Review: Globus’ California Dreamin’ Northern California Tour

More activity choices and deeper dives into destinations sets this California tour apart.
Valley View view of Yosemite Valley
Yosemite National Park (Photo: Melanie Gravdal)

Globus’ California Dreamin’: Northern California by Design tour mixes history, culture and nature for a busy trip that will appeal to many different types of travelers. Starting in San Francisco, this California tour makes stops in Sausalito, Wine Country, the Lake Tahoe area, and a surprisingly vibrant Sacramento before ending with a bang at Yosemite. Along the way, there’s time to find out about the Gold Rush and the Pony Express. Three nights near Yosemite National Park means there’s time to soak up the wonders and wilderness of the land that has inspired humans for thousands of years.

The California Dreamin’: Northern California by Design tour is one of the new Choice Touring by Globus itineraries. More than a dozen Choice Touring itineraries in North America and Europe are designed to offer travelers more choices along the way, with both guided sightseeing of the biggest sights and YourChoice Excursions, curated experiences that you can choose from along the way. All of the YourChoice Excursions are built into the price of the tour.

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Things to Know About Globus’ California Dreamin’ California Tour

couple at Gloria Ferrer Vineyard during a stop on Globus' California Dreamin’: Northern California by Design California guided tour
Gloria Ferrer, Sonoma (Photo: Christine Sarkis)
  • Globus’ first “Choice Touring” offering in the U.S. gives travelers options along the way. That means that you can indulge in a food tour while your partner revels in a happy hour aboard a historic train. Three of the days on this itinerary include activity options, so you can mix and match, together or apart, to best satisfy everyone, including the person who craves an afternoon nap.
  • All breakfasts (8) are included (at the hotels), one lunch and two dinners. Connect with fellow travelers early to share some of the meals that are not included, if that is important to you. Some solo travelers occasionally dined alone for the evening meal, but the convivial group was more fun when gathering together. The tour guide always pointed out restaurants with a variety of price points.
  • This tour suits older adults who are curious and eager to travel, but would rather have someone else arrange the details. From the moment you connect with your tour director, you no longer have to handle your luggage, or deal with almost any other arrangements. Also, having a tour director in charge means any unexpected snafus, which you can expect on any trip, are handled by someone else.
  • On my tour, most of the group were couples, retirees with an urge to travel. A handful were solo travelers who melded easily with the convivial group. Two couples were extended family—a brother and sister and their spouses—and the tour seemed especially suited for that kind of journey. Keeping four people happy is easy when there are options on activities.
  • The best hotel of the trip is at Yosemite, the Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite, with a heated pool, spa and on-site nature trails. There’s just one restaurant, but all the food was good (sometimes great) and the prices were fair, with lighter options for those who don’t need three square a day.
  • Being a bus passenger has its downsides, but the big plus is that you don’t have to drive. It’s a joy to watch the scenery glide by without worrying about finding your way on unfamiliar roads. This is especially true on this tour with its many zig-zagging mountain roads.
  • The location of the Embassy Suites in Sacramento makes it ideal for a tour group. It was easy to head out on foot to a variety of Sacramento attractions, and it’s closest to the city’s old town and its vibrant appeal.
  • For many, Yosemite will be the highlight and it’s at the end of the tour. That could be a drawback, but instead it keeps the excitement high for the duration.

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Important Details About Globus’ California Dreamin’ California Tour

passengers aboard Globus' California Dreamin’: Northern California by Design tour bus look out at Mono Lake
(Photo: Christine Sarkis)

For most travelers, the Yosemite National Park stop at the end of the trip will be the big draw. The tour begins in San Francisco, which is primarily a jumping off point. On Day 2, there’s a quick visit to Sausalito and a stop in Sonoma wine country (a wine tasting at a winery as well as a lunch stop in downtown Sonoma) along the way to Sacramento. California’s capital city is a surprisingly vibrant destination, and the two nights here are worthwhile. Next up is two nights at a Mammoth Lakes resort, where the YourChoice excursions include a unique hike, a gondola ride to the summit of Mammoth Mountain, or a stroll through Bodie, an abandoned gold rush town. Then, it’s on to the three nights in Yosemite with plenty of time to experience this natural wonderland.

Route Notes

Sometimes on this tour, the bus rides are longer than you might like. But part of the reason for that is you are traversing mountain roads into wilderness areas at Yosemite. There are frequent “comfort” stops along the way, but a bathroom at the back of the bus is available as well. Globus utilizes a rotating bus seat assignment plan that means no one can hog the front seats and no one is continually stuck in the back. Chatting with an ever-changing group of nearby seat mates is a great way to get to know everyone on the trip.

