Our family road trip; USA 2017.
Part 1: LA ⤕ Big Sur ⤕ Yosemite.
This is the first of a few posts where I’ll take you with us as we travelled through our fave parts of California and Arizona, USA, on our ultimate family road trip. We hired an RV and hit Big Sur and Yosemite at the very beginning of Spring when the snow was melting to make way for beautiful lilac flowers, then we flew down to Sayulita, Mexico where we hung with family, ate fish tacos and zipped around in a goft cart most of the time. Then we hired a huge Chevvy in Phoenix and travelled the magical and enchanting Arizona, finally tripping across the border into Utah. We travelled with our 2 little kids, Indi and Looshy (almost 5 and 3 year olds) so we did it in true family style (albeit a few times where we splurged on luxury for a few days). The below posts are practical little tips if you’re planning a family vaycay in these areas… I made notes as I went along to remind me how to do it next time, because I am HOOKED. I’ll never, ever stop wanting to traverse the long, black ribbons of America’s interstate highways… So here we go… First stop, Big Sur + Yosemite.
Leg 1: Travelling from LA ⤕ Big Sur.
The (alt) route.
We travelled in May 2017, and because of the terrible storms in January 2017 (which resulted in rockslides and demolishing of bridges) there are detours and closures on the famously scenic #1 Highway. Depending on when you read this post, you’ll need to check if the #1 Highway has been reopened, when we travelled in April 2017 they were estimating closures could last almost till 2018 so please check: Big Sur info.
If you’re travelling to Big Sur from LA on the detour, you’ll actually need to travel up the 101 and arrive via at Big Sur via Monterey. We stopped in San Miguel for an easy peasy ‘oats and fruit’ breakfast in our van and found this gorgeous historical landmark right there beside the highway. There are still gorgeous little towns along this detour so don’t be too disappointed about missing the #1 North. If you’re travelling from the north (Santa Cruz or San Francisco), you’ll be fine to just drive to Big Sur as normal along the #1 from Monterey. A little note, we loved seeing Monterey after bingeing on Big Little Lies! Stop at the Aquarium if you have kids!
Once you’re on the #1 South from Carmel by the Sea, you’ll get to experience some incredible vista’s along this magnificent highway. You literally can’t drive 1km without getting out and taking photos. My husband who is a photographer was losing his mind! But don’t stop too long, you’ll want to arrive at the campground before dark, because it’s like stepping into a magical land and if possible, even more beautiful than the ocean views.
Handy music lovers tip: depending on which cell provider you’re with, cell reception can get VERY sketchy out there on the number 1. We were with T-Mobile and it was literally a blackout the whole time (same goes for Yosemite and much of the desert area of Arizona) so I suggest setting your shopify playlists to DOWNLOAD so you can listen to music even when you’re offline.
Camping in Big Sur.
I was worried that we’d feel crowded by other campers but the way they’ve set out this campground is just magical. Huge old redwood trees have been laid between each campsite and it felt so private, and each campsite has its own private little fire place and picnic table. We slept in our RV but my father who was travelling with us stayed in one of the cabins, and while small, it was so wonderfully cozy and warm with a little gas fireplace and red plaid curtains. He looked like an elderly Clarke Griswold as he sat with a pipe on the porch of his cabin. We ate at the local tavern and got right into the spirit. Note: Because of the road closures we didn’t travel any further south than the camp ground, but it was so quiet at the moment and really the perfect time to visit! Also interesting to note that a friend who travelled there without kids during the same time accessed the southern party of Big Sur via a 2 hour detour through the mountains, may be worth looking into if you want to go further south and enjoy the quietness of a usually bustling tourist magnet. Also, depending on when you travel, be sure to check the Big Sur facebook page to see if closures have been reopened.
Leg #2: Yosemite.
We travelled from Big Sur to Yosemite mid April 2017 and there were some road closures due to late-melting snow, however this didn’t effect our journey coming from Big Sur (we drove Route 152 from Big Sur and then ⤕ 140 to Mariposa and into the Valley, it’s the basic route that Google maps gives you so super easy). However if you were driving from Sanfransico it may suggest you go the 120, which takes you through Big Oak Flat Road, which was closed when we drove… if you check the Yosemite website you’ll be fine: Yosemite Driving info.
This majestic place stole my heart when I visited in my 20s, again in my 30s and this time, with my family in tow, it felt even more breathtaking than ever. I don’t think anyone can EVER prepare you for how beautiful Yosemite is. There isn’t any reading, studying Ansel Adams photos or documentary watching that can prepare you for the freshness of the air, the beauty of the dramatic rising rock faces or beauty of the deep forests… so you’ll just have to take my word. And the following tips.
Where to stay? (Believe me this will be a bit of a rabbit hole of a question)
Yosemite is a place that once you decide to visit, the information on where to stay can feel like a bit of a rabbit hole, and its kind of like there’s so much to choose from, then depending on when you’re booking you may find there isn’t much available. Accommodation in the Valley books out fast (especially camping and RV options!) but you can try your luck here. Be warned, if you start looking around on Tripadvisor you’ll fall down another rabbit hole, because it seems everyone has a (good and/or bad) opinion on all the different options, so don’t take too much notice. But you really can’t go too wrong I don’t think… especially in the Valley where its all so close, and Americans really like to play by the rules so everything runs pretty smooth.
We had the RV but decided to stay away from the crowds of Yosemite Valley and lodge at the Hilltop Cabins in Foresta. Foresta is the tiniest, remote little village within the gates of the National Park and is a great option if you’d prefer alone time or if don’t get lodging in the Valley. When you’re driving there you better have a good map (and it better be day light!) because the almost non existent roads are so obscure and tiny! It’s the oddest, cutest little town I’ve ever encountered. Kind of like someone threw a bunch of cabins up in the air, in the middle of a forest and let them fall where they may. The cabin (there are two identical cabins, Lupin and Sage) and it was absolutely quaint and cozy, (and had wifi which helped because there was no reception anywhere else). We booked through Steve on VRBO.and he was a pleasure to deal with. Next time we will definitely try to stay in the Valley for a new experience though.
My picks (from research only as I haven’t stayed in the Valley yet) would be:
For a ritzy (but authentically American) hotel experience: The majestic, for it’s grandness and traditional American ‘craft era’ architecture.
Lodging: We haven’t stayed in the Valley but we plan to next time… I’ll try the cabins at Half Dome Village, then there’s Yosemite Family Lodge (more of a family place or for bigger groups… think a family resort but Yosemite style, not our cup of tea personally, but it has a restaurant and because food is hard to come by in the Valley it may suit some families)
Camping: So this is where it gets competitive… there are certain dates that campground reservations open up and apparently they can book out in hours… (I know, like a Spell drop right?!). You’ll find details of campgrounds + dates they’re open here, and clear instructions on how to make a reservation here. There are Lower Pines and North Pines, which both look magnificent. I liked the look of the custom camping at House Keeping (perfect for those who love camping outdoors but don’t want the hassle of setting up a tent). However, because we were visiting in early Spring and it was going to be pretty cold, i was concerned about there not being heated cabins at Housekeeping, so we chose the Airbnb in Foresta, but I was this close to staying here.
Out of the Valley: I’ve stayed out of the Valley twice now, though both times still within the National Park Gates, this time we stayed at Foresta (link to Hilltop Cabins above) and when I was younger I went custom camping at Evergreen Lodge. I really enjoyed staying here, simple dome tents are already set up for you when you arrive. Toilets were fine and the lodge was warm and welcoming. And staying here, though an hour’s drive out of the Valley, means you’re actually close to other sights like the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir which was a wonderfully enjoyable walk, and much quieter than in the valley. My personal recommendation is to stay in the valley if you can find availability.
Dining: One of the most important tips for your stay is around food and dining out. If you want to eat at one of the few restaurants in the Valley, reserve a table well in advance as they book out, next time i’ll book a table at the Majestic Dining room which I hear is quite grand.