Personal Stories,  Destination Guides

California Photo Journal: 4 Years of Exploring the Golden State

My blog posts likely contain affiliate links, including for the Amazon Associates program.
If you click, book, or buy from one of these links, I may earn a commission. Read more in my Privacy Policy.

It’s hard to believe that after four years, we’re finally saying goodbye to California. As this post goes live, Mr. V and I are in our trusty car, headed east on some Interstate for our new home in Ohio. We purchased our first house in March of this year and decided it was time to start something new.

I don’t often write posts like this, but I thought it seemed fitting to create a photo journal reflecting on our four years and all the adventures we’ve had. Below you’ll find photos and brief snippets about each California destination I/we have visited since moving here in 2017. You’ll also get some final thoughts from me on our time and what it means for this blog (nothing bad, I promise!). I hope you enjoy this look back in time…

2017-2018: Year 1

We moved to California in late August/early September of 2017. I don’t know exactly when we arrived; if memory serves, we immediately took off for a friend’s wedding in Chicago the weekend after we settled in! For this post, I use September as the beginning of each new year.

In the first few months, I didn’t travel much: Mr. V and I were both settling into new jobs and our new apartment. (We had actually sublet an apartment for the first six weeks because we couldn’t find an apartment while we lived in Seattle. We moved twice in the first two months!)

Our first California trip was to Huntington Beach in November 2017 for Mr. V’s 30th birthday; I can’t remember how it came about but Huntington Beach offered to host us and I knew it was a great opportunity to explore SoCal. We spent a few days strolling along the beach, trying surfing lessons, taking a gondola ride in the marina, and enjoying the infamous “three dessert dinner” at Watertable. We still use that dinner as the high watermark for dinners (especially those on press trips).

Next up, I took a short trip with my company to Lake Tahoe. I had never been before, and it was a fantastic introduction to this undeniably gorgeous part of the state. I didn’t write anything on my own blog about it, but you can read this blast-from-the-past recap I wrote on the Go Overseas blog (the company I was working for).

After the holidays, we went on our first ‘on assignment’ trip for Lonely Planet. (Actually, this might have been my only assignment trip for them while we lived here!) As part of their Best in Travel campaign, LP named California’s Redwood Coast as the #1 destination in the U.S.

I moved here right in time to be asked to do the story highlighting the region. We spent a weekend up in Humboldt and it was where I first learned about albino redwoods. As a result of that trip, I wrote a story for LP (no longer online) and this guide to Redwoods near San Francisco.

Back to work through the winter months, my next California adventure was a weekend trip with my friend Marissa to Joshua Tree National Park. This was the first of our annual National Park trips; we took another to Zion in 2019 and have Death Valley still waiting to be rescheduled from 2020. We spent three days out exploring the park, hiking a bit, and stargazing, of course! Based on our weekend, I wrote my own weekend guide to Joshua Tree National Park.

My final California* trip of our first year was a weekend in Carmel-by-the-Sea. I was connected with a lovely hotelier who runs the Hofsas House. It was the first of two trips we did to stay at their hotel and explore the Monterey Peninsula. (Again, our 3rd trip in 2020 was cancelled, of course!) As this was the first visit for both Mr. V and me, we spent our time seeing the sights: exploring the beach, window shopping the galleries, out at Point Lobos State Park, and eating/drinking our way through the town’s food and wine scene. From that trip, I wrote my weekend guide to Carmel.

*This was not my last trip of the year, nor were these my only trips. In June 2018, I left my full-time role at Go Overseas and transitioned back to contract work. I then started traveling a ton more all across the country and world.

2018-2019: Year 2

Our second year in California kicked off with a series of out-of-state trips; I did attend one networking conference in early October. That produced some fun press trips throughout the rest of the year.

The first one to materialize was a weekend up in Calaveras County. If you don’t know where that is, it’s located in the western Sierras – it’s gold country! We spent our days drinking wine and wandering among the Giant Sequoias; our nights were spent stargazing away from the Bay Area’s bright lights. I didn’t write any stories about our trip, but it’s on my list to fill this gap soon.

