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Day nine would be a leisurely travel day where our goal was to drive to San Francisco (just over three hours away) and catch a few sights. We left our Yosemite Village cabin shortly after sunrise and had one more stop to make before saying “goodbye” to Yosemite National Park.
On Northside Drive, we stopped at the Valley View overlook for one last view of the valley. We arrived around 8:00 and stayed for about twenty minutes of solitude, enjoying views of El Capitan and the falls from the valley floor. The recommendations to stop here due to its convenient location on the way out of the park was spot on.
We departed Yosemite via Big Oak Flat Road, the northernmost western park exit route. We missed any Yosemite signs that might have been on El Portal Road on our drive into Yosemite days earlier but caught the sign as we departed on this northern route to continue our unintentional tradition of taking family portraits at National Park signs as we exit the parks! This particular sign, like others we would see in National Parks, featured a simple platform several feet high on which to place a camera for taking timer or remote photos. We thought this was a simple, considerate, and brilliant feature!
Sadly leaving park boundaries, route 120 brought us all the way to Tracy at which point we’d take another series of interstates to Oakland. We enjoyed this drive through the central valley as California’s beautiful wildflowers scattered around the freeway.
We arrived in Tracy a bit before lunchtime but couldn’t pass up a handy location for a special meal – our first In-N-Out experience! We rarely eat fast food, especially burgers, but when out west, In-N-Out is a must! The boys shared a small hamburger while Jeff went for the double-double and I stuck with a regular cheeseburger. Fries and milkshakes all around! I was expecting an experience similar to my favorite fast food burger from Shake Shack and was somewhat disappointed. There simply wasn’t enough meat to taste through the tomatoes and lettuce, but it was still an overall good, economical meal whose only fault was not quite living up to the hype for me. I gave In-N-Out props for freshness and dining room cleanliness and vowed to try again before we left the west.
Our lunch left us prepared to battle the roads of Oakland which we expected to be one of the busiest travel routes of the trip.
Our first destination was Middle Shoreline Harbor Park to see container ships and harbor cranes. We easily found our destination but harrowingly dodged a long line of trucks coming and going. We were initially disappointed to not see any ships at the docks, but still took a closer look after enjoying our first view of San Francisco from a viewing platform.
We walked up to the fence surrounding the docks and found an abundance of work in progress, stacks of containers awaiting ships, and forklifts scuttling around. One of the forklifts came our way and a kind man stopped to talk to us for a while. He answered our questions about dock and crane operations, confirmed that we were less than 24 hours away from the next ship arrival, and was an absolute pleasure to speak with. He jokingly told us “they don’t let us out much” as we spoke between the fence and, after ten minutes, was on his way and got back to work.
Continuing on to San Francisco, we drove around the bay to the Marin Headlands via I-580 and US-101, a significantly longer route that would actually be faster than driving straight through downtown San Francisco!
I was hoping that the Golden Gate Bridge overlooks within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area wouldn’t be busy on a weekday during the “off season” (if there is such thing as an off season in San Francisco!), but they were mostly full. Fortunately, I also had a plan to take a short hike to an even better viewpoint because, as always, we strive to escape the crowds!
We found the small parking lot at the Coastal Trail that would take us to the top of Slacker Hill. The lot was nearly empty with a restroom so it was the perfect stop. The trail itself was mostly a dirt access road, nearly straight up the entire way for a half mile. Our reward at the top was magnificent and definitely worth the hike. We sat and enjoyed a 360-degree view from the bay, all of San Francisco, and the Pacific Ocean on a clear day. Again, we found solitude in the middle of a hectic place. We only passed one other person on our entire Slacker Hill adventure, a mountain biker who was heading up as we descended.
Back on the main road through the park, we found one viewpoint with available parking, took a few photos, but realized that most vantage points would be nearly identical so we gave up on finding any others and decided to head straight to the bridge.
The drive over the Golden Gate Bridge was clear and gorgeous but the boys’ highlight was a specialized Road Zipper vehicle at the southern end. Northbound and southbound traffic lanes on the bridge are divided by a movable barrier that is adjusted several times each day to give each direction additional lanes during rush hour. The Road Zipper travels down the center lane and moves the barrier to the opposite side of the lane as it drives along the bridge, opening up one lane of traffic in one direction while reducing one lane in the other direction. We were all quite fascinated by this process, as an entire paragraph in this daily review can attest.
On the San Francisco side of the bridge, we stopped at the Visitor Center for postcards and magnets, took a few photos, but Little Bit was much too cranky at this point for any other activities. This was probably his crankiest moment of the trip which really came at as good a time as any. We were nearly done with the day’s itinerary and had a great hotel to stay the night so we decided to drive there and begin winding down our day.
We meandered through the beautiful streets of the Presidio and picked our way through the hills of San Francisco to the Holiday Inn Golden Gateway. We checked into our 10th floor room overlooking downtown San Francisco before walking to a Whole Foods one block away for supplies and dinner which we brought back to our room to enjoy with our view. As the sun set, we prepared for a rare city day ahead.