Home > Americas


USA 2015
Big trees, black bears, high sierra, ancient volcanoes and a long stretch of coast

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Overview


Saturday, June 13 - Point Cabrillo Lighthouse, Bowling Ball Beach, Salt Point State Park
Weather: at first 13 °C and sunny, then 16 °C in the fog, later 19 °C and sunny
After breakfast at the motel we were ready for departure at 8 a.m. We did some shopping at Safeway and 30 minutes later we were on the road. After a 15 minutes’ drive we arrived at the parking area for Point Cabrillo Lighthouse. From there the road is closed and you have to walk the last half mile to the lighthouse. We saw some deer in the hills next to the road. On the rocks below the lighthouse we discovered a couple of seals. After 45 minutes we were back at the parking area which started to fill by now.

We made a little detour through Mendocino, and at 10:30 we drove into the coastal fog at Point Arena. We parked along the road at the trailhead to Schooner Gulch State Beach. Following the path to the left we reached the beach in 5 minutes. It was pretty but not the one we wanted. So we took the path to the right. From the top of the hill we got a good view of Bowling Ball Beach. To get to the beach you have to climb down a broken ladder. At the far end of the beach we saw some big rocks protruding from the sand so this was where we were heading. But the rocks didn’t look like the famous bowling ball concretions. You have to be here at low tide to see them. The water level was still too high. Nevertheless we took some photos of the rocks and the breaking waves.

It was almost 12 p.m. when we continued on highway 1. We passed through Gualala and eventually arrived at Salt Point State Park ($8). We had a picnic lunch at the northern parking area. Then we walked the short trail to Sentinel Rock with a view of Fisk Mill Beach. After this we drove to the parking area at Gerstle Cove at the southern end of the state park which is also the entrance to the campground. When we asked about the trails we were given a map. The trail between Gerstle Cove and Stump Beach Cove is one mile. We could already hear the sea lions and it didn’t take long until we saw the first ones on the rocks along the trail. The vegetation in this area is fantastic and we walked out to the tafoni, an area of interesting rock formations. To reach them it was an easy 30 minutes’ walk. Unfortunately the sun was not shining. It was low tide but again we were disappointed with tide pools.

At 3:40 p.m. we continued on our way. But not without making a stop for coffee and ice-cream at Bodega Bay around 4:30. Then we decided to leave highway 1 and took the faster route on highway 101 and the interstate. We still had a few miles to go until our next destination. As soon as we left the coast behind, the sun was shining! We passed through Petaluma which seemed to have a nice Old Town and waterfront. We stopped at the historic railway station which is now a visitor center.

At 6:40 p.m. we arrived at the Travelodge in Mill Valley. It is situated right next to the busy 101 freeway just before Sausalito. Our room with two double beds was small and the furniture was old but it was clean and at $104 (including a 20% Wyndham discount) plus tax it was a bargain for the area and in a convenient location. For dinner we went to the Italian restaurant Piatti just around the corner. At 7:30 p.m. on a Saturday night it was busy but we were lucky to get a table. From the large windows the restaurant overlooks a lake. In warm weather it would be nice to sit outside on the terrace. We had spinach-ricotta ravioli and pizza Margharita. The pizza was large but the pasta portion was quite small. Other than that it was good and we got some bread with olive oil dressing to go along with the main meal so it was enough to fill us up.

Miles covered: 168
Animals: deer, seals, sea lions
Accommodation: Travelodge Mill Valley ($104 with discount plus tax)

Sunday, June 14 - San Francisco and Marin Headlands
Weather: first foggy/cloudy at 15 °C, then sunny at 18 °C


The continental breakfast at the Travelodge was minimal so we just took a coffee and had breakfast in our room with cereals and fresh fruit. The coast was still shrouded in fog. We crossed over the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco. We had registered online beforehand to pay the toll which would then automatically be deducted. First we drove down to the parking area at Fort Point (Mason Street), which is free until 10 a.m., for the view of the Golden Gate Bridge from sea level. Then we drove back up the hill to East Battery Parking which was also free of charge at this time. After another stop at the Overlook Parking at Lincoln Boulevard (Langdon Ct) we drove down to Baker Beach. From there you get a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge, however, it was still overcast. At least we spotted some dolphins in the waves!

