The State of California offers an abundance of activities for all. From its tall redwood trees, world class beaches, award winning wines, bustling cities and culinary delights. Of course, it is not possible to see everything in one trip, so I decided to narrow our trip down to visiting 3 locations: San Francisco, Napa Valley and Yosemite National Park. Below, I have created an itinerary of places you cannot miss on your next trip to California!
Itinerary At A Glance:
Day 1- Day 3: San Francisco
Day 4- Day 6: Napa Valley
Day 6- Day 9: Yosemite National Park
Day 1- Day 3: Explore San Francisco:
The city of San Francisco is known for its colorful neighborhoods, delicious cuisine and beautiful views. From gorgeous landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge to incredible food in Chinatown to quirky spots like Lombard Street. This San Francisco travel guide will help you make a memorable trip to the City by the Bay!
Best Way To Get Around: The best way to really see the city is by foot, however San Francisco can be tiring to walk with all of the massive hills. I would recommend using the Clipper card to pay for public transportation around the city. You can also use this card to get to and from the San Francisco airport by train.
Traveler Tip: If you are using public transportation to get into the city from the airport, I would recommend buying and loading your Clipper card at the airport for all the money you may need for your whole trip. We made the mistake of only loading the card for the train trip into the city and back to the airport. When we needed to use buses in the city, we loaded the money on the app, however the money took a few days to process and we were not able to use the card.
Fisherman's Wharf: Fisherman's Wharf is a dining, shopping and entertainment destination. Being one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city, this attraction brings in large touristic crowds and is best known for being the location of Pier 39. Some travelers may prefer the quieter, more authentic attractions the city has to offer, however if you are looking to explore the city in its entirety, Fisherman's Wharf, is a must-see.
Pier 39: While at Fisherman's Wharf, walk towards Pier 39, where you will find a great shopping area with shops, bars and restaurants, and a few carnival rides! Pier 39 is known for its views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge and Alcatraz, as well as the famous sea lions on K-Dock! Also, be sure to dress warmly on this day, as the pier can get quite windy when you approach the water.
Traveler Tip: Avoid eating at Pier 39, as it is a touristic attraction prices can be high and food quality can be low. A better option may be Ghirardelli Square, home of the famous Chocolate Company, and the Ferry Building, packed with good restaurants. The best clam chowder in town is at Boudin Bakery.
Palace of Fine Arts- A popular wedding location, the Palace of Fine Arts makes for some lovely photo opportunities.
Lombard Street- Check out the worlds windiest street filled with blooming flowers and eight hairpin turns.
Ghirardelli Square- Best at night when the square lights up! Perfect for a cup of hot chocolate on a chilly day!
Go Shopping in Union Square- At the heart of the city, Union Square is a shopping hub, with large department stores, designer boutiques, art galleries and plenty of cafés and bars. This part of town is always busy with life and a nice place for sightseeing. You can also buy tickets here to ride the famous cable cars.
Alamo Square's Painted Ladies- These houses – made famous from the TV show Full House- are great examples of the architecture found throughout San Francsico. These colorful Victorian style houses and the beautiful skyline of San Francisco are definitely worth visiting on your trip.
Explore China Town- San Francisco has one of the largest China Town's outside of Asia, boasting a number of markets, specialty shops and restaurants. We were lucky enough to witness the Moon Festival, a fall festival celebrating harvest, bazaars, traditional dancing and the famous- mooncakes.
JapanTown- Not as large as China Town, JapanTown also has a number of beautiful Japanese architecture, delicious food and a great atmosphere to explore.
Nob Hill- Nob Hill was one of my favorite neighborhoods to explore in San Francisco. Known for its luxury hotels, historic mansions and beautiful architecture. These steep streets are filled with restaurants, specialty stores and nightspots. Be sure to check out Grace Cathedral, one of San Francisco’s most iconic landmarks after the Golden Gate Bridge.
Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Hotel - Enjoy a steaming pot of tea over house-made scones, tea sandwiches and luscious french pastries in the Fairmont's most elegant dining room.
Golden Gate Park- The Golden Gate Park is to San Francisco what Central Park is to New York, only the Golden Gate Park is much larger. Boasting a number of activities, from museums and botanical gardens to a Bison Paddock and windmills. This park is definitely a must see when you are visiting the city. Be sure to bring comfortable shoes to walk in because this park is impressively large.
