I have always dreamt of doing a road trip through California and this month I got to tick it off my bucket list. It was honestly the holiday of my dreams and one of my favourite adventures to date. I got to experience once in a lifetime opportunities and take in some of the most stunning scenery I’ve ever seen. If you’re planning a similar trip then I hope that this guide helps you out!
We landed in Las Vegas as the flights were much cheaper than directly to San Fran. We used this opportunity to experience what Sin City had to offer. I have to admit it wasn’t my cup of tea, but it was certainly an experience and I am glad I saw it!
What To Do:
- The Grand Canyon. We took a sunrise helicopter tour over it with Sundance Helicopters. It was absolutely breath-taking, a must-do.
- A Vegas Show. We went to the Cirque de Soleil O show, which focuses on water. It was one of the best shows I have ever seen in my life! Phenomenal.
- Tao. An amazing Japanese restaurant in The Venetian hotel. Their lychee martini is delicious and they have an extensive vegan menu too!
- The Vegas Experience. Wander down the main strip, explore the old town, gamble in a casino (responsibly!), go to a pool party and explore the extravagant hotels! It is like nothing you will see anywhere else, completely surreal and an amazing spot for some people watching!
I could have spent a lot longer in Nevada, hiking through the Grand Canyon as well as exploring the other surrounding national parks. I could quite easily never visit the main city of Vegas again though, it was just too shallow and commercial for me!
We flew from Las Vegas to San Francisco and picked up our car at the airport (a mustang of course!). We loved this city! It is so diverse with its beaches, rolling hills and bustling city streets. It is packed full of character and we throughly enjoyed exploring it.
What To Do:
- Alcatraz. This historic attraction isn’t to be missed. This island a mile off the mainland of San Francisco is a old high security prison, complete with military fortifications, a cell house and a lighthouse. Oh and a friendly gull colony! The audio-tour around the cellblock is by far the best audio-tour I have ever done. Book in advance to avoid disappointment.
- Hire a GoCar. These little yellow cars come with a GPS guided tour which takes you to the cities most popular spots including the Golden Gate bridge, Fort Mason, Bay Bridge, The Presidio, Baker Beach and Lombard Street. The most fun way to tick off a whole host of attractions in a short period of time.
- Cycle to Sausalito. This nearby town, just across the Golden Gate Bridge, is full of character. Chill out and absorb the laid-back vibes as well as the stunning views.
- Eat! San Fran has an amazing food scene. Check out my healthy food guide to the city here. Also, don’t miss out on browsing the Ferry Building market place, full of independent producers and quirky delicious treats.
- Take a Tram. These beautiful carriages are dotted across the city and are a bunch of fun. You can ride one along the water front or through the city centre. Hold onto the bars and lean out the sides to get the best view!
- Explore on Foot. We loved just wandering around the city and strolling through the residential areas. Our favourite spots included Chestnut Street and Pacific Heights.
- Picnic In The Park. Be sure to head to Golden Gate Park. This expansive green space is the perfect location to relax and have a picnic in the sunshine!
Stay safe. We wandered through the Tenderloin and down Mission Street at night, and felt very uneasy. It turns out these are two of the most dangerous parts of town. Avoid them at night if you can.
Bonus: Napa Valley
We drove out of San Francisco in the early hours one morning to take a sunset hot air balloon ride over Napa Valley (with Napa Valley Balloons). It was one of my favourite experiences of the trip. Truly stunning.
If we had more time, we would have loved to have spent a full day and night in Napa Valley, exploring the wine region and perhaps doing a tasting too. Next time!
San Francisco to Carmel Road Trip:
We spent a day driving from SF to Carmel and stopped off at some gorgeous spots. You don’t want to miss them!
What To Do:
- Half Moon Bay. Stop off at this small coastal town. Explore the downtown area or head to the beach for a paddle on the white sands.
- Pescadero State Beach. A stunning beach where a winding river meets the sea. Gorgeous panoramic views.
