The Ultimate Road Trip
One week across North California
Is there a better way of experiencing Northern California than by road? We spent a week exploring the Golden State and it was worth every dime!!! It is the perfect destination for travelers looking for beautiful scenery, incredible food, and not-so-typical attractions. It has a wealth of attractions and endless opportunities for adventure. It’s full of unique and diverse landscapes such as State rugged coastline, pine and redwood forest, desert, and pastoral chaparral.
We started the adventure in San Francisco, made our way to Santa Cruz, then to Monterey, and back to San Francisco. If the van life doesn’t work for you I highly recommend getting an Airbnb. If you are on the hunt for the perfect Northern California road trip itinerary, feel free to add these popular destinations to your itinerary, budget estimates included.
Day #1: San Francisco
1. The Embarcadero
The tour begins at the Ferry Building. We walked here from our AirBnb in Castro. We were greeted with a farmers market (try the Korean pears)! After getting a few snacks, we headed into the building to find cute shops and yummy food offerings. It was early and we were satisfied with our pear, so we grabbed some souvenirs and headed to the dock in the back for a beautiful view.
2. Fisherman’s Wharf
This is home to: Musée Méchanique (arcade), Boudin Bakery (sourdough factory), In-N-Out, and other iconic tourist attractions. You can also check out Ghiradelli Square and Buena Vista Cafe (home of Irish Coffee).
This was pretty underwhelming and overcrowded for our liking, but it’s worth a walkthrough.
3. Russian Hill
Walk up Hyde street (or ride the $5 cable car) until reaching Lombard Street! This is the famous curvy street you may recognize from a lot of movies.
The tour takes you next to Telegraph hill and Coit Tower. We saw it from a distance and decided that was enough (and we were hungry). So, we walked down Lombard Street and turned right onto Columbus Ave. This is home of Little Italy and The Beat Movement.
Once reaching the famous garlic restaurant called The Stinking Rose, we turned to head down Grant Ave to experience Chinatown! This is the largest Chinese community outside of Asia, and the oldest Chinatown in the United States. They have a Fortune Cookie Factory, too! We stopped at Rock Japanese Cuisine to grab some great (and cheap!!) sushi!
The rest of the tour takes you to Dragon’s Gate and Union Square. This is the financial district with lots of expensive stores such as Tiffany’s and Gucci, etc. We decided to hop on Jump Bikes instead. There were plenty to pick from throughout Chinatown.
We headed towards Crissy Field along Mason Street and the views did not disappoint!
This inspired us to bike the Golden Gate Bridge, so we continued along Mason Street which takes you to the Golden Gate Bridge path for bikes. This was such a euphoric and magical experience, I forgot to take any pictures!
After biking it back and forth, we continued along the dirt path through the Presidio along El Camino del Mar to Lands End. We parked our Jump Bikes and walked through Lands End a few miles to Sutro Baths where we saw the most beautiful sunset we have ever seen in our lives.
We had an amazing Indian meal at Kasa! Highly recommend!
Day 2…San Francisco to Santa Cruz
Dolores Park. A green space full of colors and life. A great overlook of the city.
Tartine Bakery. Great pastries and coffee. Be ready to wait in line!
Yoga class at Yoga Tree. Lovely staff and beautiful space. They had a community class, which is just donation-based. It was only $13 (drop-ins are typically $23). Well worth an hour of your time!
Spike Coffee for vegan banana bread. Yum!!
On our way to Santa Cruz, we stopped in Half Moon Bay. A lovely small town to walk around in.
Arriving in Santa Cruz, we situated ourselves with the lay of the land:
University of California Santa Cruz. Lovely campus. Quite vast and spread out.
Wharf and Boardwalk. This is the tourist area where the famous rollercoasters are on the beach. Lots of shops and games and overpriced food!
Downtown. Strip of shops including souvenir stores and coffee shops and restaurants. Quite touristy as well.
West Cliff Drive. A long strip along the coast with the best pull-offs to watch the sunset and surfers.
We had dinner at Seabright Brewery. Great salads and fish & chips. They also brew their own beer.
The Penny Ice Creamery. All homemade flavors and all great choices! It was difficult to decide but I went with my classic Cookies n’ Cream in a cone. I am a sucker for Oreos! They also had great seasonal sorbet!
Day 3…Santa Cruz
Today was Thanksgiving for us.
We began our day at Verve Coffee Shop. Best. Coffee. Shop. I. Have. Ever. Experienced. Filled with locals, kind staff, great products, and great souvenirs to take home too. I fell in love with the Bowl of Soul, a seasonal turmeric latte and the avocado toast with a poached egg. My dad stuck with the Cafe Au Lait and a croissant.