Next we drove to Haight Ashbury, known for its hippie culture. There was a festival going on in Haight Street so we had a hard time finding a parking spot. But eventually we got lucky and strolled a bit through the streets. Then we walked up to the University and had a look into St. Ignatius Church. On the university grounds we suddenly saw a raccoon that investigated several trash bins. Finally the sun was coming out and we drove to Alamo Square to have a look at the Painted Ladies.

At 1 p.m. we parked at Cost Plus not far from Fisherman's Wharf (North Point Street, corner of Mason/Taylor Street) for just $5 an hour. In the streets we found a small eatery for breakfast and lunch where we had an omelet with potatoes and toast. Then we walked along the piers to the Historic Ships at Hyde Street Pier. These are part of San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park which belongs to the NPS ($5 or annual pass) so we got in for free and had a look at the historic ferry boat Eureka, the steam boat Hercules and the sailing vessel Balclutha. Afterwards we walked up to the cable car terminal at Hyde Street and then all the way across to Pier 39 to watch the sea lions. After three hours at 4 p.m. we got back to our car.

We drove up to Coit Tower but couldn’t get a parking space. So we drove over to Lombard Street instead which is known as the Crookedest Street in the World. It was full of people, especially Asians. We didn't stay long and crossed to the other side of the bay again to check out the various viewpoints along Conzelman Road. However, on a Sunday afternoon we were not the only ones with this idea so we were stuck in traffic jam to get off the Golden Gate Bridge and then it was difficult to find a free parking spot. Unfortunately the fog was still lingering on this side of the bridge so we only stopped at the last viewpoint. Then we followed the narrow one-way lane to Point Bonita Lighthouse. All of this area is part of Marin Headlands and Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Access to the tunnel that leads to the lighthouse is limited to Saturday, Sunday and Monday afternoons and at this time of day it was already too late. But we saw a bobcat next to the road, this was quite a highlight! Unfortunately it disappeared too fast for a picture. We took the Tunnel Route back down, found a parking space ($1 for 20 minutes) in Sausalito which was still in the sun and took a quick stroll along the shops and restaurants.

At 6:30 p.m. we got back to Mill Valley and our motel. For dinner we met with Werner and Helga from Austria who were staying at the same motel that night. We went to Piatti again. That night it was less busy and we managed to get a table at the window. I had gnocchi with lamb ragout and Volker the chicken.

Miles covered: 43
Animals: dolphins, sea lions, 1 raccoon, 1 bobcat
Accommodation: Travelodge Mill Valley ($104 with discount plus tax)

Monday, June 15 - Point Reyes National Seashore and Marin Headlands

Weather: first sunny at 16 °C, then foggy at 12 °C, then sunny at 18 °C 


After breakfast in our room, we left at 9:15. Our destination for the day was Point Reyes National Seashore. We stopped at Safeway in San Rafael and at 10:45 we left the sun behind and drove into the fog. Soon after we reached Bear Valley Visitor Center. Here we obtained a park map and hiking information. This was free of charge. Then we drove to the end of the road at Point Reyes. Saw a doe with fawn along the road. The wild landscape with its bald hills, the distant sea and gloomy weather reminded us more of Ireland than California. We passed by historic ranches which were numbered from A to G, all of them still working ranches.

Around 11:30 we parked at Point Reyes from where you have to walk the rest of the way to the lighthouse. Out here it was very windy and cold. There’s a reason why this is called the „windiest place on the Pacific Coast and the second foggiest place on the North American continent“. (With 200 foggy days per year it’s right behind the Grand Banks in Newfoundland.) And today wasn’t one of the good days. Even the 304 steps down to the lighthouse were closed out of precaution because of the strong wind. In 1980 Point Reyes Lighthouse was the filming location of „The Fog“.

