Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The journey through the desert

Our last full day of the trip included the journey back to Las Vegas where we started this road trip. After several days back in civilization, we had to make one more stop in a national park - after all, it is the centennial celebration of America's national parks!  We left behind the hustle and bustle of LA for some driving and hiking in Joshua Tree National Park.

Following our visit to Joshua Tree, we made the long ride through the desert back to Las Vegas. We met up with Tina and Tommy (sister and father of Tara) for dinner and then some sites along the Vegas strip. After a long day, we settled down for a short night of sleep before our early morning flight back home to PA.

Day 13 was our flight home. All told, we spent 12 days on the road driving 2054 miles around California and Nevada.

We had the pleasure of seeing some amazing sites in our national parks as well as along the California coast. We also had the good fortune to spend time with our friends Tara, Tyler, Tina, and Tommy (apparently people who live on the west coast have names that start with "T").  As they say... a good time was had by all.

BTW... there were no "Angry Sal" sightings on this trip!

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Our second day in LA started with typical tourist activities as we walked around Hollywood. We checked out the various stars of celebrities and musicians, took in the view of the Hollywood sign, and checked out the famed Chinese theater.

After lunch, we took a ride along Sunset Boulevard passing thru West Hollywood and Belair and ending at the campus of UCLA for another college campus tour.

The tourist activities came to end and we joined Tara and Tyler for a second night of dinner, feasting on sushi in the Manhattan Beach area. After dinner, Tara provided some home-baked goodies (and a few bakery-purchased treats as well), ensuring that we would not have a repeat of ordering strawberries for dessert. The night ended with fun conversation and a fascinating view into the life of Shorty the Mouse (#shortythemouse). For the curious, check out Shorty's Instagram and Facebook page.

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Strawberries for dessert?

Our journey down the coast continued as we left San Simeon for Santa Monica. June gloom was in full effect on this day as the clouds never let up. That didn't stop us from grabbing a bite to eat on the Santa Monica pier and then spending some time on the beach!

After our short beach day, we met up with friends Tara and Tyler for a dinner out at Killer Shrimp (delish!) and a tour around several beach towns as we searched for dessert. Everyone enjoyed some calorie-laden cakes and lattes except Sal, who ordered strawberries for dessert and received a complimentary scowl from Tara for doing so. Nonetheless, our gracious tour guides and hosts did return us back to the hotel for our first night of two in the LA area.

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Getting wild on the coast

After San Fran, we took the Pacific Coast Highway south to San Simeon. The June gloom lifted early as we drove through Carmel-by-the-Sea.

We stopped at the Point Lobos Reserve for hiking along the seaside trails and views of seal lions, harbor seals, and many varieties of birds. The views were spectacular! The seals sunned themselves on the rocks and barked. Meanwhile, hundreds of birds nested on the rocks.

After Point Lobos, we continued south toward our evening destination. Just outside of San Simeon, we stopped off for a view of elephant seals who lie on the beaches. View a short video of the elephant seals here.

We finally reached the hotel where Kelly and Cece took some time for a relaxing dip in the spa pool before dinner. After a fine meal at the Manta Rey restaurant, we relaxed by the firepits perched along the bluffs above the sea. What a relaxing way to end the day!

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Friday, June 10, 2016

Out on good behavior

We had another great day in the SF bay area. The day started out dreary and misty from the fog but started to clear up as we inched closer to the Fisherman's Wharf area amidst the morning rush hour. At the wharf, we waited for our to take us to Alcatraz. The tour of the island and prison did not disappoint. Cece posed for some pics behind bars but Kelly was kind enough to let her out for good behavior. We happened to be visiting on the same day that a former guard, George DiVincenze, was on the island. He was there to greet visitors and autograph a copy of a book he wrote called Murders on Alcatraz.

Following Alcatraz, we had some lunch on the wharf. Then we embarked for a hop on/hop off bus tour of the city where Marquis, our tour guide, regaled us with stories as well as song.  Our decision to ride top-side on the double decker bus was not so wise when it came time to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. However, the views and photo ops were worth braving the cool temps and high winds of San Fran.

We ended our bus tour by hopping off in Chinatown for a scrumptious meal at House of Nanking where - and this is no exaggeration - we had the best Chinese food ever! Shout out to Sandra LeFluer for the food recommendation. And shout out to Kelly O'Malley (just for the hell of it).

Tomorrow we take the coastal highway south to San Mateo!

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Thursday, June 9, 2016

The coastal portion of the trip begins

Today we continued our journey west, stopping for campus tour of Stanford University. It's still a bit early for Cece and college but since we were in the area... why not? Stanford has quite an impressive campus and we learned a lot about the university. After the tour, we had a nice lunch outside of the Stanford art museum and then hit the road toward San Francisco.

We arrived in San Fran to cross the Golden Gate Bridge stopping for some photos of the bay area. Then it was on to the John Muir Woods for a cool and peaceful walk through the magnificent redwoods.

We worked up quite an appetite from our walking so off to Sausalito we went for dinner. We had a fine meal in a restaurant with a great view of the water and the city in the background. From the window, we spotted a seal who decided to entertain the patrons, making appearances from time to time. 

The day culminated in a stay in Pacifica, just south of San Fran. Tonight we rest in our ocean-view room... windows open... the sound of the waves... a cool breeze.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Hetch-Hetchy... that's catchy!

Days four and five consisted of more experiences throughout Yosemite National Park.

We started day 4 day at Glacier Point where there is still snow on the ground despite temps in the 90s. Views from the trailhead offered another viewing angle of Half Dome and more waterfalls.

After Glacier Point, we headed back to the Yosemite Valley for lunch at Cathedral Beach. Then we headed out for another hike to Mirror Lake where Cece and Kelly enjoyed a cool stroll in the lake shallows.

We left the park for a short swim at the hotel followed by dinner. We made our way back to the park during the late evening to secure a good spot along a scenic overlook where we watched darkness descend upon  Half Dome and waited for the stars to take up residence in the blue-black sky.  Star-gazing at 6000 feet in total darkness was an experience we'll all remember for years to come.

Day 5 was our venture to Hetch-Hetchy for a hike around the O'Shaughnessy Dam and Reservoir, which supplies water to San Francisco. We enjoyed some more breathtaking views along the reservoir, including the Wapama Falls and Tueeulala Falls – both among the tallest waterfalls in North America.

After another hot day of hiking, it was on the road again, leaving Yosemite behind as we make our way closer to the coast with a stop in Oakdale - the Cowboy Capital of the World (so they say).

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