San Francisco and Beyond – Last Week in The USA

Last post had us arriving in San Francisco, or rather Sausalito to be more precise. Sausalito is a cosmopolitan little community known for its vibrant art scene and great restaurants, just over the Golden Gate Bridge.  Popular with “yachties” ( because of the marina ) and day tripping tourists from San Francisco, the ferry ride between the two gives great views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz island and the city itself of course. Staying in Sausalito kills many birds with one stone as it were. Finding a campground in or near San Francisco is a real challenge – but our handy little iOverlander app alerted us to a great, somewhat legal, ‘stealth’ spot right by the marina in Sausalito . Accommodation issue solved !

Crossing San Francisco Bay, Golden Gate Bridge in background
Golden Gate from Sausalito ferry
Alcatraz Island in the morning
Cable car on Hyde St
Lois at Pier 39
Only in California…..
Cable car

Famous for its generally cooler, often changeable and invariably foggy weather, San Francisco delivered all those elements for us during our stay. Great views of the Golden Gate from the ferry ride across San Francisco Bay and close up views of Alcatraz as well. During the two days we were there, we explored many of the popular sites – Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghiradelli Square, Union Square, Chinatown, waited ages for, then rode ( ever so briefly ) a cable car and walked up and down some of its famously steep streets. And they are steep ! As expected, it was incredibly full of tourists and long waits were common. The ferry ride back to Sausalito provided a taste of the thick San Francisco fog giving Alcatraz an eerie silhouette and almost completely enveloping it’s famous golden bridge….the contrast is visible in some images below. A totally unexpected bonus was a ‘Friday in the Park’ concert in full swing as we arrived back in Sausalito – which we happily participated in before heading out to dinner. 

Eerie Alcatraz in the afternoon
Golden Gate barely visible on the way back due to thick fog

As we left we took in some scenic close up bridge views from the north side, all the while battling fierce winds before crossing it in our vehicle. I cast my mind back to what it must have been like in 1943 when my dad sailed under it in a troop ship from Australia en route to Europe during the Second World War – it had only been completed 7 years earlier.  

Great views from the north side looking south – note the wind
Up close view of a Golden Gate cable – much thinner than I expected

The route south out of San Francisco took us through Golden Gate Park, The Presidio and some of the suburbs and beach communities in the south. For a big city, it was refreshingly easy to get out of. Continuing our plan to stay off the interstates took us along the much more scenic but ( at times ) tortuously slow and ( often ) windy routes 1 and 101 more or less continuously to the Mexican border. Slower yes. Worth it ? Absolutely ! Lots of pit stops to sight-see along the way, we spent a full week ambling south ending up in San Diego. The idea was to try to and keep our days generally to 200 miles or less giving plenty of time to explore and soak up some of the coast’s spectacular views and to visit its charmingly  enchanting smaller  communities. Our run of luck with great campgrounds continued ( we never booked anything in advance ) and we were able to get into some great California State Parks in Santa Cruz, and Morro Bay ( the latter, right on the ocean, was a definite favourite ). Santa Barbara was the exception to that rule where the only suitable campground we could find turned out to be wedged between the 101 and an Amtrak line; deafening and not a mistake we’ll make again. Why so many are located close to busy freeways always amazes me.

Beach at Carmel – water still cold in August !
Rocky coast near Carmel
Coast near Big Sur
Sun about to set at Morro Bay
Sunset at Morro Bay
Morro Bay in the evening

Carmel By The Sea, already famous, was made more so after Clint Eastwood spent some time there as mayor ( and was probably the highlight among the towns we stopped at ). The whole coast from Pebble Beach to San Luis Obispo is highlighted in yellow on maps ( indicating a scenic drive ) and it offered some stunning vistas especially between Carmel and Big Sur. White knuckle stuff at times, but beautiful ! Santa Barbara ( just north of LA ) was another great spot, and probably the last relaxing part of the coastal drive because it gets heavily populated and consequently very congested  after that – traffic in LA was, and generally is, a nightmare ! We were delayed by a major accident so deferred some planned shopping until further south in San Diego – as we’d both been to LA several times before, this time the strategy was simply to safely navigate out.

Camped here near Oceanside – Guajome State Park

As our week wound down time was spent in the San Diego area prepping for crossing to Mexico – travelling with a vehicle and for an extended period, there was a significant amount of administrative preparation needed and some vehicle servicing required as well as stocking up with essentials that, history had taught us, could be tough to find south of the border. Like a good Boy Scout, one should always ‘be prepared’ ! One such task involved making multiple copies of all our documents, reviewing vehicle importation guidelines and, most importantly, arranging Mexican auto insurance. We had been well versed on this by others and on comments we’d read in iOverlander. We knew that our Canadian insurance was invalid there ( so had to cancel that once we had crossed ) and also knew that it was most advantageous to buy a 6 month policy ( even though we did not see ourselves being in Mexico anywhere near that long ). We were reminded by the company we bought it from of what to do in the event of an accident and of Mexico’s adherence to the ‘Napoleonic code’ ( essentially, in an accident, one is guilty until proven innocent ☹️ ) unlike the English common law on which our system is based ( thankfully, innocent until proven guilty  ). Let’s just hope we don’t have any occasion to need it !

