bay area road trip

The Bay Area has a little bit of something for everyone and has always been one of my favorite places. The sharp cliffs near the ocean, untamed sea life and food and drink that leave your mouth watering. Driving from Monterey up to Sonoma wine country is a stunning trip and will leave you begging for more! Enjoy yourself and the beautiful views while you take a road trip through the bay area with me.

Day 1

Monterey will be your first stop after arriving in the bay area. You will more than likely fly into San Jose, SF or Oakland when you fly in. Monterey is less than a two hour drive from all of these airports. This city is home to a one time sardine packing industry. Today you have plenty of options in this great coastal city. The 17 mile drive is packed full of stops for your photographic mind. The Monterey aquarium is known as one of the best in the world. While the wine making in Monterey is nothing to bat an eye at.

  • Monterey Aquarium
  • Mission Ranch
  • 17 Mile Drive
  • Cannery Row Brewing Company
Monterey bay aquarium jelly fish exhibit
You can’t miss the jelly fish exhibit when visiting the aquarium.

Monterey Aquarium: Start your morning out early on Cannery Row. This was the site of many sardine factories in the 1900’s and the last one closed down in 1973. It’s a beautiful area to walk down and really gives you a great feel for an old sea town. The first stop to take when you head down Cannery row is the aquarium. The Monterey aquarium gives a wonderful feel for the importance of sea life in the bay area. There are many exhibits throughout and is even better to see in the early morning as this place does get very busy. Some call this aquarium the best they have ever been to. With massive tanks and fun for the whole family, you should not miss this as your first stop in Monterey. Some of the can’t miss exhibits: the kelp forest, open sea, the wonderful sea otters and the jelly fish!

The view is fantastic, how do you beat watching sheep graze with a glass of wine?!

Mission Ranch: As you leave Cannery row, you are going to head south down to the quaint city of Carmel by the sea. The first stop I would suggest taking is Mission Ranch before heading back up the coast. After taking half of the day and making your way through the aquarium, you need a nice place with some great beverages and a view. It’s owned by Clint Eastwood and is a beautiful restaurant that has some great food and beverages. It’s right off the ocean and they have sheep grazing in the field as you wine and dine.

17 mile drive: There are a lot of stops to take along the way, so enjoy this beautiful drive up the coast. You will actually be taking the opposite way of most, so make sure that you are aware when parking your car. Sadly for them, they didn’t get to experience Mission Ranch first! This drive can take 1-2 hours depending on how long you stay at each stop. Enjoy your time as you stroll through and remember that this also has a residential area in between stops, so be kind to the local residents as you drive through.

Pebble Beach: Stop at the famous Pebble Beach, which is one of best golf courses on the PGA tour. They have several shops in the area and you can take in that famous view from the 18th green. The view is spectacular here and makes for some iconic pictures. Tickets can be very pricey if you are looking to play a round of golf. What would you expect from a golf course with one of the best views of the Pacific Ocean?!

The Lone Cypress: It’s the official symbol of Pebble Beach and is a gorgeous area that is a must to see. It’s an easy stop right off to the side of the road and will only take you 10-20 minutes to view.

Bird Rock: It’s called that for an obvious reason. You will see ridiculous amounts of birds on the rock and also hear a lot of seals and sea lions in the distance. Everyone loves to see these fun loving sea creatures as they bask in the sun!

Moss Beach: Make your final stop at the very last part of the drive. It’s a nice beach to stop at and take some photos and enjoy the very end of a beautiful drive up the coast. Often you will see people stack rocks on the beach to take photos.

Cannery Row Brewing Company: As you make your way back into town. There are a lot of restaurants to choose from. Being that I love my breweries, I have to say that this brewery is a great stop to finish your day. Enjoy some of the local beer and relax after a first great day. They have great seating outside with fire pits and can make for a great place to eat and drink into the evening! 

Day 2

  • Whale Watching
  • Schooners
  • The Wine Experience
  • Segovias
  • Nacho Bizness

Whale Watching: Take the early whale watching tour out of Fishermans wharf. There are a lot of companies off of the wharf and many give you an idea of what whales they have been seeing out on the ocean. I have done several companies and every one that I have tried does a wonderful job of getting you close to the action. If you want an idea, Monterey Bay Whale Watch is a good choice. Tickets can be a bit pricey, but it’s well worth it to see these amazing creatures in their natural surroundings. If you are heading to the area around March – May, you might seen some transient Orcas trying to catch right whales as they head up the coast with their young. Either way, you will likely see many whales on your tour as there are constantly whales around Monterey bay. If you get sea sick, remember your dramamine, as you never know how choppy the waves are going to be as you travel further into the ocean. This is always one of my favorite activities to do and you never know what you’ll get to see. It’s great that you will see some of the sea life that you learned about at the aquarium too.

