Road Trip

Visiting Yosemite: A guide to grand touring the national park in a family-friendly SUV

Grand touring isn't dead. It's just different than it used to be.

Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Cruising up the coast of California in a Ford Mustang. Taking an RV full of family on a trip to explore the American West. Leaf peeping in New England while hopping from bed and breakfast to bed and breakfast in your family sedan. These are classic examples of U.S. road trips that do not feature a grand touring car.

Is the dream of grand touring dead? The advent of the EV and the popularity of the minivan and SUVs have not killed it. In fact, they've revolutionized it.

No longer do you have to cram six people into a sedan with your brother standing up between mom and dad in the front. You can tour in comfort in a modern SUV and still have as authentic an experience as you did in your childhood, perhaps better.

Autocamp Yosemite pond Airstream Autocamp Yosemite is a unique and luxurious way to "camp" near Yosemite.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Buckled into a thoroughly modern Honda Passport, this grand touring trip set off from Autocamp Yosemite, a resort made entirely of Airstream trailers, tiny houses, and small cabins, just as the sun was starting to shine the first light of morning. Headed seats, accurate navigation, and right-sized cup holders gave the beginning of the trip an optimistic note.

On the winding roads of CA 140, the Passport was relatively efficient and stuck to the road much better than the Honda Pilot would have. The sun continued to rise and touch the tree tops as the route wound its way over and around the Merced River.

2019 Honda Passport The Honda Passport is smaller than a Honda Pilot and bigger than a Honda CR-V.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Making it into the park before the sun has fully risen is not only a treat but a necessity if you want to beat the hoards of tourists that flock to the park's most famous sites, pushing into your space with their selfie sticks, cigarette smoke, and overstuffed backpacks.

Tunnel View Yosemite morning Tunnel View is one of the can't-miss spots in Yosemite National Park.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Start by winding your way up Wawona Road to the start of the Artist Point Trail and Tunnel View with an observation deck that requires no hiking to get to and a view that you've likely seen countless times before in pictures. El Capitan rises on one side as Cathedral Rocks grace the other. It's impossible to fathom exactly how big they are from the viewpoint, but no one leaves the spot unimpressed.

Continuing to head up the mountain, the Passport's V6 had no problem passing 5,000 and 8,000 feet as the SUV rose out of the famed Yosemite Tunnel. The turn up Glacier Point Road had the SUV pointing for, you guessed it, Glacier Point. Getting there early meant not being stuck behind busses and being able to easily cruise uphill while stopping for a bit of hiking and observation along the way. Pulling off for a walk on the Mono Meadow Trail is a must, but watch out for bears.

Mono Meadow trailhead 2019 Honda Passport Park at the tailhead at Mono Meadow for a scenic hike.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Back from the hike, the journey up the road continued to Washburn Point, where the Passport braved the crowded parking area, easily maneuvering into a tight spot near the far curb, setting up its occupants for a short walk to a viewing platform to see awe-inspiring views of the Clark Range and Sierra Crest rising up from the treetops, Illilouette Falls flowing, and the profile of Half Dome. It's one of the better selfie-taking spots in the park because of the angles of the scenery.

Yosemite National Park Washburn Point view Washburn Point provides a different view of Half Dome an surrounding hillsides. Be sure to visit in the morning before the parking spots get swallowed up by tourists.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Continuing further up Glacier Point road, easily passing 9,000 feet of elevation, the road ends at the Glacier Point parking area where the peanut-bladdered find relief in the numerous restrooms available. Parking is easier further down the row you travel. Spaces are narrow so making full use of the Passport's on-board camera system to ensure proper space sitting was wholly appropriate.

Glacier Point crowd Yosemite National Park Getting up to Glacier Point early in the day should be a priority for adventure seekers who don't want to deal with heavy crowds.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

From there, it's a short and slightly uphill handicap-accessible walk to the most spectacular view that Yosemite offers. Standing before the visitor on the observation deck are Half Dome and three waterfalls. The Yosemite Valley floor is carpeted with thick trees that mask the ant-sized cars winding their way to Yosemite Village. Space is limited and tourists are generally pushy, but be sure to leave time to have a moment to put down your phone or camera (or both) and just stand and take it all in. (And maybe thank Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir for ensuring that it is still around.)

Glacier Point Yosemite National Park guide key sign The National Park Service has installed these helpful signs to show visitors what they're seeing. The space around them is often crowded so take a quick picture then move and use the image on your phone to help you navigate.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Before you leave, use the restroom again. There are several, often overlooked options available so check for the shortest line.

The trip back down Glacier Point Road to the Yosemite Valley isn't nearly as long as it seems when driving the other direction. By now, it's likely near lunchtime, but before heading to The Ahwahnee for lunch, stop on the way back down near Bridalveil Falls where roadside parking is generally easy to find and the views are, once again, spectacular.

The Ahwahnee's dining room isn't as fancy during the day as it is during the night. This gives parents dressed in hiking clothes the opportunity to sit and dine in the historic hotel without the obligation of staying at the hotel and wearing a dinner jacket.

