California dreaming

20 January 2014

It’s official: John and I have booked our plane tickets for California! It’s going to be our big trip of the year, and we are very excited! We’re flying into Los Angeles and then driving up the Pacific Coast Highway. We’ll head east for two days to explore Yosemite, then finish up in San Francisco for two days before flying back to the East Coast.

As thrilled as we are, the planning has actually been a bit stressful so far. As opposed to, say, our Nevis honeymoon, where we were staying on the same small island for seven days and could have done little advance planning and still had almost every option available to us when we arrived, there are SO many decisions that need to be made months ahead of time for this trip. And there are SO many amazing things to do and restaurants to try and places to stay that we’re feeling the pressure of choosing the BEST ones. Of course, it’s also a large financial outlay, so we want to feel we’re making the most of the money we’re spending. Finally, since we live on the East Coast, a trip like this is far less easily repeated than, say, a trip to New England or Florida, so we’re trying to check off as many things as possible — possibly too many things.

When conversation snarled over whether to stay in Santa Barbara or Montecito last night (oh the difficult choices!), we had to take a step back and laugh — and remind ourselves that no matter what we do, even if we simply drive from point A to point B, it’s going to be a breathtakingly beautiful trip, and well worth our time and expense. And whenever we need a reminder, there are plenty of lovely photos to dream over, like these of Ojai from the Sweet Thing blog (a great recommendation from Meredith!)…









Jessie grew up in Ojai and shares beautiful photos from her travels back home. Doesn’t it look like a magical place?

Though we probably don’t need any more information (ha!), I’d love to hear your recommendations for the stretch of California coast from LAX to SFO. At the moment, we’re planning to spend one night in Montecito, one in Cayucos, one in Big Sur, one in Monterrey or Carmel, two in Yosemite, and two in San Francisco!

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January 20, 2014 9:02 am

I’ve heard amazing things about Big Sur. I’ve been to San Francisco for a weekend and absolutely loved it. My recommendation would be to check out the big fresh market along the water, though you can’t go wrong with just wandering around the hilly streets to see what you’ll stumble upon. :)

January 20, 2014 9:39 am

Oh my gosh! We did this very trip for our honeymoon and it was the very best three weeks of my life!! If you would like recommendations drop me an email ( I have much to say! Also, we are about to make our very first trip to the South from the UK!! We have friends getting married in Aiken SC and are planning a 2 week road trip flying into Orlando and out of Washington. Hooray to travel plans.

January 20, 2014 9:40 am

I meant to add I would love your southern suggestions.

January 20, 2014 9:55 am

Oh fun!! You’ll love it! We didn’t go south of Big Sur this past trip, but I recommend eating at Nepenthe while you’re there! It’s got the most beautiful views and a cool shop. Plus an amazing history. Two restaurants are there so it’s worth going twice! I’ve been to Carmel twice. I can get you info on where we stayed, but The Mission Ranch for sunset is a must. We just did happy hour, but the restaurant is nice. It’s Clint Eastwood’s hotel. Also, le byclette had the best pizza. Ever. We wanted to do 17 mile drive through pebble beach (you can have your fee comped at the lunch spot at the country club), but we didn’t have the time! In SF, I’d recommend the Ferry Building on a Saturday for the farmers market, but there is seriously so much there, that you can’t go wrong. I would do a food tour to get a taste of many things! Email me if you have questions!

Kathryn F
January 20, 2014 11:11 am

Hello from a Raleigh reader! You absolutely MUST go to the Monterrey Bay Aquarium. It’s not cheap, but it is SO worth it. Just mindblowingly cool and beautiful animals in incredible tank environments. The jellyfish exhibit is like living art. You’ll love it, I promise! Also, seconded the suggestion to go to the Ferry Building in San Francisco, it’s really wonderful. I don’t know if you we’re planning to go to Alcatraz, but consider it. I was unwillingly dragged when my cousin came to visit me the summer I lived in SF, and it turned out to be an absolute blast: fun boat ride, beautiful island, incredibly well done tour of the prison – it hit the right balance of educational and fun. I was impressed! Have a blast, this trip sounds great!

