California Dreamin’

I recently had the good fortune to spend two weeks in the “Golden State” with my wife and one of my sons.  This was our main family holiday of the year so my camera time was limited to early morning or evening to coincide with the “golden hours”.  At least that’s what I told them before we went….

In sticking with the “gold” and “fortune” themes I now require to discover a gold mine somewhere near my house to assist in clearing the credit card balance.  Cheers Brexit!

Our trip took us to four locations – Monterey, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe and Tiburon, a wonderful small town directly across the bay from San Francisco. Tiburon is sadly probably most famous for being the town where the late and great Robin Williams took his own life. We drove past his former home one afternoon  (no sign of Mindy).

We started in Monterey, about 120 miles south of San Francisco. Monterey is situated at the tip of the Monterey Peninsula (no way!) and is famous for sardine canning, a world class aquarium and John Steinbeck. The sardines and Steinbeck have long since departed but the aquarium is going strong, attracting two million visitors a year.  Sadly we never got round to visiting, the lines of school children waiting outside every morning at opening time were a strong deterrent, as were the very hefty admission fees. The close proximity of the beautiful town of Carmel, Pebble Beach and easy access to the Pacific Ocean shoreline were the main attractions.

Living on the west coast of Scotland I am well used to the seaside but there is something completely mesmerising about the ocean in this part of the world that captivates me. I could spend hours sitting on a rock watching the ebb and flow of the tide, listening to the waves crashing on the golden sands.

Our time in Monterey swiftly passed, but not before I very creatively added a camera shake effect to an hours worth of sunrise shots by leaving the VR on my zoom lens at “ON”.  At home I really only use prime lenses, but had taken a 24-70 to lighten the load.  Never mind, a nice excuse to go back in the future…

Yosemite National Park was our next port of call, a place we have visited twice before, but the first time since my photography interest grew more serious.  Needless to say I was looking forward to it. We were expecting changeable weather, a given in mid March in the high Sierra, and we were not let down. It pissed down for three days then changed to blue skies on the day we were leaving.  If nothing else the rain certainly provided different conditions to our previous visits, both in the mid summer heat.

To maximise our time available in the park we had booked a room in one of the two hotels located right in Yosemite Valley within the park, The Majestic Yosemite Hotel, formerly known as The Ahwahnee Hotel.  The less majestic and considerably less expensive Valley Lodge was sadly fully booked.

I can confirm the public areas in the Majestic hotel are truly majestic and that the prices are even more majestic.  The dining room:

The rooms, whilst perfectly adequate, are not quite as majestic as the rest of the place.  This is the “air conditioning”:

If interested, click the link to find out more about the hotel, including how some areas were used in the filming of “The Shining”.

Thankfully the weather didn’t overly impact our plans and certainly provided some atmospheric conditions for photography.  So atmospheric in fact that my zoom lens somehow managed to internally fog up one afternoon. The autofocus also stopped working when using the viewfinder (but worked ok in live view (??); not great for wet conditions).  On top of all this I very cleverly managed to drop my main camera onto a rock, snapping off the view finder block unit, exposing internal circuitry. Great look in the rain. To compound things, this distraction assisted in turning what should have been a 2.5 mile hike into a 7 mile hike by taking a wrong turn. A memorable day in more ways than one.

Our time in Yosemite swiftly drew to a close and we drove six hours to North Lake Tahoe, our third stop. The lake itself is at an elevation of 6200ft, and the surrounding mountains, which rise quickly from the lake, are 2000-3000ft higher.  Despite it being early Spring snow was plentiful. So much in fact that we never saw more than 50 yards into the lake our first two days.  Nearby Squaw Valley, site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, had 16 inches of snow during our stay, and some 550 inches January thru March. Whilst this sounds like perfect winter photography weather I should point out that in the absence of proper equipment, i.e. snow shoes or skis, it was practically impossible to venture more than 10 feet from the car without one or both legs disappearing at least knee deep into the snow. Not ideal if you are planning to be ever seen again.

Our penultimate day was a bit clearer, the roads were fully open, and we managed to venture out a bit further.  We took a trip to Squaw Valley and a detour around some of the local residences.

Tahoe really is a beautiful area offering countless year round activities and is somewhere we hope to return to in the future.

And on to Tiburon for our last four nights.  As mentioned above, this is a beautiful place to stay if you want to be close to San Francisco but in a more relaxed setting (just don’t expect much nightlife).  Whilst it may be fair value for visiting it is an expensive place to live. A two bedroom apartment will set you back circa $1.5M, and the cost of living permanently here is apparently 375% more expensive than the average US city. Gulp.

The town has a small number of shops and some nice restaurants, including some right on the water providing stunning views. Staying out of the city also provides easy access to the shoreline highway and some lovely little towns on the northern Californian coast.  Napa Valley is an hour away too, if your’e a wine lover.

San Francisco is a joyful 30 min $11 ferry ride away,  giving great views of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, The Bay Bridge and the city skyline on the way. Alternatively you can drive via the GGB in 15 minutes; again the views are wonderful.  Another option is to hire a bike and cycle it, via another beautiful bay town, Sausalito, and over the GGB, taking the ferry back. A tiring but blissful excursion.

Some iPhone shots from in and around Tiburon:

Looked like it was going to rain on our last day:

All in all it was an excellent family “vacation”, interspersed with some relaxing photography time (and some aforementioned stressful photography time). And driving 2,265 miles.

Please enjoy the last two videos (turn the sound up).

I’ll be uploading some of the images here, and others, soon to the USA section of my website at, please have a browse.

Many thanks for reading.



Posted by William
April 2017

2 thoughts on “California Dreamin’”

  1. Glad you enjoyed my home state. I live in San Diego and it’s always nice to hear from visitors on their experience, especially photographers. I’ve enjoyed your work on Flickr and found this blog from there. Fun to hear California Dreamin’ at the end too! Sorry you only got rain in Yosemite, it’s a beautiful place and I typically go in off season because the crowds are so awful. If you come back to the States I’d recommend the Colorado Plateau (Utah, Arizona, New Mexico area). I go each Autumn and love the area for photography.

    Take care,

    1. Thanks for the kind words Joe. I’ve been lucky enough to travel fairly extensively in SW USA – CA, NV, AZ, UT plus up to WY for Yellowstone and Grand Teton. I love it all, but if I had to pick one state to live in it would be Arizona or California (can’t decide, sorry). Thanks again.

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