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March 28, 2008 6:55 PM   Subscribe

Where should we go on our California trip?

My friend from Mountain View and I (the visiting Bostonian) want to go on a long weekend driving trip. Where should we go? The two most promising destinations are Lake Tahoe or Yosemite (can't go much farther than that on a long weekend). The things that appeal to me most are:

driving around pretty scenery;

historical houses and museums (antiquing a plus, if any);

would like to cross the border to Nevada so I can add it to my list of states visited.

Based on the above, Lake Tahoe looks the most promising, but only because of limited web descriptions. I have never been to this part of California, and would love some great ideas on where to go. Thank you!
posted by Melismata to Travel & Transportation around California (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Go north to wine country. Nothing is more beautiful.
posted by HotPatatta at 7:15 PM on March 28, 2008

Skip Tahoe. Yosemite is kind of cool but a bit of an anti-climax if you are used to the Ansel Adams pix. I would second HotPatatta's rec for wine country. There's a LOT there.

Other cool places I could spend/have spent a weekend in:

Joshua Tree
Carpinteria (I spent my honeymoon camping on a beach here... bliss).
Bakersfield (more fun than it sounds if you like country music)
posted by unSane at 7:26 PM on March 28, 2008

If you do go to Tahoe, Vikingsholm is a great historical house. And it's about 20min from the Nevada side.
posted by Widepath at 7:59 PM on March 28, 2008

posted by amb at 8:02 PM on March 28, 2008

I'll Second Bodie.

I'm a big fan of the Eastern Sierra.
posted by notyou at 8:35 PM on March 28, 2008

I would head east, to Columbia Historic State Park in Columbia, Calif. (Sonora is also adorable.) It's classic Gold Country in the Sierra Foothills. There's beautiful scenery (heck, I even find driving through the Altamont Pass on the way to Tracy pretty), historic buildings, and rolling California hills as far as you can see. (You can continue east and hit some snowy coniferous forest in the Stanislaus National Forest, but you're from Boston -- do you need more snow?)

A warning: Don't bother to detour to Copperopolis, even though it has the greatest name of all time. It's really not worth it. (There's no there there.)

Also consider: Sutter Creek. Good for "thar's gold in them hills" fun, plus charm, Victorian main street, etc.

If you want to stay closer to home (and not sleep elsewhere tomorrow), consider going to Pescadero, which is marvelous in a miniature way. Eat warm artichoke bread in the grassy backyard of Archangeli's Grocery Co., or get the half green chile, half artichoke soup across the street at Duarte's. (Pronounced DOO-arts.) Check out the baby goats at Harley Farms (have you thought about baby goats?!) and eat their delicious cheese. Then, head either to the beach (the drive along Highway 1, either way, is stupendous) or inland to see both bucolic farmland and gorgeous second-growth redwood forest.

Yosemite, honestly, is kind of a hassle, and Lake Tahoe is going to be ALL SKIING ALL THE TIME, DUDE.
posted by purpleclover at 8:42 PM on March 28, 2008

Screw all these Yosemite/Tahoe naysayers, that sounds like a great trip, if a bit rushed. I'm not sure about Tioga Pass, though. You don't mention any dates for your trip, but this pass is the only way through Yosemite to points east and is closed during the winter. Here's a list of historical opening dates, usually late May.

Bodie is an order of magnitude more awesome than you ever thought a ghost town could be. Mono Lake is interesting, but its main attraction is that it's full of stinky minerals and covered in flies. Devil's Postpile is a great day hike in the Mammoth Lakes area.
posted by contraption at 9:00 PM on March 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Must see: Hearst Castle in San Simeon, one hour north of San Luis Obispo on highway 1. This was the home/retreat of newspaper magnate William Randolf Hearst. There are 4 separate 1-hour tours of the main house guest houses, gardens and pools. Hearst bought warehouses full of fine art pieces, statues, manuscripts, antiques and more. These treasures were used to furnish his lavish home and guest houses. Hearst Castle has two magnificent swimming pools and an incredible view of the Pacific Ocean.
posted by swarkentien at 9:08 PM on March 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I second Hearst Castle. If you are into historical houses, this is the ultimate. The tours are great and the things you can see are simply amazing.
posted by Argyle at 9:30 PM on March 28, 2008

