Just this year, in April, I took a road trip down the northern coast of California. This was my first time ever experiencing a road trip, and I have to say that it was actually quite an adventure!
How this started was that my friend and I were supposed to drive down to So Cal for him to race a national motocross race and then go to some of the National tracks for fun. The week before our trip he tore his ACL and was not able to ride. So, instead of wasting our days off, we decided to do a drive down the coast of Northern California. (We we’re starting in Washington).
Day 1: The first stop on our trip was actually multiple stops along a beautiful highway that went right through the famous redwoods. It was not the typical thought of California since it was dark and cold, but it was amazing to see the massive giants, especially along the coast!
We went on a road tour of the Avenue of the Giants, which is along the 101 and down the California coast. All of the stops on the map were really cool. While coming up to the Avenue, we saw a huge rocky waterfall.
Day 2: We rolled into San Francisco around midnight and headed straight to bed. I had done some research and found a decent old hotel for $60 a night. Parking of course was horrible, but that’s the city for you!
When we woke up the first place we went to was the Palace of Fine Arts. It’s a beautiful building with a pond and park next to it.
The architecture on this building was marvelous with lots of details. From there it was a short drive on over to the Golden Gate Bridge look out point. We couldn’t walk or bike the bridge due to his ankle, but we did drive over it, which was just as cool!
At the lookout we followed a tiny trail that lead us down under the bridge and to an old base. It was pretty crazy to think that one of our military bases was hidden under the Golden Gate! I wish we could’ve toured it, but they were closed so we only saw the outside.
From there we drove to the Sutro Baths, which is an old native bath house that ended up getting destroyed by the ocean. The ruins are the only thing left, but it’s a beautiful view! Make sure to dress accordingly for this one because you will be walking across ruins surrounded by water.
There is a little hike next to it as well, which has a fantastic view of the ocean.
After a quick run to Starbucks we headed over to where we were going to spend the remainder of our day, Golden Gate Park. Who would’ve guessed that there was a big beautiful park with waterfalls and buffalo in the middle of San Francisco.
The park is so massive that we were unable to walk all of it, but luckily got to walk most of it! We started by seeing the Chinese Friendship Garden. You had to cross a stone bridge into the woods to come across it.
We then walked down to the music concourse where there were tons of people! It was such a beautiful little area, we sat and enjoyed it for a bit, wishing that we could’ve seen a show or concert there.
Just across from it was the California Academy of Sciences. This was one of the coolest places that I have ever been to! Do not let the name fool you! It is actually a huge science center with a tropical jungle, aquarium and a planetarium.
The tropical forest was AMAZING! There were butterflies everywhere and parrots flying around.
From there you take an elevator down to the aquarium where you got to see huge fish from the Amazon swim over you, cheetah print manta rays and turtles that are decades old.
My favorite though had to be the albino alligator. He was very interesting and a cool sight to see!
After the academy we took a long walk down to the Conservatory of Flowers. While the outside was quite beautiful, the inside did not have much to offer and wasn’t quite worth the $9. I would suggest just having a picnic in the field instead!
We ended up finishing up at the park earlier than we anticipated so we decided to go to Japan Town since it was not far from our hotel.
Of course if you’re going to go somewhere known for really celebrating their heritage, you have to try some traditional food. Our choice was to have ramen at Ramen Yamadaya. Heads up if you go, you actually check in on your phone and that’s how they know to bring you to a table!
It was absolutely delicious! They do have a rule though, you HAVE to use chopsticks, so if you don’t know how, you might want to practice! They had Japanese tea sodas that were to die for as well.
Japantown isn’t very large, but it sure has a ton of culture! We went down to the Peace Pagoda and went into the shopping center/mini mall. It is a must if you go!
They have a store like the dollar store, but much better! Besides fun Japanese Knick knacks, there was snacks, candy, kitchenware, desk supplies, crafts and everything else in between. I stumbled across the cutest Tiffany blue kitchen tools and had to buy them! They are actually great quality!
But, the main reason we went into the mall was to visit Uji Time, to get one of their fish ice cream cones! We were totally nervous because it was Japanese ice cream flavors, but they ended up being amazing! I got Hojicha Taiyaki with Nutella at the bottom. It was like a sweet tea flavor.
Day 3: Today was the day we had our big tour of Alcatraz! So we spent the day down on Fisherman’s Wharf. When down there, you have to start with breakfast at the Hollywood Cafe. It looks like a hole in the wall but actually is one of the best breakfast places in San Fran!
Then, of course we stopped by Ghirardelli and walked down the waterfront by the shops. There is a little spot down there where they have a bunch of ships and a submarine for you to tour, and it is totally worth it.
On our way over towards Alcatraz I found an great body care store with body scrub with salt from the Dead Sea. It was pricey but some of the best products I’ve ever bought in my life. It’s called Laline.
