Mike and I both had to be in the San Francisco / Sacramento area for work in 2017, so we decided to make a long weekend out of it and do some exploring of northern California. To begin our trip, we headed to the north west to explore the Redwood Forest. There are actually multiple State Parks and a National Park with redwood trees along California’s US Highway 101.
Chandelier Drive Thru Tree
The first park we went to was the Drive Thru Tree Park in Leggett, CA. Earlier this year, the famous drive thru tree fell over during the rain storms. Fortunately, the Chandelier Tree still stands tall and proud at 315ft tall and 21 feet wide. The tree is estimated to be 2,400 years old, which is so incredible to think about. You do have to pay $5 dollars to get into the park, but I think it is worth it, and they give you $1 dollar off in the gift shop. We drove thru the tree in our Jeep Patriot with the windows extended. We were extremely close to touching the tree, but it was a really awesome experience. The park also had bear carvings out of old redwoods that had fallen over throughout the park. After we drove through the tree, we went into the gift shop and bought a little tree magnet in the shape of a tree made out of redwood to add to our magnet collection. It is a really cute magnet. When I picked it up, I accidentally touched a little mouse; that was a great start to the trip.
Avenue of the Giants (Humbolt State Park)
The Avenue of the Giants is a world-famous scenic drive that parallels the Highway 101 for 31-miles. Hombolt State Park is 51,222 acres of redwood groves, and it has the largest remaining stand of virgin redwoods in the world.
Founders Grove Trail
We hiked along the Founder’s Grove trail, which was the most amazing experience with nature I have had in a very long time. It is only about a half mile loop, but it is so delicate, and it seems much longer because of all of the ginormous trees surrounding you; there is so much to take in. I think when visiting a place like this, it is important to use all of your senses: seeing, smelling, touching, and hearing (okay maybe not tasting). You can probably only see 100 feet in front of you because the park is so full of thick trees. Walking through the forest was so quiet and errie but at the same time it was very peaceful.
The Founders Tree was dedicated to those who wanted to Save the Redwoods. The famous Dyerville Giant tree was recognized as the “Champion” Coast Redwood as certified by the American Forestry Association until it fell on March 24, 1991. Before it fell, it was at least 362 feet tall, which is comparable to a 30-story building. It is estimated to be 17 feet in diameter and 52 feet in circumference, and probably weighs over 1,000,000 pounds. Crazy to think about how long these trees have been around to grow so massive!
We drove to the Fern Canyon trail, which is in the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and it is 2 hours north of the Avenue of the Giants. Once you get to the Gold Bluff’s Beach Road off of the US Highway 101, you have to drive on this dirt road for 30 minutes to actually get to the trail. The road was extremely bumpy and had so many holes in it; I was extremely thankful we rented a Jeep. There is a park station where you can leave your donation for the park; we filled it out and left $10 dollars.
Because of all of the rain that Northern California has received in the Winter / Spring of 2017, the road was washed away, and we had to drive through a river to get to the actual trail head. We almost didn’t go through the river because we had a rental car, but when we were about to do a different hike, these three girls found us that had driven through the river and completed the hike. We drove them back through the river so they could get to their car, and then we began our hike of the Fern Canyon.
Fern Canyon is something truly unreal and special. It is an amazing display of ferns growing deep vertical walled canyon with the creek bed lining the canyon floor. At least 5 species of fern and dozens of other plants such as redwoods, mushrooms, clovers, hanging moss, which creates such a beautiful and exciting setting. Fern Canyon was used for several scenes in the movie Jurassic Park 2: Lost Worlds (1997), which was really cool to think about when walking along the trail. We were dinosaur hunting ;).
The Fern Canyon trail was a little challenging because we had to cross the creek bed by walking on top of logs and stumps, sometimes dipping our feet in the water (I was very thankful for my Ahnu waterproof hiking boots) and there is an amazing staircase built throughout. It was so quiet, we could hear the ocean crashing in the distance, insects and birds chirping, and the trees swaying in the wind. I would sometime get a little afraid that we weren’t supposed to be there, and that an animal would jump put at us, but nothing ever happened. On our way back, we saw multiple sets of Elk sun bathing and eating dinner.
