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Putting this out there up front: If you’re not the “look at pictures other people took of their travels” type, you might want to skip today’s post. But I wanted to share some pictures from the second half of my California trip—the vacation part!

So here goes.

At the end of the SCBWI Los Angeles conference (recap HERE), my husband flew out to join me. He grabbed a rental car, picked me up at the Hyatt, and we set out on the road. After a stop for dinner in Santa Barbara, we spent the night in San Luis Obispo. The next morning, we drove up to the magnificent Hearst Castle, which is in San Simeon. It was so cool to see how one of the richest men in the country in his time, William Randolph Hearst, created this amazing home—even more amazing considering that Hearst thought of this space as his casual getaway. He actually called it “The Ranch,” because it was built on land he used to camp on with his family when it was completely undeveloped coastal mountain country. One of the coolest things about the whole complex is how he worked with the architect to bring together so many different historical styles and artifacts. The place is a museum, filled with centuries-old art and architectural features from all over the world.

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Casa Grande—the main house at Hearst Castle

Close-up of the front door

Close-up of the front door

The antique ceiling in the main dining room

The antique ceiling in the main dining room

Check out that view!

Check out that view!

Detail of the roof on one of the smaller "cottages"

Detail of the roof on one of the smaller “cottages”

Garden path leading to Casa Grande

Garden path leading to Casa Grande

Neptune Pool—how badly did I want to jump in? (Very.)

Neptune Pool—how badly did I want to jump in? (Very.)

Seriously, can you imagine swimming here?!

Seriously, can you imagine swimming here?!

Two priceless works of art

Two priceless works of art

On our way back to San Luis Obispo, we stopped in the town of Harmony—we were intrigued by the sign that proudly proclaimed “Population: 18.” We also stopped to walk around a few different beach areas. Depending on where we were, the day went from sunny to overcast pretty quickly, but we had to get our feet in the Pacific despite the chill!

Population 18...and none of the people we met there were residents!

Population 18…and none of the people we met there were residents!

View from the pier in Cayucos

View from the pier in Cayucos

Rocks (and cool barnacle things!) on Moonstone Beach

Rocks (and cool barnacle things!) on Moonstone Beach

Driftwood on Moonstone Beach

Driftwood on Moonstone Beach

Waves coming in on Morro Beach

Waves coming in on Morro Beach

Tuesday was road trip day. We wanted to drive Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, from San Luis Obispo all the way to San Francisco. We’d heard that Highway 1 is one of the most beautiful drives in the country, and we didn’t want to miss it—especially since we had the luxury of having an entire day to do the drive. We saw elephant seals lounging on the beach at San Simeon. We slowed for hairpin turns where the edge of the road was a cliff dropping down to the waves crashing against the rocks in Big Sur. We mingled with (fellow) tourists and ate fried calamari on the boardwalk in Monterey. We drove past farmland and vegetable stands around Monterey Bay, cut through Santa Cruz, and hit Half Moon Bay just as we were starting to get hungry for dinner. We dropped our car off at San Francisco International Airport, hopped a shared van into the city (one of the trip’s few frustrating moments), checked into our hotel, and met my friend Caitlin for dinner. All in all, a pretty fabulous day.

When the sign said "Elephant Seal Viewing Area," we thought we'd maybe see one, in the distance. We did not expect this!

When the sign said “Elephant Seal Viewing Area,” we thought we’d maybe see one, in the distance. We did not expect this!

View of the cliffs near Big Sur

View of the cliffs near Big Sur

Long way down...

Long way down…

More epic views...

More epic views from the road…

Seriously, something like this was around every curve!

Seriously, a view like this was around every curve! 

Wednesday was our first full day in San Francisco, and we made the most of it! We were the ultimate tourists, renting a GoCar (thanks for the recommendation, Ghenet!) to putter around the city streets. Our GoCar (basically a tiny go-kart-like vehicle that had GPS and gave us a guided tour as Justin drove) took us through the Marina district, up to the base of the Golden Gate Bridge, through the Presidio, down Lombard Street, which is known for being one of the most crooked streets in the country, through Chinatown, and into the bustling Union Square district. We went back to Chinatown for lunch, then went to Market Street and rode one of the famed San Francisco Cable Cars to Ghirardelli Square for some well-earned chocolate milkshakes. Finally, we had dinner with Caitlin and her awesome boyfriend, Brendan.

View from the top of Lombard Street

View from the top of Lombard Street

Driving down Lombard Street in our GoCar

Driving down Lombard Street in our GoCar

San Francisco's Chinatown

San Francisco’s Chinatown

In line to get on a cable car

In line to get on a cable car

Ghirardelli Square

Ghirardelli Square

Milkshakes!

Milkshakes!

Bored yet? I hope not, because here come the redwoods! On Thursday, we borrowed Caitlin’s car to head to Muir Woods, one of the state’s redwood forests. These trees were nothing short of breathtaking. We got there at 8:30 in the morning, before the tourist rush hit, and the woods were so quiet and secluded. Aside from worrying about poison oak, Justin and I loved walking those trails. Then we got back in the car to drive up to Sonoma to experience a little bit of wine country. We had a great afternoon, one of the warmest of our entire trip, driving around and enjoying the sunshine. We tasted some wine, ate some delicious food, and made it back to the city before dinnertime. Dinner was In N Out Burgers, which we felt we couldn’t head back to the east coast without trying.

Tall, tall trees

Tall, tall trees

Justin in Muir Woods

Justin in Muir Woods

Cathedral Grove

Cathedral Grove

Goofing off in Sonoma

Goofing off in Sonoma

Driving across the Golden Gate Bridge

Driving across the Golden Gate Bridge

FINALLY, on Friday, our last day, we took a boat cruise around the San Francisco Bay, including around Alcatraz Island and under the Golden Gate Bridge. Then we walked to the Ferry Building (Chelsea Market with more natural light?) for lunch, walked down Market Street, took a vintage trolley car back to Fisherman’s Wharf, played with vintage coin-operated games and automatons at the Musée Mechanique, and tried authentic Irish coffees. After delicious Mexican food in The Mission neighborhood with Caitlin and Brendan and a stop in Dolores Park (which I was STOKED to see because of Lola and Cricket from Stephanie Perkins’ book LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR), it was off to the airport.

Sea lions at Fisherman's Wharf

Sea lions at Fisherman’s Wharf

Alcatraz Island from our boat cruise

Alcatraz Island from our boat cruise

Windblown approaching the Golden Gate Bridge

Windblown approaching the Golden Gate Bridge

And...the bridge from underneath!

And…the bridge from underneath!

San Francisco's Ferry Building

San Francisco’s Ferry Building

Such an awesome trip! We saw a lot, but I still felt rested and ready to tackle the “real world” when we got back. Once we recovered from our red-eye, that is…

Thanks for sticking with this travel/photo-heavy post! Next week, I’ll be back to my regular blog shenanigans—some writing on writing, some writing on books, etc.

~Kathryn