Go Explore California: San Francisco, Big Sur, Napa, and More

Duration : 1 Week

Total Driving Time : 14 Hours (approx)

Total Cost: $ 2336

 

Day 1 : San Francisco, CA

What do you think of when you think of San Francisco? Crisp ocean air, hills lined with streets, cable cars, good food? I am pleased to report San Francisco has all those things, and much more. 

We flew out of Dallas to arrive in San Francisco around 10 am, the perfect time. Shout out to Virgin America, our flight was great: direct, comfortable cabin and CHEAP. 2 round trip tickets cost us a mere $212, $270 when you count the checked bags and a meal. Heck of a deal. 

We hopped on the BART ($8.25 ea) for transportation from the airport to our hotel (The Mosser) in Union Square. After a quick survey of our surroundings, we decided to get to work. 

First point of interest? The Golden Gate Bridge. 

Just kidding. Quick detour. In order to get around the city, we opted to make use of the public transportation, which turned out to be an excellent choice. Not only has San Francisco kept their historic cable cars in use to escort you around the city, they have made it very affordable. A purchase of a $20 pass let us use any form of transportation (bus, cable car, train) to get from point A to point B all day. Depending on your stay, you can can buy a one day, three day, or week pass. All very affordable and all very convenient. 

OK - back on track. The Golden Gate Bridge. 

I mean what is there to say about the Golden Gate Bridge? Let's be honest, you have probably already seen it at least once. It's beautiful, sprawling, and surrounded by ocean. If you're up for it, you can walk across at no charge, which we did, until we got about halfway and opted to turn around. The park surrounding the bridge itself is abuzz with tourists, picnickers, and everyday San Franciscans. It's beautful, and if you have not seen it, I highly recommend it.

For me, the real fun was actually GETTING to the Golden Gate Bridge. Using our all day transportation pass, we hopped on the historic Market and Powell cable car and set off. Partially open to the air, you're free to sit inside in the cabin, outside, or to stand on the edge and hold on. I, of course opted to stand. The operator was more of a tour guide and encouraged pictures, questions, and whatever else you had to throw at him. The ride took us through the heart of San Fran to the old Ghiradelli Chocolate factory, where we would catch a bus to the Golden Gate. Awesome experience. 

Best Part of the Day

The city itself. I loved it. It's vibrant, beautiful, and lively. I noticed a certain buzz in the morning that couldn't help but energize me. On top of that, the people were incredibly nice. Like not just normal nice, but went out of their way to help you nice. Twice people stopped us on our way to the hotel to ask if we needed help getting somewhere. Totally unwarranted. I am from Texas where people are notoriously nice and even I was surprised. 

Photo of the Day

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

 

Day 2 : Big Sur, CA

Another Quick detour. I wasn't completely forthcoming on "Day 1". We actually spent a day and a half in San Francisco. The morning after we saw the Golden Gate, we caught the 8:45 early bird Alcatraz Tour. This was also excellent and highly recommended. The best part was the free audio tour. If you are a history buff, you can't miss this. Ok...day 2. 

After our aforementioned Alcatraz tour, we picked up our rental car ($140 at Enterprise for one week...yes seriously) and headed south on Highway 1 to the town of Big Sur. I hate to ruin it for you early, but this was the most beautiful part of our vacation. If you have not seen Big Sur or been on Highway 1, make this a priority before you die. Pictures can't capture the beauty that is the California Central Coast. It's breathtaking. Every turn looks like the scene out of a movie. Our 3.5 hour drive from San Francisco to Big Sur turned into a 5-6 hour drive because we had to stop and just gaze in awe of the sights. Seriously, I can't stress this enough. You won't believe how beautiful it is there. 

Anyway, we drove, stopped, gazed, talked about how beautiful it was, then drove, stopped took pictures, then drove some more. We stopped at the Bixby Bridge, took pictures, explored, then moved on and stopped again at the next jaw-dropping sight. This continued for 6 hours, with meals and pee breaks in between of course, but this is pretty much all we did until it became dark and we arrived at the hotel. Sound boring? Uneventful? It wasn't in the least. Even as I write this, I am in awe of that place. 

The next morning, after waking up to THIS, we drove to Julia Pfeiffer Burns Park to go hiking. We opted for the 4.5 mile Ewoldsen Trail, as it was recommended as the best all around trail in the area. It, of course, did not disappoint. The trail was lined with beautful redwoods that were accented by steep cliffs and vast elevation changes. A lot of fun, great sights, but seemed substantially longer than 4.5 miles. I wouldn't have changed anything about the hike, but just know going in to it, it's quite the hike. 

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Best Part of the Day

Did you read what I wrote? The views! Breathtaking and awe-inspiring.

