So, what do I recommend for your next trip to the beautiful San Francisco & Monterey areas of California?
- We opted for the Angel Island and Alcatraz Combo. I have been to Alcatraz a few times but making a visit to Angel Island was on my wish list. Angel Island has breathtaking views of the bay and it is rich with history from beginning as a place of immigration to evolving into a military base. We enjoyed the tram ride around the island and had an hour to explore on our own before the return boat arrived. This excursion is great for individuals that want to explore the Island but don’t have the energy to hike the hills. Unlike Alcatraz, there is a place to eat on the island.
- Alcatraz is an amazing location to visit. Again, there is so much history to learn and experience as well as taking in a breathtaking view of the city. Alcatraz is a place of beautiful gardens and birding. While we were there, we had the pleasure of seeing nesting Western Gulls - in fact, just near the walking paths we had close to 20-30 nests. The park does an awesome job of blocking the areas to protect the babies. Most of the gardens were closed.
- GoCar was amazing! We could have taken a tour bus for city sightseeing, but I love the GoCar. If you haven’t seen a GoCar, they are 2-seater motorcycles (looks like a sidecar with a steering wheel.) They travel at about 40 MPH and has a GPS Guided Tour. We rented the car for the day because we wanted to stop and explore the sites we were visiting. Places that tour buses can’t go such as SeaCliff because famous people like their privacy become accessible with a GoCar and they are especially helpful on the narrow streets. Besides, the views are simply impressive! We were able to tour all of these locations: Fisherman’s Wharf, The Marina, Fort Mason, Crissy Field, The Marine Sanctuary, Fort Point, The Golden Gate Bridge, Baker Beach, China Beach, The Presidio, The Legion of Honor, Lincoln Park, The Cliff House, Ocean Beach, Golden Gate Park, Lombard Street and Coit Tower. Taking this tour allowed us to get a feel for the city and map out the things we wanted to spend more time doing.
- Local Theater: My niece loves theater and so we picked a small local theater to watch “A Streetcar Named Desire”. The theater was the Shelton Theater. If you are ever in San Francisco, check out http://www.sheltontheater.org/ . It was worth every penny.
- Muir Woods is truly a little slice of heaven with peace and quiet. It is about 20-30 minutes outside San Francisco, but feel as if you have been transported thousands of miles away. Everyone is respectful while walking and hiking in Muir woods. While we were there, people spoke quietly so that everyone could enjoy the tranquility. We hiked the Dipsea Trail which is approximately 5 miles but well worth it as it leads you to Stinson Beach as you hike over and through trees, and up and down hills and ladders. Muir Woods does offer accessibility for wheelchairs for roughly 1 mile each way.
- Sausalito is a wonderful, charming town on the bay across from San Francisco. The downtown area reminds you of a European square with its fountain, and unique shops. If you want to purchase souvenirs for San Francisco, we found things cheaper here (t-shirts and ornaments). There is amazing food by the ferry landing. In Sausalito you can bike over the Golden Gate Bridge and ferry back if you're tired. I wouldn’t recommend this in the summer because the winds on the bridge are sometimes fierce. When walking across the bridge I witnessed cars and motorcycles being pushed around. It is like being in a wind tunnel. However, when the winds quiet it is the most amazing walk you will ever have!
- I confess that I had very little knowledge of the Mosaic Stairs. These are some of the most beautiful paid street art. From the bottom of the stairs a whole scene is painted before you with each tile laid by hand. They are breathtaking to see. Here is information on this project. http://www.tiledsteps.org/ This is not for the light of heart when it comes to climbing stairs. You make it half way and you realize either you go up or down and you have climbed 215 steps. As beautiful as it is… not sure I would climb that many stairs again. It might be my once in a lifetime.
There are so many amazing things in San Francisco however we wanted to go South. So we rented a car and headed to Monterey.
- If you want to get up close and personal with Sea Lions and Seals you won’t be doing that in San Francisco in the summer months. Sorry to say Pier 39 is pretty empty because all these cuties are down having some afternoon delight and expanding the family. So we decided to visit Elkhorn Slough. What? You have never heard of Elkhorn Slough? It is a magical place where you can see sea lions, turtles, seals, OTTERS!! and seabirds. You are just feet away from these beautiful animals. We took a tour with Elkhorn Slough Safari. The Captain Yohn respects the wildlife and the wetlands yet gives you a chance to photograph the animals and you have a wildlife specialist explaining the animal behaviors. There were young children on the boat and they had “jobs” that they were rewarded for. I can’t wait to go back and kayak in the Slough. Truth be told, I am now addicted to seeing the animals in their natural habitats with nothing to fear. This is 20 minutes north of Monterey.
- Kayaking in Monterey after visiting the Aquarium was amazing. My niece convinced me that kayaking would be a great idea. So, on our last morning/afternoon we took off for the kayaking company, Adventures By the Sea which is located right on Cannery Row. The staff was knowledgable and encouraging. I haven’t kayaked in 20 plus years and this was my niece's first experience. We saw amazing wildlife including sea lions, gulls, ducks, otters, crabs, sea turtles and fish. I was really hoping that an otter would jump on the kayak but alas...no otter joined us onboard. The waters were calm and smooth. Our two lessons: 1) sunblock. 2) when they offer you wet pants (to keep your clothing dry) take them.
- 17 mile Carmel - Big Sur - what can I say? You want to cry when you see the beauty before you. This 17 mile stretch is just WOW. Just don’t think of stepping on the golf course as they do not take kindly to it. I will have to say that there is no way to describe everything before you - it is truly overwhelming. A bit of advice though - you need to be prepared for some things when you take this ride. For instance, there are no bathrooms until you get to Big Sur. There is no food or gas until you arrive in Big Sur - so plan wisely. If you are headed south for this spectacular day, plan on hours of travel because you just want to stop and capture everything. Heading back from Big Sur takes approximately 40 minutes to arrive in Monterey.
Take a look at some of our amazing photos from this exciting trip! If you are interested in planning a trip to California, see my contact information below - I would love to help you experience all that California has to offer!
Jeannette Van Houten is the Director of Unique Needs Travel at Groupit Travel. She is a certified specialist in accessible travel. If you are interested in a trip to California, she would love to help you plan and book your next travel experience. She can be contacted at 919-578-9028, ext. 115 or by email.