California has quite a few "Saint" cities, locations prefaced by San or Santa, the Spanish word for saint. Many are as heavenly as their names, inviting lovers of all ages to nurture their love in destinations that are ripe for romance.
The old mining town of Mariposa is the perfect place to begin an adventure into Yosemite National Park.
Not only does the town exude charm and historical significance, it offers a wide option of overnight accommodations and amenities a mere 40-minute drive to Yosemite Valley.
Yosemite National Park is a destination for all seasons. Each year, millions of visitors are drawn to its magnificent granite cliffs, thundering waterfalls, giant sequoia groves, and awe-inspiring vistas. In late fall and winter, the visitor can enjoy the crisp air and spectacular scenery at a more leisurely pace than during the crowded summer months. Accommodations are more readily available and affordable. Clear blue skies, spectacular fall foliage, and snow-capped mountain peaks create postcard-perfect scenes.
View a photo slide show on USA TODAY/10Best on the wonders of Yosemite in off-season.
The majesty of the giant redwoods in Muir Woods never fails to inspire.
Muir Woods National Monument is located 11 miles north of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. The national park is what remains of an ancient redwood forest that once dominated the northern California coast. The tallest tree in the world, the Coast redwood, grows here, as well as many plants that are indigenous to an old-growth redwood forest. Muir Woods attracts nearly a million visitors annually who travel from around the world to pay homage to nature in this cathedral of ancient trees.
View a slide show on the Muir Woods at 10Best.com/USATODAY.
Every vacation has its highlight—that moment or experience you take home with you that was so spectacular, it will never fade in your memory.
I’m sure ten years from now, when my husband Tony and I recall our 2013 trip to San Francisco, one of us will ask, “Do you remember that fantastic speedboat adventure on the bay?” And you can be sure we will both recall the exhilaration of experiencing a tour of San Francisco harbor up close and personal, in an 11-passenger RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat), led by the affable and extremely knowledgeable owner and guide, Charles Jennings.
Bay Voyager tours depart from Jack London Square in Oakland, and getting there actually turned out to be a pleasant adventure in itself. Transportation from our downtown San Francisco hotel (we were car-less during our week’s stay in the city) was a breeze. We walked a few blocks to the BART station at Union Square, hopped on the next train to Oakland (which runs frequently), and were whisked to the city's 12th Ave. station in ten minutes or so.
Since we had some time, we took the opportunity to stroll through Oakland's historic district to admire the well-preserved blocks of Victorian buildings. We then enjoyed a leisurely walk down Oakland’s main street, Broadway, which led us directly to Jack London Square.
The Square is a visitor attraction in its own right. The Embarcadero boasts lovely views over the marina onto the San Francisco skyline, and a wide variety of restaurants, most featuring fresh seafood, line the promenade. Don’t miss a visit to Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon which was built from the timbers of a whaling ship in 1883 and where the famous writer Jack London sketched notes for his famous novels and short stories.
Upon arrival at the Bay Voyager office, we were outfitted in professional gear designed to protect passengers from the cold bay wind (which can occur all year round) and any splashing that might occur. Since we were visiting the first week of February, we made sure that we also donned ample layers of clothing, as well as scarfs, gloves, and head protection that couldn’t blow away when the boat revved up to 35 MPH.
We had the good luck to be part of an affable family group celebrating their father’s 70th birthday, so spirits were high as we made our way through Oakland harbor into the majestic San Francisco Bay. Charles Jennings hails from a maritime family and has worked in the industry for decades in various capacities. As a 21-year-old, he served on the WWII Liberty Ship SS Jeremiah O’Brien, currently docked in San Francisco, during the war ship’s 50th anniversary return to Normandy in 1994—a memory he speaks about and holds dear to this day.
Nothing prepared us for the first exhilarating bounce over the waves as Jennings kicked up speed and brought us in no time under the Oakland Bay Bridge. From then on, every place we visited featured a history lesson and personal commentary. Jennings' goal is to give his clients an opportunity to see the Bay from the perspective of a RIB, with a tour guide who speaks from experience--and the heart.
Jennings maneuvered his craft with dexterity around all the iconic San Francisco sites. We'd duck in and around the bay, stopping at times to snap photos from our unique perspective. Experiencing the grandeur of the Golden Gate Bridge from the vantage point of a RIB was a humbling experience, to say the least.
Our two-hour cruise adventure ended on the same note it began--bouncing through the waves into Oakland harbor with eleven happy passengers squealing with delight along the way.
I know Tony and I will never forget this trip, and something tells me our 70-year-old birthday boy won’t either!
Bay Voyager is located at 423 Water Street, Oakland, CA. 510-542-4200, http://www.bayvoyager.com