Travel Answers: San Francisco! Yosemite!

Travel Answers for San Francisco and Yosemite:

Q: What’s a great day trip from SF that’s not wine country?

A: Great Day Trip from San Francisco?

Drive south on beautiful Highway 1 to Santa Cruz. Stop along the way in Pacifica, Half Moon Bay, Davenport and/or at Ano Nuevo State Reserve and see the Elephant Seals.

Pacific Ocean from Highway 1 (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

Pacific Ocean from Highway 1 (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

Visit the beach and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, shop the Pacific Garden Mall, and check out the University of California, Santa Cruz (arboretum, performances, museums & special collections at the McHenry Library). Tour the campus, there are great views of Monterey Bay, art installations and walking paths/roads through the meadows, pastures and redwood forest on the hill (just stop and get a visitor pass at the main gate).

There are plentiful beaches, galleries, shops, restaurants, bars, wineries, clubs and other performance venues in Santa Cruz and in the nearby communities of Capitola, Aptos, Felton & Bonny Doon.

Check out the world famous Mystery Spot and Lighthouse Field State Beach! The Evergreen Cemetery est. ~1885 is one of the oldest in the bay area and state and it’s now a tourist attraction.

Return to San Francisco via Highways 17 (880) to San Jose and the 280 or 101 freeways back to the city sometime after sunset.


San Francisco from the Bay Bridge (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

San Francisco from the Bay Bridge (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

Q: Best 3-day weekend trip from San Francisco? Looking for something outdoorsy that would be a good use of weekend summer trip. Ideally somewhere warm enough for sun, swimming & shorts. Probably for a small group (either 2 or 4 ppl).

A: 3-Day Trip from San Francisco? People have already recommended Big Sur, Carmel, Monterey and Santa Cruz to the south. Marin, Napa, Vallejo, Mendocino, and Lake Tahoe to the north. So how about going east to Yosemite National Park? Yosemite, Merced, Mariposa are all within driving distance and only a few hours away. Just make sure to make a reservation!

Half Dome - Yosemite, California (copyright 2010 JoshWillTravel)

Half Dome – Yosemite, California (copyright 2010 JoshWillTravel)

Q: Best airport to fly into for a week at Yosemite?

I’m planning a fall trip to Yosemite and trying to figure out which airport to fly into: Sacramento, Fresno, San Fran? I’m coming from New York so I have some airline options. I’m most concerned about which airport will have sufficient car rental options and flights at all hours.

A: If you’re flying in from NYC, you’re going to have to land in San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland or Los Angeles. Each has it positives and negatives, so base your decision on the cost of airfare and then determine the best mode of transport from your destination city.

Rent a car (get unlimited mileage plus insurance) or take Amtrak (train and bus combo) from Los Angeles or San Francisco/Oakland. The bus will take you right into Yosemite National Park and drop you at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls and it’s both less expensive and cleaner than driving!

The drive from Los Angeles is about 6 hours, and you’ll travel the 5 freeway to interstate 99 through Bakersfield, Fresno and the Central Valley to interstate 41 into Yosemite.

The drive from the Bay Area is about 4 and 1/2 hours (could be longer with traffic) on highway 580 through San Leandro and Livermore to highway 205 through Manteca to interstate 120 into Yosemite.

NOTE: If you’re driving in the Sierra Mountains in the Fall, be prepared for rain and snow at higher elevations, some roads may require tire chains (sometimes a problem with a rental vehicle).

There are also tour companies that have chartered buses that will take you into the park, or backpack/bus adventure travel companies like Green Tortoise from San Francisco that include more than just transport:

NOTE: If you’re going to take a chartered bus, make sure the company is CA state licensed and check their safety and consumer record before buying a ticket!

Yosemite Valley, California (copyright 2010 JoshWillTravel)

Yosemite Valley, California (copyright 2010 JoshWillTravel)

Q: Most impressive staircases you’ve ever seen?

I recently saw some of the craziest staircases in the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. Where else in the world has cool, winding, or even weird staircases? Want to plan some trips to see would be awesome, thanks!

A: In Yosemite Valley there is a stairway to the top of Vernal Nevada Falls that was carved out of the granite rock. You can start at the bottom of Vernal Falls and climb 2000 feet to the top of Nevada Falls and the rim of the valley.

