San Francisco Part 3: Sonoma & Yosemite

JUNE 2007…

For our next trip out of San Francisco, we didn’t have to cycle our way there. Nope, it’s too far to peddle all the way there actually, so we took a bus instead. There are many locations just beyond San Francisco that are perfect for an excursion or day trip. These are the two we picked.

Sonoma County: A feast of wine and cheese
Just an hour’s drive from San Francisco, you’ll find Sonoma County. Sonoma is usually used as a catchall name (for outsiders at least) for the town of Sonoma, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley and Sonoma Wine Country. The region is famous for its wine, food and boutique hotels. But its best attraction, in my opinion, is the laid-back vibe and chill atmosphere.

Vineyards in Sonoma Wine Country, San Francisco, USA.

The rolling vineyards of Sonoma Wine Country.

If you love wine, you can’t miss this place. If you don’t love wine, you can still head there for some rest and recreation. Most bus tours combine both Sonoma and Napa Valley (another wine destination), so you don’t have to choose between the two but get the best of both worlds instead.

The Viansa Winery and Tasting Room in Sonoma, San Francisco, USA.

The Viansa Winery and Tasting Room in Sonoma.

The winery included in our itinerary was the Viansa Winery and Tasting Room, where we learned about the life cycle of wine – from its start as a bunch of grapes hanging off the vines, how they are harvested, juiced and aged in wooden barrels to its final form as a tantalising liquid pouring out of a wine bottle into our wine glass.

Grapes hanging off vines in Sonoma, San Francisco, USA.

Delicious grapes hanging off the vines.

Barrels of wine in Sonoma, San Francisco, USA.

Endless barrels of wine, slowly taking their time to age.

Also known as the Valley of the Moon, the town of Sonoma celebrates its wine-making heritage every September with the Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival. Just reading the name itself sounds intriguing already.

The Sonoma town square is also a great place to have a meal and stroll around. Even though it was packed with tourists and day-trippers, the small-town charm was hard to resist. Keep your eyes peeled and you can glimpse the rolling hills just beyond the town limits.

The Sonoma Cheese Factory in Sonoma, San Francisco, USA.

The famous Sonoma Cheese Factory in the Sonoma town square.

Yosemite National Park: Nature’s healing grounds
Yosemite, on the other hand, is quite far out from San Francisco, so it took a while to get there. Although it’s branded as a day trip, you really spend most of the time on the bus. The tour to Yosemite is a whopping 13.5 hours round trip with the pickup time at 6.45am (most other tours start at 8.45am), so dress comfortably and bring a small pillow if you intend to snooze on the way there and back.

The tour information said we would have 3 hours at Yosemite itself, but it felt like only an hour to me. Perhaps the traffic had caused a delay (I can’t really recall). Anyhow, even 3 hours won’t be enough to see what Yosemite has to offer. It’s really more of an extended photo stop.

Although Yosemite National Park is 3,092 km2 large, most visitors only spend time in Yosemite Valley, which is all of 18 km2. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984, Yosemite is famous for its granite landforms, in addition to the streams, lakes, mountains, glaciers, ancient trees and much, much more.

The Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park, San Francisco, USA.

The Tunnel View, so named as it is the first view to greet visitors
exiting the tunnel leading into Yosemite.

Just like the day trip to the Grand Canyon, we were dropped off at the Visitor’s Centre and left to roam around. In hindsight, I should have read up on Yosemite before I went there. Because my first impression was – Ok, what am I supposed to see? It’s a forest. Plus, with the limited amount of time we had, it was a race to take in all the sights.

Yosemite National Park, San Francisco, USA.

The clear streams that run through Yosemite Valley.

Amazingly, I managed to snap shots of the famous sights after all. I guess I just followed my instinct and took pictures of interesting features, like a waterfall (which turned out to be the Bridalveil Fall) and a jutting outcrop (which turned out to be the El Capitan). Even through a film of smoke, I managed to snap a shot of the Half Dome (a large granite dome rising out of the valley). Was it my expert tourist sense or just blind luck?

The Bridalveil Fall in Yosemite National Park, San Francisco, USA.

The 188 m tall Bridalveil Fall in the Yosemite Valley.

On the day we visited, there was a control fire exercise going on. While it didn’t affect where we were (the Visitor’s Centre), it obscured some of the sights and truncated the panoramic view, such as that of the Half Dome. But I guess that’s just the bane of being a day tourist – there’s only so much you can plan.

Yosemite National Park, San Francisco, USA.

The imposing 914 m high granite cliff of El Capitan on the left and
the elusive silhouette of the Half Dome in the centre just beyond the film of smoke.

Yosemite’s beauty was not immediately apparent like the Grand Canyon. But it grew on me, especially after I took a walk around and soaked in the sights and sounds of nature. I wish I had more time to explore the area further or to just sit around and breathe in the fresh air. But it was all over too soon and we had to catch our ride back. Hopefully, there will be a next time.


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