YOSEMITE is one of the most spectacular national parks in the USA and is located inland from the California coast.It hit the headlines this year and was closed by huge forest fires during the summer and also has had a number of tourist fatalities after mountain falls – ten so far this year.Some deaths were due to taking ‘selfies’ at rock faces and dangerous locations. We paid a special visit to the region and San Francisco where an elderly relative hosted us back in May. It was our first visit to Yosemite Park which is a five hour drive from the coastal city.

Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite

Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite

America does not have too many national parks but this is certainly one to see with massive water falls, mountain scenery, luscious river valleys and Wild West style gold towns at Mariposa. On arrival you must really rent a car in San Francisco, but the traffic is horrendous and not for the faint hearted.Highways of six lanes each way are not unusual.Staying with relatives kept costs down, but we did have time to explore San Francisco. You must see the famous Golden Gate Bridge, get a bus there or drive over it. See Chinatown and see the famous piers, like Pier 39. Try the hop on/hop off tours to this area and North Beach. Hang out near Golden Gate Park and walk along Haight/Ashbury. See some old record stores and feel the old sixties and seventies vibe, Nob Hill and sea towers give great views. There is a great memorial up there too to the explorers.We also took in Berkeley on the East Bay area and the piers there too and also the neat village of Sausalito near the Golden Gate. It was May so the weather was pleasant.Berkeley has great book stores and lots of ‘alternative’ people live there.The smell of marijuana was prominent and there are many smoke shops.
The smell of the weed was more prevalent than tobacco, is that a sign of the future?
The Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge

On a negative side there seemed to be many homeless people. Some were army veterans. They move west for better weather and a more liberal society.Nearby Oakland is famous for blues music and is more Afro American.
We saw some guys wearing the Warrior shirts for the California basketball team that are champions nationwide.Of all the areas we found Chinatown the most different. The area is really cool with great diversity of shops and stores plus many food outlets to eat or take away. A local policeman gave us a great tip for food and it turned out to be in the top 10 in the USA for good value Asian food. On a negative front, we went to two shops that were closing due to high rents and rates, combined with online competition.The crooked /windy road was also unusual – an old Irish boreen in an urban setting. Lombard Avenue is the name and it’s a must see, drive only one way.Pacific Heights is also really famous and has been in many movies.We ventured to the hills north of the city called Muir Woods, over the Golden Gate Bridge. Great boat tours out in the bay. Bargains to be had in the afternoon. See near pier 39. Some were as cheap as 15$ for an hour or more for an afternoon
Nearby you can see the local sea lions or seals sunning themselves in the pier.
Lots of places selling fresh sea food and crab.You can also go to Alcatraz jail by boat, which is really good. Some famous gangsters were put there and it is now a visitor centre.For the evening music scene, North Beach is recommended.Vesuivo is good for live music, but we did not have time to get there.After 2-3 days in the city we headed for the countryside. This was east and inland, where the temperature soared as we left the coast.We passed Walnut Creek and Dublin near Silicon Valley. Our destination was the hills of East California and the national parks.It takes 3-4 hours to get to Yosemite, mostly on freeways, but then there are smaller roads like at home.Go along river valleys and begin to climb up in what are mainly rural areas, the land is dry.
But we on the way we did see many huge farms of olives and other fruit trees from oranges to lemons, plus some vineyards.Our destination was Yosemite village and we stayed in lodge style accommodation.
You must pay 30 dollars for a week’s pass and this allows one to go in a few times in that period.
Parking is tight sometimes but the walks and views are really impressive.
Cable Cars on Powell Street San Francisco

Cable Cars on Powell Street San Francisco

The water falls are the most awe inspiring and we even found a real live bear on one of our walks. He seemed a little young and harmless but best not to approach. You should not walk on your own say the signs in the event of seeing a live bear.Lots of tourists here too from Europe, Canada and elsewhere.There was very much a holiday atmosphere around and a very relaxed feeling compared to the streets of the city driving on the coast in the big city.On the way back we passed some nice lakes and rivers again.We had a nice meal in Mariposa in an Italian style olive oil shop. We also met a shopkeeper who had a trade in old minerals and even owned an old gold mine where he goes to hunt nuggets and does some tours. Another trader had an alpaca farm for wool, so there were really some enterprising people here.Mariposa was the site of the original gold rush in 1848 and many Irish names came up here as did Chinese, Germans and many nationalities who had the pioneering spirit.
Try the Mariposa old style hotel at 150$ a night. We even found a local cowboy shop where you could get geared up with leather trousers, hats etc.We were tempted to buy some old rocks but they would be heavy. They had great colours of green and gold. The local sports bar was good for lunch, great burgers at good prices with friendly staff, keen to chat to people from Europe.Up in the Yosemite Park, you ought to bring your own food and water as eating options can be limited and crowded.No garages either so be prepared, even though gas prices are cheap overall in USA. We found the air in the park really pure compared to the West coast city smog.There are nice river walks, hikes through the hills, lots of trails but be prepared for the heat and humidity.You must have enough food. We also saw some people rafting and kayaking.
River rafting is just 30$ per person with a guide with the kayaks a bit less.A guided walk could be a good idea to explain the flora and fauna that is different to home in this area.We were amazed at the amount of water from the melting snow from the winter. The waterfalls like the Bridalveil and Yosemite were in full flow.
The oxygen from the water crashing is really good for you. Positive ions, experts say, give a great feeling of well-being.Rivers are full of fish too in these unpolluted waters.One of the must see places is Glacier Point. Go early as the car park was full during our visit.Visitors should also check out Mirror Lake where we got to see a real bear on our walk there.
Horsetail waterfalls are worth checking out too, but the best in terms of size and awe inspiring views was the main Yosemite waterfall. Nice walks through park to get there.Look up and you will see amazing falcons and eagles in full flight.On one down point we learned two men had died during our day there as they fell off a slippery iron ladder climbing a steep mountain face and the ropes did not save them.
Back in the roaring twenties Californians came here for the good life and it became like the swinging sixties with couples having a good time. Back in San Fran two days later we came across a shop selling retro 1920s party clothes, a hip thing to wear today at themed parties.The owner was a model that came to Haight St. in the hippy era and now has her own second hand department store in an old bank.
Aer Lingus flies direct from Dublin to San Francisco. Fares in January are from approximately €357. Flying time is 11.5 hours.