Visiting Yosemite National Park, USA

I thought we’d go to Yosemite National Park today, because it’s a pretty incredible place. Like many Australians, we didn’t really know where to start in planning our visit to the park, and a lot of information we found online seemed to be more geared towards Americans, so here are some tips that I hope will help others make the most of their first visit to this gorgeous place.

HOW DO I GET THERE?
Drive. Well, fly to the general vicinity, then drive. If you fly into San Francisco, it’ll be about a 4 hour drive, around 5 hours from Los Angeles, or 7 hours from Las Vegas.

 

HOW LONG DO I NEED?
It’ll really depend on how much you want to do – for a bit of a taste, 3 days is a good amount; if you want to do some camping and serious hiking, give yourself a solid week.

WHERE SHOULD I BASE MYSELF?
You’ll need to consider the time and money trade off when you decide where to stay. The closer you are to the park, the more accommodatiom tends to cost. But if you go with something cheaper, it may add on quite a bit of driving time to and from the park each day.

We stayed in the Yosemite Valley at the Yosemite Westgate Lodge – it took us around an hour to get to El Capitan, had a restaurant and laundry on site, and very big, comfortable rooms. If you’d like to camp within the park, head to the National Park Service website for more information.

 

CAN I PARK MY CAR IN THE PARK?
Absolutely – car parking areas are all well signed, and they have a free, eco-friendly shuttle buses to scoot you around between major sights. It’s best to check for road closures and snow chain requirements in winter online before setting off, too.

DO I HAVE TO PAY TO ENTER?
Yes – you can buy a seven day pass from USD $30.00 per car from the entrance gates situated on all the roads into the park. Basically, plug “Yosemite National Park” into your GPS and prepare to hand over $30 when you get close to the park!

 

WHAT FACILITIES ARE AVAILABLE?
If you head to he Visitor Center in the middle of the Yosemite Valley, you’ll find park staff to answer your questions, as well as a pretty impressive general store (souvenirs and food and groceries), bathrooms, a café, camping grounds and shuttle buses. When you’re out and about, taking your long drives through the park, you will be able to find toilets periodically, but fair warning: they’re drop toilets…

WHAT SHOULD I SEE IF I ONLY HAVE A FEW DAYS?
If you have limited time, I’d recommemd the following…

Day 1: Drive to the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center and leave your car at one of the parking lots in the area. Between walking around and using the free shuttke, you’ll be able to see summits like the Half Dome, El Capitan, Eagle Peak and Sentinel Dome, walk along Tenaya Creek and the Merced River, maybe see some deer while you picnic at Mirror Lake, and check out the Yosemite Conservation Heritage Center.

Day 2: Get into your car, stock up on snacks, and drive the Tioga Pass Road all the way up to Tuolumne Meadow and back. Make sure you’re wearing comfortable shoes so you can hike around Olmsted Point, and pack a picnic lunch to eat on the shore of Tenaya Lake.

WHAT SHOULD I BRING?
• Sunscreen. Always. And actually use it!
• Sunglasses. When that sun hits white rock or reflects off the water, your eyes will thank you.
• Layers. Just because the day starts cold, doesn’t mean it won’t heat up. Light layers are your friends.
• Comfortable shoes you can walk all day on uneven terrain in.
• A backpack – you don’t need to be toting a handbag around here.
• A map. If you’re planning on hiking, you don’t want to rely on your phone – batteries die, signals are lost. If you intend on exploring, even a small map is a good idea.
• A water bottle and snacks. You can of course buy it all there, but it’s always much cheaper to BYO. Just remember to take all of your scraps with you, because bears.

UMMM… BEARS??!
Yeah, that’s a thing. All you really need to know is stick to the marked paths as much as possible, if there aren’t many other people around, make plenty of noise as you walk (they don’t like that), and when you’re done with your picnic, pick up any pieces of lettuce and ham that have dropped out of your sandwich, and dispose of all food waste in one of the many bear-proof bins you’ll find in the park.

6 Stops To Make On The Tioga Pass Road in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite is a beautiful park, and the big drawcard sights are every bit as impressive as you think they’ll be. The Half Dome and El Capitan are imposingly gorgeous, and the little museum and cemetery are well worth the look, too, and I’ll certainly get to those.