Historical houses - Monterey was the first capital and has nice old places. Carmel & Big Sur are near; Salinas & Steinbeck country to explore; down HWY1 to Hearst Castle; Morro Bay; maybe San Luis Obispo and San Juan Batista missions. It's nice weather at the coast now (not tonight though, and rain next week).
posted by anadem at 9:51 PM on March 28, 2008

There is nothing anticlimactic about Yosemite. Stay in a backwoods campsite if you don't like crowds, but, well, there's a reason the crowds are there - it's freakin' amazing.
posted by you're a kitty! at 9:57 PM on March 28, 2008

Three Day weekend possibility:

Mountain View to Grass Valley/Nevada City CA - a little over 3 hours per Google maps; scenic Sierra gold country with antiquing. Spend time touring the historic stuff and spend the night in a nice B&B or a historic hotel. Day 2 take the blue highways through Loyalton, Vinton and Chilcoot CA and catch Hwy 395 at Halleluiah Junction. Go south and you can see Reno (3 hours) or bypass it and go directly to Carson City or Virginia City with more historic stuff. Google maps show return to Mt. View from Carson City as 4 hours 31 minutes via Hwy 88 through Stockton. Alternate routing on I-50 through Placerville and SAC adds an hour to road time.

Of course there are lots of other excellent options too...
posted by X4ster at 9:59 PM on March 28, 2008

Nthing Hearst Castle. The drive down 1 from Mt View via Big Sur is also world-class, plus as a passenger going south you'll have the excitement of being RILLY close to the edge of the abyss in some places.

And also Yosemite. The snows are melting so the waterfalls should be at good power.

There are interesting antique places on Highway 49, eg. the city of Jackson.

I'd skip Nevada since it's butt ugly unless you like looking at scrub land and a pretty far drive to get to. Tahoe is kinda over-rated, too.

Avoid the San Joaquin Valley tho. Salinas is boring, too, but Carmel is nice this time of year. China Cove in Point Lobos just south of Carmel is the kind of beautiful place I don't like recommending on the internet since it's so nice.
posted by tachikaze at 11:55 PM on March 28, 2008

Joshua Tree is way too far out of range to be feasible.

Yosemite is lovely for driving - through the valley, up to Glacier Point, and then drive Tioga Pass. Unfortunately, though, it takes a while to get there, and once there, you can't really "do" anything but Yosemite. It takes up an entire day on its own, basically, since there's nothing else nearby (don't forget to buy gas in Mariposa or another further-out town; I'm sure the stations nearer the valley are now up around $5.30 a gallon or so). And, as mentioned, if your trip is within the next month or two, the Tioga Pass will likely be closed.

For a weekend trip, I think I might hit Sonoma/Napa, then head to Marin county and go to Muir Woods/Stinson Beach/surrounding areas. Then up Highway 1 to Bodega Bay, spend some time there, and a drive up the Bohemian Highway along the Russian River and surroundings. Some amazing country up there, though admittedly I don't know anything about historical buildings or antiquing. This also wouldn't give you Nevada, but perhaps you could cut out a bit, and use the foray into wine country as a jumping-off point to head east for some Nevada-y goodness. (I nth the recommendation of Bodie, for that neck of the woods.)
posted by po at 1:26 AM on March 29, 2008

Man, you've chosen perhaps the best place in the country to do a 3 day road trip. There are plenty to choose from. I've done Monterey peninsula and Yosemite and Sequoia in 3 days. I've also done Yosemite/Bodie/Tahoe in 3 days. I've always wanted to check out CA Highway 49, where all the gold rush stuff happened, to see if there was anything there worth visiting.

Just pick one. They're all great. But Yosemite-Mono-Bodie-Tahoe-Donner-CA49 sounds most fun to me. US 395 is a great highway. And it's a good time of year to visit the Sierras. Still some snow and few crowds.
posted by billtron at 7:52 AM on March 29, 2008

Yosemite is stunning for driving around pretty scenery, but unfortunately everyone else thinks so, too. You didn't say when this trip will be, but if it's before Tioga Pass and Glacier Point Road open, you're limited to the valley, and that can get pretty crowded. Forget going there on Memorial Weekend, because the line to get in the park will be long and you'll be battling traffic all day.

Going in the middle of the week can make a world of difference, though, and when Tioga Road opens the drive from Crane Flat to Tuolumne Meadows is gorgeous and less crowded. Last year, we did a three-day weekend in the summer:
- drove to Yosemite Saturday morning, went to White Wolf and just hung out and relaxed a bit in our tent cabin
- hiked Tuolumne Meadows on Sunday
- went to Mono Lake Monday and took CA 108 back (Sonora Pass). Mono Lake is really neat (the flies don't bother humans) and you're darn close to Nevada.

There's also Hetch Hetchy, which is also way less crowded than the valley.
posted by DakotaPaul at 8:13 AM on March 29, 2008

Nthing the Hearst Castle recommendation, but if you take Hwy 1 all the way from the Peninsula or even Monterey to San Simeon, you're in for a beautiful, long drive.
posted by DakotaPaul at 8:20 AM on March 29, 2008

Ditto Hearst Castle, perfect time of year, all green. And, if you can squeeze it in, the Highway 1 trip through Big Sur and a stop in Carmel. Your eyes will pop out of your head. This is probably a 10 hour drive this way but you'll love every minute of it.

Yosemite is kind of cool but a bit of an anti-climax if you are used to the Ansel Adams pix.

What an incredibly odd statement. Yosemite is probably the one place I've been in the entire world that actually looks in real life the way the postcards look.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:47 AM on March 29, 2008

"Yosemite is kind of cool but a bit of an anti-climax if you are used to the Ansel Adams pix."

Aaaauuuuuuuuggggghhhhhhh!!!!! Seriously? Arrrrggghhhhhhh!!! (I usually agree with unSane, but geez...)

I suppose someone could maybe barely possibly have that belief if they were the driver of the car and kept their eyes on the road while doing the one-way loop of the valley once. Get out of the car. Look up. Look around. There are short, paved trails no longer than a few hundred yards that will take you into the spray of amazing waterfalls, and to a vista point where you're looking a half mile straight down the face of solid granite. There are longer trails everywhere that will get you away from the mass of tourists who won't walk farther than a few hundred yards on paved trails. OMG!!!111!!! You can walk up to the base of freakin' El Capitan and see more than two-thirds of a mile of overhanging rock straight above your head. And there's trails through boulders the size of apartment buildings, and Tuolumne Meadows, and some neat streams, and at least a few pretty views that Ansel Adams hasn't ruined for you.


The other ideas are good road trips, too. But geez, Yosemite is probably the most dramatically amazing place on earth.

If you do San Simeon/Hearst Castle, make part of your Hiway 1 trip a detour into Paso Robles for some wine tasting/sightseeing. Check out the "Far Out" vineyards in the hills west of 101. ( And go skydiving in Monterey Bay ( the same day you check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium ( and MBARI.
posted by lothar at 9:27 AM on March 29, 2008

If you end up driving south through Big Sur, this turnout area is a must. I've been there four times in the last 2 years, and every time I've seen California condors, usually within 15 minutes of stopping. Once we saw 8 confirmed condors and possibly a couple more (they can be hard to distinguish from turkey vultures at a distance (up closer look for grey/white on the leading edge of the underside of the wing, where vultures have lighter coloration on the trailing edge.) You are likely to get a very close look at some condors, too; they buzz that turnout to within about 30 feet. You can park either at the double turnout or at the one by the construction site about a half mile north.

Even you somehow don't see condors, the cliff face, the ocean, and the clear view of the kelp forest and sea lions are all breathtaking.
posted by contraption at 10:29 AM on March 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well, I guess I should go back to Yosemite. I was underwhelmed at the time. We stayed there for a couple of days.
posted by unSane at 9:55 PM on March 29, 2008

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