I've always been interested in doing a cross-country trip, so I figured I'd give it a go by indulging in a week long excursion from San Diego to Seattle. Not exactly cross-country, but a 4100+ miles trip nevertheless. After weeks of meticulous planning (almost down to the hour), some friends and I took off from NYC to San Diego on a Saturday. Continue reading for our crazy journey.
Day 0: San Diego
We left NYC at 6 p.m. and were in San Diego by 9 p.m. (yes, we time traveled). We picked up our rental from the airport and drove to a Super Target for supplies. We bought fresh fruits, water, salted snacks and a cooler to store our munchies. Thereafter, we headed to our hotel in Torrance for some shut eye.
Day 1: L.A. & Sequoias
The next day, we were pretty rested and ready for the long day ahead. We had breakfast and left the hotel around 9:30 a.m. Our first stop was the Hollywood Star Walk. Comprised of more than 2,600 five-pointed terrazzo and brass stars embedded in the sidewalks along 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard, these stars are a major tourist attraction in L.A. (approximately 10 million visitors per year).
The TCL Chinese Theatre can also be found on Hollywood Boulevard. This historic movie palace was originally named Grauman's Chinese Theatre. In 2013, the Chinese electronics manufacturer TCL Corporation purchased the facility's naming rights and changed the name to the TCL Chinese Theatre.
Fun fact: nearly 200 Hollywood celebrity handprints, footprints and autographs are in the concrete of the theatre's forecourt.
A short drive from Hollywood Boulevard is the Hollywood Sign. An American landmark and cultural icon, this famous sign is situated on Mount Lee in the Hollywood Hills area of the Santa Monica Mountains. "HOLLYWOOD" is spelled out in 45 ft (13.7 m) tall white capital letters and is 353 ft (107.3 m) long. It was originally created in 1923 as an ad for a local real estate development, but due to increasing recognition, the sign remained.
The valley close to the sign is quite beautiful.
A bit after noon, we began our drive towards Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. Surrounded by groves of the world's largest living trees, deep canyons and vast caverns, these two parks are a must see for any traveler.
Established in 1890 to protect 404,064 acres (631 sq. mi.) of forested mountainous terrain, the parks are most notable for their giant sequoia trees. Five of the ten largest trees in the world can be found in the Giant Forest, where the General Sherman tree reigns as the the largest tree on earth.
We continued our journey along the Generals Highway, occasionally stopping at different points of interest (mostly for photos).
Afterwards, we had dinner and headed for our hotel in Fresno.
Day 2: Yosemite
On our second day, we had waffles for breakfast and headed 1.5 hours towards Yosemite National Park. An icon of America's majestic natural beauty with its dramatic waterfalls, giant sequoias, abundant wildlife and awe-inspiring cliffs, Yosemite attracts approximately 4 million visitors each year.
Encompassing an area of 747,956 acres (1,168 sq. mi), Yosemite was central to the development of the national park idea. Galen Clark and others lobbied to protect Yosemite Valley from development, ultimately leading to President Abraham Lincoln's signing the Yosemite Grant in 1864. Thereafter, John Muir led a successful movement to have Congress establish a larger national park by 1890, one which encompassed the valley and its surrounding mountains and forests, thereby paving the way for what is now the National Park System.
Notable attractions include:
Bridal Veil Falls
Fun fact: Yosemite Falls is the highest waterfall in the park, dropping a total of 2,425 ft (739 m) from the top of the upper fall to the base of the lower fall.
View of the mountain road from a lookout point on CA-105.
Before leaving the park, we had dinner and drove 3 hours to sleep in Oakland.
Day 3: San Francisco
The third day was to be the longest. We had a very early breakfast and were out the hotel by 7:45 a.m. We had tickets for the Classic Cable Car tour of San Francisco with Hornblower for 9 a.m. We were a bit late, but I called ahead and asked the tour guide to wait for us. They did, and we wound up having the second cable car to ourselves!
San Francisco (Spanish for Saint Francis) is the cultural, commercial and financial hub of Northern California. The 13th most populous city in the U.S.A., San Francisco was originally founded on June 29, 1776 when colonists from Spain established Presidio of San Francisco at the Golden Gate and Mission San Francisco de Asis. The gold rush of 1849 brought rapid growth, making it the largest city on the West Coast at the time. In 1856, it became consolidated as a city-county.
