4 seasons in 2 weeks
From the summer of love till winter of your dreams. Where else than in the USA can you experience four seasons in two weeks? Together with rough landscapes, wildlife, dream houses, culture and history, this route is a true American Dream.
The start of this route, San Francisco is a city of ups and down. In many ways. Built on forty hills, the city is like a concrete wave, slowly rolling into The Bay which in turn serves as a natural AC unit and gave humanity the world’s most beautiful bridge. San Francisco is one of America’s most liberal cities. Its the birthplace of the Flower Power movement that turned the sixties into a legendary decade. A vibe which can still be felt in the Haight Ashbury and Castro districts though thanks to the success of Silicon Valley ‘Mo’ Money’ is the new ‘Make love not war’.
San Francisco in short, is the heart of progressive America. A heart that becomes more and more difficult to hear the further you travel from it. Especially when you head East and arrive at the end of this route in Salt Lake city, capital of both the state Utah and the Mormon Church. Here, in the shadow of the largest temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you’ll find that fruits of the Wild Wild West are mostly forbidden…..
➢ A rental car including ‘one way drop off charge’ is preferable. Pick it up in San Francisco and drop it off in Salt Lake for a mere 250 bucks. Since gas in the US a much, much cheaper than in Europe, treat yourself to a full size SUV and feel like a king or queen of the road.
➢ Low season: When you choose to drive this route between November and March, you can both enjoy four seasons in 2 weeks as well as pretty low prices.
➢ This route (and accommodations) is nice to do with your family or friends as well as for couples.
Your rental company will provide you with a map when you pick up your car. But since you on holiday, just bring your GPS (on your smart phone) or rent one. $7 a day is a great investment.
America is the land of plenty. From 8 liter ice buckets to 25 meters of cereal choice, everything is possible. This also goes for accommodation. Name it and it exists. Think the impossible and you can spend the night in it. For every price category, every size, you can find a hotel, motel, apartment, villa, tree house or boat.
In case you’re only in need of a place to sleep, you’ll find it for $50 at Motel6 or another chain. For those who plan to live and feel like a local or a unique place to eat, sleep, drink, read and relax, AirBnB.com is the site to check. Here you find everything and more on the roof over your head front. From 50 to 1000 bucks a night (including free travel tips and tricks of the owners), it is all up to you (and your wallet). Those who like to travel and decide day by day and are looking for 2 or 3 stars above the average motel, Hotwire.com offers discounts on renown hotels of up to 70%.
Day 1 to 3 – San Francisco
Hippies, homeless, homo’s, hipsters & Hispanics, San Francisco buzzes like never before. Hazy in the morning, the city usually enjoys warm and sunny afternoons with temperatures around 60F on a bright and shiny winter day.
Stepping into the echoes of the days of Flower Power is something you can do in Haight Ashbury. Here you will find the sounds and smells of the Summer of Love,. After the love and peace, walk over to the Mission District where the colorful inhabitants and murals will tell you all about the culture and history of Latin America.
Next to The Mission is the happy home of San Francisco’s LGBT community, a perfect place to enjoy the California sun and a chilled white wine on one of the little terraces. After the Castro you can stroll over to China(town), eat some pasta in North Beach or, if you really have to, do some tourist spotting at Fisherman’s Wharf. Every San Francisco neighborhood has its charm, every San Francisco museum its beauty and every park its own character. Don’t forget to walk across the Golden Gate, take a ferry to Sausalito or the subway to San Francisco’s little rough brother: Oakland or its academic liberal sister: Berkeley.
The best way to see and enjoy San Francisco is by foot or public transport (bus, BART and Cable Car (get on or off before the start/end of the line). When you fly into the city, the Bay Area Rapid Transit a.k.a. BART takes you to the city centre in half an hour. After a couple of days in the urban jungle, you pick up your car somewhere downtown and head for the Golden Gate.
Day 4 to 6 – The Sea Ranch
Most tourists drive South, over route 1 to Los Angeles. But when you go 180 degrees the other way, you’ll be surprised by all the gifts you get, starting with a few magical minutes driving over the Golden Gate, followed by the gentle meandering road over green hills that lead you to the splendor of the Pacific.
Once you get to the ocean, you enjoy the car-commercial-like Route 1 which leads you through small fishing towns, lush meadows and dense forests till it drops you off at the architectural gem The Sea Ranch.
About three hours after the San Francisco skyline blinked at your for the last time in your rearview mirror, you stand on the driveway of your own wooden Bunking Barn with ocean view, fireplace, jacuzzi and Zen garden (click for article on this place). In case you are looking for more affordable housing, groceries or a restaurant you drive 10 more minutes North to the village of Gualala.
The New York Times named The Sea Ranch ‘Utopia by the sea’. This is the place architects developed a new style of building back in the 60’s: the Bunking Barns. Weathered wood, glass, wind, salt and the sea are the fundament of this beautiful style of which you find countless examples in this enclave.