Activities

From wine tasting to learning about the California Gold Rush, the activities on this tour embrace California history, nature and culture. A stop at the Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyard in Sonoma is a delightful way to experience the Golden State’s wine culture. Strolling through Sacramento gives you a look at not only the state capitol building, but also the Tower Bridge and the city’s many striking murals. Visiting the Bodie State Historic Park near Mammoth Lakes is a walk through a ghost town of a former gold-mining hub. A highlight for many, pre-Yosemite, was the free time at Lake Tahoe, just being able to spend a while soaking up the scenery. When it comes to Yosemite National Park, the scenic drive through the park is a good way to get an overview of this expansive natural wonder. The views are jaw-dropping and when you’re at the edge of the road looking over a cliff, you’re so glad not to be driving. Excursions during your time at the park, will likely depend on weather and Covid cancellations. Whatever obstacles may occur, plan to see as much of the park as you can. Just walking through the valley, gazing up at the towering granite of Half Dome and El Capitan is a highlight. One of the popular YourChoice excursions was a guided photography hike, courtesy of the Ansel Adams Gallery.

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Dining

Breakfasts were different at each stop, but the food was always plentiful, and buffets were the most common option.

Lunches are mostly not included in the package, but this works well because you are often en route from one place to another. Sometimes you’re picking up a sandwich or something light.

With just two dinners included, many of your evening meals will be on your own. What this means is that your tour director will provide suggestions on places for you to try out that are usually within walking distance of your hotel. The benefit of the group dinners is that you don’t have to make any plans, or spend any extra money. The disadvantage is that you’re dining with a group of 30-plus folks.

In San Francisco, at the Marriott Marquis, The View Lounge is a notable rooftop bar and restaurant with Art Deco inspired design and killer views. It’s well worth a stop for a drink and snack to celebrate the beginning of the trip.

At Mammoth Mountain Inn in Mammoth Lakes, a quiet dinner at the bar delivered a fine cocktail and a delicious appetizer of grilled steak and shrimp over greens for a relatively light meal. Some in our group were happy to skip the savory items altogether and indulge in fancy dessert drinks like the Slippery Slope or actual desserts like the mountain berry cobbler, served with ice cream.

In Yosemite, I was concerned that three days at the same hotel, in a remote area, would mean the dining options would be either overpriced or limited. Neither was true. The Jackalope Bar and Grill at the Tenaya Lodge is not your typical hotel restaurant. There’s a variety of options to keep everyone happy during repeat visits. And you can keep the costs down. (TIP: Order the petite Cobb Salad for lunch or dinner. It’s very large.) With wraps and sandwiches as well as entrees such as pan-seared Pacific salmon, or steak or chicken options, there’s enough to please everyone, vegetarians included.

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Amenities Along the Way

Most of the hotels along the way had pools and similar amenities, but there wasn’t much time to use them until the last stop at Tenaya Lodge. Here are a few amenities that stand out.

The nightly happy hour at the Embassy Suites hotel in Sacramento served us well. Arriving in time for happy hour meant we could exit the bus and head to the lounge for free drinks while our luggage was sorted. Sounds like a small thing, but it was a pleasant and unexpected way to end the day of bus travel.

At Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite, we spent three nights, so there was time to take advantage of some of the hotel amenities even while getting in lots of time at the National Park. The main pool is heated and has underwater speakers if you’re keen to listen to jazz while swimming. The spa and fitness room are top notch, with excellent massages, though the prices are typical of hotel spas: high. Bikes and short guided nature hikes at the hotel are also great ways to spend some down time. An outdoor fire pit is a fine place to savor some after-dinner s’mores.

Hotels Ratings

San Francisco: The San Francisco Marriott Marquis gets a four circle rating on Tripadvisor, 8.5 out of 10 on Booking.com, 4.3 out of 5 on Expedia, and 8.5 out of 10 on Kayak.

Sacramento: Embassy Suites by Hilton Sacramento Riverfront Promenade receives a rating of 4 out of 5 on Tripadvisor, 8.5 out of 10 on Booking.com, and 4.2 out of 5 on Expedia.

Mammoth Lakes: The Mammoth Mountain Inn gets a 4 out of 5 rating on Tripadvisor, 7.6 out of 10 on Booking.com, and 3.8 out of 5 on Expedia.

Yosemite: Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite, situated just beyond the park’s south entrance in the town of Fish Camp, is rated 4 out of 5 on Tripadvisor, 8.4 out of 10 on Booking.com, and 4.3 out of 5 on Expedia.

Best for/Worst for

This tour suits older adults who are anxious to travel, but don’t want to drive and would rather not arrange all the details. It’s especially good for groups of couples or other relatives since the choice option suits many different kinds of travelers, including people who are used to traveling independently.

With a lot of travel time, this tour isn’t a great fit for families with young children.

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