February 25, 2024

A Whirlwind Tour of San Francisco (National Parks Trip #3)

Jump aboard for a little bit of time and space travel from our New England adventures of 2023 back to 2017 and the National Parks of the West Coast.  This post marks a return to the series documenting our West Coast National Parks trip in the summer of 2017.  Alan and I, along with our 18 year old daughter, Kyra, logged a total of 8,513 memorable miles of adventure over the course of five and a half weeks during the months of July and August.  Although we had a brand new Outdoors RV travel trailer at home, we had decided to take our older Jayco on this trip because it had bunk space for Kyra.  That would preclude having to make up the bed in the ORV every night we were on the road.  Plus, with our son, Ryan, having aged out of traveling with us, his empty bunk provided a bit more space for Kyra’s clothes and gear on this extended trip.  Truth be told, this mama’s heart would have been much happier if it had been Ryan in that bunk instead of extra camping paraphernalia.  I absolutely loved traveling with our kids, and I still miss having them along.

The last time I posted about our third cross-country National Parks trip, the three of us had just finished up a three-night stay at Yosemite National Park.  From there, it was a quick (really quick!) one-day tour of San Francisco and Point Reyes National Seashore, then on to Redwood National and State Park in northern California.  Let’s pick up the story on the morning we left the Hodgdon Meadow Campground in Yosemite and headed for Lake Solano County Park in Winters, California.  This would be Day #17 in the five and a half week trip. 

If you think our three days in Yosemite was a whirlwind visit, you should have seen us tour San Francisco!  We had always intended this to be a National Parks trip.  However, when you’re traveling with a teenager who was dreaming of big city lights, you make concessions.  We had previously spent an evening in Los Angeles at Kyra’s request; now, we planned to spend a day in San Francisco attempting to hit the highlights before continuing to check off the nine National Parks on our itinerary.

The campground at Lake Solano was a quiet, wooded lakeside park with plenty of wildlife.  Deer, pheasants, quail and peacocks (yes, peacocks!) strolled and strutted through the campsites both days we were there.  It’s funny – because we were using this campground only a base camp for visiting San Francisco, we never even saw the lake, and that’s not like us at all.  While not quite within spitting distance – it was a 65 mile run into San Francisco - Lake Solano Park did keep us out of the hustle and bustle of the city and in the type of campground environment that we favor.  We arrived on a Friday afternoon, spent Saturday on our quick tour of San Francisco, and took off for Redwood National and State Park on Sunday morning.  Our campsite was a good one (although we didn’t actually spend much time in it) and we enjoyed having a young family with children as neighbors.

The grassy area to the left was a popular stop for the park's wildlife.

Knowing that Saturday, Day #18 of this epic journey, included a long list of must-sees, the first thing we did when we got to San Francisco was fuel up at Caffe Trieste on Vallejo Street which has been around and popular for more than 65 years.  (Fun fact: Trieste is a port in northeastern Italy.)  Papa Gianni Giotti opened this little cafĂ© in 1956 – the first espresso coffeehouse on the west coast.  Known for both its coffee and its music, this gem will probably outlast all of us.  It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it was a real treat.  Once we were fed and highly caffeinated, it was time to tackle the day’s itinerary.

Caffe Trieste

I will admit that we did not do San Francisco justice.  However, this was not meant to be an all-encompassing tour of the entire west coast.  This trip was our third and final cross-country tour of our country’s most iconic National Parks.  At least Kyra got a taste of the cities she wanted to visit.  She’s our adventurer, and I have no doubt that she’ll return to Los Angeles and San Francisco on her own if the urge is strong enough.  At the time, we packed in as much as we could on our whirlwind tour.

Our “scavenger hunt” list probably included the attractions that most tourists want to see in San Francisco - Chinatown, Lombard Street, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Presidio, Pioneer Park, Ghirardelli Square, Alcatraz Island, the Painted Ladies and, of course, the city’s famous Cable Cars.   We saw them all, but it’s a good thing we had fueled up at Caffe Trieste first!  Eventually, we did cross the Golden Gate Bridge (that looked anything but golden in the fog) and picked up Route 101 north toward Route 1 and the Point Reyes National Seashore.