Schooners: You will likely finish your whale watching trip sometime in the afternoon and will be hungry for some food. If you are desperate for food, you can stop at one of the many vendors that are at fishermans wharf, but honestly they don’t always do the best. A lot of their food can taste somewhat generic and is more tourist oriented. If it was me, I would head a bit closer to Cannery row and get some food from that area. There are many seafood restaurants in the area that have some great fresh fish and will be a bit more to your liking. Schooners does a good job and has a beautiful view of the ocean. 

The wine experience: As you get out of Schooners, it’s now time to get some of these great Monterey wines from the area! There are plenty of wonderful wineries in Monterey, so there are plenty to choose from. If you are unsure, the wine experience is a neat stop. They will pair you up with some of the top wines and different foods to eat with them. Whether you like reds or whites, they have a little something for everyone. If you have someone that isn’t a wine fan, they do offer several local beers.

Segovias: After getting some wine, why not stop off and enjoy a local dive bar? This place is not where you would go for a beautifully made cocktail, but it is a wonderful place to go and just have a couple of beers and enjoy the people watching! They have a large outdoor area with couches and actually a PBR vending machine, which screams dive bar all over it! Have some fun and finish the night off strong before heading back to the hotel. 

Nacho Bizness
Take it easy on the hot sauce though, speaking from experience1

Nacho Bizness: Feeling a little hungry after having a few drinks? A great stop with some perfect late night food? Stop into this wonderful place with all different types of nachos that you can douce with a lot of different types of hot sauce. Who can create the best nachos you have ever seen? Take in some of these gooey, wonderful concoctions before heading to bed in the evening. 

Day 3

  • Verve Coffee Roasters
  • Pier
  • The Picnic Basket
  • Boardwalk

Santa Cruz will be your next city on the great tour of the bay area. This will be interesting to see between the two cities. You have first had a taste of Monterey with one of living off the sea and their sharp coastlines, now you get more of that beach feel as you enter into Santa Cruz. The boardwalk is lively with people and the restaurants around it have a constant flow of people in and out. You will instantly see the difference in the the two cities and will also see that Santa Cruz has a much more laid back lifestyle.

Verve Coffee Roasters: Start by going downtown to a fantastic craft coffee company. Verve is in a pretty large building in the main downtown area. It has some fantastic single origin coffees and the people here are great. The overall setting is very chill like the city itself. Verve has branched out and you can actually find their coffee throughout California anymore, but Santa Cruz is where it all started. Sit, relax and enjoy a fresh cup of coffee as you get ready to embark on your day at the beach!

Sea lions living the life at the pier in Santa Cruz
Oh how they will play!

Pier: After you get your coffee, you can either grab a bite at one of the restaurants downtown or head over to the pier for a nice walk. Walk out to the end of the pier and look down through the holes in the walkway, you will see plenty of sea lions lounging around and being playful. You also get a beautiful overview of the boardwalk area when you look out to the side of the walkway. If you choose there are some good restaurants to have lunch at on the pier, or you can work your way back towards the boardwalk. Stagnaro brothers has some great seafood or there is Splash! with the revolving bar, which is always fun to experience! I would suggest heading back towards the boardwalk to stop at our favorite in the area, the Picnic basket. 

The Picnic Basket: This restaurant has some freshness to it. Fresh sandwiches and salads are all delicious, especially when you wash it down with a local beer. Their ingredients are delivered fresh from the local farms, so you always get that farm to table feel. They also have some fantastic ice cream if you are looking to cap off your meal with a little sweetness. The food is great and it’s also a wonderful place to sit and people watch for a bit. 

The boardwalk at Santa Cruz
So much to do on the boardwalk at Santa Cruz!

Boardwalk: After eating, make your way down the boardwalk area. It’s a fun area that makes you feel like a kid again. It also has one of the oldest wooden rollercoasters in the US. and is the oldest amusement park in California. If it looks familiar, you might have also seen it recently on the film, Us. There are plenty of rides to take and the lines are never that long. Spend half of your day here as there are plenty of options to take in and enjoy. What else do kids love? Video games of course! At the end of the boardwalk, you will also find a large gaming area. It’s fun to go around and play video games from when you were a kid. If video games aren’t your thing, they have mini golf, and also pool and air hockey upstairs. You can also grab some drinks while you play, because you might be here for a bit! 

As the night winds down, if you feel like a nightcap, you can head over to Coasters bar or Boardwalk bowl across the street. It’s just a local bar with karaoke most nights, but can be a fun experience after acting like a kid all day! There are also several options for bars within the area. The Red Room has some drinks that will knock you out for the night or maybe The Blue Lagoon for a little live music and dance? Regardless your choice, there are options for you to take before you head back to the hotel for the evening.

Day 4

  • Natural Bridges
  • Pigeon Point Lighthouse
  • Ocean Beach
  • Trouble Coffee Company
  • Hook Fish Company
  • Sutra Bath Houses
  • Union Square

Santa Cruz is a fun experience, but we have to get you moving on up the coastline to the largest city on the tour and probably your number one reason for the trip, San Francisco. San Francisco is a city much different than any I have visited within the United States. The diversity of the population, the terrain, importance of the ocean and amazing food all play a role in the culture of this city. San Francisco has so many options for food and things to do, that I will have a separate guide for the city, depending on how many days you want to stay here. Our Bay Area tour will have us in the area for 3 days, which will give you a great glimpse of the several areas of the city.

Natural Bridges State Park
The only natural bridge still remaining in the park

Natural Bridges State Park: On your way out of town, make sure to stop first at the Natural bridges state park. Natural bridges are rock formations in the water that were formed by water cutting through them over time. There were several at the beach, but as time has gone on, there is only one that remains. Regardless, it’s a cool area and also a nice beach to watch a sunrise if you wake up early enough. If not, just stop by quick to enjoy the view before heading up to your next destination. 

Pigeon Point Lighthouse
How do you not stop here to take a photo?

Pigeon Point Lighthouse: As you make your way up US 1, you come to another great stop. This is one of the tallest lighthouses on the west coast, but a beautiful view to stop at. If you go when the time is right in the Spring, you’ll also have a treat of seeing some beautiful blooming flowers right before the lighthouse, which makes for some wonderful photos. 

Artichokes growing near the ocean by Pigeon Point Lighthouse in California
Only a couple of places in the world to see Artichokes grow, pretty cool huh?

Not too much further down the road, you can also get a chance to see artichokes growing next to the ocean. Take a second to stop and look as it’s pretty cool and not a lot of people actually know how they grow. 

Ocean beach
Socially distancing at Ocean beach, makes for a lot less people on a nice day!

Ocean beach: Continuing into San Francisco, your first real day in the city can give you a little bit of relaxation. Start out by heading over to Ocean beach, which is right off US 1. It’s one of the busier beaches in San Francisco and many times you will see surfers out riding waves in the ocean. It’s a long beach and stretches up to the Sutra Bath houses. There are several bathrooms next to the beaches if needed. Depending the day, you could have very little people on the beach or it could be packed! In San Francisco, there are a lot of overcast days based on the Microclimate. If there is a sunny day, you better bet that the locals are heading to the beach!

Trouble Coffee Company: Right off of the beach, you will find this great place. Trouble has been featured in Conde Nast Traveler, Pacific Standard and more. The place is quite eccentric and has a wide variety of people that constantly come here. There is only a small amount of seating around the area and it’s often filled. They are known for their take on cinnamon toast. You can stop in and have a piece with a nice Thai coconut and relax for a bit before continuing your day. 

Hook Fish Co
The line is long quite often, but well worth the wait!

Hook Fish Company: If you’re feeling a little hungry after your travel during the day, it’s ok to stop in and grab some great seafood from Hook. They have some wonderful sandwiches, burritos and killer fish and chips. It’s also right off of Ocean beach so it’s very easy to access. They will usually have a line so don’t let that scare you off. Also, it’s a small shop and only to go at the moment, so if you are looking to grab some food and head out to the ocean, this is also a perfect opportunity. Make sure you get their homemade hot sauce, it’s fantastic!

Sutra bath houses: Make your way up to the top of Ocean beach and come to the bath houses. It will take a little imagination, but this was a massive bath house area at one time before burning down. The Cliff house next to it is a great place to grab a drink if you are feeling thirsty. Tour through the many locations of the bath houses and take a look out into the ocean. If you steer right when you get down to the houses, you will see a small cave that you can enter. Enter in and watch as the ocean smashes into the rocks below. Pretty cool to stop and enjoy. 

Union Square: Finish your first day in San Francisco with finding a place to stay around Union Square. This is a very busy area with a lot of shopping, but also the site for the Christmas tree in SF and an ice skating rink in December. You get a great view of a lot of the city and can walk around this area in the evening. Right next to Union Square is also China Town, make your way over here if you are looking for a bite to eat to culminate your night. Make sure to note that parking can be a challenge in SF and the city also has extreme hills. Most likely, hotels will valet park only, so sometimes it’s actually a better bet to look for a parking garage. Sometimes these can save you a bit of money depending on the hotel you stay at. Either way, grab some sleep for the next busy day!

