The Ultimate 2 Week California Road Trip – Week 2


Road Trip Week 2: Big Sur to Sonoma (+Napa)


We made it all the way across the country from D.C. and had two more weeks to enjoy our road trip before we made California our permanent state for a few months. We decided that the best way to get to know our new place was to explore it fully, so surrounded by towering mountains and glistening ocean views we journeyed North along the coast in the name of discovery. Here’s a roundup of the top spots you too can check out on the ultimate two-week California road trip.

Big Sur

See and Do

  • This phenomenal winding and cliff-clasping stretch of Highway 1 is not to be missed on your road trip! Stop at overlooks along the route to see some of the most remarkable vistas in the country. You’ll make your way through different micro climates while driving through fog, sun, majestic redwoods and mountains.
  • Check out Ragged Point Inn, a lovely resort with ethereal views of the coastline scattered throughout the property.
  • Visit Pfeiffer State Park ($10 entrance fee) for camping, hiking, seeing McWay waterfall and Pfeiffer Beach (check here for current alerts and fire conditions in the area)
  • Marvel at Big Creek Bridge (get a great view from the Southern end)

Stay

  • During peak season (April to October) many camping sites, cabins and lodges are fully booked and if you can find one pricey. Make sure to book your stay in advance for these dates. Try Airbnb or Hipcamp to find the perfect spot.
Manu taking in the beauty of the beach- Big Sur

Manu taking in the beauty of the beach

Enjoying nature- Big Sur

Enjoying nature

Scenic rest stop at Ragged Point Inn- Big SUr

Scenic rest stop at Ragged Point Inn

Breathtaking views- Big Sur- The Ultimate road trip

Breathtaking views

Big Creek Bridge- Big Sur

Big Creek Bridge

Vistas along every stop on this lovely drive- Big Sur- Best road trip

Vistas along every stop on this lovely drive

Manu happy for the sun to reappear- Big Sur

Manu happy for the sun to reappear

Bountiful panoramas- Big Sur

Bountiful panoramas

Basking in the California sun- big sur

Basking in the California sun

Monterey

See and Do

  • This gorgeous waterfront destination is the perfect place to enjoy the ocean. Kayak or SUP out to see marine life such as otters and sea lions in their natural habitat. You can also book whale watching tours from here.
  • Visit the famous Monterey Aquarium– a great activity if traveling with kids. (Although we found it a bit pricey for us there are numerous ways to get a discount on admission including AAA discounts, military discounts, the San Francisco City Pass or discounts through your hotel)
  • Walk along Cannery Row and get a sense of the rich history that inspired Steinbeck’s famous book of the same name.

Stay

  • If you like the rush of finding last-minute deals as much as we do, try booking on the same day of arrival. We used Hotwire for Monterey and got a sweet room at the Intercontinental right on Cannery Row for a good price. This place had a beautiful courtyard overlooking the water with fire pits and a stunning view!

Eat and Drink

  • Try Zum Sushi for some delicious food and a great beer selection.
We survived through all the twists and turns!- Highway 1

We survived through all the twists and turns…

We made it to Monterey

…and made it to Monterey

Signs along Cannery Row reminding us of the town's history

Signs along Cannery Row reminding us of the town’s history

Great dinner and beer at Zum Sushi

Great dinner and beer at Zum Sushi

Sweet last minute hotel deal at the Intercontinental

Sweet last minute hotel deal at the Intercontinental

Yummy nightcap by the fireplace on the water

Yummy nightcap by the fireplace on the water- Monterey Intercontinental

San Francisco

See and Do

  • See the classics: Golden Gate Bridge, The Painted Ladies, Lombard Street, China Town and ride on a cable car.
  • Walk around downtown and visit Union Square Park.
  • Visit Fisherman’s Wharf for magnificent views of the bay. Be sure to visit the Maritime National Historical Park to get a glimpse of historic vessels.   
  • If you’re planning a visit to Alcatraz book your tour way ahead of time (months ahead during peak season).
  • Discover the vibrant Castro District and pop over to see the hip Haight-Ashbury neighborhood.
  • For a little nature within the city visit Golden Gate Park. Spend the day exploring the Botanical Garden, Japanese Tea Garden, museums and more.
Golden Gate Bridge on a foggy day

