When you live in one of the most beautiful places on the planet, the bar is set particularly high for vacation destinations. I mean, I literally live in a triple-threat destination town: incredible food, easy on the eyes and never-ending options to keep me entertained.
When you’re an extreme foodie from one of the most beautiful places on the planet, I’ll admit it can be tough to please.
Growing up in Sonoma County, my family didn’t vacation much. My sister and I fought constantly. We were a couple of ruiners. I don’t blame my parents for not wanting to go anywhere with us.
Disneyland, sometime in the mid-80's. I'm fairly certain we tackled each other shortly after taking this pic.
But I can’t believe I’d never been to Yosemite. It’s the same driving distance as it is to Tahoe, a place I frequented growing up.
The funny thing is, my first time to Yosemite, I couldn’t help but notice all the foreign accents. People from ALL OVER THE WORLD come to experience this incredible place, and I had it in my backyard my whole life and didn’t know what I was missing.
The first time I went was only about five years ago, the summer of 2011.
It took my breath away.
It’s by far the most beautiful place I’ve ever been.
Like, spectacularly beautiful.
The valley is only about seven miles long, so you can see almost all of it from several of the park’s viewpoints.
For my maiden voyage, I stayed at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls. It was pricey…about $300/night. I’ve stayed at Motel 6s in college that were nicer than this place for a fraction of the cost. But I suppose it was nice to walk out and be right at the valley floor.
I ate dinner at The Ahwahnee. Walking in, my expectations were pretty high. Everyone talks about what an outstanding restaurant it is. And the rustic living room (with massive fireplaces you can practically stand in flanking the restaurant) continued to build my hopes. The first sight of the dining room is impressive. Lofty, exposed-beam ceilings with enormous, iron chandeliers hanging throughout the entire room. It looks like something out of Game of Thrones. The only thing incredible about it, though, was the price of the check at the end of the meal (almost $300, after tip, for two). The food was nearly inedible and the service was even worse. But it has these ridic views of granite walls in massive picture windows that were pretty amazing to see.
This is the view from the Awahnee dining room.
I returned every season following that trip, so I could experience its beauty in all different points of view. And I had to take my family and besties so they could see what we’d been missing all this time.
My sister and I in Yosemite for her first time, years later, now able to travel together. And, yes, that is a Michelob Ultra tall-boy in her hand. And a full coffee-traveler filled with wine in mine...
I stayed at the Lodge a few more times, bringing my own wine and snacks for the room and hikes.
In April of 2012, I stayed at the Ahwahnee. I had heard it was the nicest lodging in the valley. After my dining experience there, I shouldn’t have been surprised. For $700/night, we stayed in one of the oldest, dirtiest, ugliest rooms that had this incredible, vast deck overlooking stupefying views of the valley. We had brought our own wine and snacks and breakfast, so we started and ended our day on our own, gorgeous deck.
Our friends we traveled with paid $450/night for their room. Same hideous room but it overlooked a parking lot and the hotel’s collection of green dumpsters.
This is our view on our massive deck, post-hike happy hour...headlining J Brut Rosé.
I figured this is just what you get for National Park Service, government-contract run facilities.
And then…I discovered Evergreen Lodge.
[Insert church-choir music and visual of heavens parting clouds.]
The valley was completely booked, as it gets almost year round. (Most people plan up to a year in advance for summer travel.) I’m more of a “last minute” kinda girl…So when I looked into what was available and found Evergreen, I jumped on it. It’s only a few miles from the park entrance (40 minutes to the valley floor) and the amenities looked nice, so I gave it a try.
I don’t think I’ll ever stay anywhere else.
It was originally established in the early 1920’s and has been completely overhauled to offer everything we require for modern-day living/travel. But it kept the look and feel of the original resort.
This destination is designed to let you experience Yosemite like the class act it should be.
The chef is outstanding. The wine list, lovely. The service, awesome. The old bar, perfect. The giant pool and hot-tub (open year round), essential. And throughout the property there are whimsical outdoor games built into the trees and grounds. The weekends host live music in the bar. The rec room has tons of board games, ping pong, foosball…just to name a few.
Need a massage? Book one with one of their therapists! And…nightly smores around the huge, outdoor fireplace.
The rooms are individual, free-standing cabins of various sizes.
Or, rent the John Muir House, like I did for my bachelorette party (18 girls in Yosemite…Evergreen, nor the valley will never be the same…), and enjoy a 3-bedroom (plus loft)
log cabin with massive gourmet kitchen, your own private hot tub and fire pit…with two-car garage.