Some activities in the park include: San Francisco’s Botanical Garden, the Dutch Windmill; beautiful when the tulips are in bloom, the Bison Paddock, home to a herd of Bison that live in an enclosed field, in the middle of the city, and the Japanese Garden, filled with Japanese flowers, pagodas and even a tea shop.
Golden Gate Bridge- THE iconic landmark to visit in San Francisco. Some of the best lookout points are:
Other Places on my Bucket list:
Twin Peaks Hike- The Twin Peaks are two hills from where you can get incredible views of San Francisco. You can hike up or – if you are in a rush – take an Uber.
Lands End- Another park beautiful park of San Francisco, where you will find a nice network of walking trails along the cliffs. The views of the ocean from there are stunning, and you can even see the remains of the Sutro Baths, a complex of public saltwater swimming pools.
Places to Eat:
San Francisco is known for its delicious food, here are 4 spots I would whole heartedly recommend.
Sweet Maple- Breakfast & Brunch
Lapisara- Breakfast & Lunch
Amber India Restaurant- Dinner
Day Trip to Sausalito: California's Amalfi Coast
Just over the Golden Gate Bridge lies the bustling small town of Sausalito, known for its easy breezy atmosphere and beautiful view of the San Francisco skyline.
Things To Do:
Explore Old Town- The Old Town of Sausalito features a long stretch of water-front views with cafes and souvenir stores on the opposing side. . Be sure to check out Different coffee shops and souvenir stores all along the boardwalk.
There is a long stretch of water-front paths that you can walk down. This may have been my favorite part about visiting Sausalito. It is so calming, and you’ll likely pass lots of locals walking their dogs. Eventually, make your way into town. There are a couple of local boutiques that you can pop in and out of before visiting the Viña Del Mar Park.
Lapperts Ice Cream- No visit to Sausalito would be complete without a cone from the area’s famous Lappert’s Ice Cream. Since Lapperts is a true Hawaiian staple, you’ll find unique hawaiian-inspired island flavors on rotation, including ube, caramel coconut macadamia nut, horchata, and kona mocha chip.
Sausalito Bakery & Cafe- Located across the Boardwalk, this bakery is known for its delicious pastries and coffee. Be sure to sit on the French- style patio or pick up a coffee and pastry to go.
Davey Jones Deli- BEST SANDWICHES I HAVE EVER HAD - located in a convenience store, do not let this throw you off. Davey Jones is one of the best sub places I have ever had. Clean, fresh and thoughtfully sourced, this place is a MUST- TRY when visiting Sausalito.
Visit the Houseboats- This is one of the most popular attractions in Sausalito. The area has some very unique houseboat communities unlike anything you've ever seen before.
Muir Woods- Home of the Californian Redwood trees, this park boasts some of the tallest redwood trees and has some great hikes! I would recommend taking a whole day to enjoy this park in its entirety. However, if you are also visiting national parks in California, the scenic views at Muir Woods may not be as beautiful.
Day 4- Day 6: Napa Valley: Wine Country
Only one hour away from San Francisco, this small slice of heaven is home to some of life's greatest indulgences- food, wine, relaxation and more! Napa Valley is internationally known for its beautiful vineyards and high quality and high value wines. Many love to tour the scenic private vineyards and taste the delicious wines each vineyard has to offer. However, when researching Napa Valley, I was immediately overwhelmed by all of the vineyards in the area and could not decide which to pick from. I noticed that most of the vineyards in Napa Valley had great reviews and many were known for either their award winning wines, scenic castles and caves or artisanal cheeses. After much deliberation, I decided on the below vineyards and I could not be more happy!
Vineyards I Visited:
V. Sattui: If you prefer to pick out your own bottle of wine and some meats and cheeses, V. Sattui is definitely the winery for you! We skipped the wine tasting here and instead went to the on site market and picked out a bottle of wine and a few cheeses and meats to picnic. The gorgeous views and delicious wine is a must when visiting Napa and can also be a cheaper option than the tasting.
Castello Di Amorosa: Located in Calistoga, this medieval- style Tuscan Castle winery boasts World- Class wine tastings and tours. Sharing the same owner as V. Sattui, this vineyard is a must visit. Not only is it on the cheaper side of the wineries in Napa Valley, but it is also nestled in the rolling hills of Calistoga, with some really beautiful views. We were able to taste 6 different wines of our choosing and also tour the grand castle. This was a great deal as some of the vineyards in Napa did not allow visitors to tour their grounds.
