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California Road Trip: Be Sure to Make This Stop

Not sure where to begin your next California road trip? Let us help! Just a few hours from the north entrance of Yosemite National Park is a lively city known as Stockton. Settled between the San Francisco Bay Area and the Sierra Nevada mountains, Stockton is ideal for a traveler looking to get a healthy mix of culture, food, and outdoor adventure. Plan your trip in advance—check out this sample itinerary

This article was created in partnership with Visit Stockton. All photos provided by Visit Stockton.

Day 1: Paddle on the California Delta & try new foods

Morning

Stockton, California food pin

For your first morning in Stockton you’ll be anxious to get outside and see the city, but firstbreakfast. Stroll down the city’s “Miracle Mile” and try something sweet or savory at Midtown Creperie.

Stockton is located at the furthest inland point of the California Delta, an expansive inland river delta formed near the coast. What better way to see the city than out on the water? Head over the the Downtown Stockton Marina to rent a kayak or a water bike. 

Visit Stockton Kayaking

Afternoon

After lunch at either Market Tavern or Garlic Brothers, take it easy and check out the local museum. The Haggin Museum has been referred to by Sunset Magazine as “one of the undersung gems of California.” The exhibits focus on art and local history, including 19th-century paintings. If you’re visiting with children, check out the Children’s Museum or even Pixie Woods Amusement Park, where kids can enjoy rides, a water play area, and playgrounds.

Collage of museums along a california road trip

Stockton was recently named the most racially and ethnically diverse city in the nation. That is important for many reasons, and one of those is food! Visitors can find great food from many different countries and cultures. Try something new for dinner on your first night. Maybe go with Mexican food at Nena’s or Korean food at Seoul Soon Dubu.

A plate of food in Stockton, California

Day 2: Shop the best farmer’s markets & watch the races

Morning

If there’s one thing you don’t want to miss in Stockton, it’s the farmers markets—there are three of them and they each have their own unique specialty. The biggest, and most abundant, is the Downtown Stockton Certified Farmers Market, formerly known as the Downtown Stockton Asian Farmers Market. This market is held every Saturday year-round and is considered to be one of the oldest and most successful markets in California. Locals say that there are items here that they just can’t get anywhere else. 

Farmers market in stockton, california

Another spot is In Season Market and Nursery. Not only can customers find unusual plants here, but they can also find organic produce as it comes in season. The market sells artisan food, olive oils, honey, jams, and even has a specialty coffee shop for folks to enjoy espresso by the garden. The third spot, The Fruit Bowl, is a 73-year-old, family-owned market and bake shop. Their specialty? Peach pies. Need we say more?

The Fruit Bowl, in Stockton California.

Afternoon

You don’t have to go to Napa Valley to enjoy fine wine in northern California. With lower prices and more family-owned operations, Stockton is the perfect place to enjoy an afternoon of wine tasting.

If you’re looking for something to do with kids, take the more exciting route and experience the Stockton 99 Speedway. The racetrack hosts car races, stunt bike events, and swap meets. 

wineries and race tracks in northern california

In the evening, see what’s showing at the historic Fox Theatre in the downtown area. Built in the 1930’s, the theatre was one of the few “movie palaces” in the Central Valley of California. 

Fox Theatre in downtown Stockton

Between one of the country’s most intriguing cities (San Francisco), and one of its most iconic national parks (Yosemite), Stockton is an ideal place to call home for a few days on the road between.

 




Granite & Gold in Tuolumne County, California

Gold and granite have been enticing visitors to central California since the mid-1800’s. All around Tuolumne County there are nods to the region’s roots, from Gold Rush era experiences to fantastic museums that educate visitors on the state’s history. Meanwhile, granite continues to beckon travelers from around the world to the same area. Tourists still flock to the Yosemite area to witness the breathtaking domes, sheer walls that reach sky-high, and waterfalls that drop to the valley floors. The combination of granite and gold make Tuolumne County one of the most interesting places to visit.

This article was created in partnership with Tuolumne County, California. All photos by Emily Sierra Photography.

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Hetch Hetchy’s Granite Walls

We’d heard Hetch Hetchy Reservoir was a much less-visited part of Yosemite National Park and jumped at the opportunity to walk on quiet trails and listen to the sounds of water cascading. We crossed O’Shaughnessy Dam, moseyed through an extinct train tunnel and cruised up the lakeshore toward Wapama Falls. We knew we’d enjoy the time around the lake, but were unprepared for the beauty surrounding it. Actually, it is believed that the views in Hetch Hetchy Valley rivaled that of the popular Yosemite Valley before it was dammed. Granite walls seem to cup the lake like two hands lifting water from a pool. The falls sprayed from the natural granite stairs, not in a rush, but rather a smooth cascade.

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Columbia State Historic Park

The town of Columbia went above and beyond to preserve their history. Exploring Columbia State Historic Park is truly an experience, not just another museum. Mixed among exhibits are functioning stores and saloons. Shopkeepers dress in period clothing and transport visitors to another time. The saloons tout sarsaparilla, and the blacksmith has the irons hot and ready. For a little extra dough, you can even pan for gold!

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Coupled with our visit to Columbia State Historic Park, we paid a visit to Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. In the roundhouse we watched a gentleman delicately work on a steam engine and marveled at the variety of tools and train cars inside. On the short train ride, we learned more history about the railroad and films that made some of these trains famous!

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Gold Country by Horseback

Before the light faded, we explored Tuolumne County the pioneer way… on horseback! We met our guide from Aspen Meadow Pack Station and our steeds for the afternoon. We gently navigated the pine forest near Pinecrest Lake. Riding horses made us feel like true frontiersmen, in search of a new life. We bobbed and swayed along the trail, listening to our guide regale us with tales of ranch life.

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Finding rest and play in Gold Country

When we entered the adorable town of Twain Harte, we knew it would be hard to leave. Our car weaved through the hills, and we eventually found respite at the Lazy Z Resort. We slept so soundly in our cozy cabin, and felt just a touch closer to nature. To cool off from the day’s heat, we melted into the resort’s pool—a turquoise waterscape surrounded by natural rocks.

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On our initial drive through Twain Harte, we were immediately struck by the quaint miniature golf course on the side of the road. We found vintage fun there one evening, playing multiple rounds on the wonderfully simple course.

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Basing our vacation around the granite walls of Yosemite National Park and the historic charm of central California, we fell in love with Tuolumne County.




Fossils to Falls: Visiting Yosemite, California

“Hi, do you have the ‘Sandy the Squirrel’ card?” I asked, standing in the Yosemite National Park Visitor’s Center. See, I was on a mission. Essentially a scavenger hunt leading through Yosemite National Park and beyond. By collecting two or more trading cards, I could win a serious vacation package to return to some of the most amazing country in the USA! What I didn’t know was that this “highway” of sorts would bring me to some incredible places while visiting Yosemite.

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This article was created in partnership with the Southern Yosemite Visitor’s Bureau, California. All photos by Emily Sierra Photography.

Some of the stops along the Fossils to Falls “Highway”

Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias

We hopped on the morning shuttle and headed up the winding road to crane our necks at some of the most massive living trees on the planet. One of the first sights in the grove is the “Fallen Monarch”. To me,  this giant downed tree resembled a large dinosaur that had fallen—there was just an archaic feeling about it. Moreover, each tree in the grove took on its own personality, illuminated by their name and shape. If I wasn’t seeking ‘Galen, the Great-Horned Owl’ card, I’m not sure I would have explored this natural wonder.

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Fossil Discovery Center

We peered around at over 15,000 fossils in the Fossil Discovery Center in Chowchilla. Life-size replicas and a variety of exhibits offered us a glimpse into the ecosystem that once ruled the area. We learned about flat-faced bears and dire wolves—species we didn’t know existed! Not only did we score our Fossils to Falls card here, but it was an easy stop on our way back to San Francisco for our flight home.

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Vineyards

Who would ever suspect that you’d be able to sample wines and collect a cartooned trading card? At Ficklin Vineyards, we did just that. We sampled award-winning port and learned the nuances that delineate port from wine. Almond and pistachio crops dominate the region, but grapes have grown there for a long time also. Madera County is now establishing itself with tasting rooms and a place to explore wine country. This is a convenient stop while visiting Yosemite National Park.