“Climb along nature’s giant staircase, where you are rewarded with close-up views of two waterfalls and numerous geologic features (depending on how far you choose to hike)…Prepare for slippery footing and a tremendous amount of waterfall spray in spring and early summer (hence the name for this trail!).”

Follow the Mist Trail 0.5 miles up a steep granite stairway of over 600 steps! Continue on to the top of Half Dome if you have a permit (and “weather permitting”).

Yosemite Valley, California (copyright 2010 JoshWillTravel)

Yosemite Valley, California (copyright 2010 JoshWillTravel)

Q: Where was your favorite backpacking destination? Out of all the places in the world, where was your favorite backpacking destination and why?

A: My favorite backpacking destination: Tiltill Valley above Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in northern Yosemite National Park. Picture a valley just like Yosemite except there are no other people, no cars, no shuttle buses, no buildings… just an amazing wilderness all to yourself. It’s a long day hike uphill to reach the Tiltill Valley, but it’s worth the trip!

The trailhead begins at the Hetch Hetchy parking area, and it’s a rugged uphill trek past the reservoir and into the backcountry (be sure to get your permits at the ranger station and be aware you are in “BEAR COUNTRY” – problem bears are relocated to this area of the park).

p.s. I don’t recommend backpacking solo, you should always have at least one travel buddy when you are in the backcountry!

Yosemite in Winter (copyright 2010 JoshWillTravel)

Yosemite in Winter (copyright 2010 JoshWillTravel)

Q: How many days would I need to explore most of what Yosemite has to offer? I’m planning on going there some day and I would like to know how much days would I need to explore most of what the National Park has to offer! Thanks.

A: How many days in Yosemite National Park? It depends on how much of the park you want to explore. If you just want to see Yosemite Valley, you should allow at least three days. You should add more days if you want to really see everything! It also depends on how active a hiker you are because there are great things to do and day trips with varying degrees of difficulty you can experience. Ride the Shuttlebus and walk the valley, tour the valley in an open air tram, hike to Mirror Lake, picnic at Yosemite Beach, hike to the top of the waterfalls or around the rim of the valley, climb to the top of Half Dome or El Capitan. Visit Yosemite Village and the Ansel Adams Gallery and be sure to check out the The Ahwahnee Hotel.

Accommodations in the park range from tent and camp sites, RV sites, covered campsites, tent cabins, and hotel rooms. You need to make reservations for any of the concession vendors a long time in advance at and there are lots of rules and regulations you need to be aware of before and during your visit.


Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia Redwood Trees (copyright 2010 JoshWillTravel)

Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia Redwood Trees (copyright 2010 JoshWillTravel)

There are other areas to see within the park or just outside: Tuolumne Meadows, Mariposa Grove and the Giant Sequoia Redwood Trees, Wawona Point (and historic hotel), skiing at Yosemite’s Badger Pass in winter), Bass Lake, Oakhurst, and many others. You should allow 1-3 days or more for each area depending on how active a hiker/camper/skier/snowboarder you are.

If you want to experience the backcountry as a backpacker/camper you should plan 3-14 day trips. there are great areas in and around the park. I’ve been to the Tiltill Valley above Hetch Hetchy Loop and down the South Fork Merced River in the Sierra National Forest, both of which were excellent backpacking trips! Be sure to learn the necessary skills and the park rules and regulations before entering the wilderness.

You are also close to Lee Vining, Mammoth Mountain and Mono Lake State Preserve which are near the east entrance to the park.

See also John Muir Trail and the Yosemite Park website for more info.


Yosemite Valley, California (copyright 2010 JoshWillTravel)

Yosemite Valley, California (copyright 2010 JoshWillTravel)

Q: You have a day to explore Yosemite. What do you HAVE to see?

I love everything about being outdoors, especially around water. I like hiking, but I don’t get too extreme. Viewpoints that are hidden/will make me never want to leave would be loved.

A: What to see in Yosemite Valley? Everything!

Ride the Shuttlebus, walk the valley paths and bridges, raft or inner tube down the river, tour the valley in an open air tram, hike to Mirror Lake, Picnic at Sentinel Beach Picnic Area, hike to the top of any of the waterfalls or around the rim of the valley or to the top of Half Dome, climb El Capitan. Visit Yosemite Villageand see the Visitor Center and the Ansel Adams Gallery, shop at Curry Village and be sure to check out the Ahwahnee Hotel. See my other answers for more.

