Salty air, sunscreen and sunbaked earth, yeah it smells like summer. There’s a simmering anticipation and a reckless abandon for all things routine. Freshness, infinite excitement and a complete sense of content envelope you as you cruise down Highway One. The windows are open letting the warm air hug your skin and your favourite songs are playing in the background, the twinkle of laughter and spatter of talk dance with music and the sounds of the outdoors. This is summer.
The coastal California road trip is one of the most iconic road trips in America, and it’s easy to see why. Starting in San Diego and working our way up to San Fransisco we stopped off at all the major destinations in about 2 weeks. Here’s a list of the best places to visit if you have time to do it all!
Sunset Cliffs – Although its technically not allowed, you’ll soon see it’s a local hotspot for cliff jumping and picnics alike.
Sunset National Park – If you’re looking for a more secluded adventure spot, swim along the Sunset National Park Cliffs, just be cautious of the high tides. Check out how to get here in my last post on San Diego’s Secret Beaches.
Mission Beach -A great spot to hire a bike and cruise along the water front. Make sure to stop for ice creams, a walk through the fun park, or a quick dip in the ocean.
If you’re only in LA for one day, and don’t have much interest in the iconic tourist sites like Rodeo Drive or Hollywood Boulevard then here are some other fun activities for you:
Runyon Canyon – A hiking hotspot amongst LA locals with dusty trails and city views, it’s a unique sight to see.
Griffith Observatory – A great spot if you’re into astronomy, and it’s located near Runyon Canyon so you get both done in half a day!
Venice Beach – Here you can stroll the shops, swim and watch street performers. It’s weird, quirky and different from anywhere else in Cali. Be warned, don’t take anything just handed to you from street sellers because they’ll expect money in return. If you stick around to watch street performers they will persistently hassle you for money.
Santa Monica Pier – Another iconic beach front spot to visit. It can be extremely busy in summer but there are plenty of great restaurants and a beach front walkway near by.
Sleepy coastal college town with a great Mexican restaurant called Los Agaves
San Luis Obispo County
The town itself is a unique combination of quaint and lively – a small community feel with big personality, and plenty of quirky shops, restaurants and bars to go along with it.
Batch – Stop here for the best ice cream sandwiches you’ll ever eat!
Farmers Markets – If you’re there on a Thursday they have a great night farmers markets in the middle of town. It’s full of local food, fresh produce and great street performers.
Bubblegum Alley – Yes, it really is an alleyway full of other peoples old gum, and yes, it’s both disgusting and amazing (733.5 Higuera St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401, United States).
Bishops Peak – An easy hike for a great view of the town.
Los Osos National Park – Roam the mega sand dunes and swim at some of the great beaches dotted along the coast line here.
Paso Robles – Spend an day wine tasting in this up and coming winery region. It differs from Napa Valley in that these wineries are willing to risk creating new mixes and ways of producing wine as apposed to the more classic approach used in Napa Valley.
Brown Butter Cookie Company – An amazing local cookie house with plenty of sweet, chewy treats for the road!
Ruddell’s Smoke House – Just around the corner from the Brown Butter Cookie Company you’ll find an amazing smoked fish taco shack. Grab a taco and a beer and head down to the beach for a good meal.
Sea Glass Festival – If you’re visiting in the beginning of March, check out the annual festival where all the locals from surrounding areas come together to sell their art created form sea glass found at the beaches.
Hearst castle – Take a trip back in time at this amazing castle built by William Randolph Hearst in the 1940’s . You can now explore the grounds yourself, taking guided tours and learning about what went on in this glamorous hill-top homestead. Keep an eye out for the castles imported Zebras, you’ll find them roaming the hillside.
Sea Lions – Here you can pull over and see the sea lions and their pups resting or fighting on the beach. There’s a parking lot on the left near the entrance to San Simeon, it’s hard to miss.
Stay at Best Western on the water front. It ‘s reasonably priced and right on the water with a restaurant, gym, laundry, pool, fire pits and friendly staff.
Los Padres National Park
Salmon Creek – A great stop off to stretch your legs. Go for a quick hike to the caves at the top of the falls, then finish of with a swim! Watch out for poison oak.
Plaskett Creek – Spend a night or two camping at Plaskett Creek. The ridge line offers spectacular views and the beach is a great place to spend they day relaxing.
Big Sur National Park
Red Wood Forest – Check out the ancient redwoods whilst you meander through the forest. If you’re lucky you’ll spot a creekside coffee shop where you can sit on chairs in the creek whilst you sip away.
Bixby Bridge – The famous Bixby Bridge, which is featured in numerous movies is a great place for a photo opportunity.
Pfiefer Beach – You’ve probably seen pictures of this beach all over the internet, and let me tell you it’s just as beautiful in real life. Unfortunately you can’t access the beach itself, but it’s still a beautiful place to check out.
Carmel By The Sea
Straight out of a fairy tale this quirky little town is filled with art shops, cafes and boutique hotels right along the water. You can easily spend a day exploring and eating your way through the town.
A great place to stop for lunch on the harbour. Look out over the yachts whilst you wine and dine the afternoon away.
Spending a few days at Yosemite is an absolute must do! It’s a beautiful national park with plenty of hikes, waterfalls, creeks and wild life. Check out this article for more info on Yosemite.
Although I never made it here because our car broke down in Yosemite, a lot of local friends say Lake Tahoe is absolutely beautiful with crystal clear waters. It’s best to visit the Californian side if you’re wanting a more rustic camping get away and the Nevada side if casinos and going out are more your style.
Golden Gate Bridge- I’d definitely recommend hiring a bike and riding along the water front and over the bridge to Sausalito. You can stop here for lunch before hopping on the ferry back to Fishermans Wharf with your bike.
Yellow Cars – Hire these funny little cars and zip around town. You are sure to have a good laugh whilst still checking out the sights.
Alcatraz – Going to San Francisco and not visiting Alcatraz is a crime in itself. Don’t be a rookie, grab yourself a ticket to check out one of the worlds most famous prisons.
Painted Ladies – The colourful buildings this city is known for is a great picture spot.
Cable Car – You can’t come to San Francisco and not ride on one of their old cable cars. There’s plenty of routes to get you around town and the tickets are relatively cheap. Keep in mind they aren’t the fastest mode of transport so make sure you have plenty of time.
Fishermans Wharf – A must see spot on the waterfront with great food ranging from freshly caught seafood and world renowned Clam Chowder, to artisan cheese and delicate pastries.