What should we see in California?

In a month, I will be flying to California with my spouse for a vacation. It will be roughly a week long. Part of it will be spent with my sister in San Diego, but we would like to see things in other parts of the state. Particularly the trees, redwoods and giant sequoias. I’ve wanted to see them my entire life. We know they are in the northern part of a very large state, and SD is in the south.

We are hoping to drive north and camp along the way (sending tent and sleeping bags out to my sister via UPS Ground instead of taking them on the plane). Is that feasible, or are the trees too far away? Will the weather be camp-able in CA in mid-Feb? A little cold wouldn’t bother us.

What else should we see/do along the way or while we are in CA? We are animal-friendly folks more interested in natural wonders than man-made entertainment – more Blackfish than Sea World, if you know what I mean.

Thanks in advance for any thoughts and suggestions.

I’m in San Diego. The closest big trees I can think of are in Muir Woods, just North of the San Francisco Bay Area. It is a long day’s drive from here to SF (exactly how long depends on the famous California traffic), and then about another hour or so to Muir woods.

Along the way you have lots of things. I would recommend a couple of stops in Los Angeles (maybe the Getty Museum or La Brea) and Monterey Bay.

The weather right now is 40s to 50s at night and 60s during the day.

Congratulations - you picked the one year in the last five where you are likely to get wet. Some nights it gets cold, some not, but nothing really frigid. But it has rained 13 of the last 18 in San Jose. And we’re glad.

Anaheim to the Bay Area is 400 mile on I 5 and longer on the scenic route you’ll probably want to take, so you need to allow at least two days or three if you want to stop. There are plenty of little state parks where you can see the ocean and explore tide pools. The elephant seals are at Ano Nuevo State Park. I’m not sure where you can camp, though - most of these places are too small.
There are several good places to see trees north of San Francisco (Muir Woods) - or way north, which might be too far. But basically look for things along Highway 1 and you’ll be good.

Interactive map of redwood and sequoia groves

You don’t have to go all the way to Muir Woods for nice redwoods. There are some great parks and trails in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

To save you a couple hours reaching the trees, could I suggest Big Basin Redwoods State Park, about an hour-and-a-half drive south of San Francisco? Not as crowded as Muir Woods, easier to get camping in, and a great place.

Also good to think about are Sequoia National Park and Yosemite, of course.
If you don’t mind going further north, Armstrong State Reserve is nice (not sure if camping’s available there though,) and Redwoods National and State Parks are about 5 or so hours north of San Francisco.

Since you’re going to be in San Diego and are interested in natural wonders, maybe visit Catalina Island or Santa Cruz Island? Camping on Santa Cruz is a very wildernessy experience but with low input of walking energy - it’s a lot like backpacking, but a boat drives you to within 1/2 mile of the campsite.

Interactive map of redwood and sequoia groves

You don’t have to go all the way to Muir Woods for nice redwoods. There are some great parks and trails in the Santa Cruz Mountains. If you only have a week, seeing sequoias in the same trip might be tough–the closest ones to San Diego are in Sequoia National Park.

I’m not sure if it would fit in that schedule but the answer begins and ends with Yosemite. If you’ve never seen it, it truly is one of those breathtaking places that exceeds its reputation. Plus there’s a large grove of giant redwoods at the south entrance. I think you would need a minimum of two days there plus driving time (it’s about 3 hours east of San Francisco) which itself is 8 hours north of San Diego.
I would say, if it doesn’t fit in your schedule, then change your schedule. It’s worth it.

FYI, the Mariposa Grove is closed for habitat restoration until 2017.

Yosemite in February is snowy. Be warned.

Near San Diego, go see the sea lions, cliffs, and tide pools at Point La Jolla (City?) Park and find the gift shop on the hill above with an underground staircase tunnel (!) that goes down into the La Jolla Sea Caves. Beautiful and really unique! Watch the sea kayakers if it’s not too cold.

On limited time, I’d avoid Muir Woods; the redwoods are much better…anywhere else, and Muir gets SUPER crowded if you’re not there very early. Plus, if you’re going up that way anyway, you should just go to Point Reyes instead.

Agree that the Santa Cruz mountains are a better bet than further north. Big Basin is lovely, but you can also camp at Sanbourn County Park for much cheaper, and closer to the Bay Area side of the mountain for less of the windy driving.

OR, you could visit Big Sur, for amazing coastline AS WELL as amazing redwoods. It’s a little bit difficult to get to, unless you’re driving north on Hwy 1, the scenic route from Santa Barbara along the coast. If you’re taking 101 or 5, you need to come in from the north, through Monterey.