Along our tour, we visited the following:
San Francisco City Hall
The Painted Ladies
Mrs. Doubtfire's House
Palace of Fine Arts
The most famous of all the San Francisco landmarks is no doubt, the Golden Gate Bridge. Connecting San Francisco to California's northern counties, the tremendous 746 ft (227 m) tall towers with a strait spanning 1.6 km (1 m) held together by its sweeping main cables in its signature orange vermillion color is truly a marvel of modern engineering.
Side note: there was no fog on the day we visited San Francisco, However, we still felt the full effects of "fogust" as it was quite cold compared to the heat from L.A. and the parks.
Our tour ended a bit after noon, and we had lunch on the pier at Fisherman's Wharf.
After lunch, we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge to Muir Woods. Located 12 miles north of San Francisco on Mount Tamalpais near the Pacific Coast, Muir Woods is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The park protects 554 acres (almost 1 sq. mi) of old growth coast redwood forests. The forest is regularly shrouded in a coastal marine layer of fog, thereby making it a wet environment that encourages vigorous plant growth.
The park is also home to various species of wildlife. We were lucky to see fox cubs.
We ended the day with a 4.5 hour drive to our hotel in Eureka.
Day 4: Northern Californian Coast
The fourth day was solely dedicated to driving from Eureka, CA to Newport, OR - a total of 6.5 hours. Naturally, we made some stops along the way to explore and snap photos.
Before leaving Eureka, we drove by the Carson Mansion. Constructed in 1884-1885, this large Victorian house is three stories high with 18 bedrooms, a tower and basement. The house is considered the most grand Victorian home in America. Originally the home of William Carson (one of Northern California's first major lumber barons), it has been a private club since 1950. Unfortunately, the house and grounds are not open for tours.
Thereafter, we drove to Trinidad State Beach. Located 20 miles north of Eureka off Highway 101, the beach is a secluded cove near the town of Trinidad. The offshore rocks are part of the California Coastal National Monument. We spent 30 minutes walking around and dipping our feet in the cold Pacific waters.
A short drive north of Trinidad State Beach are the Redwood National and State Parks. These parks protect 45% of all remaining coast redwood old-growth forests, totaling 38,982 acres (157.75 sq km). These trees are the tallest and one of the most massive tree species on earth.
The park is also home to several indigenous grassland prairies, flora and fauna.
A short drive north along the Redwood Highway is False Klamath, which offers spectacular views of the coastline.
An hour north of the parks is Crescent City. Named for the crescent-shaped stretch of sandy beach south of the city, Crescent City has a total population of a little over 8,000. Due to the richness of the local Pacific Ocean waters and the related catch, and ease of access, Crescent City Harbor serves as a home port for numerous commercial fishing vessels.
Side note: Crescent City's offshore geography makes it unusually susceptible to tsunamis. Major damage to the city occurred in 1984 by the Good Friday earthquake off Anchorage, Alaska and the March 11, 2011 earthquake off Sendai, Japan.
Upon entering Oregon, the roads were covered in fog which made our drive a bit difficult.
We wound up getting to Newport after 10 p.m. We stopped by Snug Harbor Bar & Grill to grab some food and headed to our hotel in Siletz Bay. Turns out, the bar sold some of the best clam chowder I've ever had!
Day 5: Beaches & Waterfalls in Oregon
Finally, we were in Oregon and ready for some waterfalls! We left our hotel around 8:30 a.m. and headed for Cannon Beach. An affluent tourist resort destination, this beach is known as a weekend getaway spot for Portlanders. Cannon Beach is recognized by its well-known landmark, Haystack Rock. This igneous rock has an elevation of 235 ft (72 m) and is often accessible at low tide. The rock is also a protected marine sanctuary, where events are prohibited within 100 ft (30 m) on either side of the rock. Near the Rock are the Needles, two tall rocks rising out of the water.
Two hours east of Cannon Beach is Columbia River Gorge. Up to 4,000 ft (1,200 m) deep, the canyon stretches over 80 miles (130 km). This scenic area protects the spectacular canyon where the Columbia River cuts through the Cascade mountains - with cliffs and overlooks of Washington to the north and Oregon's mountains and waterfalls to the south. The gorge is unique in its natural and cultural history, as well as its designation as a National Scenic Area. It is also a vital transportation and communication corridor where trains, barges and highways support interstate commerce, and natural forces generate wind and hydrologic power.
Dozens of awe-inspiring waterfalls spill from basalt cliffs, lining the Historic Columbia River Highway, including the famous Multnomah, Bridal Veil and Latourell Falls.
