Saturday, January 28, 2012

Mount Hamilton Observatory

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Mount Hamilton Observatory

What: Telescope observatory; Scenic viewpoint of Santa Clara valley; Mountain biking
More Info: Free parking; Free admission to the observatory; Restrooms are available; No food service; Please check the weather and visiting hours here before your travel (during winter, roads may be closed due to snowfall); Souvenir shop inside Lick observatory

Lick Observatory

Have you noticed those white dome structures on top of the mountains while driving on 237E or 280 or 101 freeways in Santa Clara/San Jose area? They are the Lick and Shane observatories atop the 4200 feet Mt. Hamilton. Although the GPS says you can reach the observatory in less than an hour from the Silicon Valley, it takes more time to drive along the 19mile narrow, circuitous roads to reach the observatory. And the drive did make our stomachs a little queasy. We were at ease that we did not drive in the nightfall, it would have been a nightmare with no streetlights.

Mt. Hamilton is also popular among the adventurous mountain bikers; I personally think it is unsafe to bike along these narrow roads, especially because the roads are shared with reckless automobile drivers. Well, hats off to those daring mountain bikers.

Lick Telescope

We reached the Lick observatory in an hour and a half and were captivated to see the view of the Santa Clara valley from atop the mountain. We walked inside the observatory, reading the TV screens that enlightened us about the astronomical facts. There are free tours every half hour during which a guide takes you inside the dome to see the 36-inch Lick telescope and talks about the history of the observatory. Pretty interesting and intriguing!

Check out the little souvenir shop inside the observatory; they have cute stuff.

Shane Observatory, as seen from Lick observatory

A short 10min walk from the Lick observatory took us to another observatory which is home to the 120-inch Shane telescope. There are no tours inside the Shane observatory, but there were some TV screens that offered loads of information about the telescope and astronomical feats.

The observatories also have programs during summer when visitors are allowed to view through the telescopes. Click here to check out the events schedule.

View of Santa Clara Valley

Useful Resources: Official Website
Nearby Locations: Joseph D. Grant County Park

Monday, January 16, 2012

Muir Woods and Scenic Viewpoint of Golden Gate Bridge

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Muir Woods

What: A popular hiking destination in the Marin County; Coast redwood (Sequoia Sempervirens) trees
More Info: $7/person admission fee; however admission is free during U.S national holidays. There are restrooms and a souvenir and snack shop at the entrance. You may check out the U.S national holidays schedule here.

Paved Trail at Muir Woods National Park

Being the Martin Luther King’s holiday on January 16, we decided to take advantage of the free admission at Muir Woods. From San Jose, it took us a little over an hour to reach the Muir Woods National Park. As soon as we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, we saw a LED billboard that read “Muir Woods Parking Lot Full”. While reading in Yelp, one of the members said that there is extra parking on the road; hence thought we will try our luck with road-side parking. We did, about a mile away from the entrance.

Tallest Trees - Sequoia Sempervirens

Bridge 4 - Fern Creek Trail - Lost Trail - Panoramic Trail - Ocean View Trail

Length: ~3 miles; Time: 3 hours; Difficulty: Moderate

It was crowded until we reached Bridge 4, where the paved trail ended. As soon as we took the Fern Creek Trail to the right, the crowd disappeared and we found ourselves walking through a canopy of magnificent redwood trees. The Lost Trail, which connected with the Fern Creek Trail, took us all the way till it connected with Panoramic Trail, where we saw a marvelous view of the deep forests and a hint of the Pacific Ocean. We then returned to the park entrance via the Ocean View trail.

View from Panoramic Trail

Luckily, the trails are mostly shaded and we were glad that we brought snacks and lots of water with us.

We spent some time inside the souvenir shop near the entrance and drove to the Golden Gate Bridge scenic viewpoint in the Marin County.

Useful Resources: Official Website
Nearby Locations: Mt. Tamalpais State Park, City of San Francisco, Bonita Lighthouse, Stinson Beach

Scenic Viewpoint of Golden Gate Bridge from Marin County

What: Scenic viewpoint of golden gate bridge, San Francisco, Farallon Islands, Bonita lighthouse
Info: There is free parking space near the viewpoints

Golden Gate Bridge and City of San Francisco

To the left is the classic view of Golden Gate Bridge and the beautiful City of San Francisco in the background. To the right are the enormous, never-ending ocean, Bonita Cove and Bonita Lighthouse. The Bonita lighthouse is located on a sharp peninsula that extends into the Pacific Ocean.

The day being clear and sunny, we saw the Farallon Islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. We spent a couple of hours, admiring the beauty of nature. Although the bitterly cold weather froze us out, we were determined to watch the beautiful sun set behind the biggest ocean in the world. 

Nearby Locations: Mt. Tamalpais State Park, Muir Woods, City of San Francisco, Bonita Lighthouse, Stinson Beach

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Santa Cruz - Lighthouse Fields State Beach, Municipal Wharf and Wilder Ranch State Park

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Lighthouse Fields State Beach or Point Santa Cruz

What: Long stretch of road along the ocean (West Cliff Drive); Breathtaking view of the ocean; Surfing; Walking/Jogging; Surfing Museum; Lighthouse
More Info: There are parking spaces at several spots along the road and parking is free

Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse

We parked the car on West Cliff Drive, at one of the parking spots near the lighthouse. Adjacent to the lighthouse is the California’s first surfing museum, which has lots of pictures and information that enlightened us about how the Hawaiians introduced surfing to the Californians. To the far left are the Municipal Wharf and the Santa Cruz boardwalk.

View of the Pacific Ocean, Municipal Wharf and Santa Cruz Boardwalk

The vibe of the people there who were strolling along the ocean, jogging, playing with their dogs, etc was just so energizing. It was beautiful to see the surfers waiting for the waves and surfing near the coast. 

Hole-in-the-rock formation

We walked down to the beach to get a closer view of the natural hole-in-the-rock formation. The sight of the dogs having so much fun in the beach was certainly entertaining.

Municipal Wharf

What: Fishing, Restaurants and Little Shops
More Info: Free parking for the first 30min; $1/hour parking fee for 4 hours and $2/hour parking fee after 4 hours

Municipal Wharf (as seen from West Cliff Drive)

We parked the car in the wharf and strolled along it till the end. It was captivating to see the ocean on one side of the wharf and the Santa Cruz boardwalk on the other side. I believe it is also a popular place for fishing as we noticed several people waiting with their fish poles to catch the prey.

As we were walking, we heard the barking sound of the sea lions and walked around the Dolphin restaurant at the end of the wharf to see several sea lions and sea otters.

Wilder Ranch State Park

What: Scenic paved trail along the ocean
Info: There is parking space on the Cabrillo Highway and parking is free. There are restrooms at the trail head.

Wilder Ranch State Park

We walked on a ~2 mile paved trail along the cliff that took us through the unruffled Santa Cruz coastline. The beauty of the ocean waves hitting the rocks and frothing was mind blowing and we saw a few seals basking on the rocky shores. The natural cave formation of the rocks tempted me to walk down to the beach (it is safe in a few places), but the weather was freezing our tails off; hence decided to put off my adventurous gimmicks to another day. We certainly intend to visit this place another day and explore more!

Sunset from Wilder Ranch State Park