California / USA, August 2015~August 2016

Weekend Escapes in North California

Exploring Northern California by low-budget road-trips from Point Reyes to Yosemite

Nova and I got married last August, and we didn’t have a honeymoon vacation. Instead, we took weekend roadtrips around North California. We wanted to make these trips budget friendly, so we slept in our car (Subaru Outback 2004), never took day off from the daily job, cooked noodles in campfire, and brushed our teeth under the moonlight. Sleeping in car saved our money and time, choosing wherever you’d like to sleep is also a freedom that you don’t want to give up with once you taste it. It’s like a gateway to choosing a homeless life. The other thing we could do would be hitchhiking and camping. Since we were limited with the weekends, hitchhiking wouldn’t work for us, but if you got time, we think hitchiking and camping is the best way to travel. In this story, we’ll tell where went to during our weekends in Cali.

Big Sur

Our first roadtrip as “married couple” was to Big Sur. We left home at about 8pm right after the work on friday and arrived the nearby city, Carmel at midnight. We parked in the Carmel beach and fell a sleep. About an hour after, we woke up with police flashlight in our faces. Private security didn’t want us there and called the police. I think this made our night even more romantic. We got out of the Carmel city and made it to Big Sur same night. We had to wake up and drive 20 more minutes but it worthed it. We parked in one of the first view points and went to sleep under the moonlight. Next morning, we woke up early to watch the sunrise, brushed our teeth and had some fruits in this spot. We drove from north to south, stopped by at some view points, at Pfeiffer Beach where I broke my feet last year, and Mcway Falls. We kept driving after Mcway falls since it was just about noon, and made picnic near the ocean.

Lime Kiln Point (Saturday Evening)

Lime Kiln is on the south of Big Sur. It’s a campground and a beach under the bridge. It’s quite nice. A river is getting mixed with the ocean, and there is little pools surrounded by small rocks. We had the sunset in Lime Kiln beach and drove back to Big Sur that night.

Point Lobos (Sunday Morning - Afternoon)

We love birds! And Point Lobos is one of their paradises. It’s between Carmel and Big Sur, and opens only during workhours. We visited here on Sunday, and spent at least 3-4 hours walking and watching. Highly recommended.

Yosemite National Park

We visited Yosemite during a long weekend so there were three days free. We had no reservations nor plans, just downloaded bunch of Yosemite maps, prepared a bag of food (bread, nutella, fruits, and canned food) and started driving on friday, right after getting out of the work. It was about 1am when we arrived Yosemite. We parked near some grass and went to sleep, woke up with sunrise. Yosemite Valley can be very crowded on long weekends, and it was one of those. We got of the valley and started driving around, hiking and taking photos.

Sunset At Taft Point (Saturday Evening)

At the end of the first day, we went to Taft Point. It’s a 1.5 miles hike, and definitely worths it for its sunset view. It was one of our favorite spots in Yosemite.

Glacier Point (Sunday Morning)

After the sunset at Taft Point, we drove to Glacier Point, but actually parked under a tree before arriving there. There was a rocky area which is good for both star photography, camping, and watching the sunrise. We spent the night there by preparing canned salmon sandwiches on a rock and watched a movie then went to sleep. The sun was rising behind the El Capitan. We moved our sleeping bags to the rocky area for watching the sun beautifully poetically touching the earth.

Mono Meadow Trail (Sunday Noon)

We hiked the Mono Meadow after the sunrise. It’s an easy and quite enjoyable trail nearby Glacier Point. We saw a deer family there.
We drove to Tioga Road after Mono Meadow trail, and saw these deers where we were taking a short rest.

Tenaya Lake (Sunday Afternoon)

Our first destination on Tiago Road was Tenaya Lake. It’s near the road, so you don’t have to hike. We parked and went to the beach, spent some time swimming, and walked around the lake during the sunset time.

Mono Lake (Monday Morning & Noon)

Our next destination after Tenaya Lake was Mono Lake. After sunset, we got out of Yosemite and drove to Mono Lake. After about 1.5 hours, we were near Mono Lake but couldn’t figure out where to park, sleep and wake up to sunrise. We had no maps, didn’t even check out the photos of the lake before going there. I stopped in a restaurant near the road and asked where would be the best place to wait the sunrise. Despite that I was in a quite fancy restaurant with dirty & bad smelling clothes, the people were so polite. They gave me a map, showed me photos of the lake from their mobile phones. “South Tufa” was the place recommended. So we drove to South Tufa and slept there in the car.

Back To Yosemite (Monday Afternoon)

After Mono Lake, we see Yosemite once more before going back to home on the last day of long weekend.

Catedral Lake (Monday Afternoon ~ Night)

Our last stop in this roadtrip was Catedral Lake. It’s a 4.5 miles hike to reach the lake from Tiago Road, and it definitely worths. We waited the sunset there, met some people camping around, and hiked back to the car. It was the last day of the long weekend and we drove back to our home in Oakland after Catedral Lake.
One year later, We came to Catedral lake for camping again. This time the ground was quite wet, and the rocky hill on the left still had some snow.

Point Reyes

We drove to Point Reyes on a Saturday morning and arrived there at noon. We found a map in a museum on the way, and figured out where to see right before arriving Point Reyes. We were in lighthouse by the evening, and watched sunrise there. Then we drove to lifeboat station and parked near there to eat and sleep.

Chimney Rock (Sunday Morning)

Chimney Rock is about half a mile away from the lifeboat station where we spent the night. We woke up at about 4:30am and hiked there to watch the sunrise. I highly recommend watching the sunrise here. While the sun was rising, we witness the morning routine of birds, sea lions, fishes and of course, deers! It was like a carnaval. I witnessed such a rich scene only in the refugee camp where children would go out of the tents and turning the camp to their playground while the sun was rising.

Pierce Point (Sunday Evening & Night)

We both didn’t know about elks until we hiked to the pierce point. A male elk with group of female elks were sitting near the trail, and someone explained us why. The male elk was the “winner” of the male elks in their community, so he’d lead the female elks to wherever he wants to go. We saw them going somewhere near the ocean when we were hiking back. A few miles further, we saw the “loser” elks. They were also near the trail, and just hanging out all together, except one. The elk with broken rack was excluded from both groups, he was near a lake by himself, with a white duck.

Lake Tahoe

Our last weekend trip in California was to Lake Tahoe and Travertine Hot Springs. We drove there to North Lake Tahoe on a friday night, parked near the lake and slept. Next morning we spent a few hours hiking around and taking photos. Lake Tahoe is famous for winter sports but we just passed there without spending any money. Both Nova and I want to try winter sports another time though. Our destination was Travertine Hot Springs after Lake Tahoe.

Travertine Hot Springs

Travertine Hot Springs is two hours south from Lake Tahoe. It’s nearby a small town named Bridgeport, and easily accessible. It’s natural, there isn’t any entrance fee, and it has a nice landscape.

Hilltop Hot Springs

Another nice natural hot pool in North California is near Mammoth Lakes; Hilltop Hot Springs.

If you live in Northern California and like to get around on the weekends, there is a lot of stuff to explore. The only blocker I can imagine would be the cost, which was my concern, and I tried to show you that you don't need that much money for traveling. Get a cheap subaru, turn it to your hotel and travel everywhere with it!