• Travel

    Experience A Unique Adventure In The California National Parks


    For our one year anniversary and domestic baby moon trip, my husband and I boarded the plane for California national parks to enjoy some quality time away from home before our household becomes a family of 3. To stay safe from COVID, we intentionally chose an itinerary inclusive of California National Parks and AirBNBs with fully stocked kitchens to enjoy food ToGo and in the privacy of our homes. Here’s our one-week itinerary!

    West Hollywood

    A few days before we left for our trip to the California national parks, COVID hit the state pretty hard. The state enacted Stay-In orders. However, we didn’t let this scare us out of canceling our trip (although, we were very close in doing so!).

    Masks in place, we made our way out of the airport to our rental car before staying at the Kimpton La Peer Hotel. We weren’t super impressed with the hotel for the price they were charging for the night. A lot of things were broken or not working in our room, so they were gracious to comp us our overnight parking ($49). However, we didn’t mind the location of the hotel.

    The following morning, we walked 10 minutes down the road to Urth Caffe for a delicious breakfast. The blessing of California weather is that we were able to socially distance from other customers, yet still sit outside and feel like we were “dining-in.”

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    My husband ordered a Moroccan tea latte, I ordered a Mint Mocha Latte, and we shared an avocado toast, blueberry muffin, and bowl of berries. It’s okay to splurge on vacation, but doing so in moderation is key! For breakfast, we ended up sharing all of these items.

    The rest of our day, we explored West Hollywood and Beverly Hills by foot and car, gawking at insanely expensive houses and ridiculous cars along the way.

    We caught up with the Mulholland Drive and found a small trail to hike to get some scenic views above LA.

    Prior to heading east to Joshua Tree National Park, we found a cozy vegan Mexican restaurant called Gracias Madre (in West Hollywood) that was delicious! We didn’t miss the meat and felt very full and satisfied with all of our appetizers, entrees, desserts, and refreshing drinks.

    Joshua Tree National Park

    After swinging by Target to buy a cooler and to load up on some healthy produce and eggs, we drove a few hours east to Joshua Tree National Park.

    Props were officially given to my husband for finding a crazy unique AirBNB with an inflatable Igloo bedroom (with bathroom!) and a private, off-the-grid house run solely on solar power!

    The following morning, we were still jet-lagged and decided to take advantage of our early morning with a hike to Panorama Loop Trail via Black Rock Canyon.

    It was a ~30 minute drive from our AirBNB. After parking on the campgrounds (free), we snapped a picture of our trail and headed up the mountain. We brought a backpack with 3L of water and a few protein bars, and ended up drinking every last drop of water by the end of the hike.

    The California national park recommendations for Joshua Tree is to drink 1L of water / person / hour. We were short a bit of water, but still made it back to the car okay without feeling dehydrated.

    For the middle of July, we got started at 7:00am with the temperature being ~80 degrees. Armed with sun hats, lots of sunscreen (and reapplications!), and a steady pace, we were able to finish the hike in 3 hours (when the heat really picked up to 95+ degrees).

    The first mile of the hike was full sun exposure. The remaining 2.5 miles to the summit had patches of cooler shade from boulders and trees which were a refreshing place to pause and catch our breaths (okay- well, maybe just MY breath…!).

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    We ended up going clockwise once we met the Panorama Trail marking, and were happy to get the uphill part of the trail out of the way. In total, 3.5 miles (of the 6.5 mile trail) were a moderately steep incline. The descent was smooth, quick, and easy.

    We ran into some annoying flies and bees, but nothing so horrible that we wouldn’t recommend the trail to anyone else. Maybe bring bug spray if this trail is something you’re considering exploring.

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    Once we returned to our AirBNB, we packed our bags for a 5 hour drive north to Sequoia National Park.

    Sequoia National Park

    After a long drive north to Sequoia National Park, we pulled into Three Rivers, CA and our cute riverside AirBNB.

    The AirBNB did not have the best curbside appeal at first, when we were just pulling in. However, when we wrapped around the back of the property where our room was, we realized how lucky we were!

    The AirBNB was located on a private part of the river with multiple areas to bring a cocktail (or mocktail!) to relax by the water. The interior was nicely decorated, however, we were a bit disappointed in the quality of the kitchen utensils and cooking items.

    The many things we couldn’t complain about were the close proximity to the state park entrance (10 minutes), our AirBNB located next to a FroYo shop, delicious sandwich spot, and 2 yummy coffee cafes. On top of it, we were really close to a local village market, pizza place, and Mexican restaurant.

