Old Mission at San Juan Bautista, Fremont Peak State Park, San Juan Bautista, San Benito County & Sunset State Beach, Watsonville, Santa Cruz County, CA

This was a great holiday weekend!!
We stopped at the Old Mission in San Juan Bautista, which was very fun to visit.  This is the location that portions of Vertigo was filmed.  The mission is very old, dating to 1797.  The town is very cute, great place to stop and rest when traveling through to the coast instead of Salinas or Hollister.
Fremont State Park was awesome – I have never seen anything quite as beautiful as the clouds and the sunset at this park.  Unbelievable.

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Fremont Peak Brochure

The next day we drove to the coast via Salinas and stopped at Moss Landing and had lunch at the Lighthouse Harbor Grille.  The place had great character and the food was good, exactly what you would expect from a local grille.

Sunset State Beach was alright.  We were right next to a large strawberry field with trucks and workers in the field, so it didn’t feel very secluded.  Being a holiday weekend, there were a lot of families at the campground.  I will try it again, but would prefer to be on the lower loop closer to the ocean.

Sunset State Beach Map
Sunset State Beach Map

Mt. Whitney, Lone Pine Campground [Inyo National Forest], Lone Pine, Inyo County, CA

Mt. Whitney, Alabama Hills, and the Manzanar National Historic Site, May 4-8, 2011

Video highlights of our trip (double click to enlarge view)

Lone Pine Campground, site no. 20

Located in the foothills of Mt. Whitney, this small campground provides vistas of Alabama Hills and the Owens Valley to the east and excellent views of Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states, to the west.  The campground is nestled in the foothills with Lone Pine Creek flowing through – providing a contrast between the desert and the sound of rushing waters.  The area contains desert bush and large rounded granite boulders, some that flank our camp site range in size from small cars to small homes.

The campground is very well maintained with pit restrooms and wood for sale on site, but there are no showers.  We stayed at site number 20 beside Lone Pine Creek.  It was the best site with ample room to tie up the dogs.  Except from the pad not being level, this site was very nice and I would recommend it again, especially because its close proximity to the creek.

Mt. Whitney Portal Trail begins at the western end of the campground.  The trail is 4 miles and quickly rises in elevation along the ridge that overlooks Lone Pine Creek.  Best get up early to get onto the trail, especially if traveling with dogs because it gets quite hot and rises from approximately 6,000 feet to around 8,000 feet.  The trail provides beautiful vistas of the Alabama Hills and the Owens Valley below with the Sierras rising above.  We did not make it all the way to Mt. Whitney Portal, but far enough to really enjoy some great views and get some exercise.

Mt. Whitney Portal and Campgrounds

Exiting left from the campground and continuing along Whitney Portal Road takes you to … guess where?  Yep.  Whitney Portal, where you can either camp or park and hike along the trail (22 miles round-trip) to the summit of the mountain.

The drive to the top is longer than expected and included quite a rise in elevation.  Once you reached the top, there is are a couple of campgrounds (not open at this time), a store, and ample parking for those just visiting the peak and those setting out on the trail to reach the summit.

Crystal clear rushing streams cascade from the side of the mountain with a lone, oval-shaped, granite pool at the center of the parking area.  The area is quite beautiful and would be a great place to have a picnic lunch while enjoying the surrounding nearly vertical granite rock faces.

Alabama Hills

About 3-4 miles to the east on Whitney Portal Road from Lone Pine to the campground is Alabama Hills, a large series of granite outcroppings in the Owens Valley just to the west of Lone Pine.

We took Movie Road and entered the recreational area, which is traversed by gravel roads suited for off-road vehicles with 4-wheel drive and high clearance.  We really enjoyed this area and can easily understand why so many movies and commercials have used it its scenery.  I do recommend driving back out the way you came; instead, we continued on for 45 minutes along gravel roads at about 15-25 miles an hour until reconnecting with Whitney Portal Road. Even so, we enjoyed a slow drive through the desert valley along Hogback Road and Moffat Ranch Road.

Manzanar National Historic Site

Located about 15 minutes to the north of Lone Pine and south of Independence, we stopped at the Manzanar National Historic Site just to the west of US Highway 395.  This is a site operated by the National Park Service as one of the ten remote relocation centers that 120,000 Japanese Americans and people with Japanese ancestry were interned by the US Army from 1942 through 1945.  The site, now largely a historical archaeological site, was one mile square and held more than 11,000 people.

Since it was 90 degrees and the dogs had already had their exercise, so we opted for the 3.2 mile self-guided auto tour of 27 points of interest.  The relocation camp included reconstructed barracks and administration buildings.

View of memorial in the cemetery at Manzanar

There is a memorial in the cemetery dedicated to those who died in the camp.  Next time we pass through I would like to go through the interpretive center.

The eastern Sierra is beautiful and we will surely return.  The area is renown for trout fishing so there are plenty of anglers in the area.