If you love the Pacific Northwest, this California Coast Road Trip Itinerary is for you! In 7 days, we explored iconic areas like Big Sur, Alcatraz and Yosemite, fancy wineries in Napa Valley and hidden gems like Bolinas and Stinson Beach. This California Coast road trip itinerary can be followed step by step or you can pick certain days or stops to explore if you do not have as much time. Grab your family, kids, partner or friends and be ready for some Vitamin Sea- this itinerary has all the tips you need to have a successful (and safe) California adventure!

Looking for another road trip itinerary in the Pacific Northwest? Read our 6-Day Road Trip Itinerary to the Oregon Coast.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best month to visit Yosemite National Park?

May through September- all attractions are open, including the famous Tioga Road, a 64 mile scenic byway. The waterfalls are also full flowing!

How many days do you need to explore Yosemite?

I would say 2 to 4 full days to cover the highlights. There are infinite number of things to see in Yosemite!

What’s so special about Carmel by the Sea?

Carmel is known for it’s white sandy beaches, turquoise blue waters, unique European downtown and Point Lobos.

What’s the best months to visit Napa Valley?

August through October or May through March. The colors are especially beautiful in the fall time (harvest season is during this time as well).

California Coast Road Trip Itinerary Outline

  1. Sausalito and Bolinas
  2. Carmel by the Sea & Big Sur
  3. San Francisco-Alcatraz & Japan Town, Muir Redwoods National Monument
  4. Stinson Beach & Point Reyes National Seashore
  5. Sonoma
  6. Napa
  7. Yosemite National Park

Do you love our California Coast Road Trip Itinerary? Check out our guide to Gualala, California.

How to Get There

We flew into to the San Francisco International Airport from Minneapolis using Sun Country Airlines. We used Skyscanner to find the best price for our tickets- $260 a piece round trip (plus check in luggage). We rented our car from Hertz, one of the many rentals connected to the airport. We took the Airstream (blue line) tram to the car rental counter. The lines were longer than we had expected, but we finally were able to get our rental car.

Planning a trip? Read our guide on the Best Apps to Use to Save Time and Money and our Packing Light Guide.

Where to Stay

Struggling to book a lodging experience? Discover our 20 Essential Tips to Book Unique Airbnbs and Other Lodging Experiences!


We knew we wanted to stay somewhere near the ocean and outside of San Francisco. We found the perfect bohemian oasis in Bolinas, a small town 40 minutes north of Sausalito (about an hour from San Francisco), which is also only minutes from our favorite California beach town, Stinson Beach. We stayed here for the first half of our adventure.

We found the Agate Beach Serene Home on Airbnb. It’s a two bedroom home with a yurt and vegetable garden that guests can help themselves to. It can sleep up to 4 guests and has the most gorgeous bathroom, with a granite open shower and large bath tub, perfect for soaking after long days of travel and hiking! They have a full kitchen, washer & dryer and an outdoor shower if desired as well. This was one of our favorite places we have stayed!

Looking for a heavenly getaway in the Pacific Northwest of California? Look no further than the Cliff House!


Our second stay was in a studio guest suite in Sonoma, which included bikes we could use, a hot tub, pool and grand view of the entire valley from the swings on the deck. This location was perfect as we explore Sonoma and Napa Valley. They also have a wine cellar and grill to create your own fancy dinners- it is wine country after all! The guest suite has 1 bathroom, 1 queen size bed, 1 roll away bed and a small kitchen area. The small living room has a TV and fire place as well.

Day One: Sausalito and Bolinas


Ideally, we had wanted to start our day off at Fisherman’s Wharf to explore the pier. However, we witnessed cars with all windows smashed out in the parking lot. “Smash and grabs” are very common in San Francisco, which is why they say “if you love it, don’t leave it”. Thieves are very smart to figure out which cars are rental cars and they look for vehicles with bags of luggage in the car. Because of this, we decided to start our trip in the beautiful Mediterranean-inspired town Sausalito. It’s 20 minutes north of San Francisco right as you exit off the Golden Gate Bridge.

