One thing I love about being a travel blogger is that I get to relive adventures long after they have finished.
I’ve experienced a lot of joy writing about my recent “California Dreaming: Northern California by Design” group tour with Globus Journeys.
I love travel experiences that create memories that bring smiles for months, if not years after.
In my last post, I shared with you 7 reasons why I loved this Globus Choice Touring option and the group travel experience from the perspective of a very busy mother who is collapsing under the strain of managing and implementing family travel.
In this post, I will share with you some of the highlights of the destinations we visited on the 9 day tour of Northern California tour, which took us from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park passing through Sonoma, Sacramento, Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Lakes where we enjoyed popular attractions as well as more lessor known experiences.
For the rest of this week, I will publish content on Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve, Bodie State Historical Park, Sacramento and Yosemite National Park!
About Choice Touring by Globus Tours
We worked with them to help share the experience of this new tour form introduced by Globus earlier this year: Choice Touring.
Choice Touring by Globus allows for more flexibility and independence within the group travel experience.
On these tours, travelers are provided with guided sightseeing at the must-see sights (like Yosemite National Park) as well as having the option of choosing from a selection of curated experiences called YourChoice Excursions.
These excursions are in the key attractions and off-the-beaten-path destinations, allowing travelers the freedom and flexibility to pursue their own interests and curiosities, within a group tour format.
Choice Touring by Globus is offering travelers 13 NEW itineraries in Europe and North America. (Psst. Scotland tour with Outlander tour options, I have my eye on you!)
Globus is one of the biggest tour companies in the world, helping travel lovers experience global destinations in a way that best suits their style.
From budget to luxury, small groups to large, and even more independent style with local guides and local favorites, Globus, along with their sister companies Avalon Waterways, Cosmos, and Monograms, have a wide range of tour options to suit any style.
Day 1: San Francisco
Our tour started and ended in San Francisco.
There is nothing planned specifically with the Globus tour itself in San Francisco so use this opportunity to plan a few extra days on either end of the tour to explore what is one of my favorite cities in the USA.
This is a great way to bring in more independent style travel into your tour group experience. I used this solo trip as an opportunity to wander slowly around San Francisco for a more local feel.
I took in the stunning views of Coit Tower (how did I not know about this before?) and bought Jack Kerouac’s On the Road from the beatnik bookstore City of Limits and then walked next door to Vesuvius Café where Jack and many other poets, writers and singers would gather. I enjoyed reading a few chapters of his book – a rarity in my typical family travel world.
Here is my post about my day in San Francisco before the tour started.
Tour Hotel: San Francisco Marriott Marquis
Marriott Marquis San Francisco is the first hotel on your Globus Northern California tour, which includes their buffet breakfast.
The Marquis is a fantastic hotel centrally located in the SoMa district not far from Union Square. You will love the surprisingly large rooms, and San Francisco views.
Do not miss cocktails from The View lounge – the views are sensational.
Your Globus tour will start in the evening with a welcome drink orientation with your fellow travelers.
Day 2: Sausalito and, Sonoma, and Sacramento
Enjoy the drive out of San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge.
Fingers crossed the typical marine layer is not fogging you in, as you’ll stop at one of the most famous viewpoints: Golden Gate Bridge View Vista Point
Hello Fog!! It’s beautiful even if it’s rolling in!
Just north of the Golden Gate Bridge is Sausalito, one of my favorite areas of San Francisco, especially on a sunny day. We stopped here for an hour.
As I’ve been here a few times before, I decided to walk along the bay just north of the main shopping area for a local’s favorite coffee at Sausalito Equator.
There are plenty of good views along the bay in Sausalito and boutique stores to peruse.
Sausalito Books By the Bay is a cute independent community bookstore on the water worth visiting.
As you continue heading out of San Francisco the fog will drop and the temperature will rise as you make your way to the next stop on the Globus tour, Sonoma.
Gloria Ferrer Winery, Sonoma
Sonoma is known as the more laid-back wine region compared to famous and glitzy Napa Valley. My first (and limited) impression is that Sonoma is more my rustic, down-to-earth style and I want to come back.