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Bass Lake

We paddled onto the lake at sunset and watched the water dance with colors from the sky. It was smooth and easy, and the water was a great temperature for swimming. With more time at Bass Lake, we’d definitely consider a motorized option for other lake fun and fishing! It’s really no wonder that this lake was named one of “The West’s Best Lakes” by Sunset Magazine.

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“I had no idea…!”

I don’t recall how many times I used this phrase. Chasing the ‘Fossils to Falls’ trail, I visited places I wasn’t previously acquainted with. We enjoyed uncrowded areas while visiting Yosemite National Park, and found unique experiences along the way. Collecting the playing cards was a fun pursuit for us, and I imagine that it would be a wonderful family road trip activity as well.

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For more road trip ideas in California’s High Sierra, check out our custom itinerary!




Winding through California’s High Sierra: 11 Experiences between Yosemite and Tahoe

Deciding on experiences in some of California’s most sought after country was a real challenge! Amber and I set parameters though, and stuck with them. We needed a mix of scenery, adventure, adrenaline, and relaxation for our California road trip–and we found it, all of it! From sunup to sundown, we explored California’s High Sierra, stretching from Yosemite National Park to Lake Tahoe. Here’s what we were able to experience and loved!

This article was created in partnership with California’s High Sierra Visitor’s Council. All photos by Emily Sierra Photography.

1. Moro Rock

The smells of pines and damp soil drifted in our car windows in Sequoia National Park leading to the parking area for the Moro Rock. The trek to the top of the rock was steep, but fortunately pretty short. From the summit we enjoyed 360-degree views of the surrounding granite peaks and valleys.

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2. Bass Lake

We pulled up to Bass Lake and were immediately entranced by the golden light filtered through the surrounding pines. We rented a couple of stand up paddle boards (SUP) and glided onto the lake under the setting sun. The water was such a welcoming temperature, and the perfect respite at the end of a hot day.

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3. Glacier Point

I’m sure that everyone has their own opinion on the best view in Yosemite National Park. Not surprisingly, there isn’t a bad one! Taking in the valley views from Glacier Point was high on our list, and we decided for a sunrise session to avoid the crowds. Boy, we made the right move! We found a lovely spot to watch the sun come up, and imagined what it would be like to cross country ski out to this spot in the wintertime.

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4. Mammoth Mountain

The gondola up Mammoth Mountain escorted us to insane views of the eastern Sierra. We looked out over the valleys below, back toward jagged peaks, and down on multiple sparkling lakes. From the gondola station at the top, we walked on a hiking trail to explore the summit. I will admit, I was envious watching mountain bikers rip down the mountain park trails!

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5. Lake Sabrina to Blue Lake

Scenic Sabrina (pronounced sah-bry-nuh) is nestled majestically against jagged, 13,000-foot peaks. Alongside the lake, the marina serves up a variety of homemade pies, so naturally we had a slice before the hike. Doesn’t everyone do that? Strutting up the trail, we kept our heads on swivels, looking down at the lake and valley, watching the trees change as we gained elevation. A few miles later, we arrived at Blue Lake where the entire landscape was reflected in the high alpine lake. Next time, I will remember my fly rod!

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6. Mono Lake

From above, Mono Lake is completely unassuming. The real attractions on the lake are the tufa structures “growing” on the lakeshore. From the south tufa area, there is a small trail system leading to the lake’s edge and around these unique salt structures. Once again, we rolled up to the area at sunrise, and no surprise: we were basically alone! The water shimmered shades of pink and orange, reflecting the mountains soaking up the sunlight. Mono Lake was easily one of the most unique places we explored in the area!

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7. Wapama Falls & Hetch Hetchy Reservoir

The northern side of Yosemite National Park is uncrowded and highly underrated. The water held in Hetch Hetchy Reservoir supplies San Francisco (167 miles away) with glacial drinking water. We crossed the dam and immediately entered a historic train tunnel. By the time we emerged, we were walking along the northwest shore of the reservoir, looking across the way at massive granite domes. Furthermore, the hike to Wapama Falls was easy and rewarding, and I was impressed with how much water was still cascading given our September visit.

