Tag Archive | Trip Advisor California

Majestic Yosemite Hotel

California

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Now is the time to start planning your next vacation! Early fall and late spring are perfect times to visit Yosemite National Park and avoid some of the summer crowds. My husband and I went  to Yosemite this past April and the weather was perfect. The crowds were also very manageable this time of the year.

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Plan your trip far enough ahead of time to stay at the beautiful Majestic Yosemite Hotel, which now may be called The Ahwahnee Hotel (after an age-old, legal name dispute). This architectural gem is located inside the park and provides premium lodging for a visit to this area. The hotel was built in the 1920s and was designed to fit in with, and reflect, its natural surroundings. It has a striking granite facade, magnificent log-beamed ceilings, massive stone hearths, large public spaces, and richly colored Native American art throughout. I was intrigued with the rather unique blend of Native American design and Art Deco. The 1920s era shines through in the woodwork, light fixtures, elegant stained glass, tapestries, and ornate stenciling on walls and overhead beams. It is beautiful.

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The Majestic Yosemite Hotel is all about location, location, location. Parking is hard to come by all throughout the park, even in off-season. If you stay at this hotel, you park in the property’s own parking lot (with a hotel pass) and never have to drive inside the park again. It is situated in the heart of Yosemite Valley near the base of Half Dome and Glacier Point and a short walk to Yosemite Falls and Yosemite Village. Many locations within the valley are very easy to walk to on well-marked paved trails. You may also choose to take free park shuttles from the bus stop right in front of the hotel. Staying at this hotel makes everything very convenient and hassle-free.

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Not only did we enjoy the convenient parking, walking trails, and shuttles – we enjoyed all the amenities that the Majestic Yosemite Hotel offered guests. There was a great bar/restaurant for drinks and casual dining on the ground floor. There was a very fancy dining room (reservations needed) for fine dining and nightly entertainment. There was a large gift shop, a candy/snack shop, daily kid activities, nightly star-gazing, afternoon tea and cookies, heated swimming pool, and large lawn area for relaxing. On the Sunday afternoon that we were here, the hotel had a full orchestra performing for its guests. It was most impressive.

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The Majestic Yosemite Hotel is on the National Register of Historic Places and National Historic Landmarks. It has been the destination of queens and presidents, and now ME! We stayed in the El Dorado Diggins Suite which in the 1940s was a private dining room, a cocktail lounge, and a chapel. Now it has a king bed, a sunken living room, large windows, impressive tiled bath and jacuzzi, and a private, slate entry way. It was a large, roomy, and quite comfortable suite – loved it! If you can’t reserve this suite, try the Mary Curry Tresidder Suite where Queen Elizabeth actually stayed on her visit to Yosemite National Park in the 1980s. That room would be well-worth the bragging rights!

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I hope you get an opportunity to visit Yosemite Valley and the Majestic Yosemite Hotel sometime in the future and enjoy it as much as we did. Maybe our experiences will help you and others pick an opportune time to travel and influence you to stay at this wonderful, historic hotel.

Wishing you all safe travels!

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Yosemite Valley

California

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In early April this year, my husband and I visited California and explored three national parks – Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, and Yosemite National Park. My previous blog detailed our trip to the first two parks and our journey along the Majestic Mountain Loop. Now we venture on to Yosemite.

After spending a busy couple of days exploring the previous two parks, we drove to Oakhurst, California and spent the night in this lovely little town located fourteen miles south of the entrance to Yosemite National Park. We felt like we needed some rest, a good meal (had some great Italian food!), and some time spent outside of the rental car. It turned out to be a smart choice for us.

We awoke that next morning, had a great breakfast, and began our short drive to the park. It was only a twenty minute drive until we crossed the border into the park but little did I know that Yosemite Valley and our hotel were at least 90 minutes ahead. The slow speed limit, road construction, winding roads, morning traffic, and park entry lines took a little longer than expected. Luckily, the drive was entertaining. We spotted mule deer by the roadside. I enjoyed seeing the snow that was still packed on the shaded sides of the road from the heavy winter snowfall. We passed through acres and acres of total devastation from last summer’s horrendous forest fires (this caused the traffic delays with crews removing trees and debris from the main road). Overall, it was an enjoyable and very scenic drive. About an hour into the park, following the curvy mountain roads – we entered Wawona Tunnel.

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All I can say here is WOW!

