This article originally appeared on Travelocity.com
I love to explore Northern California because of its diversity. You can go from city to ocean to mountains to farmland in just a few miles. Memorial Day is an ideal time for a San Francisco to Monterey road trip. Come along with me as I share my long weekend of California fun.
Day 1 | San Francisco
I started my escape with a short flight to San Francisco. I enjoy flying into SFO because the airport is relatively easy to navigate. We picked up a rental car at the airport and drove the short 30-minute drive into downtown San Francisco, where we had booked a room at the beautiful Loews Regency San Francisco, located right downtown on Sansome Street. The Loews Regency takes “room with a view” to the next level.
For me, this is an ideal way to start a vacation — luxurious rooms, breathtaking city and bay views, and decadent spa treatments all in the middle of one of my favorite cities in the world.
We had a lovely king room with a bay view. It gives you such an amazing perspective on San Francisco when you can look out and see the Transamerica Building, Coit Tower, San Francisco Bay with its bridges, and the city moving below you.
Spend the remainder of your day exploring the city. Just walking along the streets, riding the cable cars, eating in the restaurants and taking a quick jaunt down to Fisherman’s Wharf will fill your afternoon with wonder and put you in the perfect relaxation mode to start your vacation weekend. If you have time, I recommend booking one of the sightseeing boat tours with Blue & Gold Fleet. Both the San Francisco Bay Cruise and Escape From Rock cruise are great ways to see the city from the water and learn about the area. They depart multiple times each day from Pier 39.
Day 2 | Down California’s Highway One
Start your next day off early by packing up and heading to the San Francisco Botanical Garden. This 55-acre urban garden located inside Golden Gate Park features more than 8,000 plants from all over the world.
It is not only a lovely place to stroll, unwind, and enjoy the colors of foliage and blossoms, but it has great open spaces where you can let the kids run before you start out on your road trip down the coast.
The botanical garden is located at 9th Avenue and opens at 7:30 a.m. daily. There’s convenient parking just inside Golden Gate Park, if you enter on 9th Avenue and Lincoln Way, the garage is the third right. There is a charge of $5 per hour to park on weekends. The garden charges admission of $8 per adult, with discounts for children and seniors. For $17, you can purchase a family admission, good for two adults and all kids under 17 living in the same house. The park offers free entry daily from 7:30-9 a.m. and on the second Tuesday of each month.
Now you are ready to head south on Highway 1 toward the charming town of Carmel-By-The-Sea.
While the drive takes about three hours without stopping, you should plan on all day, with a few stops along the way. Two of my favorite stops are at Half Moon Bay State Beach, Pigeon Point Light Station, and Pescadero State Beach.
Half Moon Bay State Beach is a lovely spot for an afternoon picnic. There are four miles of wide sandy beaches here, making it ideal for a road trip stop. Keep in mind that the water here is always cold, even in summer and dogs are not allowed on the beach.
As you continue south along Highway 1, the road often hugs the coast, making it one of the country’s most dramatic drives. Another great stop is about 14 miles south at Pescadero State Beach.
On the ocean side at Pescadero, you can enjoy the rocky outcroppings, a mile of sandy beach, some fun tide pools, and a few picnic tables. Across the highway is the Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve. This refuge, which is home to an assortment of birds, blue heron, deer, foxes and more, is popular with nature lovers.
After you have some beach time, continue south on Highway 1 for another few miles to the Pigeon Point Light Station Park. While you can no longer go up inside the lighthouse, it is a great spot to explore.
After a day exploring the beaches and driving down the coast, you’ll be ready for a relaxing night. The best spot to stay is in Carmel-By-The-Sea. This charming little village has a fun history, is filled with cottages, quaint inns, great restaurants, and some fun little boutiques. We stayed at La Playa Carmel, a beautiful inn just a couple of blocks from the ocean.
La Playa was built in 1905 as the luxurious mansion of an artist and his wife. Today, the 75-room historic hotel is filled with charm, making it the perfect spot for you to spend the rest of your weekend on the coast. The rooms with ocean views are my favorites. You can throw open the windows and relax with the sound of the waves crashing on the rocks. La Playa Carmel has a pool, beautiful garden, a daily champagne breakfast buffet, and a wine tasting in the lobby each evening.
Day 3 | Exploring Carmel and Monterey
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is one must-see just three miles south of Carmel on Highway 1. As long as the weather is not stormy, you can hike, take photos and experience the breathtaking natural beauty from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.