Top 5 (California) National Parks

Continuing on my ongoing saga of National Park posts. I’ll be fleshing out my top 5 California Parks (with a few extra stops) that I’ve added to my more local bucket lists. If you have been reading along, you’ll know that national parks have been on my mind recently and with our current political times and a little sister looking to join the ranks of park rangers, it’s been relevant to me. Plus, Nature’s pretty pretty.

1. Sequoia National Park & Kings Canyon National Park

Both of these parks are by Tulare County, California adjacent from each other in the Southern Sierra Nevada Mountains which, if you are having an extended trip, makes it easy to visit features of both parks. Some of these features are shared – there are hikes and beautiful vantage points – but each have remarkable places of their own which made it impossible to feature just one.

In Sequoia, besides the Mount Whitney hike (which I will definitely be training for with my dad in the next year or two), there are 240 known caves including the Crystal Cave. Actually formed from marble stalactites and stalagmites which form textured walls and features. This cave – as well as others – are only available to view on guided tours that you can purchase tickets for at the park. When you are planning your trip, stay flexible by giving yourself enough time just in case anything in either park is sold out for any specific day.

For Kings Canyon, while Roaring River Falls sounds great – I love waterfalls – the pictures of Rae Lakes and the idea of camping and hiking here makes the nature junkie and camera bug in me do a happy dance. Also, the fact that these aren’t far from my sister’s place (at least for now) makes this another big plus!

2. Lassen Volcanic National Park

Like many kids in middle school, I have definitely built many volcanoes in my lifetime out of sand and paper mache, and I’ve studied their structures and the variety of types. Therefore, Lassen Volcanic park, yea, I want to go. Besides volcanic hikes and areas filled with Lava rock from the last eruption, there are areas of geothermic activity (like hot springs), beautiful lakes and waterfalls, and of course a small hike over to Bumpass Hell which has a lifted catwalk that leads you through volcanic vents and mudponds.

3. Pinnacles National Park

Speaking of volcanoes, Pinnacles is ancient volcanic field which means caves. If you look up images of Bear Gulch Cave Trails you will easily see why I want to get up here and as quickly as possible. Of course there are also tons of overlooks that go along with the many trails you can hike. Some of these hike look a bit more treacherous than others – some seriously tiny pathways here – but still so excited to get out there.

4. Point Reyes National Seashore

While most of my listed parks have boasted beaches around lakes, this Marin County park settles along a much bigger body of water. With waterfall after waterfall and beach after beach, plus the beautiful Tomales Bay and Point Reyes Lighthouse, there is so much to explore. And, for those geology nerds out there, Some of these waterfalls are actually ‘Tidefalls’ – waterfalls that fall directly into the ocean – so beaches that also have lovely tidefalls – YES! Welcome to Alamere Falls. Can I say it again for the cheap seats? Yes, Please!

5. Lava Beds National Park

And then back to volcanic- cave strewn loveliness. Located to the southeast of Tulelake, California and the home of over 700 caves, I just want weeks to explore. Many of these caves are names and I definitely suggest researching which ones you can and which you will want to explore.  There is also Petroglyph Point Archaeological Point – the home to one the largest panels of Native American rock art.

*Bonus: Mono Lake

While this is a smaller stop, as soon as I saw the pictures of Mono Lake’s rock formations, I knew it deserved a mention. While the water level has been depleted at times (LA apologizes!), the high salt levels of this lake has made the ecosystem truly unique. The formations you can see in any pictures of the lake are limestone ‘tufas’.

That’s it for me this week and narrowing down this list was seriously a task unto itself so I’m ready to pass it along. If you have a different park or another part of the country I should look through next, drop me a note and I’ll see what I can do.

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

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Top 5 (California) National Parks

Exploring the Coastline

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The Point, Bodega Bay, California. December 2016.

It’s a new year, but last year’s travel.

Last week I wrote a bit about driving up to Petaluma and some of the driving/scheduling disasters that happened (and what could be and what really couldn’t be avoided). Now we’re moving onto a few of the things we got to see running around with my family and, as always, my camera.

We didn’t get out as early as I would have like nor as early as I would have had I been on my own, however, we were still able to spend a lot of time exploring the coast and bay not far from my cousins’ house. Because we ended up with quite a crowd, we ended up caravanning it (the rules of which I will cover in the next few weeks) which meant following my aunt through the twists and turns of coastal highways and side-streets. Still, so much fun.

The first area we passed through was Bodega Bay. We didn’t end up stopping – it was crowded and, again, we started late – but my family had spent the morning before fishing and crabbing which (while cold) they loved despite coming back empty handed. I can definitely see why people would want to hangout in this area for a day – there’s a lot to do and all of it is relatively close together. There are also plenty of popular yet delicious food shacks if you are stopping for long enough – the lines are long but everyone assured me that it’s for good reasons.

We drove up to an area my cousins called The Point, but as far as I can tell is the coastal beaches around Jenner. I loved looking at the water and waves from the cliff edge and there was so much of it to see. The area is full of hikes and beautiful shots for photographers of all skill sets. Where we stopped, there were hikes that branched off in both directions and promised hours of fun. These hikes include a few paths down to small beaches though make sure you have the right shoes – some of these are definitely crawl worthy.

We didn’t go far (for reasons I’ll discuss in a future post) on this spot and next time I visit going back with an early start is an absolute necessity. Just like all the beach areas we past, even in the chill of December, these areas can get crowded so be ready to search out parking.

Which brings up to Goat Rock. Why is Goat Rock named Goat rock? Well, we couldn’t figure that out, but running around in it’s shadow was so much fun. In terms of getting here, you’ll need to pay close attention – it’s hard to find or, at least, the turn in is easily missed. Then you have to pay attention to signage – some of the roads are one direction at a time based on who gets to the stop sign while others are small, passing roads on curves which mean you have o slow down and drive carefully.

The view is worth it. When you get down to the parking lot at the base of the rock you will have beaches on either side of you: check out both sides. First, we did not climb the rock and I’m not sure you are supposed to – but something to check out. It might be a hefty climb so really research and prepare for this.

Facing the rock, to your left there will be great views of fun rocks with a lot of beach spray – great for pictures but we were there during winter so fog was kind of heavy which made it both interesting and difficult to photograph. The rocks closest to you has mussels all over which make the stones really interesting when you play with water and light shots. Just watch your step as you will be climbing around rocks which can get loose and cause accidents.

On the right side, there’s a whole different view. The rocks along the beach were interesting but my favorite part was a rusted out old tank. It looks like it was flipped forever ago and has a lot ware. It’s completely brown and orange with so many exposed gears and is so rusted out it looks more like wood than metal – go ahead and walk through it though because it’s definitely solid.

There are tons of small towns and wineries up and down this region so you can pretty much pull in anywhere and find something to do or see. Just check on days for wineries; we pulled into Korbel only for it to be innovatory day so there were no tours or tastings!

Still an amazing day. Next time, I will be taking earlier days so I can do more – all the hikes! – and maybe sticking to summer (less rain and chill!).

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

Exploring the Coastline

Eating in NorCal….

… Or something like it!

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Extending Childhood. Oakland, California. April 2016.

The thing about being from LA, or really most places this far south in California, is we rarely have perspective on what and where NorCal is. In college, many of us southern-born natives talked about how in our minds San Francisco to Napa and slightly higher is about where California ends and new states most of us wouldn’t be road-tripping to begin – for those of you not in the know, this is not the case!

Where most will call these areas northern, they are lower Northern California with hours and hours more to go.

But onto food!

When visiting the Sonoma and the Bay Area, we ate well – very well! While we hit some touristy fun musts – Boudin Bakery and Ghirardelli in San Francisco – I loved the other fun spots which definitely made the trip worthwhile.

Russian River Brewing Co., Santa Rosa.

If you are a beer lover, you should absolutely known the name Russian River. They’ve won tons of awards for their brews and the food is just as good. Everything is fresh and well sourced and you can choose whether to stay in or take away – wait times vary depending on your choice. This take away includes filling up your Russian River Growler with the brew of your choice.

The only real issue is you must show up early as they do not take reservations no matter the situation and the wait can be hours long. This wait time is exponentially longer if they are sampling a new brew – however, I’ve been assured that every brew is worth the wait.

The plan is for a new location not to far from the current spot with much more room and more of a focus on non-locals so if you’re in the area, check for opening dates for quicker turn around times.

Quickly moving to Sol Food in San Rafael.

Another long line here but – according to the locals I know – it’s the only place worth going to. We laughed through the line as one patron tried – jokingly – to convince the whole line that the food was no good and we should all go somewhere else so they could go in more quickly.

While the line was long, the host(esse)s were so efficient. The tables are community settings so you will most likely sit with strangers but, as long as you don’t mind this style, you’ll sit much quicker than you’d suspect.

The servings were amazing, full meals and all locally sourced. My friends and I all ordered different plates and no one was disappointed. For spicier pallets, some at our table felt that the sauce on the table wasn’t hot enough so don’t be afraid to ask for spicier additions.

And finally, Homeroom in Oakland.

