A California Road Trip
What better way to entice someone to come home from traveling than to extend their vacation even longer? That’s exactly what I did to get my twin sister, Madison, to come home from traveling through South America. I convinced her to meet me for a road trip through California first before flying home to Toronto. Actually, this all started before she even left for South America when we bought tickets to see one of our favorite sister bands, Haim, at the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheater in Denver, Colorado. We had no real plans to go but the tickets were affordable and the location was a bucket list spot for a concert so we thought even if we don’t end up going we could always sell them. Fast forward a few months and we somehow planned a trip that went from Los Angeles, California to Denver, Colorado.
Toronto – Los, Angeles (Venice Beach/Santa Monica) – Malibu – Santa Barbara - Pismo Beach - San Luis Obispo - Big Sur – Carmel by the Sea – Monterey – San Francisco – Denver, Colorado – Toronto
Los Angeles, California
Of course there are so many options for hotels in LA and you could stay in many different areas but my favorite and most tried spots are Santa Monica and Venice Beach/Abbott Kinney.
Venice Beach: Airbnb $-$$$
- Most of you know I always mix it up between airbnb and hotels. In Venice Beach there are a variety of airbnbs, from shared rooms for much less $ to private houses on the beach if you feel like a splurge - you can really find it all.
Santa Monica: The Huntley Hotel $$$
- A 2 minute walk from the beach, third street promenade and a ton of restaurants & shops - this hotel is in a great location! The rooms are very modern at a higher price point but worth it if you feel like a treat. This hotel also has a stunning penthouse restaurant/lounge bar with views all the way out to Malibu and across Santa Monica.
*Rent bikes/check before you book Airbnb or Hotel to see if they offer complimentary bikes. Biking along the boardwalk is a great way to see Venice-Santa Monica area and enjoy the shops along the way and the beach & ocean views.
- Third Street Promenade (Shops & Restaurants in Santa Monica)
- Santa Monica Pier (touristy but pretty views)
- Flower Child (Kombucha on Tap – Delicious Salad Bowls & Great Spot to Work - Santa Monica)
- Sweet Green (Easy & Quick Build Your Own Salad Bowls - Santa Monica & Other Locations)
- Courtyard Kitchen (Beautiful Patio & Delicious Italian - Santa Monica)
- Tocaya Organica (Tasty Mexican - Santa Monica)
- Tallulah’s (Delicious Mexican with festive décor - Santa Monica)
- Beaming Wellness (Smoothie Bowls - Santa Monica)
- Butcher’s Daughter (Great brunch on Abbott Kinney – Venice Beach)
- Gracias Madre (Beautiful Patio & Delicious Mexican West Hollywood)
- Erowhon (Amazing Grocery Store in Venice Beach)
- The Rose Café & Market (cute patio/big restaurant for healthy bowls, cocktails – Venice)
- Hotel Erwin (beautiful rooftop views of Santa Monica/Venice)
- Ruby’s (Australian – Salad Bowls - Santa Monica)
- Santa Monica Farmer’s Market (every Tuesday)
Malibu has a completely different vibe than Venice, Santa Monica, downtown or West Hollywood. Only a 20-30 minute drive from Santa Monica (depending on traffic), Malibu is an easy spot for dinner or a little getaway and I would say a great spot for your first stop on your road trip if you’re starting in LA.
Where to Stay: M Malibu $$ (A cute motel on the PCH with a little pool and also walking distance to all spots in Malibu) / Surfrider $$$ (This spot is right on PCH and walking distance to all spots. Very cool surf, relaxing vibes and a stunning rooftop bar/lounge with creative cocktails and freshly cooked, locally sourced menu)
- Malibu Pier Restaurant (At the end of the pier – open for brunch/lunch)
- Malibu Farm (Beautiful for dinner & cocktails)
- Nobu Malibu (high end spot for drinks/celebrity spotting)
A quick stop somewhere along the way…
On our way to Pismo Beach we stopped to explore Santa Barbara. We loved the antique shops and adorable main street.
We stayed at a very affordable and cute Airbnb in this small town. Had we known how little there is to do here we probably would have stayed in San Luis Obispo but it did the trick and was an easy drive to all the great spots in San Luis Obispo.