Day 5

  • Fishermans Wharf
  • Pier 39
  • Crab House
  • Coit Tower
  • Ferry Building 
  • Oracle Park

Today you’re headed down to the ocean, but this time Fisherman’s wharf. Keep your car parked as you might not need it at all today. You can take your famous SF cable car down to Fishermans wharf, as there is a main station right next to Union Square. I will say that there is always a line to get on the cable cars so it’s up to you if you feel its worth it or not. If not, it’s a quick Uber ride to the wharf. 

Fishermans wharf in San Francisco
Stop in and have some chowder, but more important watch the people!

Fishermans wharf: Start your day off at the wharf and walk down to Boudines to get some of their famous Sourdough bread. Boudines is a massive company that started in SF and is one of the oldest companies in the city. The building is massive at Fishermans wharf. Take a stroll down and continue walking the wharf to your next stop Pier 39. 

Sea Lions lying around at Pier 39 in San Francisco
You have to stop by and check out the resident sea lions at Pier 39

*Pier 39: When you get here, right before the pier, head down to your left near the docks. There are resident sea lions that will be basking in the sun on the docks. Sit and watch them as they whisk away the day screaming into the air and enjoying themselves. Pier 39 has a little bit of everything. Walk through the shops and enjoy yourself. The aquarium for San Francisco is here. They have several shops to walk through, an arcade and more. If you’re left handed, they even have a special shop for you here! It’s a great people watching spot and can get quite busy through the day. You also get a great view of Alcatraz from here. Right next to this pier, you can take the boat tour out to Alcatraz but can be an all day event. You can decide on if you want to take the tour for the afternoon or evening, or continue on through the piers. 

Eating at the crab house at Pier 39 in San Francisco
A perfect birthday dinner at the Crab House right?

Crab House: If you’re hungry stop in and have some local cuisine. This place has some wonderful dungeness crab, which is only found on the west coast. It’s a fantastic tasting crab that you have to give a try while in the city. This can be a little bit pricey for lunch, but they do a wonderful job and it’s a perfect opportunity to get away from the craziness of Pier 39 for a bit. Sadly you will find that San Francisco overall is quite pricey for everything, so take that into consideration. 

Coit Tower: Make your way up to Coit tower for a nice view of the city. If you take the tour to the top, you will see what the early settlers of San Francisco saw and learn how they cultivated the land in the early days. It’s a pretty small fee for a ticket to get to the top and you will surely enjoy the view of the city! 

Ferry building: Work your way down from Coit tower to get to the Ferry building on the pier. This building is almost a constant farmers market. There are a lot of little shops that you can get fresh oysters, cheese, wine and more at. This is usually a local favorite and you will see many people coming here from the city. If you are in the mood for oysters, Hog Island Oyster company is here. If you want to try fresh coffee from a local roaster, try Blue Bottle Coffee or maybe even a little chocolate from the local Dandelion chocolate company. There is a lot to experience and it’s just fun to walk through and look at all of the different vendors. 

Oracle Park in San Francisco
A Giants game at this beautiful park is always an amazing experience

Oracle Park: Depending on the time of night and day you are here, you could always take in a SF Giants home game. This park is beautiful and has a wonderful view of the ocean. They also have some great food inside. If the Giants aren’t playing or you aren’t really into baseball, then you can walk by and stare up at the stadium. The bay bridge is also behind the park and lights up at night. If you want to stay around the area and watch the light show, that’s also an option! 

Black Hammer Brewing Company
SF has plenty of beer options if you are a craft beer enthusiast.

To place a night cap on your final evening in San Francisco head to a local brewery. There are many local favorites so it’s hard to give you just one to head to. Black Hammer is close to Oracle park so it’s easy access. 21st Amendment is a brewery from San Francisco that has grown to be quite popular and also has some decent food. Or Anchor Steam is the oldest brewery still in the city and actually came up with the first IPA in America. Either way, end your night with some suds! 

Day 6

  • Blue Bottle Coffee Company
  • Baker Beach
  • Golden Gate Bridge
  • Marshall Store
  • Bodega Bay 
  • Spud Point Crab Company
  • Armstrong Woods
  • Korbel Winery 
  • Russian River Brewery
Blue Bottle Coffee Company
A unique way to enjoy your brew. Blue Bottle always knows how to start the morning right!