I had done some prior research, so we were able to volunteer at the Veterans Memorial Hall. We served hundreds of community members at this great space right next to downtown.
Here, we met Joe! A local cook who volunteered his time and resources to supplying hundreds of meals to the community. We never got to check out his restaurant (India Joze), but when we come back, it is a must-visit!
We also met Jane who works for Food Not Bombs. They provide free food to the community and advocate for the persons experiencing homelessness throughout Santa Cruz.
We headed off to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. Henry Cowell houses the old-growth redwoods. They are absolutely magnificent! Note: there are two entrances. One takes you to the campsite. The other takes you to the entrance to the park (this is the correct one). It is a quick 0.8 mile loop with a great staffed visitors center and a self-guided pamphlet along the route.
Boardwalk, Beach, and Wharf. We parked near the Boardwalk, checked out the roller coasters, walked along the beach to the wharf where we checked out the seals and shops, and then headed back to our car via the boardwalk.
Watched the sunset at West Cliff Drive.
Dinner at 99 Bottles of Beer, because this was the only place open for business on Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, we missed out on some incredible Mexican food in the area, Taqueria Los Pericos and De La Hacienda.
Day 4…Santa Cruz to Monterey
Had to start our morning with Verve. We checked out the Verve in Capitola. Capitola is a great town in Santa Cruz with gnarly surfer vibes. I browsed the shops and bought a nice dress, shirt, and bathing suit!
Drove down Highway 1 all the way to the Monterey Aquarium. There are several farmer stands along the way, so we grabbed some tasty strawberries and cucumbers. The aquarium was packed with tourists, but this is pretty typical. The aquarium was unique in the way they incorporated art to portray the message about reducing waste. Also, the jellyfish exhibit was mesmerizing.
Next was the 17-mile drive. It costs about $10 but was well worth it. The beaches were beautiful, the self-guided tour was informative.
We exited the 17-mile drive via the Carmel exit. We stopped at the Carmel by the Sea Beach. This is a wealthy area with incredible architecture and a great view of the ocean.
Next was Point Lobos State Park. This was such a pleasant surprise. The hikes were full of wonderful scents and remarkable views. Yet again, the views never get old!
Headed to Big Sur stopping at Hurricane Point to watch the sunset.
La Bahia for dinner back in Monterey. Great Mexican food! I enjoyed the taco salad, while my dad enjoyed the burrito and tostada. La Bahia was surrounded by fun secondhand shops where I bought fun cat-eye sunglasses!
Angelica’s for coffee stop #1. Angelica’s is just a typical coffee shop- nothing special! Just a great cup of joe. It was near our AirBnb in Seaside which is why we chose it.
Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Company for coffee stop #2. Carmel is fun to walk through. The architecture is so unique and colorful. The shops were quite pricey though.
On our way to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, there was a local craft fair! My dad picked up some jam.
We continued our trek to Pfeiffer State Park via Big Sur. We hiked Buzzard Trail at Pfeiffer State Park then headed to Julia Pfeiffer State Park (11 miles further down Big Sur) where we hiked to McWay Falls for the sunset.
Zab Zab Thai Restaurant back in Monterey for dinner. This was my favorite meal of the entire trip. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it! It was jam packed but worth the wait!
There was a Plato’s Closet across the street where I got a nice Patagonia jacket for only $30 and, of course, a quick stop for ice cream at the Baskin Robbin’s next door.
Day 6…Monterey to San Francisco
We had to soak up our last day of California…so we start at Verve in Capitola, Santa Cruz (45 minutes away from our AirBnb).
After dropping off our rental car in San Francisco, we hop on a Jump bike and head to Fisherman’s Wharf for In-n-Out (best thing to order: a double double with animal fries).
Jump bike back across the city stopping at Alamo Square to see the Painted Ladies, a beautiful set of buildings with amazing architecture and ornate colors.
Continued our Jump bike adventure to Golden Gate Park. This is a lively park full of bikers, scooters, walkers, athletics, and lounge-ers. Fun buildings are scattered throughout such as Bison Paddock, Stow Lake, and the Japanese Gardens. You could spend all day here! We watched a roller skate party!
We ended our loop of Golden Gate Park at Haight Street (Whole Foods is the marker that begins the Haight). Haight is full of unique shops such as music stores, vintage fashion, tarot readings, and hole-in-the-wall restaurants.
Parada 22 has great Puerto Rican food and is located in Haight district.
AirBnb in San Francisco $250 *for two
AirBnb in Santa Cruz $140 *for two
AirBnb in Monterey $160 *for two
Rental Car $415
Flight ATL to SFO $500
Food, souvenirs, etc. $300
(Originally posted by Lane Carrandi at Broek in Wonderland - follow her adventures!)