What’s so great about Fisherman’s Wharf is that it is never dull. There’s an old school “arcade” that you can go to and play tons of really old quarter games, peep shows and music players. It is totally a place to spend a lot of money.
Along the way we stopped by Pier 39 and got to see the sea puppies play around and push each other off the docks. There are so many of them it’s crazy! The little pier there isn’t too bad itself with fun little shops.
Around noon we finally got to head on our boat to Alcatraz. I had always wanted to go to the prison island because I find it to be fascinating! Plus, there is a rumor in my family that Al Capone used to date one of my great aunts.
Touring the prison was one of my major highlights of the trip, and I learned quite a bit. The audio tour was really awesome, because the former inmates told you some of the stories.
Since the tour took up most of our day, we only had a little bit of time left before we went to dinner. I took us through Chinatown to see all the best little shops and to get a few things I wanted. The Peking Bazaar is my favorite store there!
The gate is always a cool spot to start with and then you work your way down. I love looking at all the food and different products, because there was no way I would know what any of it is! The only annoying part is the gaudy expensive shops that absolutely no one goes to.
A really cool hidden treasure is behind Chinatown. I didn’t learn of it until after a previous trip to San Francisco, and I totally missed it! It is a little told called North Beach. It is pretty much a little Italy. (But don’t call it that, the locals get mad)
Since I am Italian, I had to get an authentic, traditional Italian dinner. Before we could do that, I had to stop and get my sweet tooth fix at the Baked Bear. It is essentially heaven in between a doughnut. AKA a super fattening version of an ice cream sandwich (but so worth it).
North Beach is not much of a culture shock like Chinatown, but it did have some beautiful Catholic Cathedrals throughout it. There were also Italian flags painted on all the light posts.
Dinner was at Sodini’s Green Valley Restaurant, and it did not disappoint!! I cannot remember what size ordered, but all I know is that the homemade pasta melted in my mouth and was soft like butter. The cheese was to die for and was handmade in Italy. A must.
Day 4: Monterey & Caramel. Out of everywhere on the coast, this was hands down the most beautiful spots. We took a popular drive in Monterey and stopped by the beach and Pebbles Gold Course. It was truly magnificent.
From the drive we went down the coast to Big Sur to see the famous bridge and all the beautiful scenery. Unfortunately, part of Big Sur was washed out, but the bit we did get to see was worth it.
Day 5: On our way out we stopped by the Caramel Mission. I have a need to stop at these beautiful places to see the beauty and history that they all have.
It was a long winding drive down to Santa Barbara, but we made it in great time and gave ourselves’ the whole day to explore the shops and the beaches.
It got surprisingly hot and I ended up having to buy shorts to bear the heat. Our lunch was at a fun little hipster place called GAO Taco. It was very organic tasting if you understand that.
The shops were built beautiful with a Spanish architecture to it and was vibrant. We ended up going to their well-known ice cream shop, which had the creamiest ice cream I’ve ever had! It was called McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams.
The beach at Santa Barbara was stunning. It was much too cold for me to stay and enjoy, but it was worth relaxing at for a bit. My friend stayed and took a nap in the sand, while I went on to find a beautiful mission that was in the center of town.
Sadly, it was closed when I got there, but I easily admired its’ beauty from the outside.
Day 6: I realized how bad Los Angeles truly is. The traffic was insane, but I was determined to get a drink that I have been wanting to try for years. It is from a shop called Little Fluffy Head. The drink is called cheese tea. No, it was not like actual cheese, but more like a thick cream. I got the cookies & cream drink and slurped it down in a matter of seconds. This is a trend that totally needs to grow bigger.
Of course we had to visit Hollywood. It is something that everyone has to do once in their lifetime. It wasn’t very exciting, just staring at the group finding names. Luckily we found our favorites.
The cool thing about the strip though is that there are people dressed up and a lot of times they don’t have you pay for photos!
My FAVORITE part of this whole entire trip was what came next. I drove to Beverly Hills and got to walk down and around Rodeo Drive. This was the coolest thing ever. Now, next time I just need shopping money! (Teehee)
Before walking the legendary street, we stopped at Alfred’s for some delicious coffee and iced tea. I found this gem on Instagram.
On our way out of the hills, (And after I stopped drooling) I remembered a great little gelato shop right on the corner. Gelato is one of my biggest weaknesses, so of course I had to get this floral one.
The end of our trip was literally the end of the road. Our final stop was at the Santa Monica Pier. We sat and watched the ocean for hours and eventually went and ate at a small taco shop by the boardwalk.
It was a total treat and a great way to end the day.
Overall, I would have to say that I had a great time going on tons of adventures in California. Driving was not my favorite. I only wish that I could’ve saved up more money to have done a few more things and tried a lot more food, but there’s always next time!
I can’t wait for my next California adventure! Which I will for be flying for!