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
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
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
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
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
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
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
dolphins, sea lions, 1 raccoon, 1 bobcat
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!).
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
a.m. foggy, midday sunny at 23 °C, p.m. cloudy at 15
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.
Animals: seals, sea lions, sea otters, 1 dolphin
Accommodation: Days Inn San Carlos/Downtown, Monterey ($71 including
16% Wyndham discount plus tax)
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
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.
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.
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,
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
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
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
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
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.
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.