Wawona Hotel - Yosemite (copyright 2010 JoshWillTravel)

Wawona Hotel – Yosemite (copyright 2010 JoshWillTravel)

Q: Places to stay in Yosemite? If anyone is familiar with places to stay IN the Yosemite Park… I am trying to decide between a few places… Curry Village, Yosemite at the Falls & Wawona Hotel. From what I gather there aren’t bathrooms in Wawona Hotel (not so thrilled with that idea). Any advice, please on these 3 places?

A: Yosemite Lodge at the Falls is the best place to stay, unless you can afford the Ahwahnee Hotel. It’s centrally located in Yosemite Valley near Yosemite Falls and a couple shuttle stops (almost walking distance) from Yosemite Village. The accommodations are “motel quality” but nice enough considering you won’t want to be inside very much.

Curry Village is near Half Dome, and on the shuttle route. The accommodations are mostly tent cabins with shared facilities and some full cabins with private facilities.

Both Yosemite Lodge and Curry Village have a “cafeteria” style restaurant, a “hamburger stand”, a bar/restaurant and mini-market/gift shops. Yosemite Lodge also has a nice sit-down upscale restaurant.

The Wawona Hotel sits up on the rim of the valley about a 45 minute drive from the valley floor and the village. It’s a very nice historic hotel, but not really convenient if you want to be in the valley. There are cabins with private facilities and they are very nice if you don’t mind walking outdoors to get to the main building (more of a problem in winter). Wawona is great if you want to ski at Badger Pass Ski Area, visit Glacier Point or the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia Redwoods.

There are Ranger led nature talks available and other entertainment at all three locations. Yosemite Village has a market, a Visitor’s Center with an Indian Village and interpretive programs, the Ansel Adams Gallery, the post office and more restaurants and gift shops.


Yosemite Falls - Yosemite Valley, California (copyright 2010 JoshWillTravel)

Yosemite Falls – Yosemite Valley, California (copyright 2010 JoshWillTravel)



Three Great Adventures in Los Angeles near UCLA!

Three great adventures in Los Angeles near UCLA!

“Can you recommend a 5-hour round trip from LA to see the most sites? My husband and I will be visiting our son and his wife at UCLA in October from Alabama. While they are busy during the day, we would like to venture either north or south, preferably on the PCH to see some of California. In addition, we would love to find an interesting boutique or historic hotel to stay in near the UCLA campus.” ~ Nancy M. from Birmingham, Alabama

UCLA is in Westwood. Stay at the W Hotel Los Angeles in Westwood!

Five hours (round trip) is not a lot of time and Los Angeles is a very big place. Here are three great adventures near UCLA:

1. Santa Monica and Venice Beach

Santa Monica Pier Sign at Ocean Blvd

Santa Monica Pier Sign at Ocean Blvd

I recommend you head to Santa Monica (you can take a drive down Wilshire to San Vicente through Brentwood and do some shopping on Montana Avenue). Walk the Third Street Promenade, Palisades Park, and the Santa Monica Pier. Do some shopping at Santa Monica Place and have lunch at one of the many restaurants down by Santa Monica State Beach or head south on Pacific Coast Hwy to Venice Beach. Have lunch at one of the many restaurants there and visit the Venice Beach Boardwalk, Main Street and Abbot Kinney Blvd. If you have time drive into Marina Del Rey and have a drink at the The Ritz-Carlton.

A Nice Day in Marina del Rey (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

A Nice Day in Marina del Rey (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

Take the 10 freeway or the Marina freeway back to the 405 freeway north, exit Wilshire Blvd east and you’ll be back in Westwood.

*One more quick note: You can also visit the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades-Malibu as a great side trip from Santa Monica. The Getty Villa houses a fantastic collection of ancient Greco-Roman art and sculpture! It’s FREE but you need to make reservations. ___________________________________________________________________

2. Century City and Beverly Hills

Century Towers - Century City, California (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

Century Towers – Century City, California (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

Park at the Westfield Century City Mall in Century City, CA. There’s lots of shopping (including Bloomingdale’s), restaurants and the AMC Century City 15 movie theater. Take a walk into Century City (follow the people in suits going back to work) and visit the CAA building (aka “The Deathstar”), the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza (also a great place to stay), and the Century Towers and Plaza.

Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel - Century City, CA (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel – Century City, CA (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

There’s more shopping and even better restaurants there (Craft is Tom Colicchio’s steak place). Be sure to visit the shops underground at the Twin Towers! Century City also has the The Annenberg Space for Photography (FREE!) and a few other art galleries. There are fantastic buildings and lots of hidden things to see if you just walk around during the day. Here’s a link to a list of museums and other info for the area (Westwood-Century City):

Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire (copyright 2014 JoshWillTravel)

Rodeo Drive from the Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire (copyright 2014 JoshWillTravel)

You can also drive to Beverly Hills and visit Rodeo Drive, there’s mega-shopping and wide variety of some of LA’s finest restaurants: Nate ‘n Al Delicatessen, Mastro’s Steakhouse, Spago Beverly Hills, Il Pastaio, Il Cielo, Fogo de Chao, Matsuhisa, Lawry’s the Prime Rib, The Farm of Beverly Hills, and many others! in addition to the The W Hotel Los Angeles – Westwood, the Avalon Hotel Beverly Hills is a great boutique hotel and they have a wonderful restaurant, where you can dine indoors or outdoors in a poolside cabana at Oliverio at Avalon Beverly Hills restaurant.

Party at the InterContinental Hotel (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

Bathtub/Walk-in Shower & view at the InterContinental Hotel (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

and The InterContinental Los Angeles Century City Hotel, the Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire Hotel, the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, the Montage Beverly Hills, L’Ermitage Beverly Hills Hotel, Luxe Hotel Rodeo Drive, Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel, SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills, London West Hollywood Hotel, Mondrian Hotel- Hollywood and Chateau Marmont are a few of the finest luxury hotels in the city.

Sunday Brunch at the LUXE On Sunset (copyright 2014 JoshWillTravel)

Sunday Brunch at the LUXE On Sunset (copyright 2014 JoshWillTravel)

Each hotel has at least one amazing restaurant and/or bar: 24/7 Diner and the Cactus Lounge/Pool at the Standard, Scarpetta and the Scarpetta Bar (and the hidden whiskey lounge Ten Pound by The Macallan), On Sunset @ Luxe Hotel (amazing Sunday Brunch!), LIVELLO, Culina, Modern Italian @CulinaLA, Tres by José Andrés, Saam at The Bazaar by José Andrés, On Rodeo Bistro Lounge, The Rooftop Grill, the Parq Bar, and Cut (Wolfgang Puck’s steak house) to name just a few.

LUXE on Sunset (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

On Sunset Restaurant Patio at the LUXE on Sunset (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

You must try Stan’s Donuts and Diddy Riese ice cream in Westwood Village And for a quick and tasty Chinese lunch or takeout try Jin Jiang at Santa Monica and Sepulveda. ___________________________________________________________________

3. The Getty Center

405 Freeway and the Getty Center (copyright 2014 JoshWillTravel)

405 Freeway and the Getty Center (copyright 2014 JoshWillTravel)

One more great 5 hour trip from UCLA is a trip to the The Getty Center and it’s FREE!

Getty Center Central Garden (view from museum)

Getty Center Central Garden (view from museum)

From the Getty Center website: “The collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center includes pre-20th-century European paintings, drawings, illuminated manuscripts, sculpture, and decorative arts; 19th- and 20th-century American, European, and Asian photographs; contemporary and modern sculpture; and Robert Irwin’s Central Garden, designed specifically for the Getty Center….Contemporary and modern sculpture is featured throughout the grounds, including 28 modern and contemporary outdoor sculptures installed at the Getty Center, donated by Fran and Ray Stark.” In addition to the absolutely incredible Permanent Collection, they also have changing exhibitions. Here is the exhibition schedule:

You won’t be able to see everything in five hours!*

So, take your time and explore two of the four art pavilions, walk the gardens and enjoy the amazing view from above.

