California as a state has a lot to offer. It’s about 900 miles long (15 hours driving up or down the coast) and about 250 miles wide. There is no way to see it all in a short amount of time.
However, if you find yourself in central California, in the San Francisco area, there’s a lot to do nearby.
First of all, you’d be near Napa Valley in California Wine Country, just north of San Francisco. This region is beautiful (the landscapes, the vineyards, the towns) but in a very tidy sort of way. Everything is expensive and “luxurious” which definitely has it’s appeal but might not be the highest recommendation on my list.
About 2 hours south of San Francisco you can visit towns like Monterey, Carmel-by-the Sea are also beautiful but expensive. These regions are nice destinations if you have the means but they are not the most budget-friendly destinations.
If you continue down the coast you will make it to Big Sur. I personally fell in love with Big Sur, the views, the national parks and the contract between the two. Also, there are a lot of more budget-friendly options here (not to mention camping.. The rocky coasts are breathtaking but also sort of scary if you aren’t the most confident driver. I wish I had spent the night here but did not because I was traveling with my grandmother.
Overall, although I ended up in surpassing my budget on this trip, I can at least say it was worth it. Next time I will spend more time in Big Sur and make sure to plan my trip more carefully.
First of all, you’d be near Napa Valley (aka California Wine Country) which just north of San Francisco. This region is beautiful (the landscapes, the vineyards, the towns) but in a very tidy sort of way. Everything is expensive and “luxurious” which definitely has it’s appeal but is important to be aware of. You can find hot air balloon rides for about $200/person, tours of vineyards, wine tasting events, lots of fresh fruit and good food.
If you are traveling on a budget and restaurants seem too pricey, the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena offers great lunches.
Another important factor to consider is that the area is prone to forest fires. We went on a day where many places were closed due to power shortages and strong wings.
That being said, south of San Francisco you can visit towns like Santa Cruz, Monterey, Carmel-by-the Sea which are also beautiful but expensive. These regions are nice destinations if you have the means but they are not the most budget-friendly destinations. These towns also have high-quality food, beaches and quaint little stores if you like to shop. Monterey has become popular with the show Big Little Lies although some of the ocean views in the show are actually in Big Sur…
Speaking of which, if you continue down the coast you will make it to Big Sur (about an hour from Monterrey). This was definitely the highlight of my road trip. The views, the national parks, the cliffs along the coast… Big Sur actually stretches around 90 miles down the coast, so you’d only just be arriving at the entrance of Big Sur in an hour’s time from Monterrey.
One important tip: the rocky coasts are breathtaking BUT also sort of scary if you aren’t the most confident driver (the famous Bixby Bridge is narrow and 700 feet high!). Also best to drive slowly on foggier or rainy days.
However, I wish I had spent at least one night here! Unfortunately I did not because I was traveling with a friend . There is a range of possibilities of where to stay here: from resorts with views, to camping grounds, and everything in between so you can definitely find a place to stay that fits your needs and preferences.
Overall, although I ended up in surpassing my budget on this trip, I can definitely say that it was worth it.
Q & A
What would you have changed?I would have liked to spend more time to spend in each location.
Restaurant recommendations?Visit local markets.
Packing tips?Wear comfortable clothing.
Transportation Tips?Definitely rent a car.
Any surprises?How expensive everything was.
Booking details?I booked direct.