You exit the tunnel and you are at Tunnel View, the first of many astonishing sights. This view places you at one end of the valley looking straight out at Half Dome, El Capitan, granite walls, waterfalls, rivers, and vast evergreen forests. I understood immediately why this valley is referred to as “one of the most beautiful places on earth.” The Yosemite Valley is only seven miles long and two miles wide and this lookout point pretty much presents it to you in all its glory.  We parked in one of the large parking lots and joined dozens of others taking photos from this gorgeous, panoramic spot.

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After this photo-op stop, we  drove down into the valley and followed the circular one-way road that leads you past all of the major Yosemite landmarks. Sights that I had only seen in books, photos, and on screens appeared before me in real life: Half Dome, El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite Falls, Cathedral Rocks, Arches Rock, and the Merced River. Everything was larger, higher, brighter, and more spectacular than I had ever imagined. I stood in the footsteps of John Muir and Ansel Adams and soaked it all in – another one of life’s “pinch me” moments.

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David and I were lucky enough to stay at the historic Majestic Yosemite Lodge (awesome place!) located within the park. The parking, rooms, restaurants, amenities, and location couldn’t have been any better. We could easily walk to several of the park sights or catch a shuttle at the hotel to venture farther. The free park shuttles run every 20-30 minutes and allow you to “hop on / hop off” at any stop within the valley – they were very convenient and saved us a lot of time.

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We hiked up to the rock-strewn base of the three-tiered Yosemite Falls. We hiked to the base of Bridalveil Falls and got drenched with the ice-cold spray. We walked the trails through Ahwahnee Meadow and stood still as a herd of deer fearlessly walked by us. We stood and gazed up at the gigantic El Capitan. We enjoyed the visitor’s center and  the film that covered the history of the park. We browsed through the Ansel Adam’s Gallery and saw photographs from this area that brought him fame and fortune. We walked along the Merced River and relaxed a bit on the beautiful, sandy Cathedral Beach. We sat out on the hotel lawn one evening after a fantastic dinner and watched the stars in the night sky. We took a two-hour guided bus tour of the valley and learned a lot about Yosemite’s history, geography, geology, wildlife, and sights we saw along the way that are not in the guide books. When all was said and done, we crammed as much into two days as we possibly could and enjoyed every second!

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There was no way we could see as much as we wanted to in such a short amount of time, but we gave it our best effort. Yosemite National Park actually covers 1200 square miles and over 95% is wilderness, with the valley being a very small part of the whole park. Luckily, April turned out to be a perfect month to visit. The temperatures ranged from the fifties at night to the seventies in the day – and we experienced warm days, blue skies, spring flowers, and fewer tourists than other months of the year.

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The hotel, the weather, and the sights of Yosemite Valley were all better than we could have ever anticipated. Everything seemed to work in our favor. My one and only wish that was not fulfilled was a bear sighting! Maybe next time…

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Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

California

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I belong to a book club that read a lovely little book last year called “Dear Bob and Sue.” This book tells the story of Matt and Karen Smith’s travels to all 59 U.S. National Parks written as a series of emails to their friends, Bob and Sue. The book is funny, irreverent, unpredictable, and sarcastic – all in the spirit of humor. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy reading this book, I got some great travel ideas from it. I learned about the “Majestic Mountain Loop,” a three-day trip where you can visit Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, and Yosemite all in one fell swoop. I was sold!

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My husband and I flew into Fresno, California from Dallas and rented a car there. Fresno is a small airport and proved very convenient to getting a rental car and starting off on our merry way. We stopped for a wonderful lunch outside Fresno in Sanger and headed up the mountains to Sequoia National Park and the Wuksachi Lodge. The drive was spectacular! We went from wildflowers, farmland, and sunny, citrus groves to cloud-covered mountains and snowy roads in less than two hours.

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On our first day in Sequoia National Park, we visited the Lost Grove (the densest concentration of sequoias in the park) and General Sherman – my “must see!”  The General Sherman Tree is the largest living organism on the planet and the largest living tree in the world. It was just as magnificent as I had imagined! If you want to feel small and insignificant, just stand at its base and gaze up at its top 275 feet above you. I stood and wondered about all that this tree has lived through and witnessed in its 2200 years. If only it could talk…

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The next day we left for Kings Canyon National Park. The two parks intersect each other so you go from one to the other without much fanfare. We started at the Kings Canyon Visitor’s Center in Grant Grove Village and enjoyed the exhibits and a movie detailing the history of the parks – very interesting. The rangers were very helpful in letting us know which roads were open or closed and helped us plan our day.

