Our plan was to land at San Francisco, move to Lake Tahoe, Yosemite National Park, the drive to Monterey–Carmel, and then drive along the historic highway 1, down to San Diego, move to Vegas and Grand Canyon etc.
Day 1 (21st May) – SAN FRANCISCO
Delhi to SFO on Emirates. We flew Emirates to San Francisco. Dubai to SFO was on A-380, the most amazing and smooth plane. We landed at SFO at 1:30 in afternoon. SFO offers a huge array of hotels, choose as per your budgets, We stayed at Hilton Parc 55. A word of advice – Big cities in USA have small hotel rooms, and are low on amenities. Parc 55 was acceptable without being brilliant. Out total bill was $669 for 3 days, excluding breakfast. Don’t book breakfast in hotels, it is nothing more than coffee and muffins. There are any number of cafes and breakfast restaurants in SFO for all tastes and budgets. SO don’t waste on food at hotels. SFO is known for its variety of food, Indian, Chinese, Mexican, name it, its there. American helpings are huge, so thought food may seem expensive, it is not. Order with caution, you will end up wasting food if you order like you would in your own country.
Tipping – 15 to 20 percent of food bill is norm in restaurants, 5-10 percent in taxis.
FREE STYLE SFO tour – we took the free style tour, which had 5 tours, and some walking tours. Including a tour to Muir Woods. Our recommendations for SFO are
Must do Pier 39, walk around, eat clam chowder, visit the bakery, eat chocolate products, do some shopping, MUST EAT STRAWBERRY AND THE HUGE CHERRIES AT PIER 39. There are no better strawberries in California. Trust me, I have driven it, and have eaten at many places.
caution – water is expensive. Pick up a large water pack from some store, Glacier water is cheap, $1 for 1 gallon bottle. Drink the tap water freely at the stores.
You may also Click a photo next to the Heart at the Pier.
See the Sea Lions.
The GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE – Its fun to drive on the gate. If you have time walk across or take a bike tour.
THE BAY BRIDGE – nice drive across to go to Lake Tahoe.
Sausolito – very nice town to drive through and have a meal at the sea side. Beautiful cafes, a wee bit on the expensive side. Definitely worth a 3 hour visit.
Muir Woods – Get a tour to take you there. Spend an hour or two, nice, peaceful, worth a visit.
California Academy of Natural Sciences – good for a 2 hour visit, must see the white alligator and the rain forests. Tickets are expensive, so not sure if it is really worth it.
Bay Cruise – MUST MUST DO. we took the blue and gold cruise. A beautiful 90 minutes, specially the part under the golden gate, and around Alcatraz. The Historic Trolley – its nice for a single ride. We did from union square to Lombard Street. Its a great way to see the Lombard Street, since it stops at Hyde Park, which is at the top of the Lombard Street and saves a climb. Tickets are 6$ per ride.
HOW TO TRAVEL AROUND in San Francisco
First time drivers in SFO can have a difficult time. With so many hills and valleys, its tough to drive. I recommend taking tours, trolleys or cabs. Plan your tours according to the time you have. Most tours will just show you the same buildings over and over again, which is pointless for someone who doesn’t stay in USA. Its not practical to do the night tours and then another grand city tour. Just stick to a night tour, Muir wood tour and Sausolito. DO go over the Golden gate.
2 days is quiet sufficient for SFO if you are on a tight time line, and have many places to go to.
24th May – Lake Tahoe
We rented our car on the morning of the 24th. We took a Grand Cherokee from Thrifty. Wonderful experience. They do oversell insurance, which as an outsider you get sucked into. So just be careful about the insurance you really want. Also go for the full tank option. It is cheaper. They charge $ 3.82 for a gallon, whereas gas is usually around $ 3.67, most of California. So you can save $ 10-15 on this. Never buy the toll card, absolute waste of money.
We drove to Lake Tahoe, along the Bay bridge, passing Sacramento and then to South Lake Tahoe. It’s a wonderful drive, excellent locales. You can stop at Wackaville premium outlets for some shopping of premium brands. Its worth spending 2 hours there. The journey should take you 4-5 hours with 1 stop for gas and coffee. Remember you have to fill gas yourself, so learn it well. Its pretty easy, so not to worry on that.
We stayed overnight at Postmark Hotel, nice place. Around $ 110 with breakfast for 2 double beds. Stay anywhere, just be close to the lake. The walk around the lake is absolute delight. Imagine, hills, beach, snow and water all in the same place. Great food around. Well worth a day stop. Water sports is available till 5.30 pm. Casinos are available in downtown. Food is not a problem at all.
Drive from SFO to Lake Tahoe
one of the views at Lake Tahoe
25th MAY – Yosemite National Park
The most awaited drive and the most awaited destination. We had the most beautiful drive along the TIOGA Pass. Please check to make sure it is open. We travelled on Memorial Day, so it was open, but this pass is often covered with snow, so lot of precautions are required. The pass is almost at 9000 feet, and it gets cold, so be prepared. The drive down from Tahoe to the plains and then up the Pass is mesmerizing. As soon as the Pass is crossed, there is the water, snow, mountains, making for a great view. The drive will take 5+ hours, but it is not tiring at all. Fill gas anywhere you get, it can get difficult nearing Yosemite.
On the way do stop at the vista point of MONO LAKE. One of the most amazing sceneries one can see in ones lifetime. Get a panorama picture for the best result. My camera settings did not get me great pics, so cant post that.
Stay – stay at the Lodge at the Falls. We could not get a booking, so we had to stay at Curry village. It is more like a camp, but enjoyable. Take the shuttles to see the various view points, be prepared to walk a lot, have good shoes and good jackets, gets really cold.
Glacier Point – Must do, will take 3-4 hours at least, so be prepared with time on your hands. Its good to drive on your own, the valley tour is not really worth the costs. The valley floor tour can be taken for a good overview of the park. We ended up taking close to 500 pictures of this beautiful national park.
Half Dome – the feature of the glacier point and the Valley. Try to go to Mirror lake to catch a reflection of the Half dome in the lake.
Food – no problem at all. Curry village has a great Pizza place, lodge has a nice food court.
Internet and Mobile – no signals at all. So tell home you are unreachable for the duration of the stay
Enroute on Tioga pass
Yosemite falls and Bridal Veil falls – excellent photo op. can be accessed via the free shuttles run by the National Park.
26th MAY – MONTEREY – CARMEL
Carmel is a quaint European kind of town 20 minutes from Monterey. The drive from Yosemite to Carmel though is the most boring you will ever get. Maybe it is a better idea to drive back to SFO and then catch Highway 1 South, along Santa Cruz to Monterey. Depends on the time on hand. Anyway, we managed to reach Carmel after the most boring 5 hours of our life. Carmel is a big relief. We stayed at Briarwood Inn, pretty, cute, sufficient, and well worth the cost. Breakfast is included.
Take a walk along the town, eat at Demetra, an out of the world Syrian restaurant. The owner comes out for dinner for dance and music, making it a great evening. Walk to the beach. Remember there are lots of dogs, but American dogs don’t bite, so no worries. It’s a cold beach, so be careful. The beach needs a gOod 2 hours to appreciate. Sit and enjoy nature, nothing better to do