Used my vacation days this year with my girlfriend Katie to hop over to the west coast for an amazing week, sandwiched between two weekends to make the most of the time. Every extra day counts, right? So I’ll go through our itinerary and recommendations first, then pictures at the end.
Our trip: Friday, July 31st – Sunday, August 9th
> SF Friday morning to Sunday morning
> Monterey Sunday
> Monday Big Sur (day trip), Santa Barbara Monday
> Tuesday Irvine
> La Jolla Wednesday and Thursday
> SD Friday and Saturday
Something like this trip that’s on California’s travel site. Visit Cali – Highway One Classic road trip. The driving and hopping around really wasn’t bad at all, we felt so adventurous. Going down the coast from SF to SD is like a 12 hour drive, but taking just those 3 stops made a huge difference, and were great experiences.. Let’s get into it.
The City. Where to begin? We stayed in North Beach, super close to Fisherman’s Wharf and all that. Mason Street Airbnb, small room but were barely there.
Some things we did that I’d recommend doing:
(no particular order..)
- Mission: Taqueria Cancun followed by Southern Pacific Brewery
- Tupelo’s for going out
- Golden Gate Park: Academy of Sciences, see the buffalo roaming, head down to the beach, and just about everything else in the Park.
- Walk Embarcadero and North Beach, ride the cable cars
- Haight Asbury… caught the bus through here.
- Pier 39
- Muni bus passes
- Basically Free Bikes – rent them, and go to the Sports Basement for store credit. Didn’t do this, but heard it’s a thing, so check into that.
- Buena Vista cafe brunch. Amazing Irish coffee and sourdough.
- Fisherman’s Wharf. In-and-Out Burger. Here’s some menu secrets.
- Land’s End and Baker Beach
- Mission Delores Park!
- Ocean Beach
- Muir Woods
- North – Sonoma and Napa wine tastings
- Next time: Alcatraz (book days in advance). Bonfire on the beach. Angel Island Ferry to Tiburon. Corona Heights for sunset. Big Basin Redwood Park, Yosemite, Reno trips. Off the Grid food trucks.
One night in Sea Side, about 5 minutes outside of downtown Monterey. The Bay and beaches are definitely nice, but the piers felt gimmicky to me, and the town was quiet. Granted it was a Sunday night. Another Airbnb. These guys made us dumplings and fresh eggs in the morning so that was awesome.
Some things to do..
- Monterey Bay Aquarium – Whale watch with wine/cheese/dinner. Aquarium sometimes has music and performances.
- Point Lobos State Reserve
- Cannery Row (where the aquarium is) is a quick touristy place, lots of restaurants
- The Wharf in downtown Monterey, also kinda touristy.
- For dinner we had pizza and wine on the beach with a great panorama view of the bay. It was awesome.
- Heading out: Carmel is fun to walk around on their main street (Ocean Ave)–beach access at the end of the street. Lots of shops and cafes.
- Bonfires on the Beach: Carmel Beach, Del Monte Beach
- Food: Cafe Trieste, Good breakfast place near the aquarium called First Awakening. The Cheese Shop.
Definitely a highlight of the trip. The different parks and entrances are a bit confusing so make sure you map it out. Map above should help. You’ll want to be sure you hit at least Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park (river gorge was sweet) and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Point Lobos was cool, too.
- Our route: Seaside —> Bruno’s Market and Deli —> Point Lobos —> Bixby Bridge —> Pfieffer State Beach —> Big Sur Bakery —> Pfieffer Big Sur State Park —> Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park —> Elephant Seal Vista Point —> Santa Barbara
- Limekiln for camping
- Big Sur River Gorge—Pfeiffer State Park, 3rd lot then follow signs for trail leading to Gorge (less than a mile hike, takes about an hour, challenging hike)
- We were told the Kon Tiki Inn “is perfect” and there’s also the InterContinental.
- Bruno’s Market for tri-tip sandwiches for picnic (in Carmel)
- The Piedras Blancas rookery
- Nepenthe (restaurant) – great view.
- Solvang on the way down, for you Scandinavians.
- Also on the way out, stop at the Elephant Seal beach. You can’t miss it, there’s signs. Those things are massive.
- State Street is the main strip. Outside shopping, restaurants, music; good feel for SB.
- East Beach
- Sandbar for drinks/Mexican
- Blue Agave for going out.
- Cajun Kitchen breakfast/lunch
- To Eat: The Boathouse or Brophy Brothers – both close to the beach.
- On the way out – drive through Malibu. Santa Monica pier
- Venice Beach – we ate at Danny’s. Had a solid happy hour with cheap local beer and $2 fish tacos!
Irvine / Laguna Beach
Tuesday night, stayed with family near the Spectrum Center. Not a bad location at all! Relatively close to LA, Redondo Beach, Long Beach, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, and Laguna Beach. We went to Laguna’s Victoria Beach. The beach was awesome. Basically all locals, huge waves, and some cool rocks. Highly recommend.
A highlight, and I’m pretty sure my retirement spot. Stayed with some new friends off El Paseo Grande, basically on the beach for Wednesday and Thursday nights, heading to SD for the weekend. Everything here just felt right. Perfect weather, the nicest people, surfing, paragliding, kayaking through caves with seals… So. We actually did do surfing and paragliding! Surfing a lot tougher than expected, but I got up! And paragliding was life changing. Started with an iPad recording my death statement but I ended up actually flying the thing! Highly recommend.
- Fly Torrey Pines. After doing it, I’d say paragliding trumps hanggliding. More flexible to move around and less wind reliant. An awesome experience, took about 2 hours total. The flight itself was about 20 mins.
- To Eat: Brick and Bell coffee/pastries … George’s Rooftop Lounge (awesome)
Friday and Saturday night. We stayed in an Airbnb off F Street, in the Gaslamp District. Went to Coronado Beach on day one, and Mission Beach day two. Mission had more of a Venice Beach feel, and Coronado more family friendly.
- Balboa Park. A lot bigger than you’d think. Rent Decobikes!
- Petco Park – nightlife during games.
- Stone Brewery, Ballast Point (3 locations with tastings)
That’s about it. We had one hell of a good time. Oh, and it’s rained almost every day in Georgia since coming back, so it’s easy to think about the West Coast-life every day… West Coast Best Coast is a saying?
Here’s some general trip tips in case you’re planning a California trip of your own…
- **Check with Costco or Sam’s Club for their car rental services. Saved us a bunch!
- Don’t really need a car in SF unless you’re planning some out of city trips, and don’t rent it at airport.
- Maybe the airport/location has a car that needs to get back to SD, too, always ask. If no, ask for the one-way drop off fee is waived.
- Good Resource: http://www.bnm.com/one_way_car_rental.htm
- Get a Safeway/Vons card! Sign up for their rewards. Seriously. You’ll save a lot.
More to come..
As always, let me know if you have any questions!