California is easily my favourite part of North America because its such a varied and unique landscape full of history. I loved the cities as much as the natural wonders here, and although I only visited for 3 weeks I definitely got around. Hiring a car is the best way to enjoy this state, but with numerous national parks, cities and experiences to take in, you have to plan the trip well to make sure it’s varied and you’re not spending too much time driving. Here are all of my favourite spots from my last road trip, ideal if you’re starting from San Francisco and don’t want to do too many long trips in the car. Pick and choose your favourites to create your dream trip.
1. The enchanting city of San Francisco
San Francisco is a charming city with a buzzing harbour and historic town centre with distinctive neighbourhoods like the Haight-Ashbury where the summer of love began in 1967. We took a boat ride out to Alcatraz Island, once home to a prison which it’s now possible to tour. Alternatively you can go purely for the views of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge, like we did. The manually operated cable cars are another great way to see the city and probably the last place on earth you can use them, so hop on one of the services that ends at Pier 39 where there’s plenty of tourist tat and tseals lounging around the dock that definitely steal the show. For a less touristy experience the area of North Beach/Telegraph Hill will reward you with a great atmosphere and delicious italian pastries. At night this town becomes a wonderland of restaurants and bars for every occasion and persuasion, it’s up to your to find the perfect fit. For novices SoMa is a great choice, the buildings may look drab but its the cultural hub of the city these days.
2. Wine Tasting in the Napa Valley
This is the perfect retreat for wine lovers as some of the world’s most premium wine is from this region. You can hike, bike and drive around the vineyards tasting a huge variety of delicious vines until your heart’s content. It’s not cheap though, and the best wineries book up in advance so make sure to choose where you want to go for tastings and your treat meal and book in advance. Find some of the best ones here.
3. The epic views from Route 1
The Route 1 coastal road is world famous as being one of the most beautiful, and I have to agree. The route takes you from San Francisco to the most scenic stretch known as Big Sur, which starts at quaint little Carmel and continues through to San Simeon. All along the way you’ll find the most glorious views and plenty of opportunities to stop for breath of fresh air or a hike if you fancy it. Bixby Canyon Bridge was one of my favourite stops, it affords some great photos if you go at the right time of day. Do your research before you go, it can be quite touristy and to find the best places to eat, sleep and rest you need to plan ahead as wifi isn’t great around here.
4. Walking with Giants in the National Parks
Sequoia National Park is home to the biggest trees in the world which my brother and I loved walking amongst and through. General Sherman is the most famous giant sequoia, too grand for a picture to capture in my opinion. There’s loads of great walks to do here through the forests and by the lakes, if you’re lucky you might even see some bears here!
Yosemite National Park is located in the Sierra Nevada and offers up 3 of the tallest waterfalls in the world, beautiful lakes and stunning peaks. Trekking is the main activity here and there are some immense summits to reach if you’re fit enough, if not there’s plenty of walks to suit all abilities.
5. Watersports and Tranquility on Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is a wonderfully peaceful lakeside town that sees plenty of visitors all year round. In the winter its the perfect ski resort as it’s so high up in the mountains, but in the summer it’s a playground for watersports and perfect for beach lovers than aren’t keen on sand, like me!
6. The other worldly desert of Death Valley
This is one of the hottest parts of the world and although it’s an incredibly hostile environment it’s a truly unique place to experience. Go early in the morning and don’t hang around, catch a glimpse from Dante’s view and get out before you melt!
Enjoy your trip and get in touch if you’d like me to work on the perfect itinerary for you, based on your interests and priorities.
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