San Luis Obispo
We decided to add San Luis Obispo to our road trip pretty last minute after I heard from family friends that it has a beautiful wine country. Read all about our wine tasting tour day here!
Where to Stay: Madonna Inn $$ - a magical hotel built by the family who built the PCH – each room is a different theme. We hadn’t heard of this hotel prior to seeing it on the side of the highway but as soon as we arrived we knew it was something special. The dining room is entirely pink from the velour dining alcoves to the ceiling flowers..PINK. It’s truly something to see and experience. / Airbnb $
Things to do in SLO
- Bubblegum Alley (a cute little spot to stop and see and stick a piece of gum)
- Farmers Market (every Thursday ALL year round)
- Ferrara Oven (delicious Italian with local wines and a beautiful back outdoor patio)
Where to Stay: Big Sur Lodge $$ / Camping $
We spent the day driving from San Luis Obispo (started early in the morning) – here are our stops and how we avoided the detours (some of the PCH is closed due to mudslides so your maps will naturally take you inland to avoid detours but if you’re willing to spend a bit more time on the road you can enjoy the most stunning coastal views)
San Luis Obispo (up Hwy 101) – Lucia – PCH – Julia Pfieffer Park (McWay Falls) – Nepenthe Restaurant (the incredible view is matched with the friendly staff – the food & wine is local & tasty) – Big Sur Bakery (you can miss this spot if you drive too fast – right in the woods stop here for cookies!) – Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge – Valley View – Big Sur Roadhouse – Point Sur State Historic Bridge – Bixby Creek Bridge – Rocky Point Restaurant – Granite Canyon Bridge – Carmel by The Sea
Reserve Tickets/Try to get tickets to Esalen Late Night Baths @1am (buy tickets the same day 8/9am online)
Carmel by the Sea
Where to Stay: Quail Lodge $$
We loved this golf & country club to stay in during our time in Carmel. A quick 15 minute drive outside of the main street this hotel is set on a lush property with fountains, a gorgeous pool and a stunning main house, dining area.
- 17 Mile Drive
- Pebble Beach (famous golf course)
The draw to Monterey for me was Big Little Lies. The television show paints this town as picture prefect ocean side living when in reality the Monterey pier is full of arcade type shops and fast food chowder places, may be enjoyable for some people but I’m honestly glad we didn’t spend too much time here. Other than a few cool antique shops and nice restaurants surrounding the main street there was really not much else to see.
Arriving in San Fran at sunset for the first time was so magical. We drove straight to the Golden Gate Bridge and watched the sunset over the city. I instantly fell in love with SF – it’s winding streets, restaurants, bars and shops on every corner felt like the city life of NYC with the laid back ocean side vibes of LA.
We were starving when we got in so we decided to head straight to dinner. Although, we didn’t try all of these spots they did come highly recommended by locals.
- Sociale (Italian)
- Papito Hayes (Mexican)
- a Mano (Italian)
- Contiga (tapas)
- Smuggler’s Cove (Tiki Bar - hard to get in but so adorable inside)
- Jane (multiple locations – Praana St. for shops/healthy area)
- Greens (dinner too but I think for brunch would have the best view to see the Golden Gate Bridge)
- The Grove
Alamo Square (beautiful views of the city & great spot to picnic)
Golden Gate Bridge at Sunset
Haight & Ashbury (shopping area/historic hippie district)
Our final stop on our California Road Trip (read about our trip here). We had tickets to see Haim in Denver at The Red Rocks Amphitheater before we even started thinking about California. When we began booking our California trip we decided to spend two days in Denver (one before the show and one after)
Where to Stay: Kimpton
- This hotel exceeded all expectations. We booked very last minute and spent under $200 and the room we got was massive – incredible service, daily happy hour, complimentary bikes, great local recommendations, a hotel puppy (need I say more?)
What to do:
Renting bikes was great because you can really see the entire city this way!
Red Rocks Theater -This theater is crazy to see in real life. People pour in just before the show and it feels like you’re at a very rich friends backyard.
Thanks so much for following along, I hope I inspire you to plan your own California road trip!