We continued to the Sea Elephant Overlook and on the way we saw a couple more deer. From the parking area it’s a short walk to the overlook. The animals can be seen from a distance down on the beach. Then we hiked the trail to  Chimney Rock which starts on the other side of the parking lot. It’s an easy hike of one mile (20 minutes one-way). The end of the trail was a bit disappointing as we didn’t see any particular rock that deserved this name. On the way we saw a few pelicans and a couple of vultures far below. But the highlight were a bunch of sea elephants fighting each other on a beach just below us. We took a narrow side path that led us to a view of the beach from above and we watched them for quite a while. Here we were all by ourselves.
As we saw that the Drakes Cliffs on the other side of the bay were also covered in fog we decided not to drive to Limantour Beach and gave up on the planned hike to Sculptured Beach.

We drove back to Mill Valley on highway 1. As soon as we had left the Point Reyes Park behind, we were back in the sun again and temperatures reached 18 °C. At 2:30 p.m. we stopped for a picnic at Five Brooks. This is the trailhead for Alamere Falls. But it is not an easy hike and we hadn't planned to do this. We continued on the road, passed by Stinson Beach and stopped for coffee at Starbucks in Mill Valley around 4 p.m.
Then we headed back to the viewpoints along Conzelman Road. This time the view of Golden Gate Bridge was a little better than the day before but San Francisco was still hidden in the fog. At 5 p.m. we got back to the hotel, had a shower and drove another 10 minutes to the village of Tiburon which was lying in the sunshine. After a short walk we drove to Village at Corte Madera which is a shopping mall, and had dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. For Chicken with Mashed Potatoes and a Burger with salad, tap water and a White Chocolate Caramel Macadamia Nut Cheesecake (delicious!) we paid $40 plus tip. The cheesecake was on the house as we had to wait longer than usual (still nothing compared to waiting times in German restaurants!).

Miles covered: 128
Animals: deer, pelicans, vultures, sea elephants
Accommodation: Travelodge Mill Valley ($104 with discount plus tax)

Tuesday, June 16 - Bean Hollow State Park, Pigeon Point Lighthouse, Santa Cruz, Point Lobos State Reserve
Weather: a.m. foggy, midday sunny at 23 °C, p.m. cloudy at 15 °C

After breakfast we checked out and by 9:30 a.m. we were driving south across the Golden Gate Bridge towards the coast. After 1 hour and 15 minutes we reached Bean Hollow State Park. From the northern parking area there are steps leading down to Pebble Beach, a small beach with tafoni carved into the sandstone rocks that were filled with colorful pebbles. Unfortunately the weather was gray. When we got down to the beach we saw a young seal disappearing into the waves. We climbed the rocks to look for tide pools but couldn’t find any good ones. But the breaking waves were impressive. We made another short stop at the southern parking area which has a larger beach. But with the high surf there were only a few fishermen about.

After another 3 miles we reached Pigeon Point Lighthouse. The visit of the grounds is free and there’s a short loop walk with nice views and a hostel. By 12 p.m. we were back on the road and finally the sun came out.

After 45 minutes we arrived at Natural Bridge State Beach at Santa Cruz. The view from the Overlook parking was disappointing. The best view is probably from the beach but we didn’t hike down. We followed the West Cliff Drive to Santa Cruz and passed by a little lighthouse, the Wharf and the Amusement Park. Downtown looked nice but we didn’t stop except at Fins Coffee a little out of town. It was 2 p.m. when we got back to highway 1.

After another 50 minutes at Monterey and Carmel and were back in the clouds. Finally we arrived at Point Lobos State Reserve. We paid the $10 fee but made do without the map which costs $2 extra. It wasn’t easy to find a free parking space. Then we hiked the South Shore Trail. We saw a dolphin in the water and several sea otters and seals. The sea lions were on Sea Lion Rock. The rocks and vegetation looked fantastic. We spent some time observing and photographing. Then we hiked the Cypress Grove Trail. The tide pools were again a disappointment. After 2 hours at 5 p.m. we were back at the car and drove to Pelican Point trailhead. It was about a mile to the bird rock where we saw many cormorants.

At 5:40 p.m. we left the park and headed to Monterey. 20 minutes later we checked into the Days Inn San Carlos/Downtown for two nights. For dinner we had arranged to meet up with my former colleague Wendy and her husband Randy at the Hula’s Island Grill in the Lighthouse District. The food was good. We had Mahi and Pulled Pork. During Happy Hour they offered an appetizer with a cocktail for $6.

