We saw an amazing amount on our ten day trip up the California coast to Crater Lake and back down the east side of the Sierras. Thanks to all the DEs and others who gave me advice when I was planning our trip.
Day one - we left a day earlier than originally planned and drove four hours to Needles, CA. Doing so let us avoid rush hour across Phoenix and get all the way to the coast on Monday, plus we didn't have to stress over last minute packing. Stayed at the Best Western Colorado River Inn, which we decided tied for worst of the chain hotels we stayed in.
Day two - we got an early start across California. Took a break for a sit down dinner in Tehachapi, got to Cambria around five. Checked in to the Sand Pebbles Inn (wonderful place) and headed to the beach, where we saw sea otters and seals and we needed jackets and windbreakers! Ended up eating a late picnic supper in our room.
Day three - Enjoyed the hotel's scones and pastries for breakfast, packed the car and walked the beach the other way. Glad we did because otherwise we would have missed the sea lions! One even swam close to check us out. Headed up highway one, stopped to gawk at the elephant seals, ate lunch at the grill at Ragged Point (slow, so-so food), walked to the waterfall overlook at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, got to Point Lobos late aftenoon.
Point Lobos was wonderful! We saw humpback whales and then found a cove where the sea otters were eating right in front of us.
Tore ourselves away just before sunset for a late picnic supper and found our way to Butterfly Grove Inn. Sorry we didn't have time/daylight to explore Pacific Grove.
Day four - Spent about five hours in the Monterey Bay Aquarium, including a windowside seat for lunch in the restaurant. Liked the aquarium but not quite as special as we expected. Slow, slow trip up highway one to San Francisco. Stopped to walk out on the Golden Gate Bridge (needed all our layers) then to Travelodge in Mill Valley, again eating picnic supper in our motel room - we didn't want to get back in the car to find supper. Travelodge tied for worst hotel.
Day five - took the scenic route to Point Reyes National Seashore. Walked the earthquake trail, picnicked, drove to the lighthouse, did all the steps (thank goodness for knee braces!), back to the beach for another hike, excellent dinner at Station Cafe in Point Reyes Station, more twisty turny driving to Bodega Bay.
Day six - Were informed that highway one to Fort Bragg would take five to six hours so took advice to head inland to 101. Still took all day to get to Avenue of the Giants. Stopped at the visitor center, drove aways off the avenue to see tall trees, had picnic supper, got to Fortuna before dark. Nice Best Western, finally got to check my email!
Day seven - continued north to Redwood National Park. Stopped at visitor center, hiked at Ladybird Johnson Grove, took long hike from Prairie Creek visitor center, drove to Crescent City where our motel was on the beach. Dinner in Beachcomber restaurant included appetizer and dessert, which was good because we were hungry!
Day eight - said goodbye to the redwoods, drove to Crater Lake (now I've been in all the contiguous states except Alabama). Sun was shining, lake was blue, we just wandered around and looked at the lake. Dinner at the grill - would have had to wait till 9pm to eat at the lodge! Nice easy drive to Klamath Falls, where the Best Western Olympic Inn greeted us with milk and cookies! Best chain motel of our trip.
Day nine - after a great breakfast headed to Lava Bed National Monument. Walked the improved cave, very different from the one near Flagstaff. Glad we entered from the north because the road out the south was in very poor condition. Took 395 to Reno where we spent the night.
Day ten - changed plans, decided to skip Lake Tahoe. Drove to Mono Lake, stopped at the visitor center and then took Tioga Pass into Yosemite. Absolutely amazing! Also crowded, hard to find parking, ended up eating lunch on a rock by the river. Back over the pass (scarier heading out) and on south to Bishop. Okay but not great dinner at Jack's.
Day eleven - we had thought about taking another day to get home but we were ready to be done traveling. Decided we didn't want to drive around LA so headed east to Joshua Tree. Mistake!
Construction, very slow driving. Stopped for a brief walk in the park, got back to Mesa about nine pm.
I left a lot out, but this is too long already. I'd be happy to answer questions.