Point Sur, CA

Point Sur Lighthouse Hides in Plain Sight

Perched on the backside of a 361-foot tall volcanic rock between the Pacific Ocean and a sea of private pastureland, the Point Sur Lighthouse is barely visible from California Highway 1. Most visitors to the Big Sur coastline cruise past without a glance.

We drove down from our hotel in Monterey and lined up on the shoulder of Highway 1 for the 10 a.m. tour on a sunny Saturday in April. As the gate swung open, about a dozen cars crept past grazing cows to a dusty staging area at the base of the rock. Our windswept, three-hour tour began with a trudge up a narrow road to the top of the rock. Our cap-clip accessorized docents admonished us to hang onto our hats. Access has never been easy.

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Pinnacles National Park

Props for Underappreciated Pinnacles National Park

Quick. Think of a national park in California. Did Pinnacles National Park in the Gabilan Mountains east of the Salinas Valley come to mind? Probably not. We paid a visit.

A national monument elevated to national park status in 2013, Pinnacles is roughly three hours of bad traffic southeast of our home on the San Francisco Peninsula. Fractured volcanic cliffs, talus caves and California condors comprise the most prominent features. The park is hot in summer and cold in winter. Nearby lodging is scarce.

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Lighthouse Tales from the Washington Shoreline

No one told us that chasing lighthouses would be this hard. And fun.

We came to Washington to do some hiking and see a few sites in Seattle. A docent at the Admirality Point Lighthouse suggested we check out a few lighthouses along the way. The same docent sold us a “passport” to have stamped at each location, plus a selection of related maps. He might have sold us the Tacoma Narrows Bridge if we had stayed much longer.

And so we committed to a lighthouse odyssey. We traveled by automobile, ferry and foot. We peered through fog and past no trespassing signs. We drove to the extreme northwest corner of the contiguous United States and through the streets of Seattle. We hiked five miles to the end of a spit of sand. And back.

A handful of the light stations were resplendent with renovations, boasting docents and giftshops. Nearly all of them were still operational, but many needed a coat of paint. One had moved from the coast to town decades ago and survives as a home on a quiet street. Most did not have a stamp for our passport. Alas.

But we tracked down 15 lighthouses, or their remnants, and had a great time doing it. Here’s where we visited:

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A Short Walk to a Singing Canyon in Southern Utah

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is littered with slot canyons. Most are remote and difficult to navigate. So we pressed the easy button and took the paved road to Singing Canyon. The diminutive slot is known more for its acoustics than any degree of difficulty.

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A Drive-by Visit to Zion National Park

We stopped at Zion National Park on a late September drive from San Francisco to Estes Park, CO. Unfortunately, we booked late and could not find a satisfactory hotel room within 50 miles of the park. Instead of back-country hiking, we settled for a drizzly stroll above Kolob Canyons and the scenic drive on Utah State Route 9.

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The Presidio to Mt. Tamalpais on The Ridge Trail

The Bay Area Ridge Trail from the Presidio in San Francisco to Bolinas Ridge includes fog-shrouded cityscapes, windswept passes, Tennessee Valley vistas, shady redwood groves and grassy hillsides baking in the sun. It crosses the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Headlands and Mount Tamalpais. We spread the eclectic journey across three days.

We are hiking the nearly 400-mile Bay Area Ridge Trail. Sign up to follow our progress here.

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Cruising The Coast Beneath Apocalyptic Skies on the San Francisco Peninsula

“Red sky in morning, sailors take warning.” That’s sound advice from a wise mariner. But what about when smoke from California wildfires plunges The Coastside into darkness and the blood-orange sky persists at midday? We went for a drive to immerse ourselves in the weirdness.

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