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Campervan Spring Break: Death Valley to San Francisco

 When we arrived in Death Valley it was 90F. The first thing we had to do was find a place to stay for the night. 

Well, after we got Junior Ranger books of course.

The campsites in Furnace Creek were booked but there were lots of openings at Stovetop Wells. 

Furnace Creek is the only developed campground that takes reservations. The rest our first come first served. I wanted to stay near Mesquite Spring Campground, but we decided that was too far afield.

Not our typical campsite, this was more like a parking lot, but we're just here to sleep so whatever. 

Most of the campgrounds look something like this, but smaller.

After paying for our campsite we got ready to hike and headed to the nearby sand dunes.

This is the largest national park and everything is spaced far apart. We stayed close to our campsite and went over to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

We got there just in time for a nice hike across the dunes during sunset.


The kids loved it here. 

It's funny how much more they enjoyed this than crazy winds at Great Sand Dunes.


Theo was amazed by our long shadows.

We found an even better place to dig in the sand.

Lots of people were out to see the sunset. 

Theo got too much sand on him and got a little cranky.

I mean he was literally rolling around in the sand. 


I never have a zoom lens with me. Theo takes the reins.


Sometimes just chilling and letting the kids play is the best kind of adventure.

I'm not really a desert person, but got to admit there's a certain beauty.

This is supposed to be one of the best parks to see the night sky. I wanted to stay until dark but Scott got worried that the scorpions would be out. 

That sounds like Brooke. I've never worried about scorpions. But snakes? Maybe.

Also around this time the bats were coming out. 


It was actually warm enough to get to use the screens on the doors and windows.

I spy Meadow. Theo and I walked a little bit away from the campground to see the sky. It was pretty amazing. Likely would have been better away from more lights and if we had stayed out longer. They said it takes you 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark.  

Day 7: Death Valley - Sequoia National Park
Was nice to have the windows open at night. 

Brooke thought it was going to be in the 30s at night, but she just read the current temp when we rolled into the visitors center...in celsius. Desert nights are perfect.


After sleeping in our first day we realized we didn't have time to do that anymore. We wake up every morning by sunrise. Was cool to see the sun come over the mountains in the distance this morning. 


There were some rad camping rigs around the campground.

The van comes with an outdoor table and chairs, we got to eat our breakfast outside this time.

Finally put them to use for the first and last time.

There is so much I wanted to see at Death Valley, but we had to move on today. The salt flats at Badwater Basin was one stop I had wanted to check out. 

Just let me get that ultrawide lens out. 



With the wet winters in California these past two years even Badwater Basin was back to being a lake. Albeit a very salty one.



The lowest point in North America. Check.

Good thing we had a hose to wash off all the salt. 

We collected our badges and we were on our way. I would love to come back again with more time. 

The drive out of the park going west was intense. Mostly because of the elevation changes but also we were getting scarily low on gas. 

We should've got gas at Stovepipe Wells or Furnace Creek. Why do gas gauges get so unpredictable when you're under 100 miles in the tank?


And yet I had to make a stop at one of salt lakes just east of Panamint Springs.

We finally got gas at Panamint Springs and started the long journey around the Sierra Nevada and up into Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. 350 or so miles from Badwater Basin to the Foothills Visitor Center by car. 100 or so miles as the crow flies. 

I'd just read about the feral donkeys that had wrecked havoc on Death Valley. They'd been removed from the park, but were just outside of the borders.

It seemed like once we got out of Death Valley, everything was super green. 

Somehow we didn't take any pictures of the borax ghost town or the BLM off-road areas. But once we got close to Bakersfield the hills were alive. I was so happy to be out of the desert southwest into verdant California. 


I looked up the best tacos in Bakersfield and it brought us to this food truck. 

Can't believe this was the first Mexican food we'd had on the trip.

The route between Bakersfield and Sequoia was straight out of Windows XP. This was the first time we've been to California and the mountains and hillsides weren't browed out.

While on our drive we checked the weather and saw that a big snow storm was coming. 

I can't explain it but the smell of the air was just as good as the views. 

Inside Sequoia National Park it was just as beautiful. 


We of course got here right at sunset. This was after much debate as to whether we should go into the park without tire chains. Would we even know how to put them on. The forecast shifted as we drove in and snow wasn't going to roll in until the late morning.

I found my Cadbury egg I had brought along. 

We got to bed early and thought we might, just might be able to see one of the Sequoia groves if we got up at the break of dawn.

Day 8: Sequoia National Park - Pinnacles National Park
Heavy fog had rolled in over night. No snow in sight, but this was just as bad.

There were also several warnings to put on your tire chains. I was worried that the higher we went the temps would drop and the roads would get icy.

After what felt like 40 hairpin turns the fog just became impenetrable. We sadly would not get to see the giant sequioa. The one location that really had my heart set on.

We were so bummed. 

There's mountains up there somewhere.

I would come back to California just go here. 


This was the original road but due to height restrictions the road had to be moved. 

The CCC actually careved this out back in the 1930s. Nuts.

We had our breakfast in the parking lot of the Slick Rock Recreation Area. 

