I recently went on a family road trip through Oregon and California, all the way down to San Diego. It’s been a long time since we have been in Southern California. We saw some friends and family, and visited a number of national parks along the way. It was a fun trip and here are the highlights:
Crater Lake National Park
Just like our Oregon-California road trip 8 years ago, our first stop was Crater Lake National Park in southern Oregon. Crater Lake is a volcanic caldera lake that is the deepest and clearest lake in the United States. The last time we visited in July, and there was still some snow in the higher elevations, and it was mostly an overcast day with some breaks in the clouds. This time, it was a bright and cloud-less sunny day. There were some wildfires burnings in southern Oregon and the smoke got heavy during the drive to Crater Lake, but there was only a slight haze at the lake.
With drastically different weather, Crater Lake looks a bit different than we remembered, but it was still gorgeous. The color of the lake was a lighter shade of blue, but the deep radiant blue that we were looking for could be found in some of the more shaded areas near the shores. We took the hike down to the shores of Crater Lake for a different view. The lake water is clear and cold as expected. The walk down was easy since it was downhill, but the trek back up has a decent incline.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Continuing our road trip into Northern California, we headed to Lassen Volcanic National Park. Like Crater Lake, Lassen showcases the results of volcanic action in the west coast of the US. Much of what we visited was formed by a giant volcano that collapsed long ago. Instead of forming a caldera lake like Crater Lake, Lassen has peaks and valleys within the collapsed area, and has a number of geothermal features.
We took the hike to Bumpass Hell which is one such geothermal area. Once we got to the boardwalk, we were met with the smell of sulfur, steam rising from vents and pools of hot water comes out of the ground. We also stopped by the boiling mud pots at Sulfur Works right along the main road. These features remind me of those that I’ve seen in Yellowstone, at a smaller scale.
Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks
Next up, we headed up to the Sierra Nevadas to visit Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. We wanted to see the giant sequoias, which are the biggest tree in the world by volume. On our previous Oregon-California road trip, we visited the coastal redwoods along the Pacific Ocean in Northern California. The coastal redwoods are taller, but the giant sequoias are wider and still plenty tall. The giant sequoias only grow on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevadas between 6000-8000 ft of elevation, and Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks are the prime habitat for these ancient giants.
Within the parks, we visited the General Grant Tree, which is the 3rd (or 2nd, depending or source) largest tree in the world, and the General Sherman Tree, which is the largest tree in the world today. I was in awe at the size of these magnificent trees.
Walking amongst the grove of giant sequoias, some of which are over 3000 years old, was an amazing and humbling experience. I definitely feel small looking up at these trees. These giants have survived for so long, and hopefully with the proper protections from mankind they’ll continue to survive.
The turn-around point of our trip was at San Diego, which is just about as south you can get on the US west coast. It’s been a decade since I’ve been to San Diego. Passing through the downtown area we saw a lot of new construction, but the waterfront is still about the same as I remember. Just like the last time I was here, we went to the USS Midway Museum. The Midway is an aircraft carrier that was converted to a museum, and it’s moored right on the waters of downtown San Diego. Visitors get to tour what was once the centerpiece of the US Navy and also see some cool military aircrafts.
On this visit of the Midway, we were able to visit most of the museum. I only visited the hangar and the flight deck the last time I was here (as part of a reception for conference). This time, we were able to go down to the ship’s lower decks with the engine rooms and living quarters, and also go up to the bridge in the tower on the flight deck. The lower levels were a maze, and they built the ceilings very low to save on weight. This meant taller people like me had to constantly duck to avoid banging our heads. It wasn’t hard to see why head injuries were common during when the Midway was in service. Climbing the ladders between the different levels both in the lower levels and in the control tower was pretty good exercise, since those ladders were steep and the openings were narrow.
We couldn’t come to San Diego without visiting its beaches. We went to Coronado Beach, which is on an island right outside of downtown San Diego. It was a fall weekday, so not too many people on the beach, which made it easy for us to find parking. The weather was beautiful, and beach is wide with fine sand. The waters of the Pacific Ocean weren’t that warm in October, but I still took a dip. We strolled down the beach to Hotel del Coronado and back, enjoying that nice SoCal sunshine and weather.