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The park is at a high elevation (up to 14,000 ft) and on this particular day in April we experienced rain, sleet, and heavy fog – all in a matter of hours. Then lo and behold, the afternoon turned out to be sunny and clear. Luckily for us, the weather was a deterrent for crowds and we got to visit Grant Grove pretty much by ourselves. Grant Grove is only a mile from the visitors center and proved to be one of my favorite excursions. It consisted of a half-mile walking trail through the forest that loops to the German Grant Tree (third largest in the world and a “young” 1,650-years-old). The paved trail was easy to walk and we passed by fallen trees, crossed over streams, and wandered through giant sequoia groves.  The forest here was breathtakingly beautiful and on this particular day, the towering trees seemed ethereal and unworldly. There was no wind, no sound, sparse light, and a mystical fog all around. I loved it!

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Many of the higher altitude roads in Kings Canyon were closed to vehicles this time of year so we drove to a lower elevation and visited beautiful Hume Lake (a park ranger’s suggestion). The sun was shining, the water was glistening, and the temperature was perfect for exploring the area around the lake. We ended our afternoon after a relaxing stop here and headed for Yosemite National Park – our third and final stop!

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There is not anywhere else in the United States where national parks are located so close together as these three here in California. We spent a full twenty-four hours in each Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park before heading on to spend three days in Yosemite. I highly suggest trying the Majestic Mountain Loop whether it be for three days, a week, or maybe more.

I hope you enjoy your trip as much as we did!

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La Jolla

California

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If you are looking for a beautiful seaside resort for a vacation getaway, look no further than La Jolla, California. This little town north of San Diego is located on seven miles of gorgeous Pacific Ocean coastline.

 

The name La Jolla actually comes from the Spanish words “La Joya” which means “the jewel”. Once you see this area – you will understand how it earned this name. There are gorgeous ocean views at every turn. Luxury shops, waterfront restaurants, boutique hotels, art galleries, and parks are located steps away from beautiful blue waters and breathtaking sea cliffs.

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My husband and I recently visited La Jolla after a vacation that included Palm Springs and Temecula. San Diego and La Jolla were the last stops on this California trip and all are within easy driving distances. We stayed at a little boutique hotel in La Jolla (Pantai Inn) just steps away from the coastline and in walking distance of shopping and restaurants. It was a perfect location!

 

The La Jolla Walking Trail was located right in front of our hotel property. This paved walkway runs from the La Jolla Shores Beach to the La Jolla Cove. It is favored by locals and tourists alike and is enjoyed by joggers, dog walkers, families, bikers and casual walkers – like us! We walked this trail several times and enjoyed the grassy parks, the spectacular ocean views, the hidden beaches, the rocky shores, and the sandstone cliffs.  We encountered numerous sea birds and sea lions along the way. One of the most popular spots along the trail is the La Jolla Cove. This is a very scenic, ecologically protected beach for swimming, snorkeling, and diving.  If you keep following the trail past La Jolla Cove, you end up at the La Jolla Sea Cave. This is a very unique, natural formation with heavy surf, crashing waves, and clear ocean water. This is also a popular area for divers and kayakers.  

 

One of our La Jolla excursions was to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. This park is located north of San Diego between La Jolla and Del Mar, along the rugged Pacific Ocean coastline. There are miles of hiking trails, odd-shaped pine trees, sandstone canyons, sea cliffs, ocean views, wide beaches, and championship golf courses. The park’s namesake, the Torrey pine, is the rarest native pine tree and is an endangered species that grows only in this park. You may recognize its familiar, wind-blown, asymmetrical shape.

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If you like outdoor adventure, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is definitely the place to visit near La Jolla. Just lace up your shoes, pack your sunscreen and water, and bring your camera! The hiking trails are all well-maintained and are well-marked. Some are easy, some are more difficult. There is plenty of parking and a ranger station to visit for info before heading out on the trailheads. All of the trails provide breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean from high vantage points. A couple of trails have beach access and will lead you to the cliff-lined, sandy beaches. Other trails are lined with huge sandstone structures, pine trees, succulents, and beautiful wild-flowers. I will never forget the picturesque views we encountered on the trails here.