I probably moped some more about not seeing the giant sequoia.

We had planned to spend the next couple days here but our plans would have to change. We decided to head towards Pinnacles National Park. 

What the kids look at during drives. 


What we look at. 

We crossed the central valley. Not the verdant and orange grove-dappled section we'd traversed the day before. Just big ag run amok and factory farms. We forgot to take any pics of that part, I guess.

Eventually we started the ascent up to Pinnacles National Park through Lonoak and Bitterwater. The cows were indeed happy.

We got a campsite at Pinnacles. Normally the campground includes a pool but it was closed. Boo his. We had lunch in the van before venturing on a hike. 

I concocted some kind of ramen with loads of veggies.

Everyday on our drive I would research where we were headed next. It seemed that Bear Gulch was the best hike here and at only a couple miles I knew the kids could do it. 

I'm not sure why Theo loves taking picture of these numbered trail markers.

If there are rocks, they will climb. 

He's just that cool.

Theo even got a shot of Meadow.


Pinnacles felt straight out of Jurassic Park. 


Part way into the hike it warned to wear headlamps. Meadow was less than thrilled. 

There'd been heavy rain the past week just up until we arrived. I'm assuming this trail is not normally underwater. My supposedly waterproof backpacking Merrill boots got soaked. I didn't trust myself with my camera on that loan row of dry rocks.


You eventually follow a staircase towards a cave waterfall. 

The stairs built into the cave felt very weird to me, but was cool nonetheless.


This was by far my favorite hike yet. 

Pinacles National Park. Who knew you'd be a highlight of this trip?

There were on and off bouts of rain.

Just sprinkles, mostly.

The trees and geology looked like nothing we'd seen before hiking all over the United States. 

Though only state park size, this park was cool for what it had. 

Theo got a great view from the top.

More junior ranger booking. The ranger gave us our badges when we picked up our books because I mentioned we would be leaving before the visitor center opened. 

Brooke wanted to hike right away, but the kids and I needed to chill for a bit.

Everyone else wanted to relax the rest of the day but it was way too early for that. I convinced them to do another hike. 

We took a break. We may or may not have been up for a second hike. I think the kids were less into it, tbh. But we did indeed head back out. 

The park has two sections with the middle only being accessible by hiking. 

This trail wasn't good enough for Brooke, but the rest of us thought it was nice. Or at least me.

Apparently I didn't really read the map and thought it would go up instead of following the creek. 




Everything was so green.

We made it to a creek and thought we should probably head back since the sun was now below the mountains.

The kids could have kept playing

Pinecones as big as Meadow's head.

The gray pines of California produce some massive pinecones.

Day 9: Pinnacles to Santa Cruz
We left Pinnacles first thing in the morning. We had planned to spend the day in Santa Cruz. First we needed breakfast. 

We tried a few places. First Meadow was mad about what was on the menu. Then the second place we checked out was super busy.

We ended up down by the boardwalk and ate at the Beach Street Cafe

We all thought it was pretty good even though the reviews are only OK.

Across the street was the boardwalk.

We were last here 11 years ago.

Meadow was still a few months from coming into the world.

The first thing the kids wanted to do was ride the carousel.

We didn't notice before they got on but you want one of the end horses. There are rings you can grab to try to throw into a clowns mouth.

I think the kids were OK, just enjoying the ride, but the other folks were really into this weird game.

Swings for our swing lovin' gal. 



Theo and I went on the little roller coaster.

Theo wanted to ride big the roller coaster but wasn't big enough.


We saw an ice cream stand with a sundae on a stick. You know these Minnesota State Fair goers had to try one. 

It was the oldest stand at the boardwalk. We couldn't say no. (The Minnesota State Fair is overrated. Long live Bay Beach, County Fairs and California Boardwalks.)


Theo wanted a giant donut too, but we had to pass on that one.

This used to be a bath house now it's a pirate themed game room. 



We used up our tickets and then briefly stopped at the Hipcamp we'd be staying for the night.

Our hipcamp for the night was right by Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. After checking in we headed there. 

No sequioas but at least we got to sneak in some big trees on this trip.

Theo pretending he loves the coastal redwoods as much as me. Soon Meadow and Theo would refuse to hike. See, it happens to me too, Brookie.


The kids could have played at the creek all day. Guess I'll need to take them to Minnehaha soon. 

Iv'e got big trees to see. Not wimpy creeks!

I have no clue what is going on here. I think she's protesting the hike.


Oh, beautiful, giant trees.


See you later, redwoods.


Day 10: Felton - San Francisco
We had to get up early as we had to get everything filled up and cleaned up in the van before returning. 

The actual Hipcamp we planned on staying at was rained out. The hosts provided this perfect little parking spot for the night. 

Is it ever not foggy in California?

After filling up the propane and emptying the gray and black water tanks we headed up Highway 1 past Half Moon Bay and back into San Francisco for the second time this year.

9 days later and 2939 miles and we were dropping off the vehicle at Roadsurfer's San Francisco digs. Thankfully they don't charge miles and the drop off station is actually in the city. No long Ubers from some random Bay Area town.


