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Well, I certainly never expected to have another train trip this year, but things can happen unexpectedly, and I was fortunate enough to enjoy a delightful road trip through the southwest and California and a rather beautiful train trip from San Francisco to Denver.
This trip came about when my friend Terry had to go from Colorado to California and she didn't want to drive on her own. I obliged by going with her and returning on the train. I hurriedly scrambled to put this trip together, and although it wasn't my vacation, I got a lot out of it. As you probably know by now, I like to travel in a circle and not backtrack, and that's exactly what happened. Funny how things work out.
We headed south from Colorado Springs on I-25 to Albuquerque, New Mexico for the night. The skies were bright blue and cloudless, which is how they were for almost the whole trip to California. We were very fortunate with the weather. Our first night was at the gorgeous Cinnamon Morning B&B just off the Interstate in the Old Town. What a welcome respite, and after a pretty drive south, we were welcomed with open arms. We went for a short walk to stretch our legs and headed back to rest up for the early start in the morning. Map
I did most of the driving as I wanted to ensure that Terry got as much rest as possible. After all, I didn't want her arriving to see her daughter and her friends exhausted! Besides, I love driving and I enjoyed it immensely. Naturally I couldn't take as many photos as I usually would have, but I managed to snap many a roadside photo when Terry had the wheel. Southwestern New Mexico is truly beautiful and all those red cliffs and mesas were quite amazing. Heading through Arizona they were just as evident but diminished as we got close to Flagstaff. Still a very pretty drive. This route is predominantly the old Route 66, and we stopped in Gallup for a pit stop and saw some quaint buildings and murals, reminiscent of times gone by.
Our second day was a long day driving but the scenery and cheery company made for a pleasant trip. We had snacks and water handy so that we didn't have to stop and waste time. There wasn't much traffic, and what traffic there was, everyone seemed polite and not in a great hurry. Until we reached California that is. The snowcapped mountains near Flagstaff came into view and we knew we weren't too far from Kingman (a few more hours) which is where we stopped for our second night.
The sight of Kingman was lovely and it is shadowed by a huge mountain. We got off the Interstate and immediately found our second stop for the night, at the delightful Ramada Kingman. Very friendly and helpful staff, and the manager personally took us to show a room and to see if we liked it. Loved the colorful murals around the place. It was getting dark and after checking in we went off in search of a meal. Just a block away we found JB's Family Restaurant where we had delicious soups and salads. Friendly staff and we were made to feel very welcome.
Early the next morning, after a scrumptuous breakfast at the hotel in their Canyon 66 Restaurant & Lounge, we headed for California, and crossing the beautiful Colorado River was a thrill. The landscape changed dramatically and gone were the red mesas. We were looking at sandy ground, dry scrub bushes and enormous mountains in the distance. The roads were great, and the odd thing, to me, was that we had to go through a border patrol. I was driving and the woman asked me if we had any fruit or vegetables or plants with us. I said that we had apples and an orange and she asked if they were bought in a store. They were from a store so we were okay. She also wanted to know if we had any firewood. Not. I saw my first palm tree, confirming we were in California, at a lovely rest stop, where I also saw a few ingenious crows working on a thick plastic bag trying to get some food out of the trash can. The weather wasn't exactly warm so our jackets were necessary! Even in the desert.
I-40 was long and quiet until we got to Barstow where we went from quiet to hectic and onto a single lane service road for miles and miles and miles. Around Mojave we were back on a decent road and I noticed a huge amount of airplanes lined up and parked in the distance. There were also tons of windmills on the slopes of the mountains ahead of us (Tehachapi Mountains), an eyesore if ever I saw one. It was around here that I saw my first Joshua tree, and sadly didn't see many more en route. We stopped at Tehachapi to fill up and get some hot coffee as it had turned freezing cold and we were running into a rainstorm. We were 4064 feet (1239 m) in elevation so no wonder it felt freezing cold. After the rainstorm and on the outskirts of Bakersfield, the terrain changed again, from desert brown to lush, green farmlands, and because I was driving, I don't have photos.