Oh, if you’re coming up on 1 through Moss Landing, make sure you stop to visit the sea otters. You can get a good view of them just from the pier, or, even better looking, just down from the Hwy 1 bridge. You can also rent kayaks, and whale-watching trips leave from the harbor here too. Monterey Bay is great for whales all year, but it can get cool and windy in the winter.

If you’re coming up I5 (the “fast” route) if you can spare the time, stop near Los Banos at the San Luis NWR, to see wintering birds - cranes, swans, snow geese, every kind of duck you can imagine. They also have a managed herd of tule elk.

Pinnacles National Park is also very beautiful, but very different landscape than the redwoods. Lots of great wildlife to see there, including CA condors - also sometimes visible at Big Sur.

If you’re really in a rush, there are plenty of commuter flights from SD into the Bay Area which could reduce your travel time. A week - it’s really not long enough!

I live just a few miles from Sanborn County Park (no “u” in it, unless you’re a Brit :slight_smile: ), and as much as I might recommend it, I’d say Big Sur is the better idea for someone coming from SoCal. And if you make it that far, a stop in Carmel is definitely worth it. Be sure to have lunch at Nepenthe, in Big Sur. Lots of great hiking trails and beautiful coastline. I spend a lot of time in Carmel, and get down to Big Sur (26 miles south, just enough for a marathon) a few times a year.

Just rent a convertable and drive up PCH all the way to San Fran. You can do it easy in a weekend. And you will see the trees, coastline, maybe a california condor or two (of the like 20 or so left on earth). LA, Malibu, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Morrow Bay, Big Sur, Monterrey, Santa Crus, Half Moon Bay, SF. All are spectacular.

There are several kinds of redwoods, but I think the ones you are interested are 1) coastal redwoods: these are the tall ones in the Santa Cruz mountains south of SF, and Muir Woods north of SF, and all the way up the coast toward Oregon. I agree with the suggestion that Big Basin near Santa Cruz is a nice alternative. Note: there are coastal redwood groves as far south as Big Sur, just north of Morro Bay, but they are small. 2) Giant sequoia are the massive redwoods of the Sierra, in Yosemite, Sequoia NP, and elsewhere. In Feb, these areas will be snowy, as mentioned, and many campgrounds will be closed for the winter anyway. But, it may be interesting to snowshoe or XC ski thru the groves that time of year. Calaveras Big Trees state park has 2 groves of giant redwoods and camping year-round.

I am just mentioning this since the two kinds of trees are in different environments with about 150 miles between them.

Aussie :slight_smile:

I agree with your main point but must quibble with this! Morro Bay is 100 miles south of Big Sur!

You didn’t say where you are from, but nearly every species of birds, wild-flowers, trees, reptiles, butterflies, dragonflies, etc. that you will see in California is different from those back home. Get some field guides to California species, and start wandering around in the country identifying them. Just drive a mile down a back road, pull off to the side, get out, and start looking and listening on the roadside.

I second this. If it were summertime, I would recommend that you try to get to the Sierras (Sierra Nevada mountain range, that forms the eastern border of the state) But in February, especially this year, you’ll likely run into snowstorms.

But going up Highway 1 (aka the PCH, although it’s only called that on the southern, LA end) would give you spectacular views all the way – especially the 50 miles or so that constitutes the Big Sur coast, and bring you right through the above towns worth seeing, and right through redwood groves.

Take Hwy 1 as far as Santa Cruz, and then look for Big Basin State Park, or Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park (both in Santa Cruz) and you’ll get all the redwoods you want.

You can then proceed either up Hwy 1 to San Francisco, which is a nice ride with the ocean on your side all the way; or Hwy 17 over the Santa Cruz mountains and into Silicon Valley.

Once you’ve reached the Bay Area, and seen SF…if you’ve got a few days of good weather you should really head to Lake Tahoe (Interstate 80 to Sacramento, then US 50 to the lake). It’s spectacular.

Winter is a bit tougher, but Yosemite is awesome. Depending on your budget, timing, and planning ability, a flight up rather than drive can take you to all the bay area spots.

I’ve camped last year in Big Basin and it was great, forest and giant trees abound. Here’s a shot of the “father of the forest” (over 320 ft high) - tallest tree in the bay area. Another random tree shot from that trip.

As for camping, some of the places are hard to find spots this late in the game and some may be closed for winter. I’d search your desired locations and check availability first. www.reserveamerica.com