January 20, 2014 11:16 am

Congratulations Emily on booking a trip! I have always loved the excitement that comes with the weeks and months leading up to a vacation. While I have never been to California (I have grown up in New Hampshire), I have been as far west as Arizona. The landscape of the West Coast is so different from the mountains here in New England, it is sure to make for many breath-taking moments and memories!

January 20, 2014 11:41 am

Hi Emily!
We just went to Big Sur, San Francisco and Napa in October and LOVED our trip. If you are still looking for a place to stay and activities in Big Sur, I highly recomend Tree Bones Resort and going on a kayak trip with Cubby through Kayak Cambria Cubby was a great guide and we saw sea otters and seals on our trip. It was a major highlight of our trip!
Please let me know if I can help with anything!

January 20, 2014 2:17 pm

Such a perfect trip! I went to California (SF to be specific for) for the first time last year, and it was one of the best trips of my life. We stayed with a friend who has lived there for a few friends and she gave us the best itinerary to enjoy from a “locals” perspective. My favorite places we went are: Plow for breakfast (go during the week if your stay overlaps with the week. It’s tough to get a table during the weekend, but oh my it’s so worth it). Gioia Pizzeria-every one talks and talks about NY pizza, but I could eat every meal at Gioia for the rest of my life and be a happy girl. If you have an afternoon to go to Napa, check out Cook. Nopa was also amazing but you have to make a reservation a head of time so call a month ahead. Breakfast is too good for words there. Bi-Rite which everyone will tell you.
IF you have time to drive up to the coast, I 100% recommend heading to Steep Ravine Trail. We went to hike there on my birthday, and it was just about the best moment of the day. It is so beautiful and peaceful and pretty refreshing difference from our east coast hikes. It’s a place of dreams.
Phew-I could seriously go on. Shoot me an email if you want me to email you the itinerary my friend provided. She was great about locations and reasonable timelines and provided plenty of options depending on what part of the city we wanted to explore. :)

January 20, 2014 4:22 pm

SO fun! We went to California last summer.. and this exact little stretch was our original plan. It didn’t end up working out because a huge reason for our travels was to attend a wedding, but we loved California! May I suggest Solvang? It’s a little Danish town and there is a vineyard and a lavender farm near by. It wasn’t very “typical California” but it was a sweet little place to stop and enjoy the beautiful weather!

January 20, 2014 5:32 pm

I am SO excited for you. This will be such a fun trip. I have very fond memories of the area you’ll be driving through–along the drive north of San Fran, up in Point Reyes National Seashore, my now husband and I had a discussion that led to us getting married (a year later). It’s a magical place and definitely brings you closer to nature. My recommendations for Big Sur include a stay at Deetjen’s (if you can handle a bit of a rustic vibe). If you’re feeling really adventurous, you could partake in a thermal hot spring overlooking the ocean (from 1-3am) at Esalen: My recap of our California trip is here: I hope you have a WONDERFUL trip!

January 20, 2014 5:47 pm

I went to school in Santa Barbara and you couldn’t have picked a prettier place to visit. If you have time once you land in LA I highly recommend the Getty Museum. It’s on the North end of the 405 right before you get to the 101 which is the direction you’ll be going anyway when headed to Montecito. Also Lotusland in Montecito is incredible! The courthouse and the Mission in Santa Barbara are also lovely spots to visit. Dargans on State Street is a great place for a beer! Have so much fun!

January 20, 2014 6:11 pm

Hi Emily! I did this trip in reverse with my family a few years ago and I highly recommend checking out Sonoma or Napa if you have an extra day! And I’d also pick Carmel over Monterrey, we were pretty disappointed with Monterrey and they’re right next to each other so you could see both if you want :)

January 21, 2014 7:43 am

Be sure to stop by The Ribbonerie when you’re in San Francisco! It is a crafty girl’s fantasy. I may or may not have spent $70 in one trip…

January 21, 2014 8:40 am

Em & John! Your itinerary looks like a dream! I’m beyond excited for you two and cannot wait to live vicariously through your adventure. Yay!