Onwards on a chaotic Hwy 99 with drivers from I don't know where, we made it to Fresno, after a long 8-hour drive. Terry had picked up a hotelcoupons.com booklet at one of the gas stations and found an hotel to check out for the night. Alongside the motorway we found the Executive Inn. There was a Denny's right nextdoor to the inn so that's where we had soup and salad for supper.
The stretch between Bakersfield and Fresno was long with frenetic traffic and we passed many, many towns, one being McFarland, of the movie McFarland, USA fame. Our first stop the next day was for a snack at a reststop in Turlock, and this was my first opportunity to get a photo of an orchard.
We wove our way to Pleasanton where we spent an enjoyable night at Terry's friend Louise's lovely home. Her garden was a delight as there was a fruit-bearing olive tree, a pomegranate tree, an orange tree, and loads of lovely flowers. It was here that I came across a buckeye tree; quite intriguing.
The next day it was onwards and northwards to Santa Rosa. There was more chaotic traffic and wild drivers but thankfully we made it there safely, and to the home of another of Terry's friends, that of Susan. Susan's house was our base for the next five nights (Terry stayed on in the area as after this I headed home on the train from San Francisco) and we had a wonderful time exploring this beautiful area in northern California.
After a lovely meal and a great sleep, Susan drove Terry and me out on River Road through Guerneville (where we stopped and tasted delicious champagne at the renown Korbel Champagne Cellars and saw a few awesome redwood trees) and Jenner, and along Hwy 1 (a long-time dream of mine) to South Goat Rock and Bodega Bay, to see the ocean.
Bodega Bay is a lovely area by the sea, and seeing the ocean and walking on the beach after such a long time, was bliss. I picked up some lovely stones, photographed the breaking waves and gorgeous dark rocks, chatted to some friendly seagulls, and generally had a great time. We also had a picnic there which was special. On the way home we stopped at the Ren Brown Gallery and enjoyed seeing what he had on offer. This whole area is very arty and suited me down to a tee. Outside Bodega we saw the church used in the Hitchcock movie, The Birds.
We came back through the lovely town of Sebastopol, and in Sebastopol the eccentric sculptures by artist Patrick Amiot along Florence Avenue are on display for all to see, right in the front yards of all his neighbors.
The next day we were treated to a drive through the beautiful Sonoma wine country, a picnic at a beautiful walking trail where the Spanish moss was everywhere on the trees. We stopped a stop at the North Eagle Art Gallery to see some lovely pottery and paintings as well as live Christmas trees. Then it was on to visit the exquisite Cornerstone gardens where there were a number of themed garden designs, beautiful flowers and shops and eateries. A great place to see, and children will enjoy it as well.
I absolutely loved this part of the country and I know I will be back!
Leaving Terry behind to return in a few weeks with her daughter, my second-to-last stage of this trip was a bus ride on the Golden Gate Transit bus from Santa Rosa to the beautiful city of San Francisco where I spent an afternoon and a night before catching the California Zephyr train back to Denver. It was a rushed afternoon but one I will remember fondly. I bought a ticket for the City Sightseeing Bus (hop-on/hop-off) which took me around the city in no time, and I could get off where I fancied, snap some photos, and get on the next bus. I did wear some flowers in my hair! Well, some leaves.
I hopped off the bus just after we turned on Van Ness Ave and made my way to my hotel for the night, the San Remo Hotel on Mason Street. I was going to catch the number 47 bus and get off near Fisherman's Wharf but I decided to drag my little suitcase UP the other side of Lombard Street! Take a look at the first photo to see the sharp gradient! Not for the faint hearted. Once over the hump and down the wiggly street, I turned left on Columbus and headed towards my destination. I only had the afternoon to see as much as I could of San Francisco, which is why I opted for the the sightseeing bus instead of trying to rush all over the place myself.
The sightseeing bus winds its way through the city and the informative guides tell stories about what happened when, to whom and why. It was a nice introduction to the city as you could get off whenever you felt the need to explore in person, and then you would simply wait for the next one to come along, usually between 15-60 minutes. There are three routes with this tour company and they cover a considerable area of the city. I went downtown, to the famous Victorian houses on Alamo Square, Haight/Ashbury area, Japantown, and back through Chinatown and Pier 39/Fisherman's Wharf, as close to my hotel as possible as it was dark around 6pm and I had a really early start the next morning. Unfortunately I didn't have time to take the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito tour but I had crossed the bridge earlier. Although it wasn't that great taking photos from a moving bus, the weather was clear and I couldn't have been luckier!
One thing I have to mention is that the tour guides remind you at every turn that they and the bus drivers would appreciate tips at the end of our bus rides. One even had the gall to say, "$5 or $10 would be appreciated". Now, personally, when anyone asks for a tip, and more specifically suggests how much to tip, I don't tip. The tours were $30+ each (or $54.99 for a 48-hour pass), and to have to add more to that each time you got off the bus, would have crippled one's travel budget.
Up early the next morning, I walked towards Pier 39 where I caught the Amtrak bus which took me to the Emeryville station to start the train section of this trip. I watched the sun rise and the Fisherman's Wharf/Pier 39 area slowly come to life. The whole area was devoid of people so it felt as though the only people around were those of us waiting for a bus to the train stations. The bus arrived around 7.30am. There was a lot of San Francisco that I didn't get to see, and which I would like to see, next time.
The Amtrak bus drove along the Embarcadero and over the Bay Bridge, which was a treat. Thousands of commuters where making their way towards the city and I was thankful that I didn't have that kind of commute every morning! It's a pretty drive across the bridge, and if you turn around in your seat, you get a great view of San Francisco. Such a fabulous city.
From the moment I boarded this Amtrak train, the California Zephyr to Chicago (I got off at Denver, Colorado), I was delighted. I don't have one bad thing to say about this journey. The people were nice and friendly, no screeching children running about or crying babies, no cell phone chatter, no music leaking from earphones, just pure pleasure. The seats are plenty roomy and my short legs could barely reach the foot rest in front of my seat. I had two seats to myself the entire journey so I could stretch out overnight which was nice. The crew were friendly and helpful and I have to give Jason a shout out! He did a sterling job at keeping the bathrooms spotless, among other things, something I've never experienced on Amtrak trains! Well done, Jason. I didn't eat on the train as I couldn't afford the prices so I nibbled on the Subway sandwich I purchased at the shop across the way from the Emeryville station. I also had some Trader Joe's leftovers which saw me through the two-day and one-night trip. You could enjoy the scenery from either your seat or the observation coach, and man, was the scenery fantastic! I felt so sorry for those passengers who fell asleep and missed out on some truly phenomenal sights. These following photos are from my entire journey, and once again, the weather was beautiful.
I caught the Bustang shuttle bus (fabulous) to Colorado Springs the next day after a night in the mile-high city at the Ramada Inn Midtown, and thus ended a wonderful journey.
Sue has such a beautiful home/B&B Cinnamon Morning in Alburquerque and she is as welcoming and effervescent as I've seen. She told me about how she and her late husband built their home and how much she enjoys meeting new people and welcoming them into her home. The B&B is easy to find right off the Interstate (we were going south on I-25) and just as easy to get onto I-40 (we went west) and be on our way. Our room was the King Room, away from the main building but it had its own separate entrance if you so wished. There are little patios about the place where you can enjoy privacy, or you can sit in the larger one and enjoy the company of other guests. The building is adobe-style and I loved how the place has been decorated, and I would advise you spend a little time checking out and appreciating so many little touches that make this B&B so special, especially the fabulous chairs and sofa and spectacular window inside the main building!