Camped at Potrero, just a few miles from Mexico
This was outside our camper when we woke up – got to watch where we step !

At our final night in the US, in the tiny community of Potrero, just beside Tecate ( our border crossing ) we enjoyed a few beers at our campground with a young New Zealand couple on the same broad route south as us. I expect, and hope, our paths cross again in future on the long road commonly known as the “Gringo Trail” !

23 thoughts on “San Francisco and Beyond – Last Week in The USA

  1. In August,1968 two friends and I set out on a two week trip from Flin Flon to Tijuana (via Kelowna!). In California we traveled mostly along the coastal highway. I mention that because after that adventure, all those years ago, I began to dream about doing what you are doing… just keep going. I guess I’ll have to settle for the vicarious thing . Thanks for your help 😄.
    – Keep Going and Happy Trails!

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    1. ‘68 !! Height of the hippy era……Haight- Ashbury in San Fran was the centre of the universe; must have been a blast Charlie !

      In Mexico now, part way down the Baja, but we dodged Tijuana – bit of a sketchy place these days apparently. We did see a little bit of Trump’s walk though ! Well, we think it was anyway 🙂🙂.

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    1. Hi Chris,

      Great to hear from you and hope all is well back home. Re food, if you mean Mexico ( I assume ) we have only just started here ( been 2 nights ) and not yet near any ‘gourmet’ places. Pretty rustic and remote in northern Baja. Loreto should offer some good opportunities. Mostly preparing our own as we have the facilities to do so but eat out when we come across interesting places – couple of nice local spots in San Fran. While we expect to eat out a lot more in Mexico we’ll hold off for a bit as Lois is recovering from a stomach upset right now ( ironically got that in San Diego – go figure ). So we want to put that behind us first. We both love Mexican food so are looking forward to sampling lots of it…!

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  2. Hi Jeff and Lois – Mark and Dawn shared your blog with me. We are throughly enjoying your travels! What an adventure!

    Heather Berger Haberstock

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  3. Hola Jeff & Lois,

    Yes, I was kind of a part time hippy back in the day. Not a real hippy though because I always had a job or was in school 😄. And we definitely spent some time in the Haight-Ashbury area! (I also remember Broadway Street . Did you go there? 😆).

    Tijuana has ALWAYS been a sketchy place. That’s why we went there!

    (I thought I would get an email notification when you replied, but I only saw your response because I checked your blog. I’ve changed my settings which will hopefully fix it.)

    Saludos,
    Charlie

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    1. Ha ha ha ……I always suspected there was a bit of ‘hippie’ in you ( lol !!!! ). Those were the days, eh ? Sadly, I was a bit young at the time !!!

      Let me know if that setting change worked.

      Ciao

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  4. Hi Jeff and Lois! Its your New Zealand friends Carl and Renee here 🙂 we are GLAD we didn’t see that spider outside camp!!!!!!! Hope the trip down Baja is going well. We ended up at the ranch for 3 days and had a great time after luckily surviving the road in! We have got a bit “stuck” in the area in a good way and met a few more people, we are still around Ensenada. Beautiful area. Here is our blog as promised http://www.churkiwi.com

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    1. Hi Renee !!

      So glad you made it – we figured you did when we drove past the other place and saw you were not there ! We stayed at LA Cetto and had a winery to ourselves. Loved it !

      We would love to cross paths again and hope our travels allow it. We will follow your blog and keep an eye on you ☹️😊.

      PS : much hotter in the south of Baja- but beautiful all the same !

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  5. Beautiful pictures! It looks amazing 🙂 Between you and Nicole P, I feel like I’m on vacation! Thanks for sharing Lois and Jeff.
    Diane Wojo

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  6. Hi Jeff and Lois.

    Hello from the sunny Okanagan!

    I’m really enjoying your posts. How fun is this!

    As a child, Mexico was travelled extensively in the back country. I’m excited to hear your stories and familiar finds.

    Onward ho!

    Lorn 😀

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  7. WOW, more amazing pictures!!! I can’t wait to take that drive myself…
    When I seen the low rider car outside of See’s Candies, I thought maybe you guys rented it. LOL

    Take care and stay safe!! 🙂
    Bagel

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  8. Interesting reads on your great adventure. We did that coastline from San Fransisco many years ago. Loved Carmel. Did you happen to see the waterfall in that area that drops into the sea? Apparently there are only a couple in the world that drop fresh water directly into the ocean. We saw another one in Hawaii once too. I think most people who have a drone can relate to the disappearing act. Daz lost control of his once at Bermagui over the headland. A big updraft just carried it up & away. There were about 6 of us out searching for it in the air. At least he could keep it way up in the air until he got a visual – but some anxious moments with ocean one side & forest the other. Have fun

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    1. Ha ha – exactly what happened to us !!! Frightening indeed ! Staying close to shore going forward.

      Did not see that waterfall in Carmel – would be cool to see one dropping in to the sea directly. Great chatting to Ian this week- got all caught up I think 😊.

      Ciao

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