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8. Utica & Union Reservoir

Obviously a local’s spot, this pair of scenic reservoirs is a great spot for camping, picnicking, and unmotorized watercraft. We opted for a relaxing afternoon and packed an array of snacks from Big Trees Market & Deli. We explored the rocky outcroppings around the lake and enjoyed the quiet and serene scene, sans crowds.

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9. Zephyr Cove

We were welcomed aboard the MS Dixie II with a glass of champagne and encouraged to explore the upper deck. The boat motored up and we cruised along Lake Tahoe into the sunset. After a multi-course meal downstairs, we enjoyed the live band playing everyone’s favorite songs on the second deck. We had a great introduction to Emerald Bay and gazed at Vikingsholm Castle from a short distance.

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10. Kings Beach

Tahoe’s blue waters are undoubtedly enchanting, and the best way to explore is with a clear kayak. I actually felt like I was sitting right on the water inside my kayak! We paddled down the coastline and drifted over massive boulders that glowed under the clear water. Mediterranean Sea or alpine lake? Lake Tahoe is one of the most impressive and gorgeous bodies of water that I’ve ever seen!

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11. Donner Pass

We decided to end our California road trip with one final adrenaline rush. With the help of the Truckee Chamber of Commerce, we met our climbing guide near Donner Pass. He showed us the ropes of rock climbing (pun intended!). We surprised ourselves with this new sport, and actually ended up climbing multiple pitches. The views down the valley over Donner Lake and Truckee made all of the efforts worthwhile.

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For more information on taking a California road trip thorugh the High Sierra, check out our travel guide to the region.




The 6 Best National Park Scenic Drives

Scenic drives offer great opportunities to see the national parks from the comfort of your car. They’re a fantastic alternative for those with limited mobility or kids. Others may just need a break from all that walking! Be aware that many roads close during the winter months, and to always check for potential closures before your trip. Here are six of our favorite national park scenic drives from across the nation.

Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Trail Ridge Road, Driving tour, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park

Photo by Tevin Trinh

This scenic drive boasts the highest continuously paved route in the United States. On your journey, you’ll reach a maximum height of over 12,000 feet! Along the way, you’ll encounter majestic views of the Continental Divide, flowering columbine, and autumnal golden aspens. Keep an eye out for elk year-round and other wildlife, especially at dusk and dawn.

Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park, Montana

Glacier National Park, driving scene

Photo by Christopher Zarriello

This 50-mile highway crosses the Continental Divide at Logan Pass, where you’ll come face-to-face with magnificent scenery, as well as mountain goats and sheep. A park-operated bus tour can help you avoid road congestion in the summertime, or drive it during the spring or fall to avoid traffic. The Montana national parks truly can’t be beat!

Park Loop Road, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

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Photo by Harry Wade

Mountains, meadows, and lakes, oh my! Grand Teton’s star attraction offers a spectacular scenic drive through diverse plains and mountains. You’ll also see plenty of wildlife. Be careful as the bison and elk don’t always look both ways when they cross the road!

Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park, Maine

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Travel up this mountain for the first glimpse of the sun’s rays as they brush the eastern coast first thing in the morning, and the first tentative appearances of the stars as they emerge in the night sky. You won’t be able to help feeling awed and peaceful here. Moose sightings are not uncommon in this area, especially at peak sunrise and sunset time.

Kolob Canyons Road, Zion National Park, Utah

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Photo by David Straight on Unsplash

Sweeping red mountains tower over the earth along this scenic drive through Zion National Park. And at only five miles, it requires less of a commitment than the others on this list —great if you want to pause and take a short hike or some photos along the way!

Tioga Pass, Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite Tioga Pass

Photo by David Rule

Begin at Tioga Pass and travel through marble mountain ranges dotted with shrubs and trees. You’ll drive through picturesque Tuolumne Meadows on your way to shimmering Tenaya Lake, then take out your cameras at Olmstead Point to capture some great photos of Half Dome. Plan about three hours for a round trip, but definitely don’t miss this one!

You can learn more about scenic drives available in Yosemite and Zion, plus others found in the American Southwest, by reading our itinerary here.

Want to learn more about scenic drives through the national parks? Contact our experts at Visit USA Parks for more information, and for help crafting the perfect vacation.

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