The resort even has a Tesla charging station you can use for free.
17 of my besties joined me in my favorite place to celebrate my bachelorette. Hands down, one of the best weekends of my entire life.
They offer tons of recreational activities from biking to snow-shoeing.
THIS is what the lodges in the valley are missing. This place CRUSHES anything in the valley…by A MILLION times.
I love Yosemite in the winter.
It’s so much quieter than the over-crowded summers.
My family likes to vacation over the holidays, so this past Christmas I talked them into going to Evergreen. We made our reservations only three weeks in advance.
We left the day after Christmas, right after a huge snow-storm, and arrived just as the valley was starting to warm. Though the ground froze at night and was icy in the morning, the days were clear and sunny…and warm! It was 57F the last two days we were there, which made for awesome hiking weather.
We always stop at The Iron Door Saloon in Groveland on our way to Yosemite.
It’s the quintessential stop to whet your mind’s appetite (and prep your liver) for vacation.
Groveland is a quaint little town just outside the park. The food and service is excellent. The bar’s ceiling is covered in dollar bills and the walls adorned with taxidermied wildlife and vintage license plates. But don’t let the dive-bar ambience fool you. Their menu,
specifically: their burgers, are super legit.
On the day we arrived, the storm had knocked out power in the lodge. And their generators went down too. So they did what any generous host would do: they made dinner on their gas stoves outside and offered a free buffet of gourmet camping-style food. It wasn’t the best, but they were incredibly sweet and apologetic.
The next morning, we started our day with breakfast in the lodge. I had a Greek egg-white omelet (a hard decision with eggs benedict, a lox & cream cheese bagel, an egg sandwich, French toast, pancakes and biscuits & gravy on the menu).
[Side note: I bring my own Nespresso machine so I can make lattes in my room. (I told you I’m particular.) I’m really into turmeric lattes right now, so I loved having my milk frother with me to add my steamed almond milk. And it’s essential for me to have an almond-milk latte in my hand when I drive to the valley. I’d order one from their coffee shop but they don’t serve almond milk and wouldn’t make me a latte with almond milk I provided…so…I improvise and just bring my own. Why not? We drive up there, afterall. It’s nothing to pack… (Evergreen: If you’re reading this…Please add almond milk to your coffee menu!)]
We had a late start and took our time with breakfast, so we didn’t get into the valley until after noon. By the time we found parking and oriented ourselves with all the new destination names (more on that later*), it was after 1:00.
My dad, husband and I put our “four wheel drives” on our shoes (aka: crampons) and hit the trail to Mirror Lake. This is a hike I’ve never done, so I was excited to see something new. It’s shorter than the long, non-winter hikes I like to do. And I was getting my first cold of the year, so a four-mile, simple hike was perfect. And our crampons were a God-send. I could easily traipse up an icy path without slipping.
The reflection this pool of water creates gives it its name, Mirror Lake. It's only a short four-mile (roundtrip), simple hike from the valley floor.
My husband, Alex, and I at Mirror Lake. It was cold. His pants were fleece lined. These are not recommended for hiking.
We finished our day with Manhattans and warm soup in the Ahwahnee bar with the rest of our family and shared stories of our day. The valley was packed. A ton of people had come in for the holiday and traffic was insane, so we had another round and waited for it to dissipate.
We jumped in the hot tub with a few bottles of wine when we got back and then played Cards Against Humanity in our room. Their own website describes it as, "a party game for horrible people". Well...if the shoe fits...(!!!)
This is not something you should play with your dad. Just saying.
Or maybe it is. Because we laughed extra hard at some of the topics only because he was there.
My husband and I bought snowshoes four years ago and there’s never been enough snow to use them. Until now.
So Day 2 was "Snowshoe Day".
We drove up to Badger Pass, about 90-minutes from Evergreen and a really pretty drive.
I had searched for the best snowshoe routes and decided on the hike to Dewey Point. It had, by far, the best and most reviews.
Unfortunately, the trails are terribly marked. We missed the turn that takes us to the valley overlook. And by the time we realized it, we were a mile past it. My dad was getting winded and my husband was not loving the fit of his shoes, so we committed to the path we were on, forging ahead through the fresh snow.
SNOWSHOEING IS SO FUN!!!
Crew Snowshoe: My husband (Alex), me, my dad (Fred), my sissy, (Kayleigh). I look like a smiley Black Ops cadet.
