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California Road Trip in 9 Days

Guest post by ccatts

Map tips: each color represents a different day. Click a marker to learn more about the spot, and click the star in the map header to save the entire map under Your Places in Google Maps.

We flew into San Francisco and stayed at different places booked through Airbnb and VRBO. Our general route was SFO – Napa – Yosemite – Kings Canyon – Sequoia – Paso Robles – Big Sur.

Day 1: San Francisco

  • Fisherman’s Wharf
  • Presidio of San Francisco
  • Fort Point National Historic Site
  • Painted Ladies
  • Haight-Ashbury
  • Golden Gate Park
  • Japanese Tea Garden
  • Chinatown

Took the ferry from Alameda into San Francisco in the morning. Went all over the city. Saw some seals/coffee/breakfast around the wharf. Walked to Presidio, found a farmer’s market w/ music and performers. Walked along the coast of the bay, 3.5 miles, to Fort Point which is directly under the Golden Gate Bridge. Beautiful walk. 2 hours at the fort taking in the history and scenery. Tried to catch a bus to Golden Gate Park, but had to do some walking to get there. Went to Alamo Square Park and had some coffee, walked past the Painted Ladies (the houses from the show “Full House”). Walked to Haight Ashbury. Shopped, sightseeing tour. Walked to Golden Gate Park. Japanese Tea Garden (cost), neat and worth the cost of admission.

Took metro to Tenderloin district to get some Vietnamese food. It’s the real part of San Francisco – stark contrast to the areas of the city that are rich. Lots of poverty, hard to see to be honest.

Walked to Chinatown, awesome. Cool murals, street art and shops. Cable car to Ghirardelli Square for a hot fudge sundae.

Alameda is great if you want to stay cheaply, 20 minute ferry ride and the Airbnbs are significantly less. Great old-school Tiki Bar on the drive from ferry dock.

Day 2: Muir Woods

  • Marin Headlands
  • Muir Woods National Monument

Took the Oakland Bridge to Marin. Didn’t go over on the Golden Gate b/c of the cost. Then went to Muir Woods. Very touristy but the scenery was amazing and everyone was respectful. Stayed on that side for dinner in Tiberon.

Day 3: Napa Valley

  • Frank Family Vineyards
  • Failla Wines
  • Golden Haven Hot Springs Spa and Resort
  • Solbar

Drove an hour north to Napa Valley.

Awesome, very expensive. Well worth it. Stopped in Yountville at Bouchon Bakery – wife said it was the best raisin croissant outside of France. Got coupons from hotel for free tasting at Frank Family Winery. Didn’t need reservations. Met a viner, said you should come with me to a second winery. Failla – best Pinot Noir of my life, got it for free. Stayed at the Golden Haven Resort & Spa. Payed to have an in-room sauna. Napa and the surrounding area is very famous for the minerals. Got a mud bath (included in price of the room).

Dinner at Solbar – food was Michelin-quality. The tuna tartare w/ black risotto and filets/ chicken dish. Amazing.

Day 4: Yosemite National Park

5-hour drive from Napa to Yosemite. Finished Harry Potter audiobook on the way, great way to help the time pass quickly. Stopped at Tuolumne Meadows – got out and hiked around for a little bit. There are Airbnbs in the park, but you’re still 45-60 mins away from the actual valley floor. We stayed in Mariposa in a shared house.

Day 5: Yosemite National Park

  • Four Mile Trail
  • Glacier Point

Drove to the park/valley floor. Did the 4-mile Trail, brutal. Uphill the whole way, but totally worth it. End up at Glacier Point. Was closed because of fire, but opened up while we were on the hike and it was packed at the end. Car door to car door 8 hours.

Day 6: Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Kings Canyon is very different than other National Parks, because it’s pretty much dessert. Really craggy peaks, almost reminiscent of the Dolomites in Italy. General Sherman, in Sequoia, is the largest tree in the world by volume. Not the tallest, but largest. Really nice time hiking around. Lots of driving around this day.

Stayed in Airbnb in Templeton, about 3 hours from Sequoia National Park.

Day 7: Paso Robles

Spent the day in Paso Robles, tons of wineries and great food. Right by Templeton. Much cheaper than Napa. Quaint town. Idyllic setting and affordable.

Day 8: San Luis Obispo to Big Sur

Stopped in San Luis Obispo (college town, cool, but frustrating to find parking). Drove up Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway, or PCH) to get to Big Sur. The iconic drive is from the North to the South, so we were going against that. Made sure to do that on the way back.

Lots of trailheads along the way, see cars pulled over at random spots. Gave it a try, ¼ mile hike led to a grotto and waterfall. Lots of families driving around. 

Day 9: Carmel-by-the Sea and Monterey

Big Sur bakery – 5-stars. Excellent. Tons of views and hiking opportunities. Did a little rock climbing/scrambling, too.

Drove through Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea. Stopped at the Monterey Aquarium – $50 pp, just got a picture from the outside. Saw some sea otters by the pier.

Continued driving for another 2 hours to San Francisco for our flight out.

One of the best trips of my life.

Traveled in August 2018

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