 

At the end of these busy days of exploring, we were always extremely hungry and ready for a great meal. We found restaurants very close to our hotel – most in walking distance. The first night we dined at 910 Restaurant and had a most exceptional meal! We sat on the patio and had cocktails and one of the best culinary dishes I have ever had. The next night, we ate at the Crab Catcher and had a great ocean-view table that looked over the Sea Cave. We drank local California wine and dined on fresh seafood – delicious!

 

Great views, great adventures, and great food – what is not to like? La Jolla, you were truly a “jewel” to me! I enjoyed every moment – even the extremely smelly sea lions.

 

Food for thought – Dr. Seuss, Theodor Seuss Geisel, lived in La Jolla. I wonder if the strangely shaped, wind-blown Torrey pine trees were an inspiration for some of his crazy, whimsical, cartoon trees? There are reports that his Lorax tree was actually inspired by this tree we walked by in Scripps Park at La Jolla Cove. Who knew?!

 

 

Temecula

California

I have heard rumblings regarding Temecula for the past couple of years from friends who have visited the Southern California wine country. My husband and I had a tennis trip planned to Palm Springs and decided to add this excursion and La Jolla to the end of our California vacation. I must say – it was a great decision and we thoroughly enjoyed our day spent in Temecula. I just wish we had planned to stay longer, though it does gives me a reason to return in the future!

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The Temecula Valley Wine Country is located a short distance from Palm Springs (90 minutes), San Diego (90 minutes) and Los Angeles (2 hours). The name is actually a Native American word meaning “the sun that shines through the mist.”  This Mediterranean micro-climate with morning mist, warm midday sun, and cool evening ocean breezes makes this area perfect for growing all varieties of grapes.

For those of you who have visited Napa and Sonoma further north in California, the major difference is the landscape. Temecula has mostly hillside vineyards and more picturesque views with mountain backdrops. The wineries seem more casual, less commercial, less crowded, and are not spaced as far apart. This area reminded me more of Tuscany than the northern California wine country.

Though we did not have the time to experience all that Temecula had to offer, I would still like to share what we learned from friends. The Old Town area has historic 1800s buildings, antique shops and restaurants “fit for foodies.” There are over forty wineries in the area. Some are small & boutique, some are full-service wine and food resorts. There are spas, clothing shops, a casino, gourmet restaurants, golf courses, bike trails, horseback riding and hot air balloon rides. With three million visitors per year, there are a wide variety of places to stay. Choose from brand-name hotels, quaint inns, motels, vacation rentals or Bed & Breakfasts. Several of the wineries we saw also had their own lodging on-site.

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With only one day in Temecula we had to choose just a few wineries to explore. We began at Wilson Creek Winery and enjoyed their beautiful outdoor patio and sampled their high quality sparkling wines. This winery had come highly recommended from friends due to their Almond Sparkling Wine – delicious!  I also give two thumbs up for their Sparkling Sangria,  Sparkling Peach Bellini and Sparkling Rose’. This is one of the larger wineries with gardens, private tours, tasting rooms, and a restaurant.

Our next stop was Maurice Car’rie Vineyard (another friend’s suggestion) which was housed in a large Victorian-style farmhouse. We sat at a table on the front lawn overlooking the rolling hills and sampled their Chardonnays (oak and non-oak) and ate lunch. They serve up a huge crusty round of sourdough bread with fresh-baked brie inside. It paired perfectly with their crisp white wine.  This little winery was friendly, relaxed and unpretentious.

Next on our agenda, and only a couple of minutes away, was Bel Vino Winery. This was a little boutique winery sitting high on a hillside with great views from their back patio. I enjoyed their sense of humor with liitle signs leading up the walkway with sayings such as,”Wine not?” and “Get Merloaded This Way!” It was here that I enjoyed a most delicious port served in an edible chocolate cup. Perfection! This was a a very casual winery with picturesque views.

Our final stop of the day was chosen strictly because of location and the beautiful scenery surrounding the winery. Callaway Vineyard and Winery sat high on a hill surrounded by twenty acres of vines in the heart of Temecula.  This was a very modern, multi-storied building with lots of glass and clean lines. The outdoor seating areas were gorgeous with spectacular views below. I enjoyed something new here, a white wine called Roussanne. It was cool, dry, and tasted like a full-bodied chardonnay. My husband and I sat outside, drank our wine, snacked on mixed nuts, and hated that we had to leave this beautiful wine country so soon.