Our last stop in San Diego was Old Town San Diego. Old Town is the site of the first European settlement in California. Nowadays it’s a historic state park with reconstructed buildings, and a neighborhood with various shops and eateries mostly catering to tourists. I visited this place 10 years ago, but it was at night to one of the restaurants in the state park, so I didn’t get a good look at the whole neighborhood. I’m glad I’m able to visit during the day this time around. There were some nice Day of the Dead decorations, and we had some Mexican food on the street outside of the state park.
It has been nearly two decades since my family and I have been in Los Angeles. Back then I was still in secondary school and couldn’t drive a car. Even though it’s been a long time, the LA area is not very different from what I remember: a gigantic sprawl with terrible traffic. There are many freeways but most of them have some sort of slowdown during the day. On this trip, we stayed with some relatives that lived in Chino. It’s considered LA area for outsiders, but it’s actually an hour drive from the city of Los Angeles without traffic, and over two hours with traffic.
While in the area, we visited the two campuses of the Getty Museum: Getty Center and the Getty Villa. The Getty Center is an extensive art museum complex located on a hill overlooking Los Angeles. In addition to its collection of fine art and historic artifacts, the Getty Center also boasts striking architecture and beautiful gardens on its grounds. Nobody in my family is an art buff, but we enjoyed touring the complex.
From the Getty Center, we drove west along the shoreline to the Getty Villa. Built like a Roman Villa, the Getty Villa also has a collection of art exhibits and fine gardens. The main garden has a pool down the middle was the most impressive feature of this museum.
Joshua Tree National Park
From LA, we headed east into the desert to visit Joshua Tree National Park. The park is named after Joshua tree, a tree like yucca-relative that dot the landscape of the Mojave Desert. We started seeing Joshua trees in the communities near the park, but the national park has the densest area of Joshua trees. It’s the first time I’ve seen these plants, and they are interesting and weird looking.
Within the park, we went the Keys View overlook to get a nice view of the Coachella Valley. A park ranger at the visitor center also told us where to find the tallest Joshua tree in the park. It’s actually along the main road, so not too difficult to find if you are on the lookout for it. We didn’t spend a lot of time in the park, but glad we could see this unique desert landscape.
On our way back up north, we stopped by the California state capital of Sacramento. We’ve passed through here before 20 years ago on our last Southern California trip, but we never had a good look at the city during the day. We headed into downtown to visit the California State Capitol. The state capitol building has the typical shape like the US Capitol in Washington DC. The grounds surrounding the capitol has many trees from around the world, and there is also a nice rose garden and war memorial near the far edge of the grounds.
The capitol grounds has some visitors and also protesters, but the surrounding downtown area was pretty empty. Just didn’t seem like much was happening in downtown Sacramento during the weekends.
Another family road trip is in the books. As always it’s great to be able to travel with my family. We have to cherish the time we have together. The trip was fun and memorable, and it was good to see our relatives and friends in SoCal. We were fortunate that the weather was nice throughout the trip until we drove back into Oregon, where the PNW fall weather took over and we actually got some heavy fog and some snow on the mountainous stretches. The weather in SoCal is amazing… bright sun, but not hot or humid. No wonder so many people live there. And the climate is perfect for growing all sorts of fruits and veggies, as we were treated to pomegranates, mandarins and sugar canes grown from my relatives’ backyard.
On the other hand, it was a lot of driving going from Seattle to San Diego and back, even though we shared the driving duties. The driving distance and packed itinerary means that we only spent 3 days in SoCal, which was the main motivation for this trip. Wish we could have spent more time in SoCal. The next time we decide to visit somewhere as far as Southern California, I think we’ll probably fly there and rent a car, or take a few more days to have a more leisurely schedule.
One note from this trip is that we took full advantage of my parents’ Costco membership. Since it was a long road trip, we had to stop for gas quite a few time, and we usually went to Costco because they were usually the cheapest. Also Costco’s food is very inexpensive. We ate quite a few of their famous $1.50 hotdog + soda combo, and those hotdogs are pretty tasty. The chicken bake was pretty good too, while the pizza is just okay but quite inexpensive. Speaking of food, our second most frequented meal on this trip was In-N-Out. While not as cheap as Costco, In-N-Out burgers are just considerably better than other fast food burgers, while being around the same price. No wonder every single In-N-Out we went to had a line up in the drive-thru and plenty of people inside.
Now that the last stretch of warm weather is over, it’s time to wait for the ski season. For now, I’ll take it easy on the travel, since I have some nagging health issues to deal with. Thanks for reading as always.