Jose and Gloria Ferrer bought their generations of Spanish-sparkling-winegrowing wisdom to this region, planting 50 acres of vines in 1984 and opening the winery two years alter. In 2016, Gloria Ferrer received the official sustainable certification from the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance.
I loved learning this and more on a private wine tasting experience on the Vista Terrace with beautiful views and a flight of four award-winning sparkling and still wines. They were paired with delicious local cheeses, pickled capers, house spiced almonds, and charcuterie.
My favorite wines were the Blanc de Blanc made from white 100% chardonnay and the pinot noir was sensational! I wish I bought a souvenir bottle!
I absolutely loved the vibe of this historical town centered around Sonoma Plaza in the heart of Sonoma Valley..
With its artistic vibe and historical Spanish architecture surrounding the square, it reminded me of a cross between Jackson, Wyoming and Santa Fe, New Mexico.
It invites you to slowly wander and soak up the old adobe storefronts, wander down alleyways and through courtyards, stopping for a bit of shopping or a drink or meal at the plethora of restaurants and bars on the plaza’s edge.
For a little history, explore the Sonoma City Hall, the Sonoma Barracks in the old Mexican military outpost, and the Spanish San Francisco Solano Mission village. I loved the pomegranate tree out the front of the mission, which inspired me to get a pomegranate margarita at Maya Restaurant.
Day 3: Sacramento Tour: Midtown & Old Town Sacramento
Before joining this Globus tour, Sacramento was never on my list of places to visit in California.
I barely even knew it was the capital of California and assumed it would be a bland, capital city.
I love it when my travels show me I know nothing. As our number one on our travel manifesto says. “always travel with an open mind!”
Now I want to go back and explore more of this vibrant city (currently one of the fastest growing in California for affordability and lifestyle!)
.As 80% of the food in the US is produced from the Central Valley region where Sacramento is located, you can expect to find a flourishing Farm to Fork foodie scene in the city.
Derek, our Globus Tour Director took us on a short driving tour of Sacramento to learn the history of Sutter’s Fort, where Sacramento started in 1839, and the beautiful State Capitol Building and grounds where Sacramento was established as the capital after the Gold Rush in 1854.
My favorite stop was the 15-stories high Johnny Cash Mural, created by the same artist how did the 2008 Obama Hope poster to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his Folsom Prison Blues album.
If you’re a Johnny Cash fan, you’ll be elated to know one of the Globus Choice excursions is a tour of the Folsom Prison Museum to learn more about Cash’s work for Prison reform and his performance of Prison Blues in 1968 at the prison. Sadly, it was not running due to COVID restrictions.
We continued our theme of mural appreciating on our cultural walking tour of Midtown Sacramento.
Midtown is the hip and trendy region of Sacramento located mostly along It’s It is a mostly residential community with old homes and tree-lined streets, which reminded me a lot of Raleigh.
It is also the center of Sacramento’s art, music, and cultural scene where you’ll find more of a diverse cultural story, breweries, hip cafes, upscale dining and clubs, artisans and vibrant murals. The kind of local experience we look for when we travel.
First stop in Midtown, will want to be the Temple Coffee for a delicious cup. Pay attention to the 500,000 pennies that make up the café’s floor. I’m sure you’ll find good luck. (Temple Coffee has various locations in the city. My research before visiting told me it’s some of the best coffee in Sacramento.)
The area around Midtown MX (on K Street) is where you’ll find a little taste of Mexico with cool restaurants and the Placita MX a building courtyard area that houses six different small artisan businesses.
You may even see artist, John S. Huerta, at work in his studio.
Around the corner is Catina Alley, where we stopped for some deliciously fresh and spicy Asada steak and Baja fish tacos.
Cantina Alley has Oaxaca and Mexico City inspired ala carte street food; most known for their tacos. They’ve replaced the chips and salsa typically served in Mexican restaurants with chicharrons – fried pig rind.