In early December, I took two space-related trips. The first was to Los Angeles on assignment for the San Francisco Chronicle; it was my first story for them! I zipped all over the city visiting a variety of space-related places to write this piece. It also helped inform my guide for one day in L.A., which I only just re-published.

My second trip was to Lompoc. This small Central Coast community is home to Vandenberg Air Force Base, and I was there to try and spot a rocket launch. While the launch was scrubbed, I spent the rest of my time exploring the area – trying local wine, out strolling the beach, and waiting for a rocket that didn’t want to fly. From that trip I wrote about launch viewing spots in the Lompoc area.

2019 kicked off with a fun “trip:” Mr. V and I did a San Francisco staycation! Technically we lived in Oakland at the time, so it was actually a real trip. We stayed at the Fairmont, explored Chinatown, and took a fun tour past some of the city’s top sights. From that, I wrote my weekend guide to San Francisco.

I also took a quick day trip in January to explore the small town of Volcano, in Amador County (north of Calaveras Country). It was for a San Francisco Chronicle story about the world’s first mountaintop observatory.

Rounding out a busy month, my final trip in January was with Mr. V to Siskiyou County. This area is best known as the home of towering Mt. Shasta (the southernmost Cascade volcano), but there’s a ton more here to explore. We went caving, soaked in mineral springs, and played in the snow. From our experiences, I wrote my popular weekend guide to Shasta.

I took a break from California adventures in 2019 for a few months, but was back at it starting in April for my birthday. I spent those few days in Napa – the city, not the county. This was a work trip aimed at helping educate people on why they should visit the city (in addition to the county). We ate and drank a ton, and I tried to walk around and explore the town as much as possible to burn it all off. From that trip, I wrote my weekend guide to Napa (unfortunately, not one of my more popular posts!).

In June, Mr. V and I again ventured north from the Bay Area. This time we visited to Santa Rosa in Sonoma county. We had a super cool trip that included an overnight stay and safari at Safari West, wine tasting in a vineyard, and exploring the Charles Schulz (Peanuts) museum. From this, I wrote my weekend guide to Santa Rosa which you should all use to plan a trip.

In the summer of 2019, I also took three more trips: a return trip to Carmel and two trips to Tahoe (one for work, and one for play). I still didn’t write any stories about Tahoe…

2019-2020: Year 3

Our third year in California started off with a great trip in our ‘backyard,’ so to speak. Mr. V and I spent a weekend in San Jose, an often-overlooked Bay Area city that has a ton to offer. We got to visit Lick Observatory, stayed in two different parts of town, did a Halloween tour at the Winchester Mystery House, and had a two-dessert dinner. (Which was amazing but only second place after our three-dessert dinner in Huntington Beach two years earlier!) From that trip, I wrote my weekend guide to San Jose.

After the holidays, I kicked off 2020 with a number of trips scheduled. The first was to Palm Springs; it was for a friend’s bachelorette party, but I extended it to do a bit of sightseeing too. I rode the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and went for a great morning hike in Tahquitz Canyon (where a kind stranger took this weird photo of me), and then spent a few days drinking and soaking up the SoCal sun by the pool with a bunch of gals. I haven’t yet written my bachelorette guide to PS, but I did publish a (normal) weekend guide to Palm Springs.

Shortly after that, Mr. V and I hopped in the car and went north instead of south. Our destination was Mendocino, where we were hosted at the inimitable Little River Inn. (This is probably my favorite place we stayed in all of our California adventure, especially their Whale Watch Bar.) Despite a grey weekend, we tried outrigger canoeing, strolled along the Mendocino headlands, and – of course – ate our way through town. Afterward, I wrote a weekend guide to Mendocino.

After a few more non-California trips and one day trip to try distilleries in Sonoma County for the San Francisco Chronicle, the world shut down and. Like almost everyone, I stopped traveling.

My first trip after restrictions began to ease again was to Shasta with Mr. V and a friend. The guys hoped to summit Mt. Shasta, but the weather prevented that; we spent a weekend hiking, caving, and chasing waterfalls. It allowed me to update my Shasta/Siskiyou post with new photos and more summer info which made that one of my most popular posts through the summer.

