I flew into Oakland airport because it was closer for the return trip from Yosemite. You could also fly into San Francisco depending on available flights and times. My dad was already in San Francisco for a meeting so my mom and I rented a car, then picked him up and started the hour and a half drive to Napa Valley. If you are planning on heading to Yosemite in the winter be sure to check road conditions because they are constantly changing and sometimes chains, 4WD or snow tires will be required.
Napa is absolutely stunning and such a serene place! If you are choosing a time to go I highly recommend fall when the leaves have started to change. I was there in November and the hills were just covered in yellows and reds. It was absolutely beautiful. I spent two nights at the Chateau de vie, which I also highly recommend!! Peter and Philip run this wonderful bed and breakfast. They are super sweet and make a fantastic breakfast that will keep you full till dinner. You can enjoy the B&B's hot tub, wine and cheese in the afternoon or take a stroll through the vineyards. Napa is home to some of the most famous wineries in the United States so finding a place for wine tasting is not difficult. As you drive down the main road pick a winery that looks interesting to you and pop in. Some wineries are by appointment only so if you know of a particular one you absolutely want to go to make sure to double check if you can stop in without an appointment or if you need to make one. Some wineries charge for tastings while others do not. For example, I tasted at Twomey winery, where a tasting cost 15 dollars per person. We bought a bottle of wine after the tasting and received a discounted tasting and two wine glasses. I'm not sure how customary that is but I recommend this winery if you are in the area. Just a quick side note about drinking; police are looking for drunk driving so make sure you have a safe way back to wherever you are staying.
The Cheese Factory
On the way to the National Seashore Park we stopped off at the world famous cheese factory to try some samples. If you happen to be passing by this place I suggest you stop in and try some cheese. It is absolutely delicious! I got super lucky and found some organic soap in the small shop so I grabbed one of those to take home.
We headed to the national seashore from Napa and it was roughly a 1-2 hour drive depending on what you wanted to see. We headed out to the lighthouse at the very top of the National Seashore Park. Once you arrive at the lighthouse you take a quick 0.4-mile hike uphill to the visitor center and viewing platform. From here you can walk down 300 steps, which are equivalent to thirty flights of stairs to see the actual lighthouse. Sometimes people see whales from this location so make sure to keep an eye on the ocean. The park is also polluted with deer and falcons. The deer are much darker then I am used to seeing, so they are a bit harder to spot against the landscape, but I assure you they are there.
On the way into or out of the park be sure to stop at the Point Reyes abandoned boat. It's located behind a general store. When you are driving to the park you will see it on the right hand side of the road. The general store has signs posted that they will tow your car if you park in their lot so try to grab street parking. It's just a quick walk out to the highly photographed and famous boat. When I was there they had a restoration project going on so try to keep to the trail so the vegetation doesn't get disturbed. It can be a little mucky on the trail and by the boat so I recommend closed toed shoes.
Yosemite National Park
I don't think anyone can tell you how magnificent Yosemite is. I think it's something you just have to experience for yourself. Standing in a valley, carved by a glacier, looking up at a 3000 foot granite rock face is an unbelievable experience. It's even better when the sky is blue and there is snow on the trees.
Entrance Fees: Anyone driving into the park can purchase a private vehicle pass for 20 dollars, which gives you access to the park for a week. You can also walk or bike into the park for 10 dollars per person.
Climate: Expect everything in Yosemite. It can be raining one second and then sunny the next. Make sure you bring layers and a rain coat into the park since temperature and weather can change so quickly.
Lodging: There are eight places to stay inside the park not including campsites. Depending on what type of accommodation you are looking for they have everything from rustic cabins to a luxurious historical lodge. Below is information about availability and pricing.
Yosemite Lodge: Hotel starting at $200
Wawona: Lodge starting at $160
White Wolf: Closed for construction (as of 2015)
Tuolumne Meadows Lodge: Cabins starting at $127
High Sierra: Backcountry tent cabins starting at $98
Housekeeping Camp: Cabins starting at $160
Curry Village: Cabins and motel rooms starting at $126
Ahwahnee: Historical Lodge starting at $491
Shuttle Service: Yosemite provides a free shuttle service that I recommend you use. They have stops all over the park, especially at places that have very limited parking (i.e. Trail heads). The shuttle runs every ten or twenty minutes depending on the season and the time. Not only is this super convenient but the buses are hybrid vehicles, which help cut down on emissions. Go green and ride the tram!
Hiking: There are lots of hiking options in the park. Some areas close for winter so make sure to check on that if you will be there when it’s “off season”. I was unable to hike to the oldest sequoia due to construction, but I guess that means I'll just need to make a second trip. If you are looking for a strenuous hike with waterfall views I recommend vernal falls. It's roughly three miles and has an elevation gain of around 1000 feet. It is straight uphill so be prepared when you set out. Half dome is the parks iconic trail and is a 16 mile round trip hike. Permits are required for this trail and hikers will have to climb a cable latter to reach their final destination. Many people make it to the latter but never make the climb up. No matter where you hike be sure to have enough water, snacks and layers for changing weather.
Animal Spotting: The amount of scenic views packed into Yosemite can easily make a person forget that there is also wildlife in the park, but if you are looking in the right places you might just catch a glimpse of some amazing animals. The first coyote I saw was walking by a bus stop pick-up and made his way past some shops and eventually into the woods. I never would have expected a coyote be roaming where all these people were, but he was there nonetheless. I also saw deer by the village inn gift shop; another weird place to find animals. Keep your eyes peeled since animals are unpredictable, especially in this park.
Bears: I heard all this hype about bears in the park and never actually saw one. Total bummer! That being said there are around 500 bears in the park, all of which have become very sneaky at stealing people food. The park service has asked visitors to use food storage areas and containers as well as to make sure that nothing is left in cars. The idea is to keep the bears wild and all the park visitors safe. Check out this link for extra information on bear encounters.
Napa is a stunning place with rolling hills that are just filled with grape vines. It makes for excellent pictures, especially when the sun cooperates and hits the hills just right. I would recommend a wide angle lens for shots here. The national seashore had a mix of scenery and wildlife so I would recommend bringing a long lens for wildlife and a wide angle for scenic shots. Yosemite is one of the most scenic national parks in the country and depending on where you are you can get some fantastic shots. I was lucky enough to encounter a playful coyote looking for a snack in a snowy field. He hunted a bit and then came straight to me. I was face to face with the most photogenic coyote I have ever seen. If you don't mind carrying the gear I would bring everything you have. You certainly don't want to miss a great shot because you didn't bring your long lens and teleconverter.
Beanie or Buff
Reusable water bottle
Closed toed shoes