I had been anticipating my trip with Insight Vacations– “Best of California” for months. After all, half of the fun of travel is the anticipation and excitement leading up to your departure date! However, having traveled to places like Europe in the past, I did not expect my own country to be nearly as exciting of a destination. Boy, was I wrong!
My sister and I traveled together and from the moment we landed in San Francisco, it was wonderful. We took our complimentary transfer to our hotel, right in the heart of San Francisco. It was close to all of the wonderful sights! The hotel was superb and our Tour Director was waiting at a table in the lobby to assist the Insight guests with their check-in. We used the balance of our arrival day to walk around San Francisco, have a delicious lunch and visit the Walt Disney Museum. What a treat! Then, we made our way back using San Francisco’s clean and easy-to-use public transit system. We freshened up in the hotel room and then we went down to the lobby for the welcome reception. Our Tour Director, Dave, was the perfect host! He introduced us to the other travelers to help break the ice and we soon had great new friends to share this experience with. We chatted with our new friends over chilled glasses of wine while enjoying gourmet snacks. It was the perfect end to our first day. We went to sleep that night with high hopes for the next day!
The next morning, we shuffled downstairs for an early breakfast. We were quite impressed by the spread that Insight provided! We finally decided to have crepes stuffed with fresh fruit and ricotta cheese, scrambled eggs, savory meats, hot fresh coffee and chilled juice. It was wonderful it and gave us the energy we needed to start the day! We made our way to the motor coach and off we went!
Dave took us on a driving tour of San Francisco. We relaxed in our comfortable luxury motor coach while we peered out the window as Dave gave us a rich history of San Francisco and interesting facts about the areas we passed by. We stopped at famous Pier 39 and we got to have free time for shopping and (my favorite) the Sea Lions! They were laying fat and happy on the docks of the bay in the California sunshine. Then, we made our way to the ferry to Sausalito. Dave took care of everything for us and before we knew it, we were on the ferry with the wind in our hair! We passed the haunting Island of Alcatraz and took some great pictures! The fog was thick in the air and clung to the top of the Golden Gate Bridge and the hills by the bay, making the whole area seem almost dream-like. We arrived in Sausalito and spent a few hours there having lunch, shopping and enjoying the breath-taking scenery. Our motor coach picked us up and took us to the Golden Gate Bridge. The optional tour was to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge! I couldn’t pass this up! It took about forty-five minutes and it was totally worth every step! We had majestic views of the bay and were able to walk off our lunch and inhale plenty of fresh ocean air. I was happy to have my jacket with me as it was quite windy and chilly – but very refreshing! Later on in the day after we had time to rest a bit, we took a leisurely walking tour of China Town and had an authentic Chinese dinner at the Empress of China restaurant! I loved the pictures of the stars that had eaten there before us such as Jack Lemmon, Raymond Burr and Arnold Schwartzenegger!
The next morning, after another amazing breakfast, we headed out of San Francisco onto our next stop on the tour – the Napa Valley Wine Train! What a treat! We were able to watch the lovely Napa Valley scenery pass by as we sampled local wines paired with cheeses. Then, we switched train cars and were served a delicious gourmet meal. We were then whisked away to our luxury hotel in Sonoma.
On Day 4 we headed toward Yosemite National Park. It was so interesting to watch the landscape change from farm land to towering mountain sides! I found the drive up into Yosemite to be mesmerizing. I had no idea that Yosemite would be so breathtaking. Our “Lodge” hotel was right in the heart of Yosemite within walking distance of Yosemite Falls. We rented bicycles and spent an hour leisurely coasting through the park with majestic mountain peaks and the cool brisk air as our guide! When we checked into our hotel room, there was a beautiful deer right outside of our patio door!
I left Yosemite the next morning with a heavy heart. It was so lovely that I almost could not bear to leave! We made our lunchtime stop in Carmel by the sea. We had time to grab a bite to eat and browse the quaint shops on Ocean Avenue. Next on the agenda was our ride on 17 mile drive. What a sight to be seen! We even stopped and were able to get off of the coach so that we could see hundreds of sea lions barking in the distance off of the shore. I was tickled at the sight of them!