I loved the ambiance of this restaurant, with its outdoor seating, huge mural, sculptures, and bar covered with photograph-covered ceramic tiles. It definitely made me want to go to Mexico City!
You can easily walk to this area from the hotel (about 30 minutes). We walked back from the Midtown walking tour, which gave us a greater insight into Sacramento life.
Many of our fellow tourers raved about their ChoiceExcursions: GAZE: Off the Rails where they visited the California State Railroad Museum and enjoyed fun happy hour aboard the historic River Fox train with views of agricultural land surrounding Sacramento.
Are you ready to step back into Gold Rush times?
The Old Sacramento Waterfront has been preserved to maintain that 1850s feel with recreated or restored buildings from the Gold Rush era. You’ll find wooden sidewalks, horse drawn carriages or maybe even a living history character or two.
Museums will tell the story of the California Gold Rush and the building of the Transcontinental Railroad which began in Sacramento. Dereck took us on a short walking tour of the area before dinner and told us more of Sacramento’s history.
I was worried this region may be a little kitschy, but I loved it! The architecture of the buildings were stunning and it was tastefully set out and designed and it had such a fun wild west vibe that felt authentic to that spirit, more than poorly fabricated!
I love finding connections between places when I visit and the style of Sacramento’s buildings with their wrap around upper decks/ verandahs were exactly like Fremantle in Western Australia, which also has a rich gold mining history!
It has a very similar buzzing night time atmosphere, where everyone was having a good time. I felt like I was visiting Sacramento and Fremantle in the one experience and I was so joyful.
A group of us from the tour went to Fanny Ann’s Saloon for dinner. It’s named after the steamboat that was used for transportation during the Gold Rush (and later helped the North in the Civil War!)
Franny Ann’s has been serving up burgers and beers since 1973! The peanut butter burger is the specialty!
There’s three levels of memorabilia, including an ancient firehose on wheels, posters, arcade games and funky nooks and crannies. It has a Wild West quirky feel. Some of the posters gave us a great laugh for days after!
Other people on the tour wen to the River City Saloon bar and love that experience!
On our second evening, we ate as a tour group at the Rio City Café right on the River running through Sacramento.
The building is designed as a replicate steamship warehouse of the 1800s, perfect for its riverside location. The outdoor patio overlooks the river and historic Tower Bridge and is serene at sunset.
This is a great spot for a fancier Sacramento dining experience with delicious food and cocktails.
Stay: Embassy Suites by Hilton
We had two nights at the Embassy Suites By Hilton Sacramento Riverfront Promenade.
The hotel was across from the river and near the golden Tower Bridge, which is worth seeing during sunset for how it lights up.
The hotel is only a short walk to Old Sacramento Waterfront District and about 30 minutes to Midtown Sacramento. The suite rooms are spacious with a separate lounge area and desk for those who work as they travel.
They also have evening social hour with free drinks and snacks! Look for their special cocktail of the day. Warning. It may be strong.
Day 4: Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Mountain
Today was a big driving day full of wonderful views as we drove along what’s touted as the “Most Beautiful Drive in America” circumnavigating the eastern side of Lake Tahoe on the way to Mammoth Mountain.
Lake Tahoe has been on my USA bucket list for some time after watching so many friend’s fun adventures in the region – both during winter and summer.
While our trip was fleeting and was mostly stunning viewpoints, it’s inspired me to return for more in-depth explorations, lake fun, and hiking in the surrounding mountains.
We got to experience Tahoe from the Nevada side as well, which was great.
We stopped in at Sand-Harbor State Park and Logan Shoals Vista Point in Nevada for these stunning views:
The reason Lake Tahoe is so blue is thanks to the clarity of the water, which is fed purely of snowmelt from the surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountains. You can sometimes see down to a depth of 100ft.
At 22 miles long and 12 miles wide, Lake Tahoe is North America’s largest alpine lake at 6,225 feet above sea level. It’s the second deepest lake in the USA after Crater Lake (which Tahoe reminded me of with its brilliant blue color.)
