By Erin Huffstetler | 09/25/2019 | 1 Comment
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Continued from Summer Vacation 2019: Week 1
The second week of our vacation was jam-packed with new experiences. Looking back, it’s hard to believe this all fit into one week. But it did, and it was a blast.
After we woke up from our night of free tent camping in Grants Pass, OR, we jumped back in the car and drove to California. The girls and I were visiting the state for the first time, so we were really excited to explore somewhere new.
First up was a hike in Redwood State Park. Everyone agrees this is one of the best things we did on the trip, and it didn’t cost a thing.
Hiking among all those giant redwoods was like stepping back to the days when the dinosaurs roamed the earth, but with bridges to help you get over any tricky terrain.
We went on a Sunday morning, so we practically had the place to ourselves. The girls had a lot of fun posing with the giant redwoods.
Then, we got back in the car and continued along CA-101, until we came to the turnoff for the Avenue of the Giants.
It’s a 31-mile road that runs parallel to the CA-101, and has the largest remaining stand of virgin redwoods in the world.
There were lots of places to pull over and hike, so we stopped and hiked a couple trails.
Both of our girls are rock climbers, so they couldn’t resist a few fun poses.
One of the redwood stumps actually had climbing holds carved into it for this purpose.
Just past the Avenue of the Giants is the Shrine Drive-Thru Tree, a giant redwood that you can pay to drive through. I thought it would be expensive to do, but it was surprisingly affordable. In fact, we ended up with an unexpected discount. Since we had our car top carrier on the Element, it was too tall to go through the tree, so the man at the ticket booth offered us a discounted rate to drive up to the tree, and take as many pictures as we wanted. Interestingly, that rate was cheaper than the walk-thru rate. Works for me!
We snapped a couple pictures of the car. Then, we took a couple more of us standing inside the tree.
The property also had a few other attractions that were included in the admission price, including a couple redwood treehouses …
and a redwood stump that you could drive onto in your car.
That night we stumbled upon an awesome outdoor restaurant with live music, excellent food and the coolest atmosphere. I wish I had taken more pictures. They had huge pots with sunflowers and corn growing in them, to create little private rooms around a bunch of the tables. And I absolutely loved the effect the sun shades created.
We arrived at the Petaluma/San Francisco KOA later that night, and checked into our cabin. They had a two-night stay minimum, so we made this our base camp while we explored the area. I wish I had pictures to share with you because this KOA was awesome, but it doesn’t look like any of us took pictures of the campground. Rats!
We did, evidently, capture a picture of the ice cream sundaes that we ate there. #Huffstetlerpriorities
But really, that’s a big part of the reason we stay at KOA’s. Well, not the ice cream specifically, but all the extra amenities. When you check into a KOA, you receive a calendar of all the week’s activities. It includes things like ice cream sundae parties, roasting marshmallows, outdoor movie nights and crafts. Many of these activities are free, though some require a nominal fee. It’s the kind of stuff you would expect to find at a pricey, all-inclusive resort, but you’re getting it for the price of a camp site or cabin rental.
While we were at this KOA, we spent half a day thrift storing in Petaluma. Then, we drove into San Francisco for the afternoon.
We stopped at Fort Baker (free) for an awesome view of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a former Army post, turned National Park, so we explored some of the bluff trails and checked out Battery Yates, while we were there.
Then, we jumped back in our car and drove over the Golden Gate Bridge.
We explored the city a bit. Then, headed over to the Tenderloin district for banh mi at Saigon Sandwich. It’s been named America’s best ban mi by The New York Times, Food and Wine, Serious Eats and countless others, and it was every bit as delicious as everyone says. The $4 price tag was hard to beat, too. Unfortunately, I scarfed my sandwich before I thought to take a picture.
The neighborhood isn’t the greatest, so we ate in the car; then, made our way over to the Painted Ladies. By then, traffic was picking up, so we decided to call it a day, and headed back to our cabin.
We got up early the next morning, and drove to Santa Cruz for a treetop adventure at Mount Hermon Adventures. This is something I’d wanted to do for a while, and I knew it was something the girls would flip out over.
I was right.
We got to spend two hours on the course and had an absolute blast.
For the girls and me, it was one of the best things we did on the trip, and totally worth the splurge. Aaron didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as we did. He says he got his fill of that stuff in the Army, but he enjoyed watching us.
When our time was up, we grabbed lunch; then, drove to the Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay KOA.
The amenities at this KOA were ridiculous.
They had palm trees that you could climb (which both of our girls did).
And a full on beach area, complete with sand, ping pong, bocce ball, a jumping pillow, a snack shack and more.
This is definitely one of the nicest KOAs we’ve ever stayed at.
When we were planning our trip, I came across information about the Farmer’s Market that takes place at Old Monterey Marketplace every Tuesday night, so since it was Tuesday, we headed there for dinner.
There were so many great food choices, and we all got something different.
Afterwards, we headed to a quiet neighborhood beach that I found on Google.
We gasped over the condos that were built on the edge of a cliff.
Then, we collected shells, and enjoyed the sunset.
The next morning, we continued making our way down the Pacific Coast highway, and encountered some of the most stunning views of the whole trip.
The beaches were like none we’d seen before.
And we pulled over often to hike the beach trails.
Food was pretty scarce on this scenic drive, so by the time we pulled over for lunch we were all starving. Imagine our surprise when we bumped into the lead guitarist for Metallica at the deli we’d chosen.
We talked to him for a good 15-20 minutes, while we waited for our sandwiches, mostly about our trip (where we’d been, where we were headed); then, we got back on the road.
After a long day of driving, we finally made it to the Ventura Ranch KOA, and our lodgings for our night – a teepee! Yep, we got to stay in a teepee after all.
This particular teepee, came equipped with beds, plus a few other pieces of furniture; and it was quite roomy.
This was our first time staying in a teepee. Most KOAs only have a few (if they have any at all), so they fill up quickly, but this KOA had a bunch. If you’re interested in staying in one, I’ve put together a list of all the places you can stay in a teepee.
We arrived after the pool closed, and left before it opened, but there was an awesome pool on site, too.
We started the next day with a quick trip to Hollywood to see the Walk of Fame and Hollywood sign. And while, I guess, it’s good to be able to say we did it, no one loved it. It was just far too touristy, and all the street hustlers were incredibly aggressive.
But one redeeming thing about this little excursion: it didn’t cost much. We parked in a mall garage that validated your parking with any purchase; so we purchased one over-priced soda, and got out cheap.
The next stop of our day was more our speed: a trip to Sequoia National Park …
where we spent time hugging trees …
standing inside living trees …
standing inside once-living trees …
gawking at giant trees …
and posing with giant trees, including the famous General Sherman.
That night we stayed at the Visalia/Sequoia National Park KOA.
When we got up in the morning, I was looking over the paperwork that we’d been given at check in, and I discovered that we were just a short distance from Yosemite.
We had planned to head to Las Vegas next, but we hadn’t made reservations anywhere, so we quickly changed plans. I mean, who knows how long it’ll be before we make it out that way again?
So, on to Yosemite we went.
Where we saw El Capitan up close and personal.
Can you believe people attempt to climb that sucker without gear? No, thank you!
Yosemite was nice, but we actually enjoyed Inyo National Forest more. It borders the park, and we drove through it on the way out.
This brought us to a little town, called Lee Vining, where we enjoyed a tasty dinner in the courtyard of a quaint coffee shop.
The ride to our hotel was absolutely hysterical. In addition to being in the literal “middle of nowhere,” there were countless signs announcing road hazards, like dips that rivaled roller coasters, dust hazards and unfenced cattle that were free to room the roads. Oddly, there were no signs to warn us about all of the road runners darting in front of us.
When we finally arrived in Tonopah, NV, this is the first sign we saw. Yep, the literal middle of no where.
The hotel we stayed at was brand new and super nice, but I got a bit of a surprise when I looked out the window in the morning.
Yep, that’s a big fault line running right behind the hotel.
Which makes me wonder how they managed to get insurance for the building, or ever thought it would be a good idea to build there. We did some research when we got home, and discovered Tonopah has lots of seismic activity. In fact, they’ve had 141 earthquakes in the last year alone!
So, I guess we can add Tonopah to our list of free attractions.
Now, you might think we’d be eager to move on to somewhere safer, but nope.
Our next stop was Death Valley.
Where it was a mere 112 degrees.
Since we were there during the heat of the day, we settled for a visit to the visitor’s center and a drive through.
From there, we headed towards Las Vegas, but we got sidetracked by a 99 Cents Only Store sighting just outside the city. We don’t have these in the south, so this was very exciting for us.
Dollar stores (which we have) just aren’t nearly as good as 99 Cent stores. So, we went up and down every aisle studying everything …
and exclaimed over all the deals in the produce section …
before restocking our road trip snacks and getting back on the road. We spotted another one in Las Vegas, but didn’t stop. If it’s even better, don’t tell me.
We attempted to make a quick trip down The Strip, but our car wasn’t having it. Sitting on that hot asphalt in heavy traffic was quickly shooting up the engine temperature, so we aborted our plan, before our car overheated.
On to Hoover Dam we went.
Being frugal, we bypassed the expensive paid parking, and parked in one of the upper lots on the Arizona side of the dam (which is free).
Then, we gave ourselves a free walking tour of the dam, rather than paying the steep ticket prices. This saved us $30 per person, plus $10 in parking, and we don’t feel like we missed anything – especially since we’ve toured the inside of a dam before.
Afterwards we drove to the Williams/Exit 167/Circle Pine KOA in Williams, AZ, and called it a night.
Want to know where we went next? You’ll have to wait for the third installment to find out.