Our first stop was dinner at the Sausalito SeaHorse. We dined on their patio in the back which was like a jungle of flowers! They had the best fish and chips and Mojitos as well. Afterwards, we decided to explore. We hiked the small pier to check out the view of Sausalito and the fishing boats floating on the water. We also saw a leopard shark! I highly recommend walking downtown Sausalito as they have tons of boutiques, activities, places to eat and more! Their downtown is on a boardwalk facing the bay.

Muir Beach

Muir Beach is a quiet cove located on the Pacific Coast three miles west of the Muir Redwoods. People love visiting Muir Beach for many reasons. First, you can have a fire on the beach as long as it’s kept within the fire rings provided. Nature enthusiasts can view the Redwood Creek Lagoon and find coho salmon and red legged frogs. In the fall time, thousands of monarch butterflies can be found near Muir Beach for their once in a lifetime migration.

Muir Beach overlook provides an expansive view of the area- including Point Reyes Peninsula. This is also a prime area for whale watching.

Day Two: Carmel by the Sea & Big Sur

Downtown Carmel

Carmel, other wise known as “Village in the Forest by the Sea” offers some of the most beautiful sites in all of California. Carmel is especially known for it’s unique, fairy-tale-like downtown. There are many ways to explore downtown Carmel, but I suggest you park and walk (there are plenty of free parking spots). Give yourself time to explore the unique courtyards, wine rooms, restaurants, art galleries and shops in an artsy setting.

While downtown Carmel can be overwhelming to explore, there are some options to help narrow it down. Consider taking a self-guided tour. First, you can do a Fairytale Walking Tour starting at Carmel Plaza. This tour takes about an hour, but it it brings you to the most famous fairytale style shops in Carmel. If you enjoy art, consider the Bohemian Art Scene Tour and see 18 galleries in Carmel. There is an overall tour of downtown Carmel that covers 2 miles of Carmel’s most popular businesses.

Some of our favorite stops were walking the passageways and checking out the courtyards. We had lunch at a delicious French restaurant known as La Bicyclette Restaurant. It’s a popular place, so I suggest making a reservation. We visited countless shops, such as The Secret Garden, Pilgrim’s Way Bookstore, Cafe Del Mar, Sugar Farms and wine rooms at Hath. We also really loved Cafe Luna and Carmel Valley Coffee.

For maps of parking areas, hotels & inns, shopping and places to eat, the visit the Carmel by the Sea website.

Point Lobos

Point Lobos Nature Reserve is considered to be the #1 experience in Carmel and a definite stop along a California Coast Road Trip Itinerary (Pacific Coast Highway). Here you will see sparkling clear waters, jagged cliffs, marine wildlife, wildflowers and so much more! Park hours are 8 am to 7 pm. Entry cost is $10 per vehicle.

Our first stop was China Cove, which did not disappoint! The waters truly are an Emerald color and they are clear as well. this is also where we saw four seals playing with one another. You can reach this site by walking Bird Island Trail. If you go past China Cove down a steep set of stairs, you will find a spot that you can actually swim at known as Gibson Beach.

Next, we hiked part of Point Lobos Loop Trail which is a 6.7 mile trail altogether. This brought us to some beautiful overlooks of the jagged cliffs and wildflowers. Every direction you turn is a beautiful site to see here, and this trail gives a panoramic view to all of it.

If you enjoy whale watching and anything to do with whales, consider touring the Whaler’s Cabin, a museum located in the reserve that displays the history of the whaling business. This building is over 100 years old!

Big Sur

As amazing as the Golden Gate Bridge is, Big Sur has its own bridge to boast about along the Highway One coastline. The Bixby Bridge has become iconic and is one of the highest bridges of it’s kind in the world. Constructed in 1932, it was built for over $200,000. Today there are several pull out areas where you can stop to take some pictures near the historic bridge and the Pacific Ocean.

Carmel Beach

One of the most blue beaches we have ever seen in California is definitely Carmel Beach, located at the foot of Ocean Avenue. This white sandy beach is dog friendly, a great location for surfing, swimming (we took a dip here- we couldn’t resist!), beach fires and scenic routes to jog. I have traveled to many beaches in California, and I have to say California is one of my favorites.

