As you may already know from my Instagram or as you will soon know from this post – we recently did a little California road trip, including San Francisco, Yosemite, Big Sur (driving down highway one) and Los Angeles! I wanted to share some details of what we did on the trip, and suggestions on what I would change if I did it again.
On Saturday we flew into San Francisco and dropped our luggage off and started off on our busy day. We were staying at a pretty basic hotel in Fisherman’s Wharf area, which I think was a great location, and I would definitely recommend. Many sites say to stay near Unions Square, which is great if you want to shop but it is pretty far from everything else in my opinion!
The first day we rented bikes (There are rental places all over. We found a Groupon deal that worked out well). We rode all along the bay, stopped at a cute little cafe (the Warming Hut), enjoyed a great lunch sitting out by the water and then rode over the Golden Gate Bridge. This is normally where people turn around or go to Sausalito to catch a ferry back – but not us, we decided to go on a really long journey. We rode our rental bikes up a huge hill, so we could get a gorgeous view back at the city and the Golden Gate bridge from Hawk Hill. This was breathtakingly gorgeous, but in the end, we rode over 25km this day and we were absolutely exhausted.
This night we planned on taking the cable car to the Painted Ladies, or at least close enough and walking the rest of the way. We didn’t know the times of the table cars, missed the sunset, so we just rode the cable car own to Union Square and walked around a little. If you want to shop, Union Square is great! We didn’t have time for shopping – only a quick Target run (there is a target right by Union Square!!). That night we dined at Wayfare Tavern, which had an incredible atmosphere and great food! You have to book ahead as this is a really big hot spot, and was really busy!
The second day, we got up early and took an Uber to the Painted Ladies. We arrived at about 8am, and no one was there so we got some gorgeous shots as the sun was still rising.
First, I definitely recommend using Uber around San Fransisco, what I didn’t realize before visiting, was all of the hills, so even if something looks close, the hills are very steep. Second, is visit the Painted Ladies either at Sunrise or Sunset. This is an off peak time for people, and it worked really well for me – thanks to Julia Engel from Gal meets Glam for that advice, as well as the dinner advice the previous night!
We then attempted to go to Mama’s for breakfast, but we got there and there was an really long line!! We decided to walk to Boudin Sourdough Bakery for breakfast, which was a great because this was on our list of places to visit. Then we walked to Fishermans Wharf and visited the Sea Lions at Pier 39.
What I would recommend:
Spend one day exploring the city, do everything you want to do, like Boudin Sourdough Bakery, Coit Tower (pictured above left), Levi Square, The Original Ghirardelli Shop at Ghirardelli Square, Painted Ladies, etc.
The second day, pick up a car, go over the Golden Gate Bridge (Note you need to pay to drive back across the bridge on the way back, not on the way out of the city), drive up to Hawk Hill, take in the gorgeous views. Drive to Black Sands beach (pictured below left), pack a picnic and enjoy it at the beach. Then drive on to Muir Woods (pictured below right). Definitely plan to spend a decent amount of time at Muir woods, we really didn’t plan enough time. Note you need to pay to get in.
The third day of our trip we drove to Yosemite. We didn’t research enough about the valley and village before. There are certain parking lots that you can park in overnight, most of them are day parking anyways. Also, check the times that things open and close, as we cut it close to the closing time for the Visitor Centre, where we needed to get our pass. The Visitor Centre is a great place to find out a lot of information, but it does take some time to figure out where you are going.
If you are planning on camping back country, you need to get a permit, which you can get ahead of time, but we didn’t request it far enough in advance. Luckily, they save 40% (I think?!) of the permits for day of/walk-ins. At this time of year, it isn’t really a concern, but in the summer I imagine it would be! Also, it is really important that you don’t leave anything scented in the car: food, soaps, lotions, etc. because you don’t want a bear breaking in to your car! There are rentable canisters as well as bear lockers to store your stuff in.
TIP: download google maps to use offline. If you search a place like Yosemite, or anywhere really, you can download the map to use offline. This was great for us, because we have Canadian phone plans, and it would be expensive to use a roaming plan. Also, theres really bad reception in Yosemite, so google maps won’t work very well without doing this. You can also make lists, and save places to the list. Before our trip I made a California list, and all of the restaurants and touristy places I planned on going to, I saved.
We used a company based near Yosemite called CampCrate, where we were able to rent and have our camping gear shipped to us.
They helped us plan, and send us the perfect itinerary. They sent us videos on certain items of the equipment that we would need to know how to use before the trip (Camp Stove and Water Filter). They also helped us figure out what we needed to pack and know ahead of time. Such an amazing company idea! Totally saved us from hauling camping gear from Toronto.
The first night we parked in the wrong spot, but the right spot was the Trailhead parking lot. Then, we set up camp in the Backpackers campground, which is located behind North Pines Campground. If you search this on google maps, it will show up.
This really helped us, because we then knew what we needed to run to the store for. There is a store in Half Dome village that has everything. We did a Target run before we left for Yosemite, but we probably didn’t need to do this. Also, something we didn’t realize is that you need to carry cash because you need to pay to camp in all of these campgrounds.
The store also carries firewood and a lighter, which was great because we didn’t plan on making campfires, but it totally made the nights more fun. It got dark very very early, so it was really nice to have light from the fire.