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    Our Sequoia National Park adventure started off with refreshing cool weather and a total of ~ 9 miles of hiking! 

    Entrance into the Park was $35 for one vehicle that was good for re-entry for 7 days. Upon entering the park, we wound our way up the mountain for a solid 45 minutes before reaching trail signs to Moro Rock Trail.

    Moro Rock Trail is a quick 1-mile hike (up and down) literally up a huge rock that gives you panoramic views of the river below. We got to the start of the hike around 9am and had no problems finding parking right at the start of the trail. Once on the trail, we only passed around 4 other couples on the way up. 

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    We had the top of the rock to ourselves for some beautiful scenic pictures, however, the trail did get busier on our way down. With the width of the trail being quite narrow, you had to squeeze by one another or hold off to the side to let others pass.

    After loading into our car, we headed north a bit to parking at the Museum. From there, we were able to take the Big Trees Trail for a leisurely, easy stroll that allowed us some great photo-ops with the Sequoia trees and a sighting of a cute black bear!

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    We continued up the Alta Trail from there to reach the Sherman Tree- known for being the largest tree in the world. It was about 2.5 miles from the Big Trees Trail to General Sherman Tree. We were literally the only ones on this modest climb other than 1 other trio that passed us the entire time. The road was visible during certain parts of the trail which seemed to be the more popular option for visiting tourists.

    Once we reached Sherman Tree, we stopped to enjoy a quick snack. We were pretty wiped by that point and were hopeful the free shuttle service the Park normally offered would be running. Unfortunately- due to COVID- it was not. With no other option, we set back on the Alta Trail to head back to the Museum.

    The massive Sequoia trees provided a cool descent with pretty much all shade in the forest and refreshing temperatures of 75 degrees. We were able to reach the car in 45 minutes hiking down at a pretty quick walking pace.

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    My husband and I rewarded our hiking efforts with tasty sandwiches at the Sierra Sandwich shop that was adjacent to our AirBNB. We made it with 15 minutes in time before closure! (Their hours appeared to only be open for lunch, from 11a-3p and closed on Sunday and Mondays).

    After lunch, we soaked in our private river in the backyard of the AirBNB. We found an innertube with some string, so Sahand secured me to a tree to let me float in the river without getting swept away! We wrapped up the night with outdoor Jenga and CornHole (Kate: 2 Sahand: 0 …. Just for memory’s sake…hehe).

    california national parks

    San Carlos

    Our next stop on our California national parks trip was San Carlos, CA- right in the middle of San Jose and San Francisco. It was another 3.5 hours in the car, so we decided to say goodbye to Sequoia National Park with a departing swim in some secret park pools we heard about.

    Here’s how to find the private pools:

    california national parks
    1. Enter Sequoia National Park and drive slowly through the Visitor’s Area
    2. Take a RIGHT on the first street you see after you pass the visitor’s center
    3. The road will wind down to some public bathrooms, picnic tables, and a caged recreational area; park here.
    4. Walk through the picnic tables behind the caged basketball court; you’ll see a sandy trail
    5. The trail zigzags a few times, but it’s not far- a few tenths of a mile before you hear the rush of the river
    6. At the base of the trail, you’ll see the river, rocks, and crystal clear water! The still areas are deep enough to see that it’s safe for a jump

    The water was definitely COLD, but on a hot July day, it was so refreshing to jump in and swim around a bit!

    After a bit of swimming and picture taking, we sunbathed to dry off, and then headed back to the car for our drive up to San Carlos.

    In order to save time, we took the most direct and efficient route to our next AirBNB (Serene Oasis in the Midst of Silicon Valley). By the time we arrived, it was around 7:45pm. We grabbed some local Afghani food at a restaurant called Kabul and loaded up on some Persian groceries and yogurt drinks (my new favorite- called doogh) at the next door Iranian Grocery Store (Adel Grocery).

    Due to COVID, we took our food to-go and enjoyed it back in the kitchen of our AirBNB.

    Highway 1 Adventures

    The following day, we kept our itinerary clean. All we wanted to do, was jump on Highway 1 going southbound to soak up the beautiful coastline views and little towns along the way.

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    We started out by going west to Half Moon Bay and enjoyed a little drive through the cute local town. From there, we caught up with Highway 1 and continued driving until we passed by some amazing vista points where we then pulled over.