Photo of the Day

Taken on my iPhone. Props, Apple. 

Bixby Bridge

Bixby Bridge

Day 3 : Carmel-By-The-Sea

After Big Sur, we did a 180 and headed back up Highway 1 to Carmel-By-The-Sea. Again, the drive itself was breathtaking. We actually stayed in Carmel Valley, which is east of Carmel-By-The-Sea. Both we great. Carmel Valley is a sleepy town with great restaurants and beautiful treed rolling hills. Downtown Carmel is, well perfect. Manicured everything. Everything in place. Perfectly cute shops, the smell of coffee in air, fresh flower adorning every corned. Perfect. We spent the afternoon exploring shops and just walking around. Couldn't have been better.  

Best Part of the Day

Exploring the city. It's was fun to look at the homes and walk around. The whole town seemed very small, quaint, and comfortable. On a side note, I ran into Basecamp founder and NYT Best Selling Author Jason Fried walking with his family in the streets of Carmel-By-The-Sea. Very cool. If you have not check out his book, ReWork, I highly recommend it. 

Photo of the Day

Sorry, the only photo we took of Carmel-By-The-Sea/Monterrey Area was of this gas station :(

Sorry, the only photo we took of Carmel-By-The-Sea/Monterrey Area was of this gas station :(

Day 4 : Napa/Sonoma

The word "Napa" has a certain air about it. "I'm going to Napa" says "I'm refined. I like mahogany wood. I own expensive socks". Just to me? Ok. Well, we went to Napa. Actually, correction. We drove through Napa. We went to Sonoma. It was...expensive. The actual town of Sonoma is charming, but honestly, I felt like I had been there before. OK restaurants, OK shops, all more expensive than a normal town. The best part? The winery we visited. (Here is where you say "naw duh, dummy"). After cashing in my 401k for some scrambled eggs, we took a trip to Benzinger Winery, a fully organic and natural vineyard. We opted to take the $25 wine tour, which  included a full tour of the facilities with commentary, a few sips of their different wines, and a visit to the tasting room (aka, the part where you buy their wine). Overall, a great experience that lasted about 45 minutes. Well worth the $25 for an out of towner. The vineyard itself was what you would expect; picturesque and lovely.  

Best Part of the Day

The booze! Ahem, I mean delicious wine. I wished they would have provided more "complimentary" tastings, but the wine they did let us sample was out of this world. 

Photo of the Day

Benzinger Winery

Benzinger Winery

Day 5/6 : Mendocino, CA

"Mendo" as our Airbnb host corrected us in Sonoma. From Sonoma, we again drove north to the town of "Mendo". Our Airbnb was actually in the very small town of Elk, CA. And when I say "small" I mean very small. Not in a bad way, but a "I think like 12 people live here" kind of way. The Airbnb was great, best of our trip, but driving there at night was a tad difficult. No cellphone service combined with being in the middle of what appeared to be the Blair Witch Project forest had my spidey senses tingling. But as morning would arrive, my anxiety proved to be a product of my wild imagination. It's a lovely area.

Elk, CA

Elk, CA

Mendo was beautiful, of course. The town is picturesque, such much so that they have filmed several movies and TV shows there. We arrived in February, which, unbeknownst to us, is the off-season for the town. Everything was either closed until March or opened in mid-afternoon. Luckily, a local coffee shop was open, so we were able to get a good breakfast with some coffee. From there, we visited the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse.

The town of Mendocino

The town of Mendocino

Best Part of the Day

Point Cabrillo Lighthouse. Very cool old lighthouse that has been well preserved. There is a lot of cool history that goes along with the lighthouse that kept me interested for an hour or two. Also, we spotted a whale breach the water a few hundred yards out in to the ocean! Sorry, no pic. 

Photo of the Day

Day 7 : Bolinas, CA

I'll be honest, Bolinas was not on our list of "must visit" places in California. As chance would have it, they had what appeared to be a great Airbnb for substantially cheaper than what we could find in San Francisco. Bolinas is about 45 minutes north of San Fran, so we opted to lodge there. Nice town. One or two eateries, beach, charming school house. Located next to Stinson Beach, which was nice (see below). Good for a few hours. The majority of our day was spent in Sausalito, CA. I don't know anything about Sausalito other than it is in close proximity to San Francisco, has some very cool houses there, and seemed to have a large number of boating and sailing enthusiasts (lots of boats). Again, we hit the town in February, which is the off season. The town was pretty sleepy, even in the middle of the afternoon. Even still, we found a great seafood restaurant and chowed down of some authentic clam chowder and lobster bisque. Definitely worth getting out and checking out if you are in the area. 

Best Part of the Day

Stinson Beach and the seafood in Sausalito.   

Photo of the Day

Stinson Beach

Stinson Beach