We stopped for a great lunch of Mexican and Monday Margaritas at Azul Latin Kitchen in Heavenly Village in the South Tahoe area in California and a little shopping after it. I picked up some lovely gifts for the girls in the Earthbound Trading Company.
We had a later arrival to our Mammoth Mountain inn accommodation where we headed straight down to cute Mammoth Village for dinner in the outdoor garden of Mammoth Brewing Company The burger here was one of the best I had, and many agreed the food was sensational, as was the beer.
Stay: Mammoth Mountain Inn
Mammoth Mountain Inn is located at the base of Mammoth Mountain across from the main lodge of the ski area. The lodge rooms were cozy with a loft bedroom that kids will love if you are traveling with them. I liked this feature for families to get a little extra privacy and space.
The lodge has a restaurant and bar with great food and drink choices. It’s a cozy atmosphere and the place for our group impromptu September 21 Spring Equinox Dance. There may or may not have been Slippery Slope dessert cocktails involved.
Day 5: Mammoth Region: Choice Touring Bodie Ghost Town & Mono Lake
The Mammoth region is known for its mountain peaks, expansive valleys, and crystal clear mountain lakes. It’s an adventure lovers’ playground year round.
We had activities planned for the surrounding areas down off the mountain rather than on it.
Derek stepped it up in Mammoth region of the tour to ensure we had the best time despite the challenges of Choice Excursions not being available.
The Gondola ride was no longer running, and the kayak tour of Mono Lake (my choice) had to be cancelled due to a death in the tour operator’s family.
Bodie Ghost Town Tour
So instead, we all joined the Bodie Ghost Town tour, which ended up being a wonderful experience and a Globus highlight for me (so much that my next post will focus entirely on it!).
Bodie State Historic Park is the largest and most interesting gold-mining ghost town I have been to. Bodie became a boom town in 1876 after the discovery of gold and by 1879 it had a population of 7,000–10,000.
This isolated town in the Sierra Nevada mountain range is preserved in a state of Arrested Decay, meaning it’s exactly as it looks when it was abandoned in 1942, right down to goods still on the grocery shelf and the weights lying around on the gym floor.
I’m so grateful Derek was able to include a visit to Mono Lake for us so we could experience the mystical beauty of this Dead Sea of California
It’s one of the oldest lakes in North America and known for its Tufas – columns and spires of solid calcium carbonate formed when freshwater springs met the alkaline water of the lakes.
There is a mile long boardwalk that loops along the waters edge and takes you up close to the tufas.
I will also have a separate post on this stunning lake!
On our second evening, a small group of us hiked the 3-mile return Minaret Vista trail behind the Mammoth Inn.
It was a beautiful and easy hike through the forest leading to spectacular sunset views of Mammoth Lakes’ signature skyline, the sharp, jutting spores of the the Minarets. I highly recommend you make time in your schedule to do this.
Day 6: Yosemite National Park: Views and Yosemite Valley
The highlight of this Northern California tour for many was Yosemite National Park. This was my third visit to the park, so I enjoyed a more leisurely experience that involved mostly appreciating the many different viewpoints.
As the Choice Touring tram tour option was not available, due to COVID reasons, Derek took us along the same path in the bus, stopping at all the major viewpoints.
The biggest treat was driving along the Tioga Pass Road, a more off-the-beaten path section of Yosemite that is closed most of the year due to snow. I discovered one of my favorite views at Olmsted Point overlooking the back of half dome.
We had a couple of hours free time to wander Yosemite Valley floor, which I enjoyed doing with a couple of my fellow travelers. Sadly, due to the time of year (September) the Yosemite waterfalls had dried up, as they are mostly snowmelt fed.
California is also in drought so had one of the worst snow years. It was so bizarre seeing a completely dry Yosemite and Bridalveil Falls where last I saw them in May the granite walls of Yosemite Valley were thundering with water!
Stay: Tenaya Lodge
Everyone was excited to have three nights at the Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite. The resort is not located within Yosemite National Park, but in Fish Camp which is just outside the Mariposa Grove region of the park.