Blue Bottle Coffee Company: A bay area coffee company that has made a name for itself, it’s quickly expanded to all over the bay. Blue Bottle has not lost it’s way as it expanded. The single origin coffee is still fantastic and they are continuing to find ways to make coffee even better. They have several coffee options, but it’s a great place to grab a cup on your last morning in SF.

Baker Beach: Today get up early and head over to Baker beach. This beach is a perfect location to grab and coffee and watch the fisherman in the early morning. It also has a perfect view of the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. If you climb the rocks off to the right of the beach, you can get an even better view of the bridge, just be careful and watch your footing on the rocks.

Golden Gate Bridge
So many great view of this amazing bridge!

Golden Gate Bridge: You are going to make your way up north past the city today, so you get a chance to drive over the famous Golden Gate Bridge. As you pass the bridge you have an opportunity to stop off right to the right and get some great photos of the city and the bridge. Take a brief stop and look over this marvel. San Fransisco is a beautiful city to take in! 

Marshall Store in Tomales Bay
You can’t beat these oyster! Fresh from Tomales Bay!

Marshall Store: Working your way up north, you are going to stop next in Tomales bay. It’s a small area north of San Francisco and they are known for some wonderful cheeses and oysters. Marshall store for the most part has only outdoor seating and can get a little chilly, but their oysters are fantastic! Fresh from the bay, they give several options on how you want your oysters. It will be a lighter meal, but there is another great food option when you head up next to your destination in Bodega Bay. 

Bodega Bay
The sharp cliffs of Bodega Bay make you feel like you’re in Ireland!

Bodega Bay: This area was made famous for the birds movie by Alfred Hitchcock. There might be a few birds to see, but I wouldn’t worry too much about being attacked from the air! Head out to the furthest point in Bodega Bay National seashore and see some absolutely stunning cliffs. This area actually reminds me a bit of how Ireland looks. Enjoy the view for a while and maybe even catch a glimpse of some whales passing by the coast. 

Spud Point Crab Company
Home to the best clam chowder you can have in the area!

Spud Point Crab Company: My love of this place will be spoken about by many family members. It’s a simple crab shack, but I think it has the best clam chowder on the west coast! Have the New England Style clam chowder that they make fresh right here. They also have fresh dungeness crab that comes right off the boats across the street. While their crab cakes might only be done on Sundays, they are amazing and once they sell out, they are gone! If you get a chance to taste them, you will not be disappointed! 

Armstrong Woods
No picture will do this amazing place justice

Armstrong Woods: Making your way past Bodega Bay and out towards the little city of Guernerville, you will come to Armstrong. This a wonderful spot to see some massive redwood trees, which are famous on the west coast and are the oldest living things on this earth. Take a walk through the woods and look up at these massive trees. It will amaze you to gaze up and see these trees and pictures can’t do it justice. It’s a good hour or two that you can spend going through this forest and enjoying the view. 

Korbel Winery
The only champagne in America tastes so sweet

Korbel winery: Being that you are in Sonoma county, which is famous for wine, you have to stop at the only place in the US that has Champagne! Being that this winery brought grape vines from the champagne region of France, it’s the only place that can actually call their sparkling wine, champagne. Take a free tasting here and learn about the history of this wonderful winery. They also have the only champagne used during the inaguration of presidents in the US! The hospitality has always been fantastic here and if you are only going to make one stop, it’s something different than your usual wineries.

Make your way into Santa Rosa where you will stay on your last night in the area. You are probably feeling a little tired, but don’t count yourself out now. Place your stuff at the hotel and go out for your final meal on the town at the famous Russian River brewery. 

Russian River Brewery
Stop by and have a pint of Pliny and try every beer at the time!

Russian River brewery: A bay area favorite, this brewery has the famous Pliny the Elder beer that has won best beer in the US several times. They have so many wonderful beers and also some great food to go with it. Try their sampler if you are up to it. They give you every single beer they have on tap at the time (which could be over 20 beers) and it’s such a cool experience. This brewery is always packed and constantly a best place for locals to go. Enjoy the pizza or one of the other items on the menu while you drink into the night. This is a can’t miss for any beer pilgrimage in the area. 

 Day 7

  • Wineries
  • Flight Back

Take your time as you work your way back to San Francisco to fly out for the evening. If you head back to the city and have some time, take in some more sights or just stop into Golden Gate park and enjoy the day as there are several places to see in the park. If not, relax and enjoy your last day in the bay area. I hope you enjoyed your trip and got a little experience of why we love California and call it our home!

*People watching experience