The Natural Beauty of Yosemite

Our road trip up the Central California coast peaked in Yosemite. Where Hearst Castle was the most magical part of the journey, Yosemite was the most memorable.

When we booked the hotel from the comfort of our San Diego home without any knowledge of the size of Yosemite National Park and the roads in and out, it seemed like a 10 minute drive each way. That didn't actually work, and each day we were there we spent at least 60 minutes on the road to and from the park. Some people (including two in the car we were driving) might think that was a poor decision, but as always, I tried to see the positive in it. And as we drove back and forth, we had the most fun looking into the forests for waterfalls, burnt trees mixed with thriving, towering Pines, and the occasional herd of deer.

At one point, we pulled off the road leaving Yosemite's famous wall face to look around and found a wooded area that looked an awful lot like the speeder chase scene from the Return of the Jedi.

The sheer beauty of Yosemite is inspiring. We planned to stay in the area for another day but were told that President Obama would be there the next day and that traffic would be insane, so we decided to leave a day early. But I'll always want to go back. Look at these pictures!

Our Trip to Hearst Castle

[dropcap custom_class="normal"] T [/dropcap]he drive took more than 6 hours, up the coast from San Diego, through L.A., winding our way through Santa Barbara, and eventually looping back a bit to take the coastal road more than an hour into what seemed like a dead end highway. Then there it was.

We'd just spent a night in Solvang and really enjoyed the Swedish town and all its charms. But this was an entirely different experience. It came with awe and wonder. I was seriously blown away.

If you haven't ever made the trip, it won't disappoint. The "Castle" is much more than a residence with stone walls; it's an architectural wonder, built over nearly 30 years, and overlooks an entire expanse of coastal property void of any other building or sense of community as far as you can see from atop the hill. Rolling golden hills and the Pacific Ocean are the only things within view, and that's all you need to take in, frankly.

William Randolph Hearst was the mastermind behind the estate. A media mogul with as much money as anyone in America has ever seen, Hearst's genius is world-renowned. And his passions were limitless.

According to the Hearst Castle website, Hearst owned the largest newspapers and media publications. He collected thousands of fine art pieces the world over, with a seemingly endless capacity and desire to buy more. He ran for and won election to the United States House of Representatives as a Congressman from New York in 1902, and many years later entertained British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S President Calvin Coolidge at the Castle (in addition to dozens of Hollywood celebrities and sports stars).

As we walked through the halls, taking pictures of the incredible collection of art pieces, ornate decor, rugs, ceiling frescos, armor, vast dining halls and Hearst's personal study, from which he managed the country's most influential newspapers, the feeling of awe was powerful. How could someone make this much money? How do you finance a 28-year building project and still stay afloat? Room after room revealed one treasure after another. And we only went on two of the tours offered.

In addition to the main home, Hearst built expansive pools (the kind you'd see at the Palace of Versailles, built for King Louis XIV), additional homes, vast gardens with statues littered throughout, and to top it off, he established his own personal zoo on the property, with giraffes, lions, and more.

I've yet to go to Europe, but I can't imagine it would have anything on this place. I think what makes Hearst Castle even more incredible is that it wasn't built by centuries old monarchies or on the backs of peasants. Hearst Castle was simply one man's dream, and through hard work and decades of commitment, it stands today as a living American marvel.

No matter how old or young you are, believe me, this trip up the coast is one you must take.

For more information, check out Travel Caffeine's Hearst Castle Tips and Review. Phenomenal photos.