- Santa Cruz. A relaxed surfer town packed full of healthy hot spots. Try the famous Cafe Gratitude for lunch, pick up snacks across the road at Nut Kreations and browse the aisle of the epic New Leaf whole foods shop.
- Shark Fin Cove. This spot isn’t sign posted so keep your eyes peeled, its worth the effort. The most beautiful secluded cove I have ever seen with an aptly named “shark fin” shaped rock formation.
- Monterey. Head for dinner in Monterey, stroll along Cannery Row and look out across the crystal blue bay.
Monterey & Carmel
We loved the laid-back country vibes of Carmel and the small costal town of Monterey. Be warned that the costal wind can carry a chill in these areas so pack a jumper!
What To Do:
- Stay At Carmel Valley Ranch. They have goats that you can cuddle, enough said. Seriously though, we loved this hotel. It is set in a huge ranch complete with rolling hills and grazing deer. They serve smores over the fire every night. They have an organic garden and wooden swings hanging from the trees. The restaurant is fantastic. The beds are the comfiest I’ve slept in. The wifi is faster than in central London! It was the dream. My favourite hotel of the trip.
- Whale Watching. Monterey is known for having some of the best whale watching in the world due to a nearby submarine canyon. You’re pretty much guaranteed to see tonnes of whales every single day! We went with Discovery Whale Watching and saw blue whales, humpback whales, dolphins, sea otters and sea lions. It was epic!
- Visit Moss Landing. This coastal outlet is home to hundreds of sea otters. You can park up and be literally surrounded by them, lounging on the sand or floating in the water. It’s a beautiful sight!
- 17 Mile Drive & Pebble Beach. This iconic drive takes in gorgeous scenic views along the coastline. Take your time, grab a bench and look out to sea, you’ll most likely see some whales!
If we had more time in this region we would have loved to have hiked the area surrounding the hotel as it was simple stunning. Rolling green hills and deep valleys in every direction.
Wow!!! Big Sur was definitely a highlight of our trip. It is absolutely breath taking. I had to pinch myself on multiple occasions, the views are hard to fathom.
What To Do:
- Drive Down Highway One. This iconic road weaves along the coastline and has the most beautiful views. It’s hard to know where to look! Stop off at the regular look outs and be sure to not only gaze along the coastline but out to sea for whales and down to the beaches for sea lions.
- Big Sur Adventures. We sadly couldn’t drive down Highway One as the road was closed due to mudslides. However we did something even more epic instead! We hiked to the closed road and hopped on electric bikes. We then cycled along the peaceful car-free road; a once in a lifetime experience as the highway is usually so busy. We used Big Sur adventures bikes and stopped off at the gorgeous McWay waterfalls and Partington Cove along the way. It was an experience I will never forget. (This activity will still be available once the road opens, so definitely give it a go. I recommend booking in for lunchtime onwards when the sun burns off the clouds to give the best views!).
- Lunch With a View. Stop off for lunch at one of the costal restaurants along Highway One. We popped into Nepanthe. Perhaps not the highest quality food we have ever eaten, but damn the views were just insane.
- Bixby Creek Bridge. Take a break from driving at this gorgeous bridge and absorb the view. Not to be missed.
I would love to come back to Big Sur and spend more time here. It is packed full of campsites and hiking trails, which I am super keen to experience and explore. It is a haven for anybody who loves nature and outdoor activities.
As a nature lover I have always dreamt of visiting Yosemite National Park. Lets just say it surpassed my expectations in every way. It was honestly a dream come true. My two days there were two of the best days of my whole life. Yep, seriously. It is just incredible. I insist that you make time to go to Yosemite if you’re in California, we all need some time in the mountains to ground us.
Quick tip: On the drive from Monterey to Yosemite, stop off at the San Luis Reservoir. It is gorgeous, a great spot to stretch your legs and take in the views.
What To Do:
My recommendations for things to do will focus around hiking, as thats the main activity in Yosemite and it is the best way to see what this stunning national park has to offer. Here are the hikes we did, and the hikes we wish we did. We could only cram so much into two days!