Craig and I stayed here in 2019 with the girls and loved it, so I was thrilled to return.
It’s the most upmarket property of the Globus Northern California tour, and you get access to amenities to match with indoor and outdoor pools, landscaped gardens, firepits (remember to S’mores), relaxing Spa treatments, and the Jack Cantaloupe Restaurant which has noteworthy food and drinks.
The burgers are great as is the flourless chocolate torte!
I loved soaking up some free time by the resort pool (so happy it was heated!) and one evening we grabbed some s’mores kits around the fire pits on the patio and enjoyed them over warm chocolate cocktails and conversations contemplating the truth of ghosts! All deep conversations (and much laughter) happen with new friends over crackling fires.
Read our full review of the Tenaya Lodge
Day 7: Yosemite National Park Photography Tour
One of the highlights of our Northern California Globus Tour was our ChoiceExcursion: STROLL: A Kaleidoscope on Black and White Photography tour courtesy of the Ansel Adams Galley.
Since Craig is usually the photographer, I though this would be a great way for me to learn a little more about photography and connect to Yosemite in a different way.
Ansel Adams is known throughout the world for spectacular black and white images of America’s natural beauty, in particular, Yosemite. He was a visionary in his efforts to preserve America’s wild and scenic areas.
Our guide, Blake took us on a short walk through the valley sharing Ansel Adam’s life, how Yosemite impacted him, and the importance of his photography work for helping to protect national parks.
We also learned some of his black and white photo techniques and how to apply it to our own digital photography.
The treat for most of us was getting a look at a Chamonix 45 4×5 view camera, similar to what Ansel Adam’s would have used.
It was extraordinary to see the amount of time, consideration, and care went into to taking one photo. You had to know what you were doing and set everything up to capture a perfect photo.
But, as we learned on the tour, sometimes it took Ansel months, if not years, to perfect a shot. We need experiences like this to remind us how easy we have it now! It helps me appreciate those who came before us and trailblazed that easy path for us.
It inspired me to improve my photography. (Which I soon forgot about after the trip, when I gladly handed the camera back to Craig!!)
Day 8: Walking with Giant Sequoias at Tuolumne Grove
This day was meant to be a free day at Tenaya Lodge. There are many things to do at the resort – like wonderful full body massages and resort pools– but also nearby are hiking trails to waterfalls and bikes for rent.
As we had so many disruptions to our Choice Touring that were out of Globus’ control, Derek organized a tour of the Giant Sequoias at Tuolumne Grove.
The biggest sequoia grove at Yosemite is Mariposa Grove, which is right near Tenaya. Sadly, due to COVID the park was not running the shuttles, which is the only way you can get to it, unless you hike 2 miles in.
Some of the other travel bloggers joined a private tour (you can organize through the lodge) which took them to Mariposa (they hiked in) and Glacier Point Overlook.
As I had been to Mariposa before, I was happy to join the Globus tour of Tuolumne Grove, a new Yosemite experience for me.
It was 2 mile return hike down to the grove – noting it was quite steep coming out. It was a peaceful wall to experience the largest living trees on earth!
That evening, we all enjoyed a farewell dinner together in a private room at the resort followed by star gazing with a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable Tenaya Lodge guide.
Day 9: Back to San Francisco
After a long drive back to San Francisco we hugged our new friends goodbye. I’ve learned enough from my travels now that people come and go so quickly in your life.
Everyone arrives for a reason, and while you may not see them again – even though you think you will – you can still cherish the experience memory of them forever.
Each interaction with another brings its own special gift, no matter how fleeting or long-term.
When you travel remember to be present and soak up all of it. Because before you know it, it’s over, you’re onto the next adventure and the memory of it will soon start to fade – but those feelings you had along the way won’t – that’s what continues to transform.
I stayed an extra night in San Francisco and spoiled myself with cocktails and dinner at The View Lounge.
Enjoy the next chapter of your journey!
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