I marveled with the other travelers at how interesting it was to wake up in Yosemite National Park that morning, surrounded my mountains and pine trees, only to finish the day by the sandy beaches of Monterey. The next afternoon, we enjoyed a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. This was the best aquarium that I have ever visited. We enjoyed exhibits of penguins, sea otters, a giant octopus, jellyfish and sea horses. It was such a fun afternoon! That evening, the aquarium hosted a private gourmet dinner for our group in their ocean view restaurant. Much to our delight, we had an up-close view of wild sea lions and sea otters swimming in the bay! We nibbled on our delicious dinner and commented and laughed on the wild life right outside of our windows.
The next morning, we continued on with our journey. We drove to San Simeon and Hearst Castle. My expectations were met and exceeded! Heart Castle was amazing. I tried to imagine what it must have been like to live in such luxury. What a thrill it must have been to be invited to the castle by William Randolph Heart himself! When we left Hearst Castle, our Tour Director surprised us with something that was not on our itinerary. We were able to see hundreds of elephant seals on the beach! We were within feet of them and they were so fun to watch! After this excitement, we relaxed on our bus ride to Santa Barbara. Our hotel was right along the water! We used our “dine-around” to choose a restaurant of our liking. After dinner, we walked along the beach and watched the sun set. The breeze was warm yet cool enough to be refreshing! It was a perfectly relaxing evening to complete our day!
In the morning, we awoke and had a beautiful buffet breakfast spread at the hotel. We boarded our motor coach with full and satisfied bellies to head out to Santa Monica. The drive to Santa Monica was gorgeous! The Pacific Coast highway is breathtaking. Our motor coach crossed through lovely Malibu and arrived into Santa Monica. We all “got our kicks at Route 66” and took pictures next to the famous Rt.66 sign! We were given some free time to explore Santa Monica. Many people chose to visit the Third Street Promenade to shop and eat lunch. I decided to visit the historic Santa Monica Pier. We rode the ferris wheel and roller coaster and enjoyed gorgeous ocean views as far as the eye could see! We bought delicious hotdogs and ate as we strolled along the Pier. Such an unforgettable experience!
Next, we arrived into Los Angeles and immediately were taken to the J. Paul Getty Museum. This museum was a unique experience. It boasted spectacular hillside views of Los Angeles and housed many interesting and artistic exhibits. We arrived at our hotel around 5:30pm and we had time to get settled and freshen up for dinner. Our hotel in Los Angeles was spectacular! The lobby had a beautiful crystal chandelier and the rooms were spacious and comfortable. We met our group in the lobby to head to our “Farewell Dinner”. We toasted to our new friends and happy travels!
On our last day on the tour, we were taken to Hollywood! As we drove up the highway the Hollywood sign became visible in the distance. How exciting this was! We got to view Grauman’s Chinese Theater (now called TCL) before it was too crowded. I saw the hand prints of so many famous Hollywood legends, such as Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, and Clark Gable. It was thrilling! We had some free time to stroll along the Hollywood Walk of Fame before our behind the scenes tour of the Dolby Theatre. This is where they have held the recent Academy Awards ceremony. We stood on the very stage that the stars do during the awards! After we had free time for lunch, we headed to join our optional tour of Warner Bros. Studios. The Warner Bros. tour was wonderful. I was able to visit the sets of so many of my favorite television shows and movies. I was star-struck! It was such an amazing experience to be in the heart of where Hollywood magic actually happens! The finale of the tour was to take us to the actual coffee shop set of the show “Friends!” I was able to sit and take photos on the famous “orange” sofa from the show itself. What a gloriously fun finish to our tour.
In the morning, we packed our bags and waited in the lobby for our transfer to the airport. We said our final goodbyes to our new friends and boarded our shuttle van. We had such a lovely time on this vacation. I would highly recommend it! California has such a diverse landscape…from the foggy, mysterious beauty of San Francisco, to the rolling hills of Napa, to the majesty of Yosemite National Park, to the haunting loveliness of the Pacific Coastline and finally to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood! It is an experience that I will never forget!
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