    When our appetites started to kick in, we found a cozy Brazilian brunch spot, literally called Brazil Café in Santa Cruz where we enjoyed poached egg hashbrown skillets, mango smoothies, and a Brazilian rice and bean breakfast dish.

    FYI: the pacific coast was COLD. Be sure to pack warm clothing like you would dress for fall. Thankfully I had one warm sweater with me, but I my husband and I wish we packed jeans, covered shoes, and either a warm vest or scarf. We were shocked by how chilly it was up and down the coast, despite it being the middle of July (ie: temperatures were a HIGH of 60 degrees F!).

    We took the highway back home the same way and called it a day.

    california national parks

    Big Sur

    Originally, my husband and I were planning to splurge at Ventana Big Sur Resort & Spa for a 4 night baby/honeymoon getaway. Unfortunately, with the timing of COVID and partial closure to some of the facility amenities, we decided against staying at the resort. Instead, we searched for some fun hiking trails in the area to put some miles under our shoes!

    My husband had heard about the TanBark Trail, but despite our best efforts to find it (especially without Wifi / Map services as we drove along the bluffs), we wound up empty handed. When we saw a clustering of parked cars, we joined them and found a walking trail down to a beach cove.

    california national parks

    The trail was 0.5 miles down to the cove where we caught site of some mollusks, star fish, crabs, and sea anemones. There was a really cool tunnel right before the cove that was fun for taking creating pictures in. The hike back up to the car was steep and hot in the sun, so be sure to have a bit of water with you and take short breaks as needed.

    california national parks

    We continued our drive North until we saw signs for California National Parks. We were optimistic that we’d have more hiking options due to a local national park public parking area and restrooms; and we were right!

    There was beach access about 1.5 miles from the parking lot, or – if you wanted to continue hiking- you could branch off earlier at the signs that read Bluff Trails.

    Don’t be intimidated by the appearance of the steep hill shortly after starting the Bluff Trail! It was definitely steep, but very short in duration. At the top, the trail split again; one trail went along the meadows (what we took), and the other went uphill further for more of a cliff trail.

    The meadow trail was breathtaking! I’m sure the cliff trail was equally beautiful being able to see the beaches and bluffs from a higher lookout.

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    Between all of these trails, we clocked in around 4.5 miles.

    Carmel By The Sea

    The following day, we drove south again from our AirBNB in San Carlos to Carmel by the Sea. We arrived around 10am after roughly a 1.5 hour drive. We stretched our legs by exploring the multi-million dollar houses along the beach that reminded me of little hobbit homes.

    california national parks

    Each house was unique and different, and the cost of each house was > 2 million $$.

    The downtown area was very quaint and full of outdoor seating for restaurants, cafes, and shops. We enjoyed a fresh seafood lunch before exploring the shops. Again- it was COLD outside- so be sure to have lots of layers with you!

    Thankfully, some of the shops were open for perusing, as long as you were compliant with wearing your mask and washing your hands with sanitizer upon entering. Some shops and restaurants were also taking temperatures upon entering as well.

    The crowds started to really pick up around 2-3pm, so we decided to head out of town and run a few errands closer to San Jose.

    We stumbled upon downtown Los Gatos and were pleasantly surprised by the mature downtown it boasted!

    The downtown reminded me of Greenwich, CT- a ritzy town in southern CT I used to shop and eat at when I worked at Greenwich Hospital.

    My husband and I dined for dinner and plurged on salt and vinegar French fries, an expensive steak, fresco butter leafed salad, and lemon berry sorbet for dessert.

    Sadly, that was the last outing of our California national parks trip other than the following morning when we stopped by Oren’s Hummus shop for a quick lunch stop prior to flying out of San Jose Airport.

    california national parks

    That’s a Wrap!

    Despite being 21 weeks pregnant, traveling to the California national parks during the 2nd wave of COVID, and being unprepared for the chilly weather in the latter 50% of our trip, we absolutely LOVED our baby-moon and honeymoon vacation!

    My husband and I both agreed that enjoying 80% of our time out in nature and in the National Parks was a fun tradition we’d like to continue moving forward as a way to celebrate our wedding anniversary.

    [Are you pregnant too? Check out my blog post: First Trimester Pregnancy Symptoms Week By Week!]

    Have you been to any of the California National Parks?

    Or are planning a trip to California coming up?

    If so, drop a comment below and share your plans, tips, and ideas! 

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