The Ahwahnee dining room Yosemite National Park The historical Ahwanee dining room is a must-stop. It has tasty cuisine at prices that aren't outrageous.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Continuing after lunch, the rest of the day relies more on your patience and the time limits of daylight rather than the availability of sights to be seen. Skip the urge to circle for a parking space near the Visitors Center and instead cruise for an hour along Big Oak Flat Road and head east on Tioga Road. When touring with little ones, this gives them an opportunity to take a 45-minute or so nap that can be used to your advantage later in the day.

Pull-off points with unique views are abundant along this road the further you travel. Don't forget your camera and perhaps think about leaving the heated seats on if you're hopping in and out of the car in the cooler months (read: not June or July but most other times of the year).

Olmstead Point Half Dome Olmstead Point is on the other side of the park from Yosemite Valley and worth the trip. Here, Half Dome is in the distance.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

If your shoes have sufficient grip and you're still feeling up for some hiking, don't miss a stop at Olmstead Point where the terrain looks nothing like what you'll see in other parts of the park but the view shows off the back side of the terrain you saw earlier in the day from Washburn Point. Proceeding down the road, the stone encroaches and it's easy to think of what the terrain must be like on the moon.

Venture even further east to Tenaya Lake, a peaceful respite that provides the opportunity to sit and marvel at calm true-blue water away from mobs of tourists. That's also a good turnaround point, where you can head back to the Valley to take advantage of the waning afternoon crowds to see some of Yosemite's most popular features including the El Capitan Meadow, Valley View, Yosemite Chapel, and Yosemite Falls.

Tenaya Lake Yosemite National Park Tenaya Lake is a peaceful respite away from the hustle and bustle of Yosemite's more popular attractions.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

While a stop at the Yosemite Visitors Center provides some historical context for your visit, if you're looking for souvenirs, the best place to go is the Village Store.

Souvenirs in hand, it was now nearly dark on the Valley floor, and it was time for these travelers to point the Passport back to AutoCamp. The two-row SUV had served as a trusty steed - reliable, comfortable, and easily maneuverable. Those aren't the characteristics that shoppers frequently look for, but it's something that they remember when it comes time to get their next vehicle. Though not a traditional grand tourer, the Passport provided a grand level of touring capability.

Ryan Reynolds stars in the new Netflix movie "6 Underground".

Photo courtesy of Netflix

The '6 Underground' trailer opens with actor Ryan Reynolds waxing poetic. "What's the best part of being dead? It isn't escaping your boss, your ex, or even erasing your criminal record. The best part about being dead...is the freedom," he says. That freedom apparently includes driving through the streets of Italy like a maniac in a lime green 2020 Alfa Romeo Giulia.

Alfa Romeo has updated the Giulia for the 2020 model year, including a thoroughly new take on the car's infotainment system. The model staring in the film is a 2020 Giulia Quadrifolgio, the most performance-focused variant of the Italian sports sedan.

6 Underground Starring Ryan Reynolds | Visit Italy | Netflix www.youtube.com

It shines as it is burning rubber and maneuvering around Italy's famously narrow and pedestrian-crowded streets with proper camera angles showing off its sharp steering and Reynold's knowing smile.

The Netflix film, which had a reported budget of $150 million, is directed by Michael Bay, the man responsible to brining the modern shoot 'em up while you blow 'em up style of action movie to millions of viewers for decades now. His previous work includes "The Rock", "Bad Boys", and the Transformers series.

Reynolds recently tweeted that "6 Underground" is, "the most Michael Bay movie in the history of Michael Bay." Translation: a feast for your eyes.

6 Underground starring Ryan Reynolds | Official Trailer | Netflix www.youtube.com

Other vehicles seen in the movie include a Maserati Quattroporte (Maserati and Alfa Romeo share common FCA ownership), Ferrari 488 Pista, Land Rover Range Rovers (may they rest in peace), and a Rolls-Royce Ghost.

"6 Underground" debuts exclusively on Netflix on December 13.

The 2020 Alfa Romeo Giulia will arrive on U.S. shores before the end of the year.

Texans may prefer a pickup to a one-horse open sleigh, but that won't stop any of us from dashing around the state this season. But instead of going to grandmother's house, consider checking into a fabulous hotel to make spirits bright. Not just any hotel, though. Here are places that stage Texas-worthy celebrations perfect for a holiday getaway.

Boardwalk Inn — Kemah

Kemah Boardwalk Inn

Photo courtesy of Boardwalk Inn

The Kemah Boardwalk provides a great spot to catch the area's Christmas Boat Parade, held Saturday, December 14, starting at 6:30 pm. Hundreds of brightly decorated power and sailboats float down the Clear Lake channel from South Shore Harbour Marina and Nassau Bay Lagoon to Galveston Bay. Stay at the Boardwalk Inn and also take in Jingle on the Boardwalk, December 7, 8, 14, 15, and 22. It includes shopping, a variety of live entertainment, activities, pictures with Santa, and more.

JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa — San Antonio

Photo courtesy of Marriott

At the ritzy JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa, new activities for this year's holidays include Santa's Workshop with children's activities such as writing letters to Santa, making snow globes, and painting clay ornaments. Kids also can search for toy elves on the Elfie Selfie Scavenger Hunt. Other festivities include JW Elf tuck-ins, JW Elf Express train car making, certified JW Elf classes, a polar bear plunge challenge, a Sandy Snowman Building Contest every Saturday morning, and Sunday Brunch with Santa and Mrs. Claus at 18 Oaks restaurant.

​Hilton Americas — Houston

Hilton Americas-Houston Christmas

Photo courtesy of Hilton Americas-Houston

The Hilton Americas lobby transforms into a lighted wonderland, complete with gingerbread walls spanning the lobby and a holiday chocolate display made from more than 2.5 tons and 6.5 million calories of chocolate. Have Breakfast with Santa on Saturday and Sunday mornings December 7 through 22 — photos and cookie decorating included. Just steps away, Discovery Green offers ice skatingevery day through February 2, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. On Saturdays now through Christmas, Santa Claus hits the ice from 5 to 6 pm. Also nearby in Hermann Square is the setting for a Gingerbread Build-Off competition on Saturday, December 7, from 10 am to 5 pm.

​Hilton Anatole — Dallas

Photo courtesy of Hilton

The Hilton Anatole transforms its outdoor area into Peppermint Park, a winter wonderland with train rides; light displays; photos with Santa; and a variety of activities from face painting to miniature golf, s'mores, and contests. Open 5 to 9 pm to all hotel guests. A Breakfast with Santa package available weekends from now through December 22 includes late check-out, breakfast for two adults and two children with Santa, complimentary entrance into Peppermint Park, and holiday movie night. VIP Experience weekends include a meet-and-greet reception with Santa and Mrs. Claus, a photo with Santa, cookies and refreshments, breakfast with Santa, entrance into Peppermint Park, holiday movie night, valet parking, and late check-out.

​Hotel Galvez & Spa — Galveston

Hotel Galvez Christmas

Photo courtesy of Hotel Galvez

Hotel Galvez & Spa kicked off the holiday season on the island with the Galveston Holiday Lighting Celebration on Thanksgiving weekend. The fun continues with Sunday Brunch with Santa, each Sunday through December 22 and the Night Before Christmas Gingerbread Village on view in the Hotel Galvez lobby. The Downtown Lantern and Lights is also underway, and includes a timed laser light show illuminated on the American National Insurance Company building. Watch it from The Rooftop Bar at The Tremont House, and stop by the special Polar Express-themed gingerbread house on public display in the Tremont lobby.

Hotel Van Zandt — Austin

Hotel Van Zandt Christmas

Photo courtesy of Hotel Van Zandt, Instagram

An adult take on the holidays, Geraldine's restaurant on the fourth floor of this Rainey Street hotel stages a South Pole-style pop-up December 17 to 21 starting at 6 pm. It features a snow machine, igloo lounges on the pool deck, an artisan market, holiday-themed cocktails, appearance by Southern Santa, and Geraldine's annual Motown Christmas performance. Igloos, available by reservation for up to eight, are decked out in "TexMas" décor and complete with record players, board games, and more.

​Gaylord Texan — Grapevine

Photo courtesy of Marriott

Gaylord Texan resort creates a 125-acre winter wonderland including millions of twinkling lights; 2 million pounds of hand-carved ice for ICE! Featuring a Charlie Brown Christmas; a tubing hill made from 2 million pounds of snow; more than 200 Christmas trees, including one 54 feet tall; an outdoor ice-skating rink; and extravagant decorations including miniature train sets, 25-foot-tall Nutcrackers, wreaths, and more. Activities include breakfast with Charlie Brown, gingerbread decorating, and reading with Mrs. Claus. The over-21 crowd can chill out in the ice bar. Runs through January 5, 2020.

​Stagecoach Inn — Salado

Stagecoach Inn Christmas

Photo courtesy of Stagecoach Inn

Make Stagecoach Inn your home base for Salado's annual 12 Nights of Christmas Stroll December 6-8 and 13-15. The weekends feature live entertainment, a Nativity performance, and a lighted holiday parade along Main Street. Carolers and other special activities happen at the historic inn, which was extensively renovated in 2018. Stagecoach Inn guests enjoy complimentary mulled wine, hot toddies, or hot cocoa with marshmallows; and comfy Mexican blankets in each room; photos with the seasonal decor; and Santa's Workshop on December 15. Built in 1861 and once a stop on the Chisholm Trail, the Inn also houses the oldest restaurant in the Lone Star State, which serves a sumptuous Christmas dinner buffet.

​Tapatio Springs Hill Country Resort — Boerne

Tapatio Springs Hill Country Resort Christmas

Photo courtesy of Tapatio Springs Hill Country Resort

Tapatio Springs Hill Country Resort, owned by country music legend George Strait, gets gussied up Texas style and serves a Christmas Prime Rib Dinner on the big day. Enjoy outdoor activities such as paddling, hiking, and fishing, plus shopping in downtown Boerne and visits to the numerous area wineries.

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This story originally appeared on AutomotiveMap's sister site, CultureMap.