Chateau Montelena: Known for its World- Class Chardonnay, this winery has some of the most beautiful grounds in the Napa Valley. This French- Inspired chateau is a must visit when exploring Napa Valley.
Other Vineyards On My Bucket List:
Traveler Tip: Be sure to reserve your wine tasting experience in advance, as many of the vineyards fill up quickly.
Places to Eat:
Gotts Roadside- Although this place is well known for its burgers and shakes, I would recommend the Ahi Tacos. With a few locations in Napa Valley and San Francisco, Gotts Roadside is a definite must-try while visiting California.
Model Bakery- Famous for their English Muffins, the Model Bakery is worth a try for anyone who wants to check out the hype behind their famous English Muffins. Were they fresh? Yes. Would I try again? Probably not.
Oxbox Public Market- Located in Downtown Napa, this market is a great option for lunch as it features different food vendors, local produce & more.
Day 6- Day 9: Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park has some of the most gorgeous views in California and is well known for its sight seeing and rock climbing. Home to big-name tourist attractions, like Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls, this park offers something for everyone.
How To Get Around: You can get to and around Yosemite on public transit, but I recommend having your own car, as the park is very large.
Where To Stay: We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Rush Creek Lodge and would definitely recommend if you are planning a relaxing trip in the mountains.
Traveler Tip: Although we only stayed 10 minutes outside of the park, I would still recommend getting lodging inside the park if you are able to. As Yosemite is quite large, it still took us 45-50 minutes to get to most of the popular spots within the park.
Hikes To Do:
Half Dome is arguably the most challenging and most well known hike in Yosemite. The hike to Half Dome was one of the biggest hikes I have ever completed and most rewarding to date. However, I will say that it did not come without its challenges. If you are looking to complete this hike, be sure to give yourself a full day and start as early as you can. Additionally, come prepared with all the food and water you will need; the minimum recommended water intake is 4 liters and you will need to bring food to snack on every 2-3 hours. We decided to start the trail at 6am and only finished at 5:30pm and although we brought more than enough food, we did run out of water the last few miles down and we definitely were showing signs of dehydration.
The Half Dome ascent and metal cables to reach the summit of the dome is the most exhilarating part of hike and if you're not careful can be fatal. The near-vertical, final 400 feet up the cables can be extremely terrifying but so rewarding when you reach the summit of the dome and see the stunning 360 views of the park. I would recommend fueling up before starting the cables as you will need the arm strength to pull yourself up the mountain. Also, be sure to bring gloves for the cables as your hands will definitely get torn while climbing. However, if you forget (like us) many generous hikers leave their gloves at the bottom of the cables for others to use. My last and most important tip for this hike, would be to make sure you have proper hiking boots or sneakers on when ascending and descending the cables. The granite can be extremely slippery and shoes with good grip can really make the difference between having a great experience or terrifying one.
Before my trip, I bought these Columbia hiking boots and they had great grip and were comfortable throughout the hike.
Traveler Tip: In order to ascend the cables and reach the summit of the dome, you will need to apply for the permit. Permits for day hikers are distributed by lottery via Recreation.gov in March and daily lotteries during the hiking season.
Sentinel Dome and Taft Point Loop: This loop is a 5.1 mile heavily trafficked loop trail that should definitely be done towards the end of the day. As the start of the trail allows you to choose which side of the loop you would like to start with, I would recommend doing sentinel dome first and then looping around to Taft Point just in time for sunset. This spot provides for a magnificent view of the sunset and is only 2 miles back to the parking lot, if you are nervous hiking in the dark.
Lower Yosemite Falls Trail- This trail is an easy mile loop that features a lake, meadows and a lower view of Yosemite Falls. I would recommend this trail after hiking a difficult trail like Half Dome as the elevation gain is very low and the land is primarily flat.
Tunnel View- Easily accessible from the parking lot, Tunnel View makes for an easy sunrise spot as you won't have to hike in the early morning to reach the spot. You can marvel at the beautiful view from your car window as you watch the sun rise and sip on your morning coffee.
Traveler Tip: Check out the Yosemite National Park website for details on park entry, lodging, and more.
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