The Scenic Route to Pinnacles National Park

[Los Angeles, CA, Nov 25, 2021]

Pinnacles National park protects a mountainous area in California’s Central Valley. The park is an easy drive from both Los Angeles and San Francisco (4.5 and 3 hrs, respectively). Nevertheless, it remains fairly unknown due to steep competition from various other tourist spots nearby and, of course, California’s bigger and better-known national parks like Yosemite and Sequoia. Pinnacles became a national monument in 1908. President Barack Obama elevated it to a national park in 2013.

We decided to visit during Thanksgiving weekend. Winter is the best season to visit the park because summers are hot and dry and park trails have no shade. Where to stay during our visit turned out to be a bit more complicated. The park has two entrances, one on the west side and one on the east. Accommodations close to the park are sparse. Soledad is the closest town to the west entrance but lacks anything other than basic hotels. The east side offered more options in the town of Hollister. In the end, I found an excellent AirBnB in Salinas, just 30 minutes from the west entrance. That cinched the deal. We had our own private cottage behind the main house on a ranch. I especially loved all the outdoor spaces to relax on after a long day of hiking, and the hot tub.

The drive from Los Angeles to Pinnacles takes anywhere from 4.5 to 5+ hrs depending on the route you take. Since we had all of Thanksgiving day to make our way to Salinas, we decided to take our time and enjoy the longer but more scenic drive up Highway 101.

Our first stop was at the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo. This quirky and kitschy motel was built in 1958 and quickly became a landmark on California’s Central Coast. It is famous for its pink dining room and themed rooms – no two are alike. The exterior could have you fooled you’re in the Swiss Alps.

Opulent Christmas decorations were already hanging in the pink dining room.

It seemed quite busy, so we ducked into the bar instead, where we had light lunch and a piece of pecan pie. There is also an excellent bakery on the premises, and all the cakes looked so tempting!

We had just gotten back on the highway when we saw a sign for Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, one of California’s 21 Spanish missions. They were established between 1769 and 1833 by Catholic priests of the Franciscan order to evangelize Native Americans. The one in San Luis Obispo was founded in September 1, 1772. It bears the name of Saint Louis of Anjou, the bishop of Toulouse, and is the namesake of San Luis Obispo. It was pretty quiet on the grounds since it was Thanksgiving, and we weren’t able to see the chapel itself.

Just another 30 minutes north we stumbled on another one, mission San Miguel ArcĂĄngel. It was established on July 25, 1797, making it the 16th California mission.

We knew we were getting close when we started seeing farmlands and vineyards.

We arrived at our AirBnB right at check-in. After we settled in, we enjoyed a wonderful sunset on one of the patios on the ranch grounds. Luckily, we found a small restaurant nearby that served dinner. I was so glad we didn’t have to resort to snack or gas-station food. Our trip up here turned out to be way more exciting than I anticipated. I couldn’t wait to see what surprises the park had in store for us.

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