Mr. V and I spent most of July planning our Seattle backyard wedding. We then set off on a honeymoon road trip which included a few California stops. Specifically, we visited Joshua Tree (his first time) and Sequoia National Park (both of our first visits). While I’m definitely partial to the northern parts of California, it is great to be able to bake in the sun and cool off in mountain-fed streams down south during the heat of summer. Following that trip, I made sure my guide for one day in Joshua Tree was fully updated.

2020-2021: Year 4

Our fourth year in California kicked off in late 2020, and we had no idea where it would take us – literally or figuratively. We started the year with not one but two trips to Crescent City, which is the northernmost town on the California Coast. Our first trip was for work; we packed a ton in including horseback riding on the beach, kayaking among the Coastal Redwoods, and exploring the small town center.

A few weeks later, we returned on a house-hunting trip. We found a gorgeous historic Redwood home and were interested in buying it. (That deal fell through, but it got us started on the house-hunting process that eventually landed us our new home!) After that trip, I put together a weekend guide to Crescent City.

Just before shelter-in-place orders were re-issued in California, Mr. V and I took an early winter trip to Lake Tahoe and Carson Valley, Nevada. The trip was a 2-for-1 press trip, so I worked with both destinations during our stay. This cemented that I really do need to write about Lake Tahoe – it’s my fourth trip in four years and I still haven’t written about it!

We didn’t travel much in California through the holidays (we did travel out-of-state for family visits), so our next trip wasn’t until February. Working with the same PR gal who organized our fabulous trip to Mendocino the year previous, we finally got a trip to Fort Bragg (about 20 minutes north of Mendo) on the books. We spent the weekend in maritime Noyo Harbor, out exploring the geology of the region, and even got to ride rail bikes among the Redwoods. It shouldn’t surprise you that I put together a weekend guide to Fort Bragg after our trip, right?!

Our last trip in California took place in two parts. We made a day trip to Pinnacles National Park in February, and followed it up with an overnight trip in early April. I fell in love with this tiny park and wanted to visit both sides (we did the east in February and west in April). On both trips, we did plenty of hiking and even spotted California Condors on our second visit. I put together a guide for spending one day in Pinnacles, and plan to do 1-2 more posts soon.

We also tacked on an overnight trip to Monterey during our second trip to Pinnacles. We hadn’t planned anything out but decided to go whale watching and enjoy our last foray in California before moving. Based on this final trip, I put together a weekend guide to Monterey and published it recently.

Final Thoughts from Our Time in California

I’ll be honest: when we moved to California almost four years ago, I was pretty sure I would hate it. And for transparency, I never really loved living in the Bay Area. (This got better once we moved to Sausalito in late 2019.) But California? It’s impossible not to love this place. There’s so much to do, so much to explore, such great diversity in terms of landscapes, weather, flora and fauna, and culture. California is a big state – and it packs more in than I ever could have imagined. I don’t think I could ever run out of trips I want to do and places I want to visit (or revisit!).

So why are we moving? The cost. California is an incredible place to live and travel, but housing is just so expensive. Even though my blog has gotten more successful and Mr. V is now a full-time part of the company that started with this blog, we can make our money stretch a lot further if we live somewhere else. We searched the whole country to settle on Cleveland, Ohio; this is where my friend Amanda lives and I hope to collaborate with her some once I get there.

But this blog will still stay focused primarily on bucket list travel in the American West – there’s so much I haven’t covered yet! We’re now going to be saving enough on our cost of living that we can travel back to California (and other parts of the West) a few times per year and I can keep creating great content for you. (And don’t forget that I still have some California destinations to write about, like Monterey and Tahoe!)

This is certainly the end of a chapter; it’s also the beginning of another one. While we won’t call California home, that won’t stop us from exploring this amazing place and sharing our experiences to help you do the same.

Have questions about our California adventures – or where I want to travel next? Let me know in the comments!

Help others discover this post too!

I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *