Day 1: Arrive San Francisco
Tour begins: The Westin St. Francis, 5:30 PM. A transfer is included from San Francisco International Airport to The Westin St. Francis, known as the elegant “Grand Dame” of Union Square. Your hotel is close to the city’s main attractions - with a cable car stop at the front door! Join us this evening for a welcome cocktail reception and dinner.
Day 2: Muir Woods, The Presidio and a special San Francisco "tasting" tour
This morning, a short drive from the city finds you under the green canopy of Muir Woods, a coastal redwood forest preserved as a national monument. These towering ancient trees, some 20 stories high, are among the last remnants of a fog-shrouded primeval forest that once blanketed the northern coast. A self-guided tour along its winding walkways takes you through a shaded, misty world of slanted cathedral light, dense flora, and tranquil running streams - a place to feel the awesome power (and silence) of some of the tallest living things on the planet. Collect your thoughts on the return trip to the city, stopping at the Presidio, a former Army base that is now a National Historic Landmark and a park within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Lunch at the Presidio Social Club, in a setting rich with history; the restaurant was once a barracks for soldiers returning from the Spanish American War. The base was also home to the “Buffalo Soldiers,” the African-American cavalry troops who earned their fighting reputation in the Indian Wars. Take a guided tour of the base, whose historic buildings ramble over a beautifully landscaped point with gorgeous views of the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. From here, it’s a short ride to the Embarcadero and the city’s iconic Ferry Terminal Building, where an array of gourmet cafés, artisan food stands and wine bars awaits you - a local expert guides you on a “tasting tour” of its finest epicurean features. The rest of the day is yours; return to the hotel, or explore the city on your own - you’ve had a taste of all it has to offer and now it’s time to explore.
Meals: B, L
Day 3: Rail trip across the Central Valley and on to Sequoia National Park
Before there was a National Park Service, the job of policing and protecting the national parks belonged to the U.S. Army. At Sequoia and Yosemite, the parks’ guardians were the Buffalo Soldiers, who rode out every spring from the Presidio, crossing 300 miles on horseback to the Sierra Nevada mountains. Board a train this morning for a rail journey to Fresno that first follows wetlands, then follows fairly closely the Buffalo Soldiers’ route across the agriculturally rich Central Valley. You'll arrive at Fresno’s vintage train depot and board a motor coach for the 7,000-foot climb to Sequoia National Park; your destination is remote Wuksachi Lodge® on the park grounds. Tonight, an expert on park history from the Sequoia Natural History Association tells the story of how John Muir found and documented the “Giant Forest” in 1875. Immerse yourself in the hidden wonders of a night sky you didn’t know existed when a naturalist guides you through the spectacular constellations that fill the skies over the park, far away from the ground lights of towns and cities.
Meals: B, L, D
Day 4: Interpretive guided walks in Sequoia National Park
Begin the day with privately guided walks among ancient Giant Sequoias soaring to the height of skyscrapers; your first walk is in the Giant Forest Grove to see the General Sherman Tree, estimated to be over 2,500 years old (and still growing). Next up is a walk along the "Big Trees Trail" at Round Meadow with an interpretive naturalist guide who will give you some amazing insights into the unusual ecosystem of the Giant Sequoias. Lunch today is at a private barbecue at Wolverton Meadow, where a living-history re-enactor tells stories of mountain life in the late 1800s. Travels inside Sequoia National Park are via small 10-passenger vehicles, accompanied by a guide; you'll hear stories of early park "personalities" such as John Muir, Charles Young and Stephen Mather, as well as climb the 400 steps to the top of Moro Rock for stunning views of the park and the peaks of the Great Western Divide. The rest of the day is yours to explore as you wish. Tonight at the lodge, immerse yourself in the hidden wonders of a night sky you didn’t know existed; a naturalist guides you through the spectacular constellations that fill the skies over the park, far away from the ground lights of towns and cities.
Meals: B, L, D
Day 5: Kings Canyon, a special visit with a "Buffalo Soldier" and Yosemite National Park
The overlook at Kings Canyon offers a vista that will leave you breathless: deeper than the Grand Canyon, the glacier-carved granite cliffs plunge 8,000 feet to a wild river winding through an alpine landscape. Continue on to Fresno and the south entrance to Yosemite National Park. Yosemite tour days begin with a film by Ken Burns describing Muir’s passion for the Yosemite Valley, and his activism to preserve it for future generations. Later, have lunch in at Wawona® Hotel, an inn that was once a stagecoach stop. Here you’ll meet a “Buffalo Soldier,” portrayed by Park Ranger Shelton Johnson (featured in the Ken Burns documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea), who tells the story of how the buffalo soldiers blazed trails, built roads, and mapped the wilderness to enable management of the parklands. Visit Glacier Point for a stirring view of the Valley, overlooking Half Dome and a panorama of glacier-formed peaks; on this spot in 1903, John Muir stood with Teddy Roosevelt during a private tour of the area that persuaded the President that Yosemite should be under federal protection as a national park. This evening, settle into your room at The Ahwahnee®, a historic masterpiece of stone, timber and soaring stained glass windows in the heart of Yosemite; dine at your leisure.
Meals: B, L, D
Day 6: A day well spent in Yosemite National Park
Yosemite “is the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter,” wrote Muir, who regarded such settings of awesome natural beauty as sacred places with restorative powers, “where the galling harness of civilization drops off and wounds heal, ere we are aware.” Discover the park's power to move your spirit on a guided Yosemite tour in a special open-air vehicle, with opportunities to explore on foot. The afternoon is yours to enjoy the park at your own pace. Optional activities are available (some at additional cost), including bicycling, a hike over the footbridge at Vernal Falls, and a visit to the Yosemite Indian Cultural Museum and Village. Today, a campaign continues, joined by the Sierra Club (which Muir founded) to remove the dam and restore the valley to its original state. “Mountain parks,” Muir argued, “are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life...” an idea that remains controversial to this day.
Day 7: Through the Central Valley back to San Francisco
Our Yosemite tour days conclude this morning; depart Yosemite for the return trip to San Francisco, driving across the populous Central Valley with a stop in Jamestown for lunch. Filmed narratives by Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan weave together the past seven days of history and nature, with insights you won’t get anywhere else. One of the stories you'll hear relates to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, a glacial valley that Muir fought unsuccessfully to save; in the 1920s, the federal government allowed its river to be dammed, turning the valley into a reservoir for the city of San Francisco. Today, a campaign continues, joined by the Sierra Club (which Muir founded) to remove the dam and restore the valley to its original state. “Mountain parks,” Muir argued, “are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life...” an idea that remains controversial to this day. Arrive late afternoon at The Fairmont San Francisco, a Beaux Arts-style, premier hotel on Nob Hill - it’s listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Join us tonight for a farewell cocktail reception and dinner; the setting may be a long way from the Sierra Nevada, but Yosemite can never be left behind (and may be as close as your glass of tap water...).
Meals: B, L, D
Day 8: Journey home
Tour ends: San Francisco. Fly home anytime. A transfer is included from The Fairmont San Francisco to San Francisco International Airport. You should allow two hours for flight check-in. If you wish to stay longer in San Francisco, ask about additional hotel nights.