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.
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)
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
Bonus Day Trips Outside the City
- Hike up to Muir Overlook and enjoy the views. You may even spot a few whales swimming around!
- 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)
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.
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.
- 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!