Jewels of California
To travel is to discover new landscapes, people as well as cultures that one might have been oblivious to. While there might be a physical restriction to visit or undertake a journey to another land during the pandemic, the soul is always free to roam wherever it wants. As a source of inspiration for all those adventure seekers who want to travel as soon as the world heals, here’s an account of how my vacation in California was and what should one look forward to when they are visiting the third largest and most densely inhabited state in the United States of America. Apart from the urbane crowds and blooming cities full of culture, one is always surrounded by nature from its beaches to remote deserts to perfectly well-preserved forests.
In this feature, I will be covering two distinctive locations of California — San Francisco and Lake Tahoe. Located exactly opposite to each other in the extremities of the state with a distance of 200 miles separating them, the two places are tourist-favourites and present a vivid representation of the state. Famous for its Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, Fisherman’s Wharf, Castro District, cable cars and Victorian buildings, among its rich and diverse culture, the ‘City by the Bay’ is a must-have on any traveller’s wish list. Amid all the architectural landmarks, the toughest question on a limited days trip, is where to begin from? I kick-started my journey with Fisherman’s Wharf which is known for Pier 39 and Ghirardelli Square.
The site boasts of several shops, restaurants, street performers that promises to keep you entertained. What’s more appealing is that one can witness sea lions on the dock of Pier 39 that has tourists flocking the space. With so many old-styled options to choose from as far as eateries are concerned, I opted to visit Ghirardelli Square — a place famous for its chocolate — and Boudin Bakery to satiate my hunger pangs. For all those who can’t resist those chocolate cravings, this place is a paradise as every eatery has some or the other chocolate-based speciality to offer.
Famous for its sourdough bread, it is a universal stop for tourists as well as inhabitants. I would strongly recommend trying the Clam Chowder as it is one of their in-house specials. Comprising of clams and broth, the dish is served in the freshly baked sourdough bread bowl. Your trip wouldn’t be complete if you miss out on this.
The Golden Gate Bridge
One of the most iconic landmarks in the city, the Golden Gate Bridge (below) has been operational since 1937. If you are familiar with Hollywood, you would certainly know about the one-mile-wide bridge that connects San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean, as it has been showcased in many films.
Apart from these sites, one can visit several other tourist attractions such as the Union Square, the Palace of Fine Arts, and Lombard Street, among others, by using the Big Bus guided tour that has specific routes to cover the best in the city. Plan your day’s itinerary based on your interests. They offer Hop-On, Hop-Off bus service along with a guide who keeps narrating historical facts. Tickets for the same can be bought online or at the Big Bus Tours outlet itself. Make sure to carry a woollen cap if opting for an open-top seat as the temperature near the Golden Gate Bridge can drop drastically due to the chilly winds. They also have a night route incase you missed out on the day, but make sure to see the places on the list before you board the bus.
If you are looking for something unique to San Francisco, then do take a trip on the cable cars. Aged more than 150-years-old, this mode of transportation is still a favourite among the locals and has a different experience altogether for the visitors. So, if you miss out on any of the famous places during the bus route, make use of the cable cars. San Francisco is also home to the baseball team San Francisco Giants and the stadium comes to life on any given match day. Another popular area in the city is the Castro District — an LGBTQ neighbourhood known for its vibrant culture.
A four to five-hour drive from San Francisco, Lake Tahoe is a visual delight as it offers a magnificent view of the terrain. The scenic beauty and the calm that it breathes, is bound to transcend your soul. The largest alpine lake in North America, the connection of Lake Tahoe with nature is so deep and vast that one can spend hours here if they want to get away from the city’s hustle-bustle. With crystal clear water and the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the backdrop, it is a place of all seasons. In summers, one can sit back along the lake or go for kayaking and during the winters, one can partake in skiing and other adventure sports at the Heavenly Ski Resort.
During my two-day stay at Timber Lodge by Marriott, I was impressed by the services offered to the guests. One can choose from several options such as resort guest room, studio apartment or villa to facilitate their abode. Situated in South Lake Tahoe, tourist attractions are within walking distance. If you are interested in skiing or taking a gondola ride, it is very close-by. For buying souvenirs and quick snacks, several shops and restaurants are also in the vicinity. After relaxing for a few hours on the first day of my arrival, I left to explore the Sand Harbour Beach and the Incline Village which are on the periphery of Nevada state. The distance to both the places is about 30-40 minutes and in order to enjoy the sunset, I left a couple of hours ago.
Remember the template of the most common painting that one would draw as a kid? A mountain range, a water body, and human civilisation reaping in the benefits of witnessing such a luxury. Such was the experience at the Sand Harbour Beach with clear water and mountains coming to life. As time travels fast in this surreal place, make sure to make it on time for the sunset at the Incline Village if you want to see the sky filled with different hues. For feasting on some local specialities, the visit at Austin’s Restaurant and Bar turned out to be a success as their chicken-fried steak accompanied with mashed potatoes was lip-smacking. The wide selection of wines, drafts, and freshly prepared cocktails as per your liking was the highlight of the evening.
On the second day, I decided to participate in some of the adventure sports that I had referred to earlier. For the gondola ride, you’ll need a ticket which can be acquired online or from the visitor centre. The Heavenly Mountain Gondola departs from the Heavenly Village in South Lake Tahoe. If you want to enjoy the panoramic view of the entire town and capture Instagram-worthy images, then don’t forget to be a part of this. Also, get off at the first stop which is the Observation Deck as the gondola doesn’t stop at that station on its return. The Observation Deck is designed in such a way that one can get a holistic view of the landscape. Once you have breathed enough fresh air, head back to the gondola and reach the last station if you want to try out a few of the adventure sports.
There’s also a Tamarack Lodge where you feast on burgers, fries, and steaks, among other dining options over a few rounds of beer. If you don’t wish to take your meal here, then head back to the Heavenly Visitor Centre where you’ll have more options. I opted to eat at the Base Camp Pizza Co. as their pizzas are reasonably famous in the area. While indulging, one can also experience the live music performance that adds a soothing touch to the evening. Last but not the least, after filling up my belly, I headed to the casino to see what my fate had in store. While casinos are banned in California, Nevada is the only place where you can get a feel of the money-minting machines (if your luck supports you). As California and Nevada share a border near this region, one can visit the casinos without breaking any laws. So, those who are keen on gambling, get cracking as the poker tables and the slot machines are waiting for you! Travelling indeed heals the soul and makes a person wiser as the knowledge acquired through the journey is unparalleled. As soon as the situation gets better, pack your bags and set out to unravel the hidden jewels on our planet.