Golden Gate Bridge on a foggy day

Views from the Golden Gate Vista Point through the fog

Views from the Golden Gate Vista Point through the fog

"selfie" fun + mishaps- At golden gate bridge

“selfie” fun + mishaps

Driving through the bridge

Driving through the bridge

4th of July fireworks at Fisherman's Wharf

4th of July fireworks at Fisherman’s Wharf

The Castro District

The Castro District

Charming vintage cable car

Charming vintage cable car

Vibrant streets

Vibrant streets

A visit to the Botanical Garden

A visit to the Botanical Garden

Taking time to appreciate the small things

Taking time to appreciate the small things

Caterpillar up close

Caterpillar up close

Near the lake

Near the lake

Patiently waiting for his next meal

Patiently waiting for his next meal

Bonus Day Trips Outside the City

Muir Beach

  • Hike up to Muir Overlook and enjoy the views. You may even spot a few whales swimming around!
Fun at Muir beach

Fun at Muir beach

Hiking to the top of the trail

Hiking to the top of the trail

Views on the way up

Views on the way up

Resting and whale watching after the hike

Resting and whale watching after the hike

Gorgeous dog enjoying his exercise met us at the top

Gorgeous dog enjoying his exercise met us at the top

Muir Woods

  • Take in the sights, smells and sounds while hiking through Muir Woods!  Get ready to feel like you’re taking a trip through an enchanted forest (cost $10- See how we saved with the NPS Annual Pass)
Muir Woods

Muir Woods

Enchanted by these magnificently massive trees!

Massive giants!

Walking through an enchanted forest

Walking through an enchanted forest

Fun with trees...

Fun with trees…

The span of time as told by a tree

The span of time as told by a tree

Sun peeking through

Sun peeking through

Sonoma

See and Do

  • Although not technically on the coast, Sonoma is close enough from San Francisco and such a gorgeous place that you cannot help but visit! Start your exploration in the town square, here you’ll find the visitor center and a lovely park surrounded by cute shops and restaurants.
  • Famous for its wine – do not miss out on visiting the multitude of wineries and vineyards in the area.
  • Pack a picnic and visit the lovely estates at Benziger Winery. The Biodynamic Vineyard Tram Tour costs $25 per person and  includes a wine tasting.

Eat and Drink

  • For a refreshing smoothie or a divine salad visit Sunflower Caffe.
  • For dinner try the delectable food at The Girl & The Fig. Check out their great wine and beer selection and be sure to get your hands on the delicious Pliny the Elder IPA while you’re there.
Walking around Sonoma town center

Walking around Sonoma town center

Benziger Winery- Road trip to Sonoma

Benziger Winery- Road trip to Sonoma

The wine cellar- a stop along the tour- Benziger Winery

The wine cellar- a stop along the tour

Bonus Trip to Napa

  • Located less than an hour from Sonoma, Napa Valley (also known for its great wine) is worth the drive. Visit Chateau Montelena Winery, one of the filming locations for the movie Bottle Shock.  
  • Saunter along the river towards the Napa Mill. Enjoy a relaxing meal or wine inside the restored buildings dating back to the early 1900’s.
Napa Mill

Napa Mill

Cool outdoor sculptures- Enjoying a walk around town in the afternoon

Cool outdoor sculptures- Enjoying a walk around town in the afternoon

Hummingbirds everywhere!- bird sculpture

Hummingbirds everywhere!

Quick Tips

  • With so much natural beauty along the California coast it serves as the perfect place to camp. Check Reserve America or Hipcamp for open spots and reservations.
  • Other apps/sites we often use on the road for last-minute deals: Hotel Tonight, Booking, Airbnb
  • Plan ahead or book last-minute with Airbnb. Click the link below to save on your next stay!

airbnb logo 2 blue

 

Route: San Diego to Sonoma

◊ Have you driven down the California Coast? What was your favorite part of the trip? Let us know in the comments below!