Looking for other waterfront adventures? Plan your trip to Lake Superior and visit the North Shore of Minnesota or Upper Peninsula Michigan!

Wanting something Oceanside? Consider a trip the the Gulf Shores of Florida!

Day Three: Alcatraz, Japan Town & Muir Redwoods National Monument

We wanted to spend some time in San Francisco and our day here did not disappoint! Check out some of our favorite San Francisco experiences. Please note that “smash and grabs” are frequent in San Francisco. Be careful about where you park & what you leave in your vehicle. They say if you love it, don’t leave it. If you are traveling, do not leave your luggage in your car.


We have always been interested in visiting Alcatraz, which became home to famous inmates like Al Capone and Robert Shroud. Tickets usually sell out days in advance, so it’s a good idea to purchase ahead of time. You will ride a ferry departing from Fisherman’s Wharf for about 1/4 of a mile to Alcatraz Island.

Next, when you arrive, you will check in with a park ranger who will give you tour information. From there, you can walk around to check out the historic areas of the island. We enjoyed looking at the mortuary, social hall, lighthouse and garden. A lot of the island has been taken over by seagulls and we saw a lot of babies.

Then, we went to the prison cells area and received headphones to start an audio walking tour. This took us through the showers, dining hall, control rooms, prison cells, court yard and isolation area. There is also a book store and shop on site that neat to visit.

Fisherman’s Wharf

After our Alcatraz tour, we walked down Fisherman’s Wharf- also known to have some of the best dining options in the city! We suggest The Codmother Fish, Crab House & Chips, The Hook or the Blue Mermaid if you are a seafood fan. For those with a sweet tooth, check out Bischoff Coffee Corner, Ben & Jerrys or Eagle Cafe.

Being able to see the sculptures, street performers and culture of the city on Fisherman’s Wharf was so fun. We shopped at souvineer stores, watched the sea lions, observed additional bay cruises and there was also Aquarium of the Bay nearby.

When parking, I suggest using the pay lot off Jefferson and Taylor Street, behind the Boudin Bakery & close to the pier. This is a lot that is well lit, with tons of people always around. Break ins were much less frequent here.

Japan Town

We knew we wanted to experience Japan Town before we even came to San Francisco- and it did not disappoint! San Francisco’s Japan Town is one of three left in the country. It was started in the 1860s to keep alive the arts and culture of Japan. No matter what your reason is for coming to Japan Town, there is something for everyone! Here are some of our favorite things. Japan Town is open Monday – Sunday 8:30 am to 10 pm.

We were able to experience tons of unique shopping at shops straight out of Japan. We suggest checking out Amiko Boutique, Forest Books, Katachi, Katsura Garden, Mee and Sakura Sakura. Of course, we couldn’t leave without trying some delicious food! We had sushi and sake at Nande-Ya, tried Matcha Ice Cream at Matcha Cafe Maiko, crepes at Bellygood Cafe and boba tea at Pink Pink.

Last, I encourage you to do a walking tour of Japan Town. Note that there is an East and West Mall- both have unique experiences. In between the two is an area to sit and enjoy the Japanese art. We had people playing beautiful music during our time here.

Muir Redwoods National Monument

On our way back to Stinson Beach, we planned to check out the Muir Redwoods National Monument since it was on our way home. Important: Before visiting, you MUST make a parking reservation & make sure you have it downloaded before arriving (there will be no cell phone service there). If you have an annual National Park Pass, make sure to bring that as well. Hours of operation are 8 am to 8 pm, cost is $15 per person. Also, be sure to save this downloadable trail map ahead of time. We arrived at 6 pm & had a lot of the woods to ourselves.

Just when we thought our California Coast Road Trip Itinerary couldn’t be more magical, hiking through the Redwoods proved us wrong! We started off hiking the main trail (.5 miles) from the Visitor’s Center. Eventually, this took us to Bohemian Grove, otherwise known as “the selfie tree”. The Redwoods here have openings at the bottom you can stand in and snap a picture.