The Sea Ranch can be windy, rainy and feel like fall in spring, summer and winter. But in the end, the sun always shines on its beautiful hiking trails that lead you along wild waters and wooden palazzo before getting into your hot tub, spot a migrating whale and enjoy the Milky Way after the sun is done for the day.
Day 7 to 9 – Petaluma
Petaluma is a bit ‘off the beaten track’. But the former poultry capital of the world is Columbus’ Egg for travelers who want to lunch in San Francisco, drink wine in the vineyards of Napa or Sonoma before dining in the historical centre of Petaluma. Of course you can also take it easy, hang out and enjoy the spring breeze on your hotel balcony or in the vast garden of your remodeled chicken barn.
In case this last option sounds appealing to you, you can contact the owners of a former barn in Petluma. Their Wine Country Cottage (click for article on this place) is a former chicken barn that has been turned into a little paradise. At arrival you’ll find the pellet stove burning and a bottle of local wine and home made chocolates on the kitchen counter. The sloping garden houses wild quails and borders a small creek.
Day 10 to Reno
Reno, Nevada has put itself on the map by the brilliant slogan ‘The Biggest Little City in the World’. The road towards the baby brother of Vegas leads you through the Golden State’s capital, Sacramento. Here you can still feel a bit of the fever that once upon a time set off the gold rush that lead to the Wild West.
Once you arrive in Reno, you’ll notice that the 2008-2013 financial crisis has not left the gamblers unaffected. In many casinos the light have faded and windows have been replaced by wooden boards. The ones that are still open, are so 24/7. No a big poker or one armed bandit fan? People and ball watching at the National Bowling Stadium can be fun, as is skiing at nearby Lake Tahoe.
Another option while in Reno is to activate the tasting buds. Coming from downtown you cross the river and walk towards the ‘old’ Reno. Here, like a phoenix, the biggest little city in the world is slowly rising from its ashes. Bars, restaurants, boutiques and a micro brewery have turned around a sleazy part of town into a hip quartier. Homebrewed beer and good food you’ll find at Brasserie St. James. Another hotspot is Craft (click for article on this place) at 22 Martin Street. This is a popular hangout in a former costume factory that’s been turned into a bar where locals frame their stories in beer, wine and whisky.
Day 11 to 13 – Idaho
‘Idaho? Potato country?’ How often don’t you hear this after answering question number 2 on the ‘usual suspects list of questions to be answered when visiting the US from abroad. A very likable American custom by the way, that usually leads to interesting conversations. But Idaho it is and Idaho it will be during these 3 days.
The home of the potato is, especially in winter, a sleeping beauty. Thanks to the reaction of the majority of the American population, you have the state virtually for yourself with two of the country’s most beautiful parks around the corner: Grand Teton en Yellowstone.
Bison, moose, bears, wolves, eagles, all this wildlife competes with plenty of winter sports and hiking opportunities here. But instead of heading out into the snow, you can also choose to chill out next to a woodstove in a rocking chair with a stunning view of the Grand Tetons in your own ‘little’ wooden house on the prairie: the Thistle Dew Cabin (click for article on this place).
When you choose Idaho as you base to explore Yellowstone and Grand Teton from, you’ll discover that this side of the mountains is more laid back and affordable than the Wyoming side (which is very nice as well y the way). From Driggs, Idaho your up on your skis within a 15 minutes drive and it will take you less than an hour to stand amidst the mighty bison of Teton or in a hot and steamy après-ski bar in Jackson Hole. Yellowstone is an hour and half drive away and in case you go there it might be an idea to book a couple of nights (up front to avoid disappointments) in the park (especially from May until September when the park gets pretty crowded).
Day 14 to Salt Lake City
From the base of the Tetons to the capital of Utah is approximately four to five hours by car. The Winter Olympics host of 2002 is built at an altitude of 1500 meter and besides Olympics famous as the seat of the Mormon Church.
On and around Temple Square the Mormon buildings look impressive. One of the, the library, offers you the possibility to track your ancestors way, way back. Even in this time of Facebook and Google, it is a bit creepy to see yourself and your family pop up in the archives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It makes you wonder why.
Other that this, Salt Lake is a nice city that has more and more to offer in the field of food and drinks, especially since the most rigid alcohol laws have been abolished.
From Salt Lake City to San Francisco (in case you want to make a roundtrip) is less than a day. But far better than making it full circle is add five days to your trip, drop off you car and board Amtrak’s legendary California Zephyr which takes you over the iron Route 66 through the Rockies to Chicago in a day and a half: California Zephyr Dreaming.
Last minute hotels & car rental: www.hotwire.com
Private houses, rooms, B&B’s: www.airbnb.com
Site California: www.ca.gov
Site Nevada: www.nv.gov
Site Idaho: www.idaho.gov
Site Wyoming: www.wyoming.gov
Site Utah: www.utah.gov
National Parks: www.nps.gov
Grand Teton National Park: www.nps.gov
Yellowstone National Park: www.nps.gov
Train: Amtrak California Zephyr: www.amtrak.com/california-zephyr-train