January 21, 2014 9:27 am

@Sarah So funny you should say that — I’ve ordered ribbon online from The Ribbonerie many times, and am looking forward to visiting in person!

January 21, 2014 9:33 am

Yosemite National Park is one of my favorite places on this earth! Amazing waterfalls, great hiking, just absolutely beautiful place. We used to camp and occasionally stayed outside the park. Last time, I stayed at the Ahwahnee which is the wondeful historic hotel on the park grounds (Queen Elisabeth II stayed there when she visited!). Even if you don’t stay there, eat at the restaurant!

January 21, 2014 10:12 am

California is awesome!!! I’ve been to San Diego and San Francisco. This Kentucky girl wanted to move there!

January 21, 2014 2:00 pm

Em, I stumbled upon your blog recently and fell in love with it!!! You’re doing a fantastic job! I was so excited to see that you’re coming to California. When will you be here? If you ever need a ride from the airport, a tour guide, or a friend, please let me know and I would be more than happy to help you out/show you around. It’s refreshing to see what you’re looking forward to – it makes me look at my state from a visitor’s point of view! :)

January 21, 2014 5:43 pm

See blog posts on her trip along the CA coast. She breaks it down in a simple way and it looks like it was a dream of a trip. Good luck!

Kaitlyn N.
January 21, 2014 11:23 pm

I took this exact roadtrip last year and it was truly magical for a solo gal like me! For the two of you, I’m sure it will be grand. So I just had to comment when this post popped up in my daily blog perusal.

A few small hole-in-the-wall highlights:

–Morro Bay at dawn is stunning!! Definitely worth stopping by…Also, I stayed at this tiny little top-ranked motel and it was 49 dollars a night, three blocks from the beach with an impeccable reputation. Family-owned, super quirky.

— La Super Rica taqueria in Santa Barbara. My friend’s mom from LA told me about it; the best food ever! Also, it is famed as Julia Child’s favorite taqueria. A quick side-trip for lunch during a busy driving day.

— Hearst Castle at San Simeon. You are literally in the clouds. Stunning architecture, interesting history of a famously rich businessman, wonderful tour of the grounds, lots of citrus trees…

…and not too far from the secret sea lion vista point. I brought a picnic lunch!


January 22, 2014 11:02 am

I am so jealous! I think renting a convertible is a must! :)

February 4, 2014 2:20 am

In the third photo, with the two side by side trees, you can clearly see the heavy smog that blankets southern California. The particle pollution is very high and unhealthy. No one with awareness of Californias poor air quality would drive in a convertible as someone suggested above. Sometimes fanciful thinking clouds reality. The coast and Big Sur do have much better air quality than Southern CA, but to glamorize Ojai and smoggy photos demonstrates a lack of awareness. I am a life long resident of California and know first hand the chronic health detriment of poor air quality, cardiac and respiratory. It isn’t dreamy and foggy, its smog and full of pollutants.

February 8, 2014 9:05 pm

Carmel over Monterey for sure. Carmel has as many dining and shopping options as the city but has a small town charm that can’t be beat. Everything is within walking distance as well. I would recommend staying at a local bed and breakfast (we stayed at the San Antonio Inn). Their prices are incredible and the service was great. The Carmel beach is beautiful and not too crowded.

I over thought every decision on our trip to California. Don’t fret – just make a decision and let it be. You will have the best time either way.

February 12, 2014 5:21 pm

You have some amazing readers. It was a treat to read through the comments here and take notes for my own adventures.

We used Hyatt points to stay at the Hyatt Highlands after Christmas and plan on going back.

February 12, 2014 5:24 pm

Oh and for your stop in San Francisco I highly recommend a pastry at Tartine (right when it opens, the line is so long otherwise!), then pizza at Delfina, then ice cream from Bi-Rite, which can be eaten as you look out over the city at Dolores Park.

And if you want to try a new cuisine the tea leaf salad at Mandalay absolutely blew my mind, I have never had anything like it and I beg my husband to bring it home anytime he visits without me.