North California Day Trips
Updated: Apr 15, 2020
The chiefs may have just won the 54th super bowl, but a few months ago I had the opportunity to explore the city of the 49ers. Not only did I get to go to San Fransico, but I got to explore a good bit of NorCal when I went to Lake Tahoe, Napa Valley, and San Fransico all in 3 weeks time. In fact, I drove there and back from Sacramento to Nappa on a Saturday, and the next day did the same there and back travel but to San Fransico. That was a lot of driving in one weekend and it is safe to say I was extremely tired the next day as I dragged myself to work.
I would say my drive to Napa Valley was the prettiest drive I've ever taken had I not just experienced the drive to Lake Tahoe two weeks before. The drive to Lake Tahoe was so stunningly beautiful that it was dangerously difficult to keep my wandering eyes on the road (Thank you, T Swift, for that line). There are no pictures or videos I could show you that could do the scenery justice. To my great disappointment, I did not bring my preferred camera to this outing. Every time I think back on it, I deeply regret it. However, I did take my little Osomo Pocket cam, so I was able to get a few little videos to document my time there. I made sure to pick some really lame royalty free music for this short lame video I threw together. I probably should have put more effort into capturing footage while there, but I was freezing the wind really was "that bad." This video definitely wasn't me putting my best foot forward, but I made it, so I'm putting it here. It would probably actually make me feel better if you just don't watch it...
The day was very nice. I got up around 6am to begin the drive. After marveling at the sights through my car windows, I found a place to park and silently prayed it was a legal spot and that I wouldn't get ticketed. I found this nice local breakfast joint and had a bite to eat. The high winds were so bad that my original plan to ride a sky liner up to a high point and hike a short distance to get a great view of the lake was no longer an option. I ended up spending most of my time exploring the village and shopping around. I also did a good deal of driving all-around South Lake Tahoe before settling on a short and easy hiking spot so I could go up to the edge of the lake. Shortly after, I started making my way back to Sacramento.
I want to be completely real with you. Not bringing my preferred camera was not the only way I found myself unprepared for my day trip to Lake Tahoe. It was intensely windy, freezing cold, and I did not bring a proper coat. That ended up cutting this day trip a little shorter than I would have liked. I would love to go back during the warmer and sunnier months to be able to best enjoy biking, hiking, and other outdoor activities. Also, on a personal note, this wasn't the ideal weekend to be away from home. I missed the birth of my third nephew, I didn't get to go to the last Rangers game in Globe Life Park with the rest of my family, and I got to sit in a hotel room by myself. I say this not out of self-pity, but to reinforce the fact that everything is not always as it seems. Someone can look like they are doing cool things and having a great time, but it doesn't always mean they are. As unfortunate as that perfect storm was, I am still grateful for the Lake Tahoe experience. But now, on to more pleasant day trips that didn't take place in the frigid cold, high winds, or during important events at home!
Now I don't really like wine very much, but you can't go to Nappa Valley and not visit a vineyard to go wine tasting. Honestly, I prefer to eat my calories rather than drink them, so I don't often drink alcohol at all. That put me in the great minority while on this day trip. This was perhaps the most unplanned trip I have ever taken. I just got up, typed Napa into maps, and started driving.
Another beautiful drive came and went, and before I knew it I was surrounded by tons of vineyards that went for miles and miles along both sides of the road. I was driving along and thought, what do I do now? I did the only thing I could think of to do and turned into a random Vinyard hoping that a reservation wasn't required. Turns out, I made a wonderful random decision. The place was super cool and I was able to do a wine tasting in what turned out one of the oldest Vineyards in Napa, V. Sattui Winery. Thanks to some generous wine pouring, I ended up walking out of the tasting having had more than I paid for and more than I expected. I ended up just enjoying the surroundings and taking pictures for the amount of time it took for me be able to safely drive so I could get lunch. I went to what ended up being a spontaneously interesting lunch, then drove around to explore Napa more. Afterword I decided it was time to head back, so back to Sacramento I went.
