was pleasing to us Michigan natives.

After admiring the scenic drives we parked and hiked to one of the many waterfalls, as the walking paths are leisurely and encompassed by natural beauty. Note: Boat shoes, (which I wore), will not be your best friend on the occasionally icy path. Learn from me and wear boots, if you can.

Also, plan on spending at least four hours in the park, and even more if you’re a nature nut. You’ll be hungry on the way back, so catch an In-and-Out burger on the drive back to San Fran if you have yet to try it–you’ll find that the Big Mac is not so big anymore.  The closest stop will be in Manteca, which is located about 3 hours west of Yosemite along Yosemite Avenue. You can’t go wrong with a double-double (unless, of course, you’re a vegetarian).

Wine Country

If you’re anything like me, this heading has already gained your attention. And for good reason, too. While staying in SanFrancisco, Sonoma and Napa Valley have potential to become your perfect day trip, as it is a great place to meet fellow wine-lovers or become one yourself. Here you can choose from replicas of authentic Italian wineries, such as the beautiful Castello di Amorosa (“Castle of Love”), or low-key tasting rooms, such as Sutter Homes, but any chosen destination will allow for enjoyment of the mild climate and astounding vineyard vistas. One recommendation, though: while at “The Castle” you must taste the Raggio del Sole with a piece of their sea-salt dark chocolate–the combination will have your tongue dancing.

On your way back down Highway 29, stop at Taylor’s in St. Helena (now referred to as Gott’s) for a burger and milkshake. This is the best place for a burger, as heard through the “grapevine” (ha ha). Take it to-go or have a seat at one of the picnic tables out back, which is conveniently heated during the colder months.

Day 3

  • Breakfast at Mama’s on Washington
  • Drive to Yosemite National Park {4 hours}
  • Hiking and sightseeing at Yosemite {plan to spend 4+ hours here}
  • Dinner at In-and-Out Burger {3 hour drive from Yosemite}
  • Back to Orchard Hotel in San Francisco

Day 4

  • Breakfast at Roxanne Cafe – order the Napa Valley omelette (apples, brie, cilantro, mushrooms and almonds!)
  • Drive to Sonoma from San Fran {1 hour}
  • Castello di Amorosa tour and tasting – $18+ {2.5 hours}
  • Visit and tour other vineyards (3 hours}
  • Take a photo in front of the iconic “Napa Valley” sign
  • Dinner at Gott’s, in St. Helena 
  • Drive back to San Francisco {1 hour}

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