You can take right to Fern Creek Trail and experience Cathedral Grove, a treasure trove of Redwoods. Hillside Trail is steep and up high, but gives a gorgeous view of the forest & allows you to see the Redwoods from up high. If you are lucky, you may also see a Coho or Steelhead Salmon in the streams that run through the Redwoods as well as other wildlife during your visit. Off the main trail there is also a cafe and shop.

Day Four: Stinson Beach and Point Reyes

Stinson Beach

Stinson Beach is located about 40 minutes north of San Francisco and is one of the cutest beach towns I have ever visited. It’s fine, sandy beach that stretches over 3 miles makes it one of the best beaches for swimming and surfing in northern California. While I could create a detailed blog post about Stinson Beach (and plan to in the future!), I will briefly highlight some reasons to visit!


One of the obvious reasons to pay Stinson a visit is the beach! Stinson usually has a warm-Mediterranean climate, with temperatures a low of 55 degrees in the winter and a high of 78 degrees in the summer months. During the warmer months, the parking lots usually fill up before 12 pm, so if you are planning a beach day, it’s best to get there around 9 am. There are delicious restaurants, coffee shop, bakery and ice cream shops just a short walk through the parking lot. Lifeguards are on duty if you are wanting to swim, surf or participate in other activities. At the far south end of Stinson Beach is a clothing option beach called Red Rock Beach, and north of Stinson there is a dog friendly beach known as Upton Beach.


Stinson Beach and Bolinas are towns that are known for all their community gardens, farm stands and use of farm to table foods. Not to mention, the seafood is also fresh- and you can certainly taste the difference. The Parkside Cafe met ALL of our needs. We would come here for breakfast (they have amazing pastries) and coffee before heading out for the day. Then, on our way home, we would stop here for supper and try their delicious clam chowder, halibut and salads. The food here is incredible! It’s also located near the beach parking lot.

Next, we switched things up and tried Breaker’s Cafe, not far from Parkside. Like Parkside, they also have an adorable outdoor dining area. We tried their “adult slushie” and grilled halibut tacos. How I wish I could have some right now!

If you want a sweet treat, the Parkside snack bar offers ice cream as well as Breaker’s Ice Cream Shop. Both are not far from the beach, park or beach volleyball area. Other places we would try when we go back are The Sand Dollar, Watershed in Mill Valley and Coast Cafe.


This picturesque beach town offers shopping experiences with a beach/surfer theme. Stinson Beach Market is their general store that has anything you need. Sacred Tide is an adorable boutique with comfortable, beach themed attire. Live Water Surf Shop and Bodega Stinson Beach has an array of clothing, fitness items, snacks and outdoor items for adventurers. Of course, it’s fun to check out the Stinson Beach Book Store, which has unique reads.


Stinson Beach is a perfect base camp for travelers and outdoor enthusiasts because it’s located next to so many iconic places in the Pacific Northwest. To the south you have Muir Beach and Muir Redwoods National Monument. If you enjoy the mountain view, consider visiting Mount Tamplais State Park for hiking trails. If you want to go whale watching or get the best view of the rugged northern California coastline, pay a visit to Point Reyes National Seashore.

Point Reyes National Seashore

Our California Coast Road Trip Itinerary would not be complete without a visit to Point Reyes National Seashore, a natural sanctuary offering 1500 species of plants and animals, sandy beaches, forested ridges, open grasslands and hillsides. While we wish we had spent more time at Point Reyes (we could have easily spent an entire day here), we will share our favorite experiences and activities on our list for next time!


Cypress Tree Tunnel is located halfway between the visitor’s center and Point Reyes Lighthouse. These Monetary Cypress Trees were planted in 1930 and now lead to a historic radio station. This is a popular place for the perfect picture! We stopped here earlier in the morning and walked the tunnel to the radio station. It’s a wonderful surprise on the way to the lighthouse!


The lighthouse was built in 1870 to warn ships of the Point Reyes Headlands (especially on days when the coastline is shrouded in fog). I encourage you to make sure you get gas before making the drive to the lighthouse. The closest gas station is 20 miles away at Point Reyes Station, and once you enter the Point Reyes National Seashore, you will have a 45 minute drive from the Olema/Bear Valley area. Restrooms are available in the visitor’s parking lot, but no food services are available. Also note: The view here is priceless, but cliffs are steep and crumbling in some areas- be careful!