The second morning was a little slow going while we figured out what to do. We finally figured out we needed to take the free shuttle to camp 4, where we were advised to Hitchhike (legal within the park) up to Glacier Point, which was an hour drive from where we were. A lovely couple from Tennessee picked us up. Once we got there, we had a quick lunch and took in the views, and then began to hike uphill, in the sun and heat to Sentinel Dome. That was definitely exhausting! We took in the views there an continued on.
|Photo from Google Maps, Trail is outlined in brown, from Glacier Point to Pohono Trailhead|
I was following the trail on Google Maps, and I could see rivers and streams that were marked, but when we got there, they were dried up, so we had a little bit of a scare that we would run out of water. Luckily after 8-9 miles hiking, we found a big river and set up camp there for the night. Once the sun started to set, it got cold very very quickly! We woke up a few times in the night freezing cold, having to zip the sleeping bags around our faces, or slide right down into it covering our faces. When we finally got up at 8am, it was still freezing and there was frost on the ground! We think that the huge temperature range we experienced was because of elevation, and we were in a small valley as well.
The third day, we packed up and set out hiking again, this day we thought there would be downhill, but we did have quite a bit of uphill still, then a lot of steep downhill on gravel and jagged rocks. The trail seemed to never end, we kept thinking we were closer and closer to Tunnel View, but it took a while. It was supposed to be about 8-9 miles again this day, but we think it was a lot longer. There were also lots of little tiny flies that wouldn’t leave us alone for a few miles. Finally, we made it to Tunnel View, rested, took in the view and then attempted to hitchhike back to the village. We weren’t able to get a ride all of the way back, but we did make it to a shuttle stop, where we could get a ride back to our car. We went and had a big pizza in the village, and then drove around the Valley Loop to take in some iconic views that we didn’t have time to appreciate before. Then, that night we set up again in the Backpackers Campground again for our final night of camping – much warmer than the previous night, it was incredible the difference.
Hwy One, Big Sur, Carmel:
We then continued the rest of the journey, the next top was Big Sur. Our hotel was in Carmel, but as there was a road closure in Gorda, we needed to drive down to the closure and back up to Carmel in a day. We stopped at Rocky Point Restaurant for lunch, and enjoyed a delicious lunch and views. We then drove down Highway One, all the way to the road closure.
What was nice was the signs marked along the road letting us know about all of the Vista Points to stop at. I also used Google Maps quite a bit to see what else was around. Music blasting, windows open, the smell of the fresh air was amazing. That night all we could think about was showers and lying down, so we relaxed and then went for a late dinner in Carmel – not the best of ideas because everything was closed but one Mediterranean restaurant called Dametra Cafe. Beautiful decor and great food, you felt like you were transported out of the country – plus it was someones birthday and all of the tables got up and were singing and dancing for about 10 minutes. Very unique experience.
The next morning we had to get on the road pretty early, but we managed to stop at the Tuck Box for breakfast, which had been recommended to me, and it was amazing. Probably the best waffles we have had, plus there was such a unique history behind this tea shop and it’s design. They were also able to tell us about the other fairy tale style cottages in Carmel, so we could do a little walking tour before we left.
We planned to drive around Big Sur, and back onto Highway One, but the coast was really foggy! You couldn’t see anything, so we decided to take a more direct route to Los Angles. We arrived at our AirBnB and it was absolutely incredible, the most unique apartment building I had been in before. You walk into the lobby to rich European styles and colours you would expect in a villa, with a water feature and a scent. There was a courtyard with a big harvest table and little lights hanging above, and an olive tree imported from Italy, and a few hanging teardrop chairs. There was a rooftop lounge, and also a pool with built in speakers etc. I was feeling sad we didn’t actually live there by the end!
The first night in LA, we went to a really cool rooftop restaurant and bar called Perch, which had amazing ratings and it definitely lived up to them. Then, we want to a Toronto Raptors vs LA Lakers basketball game. Really cool experience and not something we would normally do, but we had a great time, and the Raptors won!
The next morning we did a Starbucks run on the way to the Hollywood Sign. We took some pictures there, and then continued our walk to Griffith Observatory.
We then quickly changed and went to a really nice, highly rated lunch spot called Cecconi’s in West Hollywood, and from there walked down to Rodeo drive. Then, we went to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which was very busy but nice to check out all of the stars there. Then, we decided to go to Santa Monica, walk along the beach and pier, then watching the sun set. Very gorgeous setting!
Our last night, we decided not to do anything fancy, we went back to our incredible AirBnB, order Uber Eats (Fresh Corn Grill and Yogurt Stop – so delicious!! We ordered Cookie Dough and Brownie Shakes), hot tub and relax. Perfect end to our trip!
Biggest tip and what totally saved us: Downloading all of the different maps we needed from Google Maps app. All of the cities and routes we needed to drive. We never had to turn on our data the entire trip because we had everything organized and downloaded ahead of time!
Also, something I love doing is making a one or two page summary of all of the key points for each day. Flights, car & hotel details, tourist sites, restaurant reservations etc, and I carry it with me so I know we are hitting everything we want to and making the most of our trip. Maybe too organized for some, but that’s just me!
Map of our driving route: