Road Trip: Seattle to Northern Cali

Growing up, I always wanted to take a true road trip. There was something so alluring about going off the beaten path and discovering the unknown. Two summers ago, I decided it was finally time to embark on said road trip.

Luckily one of my best friends was game enough to ride along. Over the course of seven days, we drove from Seattle through Oregon to Northern California and back to Seattle.

What I learned: Road trips take a lot of patience. We saw unreal natural phenomenons and covered a lot of ground. There’s no denying it was a great trip- but, I’m not the kind of person who can sit in a car for hours without cell service (hello Highway 101). A bucket list trip for the books but next time, you’ll find me on a beach or exploring a new city.

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Trip Highlights:

  • Started in Seattle, fueled up on doughnuts from Top Pot for breakfast
  • Drove to Astoria, stopped to stretch and climb the Astoria Column for a breathtaking view

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  • To round out our first day, we stuffed our faces with cheese at the Tillamook Cheese Factory (seriously, so nom)
  • If you ever find yourself spending the night in Coos Bay, OR, have breakfast at the Pancake Mill. You won’t regret it, it’s the cutest little place with surprisingly fresh and delicious omelets (bonus points for homemade jam!). Also, the coastal views in this cozy town are unreal

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  • Albeit, I learned I am most definitely not a camping person, I enjoyed sleeping under the stars and majestic redwoods, and roasting marshmallows for one night (camping hack: dip the marshmallows in Bailey’s before layering onto a s’more)

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  • As we continued our drive down Northern California, we drove down the Avenue of Giants (equal parts peaceful and jaw dropping), and through the Chandelier Tree

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  • Before heading across the state to Yosemite, we shucked oysters along the coast at Tomales Bay Oyster Company. I’m spoiled for life now, fresh oysters with a touch of Sriracha and lime are incredible

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Once we made it to NoCal, we spent two nights in Merced (about an hour from Yosemite).

Our one day in Yosemite didn’t even scratch the surface of what Yosemite has to offer. It’s simply not possible to do the park justice through words.

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I’ve heard every National Park should be visited at least twice. I take this approach to a lot of cities I visit- the first time, I try to experience some of the popular spots that make the city what it is, and the second time, I travel a bit more off the beaten path.

Because we only had one day in Yosemite, we opted to check off a few of the must-sees everyone raves about.

Tunnel View: We started our day here, after entering the park from southwestern entrance (we stayed in Merced the night before visiting)

  • If you want to camp in Yosemite, reserve space at a campground months in advance. By the time we started checking availability, almost everything was booked. We decided it made more sense to stay in Merced (about an hour outside Yosemite). It would have been great to wake up in nature, but having Starbucks for early mornings and In-n-Out burger to refuel after a long day of hiking worked out well for us

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  • Bridalviel Falls: When we visited in mid-June, the falls were already a mere trickle. It’s a quick (<10 minutes) walk to the base of the falls, and worth checking out even if the water flow has slowed because it’s one of the most iconic waterfalls in the park. The falls get their name from the Ahwahneechee Native American tribe, which believed inhaling the mist would improve your chances of getting married
  • The Valley floor gets mixed reviews, some people say it’s overrun with tourists and too commercial. While these things are true, it’s also part of what made Yosemite so famous to begin with and worth checking out to see Upper & Lower Yosemite falls, as well as Mirror Lake. And, if you’re an Ansel Adams fan, spend five minutes admiring the photo collection that’s taken home here, the shots are stunning
  • Lower Yosemite FallsThe shuttle stops directly at the Lower Yosemite Falls and it’s an easy walk to the base (you’ll also see Upper Yosemite Falls). When we visited, the falls were flowing but we were still able to climb a few dozen rocks at the base to get closer. If you’re trying to save time, get on a bus from the visitor’s parking lot and take it to stop number 6 to walk the trail out to see these falls.

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  • Mirror Lake has to be the definition of serenity. Even though it was a relaxing hike, if I’m at Yosemite again, I’ll probably opt to do Taft Point- a slightly longer hike, but unparalleled views

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  • Glacier Point is, in one word, breathtaking. Half Dome is spectacular and so are the views of Yosemite Valley, Bridalveil Fall and El-Capitan. We ended our day with a drive to the lookout
  • Bonus recommendation: We opted not to see Mariposa Grove after spending a few days in the Redwood National and State Parks on our road trip, but I hope I’m able to stand face to face with the giant Sequoias in Yosemite someday

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Next, we moved onto wine country. Vine-covered hillsides, lush greenery, culinary hot spots and hundreds of wineries- what’s not to love? On this tripe, we decided to re-visit a few of the wineries we’d enjoyed on previous trips, and explore a few new ones as well.

Every day in wine country should start with a sparkling flight. On our first day, we started at Mumm Napa with a toast on the patio.

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Our second day began with us returning to Domaine Carneros (a favorite from our first trip), and I’d have to say is still my preference for sparkling. It’s really just an un-matchable experience- top-notch sparkling wine on a beautiful terrace with gorgeous vineyard views.

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If a lazy, afternoon picnic in the shade with lots of cheese and blue-cheese stuffed olives is your thing, V. Sattui is the place to be.

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They say one cannot think well, love well or sleep well if one has not dined well. Our first night in Napa, we dined downtown at Uva Trattoria Italiana and indulged in handmade gnocchi with a Gorgonzola reduction. And, because we were on vacation, we also stopped at the Carpe Diem Wine Bar for delicious bread pudding to complete the evening.

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The next morning we had brunch at Fremont Diner, what a hidden gem! Cute, rustic atmosphere with great food. Order the grilled cheese and chicken & waffles, and eat outside with the chickens.

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Wine & cheese o’clock, anyone? I dare you to find a winery in Napa or Sonoma that doesn’t offer a cheese tasting (they’re few and far between). Although we only did one cheese/wine pairing this trip, think we picked a winner with Kendall-Jackson Estate. Perfect experience, great pairings and generous pours.

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With so many wineries in the region, it can be daunting to figure out which ones warrant a visit. Click here to check out my favorite spots in Napa & Sonoma.

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Kicking and screaming, we left wine country to head back to Seattle, splitting up the drive with a stop at the Oneonta Gorge. I’d first learned about the gorge on BuzzFeed, and we’d read the reviews on Trip Advisor, but really, nothing can prepare you.

A reminder to never lose our sense of wonder, the gorge is an unusual and beautiful place.

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It’s only a half mile hike to the waterfall, but it’s not for the faint of heart. Climbing over a log jam and wading through waist deep water were the least of our worries.

At times, the stream is the actual trail, and pending what time of the year you visit, water levels may be pretty high. When we visited in June, water in the final passage before the falls was high (6-7 feet) and freezing. It’s a shock to the system, but worth it to get to the other side. Pro tip: Bring a change of clothes for afterwards.

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Post-gorge explorations, we got back on the road and set our sights on arriving in Seattle in time for dinner. Seattle is undoubtedly one of my favorite cities in the world- quirky music and art, the great outdoors, first-rate local produce, and adventure. Every time I visit Seattle, I’m reminded of how eclectic of a city it is.

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If you plan on visiting Seattle for a few days, check out my favorite things to do and see in the city.

All in all, it was a phenomenal trip- we learned to enjoy the journey and explore the open road.

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