It's always so sad when we have to give the van back. 

But we were ready to explore San Francisco.

After a short Lyft ride we dropped off the luggage.

After we dropped off our bags at our hotel, we walked towards Japantown. 

Meadow is in heaven. 

It's not quite as charming as San Francisco's Chinatown, but the mall and surrounding streets are full of cool little stores.



We had to get sushi of course. 

We settled on Hikari Bullet Train Sushi since, well, the kids love sushi trains.

A real sushi train.

You order on the touch screen and then a few minutes later the food comes out to you on the tiny bullet train.

Mmmm...spam sushi. They should serve this in Minnesota, yah, know.


The food was good and really the setup made us not overeat like Sushi Train in Minneapolis.

We checked out more shops. Meadow couldn't decide what to buy, she wanted one of everything. 

This would be my dads favorite place. 

Gambling for grandpa.

Next time, Japantown.

I noticed we were close by the Full House house so we headed that way next. 

Oh how I love the paint jobs in San Francisco. Pacific Heights was no different.




I guess I was more of a TGIF fan than Scott.

Just kind of embarrassed. TBH.

Oh, San Francisco, if you weren't so expensive, I'd move to you in a second.

Even Theo said he liked this city better than ours. 


We were quite close to the Presidio. So, why not explore it some more.

It would be pretty cool to live here. Like a small town in a park in the city. Sweet.

Our last junior ranger badge of the trip.


They love their stamps as much as their badges. 

It's so pretty when it's not foggy. 

I mean, despite it's pitfalls (Tenderloin, homelessness, exorbitant housing costs) San Fransisco is one of the great American cities.

They love the playground at the Presidio Tunnel Tops across from Crissy Field. 

We kind of had to go back.

The Field Station was open and it is so cool.

Loads of cool maps to explore.

A bunch of stations to make art and explore nature.

Theo's still life. 

The Presidio Tunnel Tops has to be one of the best new urban spaces in the country.

The kiddos wanted a second run through the playground. They would've stayed here all day.

We decided to take the short walk to the Palace of Fine Arts.

It was pretty impressive. 

One of the only buildings built to last long after its debut at the Panama-Pacific Exhibition; it was designed as a quiet space at the fair and was meant to be a fantastical interpretation of ancient ruins of the old world.

We found that the Lyft and Ubers are cheaper if you go away from the touristy spots. 

We waited a while, but eventually got a Lyft. We'd love to take the subway and trains around town, but it's not very economical for the four of us.

Our hotel was fancy. 

Or at least the lobby was. This time we stayed at the Marker. Just be forwarned that its on edge of the Tenderloin, but right across the street from Union Square. The homelessness in the area isn't for the faint of heart.


Our room was good enough. It would do.

After some much needed showers we headed back out for a night out on the town. 

The kids loved the heart sundae at Union Square.

I loved the Hang Ah Tea Room so much last time, that I had us go there once again. Don't listen to the whiny reviewers, its tried and true aesthetic to some of the more modern restaurants in Chinatown.


I had to get a Lucky Buddha just for the cool bottle.

I think that was a happy face.


We promised the kids ice cream afterwards. 

Which meant rolled ice cream since we were in Chinatown.

Meadow wanted her own, but we shared two sundaes. Perfect amount for two.


Yes, it was perfectly fine walking home via Geary at night.


Day 11: San Francisco - Minneapolis
We had walked by David's Deli the day before and thought we would try it for breakfast. 

It was just OK. In this case the restaurant is resting on the classic, untouched decor.

We decided to pack up and drop off our luggage with the doorman, so we could escape from SF without much hassle. 

I probably could have packed half as much as I did. 

Well, the rest of us used all our clothing and gear.

Though I still think we did pretty good with 1 checked bag, 4 backpacks, 4 carryons and a booster seat.

I thought it might fun to walk to the Embarcadero via Market Street.

All the hotels are fancy here. 

It's quiet these days, especially on a Sunday, but if you like classic American architecture, it's worth the walk.



Then we explored the Ferry Building along the Ebarcadero.

So nice to see the city on a sunny day. 

Two of them actually. Ha. The Bay Bridge is my favorite of two famed San Francisco Bay crossings.


We just walked on through, but were very tempted by the pastries and other goods.

I went by the giant bow sculpture when I first visited and thought our little Zelda fanatic would dig it.

We still had hours to kill, so we finally took the trolly with the kiddos.





We got to the end of the line and then walked back. 



At this point we were searching for boba tea and ice cream.


All Meadow wanted today was Boba tea. She's obsessed. 

Hi Sweeetie Tea and Treats is supposed to be the best boba cafe in the city.

Which inevitably took us back to Chinatown. We're so predictable at this point.


We settled on a vegetarian restaurant for lunch. 

We were trying to figure out what to do and we just happened upon Enjoy Vegetarian. We did all indeed enjoy it. Amazing all the meat substitutes you'll find at a place like Enjoy Vegetarian.

Again, kids?

We got a milkshake for Theo at an actually sketchy Jack in the Box on Geary near our hotel. It would do pig. 

Then it was time to fly back home. 

Until our next adventure.


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