I can’t wait to go back and find the trail to Dewey Point. And…I can’t wait to find other snowshoe trails to explore. It’s just like hiking but with poles, in snow. I loved it.
You know what doesn’t look fun? Cross-country skiing. Oh my god. The people doing it really looked like they were struggling. And I’ll bet they were insanely sore the next day (and day after, and day after that…).
We hit the hot tub when we got home and then finished the night with a fun dinner with some besties that were traveling up there with their family for the holiday too.
The next morning, we had another phenomenal breaky. I went for the gravlax this time (with whole-wheat toast instead of a bagel), accompanied with my turmeric latte I made in my room.
I made an almond-milk latte for the road, packed up our car, and headed for Hetch Hetchy for a final hike before we drove home.
We only walked a few miles but captured some great views.
Next time I go, I want to explore Hetch Hetchy more.
They have a ton of trails and it’s very quiet. It’s still a secret, so it’s never crowded. Shhhhhhhh...don't tell.
[Fun fact: Hetch Hetchy is where San Francisco gets its tasty water. (And I'm a total water snob. You can drink SF water right out of the tap and it tastes like bottled...) There’s a lot of history and stuff to learn when you go there, other than the gorge sites and great hikes…]
Hetch Hetchy reservoir supplies the surrounding area and San Francisco with its water since the O'Shaunnesy Dam was completed in 1923. More on it here.
On our way out, we stopped at Evergreen’s sister property that just opened this year, Rushcreek Lodge, for lunch.
We’ve been dying to check it out. It’s right on 120 and the first resort to open in over 25 years in the area.
It’s huge and they are planning for a lot of amenities.
They’re still working out a lot of kinks and there’s still a considerable amount of construction going on. I suspect by this summer, they’ll be in full swing. The food was really good but it took over a half hour to arrive, despite us being only one of three tables in the restaurant. And when it did, the soup was cold. (Boo.) They quickly brought back steaming bowls and were incredibly apologetic, comping most our meal due to the wait and the cold soup. The staff was very friendly and I can picture myself, enjoying myself, at their pool and their (adult only) hot tub (yessssssss!) this summer, cocktail in hand. I think it's worth waiting a little bit to let them finish the project.
(Which isn’t a problem…because there’s Evergreen!)
Rush Creek Lodge property. It's going to be awesome!
When you live in a top destination town, expectations for travel can be high.
The Bay Area hosts a multitude of options for road-trip travel. It’s no wonder it costs a fortune to live in California…look what we have at our fingertips! I’m so lucky to live where I do. I never take it for granted.
If you’re visiting wine-country for an extended period and have time to explore more of what Northern California has to offer, go to Yosemite!
Or…if you live in the Bay Area and, like me, haven’t explored Yosemite yet…Don’t wait! It’s too amazing and too close to not go. And there’s something for everyone, all ages.
If you’re headed to Yosemite via Hwy 120 , make sure you take the Old Priest Grade. It will save you >10 minutes and, if you get car-sick like I do (even if you’re the driver…ugh…) it’ll save you many barf-inducing turns, getting you to the Iron Door Saloon THAT much faster!
*I'm Taking my Ball and Going Home!
In a case of, "I'm taking my ball and going home!", a subsidy of Delaware North Co. (the company that's run concessions and lodging in Yosemite for the past two contract periods) pulled the ultimate jerk move by wittingly (and surreptitiously) trademarking the names of several iconic and historic landmarks within the park while they had the business. When the park decided to go with another vendor last year (Yosemite Hospitality LLC, a subsidiary of Aramark), they threatened--and pursued--forbidding use of the names they trademarked, unless the park paid them $51M (!!!). To make for a seamless transition to their new partner, Yosemite conceded and renamed the iconic landmarks, spending close to $2M on new signage throughout the park.
There is even a current legal battle to be able to use the phrase "Yosemite National Park" on their souvenirs. "How do they even have case?!", you ask? So are a lot of people... Read more about that here.
Bottom line is, all your favorite spots have new names. So. Annoying.
Yosemite Lodge at the Falls: Yosemite Valley Lodge
The Ahwahnee: The Majestic Yosemite Hotel
Curry Village: Half Dome Village
Wawona Hotel: Big Trees Lodge
Badger Pass Ski Area: Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area
Yosemite National Park is located ~220 miles south east of Healdsburg, California.
For more information, visit their website here.
For more interesting things to do in the Healdsburg area, visit sheetstothewind.co.