- Upper Yosemite Falls. Park at Yosemite Lodge Day Parking and head up the nearest mountain following the trailhead signs for Upper Yosemite Falls. Brace yourself; this is the hardest hike I have ever done in my life, so only take it on if you’re seriously fit and up for a challenge. The views are so worth it though! On the way up you get amazing views across the valley, and at the summit you can sit beside the top of the waterfall and watch the water crash down thousands of feet of sheer rock face. I also recommend extending the hike an extra mile to get to Yosemite Point even higher up for the best views.
- Nevada Falls, Panoramic & 4 Mile. This hybrid hike combines three different trails to give what I think is the best hike in the Yosemite (someone who lives there recommended it!). Park at the bottom of the Mist Trail hike and head up to the top of Nevada falls. Then take the Panoramic hike across to Glacier Point . (Look out for a sneaky hidden path in this hike to Panoramic point, it isn’t signposted and you have to fight through overgrown bushes but its one of the best views in the park – and a great instagram spot!). Then head down the 4 mile hike to the bottom of the valley and hitchhike back to the car park (or walk an extra 2 miles). This hike totals 14 miles with the hitchhike or 16 if you walk back to the car. I cannot recommend this hike enough, it is absolutely INCREDIBLE. It will blow your mind. It isn’t half as strenuous as Upper Yosemite Falls but has even more views. Do it, I beg you!
We Wish We Did:
- Chilnuala Falls. This series of falls in the southern area of the park is much quieter than the other waterfall hikes in the park, which means you can often get to enjoy it to yourself. I was desperate to visit these due to the many pools you can swim in on the hike up to the top!
- Northern Yosemite. I was told on many occasions by locals that I need to check out the “high country” in Northern Yosemite and beyond. Apparently some of the best hikes are in this region with crystal blue lakes, sweeping valleys and expansive meadows.
- The Sequoia Trees. Because who doesn’t want to see a tree as wide as a truck?!
- Accommodation: Stay inside the park if you can, or as close as possible. We stayed at Tenaya Lodge which was perfectly located and had all the facilities you could ever need including a spa, gym and multiple restaurants (with vegan options!). They also offer guided daytime and sunset hikes if that’s your cup of tea!
- Check out the Yosemite Hikes website for extensive hiking guidance.
- Get to the park early. I mean early. We set off from our hotel at 6.30/7am to get to the valley by 8am. If you arrive after 9am you haven’t got a chance of getting a parking spot in the more popular areas of the park.
Yosemite isn’t a theme park. It is a natural wonder with natural dangers. Sheer cliff faces, rushing waterfalls and steep dirt pathways. Many people injure themselves or die in Yosemite due to irresponsible behaviour. Stay on the tracks. Read signs and abide by them. Don’t swim in waterfalls unless its stated to be safe (which it hardly ever is). Take more water than you think (we packed 3-4 litres per hike and a filter to use in rivers if needed). Wear sensible shoes with good grip. Slather yourself in sunscreen. Use common sense. Look after yourself!
I’m not going to lie, I had never heard anything about Santa Barbara so had no idea what to expect. I ended up falling in love with this relaxed beach town. It had such friendly local vibes and more healthy eateries than you could shake a stick at!
What to Do:
- Go To The Beach. In essence Santa Barbara is a beach town. Try to stay away from the main beaches. Instead, avoid the crowds by visiting the gorgeous Loon Point which is a 10 minute drive away. It is beautiful and little-known, so we had the whole place to ourselves!
- Eat Wholesome Food. There is a huge health scene in Santa Barbara. Try Backyard Bowls for the best acai in town, Pressed Juicery for vegan froyo, Green Table for a bazillion different matcha concoctions and Mesa Verde for the best vegan food I have EVER tasted. Trust me, just go. Even meat eaters would enjoy dinner there.
