California was made for driving trips. Stunning coastal highways, epic scenery and enough to see and do along the way to create a truly diverse experience. It’s no wonder so many people opt to explore the Golden State on a California road trip.
In this case, we began our journey from San Francisco. It’s a great starting point due to the location and frequency of flights. We set off to experience some of the most beautiful historical properties, natural beauty and farm to table dining California has to offer.
San Francisco to Napa Valley
From San Francisco, we headed straight for Napa Valley with a stop to see the giant redwoods at Muir Woods National Monument.
Hiking through an ancient old-growth redwood forest
Up and up we went, navigating the switchback roads that lead to the forest, which are not for the faint of heart. Most of the redwoods in Muir Woods are 500 to 800 years old, and the tallest tree stands at 79 metres (258 feet). These majestic giants are awe-inspiring.
Luxurious and historic accommodations
We opted to stay at the Vintage House, which is one of two luxury hotels located at The Estate. The property is a 22-acre village within a village in the pedestrian-friendly town of Yountville. Here you’ll find a place called Vintage 1870. Originally part of the 149-year-old Groezinger winery, it is now home to 23 boutique shops.
Restoration Hardware recently renovated and furnished The Vintage House. Beautiful gardens and water features surround it.
For some additional pampering, be sure to visit the Spa at the Estate. We spoiled ourselves with a relaxing first-rate massage in the privacy of one of five luxurious spa suites. The suites feature an indoor and outdoor fireplace, a Swiss experience shower and soaking bath.
Wine tasting and grape stomping
We were fortunate enough to be in Napa Valley during grape harvest season, otherwise known as “the crush.” We visited the Grgich Hills Estate Winery for an informative tasting and even had the chance to do some grape stomping of our own.
For one of the most exquisite dining experiences in Napa Valley, be sure to check out the multi-award-winning Lucy at the Bardessono Hotel and Spa. Executive Chef Jim Leiken meticulously selects each item for the menu. Dishes are inspired by the garden located just outside of the kitchen door.
After a few glorious days in Napa Valley, we headed down the coast to Monterey.
Visit one of the best aquariums in the world
Here we planned to visit the world-famous Monterey Aquarium, widely regarded as one of the best aquariums in the world. Part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the waters just off the aquarium’s decks are home to their own array of marine life. Don’t miss the amazing sea otter exhibit. The otters all came to the aquarium as rescued animals and are no longer able to survive in the wild.
Stop for a spot of golf
If you have time, and you’re an avid golfer, you might want to consider a quick stop at the Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel and Spa on Del Monte Golf Course. The large resort is ideal for groups and families and offers two pools, tennis courts, close proximity to downtown Monterey and more.
Next up was Santa Barbara. It’s often referred to as the American Riviera thanks to its Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, beautiful beaches, renowned culinary scene and wineries aplenty. It’s not hard to see why so many people fall in love with the city after even a short visit.
Head out on the self-guided wine trail
If wine tasting is on your agenda, Santa Barbara’s Urban Wine Trail, a self-guided trail of 20+ tasting rooms pouring Santa Barbara County wines, is a must. Many of these tasting rooms are found in the aptly named Funk Zone. It’s 12 square blocks of art galleries, wine tasting rooms, craft breweries and unique shops. We particularly enjoyed The Blue Door, selling an array of vintage and modern home goods.
Don’t miss a meal at Convivo Restaurant and Bar at the Santa Barbara Inn, an award-winning restaurant serving Italian dishes using Santa Barbara’s best local ingredients. The outdoor terrace (complete with gas lanterns and a fire feature) is an ideal backdrop for a memorable meal.
Visit a historic mission and a wharf with a view
While you’re in town it’s worth visiting Mission Santa Barbara. Founded in 1786, the Mission is one of the city’s most picturesque landmarks and houses a community of Franciscan Friars. Set on 12 acres of landscaped grounds, the Mission is also home to a museum, beautiful church and a gift shop.
We also enjoyed a visit to Stearns Wharf, California’s oldest working wharf. Go for amazing views of the Pacific Ocean and there’s a great selection of little shops and a handful of restaurants for fresh seafood.
Sometimes, where you stay so perfectly represents a destination, you don’t want to leave the property. This was the case with La Quinta Resort and Club in the greater Palm Springs area.
Stay at the Hollywood favourite Playground in the Desert
Located in Coachella Valley, set beneath the Santa Rosa mountains, this classic casita-style resort is a must for anyone wanting to experience a favourite vacation retreat of old Hollywood. The resort spans 45 acres of beautifully manicured grounds. Here you’ll find a lovely spa with top-notch therapists and a peaceful courtyard for relaxation. There are also 21 tennis courts, a whopping 41 sparkling swimming pools and eight excellent dining options. In addition, with five championship courses to choose from and the PGA West Golf Academy–La Quinta is a golfer’s paradise.
Take the resort’s complementary history tour, which takes place every Saturday at 9 a.m. Listen to stories of Tinseltown icons and see where they used to stay in what was once dubbed the Playground in the Desert.
Eat where Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Bette Davis and Ginger Rogers once did
Although we enjoyed all our dining experiences here, there is something very special about Morgan’s in the Desert. It’s La Quinta’s signature dining venue which is under the direction of Executive Chef Jae Ho Bang. Walter H Morgan invited Hollywood’s elite to dine in his restaurant in the desert in 1926. Many famous entertainers including Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Bette Davis and Ginger Rogers (to name just a few) have graced the lounge and dining room of Morgan’s. You can still feel their presence today.
No visit to southern California would be complete without a trip to the classic and iconic Hotel Del Coronado.
Stay in a historic seaside hotel that’s hosted many presidents and famous figures
We were fortunate enough to spend a few nights here which was the perfect way to end our California adventure. This historic seaside hotel—built in 1887—is one of America’s largest wooden buildings. The hotel has hosted many presidents and famous figures.
We loved our beautifully appointed, ocean view room in the iconic Victorian building. I would recommend staying in this section of the hotel to experience real nostalgia.
Meet the hotel’s most notorious phantom Kate Morgan on a ghost tour
This resort is also known for its ghostly encounters. Taking the Legendary Tour that brings to life the resort’s rich heritage, local legends and most notorious phantom, Kate Morgan, is a must.
Choose from seven fabulous restaurants including Sheerwater for fresh-caught local seafood and ENO for wood-fired pizza. There’s also a beachside taco shack and out of this world ice cream at the on-site shop named Sundae’s. If you happen to be staying over a weekend, feast your senses at the lavish Sunday brunch in the Crown Room.
Unwind on Coronado Island
If you can tear yourself away from the resort, head out to explore Coronado Island. The area is known for its beautiful beaches, laid back vibe, beachfront boardwalk perfect for strolling and endless opportunities for getting active on the water.
From wineries and beaches to world-class restaurants and epic ocean views, a well-planned California road trip offers a multitude of memorable experiences that will last a lifetime.