The Point Reyes Parking lot is very limited, so we parked alongside the shoulder of the road not far from the parking lot. We were amazed at the view in this area! We ended up hiking to the observation deck to do some whale watching. As luck would have it, we were able to see quite a few! Some were playing, singing to one another and one even breached the waves. Afterwards, we hiked to the visitor’s center, which has a telescope to look out to the beach. To get an up close look at the lighthouse, be prepared to walk down a narrow staircase with dozens of stairs.


The Chimney Rock Lifeboat Station is an area we did not get to visit, but is one we would love to next time. This is a popular area to view elephant seals, wildflowers and wonderful views of Drake’s Bay and the coastline. There area also hiking trails along the peninsula.


Point Reyes is filled with numerous beaches to explore. You can drive to Drake’s Beach, known for it’s white, sandstone cliffs. There is also a bookstore and visitor’s center here. If you want to drive to the edge of the beach, check out North Beach or South Beach, both stretching over 11 miles.

There are numerous beaches you can hike to, such as Abbots Lagoon Beach, Kehoe Beach, Kelham Beach, Marshall Beach, McClures Beach, Sculptured Beach and Wildcat Beach.


Alamere Falls is located deep within the Philip Burton Wilderness and cascades over a 40 ft cliff onto the beach. It’s no easy task to get here as you must make a 13 mile round trip hike to get here. We were not able to make the trek to the falls, but it is on the list!

Day Five: Sonoma & Napa

We knew we would love wine country, but we were not prepared for how beautiful the rolling hills decorated with vineyards would be in both Sonoma and Napa. When you hear the term Napa Valley, it is actually describing all the towns nestled in the valley, such as Napa, Yountville, St. Helena, Calistoga, American Canyon and Rutherford. Sonoma Valley towns are Sonoma, Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Healdsburg, Windsor and Cloverdale- just to name a few!

We spent our time in Sonoma, Napa and a Yountville. All the valley towns are unique and special in their own way, and we would have needed a few weeks to truly explore all of them!


Our base camp for the second stretch of our trip was in Sonoma. Between Napa and Sonoma, Sonoma is bit cheaper but still just as beautiful. We spent a lot of our time in Sonoma Plaza, because it has all the experiences in one place (wine tasting, shopping, art galleries, food, historic sites).

Historical Sites

For historical sites, we checked out the Bear Flag Monument. which symbolizes when the people revolted against the Mexican government to proclaim California as an independent republic. We also saw historical buildings like Sebastiani Theater, Depot Park Museum and Toscano Hotel.

Places to Eat

Sonoma is filled with delicious places to eat and go wine tasting. Here are the places located downtown that we suggest trying: Sunflower Caffe for breakfast, the Plaza Bistro for lunch, the Girl and the Fig for dinner and Steiner’s for a drink. For dessert, check out Top That Yogurt or Sweet Scoops.


Sonoma has the cutest decorated alleyways and hidden plazas around each corner for shopping. We enjoyed exploring those and visiting their trendy shops. If you want to experience unique shops, consider these: Shop vintage at Tiddle E. Winks, shop women’s clothes at Perle, go gift shopping at H frank, shop women’s apparel at Wildeflower and pick up delicious chocolates at Wine Country Chocolates.


When visiting Napa, we went wine tasting, explored the down town and the views. Personally, we loved downtown Napa a bit more compared to Sonoma because there are more options. However, reservations are needed at most places to eat, so make sure to plan ahead-especially during the harvest season of August to October.


Out of everywhere we explored on our trip, we vote Napa as the best place to go shopping. Not only are there tons of options, the stores are trendy and such a vibe! Parking is available on the ramps or all over downtown and is free. Here are our favorite women’s clothing stores that you will not find elsewhere: Shoppe Twelve Girl, Boho Lifestyle, Johnny Was, Muguette Renee Boutique, Bombshell Vintage, Honey Whiskey Boutique, The Perfect Provenance and Betty’s Girl Napa. Our favorite other kinds of shops were State & First (Napa Lifestyle), Earth & Sky Chocolates, Riza’s Plants, Napa Bookmine (book store), Antiques on Second and Nostalgia of Napa.