Our bedroom walls were brightly painted (two in yellow and two in turquoise) with orange doors and the most colorful accessories you can imagine. Perfect to perk any weary traveller up in an instant. We had a kiva fireplace which was cozy, and the beds (mine was a little sleeper opposite the main bed) were comfortable and I loved the exquisite bed linen and colorful towels. The shower was fantastic I should add. We also had a Keurig coffee/tea maker in our room, a large flat-screen TV, ceiling fan and heating. Inside the house I found it wonderful to sit and work at the large dining room table with wi-fi available, or to hang out and have a cup of tea or coffee and a slice of freshly baked cake or cookies. Sue had M&Ms scattered about so you can snack on those too! I would recommend you try these lovely accommodations! There is off-street parking and the neighborhood is quiet despite a large and potentially busy road just outside the property. Can't wait to return!
See my TripAdvisor review.
San Remo Hotel
(San Francisco, CA)
Cinnamon Morning Bed and Breakfast
Albuquerque, New Mexico - 2700 Rio Grande Blvd. NW, Albuquerque, NM 87104
Tel: (505) 345-3541 or 1-800-214-9841
Off-street parking available
Rates: from $125. Do contact them about renting the house (sleeps 9 people for $249!)
Ramada Inn, Kingman, Arizona - 3100 Andy Devine Ave, Kingman, AZ 86401
Executive Inn, Fresno, California - 1087 N. Parkway Drive, Fresno, CA 93728
San Remo Hotel, San Francisco, California - 2237 Mason Street (between Francisco and Chestnut), San Francisco, CA 94133
Tel: (415) 776-8688 or 1-800-352-7366
Free wi-fi, parking at $18 a day, pet friendly
Rates: from $79.00
Ramada Inn Midtown, Denver, Colorado - 2601 Zuni Street, Denver, CO 80211
JB's Family Restaurant
2940 E. Andy Devine Ave, Kingman, AS86401
Tel: (928) 753-2499
Canyon 66 Restaurant & Lounge
Korbel Champagne Cellars
Ren Brown Collection
Patrick Amiot Junk Art (Sebastopol, CA)
North Eagle Gallery and Valley of the Moon Pottery (& Christmas Trees)
Cornerstone Gardens & Outdoor Marketplace
23570 Arnold Drive (Hwy 121), Sonoma, CA95476
Tel: (707) 933-3010
Email online at their website: www.cornerstonesonoma.com
Golden Gate Transit Bus (from Santa Rosa to San Francisco) $12.50
City Sightseeing Bus (48-hour ticket $54.99 if bought online)
Amtrak (California Zephyr train)
Bustang (Bus from Denver to Colorado Springs) $12
The train segment started with a bus ride from Santa Rosa to San Francisco, the California Zephyr train from Emeryville (Amtrak bus picks you up in San Francisco and takes you to the station in Emeryville) and a fabulous train journey east through the Sierra Nevada mountains, the deserts of Nevada and Utah, and the Rockies in Colorado.
Miles travelled by train = 1400 (2253 km)
1. The Amtrak California Zephyr from San Francisco (Emeryville) to Chicago is a very comfortable train with plenty of legroom. Thankfully this train wasn't as bright during the night but there were passengers who wore eye masks.
2. I was glad that I took my little pillow as the headrest offers very little support. I missed my blanket but this train wasn't as cold as some of the others I've travelled on.
3. Snacks are a great idea as the food on the train is pricy and you can save a lot of money by bringing your own food.
4. Take advantage of the observation coach as you can see so much more. There aren't any observation coaches on the eastern trains.
5. This is a spectacularly beautiful train ride and you'll be mad if you don't take along your camera!
6. Something I learned on this trip that I never knew about, was that you can pick up hotel discount listings at food stops and gas stations along the way. We got great deals from the Kingman Ramada and the Executive Inn in Fresno by using their coupons. The booklet is HotelCoupons and we used the Southwest edition which covered California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah. They're online at www.hotelcoupons.com.
7.Amtrak pick-up in San Francisco - the bus picks you up at a few stops in the city but the one I used was at Pier 39, and the stop is between the Hard Rock and the Aquarium, right there.
8. If you're going to drive between Kingman and Barstow, make sure you fill up as there isn't much in between, and Needles charged a dollar more for gas!
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Photographs and Website design © Adrienne Petterson 2015-2020.