Panoramic View of West L.A. from the Getty Center

Panoramic View of West L.A. from the Getty Center

There is food available (but it’s not inexpensive), so you might want to bring a picnic lunch from one of the hotel restaurant I mentioned in my previous post, or from Whole Foods Market in Westwood, or if it’s Thursday the Westwood Village Farmer’s Market. There’s also the lovely Bel-Air Bar & Grill on Sepulveda or On Sunset @ Luxe Hotel for fine dining, either before or after. The Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel is a beautiful property, and I recommend an upstairs room by the pool with a balcony if available.

LUXE on Sunset (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

LUXE on Sunset (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

“Josh, these suggestions are fantastic—-can’t wait to show them to our kids before they move—-they will love them! I especially appreciate your recommending the Avalon Hotel. We love boutique hotels and this one is very reasonable! We may have to extend the trip and leave the kids behind! Thanks so much!” ~ Nancy M. from Birmingham, Alabama

FOLLOW this BLOG for more of my detailed reports, reviews and pictures!

Four Seasons Hotel Beverly Hills

Four Seasons Hotel Beverly Hills  (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

08-MAY-13: Shakespeare Santa Cruz

Shakespeare Santa Cruz (at the University of California, Santa Cruz)

Founded in 1981, Shakespeare Santa Cruz (SSC) is a professional repertory company operating in cooperation with the Theater Arts Department in the Arts Division at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC).  The support of the Arts Division and the work of the Theater Arts faculty, students, and staff play an important in shaping the SSC aesthetic.  Through this partnership, SSC has attained a national reputation for linking the best in contemporary scholarship with the highest artistic standards of production and the exciting possibilities of repertory performance.  In addition, SSC and the UCSC Theater Arts Department collaborate directly on two projects each season – the Shakespeare to Go touring program that brings Shakespeare to over 7000 students annually, and the annual holiday show.

Shakespeare Santa Cruz 1984

Shakespeare Santa Cruz 1986 Season

The 2013 Summer Season in the Glen at UCSC Performing Arts July 23 – September 1: The Taming of the Shrew, Henry V, Tom Jones the Fringe Show!   


One for the Road/The Lover (a collaborative production with Shakespeare Santa Cruz starring Paul Whitworth, Mike Ryan and Julie James) is currently running at the Center Stage Theater in Santa Cruz.

University of California, Santa Cruz Barn Theater - Santa Cruz, CA

University of California, Santa Cruz Barn Theater – Santa Cruz, California

Schedule of upcoming art events at UCSC:

Contact me at


UCSC Performing Arts Map 2012

University of California, Santa Cruz Performing Arts Map 2012

U.S. Travel Association -

U.S. Travel Association –

UPDATE: November 13, 2015 – Summer 2013 was the last season of Shakespeare Santa Cruz. The University foolishly decided to withdraw funding and cancel the partnership of 30+ years. A tremendous effort was made to save the program and it was renamed Santa Cruz Shakespeare an independent non-profit currently prepping it’s 3rd season.

Pic of the Day 30-MAR-13: Venice Beach, CA

“The Boardwalk is a virtual sidewalk circus, a walk ‘n’ rolling skin show.”  

Venice Beach - Los Angeles, California (copyright 2010 JoshWillTravel)

Venice Beach – Los Angeles, California (copyright 2010 JoshWillTravel)

Venice is a beachfront neighborhood on the Westside of Los Angeles.  Known for its canals, beaches and Ocean Front Boardwalk.  During the summer season and on weekends, there is street entertainment at every intersection along Ocean Front Walk, a two-and-a-half-mile pedestrian-only promenade. Street performers include instrumental musicians, singers, jugglers, acrobats, mimes, comics, magicians, prophets, fortune tellers, and other assorted entertainers.

Venice Beach is the headquarters of the Lifeguard Division of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.  Located at 2300 Ocean Front Walk, it is the nation’s largest ocean lifeguard organization with over 200 full-time and 700 part-time or seasonal lifeguards.  The Los Angeles County Lifeguards safeguard 31 miles of beach and 70 miles of coastline, from San Pedro to Malibu, and also provide services to Catalina Island.  In addition to providing for beach safety, Los Angeles County Lifeguards have specialized training for Baywatch rescue boat operations, underwater rescue and recovery, swiftwater rescue, cliff rescue, marine mammal rescue and marine firefighting.

City of Los Angeles Dept of Recreation and Parks:

Los Angeles County Dept of Beaches and Harbors:

A fun local blog about Venice: