Travel Tales from The Hub
Day Tripping, Northern California Style
By Ken Hubbard
It Starts Before Sunrise
Whether you are starting your trip from San Francisco bay area or you are already north of the city enjoying some of the world’s finest wines, it does not matter. Your day is going to start very early, before sunrise early. So wake up during the dark hours and give yourself enough time to head to the Marin Headlands and drive up the winding Conzelman Rd. to one of the many view points of The Golden Gate Bridge and downtown San Francisco. If there is room in the parking area, stop at the first pull out you come to, which will be for Battery Spencer. This is one of the most popular spots along the road and will be your closest viewpoint of the bridge. It feels like you can almost reach out and touch it. If this parking area is already full, don’t worry there are many more beautiful spots further on up the road.
Golden Gate Bridge from Battery Spencer: Tamron SP 24-70mm Di VC USD – 35mm, ½ sec., F/22 @ ISO 64
Once the sun has risen and you’ve captured some amazing images, it’s time to get back in the car and keep on driving up Conzelman Rd to what seems the end line at an old Nike missile site on Hawk Hill. This is where you will keep driving up to the gate that you will pass through leading you to the one way section of roadway. This is some of the most dramatic parts of the drive. There are a few more military structures along this route with some of my favorite spots to stop and capture post sunrise images of the Bridge, city and San Francisco Bay. This is also a great spot to take a little time to explore the many hiking trails, military sites and Point Bonita Lighthouse.
Golden Gate Bridge Silo: Tamron 28-300 Di VC USD – 122mm, 1/80 sec., F/22 @ ISO 64
A Ride Along The Pacific Coast Highway
Now that you’ve built up your appetite, it’s time to feed those cravings. After exploring around the Marin Headlands make your way back to Highway 101 north via Bunker Rd. You are not going to be on the 101 N for very long, so pay attention because you will be exiting at Hwy 1 (Shoreline Hwy) then following the signs for Muir Woods and Stinson Beach. You’ll be tempted to stop at John Muir Woods, but for this trip keep following the signs to Stinson Beach. Once you arrive in this quaint little coastal town you’ll be pretty hungry so head right over to the Parkside Café (http://www.parksidecafe.com) and grab a table for a well deserved breakfast. Don’t just pack up and run once you’ve finished breakfast, take some time to stroll around town and work off those eggs and home fries, because there will be plenty more food stops on this road trip.
As you make your way north out of Stinson beach along the PCH, you are now hitting one of my favorite drives anywhere. There is a roadway that is tree lined at one point, but then as you go over another hill, you find yourself racing past tall grass fields that go on forever. This drive is sometimes more about taking it all in and relaxing than it is photography. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty to photograph here, especially in spring when the California Orange Poppies are in bloom. Their amazing color will force any photographer to pull over and try and capture their brilliance.
California Poppy: Tamron 28-300mm Di VC USD – 270mm, 1/1600 sec., F/6.3 @ ISO 400
A Good Road Trip Deserves Good Food
Once you’re able to break yourself away from these beautiful flowers, you’ll be back on the road making your way through the rest of picturesque Olema Valley. This stretch of highway extends from Bolinas Lagoon to Tomales Bay, and it will be hard not to stop every few minutes to capture images of this breathtaking landscape. By this time though, your stomach will be reminding you that it is almost time to eat once again, and it may seem like there will be nowhere to stop for hours, but then you find yourself in Point Reyes Station. You can stop and have lunch here if you like, but I usually just pick up a quick cup of coffee and post lunch desserts, because I’m on to a seafood stop just up the way. Back to the post lunch dessert, stop in Bovine Bakery (http://www.bovinebakeryptreyes.com) for a coffee and a few pieces of pastry. It’s hard to pick just a few, but if forced to, you can’t go wrong with their Morning Buns, Pain Au Chocolate and Bear Claws, all mouth watering.
With the smell of fresh bakery now wafting through your car, you’ll be tempted to dip your hand into the bakery bag and just pull out a small piece to try. Do your best and don’t spoil your appetite because soon enough you will be arriving in the town of Marshall which is right on the shores of Tomales Bay. This is home to Hog Island Oysters (https://hogislandoysters.com/locations/marshall), an oyster farm that serves some of the sweetest oysters that come right from the bay you are sitting next to, and served by one of the friendliest staff I’ve ever met. They serve raw and cooked oysters as well as a small menu of amazing local seafood, charcuterie and local cheeses. If you have the time, book a reservation before you take the drive. Reserve one of their “Shuck Your Own Picnics.” You’ll get everything you need for a great afternoon, charcoal grill, shucking tools, spices and sauces and an oyster shucking lesson to boot!
Hog Island Oysters: Tamron SP 35mm Di VC USD – 35mm, 1/400 sec., F/2.8 @ ISO 640
Hog Island Oysters: Tamron 35mm Di VC USD – 35mm, 1/400 sec., F/1.8 @ ISO 640
You’ve Come This Far, Might As Well Try Some Wine
With your need for nourishment satisfied, there is only one thing missing, a nice glass of wine to finish off the day. So continue on and head north on Hwy 1 for about 12 miles where you will then turn on to Valley Ford Road and head into the heart of Sonoma County. This will be another beautiful drive, with more rolling hills and cows grazing in the fields. As a reference point you will be heading towards the town of Forestville. When you make your way through town, cross over the Russian River and turn onto the narrow Westside Road heading towards the town of Healdsburg. Along this route you will find a number of smaller vineyards like Thomas George Estates (http://www.thomasgeorgeestates.com/index.php) or Gracianna Winery (http://www.gracianna.com/index.html) where you can enjoy a nice glass of wine without the crowds of some of the other vineyards.
Sonoma Grapes: Tamron SP 24-70mm Di VC USD – 45mm, 1/25 sec., F/5.6 @ ISO 640
If you still have the energy and are traveling this route in the spring time (preferably March), I have one final suggestion for you. Head a little further into the Sonoma valley and look for the Mustard flower fields, You won’t be able to miss them they look like oceans of yellow that will fill your view from your toes all the way to the bottom of the hillsides. One great route to find these flowers is Highway 12 in between Santa Rosa & Glen Ellen.
Sonoma Mustards: Tamron SP 17-50mm Di II VC – 17mm, 1/15 sec., F/22 @ ISO 100
To find out more info about the lenses used in this article:
Tamron 28-300mm Di VC PZD
Tamron SP 35mm Di VC USD
Tamron SP 24-70mm Di VC USD
Tamron SP 17-50mm Di II VC
Follow Ken on Facebook @TamronKen Hubbard for more articles and images on Northern California