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California Road Trip

Author: cruisenut2001
Date of Trip: October 2008

We took this driving trip to attend my wife’s brother’s Fiftieth birthday party. We added a few stops before and after the party to make this vacation extra special. We started the trip in Portland, Oregon and stopped in Redding, Manteca, Novato, San Francisco, San Jose, and Yosemite National Park before returning to Portland. We left October 29th and returned November 13th. I will probably write lodging reviews in Trip Advisor with more details of each motel.

We drove down I-5 and our first night’s lodging was at the Best Western in Redding. It was dark when we arrived, but we decided to see the Sundial Bridge anyway. It was well worth the short drive to reach the park. The bridge walkway is made of opaque glass and was lit from below, it had a beautiful effect. The suspension cables and main support were also lit. This point-of-interest with the Sacramento River flowing below it should not be missed, day or night. We had dinner at the motel restaurant and the food was very good. We had shrimp you peel, two dozen for $6, and the other items we ate were fairly priced. We eat a buffet breakfast in the restaurant, included, the next morning and began our drive to Manteca.

We have relatives living in Manteca so except for a few cafes we didn’t see much of the town. We stayed at the Best Western and for being late Fall it was busy. Being next to the freeway it was also a little noisy. We left in the morning for Novato to visit more family. We stayed at the Econo-lodge (formally the Skylark, I think) and it was like taking a step back in time. The room was clean and the decor was very interesting, to say the least. Four-post bed with netting, pineapple lamps, and bamboo furniture made this a unique stay. The price was very good at about a third the price of the Best Western up the road. We stayed here two nights before driving a short distance to San Francisco.

We stayed at the Argonaut Hotel near Fisherman’s Wharf. We bought a package deal for the hotel that included parking, breakfast, and a 3 day public transit pass (includes the cable car). We were on the third floor with a view of the Bay. We had a great time at this hotel and can easily see why it has a high member rating on Trip Advisor. The cable car terminal is around the corner, the wharf restaurants and shops are a few level blocks away, and Ghirardelli Square is a few steep blocks up. There is also a nearby streetcar line that goes to Pier 39 and the Ferry Building. If you go to the Argonaut’s web site and think the rooms are small, you are correct. But the view of the Bay and Alcatraz is worth the cost and the smallness. We meet friends and had lunch at Boudin’s and were not impressed. It was very expensive (expected) and the food was lacking quality and quantity (not expected). We took the Red and White Fleet tour of the Bay and, since it had been so many years since our last tour, we really enjoyed it. The typical November weather was cold and damp and we stayed inside the ship and listened on the headsets to the recorded guide. Our favorite restaurant is Fisherman’s Grotto and it did not disappoint us. We like eating dinner upstairs. It has low lighting and the view of San Francisco Bay is always romantic, plus the seafood is very good. The hotel’s package breakfast at the diner was good, but limited. You can get eggs, but not the doughnuts. We took the cable car to the ACT Theater to see “The Quality Of Life.” We had a very good time seeing the play, but thought the writer did a poor job at the end. JoBeth Williams, Laurie Metcalf, Steven Culp, and Dennis Boutsikaris were great. The play is about changes in life and the reactions to those changes. A fitting play for election night. Union Square was filled with people and camera crews. The election results were all the talk on the ride back to the hotel. We drove through Golden Gate Park on our last day in SF. We walked around Stow Lake, ate pink popcorn, and fed the ducks.

We stayed a few nights with family in San Jose and got caught up on laundry and the latest gossip. It wouldn’t be a trip to San Jose without a stop at La Villa’s for the world’s best ravioli. A quart each, salami, cheese, and a roll is what I call fine dinning, mighty fine. Can you tell I’m biased? Our next stop was back to Manteca for the birthday party. One big family party.

The drive to Yosemite was easy from Manteca, just took the highway going east. It’s a two lane road with few pullouts. It was not too bad this time of year, but I can imagine what summer must be like. You’ll want to be the passenger on this trip because the scenery is fantastic. We stayed at the Yosemite Lodge for three nights. The Yosemite Lodge is made up of several two story buildings spread over a fairly large area. Parking is a problem and your car may be a quarter mile from your room. We had our bags taken to our room when we registered and looked for parking afterwards. They will also bring a cart to your building to pick up your luggage when you leave. There is nothing special about the rooms, but who cares. This was our first time in Yosemite Valley and we kick ourselves now for not spending more time here years ago. Words and pictures don’t do justice to this park, it must be experienced. We were lucky it rained a few days before we arrived because it allowed the falls to be flowing. Most years the falls are dry from fall until spring thaw. Yosemite Falls is a short walk from the lodge, depending of course in which building you’re in. The rain that meant the falls were running also meant the snow closed the upper road for the season. The park is never sure when the road will close, but since we had been on the upper highway in the past we felt it was a good trade, falls for roads. The park has a free shuttle service that makes a loop around the Valley stopping at stores, museums, and the Ahwahnee Lodge. The Ahwahnee Lodge is the grand lodge of the park. We ate lunch here once and while the view was great the food was very, very expensive. The cost was over $50 for soup and sandwiches. We paid for a bus tour of the lower park and for $20 we thought it was worth it. The guide was knowledgeable and knew where to take the best pictures. We ate several times in the cafeteria and the food was good and not too expensive. There is a restaurant at the Yosemite Lodge, but we never ate there. Even in the winter Yosemite is a beautiful park and we vowed to return again.

We were sad to leave Yosemite, but all vacations must end. We drove to Red Bluff and stayed at the Best Western there. Not as nice as the Redding motel, but not as expensive either. A good place to sleep after a long drive. We drove home the next day with several rolls of film and a few gigabytes of pictures to remind us of what a wonderful birthday party we went to.

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