- Explore on Foot. This small town can be easily walked around. Head down the main street: State Street and over to the waterfront and pier. Stroll along the palm tree lined beach and be sure to pop into Plum Goods. It has been voted the best shop in Santa Barbara 6 years in a row and it has such an epic eclectic collection of goods. Plus it’s all eco friendly and fair-trade!
- Stay Central. We stayed at the Kimpton Canary hotel which was just behind the main street. It was one of my favourite hotels of the trip. Chic, minimal and yet cosy. Plus it has a great rooftop bar, perfect for sunsets.
We had such a short time in Santa Barbara and there was so much more we wanted to experience there. Visit the Funk Zone for evening drinks, try out the famous Urban Wine Tour and visit the many botanical gardens such as Lotusland.
LA was the final stop of our road trip and our opportunity to kick back, relax and tuck into some healthy food; our last chance to get back into our fitness routine before we returned to London!.
What To Do:
- Hit The Beach: LA is surrounded by amazing beaches. Head to Malibu to watch the surfers, stroll along Santa Monica pier and hire a bike to cycle down to Venice Beach. Personally, Venice Beach was my favourite coastal spot as it is pretty eclectic. A perfect location for some people watching.
- Hike: There are tonnes of hiking trails throughout LA. You might not have them to yourself like in Yosemite but they are still a great workout with awesome views. Hike through Griffith Park and up to the Observatory to get your dose of science, head up behind the Hollywood sign or if you fancy some celeb spotting then stroll through Runyon Canyon.
- Fuel Up: LA is the hub of all things health. There are juice bars on every corner! Our favourite spots to eat included Gracias Madre (book in advance), Hugo’s, Real Food Daily, Urth Cafe, Kreation Organic, Cafe Gratitude, M Cafe and The Butchers Daughter.
- Sweat It Out: Be sure to try some of the famous LA fitness classes. I enjoyed: 1) Rise Nation. 30 minutes of versa-climber hell. 2) Training Mate. 45 minutes of HIIT hell. 3) Barry’s Bootcamp. 1 hour of treadmill and weights hell.
- Shop: Head to the main shopping spots Rodeo Drive and The Grove if you’re feeling spendy. For health foods, you need to go to a Erewhon. Holy moley. What a shop, it is like Wholefoods on steroids!!!
- Stay in WeHo: West Hollywood is centrally located and right in the midst of the LA fitness scene. We stayed at Petit Ermitage which was hidden on a back street, it had quirky interiors and the most epic rooftop pool.
There are two things we wish we did:
- Took a celebrity tour. I know it sounds cheesy but apparently they are so much fun!!!
- Ate at even more food spots. I was basically in the health mecca and I needed to eat MORE of the epic healthiness! I was desperate to try Sun Cafe, Cinnaholic, and Plant Food & Wine.
Road Trip Travel Tips:
- ESTA. You need a valid ESTA to get into America. Just apply online prior to your trip, it takes a few minutes to do.
- Book a Mustang in advance if you can, we used Avis. Put the oldest person present as the driver as under 25’s will be charged through the nose.
- Have a basic itinerary, don’t leave it all to chance – some things book up weeks in advance e.g. Alcatraz and Big Sur Adventures. Personally, we roughly planned each location; booking hotels and key activities in advance, and then leaving lots of spare time to do whatever else we fancied once we arrived.
- Take clothing for all occasions. Coastal areas can be cold, learn from my mistakes and take more than one jumper!
- Comfy shoes are essential with all the walking you’ll be doing. Take a trusty well-worn pair.
- Get data for your phone. Either go with a good provider, I am signed up to Three which means I have free international roaming. Otherwise, unlock your phone and get a local sim.
- When doing long drives, factor in stop off time. You will want to have regular breaks to see sights along the way. Set off early in the morning to allow for this.
- Plan your road trip playlists and download them onto your phone, so you can easily play them on your adventures with our rinsing your data!
Honestly, this was one of the best trips of my whole life. I hope it inspires you to try something similar, and I hope that you guys have found this road trip guide useful! Let me know if you use any of my recommendations.
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