Though we didn’t have time to visit all the wineries and vineyards that we would have liked to, we enjoyed seeing many on our drive (this area is not too spread out). Architecture ranged from authentic farm settings, to Victorian style, to Spanish influences, to Tuscan inspired buildings.  All were unique and most were inviting. Besides the four wineries I mentioned in this blog that we experienced – other popular wineries in this area include Vindemia Vineyard, Avensole, Carter Estate, Gershon Brothers, Hart Winery, Foot Path, Lumiere, Miramonte, Falkner, and Fazeli Cellars. 

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I hope if you are a lover of travel and wine that this blog inspires you to take a trip to this little hidden gem in Southern California. I would recommend at least a two or three day stay here in Temecula. It is the perfect trip to add on to if you find yourself in the Palm Springs, San Diego, La Jolla, Orange County, or Los Angeles area. You will be glad you did!

Cheers!

 

 

Yountville

Napa County, California

 

The town of Yountville, California will always hold a special place in this girl’s memory. This little intimate community is home to my very favorite hotel and one of my favorite restaurants.

Yountville is located in the very heart of Napa Valley wine country. This quaint, manicured town was named for early pioneer George Calvery Yount who was responsible for establishing the first vineyard in Napa Valley in 1867. I wonder if he ever knew what he was setting in motion? Great foresight there, George!

 

Today Yountville is known as the “Culinary Capital of Napa Valley.” Bouchon Bistro and The French Laundry are both Michelin-starred restaurants. Redd, Ad Hoc, Lucy and Bouchon Bakery are all first-class eateries with world-renowned chefs. One of my favorite restaurants was Bottega, where my husband and I had a delicious four-course meal and first fell in love with the Napa Valley “buttery” chardonnays. My memory of our dinner here was of impeccable service, elevated Italian cuisine, a stunning wine list, and a delectable parmesan-garlic spread to enjoy on their fresh-baked ciabatta bread. My dining experience at Bottega was a love affair from the first bite! 

 

Not only is Yountville full of world-class restaurants, there are gourmet shops, boutiques, wine tasting rooms, art galleries, top-notch accommodations, and incredible natural surroundings – all in the immediate area. You can casually stroll down the main drag of oak-lined Washington Street and find almost every kind of shop, restaurant, bakery, and spa within walking distance. Be sure to keep your eye out for the over 40 works of art and outdoor sculptures scattered throughout the beautifully landscaped scenic downtown area. 

 

For some day excursions, how about golf, a wine tour, a hot air balloon ride or a bike tour? David and I took off on our own and toured some of the local wineries. Domaine Chandon (owned by French Champagne Moet and Chandon), Frog’s Leap and Goosecross Cellars are all located in close proximity. It is not a far drive to most of the Napa Valley wineries or vineyards from Yountville. Most Napa wineries close at 5:00 p.m. so enjoy your winery visits, have a nice lunch, and come back to Yountville. You can then park your car and walk to one of the 15 tasting rooms. No need to drive any more – just stroll and sip!  

 

If you are wondering where to stay, there are plenty of up-scale hotels, quaint country inns and a few bed & breakfasts. My favorite hotel “of all time” was the Bardessono, located in the heart of Yountville. This was an excellent hotel for location, service, and amenities. With automatic blinds and toilets, a jacuzzi tub, a steam shower, and an outdoor shower on our private patio – I did not want to leave this hotel! The entire place was very “Zen-like” with beautiful flora, fruit trees, fountains, gardens and art work at every turn. The entire Bardessono property was very peaceful and quiet – with the exception of the lively bar, outdoor fire pits and the Lucy Restaurant in the evenings. We also enjoyed the lovely pool and private cabanas a couple of afternoons after returning from our winery expeditions. There may have even been a nap or two in those relaxing roof-top cabanas – just sayin’.

 

This stay in Yountville was one of those trips that we keep saying we want to repeat – and that doesn’t happen for us too often. We visited in October and the weather was absolutely perfect.  Combine the wine, the weather, the hotel, and the meals we enjoyed – and it makes perfect sense why we want to return.

 

My suggestion – set a date, plan ahead, book a couple of restaurants on Open Table and mosey over to Yountville for a great Napa Valley getaway! We may see you there. Cheers!!

For you foodies, here is the recipe for the Bottega Parmesan Garlic Spread: 1 cup shredded parmesan cheese, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of fresh basil, 1/2 tablespoon of fresh chopped chives, 1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Add all ingredients to a food processor and pulse until well chopped and combined. Spread on fresh ciabatta bread and enjoy!