This final stop on my foodie weekend was an amazing spot for comfort food – a menu packed with mac and cheese, some vegetable sides, and salads but little else. It was fabulous!

Again, the four of us picked different sides and styles of pasta but everyone of them was perfect. We had one garlic, one sriracha, one goat, and a final jalapeño popper styled and each flavor was strong yet balanced and the popper mac tasted exactly like a giant jalapeño popper!

We couldn’t stop eating.

This was also the most fun to wait for. The joint is more than a little hipster with communal seating, eye-grabbing decor and a line that is just a sign in sheet you kind of have to keep an eye on. The crowd can get big and you’ll never be seated until your whole party arrives but there are benches and chalk to help you through the wait.

My friends and I are 25 years old and where endlessly entertained by a chalked out hopscotch draw on the sidewalk outside the side door. Paired with the childhood comfort of – yet grown up pallet! – mac and cheese and it’s a steal.

Again, in the trend of these small restaurants, everything is locally sourced and freshly made. The waitstaff was super nice but can blend in with customers so don’t be embarrassed if you mix them up a time or two! – a very sweet high schooler was very embarrassed at mistaking me for a floating server.


So here’s the wrap up: depending on where you are and where your going, if you are looking for quality food with great atmosphere, there are plenty of small overlooked places you should not miss out on! They are too good to pass up even with a bit of a wait.

So that’s all my foodie news, until next time:

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

Eating in NorCal….

On Tracks: California Edition

And welcoming our guest writer (and an amazing travel companion): Bex!

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That’s right, this week we have a special guest writer, my little sister Bex – this is the same sister I’ve traveled through the UK and Europe with pretty much every time I talk about my recent travels here on my blog. I haven’t traveled up to her at school yet, but after reading and editing this post, I may be looking at following her lead and use our California public transport! But for now, read on and enjoy!

I just recently used the Amtrak to travel between Fresno and Los Angeles for the weekend and I’ll admit, I’m not a regular commuter on public transportation – I always figured it was easier and faster to just drive myself between the two when I had to and not make the effort to get dropped off and picked up from a station.

The week I decided to use it was the second weekend of four in a row I was planning on making this back and forth trip and the idea of driving for 3+ hours each way four times in a row really didn’t appeal to me. So I decided to check prices before resigning myself to either driving anyway or just scrapping my plans for that week. Round trip cost turned out to only be $64, just slightly more than it costs me for gas.

There were pros and cons – as with most things. I didn’t have to drive, which meant that I could get some reading done or watch things on YouTube or Netflix because the trains I was on (both ways) had free wifi (always a plus!). On my train back, they also had a food car which wasn’t too overpriced.

Another good thing with Amtrak is they have guaranteed connections. My train down from Fresno was delayed about half an hour (and when you get your ticket, you can put your phone number and have them text you notifications about delays which is handy) which meant we got into Bakersfield late. However, my bus connection and all the others were still there because they don’t leave until the train gets there and their passengers have made it to the bus they’re meant for.

All the employees I dealt with had a good attitude and seemed cheerful when checking tickets and offered those with luggage help. I enjoyed my trip thoroughly and not having large amounts of luggage (I only had a backpack) made it even easier to do.

one of the downsides I discovered was that it took longer than it would have to drive myself by about an hour (though that’s not a huge deal by any means).

The big thing is that train doesn’t reach everywhere. My trip to LA, as I mentioned earlier, had me switch out from train to bus at Bakersfield because there aren’t actually direct trains from Fresno to Los Angeles. Also, even when you’ve reached your final destination, you still need to arrange a way to get to where you’re staying in that city instead of just going straight there while driving.

There are also the same hassles whenever you’re taking public transportation – not every other passenger is considerate of those around them and if your train is crowded there is little to no privacy.

However, I can see the appeal in using it from time to time. As a group, I think it would be interesting to take a train to other places – have a group experience without having to worry about being pulled over or distracting the person who’s driving. And even when you’re by yourself, you get to see the places you may drive often from a completely different perspective.

I enjoyed my trip thoroughly and not having large amounts of luggage (I only had a backpack) made it even easier to do.

I hadn’t known when I got my tickets, but many times if you’re a college/university student, your school may have access to codes that can cut down on the ticket price so be sure to check that as well. Tickets can be bought online as eTickets or to be picked up at the station or can be bought directly from the station. I used the eTicket and it was as easy as paying and then printing it in my apartment.

So all in all, a big thumbs up and would go again for Amtrak and that’s all from me!

This is Bex writing for Leave on the Wind, (but still) helping you soar.

On Tracks: California Edition