We travelled from Sydney to San Francisco via Auckland with Air New Zealand. The seat back entertainment offered a good variety and our transit through Auckland was quite smooth in both directions.
This was a self-drive trip with Driveaway Holidays. We hired Dodge’s to drive 9 of us around for the week. These cars were excellent with loads of room, heated seats, easy to drive, built in Sat Nav’s and more. I would absolutely hire these if doing this again.
Day 1 – On arrival we picked up our cars and started the 5 hour drive out to Yosemite National Park. We arrived around 5.30pm at the Yosemite Mariposa County. We stayed at The Mariposa Lodge. Motel style but rooms were quite large with 2 Queen beds and in a great location on the main street.
We had a lovely dinner at 1850 Restaurant and update on the Yosemite area. The food was unbelievable – portion sizes that were more for four people (!) and the flavours were fantastic.
Day 2 – Checked out early and headed into Yosemite National Park for our tour which begins from Yosemite Park Lodge. It was a spectacular drive into the park – it’s Fall (Autumn) so the trees were beautiful reds and yellows. We did the 2-hour Valley Floor Tour which covered the history of the area and the people plus El Capitan – one of the world’s most challenging Rock-Climbing destinations.
Lunch was at the Base Camp Eatery which was like a cafeteria.
Then we made our way to one of the more luxurious hotels – the Ahwahnee Hotel (5 star). This is one of the only hotels located right in the middle of the National Park. We were unable to see the rooms, but it has a beautiful restaurant, lobby and grounds.
We then drove 1.5 hours to Tenaya Lodge on the other side of the National Park. This was a highlight the trip. We stayed in the 2 Bedroom Cabins which were just lovely- very roomy, nice furniture, great bathrooms etc. There is a pool, hot tubs and a gym which are all excellent. There is a shuttle bus to move guests around the resort.
My favourite part was the fire pits located all around the grounds. The Resort provides Smores packets in your room which you can take to the fire pits to cook up and enjoy. From 5-6pm they host ‘happy hour’ around the fire pit with beer and wine. We enjoyed dinner that night at Tenaya Lodge.
Day 3 – Off again early this morning for the long drive to South Lake Tahoe – around 5-6 hours as it’s slower mountain driving. More super spectacular scenery!
Here we stayed at Tahoe Lakeshore Lodge & Spa which is motel style accommodation (3 star). Rooms were large and clean. The hotel is a little tired, however it is inexpensive and has spectacular views of the Lake directly behind it.
We visit Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel which is located right in town. This town is on the border of California and Nevada and the hotel is right on the border. Rooms here are hotel style, clean and comfortable 4 stars. We enjoyed a lovely dinner at this hotel.
Day 4 – Off this morning after breakfast for a walking tour of Emerald Bay. This is one of the most photographed areas in North America. As we were driving we saw a bear in the woods! It’s about a 20-minute drive out of town to Zephyr Cove and approx 1.5 kms walk in and out of the bay.
We took a scenic boat ride to Emerald Bay on Lake Tahoe on the MS Dixie II which looks like a paddle steamer. Lunch was included and you can purchase drinks and souvenirs on board. You cruise for around 2.5 hours. It was worth doing to really get some perspective on the size and history of the Lake and Bay.
Later that evening we head to Hard Rock Hotel & Casino for dinner and hotel inspection. It is located right in town but not on the lake. It was your typical Hard Rock Hotel with lovely rooms, loads of memorabilia, casino, nice pool area. We had dinner in one of the restaurants which had huge meals!!
After dinner we went to the Magic After Dark comedy and magic show. This was a short walk from Hard Rock Hotel and is performed every weekend. Definitely Adults only! It was excellent and very funny I would recommend seeing this show.
Day 5 – We were supposed to travel to Sonoma in the Napa Wine Region today but unfortunately unable due to the forest fires, so we stayed an extra night in Lake Tahoe. We went to Folsom Factory Outlets for a spot of shopping which is about 2 hours’ drive from Tahoe. It’s a smaller factory outlet but had a lot of the leading brand names like Levi’s, Kate Spade, Nike, Coach, etc.
Day 6 – As we were not going to Sonoma and not flying out till late tonight, we decided to get up early and have ½ day in San Francisco! This was great as I hadn’t been to San Francisco before. It was about a 4 hour drive. We stopped at a lookout next to the Golden Gate Bridge for some photos. So surreal to do this after watching Full House for many years when I was younger!
We then visit Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf which has a carnival feel mixed in with New Orleans architecture. We did the Flyer Ride – a simulator flight over various parts of the city, a 7D Dark Ride Experience, enjoyed a little shopping, got a photo on the local trams and walked up to Lombard Street (the most crooked street in the world).
It was then off to the airport for our flights home!!
TIPS: This Itinerary had a lot of driving in a short space of time, I would suggest a minimum of 2 nights in each area to break up the drives.
To visit Lake Tahoe I would fly to Carson City or Reno from San Francisco then grab a car from there which would cut out a big portion of the driving.
Definitely get Sat Nav with your car or the latest version of Google Maps (if using your phone) – the driving, roads and signage are very different to what we have here!
The US Dollar still isn’t great, so I strongly suggest using the Cash Passport cards to lock in the exchange rate and save on fees.