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  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    13,063

    Default San Francisco, Crater Lake, and the Northern California Coast

    I'm starting to work on a trip for this June to a part of the country that I really haven't spent much time: Northern California.

    I'm flying into SFO on a Monday evening, and leaving the following Wednesday afternoon, giving me basically 8 days for the trip.

    The rough outline is to spend Tuesday in San Francisco, see a Giants game that night, and then hit the road. I'm thinking of spending Wednesday driving up to Crater Lake, Thursday at CL, and then Friday through Tuesday heading back down the coast, arriving back in the Bay area by Tuesday evening.

    So here are a few of the things I'm trying to figure out.

    For SF, I'm still figuring out where to stay and when to pick up the car. My initial thought was to simply stay out by the airport for 2 nights, just use public transit around SF, and pick up the car on Wednesday morning. However, it also crossed my mind that it might be better to pick up the car on Tuesday, use it to get around SF, and then head out to the east bay suburbs after the game, where I'd be able to find a cheaper room and not deal with traffic on Wednesday morning.

    My other issues involve traveling the coast. I will be camping for this portion of the trip (flying Southwest so no bag fees!), and I would prefer not to make reservations and just see where we end up for the night. However, I'm guessing camping spots my be hard to come by, especially in Late June and since much of that will be over a weekend. I'm also looking for places that might be more affordable than the $35 a night that CA state parks are now charging, because of their budget cuts.

    For that matter, there are a lot of CA state parks that it looks like are worth visiting, but does anyone know if their park fees are park specific? Meaning that if I visit multiple state parks in one day, do I have to pay the $8 entry fee for each park, or if I pay $8 on a Saturday, it will be good for every park I want to visit on that Saturday? I did look at an annual pass, but it looks like that is more than $100, but if anyone has any suggestions or advice for making state parks more affordable, that would be appreciated.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    4,546

    Default

    Ah, it seems you have discovered one of the things that California residents discover in the first years we live here: Most everything is expensive. State parks, AFAIK, are each "park specific", where you pay for entrance to each state park.

    You're better off in national forest campgrounds if you are near one, as far as price is concerned. The only problem is, the NF campgrounds aren't close to the beach like the state park CG's. State park CG's have been expensive for years, and $35 isn't surprising at all. We used to carry around a copy of Tom Stienstra's book on California Camping -- he described things perfectly -- you can get one either brand new ($34) or find a used one that's not too old. Just click here.

    Grizzly Creek Redwoods SP, at one time, was really pretty. However, we had a site that was right on the hwy -- that wasn't good for us, as there were lumber trucks that ran through there 24/7. Jedediah Smith Redwoods SP also had a lovely CG at one time. The thing we liked is that the sites, while close together, were private. I'd imagine that those two are expensive. Both of those are near 101.


    Donna

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    Joplin MO
    Posts
    9,270

    Default

    From what I know, here are a few observations:

    1. I would go north rather than try to stay in the East Bay. Head for the Bay Bridge and take I-80 toward Sacto, stay around Fairfield/Vacaville. The next morning, I-505 will get you around Sacto. Don't be tempted to stay in Vallejo or any closer to SF, it's not a good choice (I'm assuming you are going to take I-5 north - if you are going to take 101, Santa Rosa is a very good place to stop).

    2. Make a last-minute check before you head to Crater Lake - even in late June it usually isn't fully functional yet.

    3. I don't know for sure, but it looks to me like each fee is park-specific. It also looks like most of the fees are for parking, not park admission. Example - I went to Humboldt Redwoods SP a couple years ago to drive the Avenue of the Giants. It's listed as having a $8.00 fee for "Developed Parking". I never encountered a booth anywhere collecting money and I pulled off the road and parked in lots all the way through.

    A couple PDF's for you:

    Day Use

    Camping

    4. No bag fees on SWA - for the first 2 bags. They charge for 3 or more.

    5. Discuss tolls with the rental agency - I just read that they are closing the cash booths on the Golden Gate, it will be FasTrak transponder or license plate only. I don't know how opportunistic the rental companies are going to be. I-Pass/EZ-Pass doesn't work out there. The other 2 toll bridges you will have to deal with are the Bay Bridge and the Carquinez on I-80, they take cash and there is no discount for a FasTrak.

    EDIT: Please clear your PM box.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tucson, AZ
    Posts
    9,358

    Default So Near, Yet So Far

    A couple of suggestions for places that, for a short drive, can save some long green. The first is in the San Francisco area and where to rent your car. Since you have the availability of good public transport you can save yourself about $250(!!!) on a weekly car rental dealing with an off-airport location (I used South San Francisco) rather than one at SFO.

    Now that alone would pay for a week's camping even if the state is charging $35/night. But then there are options other than the many state parks along the northern coast. It is unfortunately true that it is usually difficult to impossible to get inland from the northern California coast, but it is not always so. You can use Mountain View Road and CA-235 from near Manchester, or CA-20 from around Fort Bragg, to reach the Lake Mendocino area and the campgrounds of Mendocino National Forest. Farther north CA-299 from Arcata gives access to Shasta-Trinity National Forest, and then near Crater Lake you have two options: Rogue River and Umpqua National Forests.

    California does sell an annual parks pass, but at $195 it's probably not worth it for this trip. But for $25 you can join the California State Parks Foundation and get seven day passes.

    Sounds like a great trip. My wife and I have something similar on the back burner for this fall, so I'll be interested in what you enjoy, learn, and would like to pass along.

