Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Guest Post Continued: Betsy's Trip to California Part 2

We had a wonderful time touring all of the unique neighborhoods and charming tourist areas of San Francisco. However….it was brrr cold for being August! By that Monday, my husband and I were excited to head north to warmer weather in Sacramento.

We had the entire morning to kill before our bus departed for Sacramento (more on that in a bit). In considering what remained both in and around the city that we wanted to see and do, we kept coming back to the Muir Woods National Monument, a protected forest of redwood trees just north of San Francisco. The question then became, “How will we get there?” It was then that we realized we could take a Zip Car…

Travel Tip #5 – Check out the Zipcar car-sharing program!

Zipcar is a company that owns and operates a network of short term rental cars in most major cities across the United States. Anyone can purchase a membership and have access to a Zipcar in their city any time of day using an online reservation system. You have to pay an initial application fee and an annual subscription fee. After doing so, you receive a Zipcar membership card in the mail that doubles as your key to automatically unlock any Zipcar. Using their online reservation system, you can reserve a car for any number of hours (usually no more than 8, as there is an hourly fee you pay for access to the cars and if you use it for beyond 8 hours it is not economically beneficial). The online system tells you where the car is parked and any special instructions you need to access it.

We happen to have a Zipcar membership in Charlottesville (which is home to 6 Zipcars), so we were thrilled to be able to use it to go to Muir Woods. The particular car that we reserved was parked in a garage near our hotel, so we walked there to find it and were then on our way.

Muir Woods turned out to be a lovely way to spend the morning in San Francisco. They have several different hiking paths you can choose from, ranging from 45-minute walks to multi-hour hikes. We initially chose a 2-hour hike but inadvertently ended up on the 3-hour path…thankfully it didn’t take us that long. The views of the forest and the horizon were lovely…we could even see the ocean!

After our three-hour tour of Muir Woods, we drove the Zipcar back into the city, picked up our luggage at the hotel, and headed to our bus stop to await for the bus to Sacramento.

Tip #6 – Consider alternate means of transportation between cities besides a standard rental car.

My husband and I love taking the bus or train between cities whenever we can. I think this comes from our travels in Europe, where the train and bus system was clean, efficient, and easy to navigate. We never considered renting a car in Europe and have never done so in the US (except for the Zipcars, but that’s different).

The Amtrak bus picked us up right on time and dropped us off at the Amtrak train station in Emeryville, across the SF Bay, where we caught a train that took us on the 2-hour journey up to Sacramento. Both of us were able to relax, drink a beverage, and enjoy the scenery en route.

Our stay in Sacramento was much more laid back than San Francisco. Since we were there for 10 days visiting my brother and his fiancée, we did not wake up early and try to cram in as much sight-seeing as we could every single day. Sacramento is also a smaller city then San Francisco and simply doesn’t have as large of a selection of touristy things to do, so that made our relaxation much easier.

Highlights from Sacramento included:

- Touring the California Capitol Building, led by an enthusiastic elderly gentleman who told us the history not only of the CA government and capitol building, but also of the state of CA itself.

- The Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow K Street commerce, growth and redevelopment walking tour, operated by the Downtown Sacramento Partnership.

- Crocker Art Museum, which had three different impressionism exhibits on display.

- Touring the Jelly Belly Factory and Budweiser Brewery, both of which are located in Fairfield, CA (we used a Zipcar to get to these places too!).

- Round-about tour of Lake Tahoe with my bro and Jessica.

- Napa Valley and visiting an aunt and uncle of ours in Hidden Valley Lake, CA. We did a tasting at Chateau Montelena Winery.

- Another wine tasting at Toogood Estate Winery, located in Sonoma Valley (I think). We actually did purchase a bottle of wine here.

- Empire Mine State Historic Park, location of an old gold mine that operated until the mid-20th century. We took a Zipcar here too!

Charlie and Jessica were gracious hosts who opened up their home to us. We thoroughly enjoyed seeing them and learning about how life operates in Sacramento. By the end of our trip, we realized that most of our stereotypes about California were false, at least on the north side. :)

After our 13-day trip, we were very much ready to come home. We didn’t have any problems catching our train back to San Francisco or our flights back to VA (although the $90+ parking bill wasn’t a joy to return to).

We are looking forward to our next traveling adventure: a 5-day cruise to the Bahamas on the Carnival Fantasy!

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