The Best of San Francisco, the Sierra Nevada and the Pacific Coast on a Road Trip
Start your ultimate American road trip in the famous City by the Bay. From tours of former state penitentiaries to interactive arcade game museum, you will find some unique ways to fill your days in San Francisco.
When you've finished exploring the city, there is a lot more to discover in Northern California. Visit the magical Sierra Nevada Mountains or take a drive along one of the world's most iconic coastal routes. VroomVroomVroom has put together an itinerary to get you started.
Day One - Start your road trip in colorful San Francisco
Don't let the hilly streets and cable cars deter you, having a rental car in San Francisco will make it much easier to see some of the sights. Start your day by driving across the famous Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin Headlands. Along the bay's rugged north coast you will find plenty of stunning lookouts.
Back in the city, take a driving tour of the huge Golden Gate Park, visit the quirky Haight-Ashbury and take in the view from Twin Peaks. It is also worth driving along the Embarcadero to see the historic Ferry Building, the central transportation center for all passengers arriving into the city during the gold rush period.
Nearby, explore the modern-day central hub of San Francisco in the Financial District. You'll find upmarket shops and plenty of accommodation options in Union Square. The neighboring Tenderloin District is considerably less fortunate, but a drive through the area will reveal the hopeful murals painted on many buildings and a number of cafes and theaters.
|Must See - Haight-Ashbury: It was the heart of the 'Summer of Love' in the 1960s, and the vibe is still very much alive in the Haight-Ashbury district. Walking along the main street will feel like stepping back in time. Make sure you wander down some of the side streets and have a look at the colorful houses. Haight-Ashbury was not as badly affected by the 1906 earthquake as the rest of San Francisco, so you will be able to find some of the oldest examples of Victorian architecture in the city.|
Day Two - Take the ferry to Alcatraz
Now that you've got your bearings in San Francisco, spend some time exploring the city's famous waterfront. Enjoy a great seafood meal at Fisherman's Wharf before visiting the lively Pier 39 to see the local colony of sea lions.
From Pier 33 (Alcatraz Landing), you will be able to get the ferry out to the famous former prison. With a self-guided audio tour, learn about the prison directly from the former inmates and guards. You'll also be able to see remnants from the Native American occupation of the island in the graffiti on the buildings.
|Must See - Fisherman's Wharf: Don't miss the lively atmosphere at Fisherman's Wharf. With an interesting maritime history, the area has transformed itself into a hub for visitors to the city. You'll find all manner of seafood here, as well as some fantastic international cuisine. From street performances to live music, there is always something going on here. Take a walk around the area and soak up the atmosphere. Visit the Musée Mécanique to try your luck at some classic, old arcade games.|
Day Three - See the best of the Sierras in Yosemite
It's one of the most impressive national parks in the United States and is a must-see on any Californian road trip. Spend just half an hour in the park and you'll see why even the locals spend many weekends here. Your first point of call should be Glacier Point, where you can take in the iconic park from above. At an elevation of more than 7,000 feet, the view toward Half Dome is unparalleled.
When it comes to exploring the valley floor, there are a few sights you shouldn't miss. Yosemite is famous for its waterfalls, and you can easily get up close to Bridalveil Fall and Lower Yosemite Falls by taking short walking trails. Climbers often come to Yosemite to scale the towering granite walls of El Capitan. Just a short side trip from the main road, you can stand at the base of the cliff and watch the climbers making the long journey up the cliff.
|Must See - Glacier Point: For a birds-eye view of Yosemite National Park, take the winding road up to Glacier Point. There are a few vantage points at the top where you can enjoy different views of the park, including the equally spectacular Washburn Point. It will take about an hour to get to Glacier Point from Yosemite Valley. You'll find the turn-off on Wawona Road.|
Day Four - Head deeper into the Sierra Nevada mountains
While Yosemite is the famous big brother, there are a couple of other fascinating national parks in these mountains. Three hours south of Yosemite Valley you will find Kings Canyon National Park.
Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife such as black bears and mountain lions while you explore the park. If you are visiting in spring, the meadows are a great place to see the bears. Along the way, you'll also be able to get some great views of snow-capped peaks in the distance.
|Must See - Grant Grove:Just a short drive from the Kings Canyon Visitor Center, you'll find the world's third largest tree - the towering General Grant. With an easy hiking trail winding through the forest, this is a great opportunity for visitors to get up close to the giant sequoia trees.|
Day Five - Explore the Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park
Next door to Kings Canyon, Sequoia National Park is a truly unique part of California. Not only will you find the world's largest tree hidden away in the park, you'll be able to walk along cliff-tops and explore beautiful, quiet meadows.
Sequoia National Park earned its fame from one standout resident in the Giant Forest. The General Sherman Tree is over 270ft high and is the world's largest tree measured by volume. Follow the Main Trail from Wolverton Road for half a mile to see the General Sherman, and a few of it's towering neighbors.
|Must See - Moro Rock: Those with a fear of heights might want to avoid Moro Rock, but otherwise, there is no reason to miss the incredible views from this cliff-top hiking trail. The granite dome is accessible via a stone stairway. From the trail, you'll be able to see the huge mountains of the Great Western Divide.|
Day Six - Enjoy top international cuisine in Monterey
Head across the vast, open plains of central California, a stark contrast against the Sierra Nevada mountains. When you get to Monterey there will be plenty of things to explore.
Visit Lovers Point Marine Reserve to see sea lions resting on the beach. Or get up close to wildlife at the popular Monterey Aquarium. A visit to Monterey would not be complete without stopping by Cannery Row. Enjoy a meal at one of the local restaurants, which offer every type of cuisine imaginable.
|Must See - Cannery Row:This is a unique part of Monterey that is a testament to the industry of the area. Repurposed sardine canning factories line the street, now top restaurants and vintage stores.|
Day Seven - Drive the iconic Highway One
Explore the scenic 17-Mile Drive, passing the famous Pebble Beach Golf Course. Stop in for lunch at Carmel-by-the-Sea, where you will find a lot of European inspired cuisine. There are plenty of interesting art galleries along the narrow town streets.
Afterwards, take a short drive along Highway One toward Big Sur for some great coastal views. Stop in at Bixby Bridge for some great photo opportunities.
|Must See - Bixby Bridge: For the best view along Highway One, pull into the small car park just before Bixby Bridge. You'll get a great view of the rocky coastline, and the famous bridge makes for a good centerpiece.|
From Monterey, it will take you about two hours to get back to San Francisco. If you'd like to explore more of the city, VroomVroomVroom can help you with more driving tips for the city, and other ideas for California road trips.