But everyone goes to the Yosemite Valley to see those, so after a day there, we thought we’d take the path less travelled and drive the Tioga Pass Road and see what the other side of the park had to offer.

With a bit of help from my beloved Sygic Travel app, I plotted out our path from our accommodation at the Yosemite Westgate Lodge to the Tuolumne Meadows, and saved the spots we liked as we went… here’s the map we ended up with (not quite to scale, but the approximate distances between each stop are marked in there!):

It’s a truly delightful drive, and so easy to do by yourself. We did this drive, with all our stops, in about 5 hours – if you’re a hiker, though, leave more time than that!

 

Stop 1: Buy your pass
This was the entrance closest to our accommodation, so if you’re planning to stay in the same spot, just roll on up, pay your USD$30 for a week’s visit, take your pass, and roll on through! Keep your receipt, because you’ll need to show it again on your way out.

 

Stop 2: The sheer rocks
This really took us by surprise; we pulled over so I could take a photo, and ended up scrambling up the rocks a way, just because we could! Fantastic view, several squirrels, and fun to be crawling around out there! Be careful pulling over because there isn’t a carpark, just a little space on the side of the road.

 

Stop 3: The little lake
I don’t know what it’s called, but this adorable little lake just comes out of nowhere, and there was no one else around so we had it all to ourselves! There’s a little inlet to pull your car in, then take the faint path leading down to the water.

Top left: the sheer rocks
Bottom left: Olmsted Point
Right: the little lake

Stop 4: Olmsted Point
Holy wow this place was incredible! Plenty of space to park your car, and a few trails if you want to hike! Take the path marked about 300m to the viewpoint, and find yourself basically at the top of the world, surrounded by granite and pines.

 

Stop 5: Tenaya Lake
This place is perfection.. the water is so clear you can see straight to the bottom, and the rocks are high and flat enough to picnic on, which we did. There were a few cars about, but still few enough that we could pick a spot on the water to relax on our own.

Top: Tenaya Lake
Bottom: Tuolumne Meadow

Stop 6: Tuolumne Meadow
This was the highest point of our day trip, at an elevation of just over 8500 feet. A big, flat, wide open meadow, with the river running through it. Again, lots of parking available, but such a big area that we didn’t see anyone else around until we were walking back to the car.

Top 10 Things To Do in San Francisco

When I worked as a travel consultant, I heard over and over and over again how much Melbournians loved San Francisco because they were such similar cities. I heard so many people singing San Francisco’s praises, and because of that, I was a little apprehensive to visit – high expectations generally lead to big let downs. But if you can put all of the comparisons and people telling you “you HAVE to love it!” aside, you might find that you actually will love it. I did – it’s a great literary city with fantastic food and a rich history. And while there is a heap to do, here are my top 10 picks!

1. See Alcatraz Island
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https://www.alcatrazcruises.com/
Where? Departs from Pier 33
Why go? It brings history to life. It’s mind blowing, because walking through it (with the best audio commentary I’ve ever heard), it’s actually pretty easy to imagine how things would have been for the men held there. It’s stepping back in time in the most fascinating way, and it should be top of your list when you visit.
How long will you need? Allow a good 3 hours
Cost? Adult tickets currently start at USD35.50 per person
Read more:
Alcatraz

 

2. Hang out in Golden Gate Park
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https://goldengatepark.com/
Where? The massive chunk of green between Fulton St and Lincoln Way
Why go? It’s a really beautiful park and offers quite a lot of activities – there’s the museum, the Conservatory of Flowers, Botanical Gardens, California Academy of Sciences, Japanese Tea Garden, playgrounds, archery field, and a HEAP more.
How long will you need? Depends how much you want to do!
Cost? Wandering around the park is free, but specific attractions all attract their own fees – more details on the website.
Read more:
 – San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park

 

3. Take a coffee and croissant break at Tartine Bakery
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http://www.tartinebakery.com/
Where? 600 Guerrero St, San Francisco
Why go? Because this was one of the best almond croissants I’ve ever stuffed my face with, and husband’s coffee was the size of a small fish bowl. And it was actually good!
How long will you need? Give yourself a bit of time because there’s often a wait for tables. If you snag one, though, stay as long as you want to keep eating and drinking!
Cost? USD$10.00 will get you a coffee, a croissant and change. Worth it.
Read more:
 – Eat here: Tartine Bakery, San Francisco