    AZBuck

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    Joplin MO
    Posts
    9,270

    Default

    That is seven "day-use" parking passes, not an unlimited pass for 7 days. Better apply now, it says it can take 4 to 5 weeks to get your stuff.

    Includes 7 day-use parking passes, good for admission to more than 200 state parks
    5% off camping reservations
    Monthly discount coupons for use in and around state parks, worth hundreds of dollars!
    California Parklands newsletter
    CSPF membership card that can save you money at parks across the state

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Location
    South of England.
    Posts
    10,748

    Default Bart.

    Staying near to the airport with a hotel that has a free shuttle service is worth considering, when just having one day visiting the City. We flew in and went to the Hotel dropped our luggage and checked in and then used the free shuttle bus to get back to the airport where there is a BART system to head downtown, Powell street being near to the heart of things.

    Another option would be to pick up a car and find a Hotel with free parking and drive towards downtown Mon night and out to the east subarbs Tues night, but you really don't need [or want imo] a car to get around SF. There are a few Hotels around Lombard and Gough that offer free parking where the rates were reasonable, [for SF] and within an easy walk of the Piers and Cable cars to the City. We got a good deal at the 'Buena Vista Motor Inn' which was 'OK' but that was some time ago.

  7. #7

    Default

    For the SF part, what are you interested in there? You won't need a car if you are primarily interested in the CBD, Chinatown, North Beach, and so on. If you want to go a little more out of the way, it might be nice to have one.

    I agree with glc - get out of the East Bay Tuesday night - I concur in his recommendation of Fairfield or Vacaville. There is a big cluster of hotels at Cordelia Junction where I-80 and I-680 meet which might be convenient for you. Also, the traffic is still bad until you get to around Vallejo.

    If you had more time (and were into theater), i would recommend a stop in Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival - it runs Spring to Fall but high time is Memorial Day to Labor Day. Great theater in a nice town in Southern Oregon. However, your interests seem mostly outdoors-y and it is a little out of your way.

    Jon

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    13,063

    Default lots of great tips!

    Quote Originally Posted by DonnaR57 View Post
    Ah, it seems you have discovered one of the things that California residents discover in the first years we live here: Most everything is expensive.
    Actually, I have lived in California, and I do remember how expensive things were. Although, as I've thought about it, I don't know if I hardly ever visited a CA State Park. I spent lots of time exploring the National Parks and Forests, but those kept me pretty occupied. I also remember voting in a Recall election for the Governor (never thought that would be something I'd get to do twice!) and the last time I was in San Francisco, I drove by City Hall, where the Mayor was creating a national outrage by letting same sex couples get married.

    I will probably spend some time looking into the National Forests for camping, like the ones that Buck recommended. I remember when I was exploring the Big Sur area I found a great campsite that was just up in the mountains, that where we found a spot without reservations on a weekend, perhaps I'll have similar luck farther north. Of course, staying right on the beach would be nice too, so I'll certainly look for that book (I've got a similar one from a different author checked out from the library right now.)


    Quote Originally Posted by AZBuck
    California does sell an annual parks pass, but at $195 it's probably not worth it for this trip. But for $25 you can join the California State Parks Foundation and get seven day passes.
    Thanks for this, Buck. This is exactly the kind of thing I was looking for, and hadn't seen yet in any of my searching.

    More on the SF specific portion of the trip to come...

  9. #9
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    4,546

    Default

    It is unfortunately true that it is usually difficult to impossible to get inland from the northern California coast, but it is not always so. You can use Mountain View Road and CA-235 from near Manchester, or CA-20 from around Fort Bragg, to reach the Lake Mendocino area and the campgrounds of Mendocino National Forest. Farther north CA-299 from Arcata gives access to Shasta-Trinity National Forest, and then near Crater Lake you have two options: Rogue River and Umpqua National Forests.
    CA-299 is pretty decent road, or at least it was the last time we were on it. We have also used CA-36. Yipes! That one had some hairy sections on it. You'll share either one of them, and probably CA-20 as well, with the local loggers.

    Actually, I have lived in California, and I do remember how expensive things were. Although, as I've thought about it, I don't know if I hardly ever visited a CA State Park. I spent lots of time exploring the National Parks and Forests, but those kept me pretty occupied.
    We've used a number of CA state parks in the almost 30 years we've lived in this state, though not lately. However, I have quite a number of friends with RV's that regularly use the beach state parks for a weekend "camp out" at any time of the year. They tell me that one must make reservations for a weekend about 6 months in advance -- not quite so much in advance for a weekday, unless it's in the summer. I know that several parks have actually been closed, or if kept open, some of them are without facilities that make it more pleasant to be there, like bathrooms.

    Our first tenting experience was at Cuyamaca State Park. After that we started to use national forest campgrounds and actually preferred them since mostly they were less crowded (and usually cheaper).

    In Northern California, some of our favorites were in Whiskeytown Shasta-Trinity NF (a CG not far from Trinity Center), one on the north shores of Lake Shasta (though the lake has receded so much that it's possible it isn't even close to the CG any more), and one that is now closed near the town of Peanut.


    Donna

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    Joplin MO
    Posts
    9,270

    Default

    I have taken CA-36 from Red Bluff to the coast, and it's 140 miles of constant twisties. It takes 4 hours of concentrated driving. It's regarded as one of the great motorcycle/sports car roads in the country.

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