Essential Californian Road Trip Stops
You’re driving down along an epic coastal road in a convertible. The top is down, there isn’t a cloud in the sky, the ocean is crashing beneath you, and the wind is whipping through your hair. This doesn’t need to be a dream. In fact it’s an every day reality in California! You just need to make sure your Californian road trip takes in at least some of the best places! Here are our suggestions …
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Start your Californian road trip in the beautiful, hilly city of San Francisco – a city infamous for it’s year-round fog, cable cars, and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. Take a trip out to Alcatraz Island, once home to some of America’s most notorious criminals. Eat clam chowder out of a bread bowl on Pier 39, and walk or cycle along the Golden Gate promenade.
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Yosemite National Park
Hands down one of the most beautiful places in America, Yosemite needs to be on your California road trip. There is something for everyone. If you’re a hiker, make sure you apply for a permit for Half Dome well in advance. If you prefer to cycle, you can rent bikes in the valley, and if you’re a swimmer, the outdoor pool in Curry Village has the most incredible panoramic views as you swim. And if you’d rather just see the park from the comfort of your car, make sure you drive to both Glacier Point and Tunnel View for breath-taking views.
Accommodation ranges in the park from tents, cabins and caravans in the valley itself, to lodges and upmarket hotels. Alternatively, find a hotel or bed and breakfast in one of the small towns surrounding the perimeter of the park. To truly enjoy Yosemite, it’s worth setting aside at least 3 or 4 days to explore the park.
Yosemite is a three and a half hour drive from San Francisco via the CA-120 E and I-580 E.
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Just over an hour from San Francisco, Sonoma County is the largest producer of North California’s Wine Country. Home to 60,000 acres of vineyards and over 400 wineries, the area is internationally renowned.
Once you’re in Sonoma hire a bike, and cycle from winery to winery on a tasting tour. With 1400 miles of secondary roads and off-road trails, Sonoma County is a cyclist’s dream. Make sure you also make time to visit one of the numerous farmers’ markets. The region also has incredible zip lines, horseback riding, kayaking and hot-air ballooning.
Sonoma is an hour and a half’s drive from San Francisco via US-101 N.
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California’s state capital is a low-key hipster city, full of microbreweries, trendy boutiques and gastro-pubs. Local chefs have designed award-winning menus based on hyper-local ingredients, and the relationships between restaurants and the surrounding farms and ranches have become a norm of local dining.
The reconstructed Old Sacramento Historic District covers the area between the river and Interstate 5. The area is predominantly buildings from the 19th century, preserved or reconstructed to emulate Sacramento known by the Victorian gold miners.
Sacramento is an hour and a half from Sonoma, via the 1-80 E.
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One of the most expensive, and educated, cities in America, Palo Alto is home to much of Stanford University, and numerous tech companies, including Hewlett-Packard and Skype. It has also served as the incubator for Google, Facebook, Pinterest and PayPal.
Palo Alto is just 40 minutes south of San Francisco via the US-101.
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Quintessential California, Monterey is a beautiful coastal peninsula, 120 miles south of San Francisco. Stay in a beach-front resort, ride a horse along the sand, visit the aquarium, or explore the bay in a kayak. Try your hand at hang gliding, or visit Monterey Zoo.
Monterey is a two-hour drive from San Francisco via the US-101 S and CA-1 S.
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Repeatedly voted on of the top 10 destinations in the U.S., Carmel-By-The-Sea is a European-style village above a white-sand beach on the Pacific coast. Home to artists, photographers, writers and art enthusiasts, the village is a bohemian enclave, filled with art galleries. Home to the Carmel Association, the second-oldest art cooperative in the country, Camel has defined the art community for 80 years. It is the setting that inspired the poetry of Robinson Jeffry, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and the many works of Jack London and George Sterling.
Carmel is just 10 minutes south of Monterey along the CA-1 S.
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Derived from the original Spanish-language ‘el sur grande’, meaning ‘the big south’, Big Sur is a 90-mile area of the coastline from the Carmel River to the San Carpoforo Creek. The terrain offers stunning views, and is one of the most beautiful sections of the California State Route 1. Big Sur’s Cone Peak is the highest coastal mountain in mainland America, rising almost a mile above sea level, just three miles away from the ocean. The Los Padres National Forest is also home to Mount Carmel, Junipero Serra Peak and Ventana Double-Cone.
The most scenic route from San Francisco is just under 3 hours down the coastal CA-1 S.
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If you’re finishing your road trip in Los Angeles, spend at least one night in Santa Barbara. Set against the dramatic backdrop of the Santa Ynez Mountains, Santa Barbara has a Mediterranean-style feel, thanks to its white stucco building and red-tile roofs. This architecture and sea views have led to the nickname ‘the American Riviera’.
Santa Barbara is two-hours north of Los Angeles via the US-101.
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