 

4. Pick up some reading material at City Lights Bookstore
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http://citylights.com/
Where? 261 Columbus Ave, San Francisco
Why go? City Lights is an interesting combination of independent bookstore and publishing house with a strong connection to the Beat Generation; not only does it live next door to Jack Kerouac Alley, but founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti was arrested in the 1950’s after publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howl & Other Poems on obscenity charges.
How long will you need? Book nerds – give yourself an hour. Normal people – 10 minutes should suffice.
Cost? Depends how many books you’re taking home!
Read more:
 – Shop here: City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco

 

5. Eat all of the chocolate at Ghirardelli Square
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http://www.ghirardellisq.com/
Where?  900 North Point Street at the corner of Beach and Larkin Streets
Why go? Because chocolate. The original Ghirardelli chocolate factory. They make chocolate, They sell chocolate. They serve it up in hot drinks and cute desserts. That should be all the reason you need. Chocolate. Also, there’s other stuff, like a pub, shops, the occasional live music set.
How long will you need? Chocoholics – an hour or two to shop and eat. Normal people – maybe half an hour. And get your heads checked.
Cost? Depends how much chocolate you’ll be wanting to take home…
Read more:
Ghirardelli Square, San Francisco

 

6. Get lost in Chinatown, and stop for dim sum when you get hungry
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http://www.sanfranciscochinatown.com/
Where? Yummy Yummy will feed you well at 758 Pacific Ave
Why go? San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of the best in the world, and for good reason – it’s enormous! Which means you’ll be hungry after doing laps of it – Yummy Yummy was where we stopped, and it was a great move. Amazing food, great prices, homely atmosphere!
How long will you need? A good half a day to explore and eat
Cost? Everything you see above that we ate cost us around USD$30.00 (including tip)
Read more:
– Eat here: Yummy Yummy Dim Sum, San Francisco, USA

 

7. Eat seafood and people watch at Fisherman’s Wharf
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http://www.fishermanswharf.org/
Where? Fisherman’s Wharf
Why go? There is SO much to do around there – shopping, eating, activities like Madame Tussauds, the aquarium, Pier 39, the Maritime National Historical Park, sightseeing tours and sea lion watching.
How long will you need? A few hours
Cost? Depends what you’re doing – we grabbed a cup of fresh seafood and sat by the water and watched the world go buy, and that only cost a few dollars!

 

8. Cheer on the 49ers!
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http://www.prontoshuttles.com/
Where? Levi’s Stadium is located in Santa Clara, about an hour from San Francisco by car
Why go? While husband and I both very much wanted to see an NFL game, the distance of the 49ers stadium from the city was very off-putting, until we found out about GameDay Shuttle (now Pronto Shuttles) – through them we were able to organise a single game pass for us both which included a shuttle service from the city to the game and back, and for an extra fee we added on the Fiesta Pre-Game pass – lunch and drinks at a Mexican restaurant near the stadium with the rest of the people on the shuttle! It was the best experience, and I’d absolutely do it again!
How long will you need? All day
Cost? We paid around USD$85.00 for the shuttle and buffet lunch (not including game tickets), but I believe Pronto’s services start from as little as USD$29.00 for a single pass.

 

9. Check out the street art
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Where? Everywhere!
Why go? There’s no one place to go, it’s more a case of keeping an eye out and wandering around the smaller streets as well as the main ones. The street art in this city is incredible, so when you see a giant mural on a wall, take the time to actually stop and look at it!
How long will you need? All day, every day!
Cost? Free!!!

 

10. The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps
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http://www.tiledsteps.org/
Where? Moraga St, between 15th and 16th Aves
Why go? Because it’s gorgeous. It’s a true neighbourhood effort, and a shining example of what can be achieved when people work together. It’s also a great way to work off all of those delicious calories you’ve been eating.
How long will you need? Leave an hour – you may want to kick back and relax after climbing those stairs!
Cost? Free