This five-day tour puts you in the middle of Northern California’s majestic national parks. You’ll make memories from the sandy beaches of Monterey to the breathtaking granite cliffs of Yosemite National Park. You’ll savor the tastes from Napa and Sonoma Valley wineries and gaze at the grandeur of soaring redwood trees in Muir Woods before returning to San Francisco via the Golden Gate Bridge.
This 5-day grand tour of Northern California’s national parks begins in one of the world’s greatest cities, San Francisco. Your Expedition Leader will pick you up at the front door of your downtown hotel and give a quick tour through fashionable Union Square, fascinating Chinatown and Fisherman’s Wharf.
Pacific Coast beauty will surround you as we head south on Highway 1. Keep your eyes peeled for glimpses of all kinds of wildlife, such as sea otters, elephant seals, humpback whales, white sharks and dozens of species of seabirds and shorebirds.
After reaching coastal Monterey, we can arrange a collection of memory-making excursions. Fascinated by local Pacific Coast sea life? Select the excursion to the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, an ocean conservation and research facility.
We can also arrange tours to the Big Sur wilderness or the Carmel Valley wine country. If you prefer more adventurous activities, let us help you arrange to kayak, bike or paddleboard along the grand Monterey Bay Coastal Trail.
Join your Expedition Leader and your tour mates for a getting-to-know-you sunset happy hour. You will have free time for dinner, then, lose yourself in the rhythmic waves of the beach before retiring to your comfy Monterey lodging.
The day starts with a leisurely roll through the scenic 17-Mile Drive from Pacific Grove through Pebble Beach to Carmel by the Sea. The Lone Cypress tree, a species that has adapted to harsh coastal conditions, makes the perfect group photo.
After lunch in Carmel, we’ll cross the wide San Joaquin (aka Central) Valley and climb into the Sierra Nevada mountains. Your Expedition Leader will provide fascinating stories about the region’s history, geology and wildlife.
Your entrance to Yosemite Valley will be at the Mariposa Grove, where Giant Sequoia trees soar to the heavens. The flat, two-mile Grizzly Giant Loop Trail introduces you to the Bachelor, Three Graces, and the Grizzly Giant.
Check into your hotel with time left to explore the many natural attractions that make Yosemite the jewel of our national park system.
After an early leisurely departure from Yosemite, lunch will be in the Gold Rush community of Columbia, where you can stroll and take old-timey selfies along the wooden sidewalks of this historic mining town and even take a stagecoach ride. (Go back in time, but don’t miss the bus!)
You can rest a bit on the scenic drive through the El Dorado National Forest on the way to Lake Tahoe. The beauty of this glistening mountain jewel will energize you. And with all the seasonal activities in the area, that’s a good thing! Take an Emerald Bay cruise, visit Vikingshold Castle, hike in the forest or walk on the beach. In winter, there’s skiing, snowboarding, and much more. Save some energy for night shows, fine dining and gaming at Harvey’s, Harrah’s, Dottie’s or the Lakeside Inn, where you’ll stay.
Your Expedition Leader will be raring to go the next day (where does all that energy come from?). But first, you’ll all enjoy a breakfast buffet in Lake Tahoe. Then it’s on to more great food and fine wine (with the emphasis on “fine”) as we travel through the scenic country of Napa and Sonoma valleys.
Latter as we approach California’s famous wine country, you’ll learn about the micro-climates and soil types that combine to produce some of the world’s best winemaking grapes – Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Zinfandel.
Soon it will be time for our first wine tasting with fruit of the vine selected exclusively for us by the winemaker. Today this region produces some of the world’s best wines. Look it up! At the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, a contest conceived by a British wine merchant with French judges, California wines won best-in-the-world honors. (Take a bow, California!)
Enjoy a tasty picnic lunch with your tour companions and test food-wine pairings and see what delights your taste buds. Whether you consider yourself a wine connoisseur or a wine-tasting novice, you’ll be warmed by the friendly vineyard host.
You’ll make your second winery stop at a small family-owned winery in Sonoma Valley. Where you’ll experience an in-depth tour of the winemaking process. Add to your wine collection with wines not sold in retail stores.
After checking into your charming hotel, make dinner plans that will delight your palate. You’ll retire to your room at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn tired but so excited by the wine-country experiences of the day.
On Day 5, we cruise toward Point Reyes, just miles from the northern span of the Golden Gate Bridge. The thundering ocean breakers, wide beaches and rocky headlands of the Point Reyes National Seashore offer unforgettable scenes.
Stay alert for spawning Coho salmon in area streams, oyster fishing boats on Drakes Bay, elephant seals and their pups on the beaches and migrating gray whales surfacing near Chimney Rock.
The Point Reyes Lighthouse will provide you with a powerful new profile picture – one that captures your adventurous spirit. Descend the 300 wooden steps to its base and capture an indelible memory. Minutes away is the Cypress Tree Tunnel, another stunning site with can’t-miss photo potential.
When you’ve had your fill of locally sourced food, we have a special dessert – a stop at the Muir Woods National Monument and its ancient Coastal Redwood forest. Some trees rise 250 feet in the air and have stood for over 1,000 years.
We’ll stop for photos at the northern footing of the Golden Gate. Your selfie with the bridge is a forever keepsake. You’ll linger a bit before a short jaunt to charming Sausalito where you can enjoy fantastic shopping and an early dinner (not included) as you watch twilight settle over the San Francisco skyline.
Filled with five days of fun and a lifetime of magical memories, you’ll arrive back at your San Francisco hotel inspired to start planning your next adventure.