Bridal Veil Falls
View from behind Ponytail Falls
A short distance away is Mount Hood. Mt. Hood's perpetually snowy peak - crowned by twelve glaciers (one for every thousand feet it rises above sea level),can be seen from miles away. It's peak is also the highest point in Oregon and the fourth highest in the Cascade Range.
Fun fact: Mt. Hood is considered the Oregon volcano most likely to erupt and is characterized as "potentially active," although it's been dormant for a long time.
Thereafter, we drove over the I-5 bridge connecting Portland, OR to Vancouver, WA. We clocked in at 10:00 p.m. (our earliest night on the trip).
Day 6: Mt. Rainier & Seattle
On the sixth day, we left at 8:30 a.m. on a two hour drive from Vancouver to Mt. Rainier National Park. Ascending 14,410 ft (4,392 m) above sea level, Mt. Rainier stands as a icon in the Washington landscape. An active volcano, Mt. Rainier is the most glaciated peak in the contiguous U.S.A., spawning five major rivers.
We entered the park via the Nisqually Entrance Historic District and were given an extensive brochure by the park rangers on how to protect ourselves from bears. We drove along Paradise Road with stops at:
Side note: the lake was completely frozen, even in June! Hence, no reflection :(
We stopped for souvenirs at the Henry Jackson Visitor Center, where we bought postcards and a teddy. Our way down the mountain road, we came across a black bear cub (more like a toddler?). We snapped some photos while staying in the car, knowing that mommy bear was probably close by.
We left a bit after noon for our two drive from the park to Seattle.
A seaport city, Seattle has an estimated 730,000 residents and is the largest city in both Washington State and the Pacific Northwest region. Situated between the Puget Sound and Lake Washington, about a 100 miles (160 km) south of the Canada-U.S. border, Seattle is a major gateway for trade with Asia and is the fourth largest port in North America.
Our first stop was Pike Place Market. This public market opened in 1907 and is one of the country's oldest farmers market. A place of business for many small farmers, craftspeople and merchants, the market is named after the central street, Pike Place. The market is Seattle's most popular tourist destination, with over 10 million visitors annually, and is the 33rd most visited tourist attraction in the world.
After the market, we passed by the Seattle Gum Wall. Located in an alleyway in Post Alley under Pike Place Market, the gum wall is a brick wall covered in thousands of used chewing gum dating back to the early 1990s. Parts of the wall are covered several inches thick!
Fun facts: the wall was only cleared off once, it's 50 ft long and features many gummy designs.
Finally, it was time to make our way over to the Space Needle. We had sunset tickets. One of the most recognizable landmarks in the world and a treasured Seattle icon, the Space Needle was built for the 1962 World's Fair - "The Age of Space" exposition. At 605 ft (184 m) tall and 8,660 tonnes, it is one of the most photographed structures in the world. It was built to withstand winds of up to 200 mph (320 km/h) and earthquakes of up to 9.0 magnitude. The tower's saucer shaped "top house" offers visitors Seattle's only 360-degree indoor and outdoor panoramic views of downtown Seattle, Mt. Rainier, the Puget Sound, along with the Cascades and Olympic mountain ranges.
Fun fact: the Space Needle is the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River.
We ended the day with a beautiful, albeit chilly sunset on the observation deck of the tower.
Thereafter, we headed for our hotel in Lacey, W.A.
Day 7: Olympic National Park
On our last day, we explored Olympic National Park. With its incredible range of precipitation and elevation, diversity is the hallmark of this park. Encompassing nearly a million acres (1562.5 sq. mi), the park protects a vast wilderness and several distinctly different ecosystems, including glacier-capped mountains, old-growth temperate rain forests, and over 70 miles of wild coastline.
Most of the roads in the park were closed due to melting snow which caused us to detour quite a few times. The main highlight was the Hoh Rainforest Throughout the winter season, rain frequently falls in the Hoh Rainforest, contributing to a yearly total of 12 to 14 ft of precipitation each year. The result is a lush, green canopy of both coniferous and deciduous species, making it one of the largest temperate rainforests in the U.S.A.
We left a bit early as it was a 4 hour drive from the rainforest to the airport. We got caught in a bit of traffic in Tacoma, WA, but we were still able to catch our overnight flight back to NYC. We were home by 9 a.m. on Sunday. It was a definitely an intense itinerary, but we managed to visit every place on our list. Quite the accomplishment indeed! We walked over 25,000 steps each day and wound up with quite the stash of postcards.
I'm very excited for the next cross-country trip. Not sure when that'll be, but I'm sure that itinerary will be less hectic than this was :) Additional photos can be viewed here.