I had thought briefly about going to San Fransisco that weekend but I wasn't sure I wanted to go by myself. I'm pretty independent and enjoy a good solo outing, but I had been away traveling by myself for while at this point and was beginning to tire of it. I also wasn't sure if San Francisco was the best place for a girl by herself to go. I literally just woke up that morning and was like, "yah, I'm gonna go." I had learned from going to Napa the day before that I wanted to plan this one out a little more, so I grabbed a hotel breakfast and figured out what I wanted to do and what was doable for me in a day. I knew that I wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge, drive across the bridge, and there was this cool little fairy boat tour that would take you on the water to sail around Alcatraz and under the bridge. There was also a lighthouse in the bay area I was interested in seeing if I felt up to it.
When I drove into San Fransisco and audible, "wow" came out of my mouth. It really has it all. I had never seen anything like it. It felt like a high-end beach town married a big city, but it still had mountains, hills, and trees surrounding it. I started with my first priority, seeing the Golden. I got there pretty early and the entire bridge was covered in fog. It was beautiful but I also thought, "Did I just drive all this way to not even be able to see the bridge?" I had googled a spot to view the bridge that seemed the closest and brought out my good friend maps to lead the way. After a gas-guzzling uphill drive, I found a spot to park and walked the rest of the way to the viewpoint. All I saw was the fog... I hung out for a while and the fog very slowly started to dissipate. The viewpoint ended up being amazing and I was able to see it from a distance and get super close. Also, in the hours I spent waiting for the fog to slowly go away, I was able to get some fantastic pictures that turned out much better than expected. The pictures of the bridge with the fog are substantially better than the pictures without it. I ended up being challenged while taking the pictures in Napa and San Fransico because I brought my small camera with only one 50mm prime lens. This is a lens that is stuck at a 50mm zoom, which isn't ideal for landscapes and it doesn't give you very much versatility in what photos you can take. A great lens for me to have brought would have been a 24-70mm zoom lens that has great versatility and could have given me those wider angles to capture the long bridge with. Basically, I was all over the place because I had to move my own body to different locations because I couldn't simply move my camera lens.
After a long while at the bridge, I knew I needed to drive across it to get to the pier that the fairy would take off from. An amazing thing happened and my maps decided to stop working. This great friend I had come to rely so heavily on turned its back on me. I just had to figure it out... I made it to the bridge and drove across! It was actually stressful because the traffic is crazy and the lanes are small. Once I was in the city, it was horrible. I got honked at for doing nothing and was unsure of how I would make it to the Pier with no direction. I went the only direction I could think of and that was to find the nearest U-turn and get myself out of there before I was lost beyond help. I got to drive across the bridge once more in the opposite direction as I decided to change plans and go to the lighthouse that I knew wasn't too far from my viewpoint of the bridge. I literally have no idea how people in San Fransico drive anywhere
After a pleasant but chilly visit to the lighthouse and great conversation with the park rangers, it was time to head back to the home base. The phone map was still giving me trouble, but I was able to find my way enough to where it started working again and I could get back to Sacramento.
What Was I Doing?
The only other travel I took was to a Jonas Brothers concert in Downtown Sacramento right next to where I was working. It was a fun time and my 12-year-old self was really living. Other than the bigger trips, I got pretty familiar with Sacramento after spending so much time there. I had a local coffee shop I loved that served a mean hot chocolate, Great local food that I miss, and despite the not so lovely things about the capital of California, there was a certain charm to Sacramento that I really liked. I also took a small day trip to the City of Davis and visited the campus of UC Davis where I grabbed breakfast, attended a church service, and saw more bikes in one place than I ever though possible.
A lot of people have wondered what I was doing in Sacramento. It has been an interesting and unique experience, but long story short, I was out there for 5 weeks on work trips filling a need in an office in West Sacramento. I flew there and back to Texas every two weeks until my last week (Hello airline miles!). Even though I was there for work, I had the weekends free and I knew I didn't want to sit around in my hotel alone all day. Sacramento is very centrally located and there was access to a few bucket list locations, and I thought, "why not?" Had I gotten to spend another weekend there, Yosemite was next on my travel list.
The whole experience was a lot, but I'm happy to have had it. I know tons of things I will do differently if I ever get to opportunity to visit one of these beautiful places again, like going in the summer to Tahoe, horseback riding and the wine train in Napa, and the trolly with friends in San Fransisco. I learned that there is a side to travel that people don't talk about or glorify, like early mornings, long drives, living out of suitcases, crazy expenses, difficult parking, crowds, and long travel days. I know now that while spontaneity sounds nice, I would rather have my trips planned out with a good group of friends family to enjoy everything with. My next big trip will probably be to the world showcase in Epcot.