Northern California One-week Road Trip

Northern California One-week Road Trip

Northern California One-week Road Trip

Day 1…San Francisco

(Self-Guided Walking Tour of San Francisco via Practical Wanderlust with a few edits):

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.

Some local favorites in the Ferry Building Marketplace are: Cowgirl Creamery, Humphrey Slocombe, Paramo Coffee, or Blue Bottle.

Turn right out of the Ferry Building heading along the water towards Fisherman’s Wharf. Some stops along the way include The Exploratorium (fun museum), Pier 39 (seals), and other great photo ops!

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 walked along Point Lobos Ave to the Dutch windmill at Golden Gate Park, where we called an Uber to take us back to Castro.

We had an amazing Indian meal at Kasa! Highly recommend!

food in northern california

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!!

road trip

Picked up our rental car at Enterprise on 727 Folsom St. They had incredible customer service and gave us a free upgrade (White Mustang convertible)!

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:

  1. University of California Santa Cruz. Lovely campus. Quite vast and spread out.
  2. Wharf and Boardwalk. This is the tourist area where the famous rollercoasters are on the beach. Lots of shops and games and overpriced food!
  3. Downtown. Strip of shops including souvenir stores and coffee shops and restaurants. Quite touristy as well.
  4. 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!

road trip friends

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.

road trip to the redwoods

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.

northern california

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.

monterey road trip

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.

big sur, northern california

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!

Day 5…Monterey

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.

There was a Farmer’s Market in Seaside. We stopped and picked up some hummus and pita chips from Hummus Heaven! Best hummus I have ever had!

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.

green tea latte, northern california

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.

road trip and hikes in northern california

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).

lattes and coffee on a road trip

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.

road trip

Parada 22 has great Puerto Rican food and is located in Haight district.

Approximate Budget: 

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!)