The (not very golden) Golden Gate Bridge

The Point Reyes Lighthouse was built in 1870 to warn mariners of the Point Reyes Headlands that jut 10 miles out to sea and pose a threat to ships traveling north from San Francisco Bay.  This historic lighthouse served west coast mariners for over a century - 105 years to be exact – until the U. S. Coast Guard installed an automated light on the point in 1975.  Ownership of the Point Reyes Lighthouse (and the responsibility for preserving it) was then transferred to the National Park Service.  The Point Reyes Lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.  I’m thinking that it must be a magical place from which to watch the sunset.

The Point Reyes Lighthouse - such a beautiful setting!

Point Reyes’ renowned Cypress Tunnel was rather magical itself.  Monterey Cypress trees – one of the few tree species adapted to the wind and ocean weather conditions on Point Reyes - were planted along the road that led to the KPH Maritime Radio Receiving Station around 1930.  The station is an Art Deco-style edifice that was built between 1929 and 1931.  It provided ship to shore communication for most of the 20th century.  The former communication station now houses the North District Operations Center for Point Reyes National Seashore.  The Cypress Tunnel is familiar to many; now, whenever I see a photo of it, I think back to the pleasure of driving beneath that magnificent canopy of tree limbs.

These Monterey Cypress trees are nearly 100 years old.

After visiting Point Reyes, Alan, Kyra and I circled back around to Lake Solano and tucked ourselves in for a much needed night’s sleep.  We knew we had a full day’s drive on Sunday, and we were excitedly looking forward to camping among the redwoods in Jedediah Smith State Park.

Next up are our adventures in Redwood National and State Park.  This park provided such a wide variety of wonderful experiences that it was immediately added to my “return to” list.  I hope you’ll join us!

If you would like future posts delivered directly to you via email, simply provide your email address in the subscription box in the column on the right.  I will not share your email address with any person or organization; it will be used only to deliver my blog posts directly to your email inbox whenever they’re published.  Thanks for stopping by - it’s a pleasure to have you along on our adventures!



  1. Mary, your described itinerary evoked fond memories of our own tour of most of these places, and I'm glad we did it when we did, for reasons that are now obvious to everyone. Aren't you glad, as we are, that we both documented these travels? Somehow, it makes easier, to a degree, the inevitable arrival of the treachery of old age and the inevitable constraints in which it seems to delight. You wouldn't know anything about that, of course, but my guess is you can conjure up a plan in no time. We are fairly satisfied with our process of slowly returning from orbit, although there have been a few misfires, which I intend to write about. Until reading these retrospectives of yours, I hadn't given much thought to doing the same, thinking--perhaps naively--that readers could just look back themselves. Well, given the incredible velocity of today's society, there is probably little likelihood that readers will do their own exhumations over 19 years of posts and maybe a couple million words. I may have to rethink this because of you young whipper-snappers with your new-fangled ideas. Enjoyed the post, as usual.

    1. Ah, Mike, there is a difference between you and me. As a full-timer, you were diligent in your efforts to document your travels from the road, and managed to stay current as you and Sandy moved around. As a part-timer, I always wait until a trip is over and we're back home to document it. Since this is 2024 and I'm still writing about 2017, you can see how well that system works for me. Unfortunately, I don't think I have the wherewithal to write from the road. As for aging, don't think for a moment that we don't feel it. In fact, that's precisely why we're pushing to get all of the "big trips" done while we're still able. Still, I'm thinking that if we stopped traveling for a couple of years, I might just catch up. But we all know that's probably not going to happen for a while!

  2. Mary, Thanks for sharing this. It has been at least 10 years since I visited San Francisco, and from what I have heard and read lately, it may be a few more years before I return. Nevertheless, SF remains one of America's great cities, and--you're correct--one day doesn't do it justice. I loved visiting Alcatraz Island and riding the streetcars. My favorite was having Irish Coffee at Buena Vista near the end of the streetcar line. Thanks again, and have a great weekend. Joe

    1. Joe, as amazing as San Francisco was, I think it was probably a "one and done" for Alan and me. We're happy we saw it, but we're not excited about returning. Now the redwood trees - they're another story entirely. So magical! I'd go back in a heartbeat! Safe travels!


Comments are encouraged and appreciated, so please do join the conversation!