Thursday, March 22, 2012

Winter's Last Lucky Call in Yosemite Valley

Sometimes travel is all about (un)lucky timing. You can plot your trip out months in advance, reserve your favorite hotel or campground, pack all the gear you'll think you need, and then wham! Nature decides it has other ideas for your trip: how about a massive Sierra Nevada snowstorm in spring? 

This last weekend in Yosemite National Park, so much snow hit that wet clumps falling off spindly pine trees in the valley actually hurt as they thumped my head. Even with AWD and snow tires, driving up into the mountains to Big Oak Flat from Groveland felt like Mission Impossible. Trekking to the bathroom and shower house from my tent cabin at Curry Village was more like a mini hike, post-holing through a heavy blanket of snow.

But who cares once the storm clouds floated away, piercingly blue skies were revealed, and the powder dusting on Half Dome looked as ethereal as a fairlyand? Even when grey skies fleetingly returned, snowshoeing across the meadow by the Merced River still felt like a movie set, with us as the pioneer explorers heading for unknown parts. Frazil ice in the stream below Yosemite Falls was a bonus.

It even snowed along Hwy. 49 in California's Gold Country, which made me imagine mid-19th-century gold miners shivering in their tents by Sutter's Creek, praying they'd make it through another winter on hardtack biscuits and rancid bacon, until they could pan for gold again next spring. Just like a few of them did, I got lucky, too. Adventuring in Yosemite during a snowstorm turned out not to be bad luck at all.

Have you had a memorable trip that got messed up by weather, only to turn out spectacularly? Tell us about it by leaving a comment below!

Related posts:
Skiing & Snowshoeing in Yosemite National Park
Catching the Firefall in Yosemite Valley
Tahoe Trails Without the Crowds, But with Dogs

Photo credits: Yosemite National Park (Sara J. Benson)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Coastal California: The Anti-Hotel Top 10 List

Nothing against motel and hotel chains, which are great in a pinch when you want to save money. But coastal California's most inspiring places to stay are one-of-a-kind. Vintage beach houses, wooden cabins with ocean views, canvas-sided yurts perched on sea cliffs, and safari tents are just a few of the more offbeat (and often eco) lodgings along my stretch of Pacific shoreline.

Cruising from south to north, my top 10 favorite by-the-beach hideaways that I've found so far are:
  • Crystal Cove Beach Cottages, Orange County - Authentically restored 1930s, '40s and '50s seaside bungalows in a state park's historic district. With a beach bar and breezy cafe, you won't need to leave all weekend long. Reservations are tough to get, however.
  • El Capitan Canyon, Santa Barbara County - Creekside cabins and "glamping" tents in a canyon uphill from El Capitan Beach, another state park. They're a great deal in winter, when rates (and temperatures) drop. In summer, the canyon is traffic-free.
  • Jalama Beach Cabins [PDF], Santa Barbara County - Rustic, but newly built wooden cabins with fun bunk beds for the kids and a futon for any friends who decide to come along at the last minute. It's windy here!
  • Treebones Resort, Big Sur - You'll drive a squiggly road uphill from Hwy. 1 to find your canvas-sided yurt waiting with a pedestal sink and cozy quilt-covered bed. It's far from the rest of Big Sur, though, and can be noisy.
  • Asilomar State Park, Monterey Peninsula - In the old-timey seaside resort town of Pacific Grove, this state park conference grounds books uniquely historical rooms in California arts-and-crafts buildings designed by Julia Morgan of Hearst Castle fame. They're thin-walled and the beds aren't comfy, but the common rooms have chatty fireplace nooks.
  • Costanoa Lodge, Pescadero - A short scenic drive north of Santa Cruz, this rustic lodge is all about its tent cabin villages, where you can warm up by outdoor fireplaces in the comfort stations before retiring to your unheated cabin (mercifully, the beds have electric warming pads to keep you toasty).
  • Point Arena Lighthouse, Mendocino County - Stay in historical lightkeeper's homes at the edge of the ocean, guarded by the tallest lighthouse in California that visitors are actually allowed to climb to the top of. Architecturally speaking, the digs are drab, but the rocky panoramas are mesmerizing.

Got another gem of a California coastal lodging spot to share? Let us know by leaving a comment below. We'd especially love to hear about secret spots near San Diego and on the Redwood Coast!

Related posts:
10 Steps to a Perfect Day in Big Sur
Edible Travels: Farmers Market Finds
SoCal Desert Blooms: Poppies, Cacti & More

Photo credit: Pigeon Point (Sara J. Benson)