Oxbow Public Market

As if downtown Napa didn’t have enough activities, Oxbow Public Market has even more to add! We were parked downtown but able to easily walk to the Oxbow Public Market. We could tell right away that this is the local gathering place for wine tasting and food. Highlights of the Oxbow Public Market is Hog Island Oyster Company, Model Bakery, Oxbow Cheese & Wine and Bar Lucia/


Visit Fat Tire Bike Rentals and cruise downtown Napa comfortably. You can also explore more of wine country on your bike on Napa Valley Vine Trail. If you love art, Jessel Gallery should definitely be on your list. Not only can you view the gallery, but you can also join one of their weekly water color or acrylics classes. For the music lovers out there, Feast It Forward Studio should be on your itinerary whether it’s at one of their festivals, shows or the studio paired with wine tasting! From 8 am to 12 pm on Saturdays, you can visit the Napa Farmer’s Market. If you are looking for the best view of Napa, take a cruise down Skyline Wilderness Park.

Wine Tasting

We started off our wine tasting experience doing a sip and walk at the Berginer Vineyards. When you first arrive, you check in at the entrance & they will present the wines to you and ask which one you would like to taste. From there, you get to walk through the gardens, vineyards and even explore the lower part of the mansion. This was a cheaper wine tasting experience at $25.

Technically located in Yountville. our favorite experience (and wine) from our travels was at the Hill Family Estate. If you have heard of the Hill Family Estate, you may note this is where the WWE Bella Twins, Nikki & Brie, run their wine business from & who they also work with. We had a tour of the winery and had the best view we could ever ask for. Our wine tasting was in the vineyards and rolling hills of wine country. We enjoyed a Charcuterie board and had generous samplings of 5 delicious wines- we even bought a bottle to take home! Our host was incredible and very knowledgeable about the wine industry and the area. We would definitely come back here again!

Day Six: Yosemite National Park

We dedicated an entire day to Yosemite National Park, but knew it wouldn’t be enough! There are several entrances (we used the north one) and highlights to Yosemite, but we chose to focus our adventure in Yosemite Valley- and it did not disappoint! Yosemite is known for it’s waterfalls, deep valleys, meadows and ancient giant Sequoias. I would encourage you to come as early as you can to decrease wait time and grab a parking spot- especially if you are headed to Yosemite Valley. Be here before 8am!

Yosemite Valley

Even before you enter Yosemite Valley, there are quite a few scenic stops. We were able to see half dome near some pull outs from the road and also saw Bridal Veil falls. We were told when we got to the Yosemite Valley entrance there was no more parking spots. We decided to wait it out and enter any ways, stopping at scenic overlooks and viewing Glacial Tunnel. By the time we finished, we were able to secure a spot! We stopped at the visitor’s center (I always have to get my stickers and magnets!) first, then proceeded to Lower Yosemite Falls. The trail from the visitor’s center is very short. We also explore Yosemite Village.

Do you enjoy National Parks? Check out our guide to the Grand Canyon in Arizona and Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota.

Mirror Lake

One of the places we were determined to see was the famous Mirror Lake. It was a total of 10 miles of a hike, but we knew with the time we had, we would be able to view some amazing things along the way. When we first started out on Mirror Lake Trail, we came across a horse farm. It was a neat experience to see the horses on the farm with the mountains and valleys in the background. We hiked to a rest area, which was right across a gorgeous meadow. We could see half dome from here as well as lovely waterfalls.

Next, we started hiking along the Merced River, which is a beautiful site all on its own.The trail has some inclines and some areas with roots and rocks sticking out of the ground, but I would not say it was a difficult hike. Merced River flows into what turns into Mirror Lake. Make sure you view all of the lake to get the real experience of why they call it Mirror Lake. You also still have a gorgeous view of half dome from Mirror Lake.

As always, we encourage everyone to follow the 7 Principles when enjoying wildlife. Check out our guide on How to Make Every Day Earth Day.

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