As a very blessed mom of two small kids it is hard to get away for an extended period of time. My husband and I usually limit trips to 4 days so we do not put too much strain on our loving moms who volunteer to forgo sleep for 3 nights.
We decided to take our oldest who is currently 4 years old on a big girl trip to Northern California for my birthday this spring. Spring is an amazing time to go to California…unless you have an aversion to wildflowers and sea lions, but I mean who hates that?
I find that flying in SFO is the most economical for our budget and it is a great starting point for any trip north or south on Highway 1. This specific itinerary takes you from San Francisco to Big Sur and back all in 4 days!
Here is how we spent our trip:
- Day 1: Golden Gate Bridge, Half Moon Bay, Wildflowers, Shark Fin Cove, & Monterey
- Day 2: Monterey and Carmel (Hiking, wine tasting, beach time, sea lions, kayaking, and everything in between)
- Day 3: Road Trip to Big Sur
- Day 4: Redwood Trees then back to San Fran
Day 1 Details:
- Tip: fly in early to make the most of your time in California and save on airline cost!
- Stop at Baker’s Beach to get awesome views and photos of the Golden Gate Bridge
- Head out to Half Moon Bay for lunch. We decided to have lunch at the world famous Sam’s Chowder House and of course had to try the lobster roll. This restaurant has fantastic outdoor seating with views of the harbor.
- After lunch continue south on Highway 1 and enjoy the gorgeous views and wildflowers. In the spring months the fields are covered with yellow wildflowers. There are several spots you can pull over and take photos of them!
- My favorite part of the day was Shark Fin Cove!
- Right as you come out of the city of Davenport you will see some railroad tracks and more than likely a few cars pulled over on the side of the road. Unfortunately there are no signs so if you see a large rock formation coming out of the water, you missed it and go back!
- There is a small hike down to get on the beach. I will tell you that I had just had surgery but was able to make it up and down just fine and so was our 4 year old. It is a little steep but such a short walk that it is managable.
- Once you are down on the beach be sure to check out the cave! We were lucky enough to show up at low tide so we could walk in and out of the cave.
- There are tide pools which are fun for kids to explore and even a little waterfall.
- From Shark Fin cove head to Monterey ( FYI it is close to a 2 hour drive with traffic). (Side note: If you are starving you can always eat in Santa Cruz and explore the boardwalk). We decided to go get checked into our hotel and head to Cannery Row for dinner. My all time favorite restaurant in Monterey is The Fish Hopper! The food is fresh and delicious but nothing is better than the views and sitting right outside on the water with a crisp bottle of wine!
Day 2 Details: Monterey and Carmel Highlights
I tried to put together a list of things you can do in Monterey and Carmel. Obviously it would be hard to do everything on this list in one day so pick whatever would bring you the most joy! If you are going between the two towns make sure to take the 17 mile drive! It costs $10 but it is totally worth it!
- Monterey Aquarium is really amazing. I have to admit I was not that excited about going, but my daughter was! There is so many great exhibits and things for all ages to enjoy. The living kelp exhibit was probably one of my favorites because it let you see what was happening in the ocean in Monterey Bay.
I suggest finding lunch after the Aquarium either in Monterey or possibly Carmel. Both cities have great places to eat! We really like Schooners in the Monterey Plaza Hotel for lunch just because of the views. You can eat and watch the otters play in the water!
- Carmel is just a short drive from Monterey and a great place to explore or go to the beach. Unlike Monterey, Carmel has white sand beaches with large waves. The town reminds me of a fairytale village or a scene out of Shrek! We chose to spend our afternoon on the beach and then headed to the Cypress Inn for happy hour and appetizers before coming back to Monterey.
- Another great option if you are in the Carmel area is to go explore Point Lobos . There are several easy hikes and great scenery!
- Once we were back in Monterey we headed down to the jetty to see Sea Lions! They sleep on the rocks at the end of the jetty by the Monterey Plaza Hotel. You sometimes can see them sitting on rocks right by the sea wall as you walk down to the jetty. The best part is you can hear them “honking” from the beach!
- Our last tip is to rent a kayak and get up close with the sea lions and otters! Unfortunately our daughter was not old enough to do the kayaks, but we have done them in the past and it is worth the money! Check out Adventures by the Sea to rent a kayak or even a SUP bike. We decided to rent the bike this time and road up and down the trail to Pacific Grove and of course took an ice cream break!
Day 3: Check out our blog post: Monterey to Big Sur: A Dream Drive for all the tips and details of a drive to Big Sur!
Day 4: Henry Cowell Red Wood State Park
This was by far one of the most unexpected highlights of our trip. Our map originally took us to a smaller park entrance that looked closed. Luckily we saw a sign that gave us directions to the “big trees.” I mean why would I want to go see little redwoods? To save you some time here is what you need to put in your GPS to see these beauties:
101 Big Trees Park Rd. Felton, CA 95018
The park has a $10 entry fee so make sure you bring a little cash. There is about a mile walking trail through the redwoods with marked signs. You get a map that gives you facts about the different signs so you can give yourself a self-guided tour of the forrest. Pack a light jacket because it as cold in the trees!
After the park (which takes about an hour to walk through slowly) we got back in our car and headed back up Highway 1 to San Fran. I know it sounds silly with all the great food in Northern California but we ended up stopping at the Taco Bell for lunch in Pacifica. It was right on the water and we watched over 100 surfers in the water riding the waves before heading to SFO to fly back go reality.
I hope you find our itinerary helpful to planning your Northern California getaway! There is so much to do but it is amazing how much you can accomplish and see in just 4 days!