Miles covered: 151
Animals: seals, sea lions, sea otters, 1 dolphin
Accommodation: Days Inn San Carlos/Downtown, Monterey ($71 including 16% Wyndham discount plus tax)


Wednesday, June 17 - Pinnacles National Park, Laguna Seca, Monterey

Weather: a.m. sunny at 34 °C, p.m. foggy at 14 °C


We had breakfast at the Days Inn with waffles, toast, yoghurt, followed by cereals and fruit in our room. The weather in Monterey was still grey but upon leaving town we were back in the sun. By 8:30 a.m. we headed to Laguna Seca, a racetrack used for car and motorcycle racing 5 miles out of town. Day use is $8 but we were allowed to just have a look for free. We walked up the track to see the famous corkscrew turn. There were a few private motorcyclists on the track giving each other a race.

From Monterey it’s a 1.5 hours’ drive to Pinnacles National Park. This was where we headed next. The west side of the park can be reached from highway 101. There’s a separate entrance on the east side. The entrance fee is $10 but this is covered by the interagency annual pass.

We arrived at the visitor center at 11 and the ranger suggested two trails but warned us about the high temperatures and rattlesnakes. We started off on the 2.4 miles Balconies Cliffs and Balconies Cave loop. There was still a bit of shade on the way and part of the trail goes through a cave with some easy climbing. But you need a flashlight or headlamp. We saw a couple of quails with their young and a wild turkey with two chicks. The rest of the trail was in the full sun and it was very hot, approx. 34 °C. A few condors were circling above.
After 1.5 hours we were back at the car. It was 1 p.m. and we decided not to do the 4.3 miles long Juniper Canyon loop with 1200 foot (365 metres) elevation. The trail leads to the High Peaks with a great view and through a tunnel. But it would have been too tough in this heat with no shade. However, it should be a good destination during the cooler winter season. On the east side there is also the Bear Gulch Cave Trail which leads through a bat cave but this is closed during the summer months to protect the bats.

By 3 p.m. we were back in the Monterey fog at just 14 °C. We had a shower and then followed the Sunset Drive in Pacific Grove to the lighthouse. We saw a couple of deer on a golf course, an otter swimming in the sea and a few seals on the rocks, but no tide pools. These were good in the northern part of Oregon that we visited in 2010. But maybe it was because the low tide was happening at night this time.

After 6 p.m. parking in Pacific Grove is free and it’s not far to walk from there to Cannery Row. Next to the road is a beach with a huge number of seals. It took us 10 minutes on the Coastal Walk to Cannery Row. We passed by the wonderful Monterey Bay Aquarium that we visited back in 1998. The entrance charge back then was $15 per person. Today it’s $40! But we didn’t plan to visit it again. We had an early dinner at Sly McFly’s with Red Snapper and Tilapia. The portions were rather small but it was good and we paid $32 plus tip including an iced tea. Then we went back to the motel.

Miles covered: 135
Animals: wild turkeys, quails, condors, seals, cormorants, an otter
Accommodation: Days Inn San Carlos/Downtown, Monterey ($71 with discount plus tax)

Thursday, June 18 - Highway 1, Santa Barbara
Weather: partly sunny up to 27 °C, partly foggy at 14 °C


We had breakfast and left Monterey just before 9 a.m. driving south on highway 1. From Carmel the sun was shining and we had some fantastic views of the coast. But when we approached Big Sur, we were heading into heavy fog. Around 10 a.m. we reached Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. It was still foggy but not too dense to be able to see the McWay waterfall from the road. With the dull weather we were not entering the park but took a staircase next to the road that leads to the Overlook Trail above the coast that offers a view of the waterfall. It’s not possible to hike down to the beach anyway.

Shortly before 12 p.m. we arrived at the Elephant Seals Viewing Area at Piedras Blancas. And here the sun was shining again. Visitors can view the elephant seals lying on the beach right alongside highway 1. Next we made a short stop at William R. Hearst Memorial Beach at San Simeon, then we had lunch at Sandy’s Deli & Bakery in Cambria.

Then we entered freeway 101 and got off at Pismo Beach. It was 2 p.m. South of Grover Beach you can take your car onto the beach. The day use fee is $5. Volker enjoyed the drive. Then we drove a short way back to Pismo Beach Premium Outlets. After some shopping when we hit the road again. It was 3:30 p.m. and sunny with 27 °C.

At 5 p.m. we arrived in Santa Barbara. We checked into Sandpiper Lodge north of downtown. We had a special spring rate for $107 for a room with king-size bed. We used the online check-in for our Air Berlin flight the next day. Then we headed to Santa Barbara Downtown and parked near the Paseo Nuevo mall. After 6 p.m. parking in the side streets is free. We walked down to the pier which is quite a way. Then we had dinner at the Santa Barbara Brewing Company.

Miles covered: 250
Animals: elephant seals
Accommodation: Sandpiper Lodge, Santa Barbara ($107 with discount plus tax)

Friday, June 19 - Paramount Ranch, Getty Center
Weather: sunny at 34 °C inland, 23 °C at the coast


We had breakfast at the Sandpiper Lodge with bagels, toast, scrambled eggs, cereals, fruit, yoghurt. Finally the day of departure had arrived, and after having everything packed up, we were ready to leave by 10:15. Traffic on 101 was still low. Until Ventura the freeway follows the coastline. There was still fog where the sea hit the land. At Agoura Hills we turn off to Paramount Ranch. It was almost 11:30 when we got there. We had 34 °C. The ranch belongs to the NPS and it is a filming location for wild west movies and you can walk around the premises.

Originally we had planned to drive back from here to the coast and spend the remaining time in Venice. However, we decided to change plans and drove back onto 101 and then I-405. Traffic was already heavier by that time. We left the interstate at Getty Center. They charged $15 for the parking garage but this included entry to the museum for both of us. A tram takes you up the hill to the entrance. We spent approx. 1.5 hours in the Center which is known for its exhibitions of photographs, paintings and sculputures as well as its architecture and gardens.

We left around 3 p.m. and back on I-405 we were stuck in the Friday afternoon L.A. traffic jam! That’s what we wanted to avoid with our original plan. It was just another 15 miles but we began to doubt that we would still be able to make it to the airport within another hour. Finally we decided to get off the interstate and drive through town. And in spite of the traffic lights it was quicker!
At exactly 4 p.m. we arrived at Hertz. Less than two hours until departure of our flight! We had to wait a bit until we got the receipt about the $666 that we paid for our huge car. In total we had covered 3464 miles on this 3-weeks trip.
Then we had to wait until the shuttle departed. At 4:30 p.m. we arrived at the Air Berlin check-in desk. Fortunately there was no queue. Boarding was expected to start at 5:15. We had to stand in line at security for a bit. Then we were informed that departure was delayed by 15 minutes. Due to strong headwinds the plane had arrived a bit later than expected. We just saw it taxiing around the corner.

We departed at 6:15. Flight time was 10 hours and 20 minutes. We had a good view of Marina del Rey, Venice Beach, Santa Monica and the Catalina Islands. We were even able to see some oil rigs. When we turned, we got a view of Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach. We crossed the Anaheim Hills towards San Bernardino with a view of Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear Lake and the road between Crucero and Kelso in the Mojave Desert. Then we saw some gleaming solar panels. It was the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System. We saw Primm and Lake Mead with the Hoover Dam. Then we flew over Zion National Park. I was able to recognize Mt. Kinesava and the West Temple. And finally we headed in the direction of Strawberry Point before the sun went down. Dinner was not great. I watched „Wild“ with Reese Witherspoon, „The Imitation Game“ with Benedict Cumberbatch and „Still Alice“ with Julianne Moore.

Miles covered: 95
Animals: none
Accommodation: Air Berlin

Saturday, June 20
We arrived almost in time just before 2 p.m. (5 a.m. for us) in Düsseldorf. It was cloudy. We took the local train to get home.


Part 2

Back to top

Back to overview