When I was young, my family didn’t go on many vacations. I was introduced to the absolute wonders of traveling by my husband, who insisted that we take an “epic road trip” for our honeymoon. Oh, and it should be done in a convertible, he said.
For a girl with little to no travel experience other than lazy beach vacations, I was nervous, to say the least. Where should I even begin to plan a trip like we envisioned? How would we get around? Would we be able to eat good, local food, or would we end up in tourist traps?
It was my first try at planning a trip sight-unseen, and I only had a few days of vacation to work with, so we decided to drive the coast of California. My husband and I each picked our “top priority” city – for me it was San Diego, for him it was San Francisco – and we planned the trip between the two cities.
When planning a trip with limited time, it’s easy to convince yourself you can do 100 things if you simply maximize your time. The problem is, you really can’t – and you shouldn’t try to. If you’re a planner like me, you’ve written down all of the sites you want to see and the restaurants you want to try. But if you plan too much in too tight of a time frame, you lose the option to just enjoy the sites, linger over wine, spend an extra hour walking the beach hand in hand, or take the scenic route home. And by scenic route, I don’t mean jumping on the bus in the wrong direction and losing two hours on your way back to Coronado from La Jolla Cove. Although, that could happen, too.
Now on to the good stuff – the highlights of our trip. We began in San Diego and spent two nights at a resort on Coronado, which was beautiful. Despite a few detours we did make it to La Jolla cove (pictured above), which I HIGHLY recommend to anyone visiting San Diego. We swam in the 70-degree Pacific Ocean alongside a few other brave swimmers while dozens of seals sunbathed nearby. We roamed the Gaslight district and laid on the beach. We strolled through residential neighborhoods and took a water taxi across the beautiful Coronado Bay. I could have spent another three days exploring the city, but the next leg of the trip was calling.
Quick tip: if you’re renting a car one-way it can be much more expensive than dropping off and picking up at the same location. Consider picking up your rental car from the airport lot, and find out if your hotel offers a free shuttle service to the airport – ours did and it saved us a $45 cab fare.
We drove 570 miles in two days, and stopped in several cities. One of my favorite things we did was to stop in Paso Robles to do a few wine tastings. It was 10 am, and the only place we found open at that hour for tastings was a small vineyard called Castoro Wine Cellars. My husband and I sat down at the bar and were greeted by a friendly woman who figured out we had no idea what we were doing within 30 seconds. She laughed along with us as she taught us the ins and outs of tasting wine, offering us food samples that paired well with the wines. It was an incredible experience in a beautiful part of the country, and I would go back in a heartbeat.
During the drive in Big Sur – the views are INCREDIBLE, in case you haven’t heard – we found a few absolute gems thanks to recommendations from a friend who’d done the trip years earlier. First, we hopped out of the car in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and hiked down for this view.
Next we pulled into a small roadside restaurant called Nepenthe. Coffee, cheese, fruit, and this gorgeous scene were laid out in front of us as we indulged ourselves for an hour at their outdoor tables.
When we made it San Francisco, we spent our days walking miles and miles through the city. We did take a trolley tour, which I loved, and spent a morning at Alcatraz. Touristy? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely.
At the end of the trip, my husband (a graphic designer by trade) put together a video with the song that had become the anthem of our road trip. We took photos and video on our Canon Rebel T2i and mixed in a few shots from our iPhones. It was an incredible keepsake from our trip, and puts me right back into that California state of mind. You can view it here.
Have you driven the California coast? What were your favorite activities? Let me know in the comments!