On our way back, I had Mike stop on the side of the road so that I could take a photo hugging the largest tree I have ever seen in my life. It was really two trees that joined together to become one at the bottom. So beautiful and amazing.
After our trip to the Redwoods, we drove to Napa Valley and stayed at the Napa Valley Marriott Hotel & Spa. The resort was recently renovated, and we had the luxury to get an amazing couples massage. The massage facilities were extremely clean and nice; we were very pleased. The hotel also had a really nice pool, fire pits outside, and they had wine tastings every day in the garden as well.
Since we last minute decided to go to Napa instead of spending an extra day in the Redwoods, we did not really have a plan for which vineyards we wanted to go to. On Saturday, we randomly choose two vineyards in walking distance from each other to go to tastings at, and on Sunday, we bottled our own blend; I’ll get to that.
The Andretti Winery
The first winery we went to was the Andretti Winery, which is owned by the Nascar driver Mario Andretti. We did a wine tasting on site at the bar with some cheese and meats, and then walked around a little bit. In my opinion, they should have had more tables set up for people to do their tastings outside, but it was still nice regardless.
Monticello Vineyards – Corley Family Napa Valley
After the Andretti Winery, we walked down the street to a family owned vineyard called Monticello Vineyards. It was in a cute mansion style house, and there was no one in the tasting room besides Mike and I. We received a two hour long tasting of 10 different wines with one of the workers. It was very personalized, and a very fun experience.
Judd’s Hill Winery
On Sunday, we went to Judd’s Hill Winery, we did the Bottling Bootcamp, and we created our own blend of wine that we are going to serve at our wedding rehearsal dinner to our family and friends. It was such a personalized and fun experience. We worked with four types of wine straight from the barrel, and tweaked the percentages of each wine until we created the wine that we decided was perfect for us. After we decided our percentages, we bottled 16 bottles by syphoning the wine from the barrels, mixing it, and then using different machines to bottle the wine, seal the wine with a cork, seal the wine with a sticker, and add our own personalized labels to the bottles. I would highly recommend this experience.
On our final night, we spent the night in Sacramento and explored the city a little.
California State Capitol
We visited the California State Capitol building, and it was so beautiful. I loved how they had palm trees and redwoods in front of the building; very perfect to represent all of California. Around the Capitol building were other beautiful court buildings and government buildings. It was fun to walk around and see the area where so many important decisions for the state are made.
We also visited Old Sacramento, which seemed like it did not belong in this Century. The buildings were raised on stilts because of the historic flooding that occurs along the river, and everything had old store fronts. There were also horse and carriage rides. It reminded me a lot of New Orleans in Louisiana.
We ate dinner at the Delta King – Pilothouse Restaurant, which is on a ferry boat that is docked in the river. The restaurant was small, but we shared a lovely salmon wrapped in prosciutto dinner with a cheese board and some wine.
Mike and I visited Mammoth Mountain, which is part of Yosemite National Park, and let me start by saying that I have never seen so much snow in my life as I did in Mammoth. For the 2016-2017 snow season, Mammoth Mountain has received 510 inches of snow, and the mountain expects to remain open until July for skiers and snowboarders.
We rented a cabin with some of Mikes friends, and we also rented snowboards for a day. We ended up buying someones passes because they were leaving, so we got a really good deal for only $70 per pass per person; Mammoth’s lift passes are about double that regularly. It was only Mike’s second time snowboarding, but it didn’t matter at all because we had an amazing time. He would ride down the mountain first and I would follow him. He got a lot more confident on the board, which was really great to watch!
The drive from Los Angeles to Mammoth Mountain is about 5 hours along the highway 395. While driving north, the highway is surrounded by the Sequoia National Park to your left, and Death Valley National Park to your right. It is amazing to drive along the highway for miles and see the same mountains in the distance. On our way back, we stopped in a little town called Lone Pine, and ate at a little cute diner. We also drove along the Alabama Hills to check out some of the crazy land formations that have been left behind. Typically, I do not enjoy long drives, but this one was really not so bad because it was really beautiful to look at and think about the history.