Dec 1, 2023

California Dreaming

During my travels, sometimes people will ask where I’m from and I proudly respond, Pensacola, Florida. Then they usually say, oh, so you live near Disney World, Miami and Key West? And I say, well no, those places are about the same distance as Chicago from my hometown. This confuses them. Usually, the conversation ends with me saying, Florida is a big state.

After visiting California, I may never say Florida is a big state again. We drove 1,000 miles and didn’t even scrape the surface of what California has to offer. But oh, those 1,000 miles were glorious! We only had a week — how I wish we had a month.

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: The keyhole arch at Pfeiffer Beach; Grace Cathedral in San Francisco; the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge; E-biking across the Golden Gate Bridge.


We began our journey in San Francisco. Friends warned us that San Francisco is filled with drugs and homelessness but all we saw was beauty. We stayed in Nob Hill, two blocks from the majestic Grace Cathedral. Anthony Bourdain’s favorite bar, the Tonga Room, was across the street — lucky for us.

Our hotel provided free e-bikes for its guests (shocking, yes, I’m still in disbelief). Biking down Nob Hill was terrifying. I had to get off the bike and walk it down while pressing the hand brakes. We biked through SoMa (South of Market), FiDi (the downtown financial district), the Embarcadero, Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf and then over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. I wasn’t sure I’d like e-biking but when I pushed turbo mode and passed a Lance Armstrong-looking dude going uphill on the bridge, I felt like Wonder Woman.

We had a fantastic lunch at a restaurant called “Fish” in Sausalito. It was off the beaten path so we got a little lost looking for it, but that was fun too.


There are so many stops on the beautiful drive from San Francisco to Big Sur. Do your research so you don’t miss the ones that appeal to you. Cell service is spotty in Big Sur so map things out before you go.

Half Moon Bay is quaint, Santa Cruz’s boardwalk is iconic, but if you are pressed for time, skip those. The scenery just gets better and better as you drive south. Monterey is a must — the Harbor seals and sea lions are fascinating. If you have the time, book a whale-watching tour in Monterey. We didn’t, but our son showed us mind-blowing videos of his tour. He witnessed a whale feeding frenzy and one actually jumped up out of the water.

From Monterey, pay the fee at the Pacific Grove Gate to take the famous 17 Mile Drive. We skipped Pebble Beach because we are not golfers, but we stopped at all the amazing nature pull-overs. Take the Carmel Gate exit from the 17 Mile Drive and presto — you are in the magical Carmel-by-the-Sea. Posh, cobbled streets, cafes, artist studios, and wine tastings all abound in the quaint city center. But my favorite was the drive along the Scenic Road at the end of Ocean Avenue. Don’t miss the house built by Frank Lloyd Wright.


Continuing the drive south, if you have time, stop at the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve and hike the Bird Island Trail. And don’t miss the Garrapata State Park Vista Point — it is one of the few places to get down the cliffs for beach access. The iconic Bixby Creek Bridge is a must-stop. Be sure to pull over at Castle Rock Viewpoint before crossing the bridge for the best view. Point Sur Lighthouse is amazing but only open on certain days so schedule accordingly.

One of our favorite stops in Big Sur was Pfeiffer Beach. Yes, it does have purple sand, a keyhole arch, and very strong winds and waves, as my research touted. But good luck finding it. Silly us, we thought it was part of Pfeiffer State Park. According to the park ranger, so do hundreds of people who go to the park only to do a U-turn. Look for a tiny dirt road with a tiny yellow diamond road sign, then drive two miles through the woods. And remember, no cell service. Worth it though, so astoundingly beautiful and we had the place to ourselves.

Last but not least, end your day at Nepenthe, an eatery perched on a Big Sur cliffside offering California fare with breathtaking views.

ABOVE: Enjoying the sunset at Moro Rock in Sequoia National Park.RIGHT: The picturesque Hume Lake in the Sequoia National Forest.


Nestled in the heart of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are a wonder to behold. Huge mountains, rugged foothills, deep canyons, vast caverns, and the world’s largest trees exemplify the diversity of landscapes, life and beauty.

The star of the show is the General Sherman Giant Sequoia, the world’s largest tree, measured by volume. The one-third-mile hike down the paved loop trail is easy-peasy. The hike back up, as you huff and puff, is not as easy. It is then that you realize this massive tree rises 300 feet in elevation.

It is hard to put into words what it’s like to experience the magical Giant Forest sequoia grove. A feast for the senses, these gigantic trees that have survived for thousands of years have stories to tell. Take time to learn about them at the Giant Forest Museum. They are inspiring.

One of our favorite adventures at SNP was hiking up Moro Rock, a giant granite dome, and watching the sunset over the mountains. A concrete and stone stairway leads over 350 steps to the top. As you climb, views open up from the foothills and San Joachim Valley to the west, to deep into wilderness to the east.

If you visit in the summertime, plan to hike near Hume Lake and then stop and go for a swim. The milkshakes are fantastic.

California is definitely worth the trip. We would have loved to visit Yosemite and Joshua Tree National Parks, as well as Muir Woods and Napa Valley. But as previously mentioned, California is a big state! Put it on your bucket list and stay a while.

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: The iconic General Sherman Giant Sequoia tree; the Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park; enjoying a glass of wine at Nepenthe, a cliffside restaurant in Big Sur; a massive Sequoia tree stump.RIGHT: Harbor seals and sea lions in Monterey