After spending the past weeks at home, I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to explore Northern California. This ultimate one week itinerary for Northern California is my love letter from the joy I’ve experienced re-exploring these places. From the coastal escapes like Monterey and Big Sur, to the beauty of Yosemite National Park, there are incredible places here in Northern California. With a ton of emails coming on what to do while here, I wanted to share my ultimate one week itinerary for Northern California. It’s based on the past few excursions, with a combination of time exploring slowly and really enjoying each of the destinations.
The Ultimate One Week Itinerary for Northern California
Good to know before
- For a trip like this, a car is definitely needed to explore. I would opt to get the car after visiting San Francisco and continuing on the road trip from there.
- Weather in Northern California can range from foggy to hot, so pack a variety of clothing.
- The name of the game is beating traffic and it’s best done by planning around rush hour. Check ahead before hopping on the road.
Where to stay in Northern California
Depending on your itinerary, you could plan to stay in a variety of places. I would opt for two nights in each destination.
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Yosemite National Park Hotels: You have the option of staying in the park at the luxe hotel, or in these cheaper cabins. They reserve fast so if you can’t grab a spot, staying in Mariposa is a budget-friendly option.
One Week Itinerary
Day 1: Arrive in San Francisco
The first day is perfect to settle into your hotel in SF. Pending on where you’ve based yourself, it could be a good day to go for a walk on the Embarcadero and take in the view, or head to the Mission to dive straight into the food scene. Either way, you can’t go wrong. Check out this post on my favorite eats in San Francisco by neighborhood to help guide your foodie cravings.
Day 2: Explore San Francisco
Today you can pack a ton in. Some of my favorite places to explore are the Conservatory of Flowers, Alamo Square + Painted Ladies, Sutro Baths, the De Young Museum, walking in the Marina, and stopping by the Palace of Fine Arts, and exploring the hip neighborhood of Hayes Valley.
Day 3: Make the drive to Carmel
Jump in your car for an early start to beat rush hour, and make the three-hour drive down into Carmel. I’d recommend stopping in Monterey along the way. It’s quirky but fun to see the old town. Afterward, head into Carmel. The downtown is perfect for an afternoon stroll and you can grab dinner right in town.
Day 4: Explore Big Sur
The road down to Big Sur is certainly my favorite drive in California. I love to pack a lunch, stop along the way to look at the views, and soak in the sun. Highlights include Bixby Bridge, grabbing pastries at Big Sur Bakery, seeing McWay Falls, and a hike in the park. There are plenty of places to hike in Big Sur and recommend taking a look at this list.
Day 5: Make the drive to Yosemite
It’s a bit of a jaunt to Yosemite but well worth it. You can spend easily a half-day exploring if you get an early start. I’d recommend doing the valley floor and stopping off at the waterfalls today and save a big hike for a full day in the park. Here’s an ultimate weekend guide to Yosemite to help plan your adventures.
Day 6: Explore Yosemite
Take a full day to enjoy the park. There’s plenty to see and choose from one of the many hikes.
Day 7: Return to San Francisco
Make the drive back to SF!
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Use Booking.com for hotels and guest houses. They have the biggest inventory and consistently offer the best rates.
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4. Book Your Car
Use Discover Cars or Rentalcars.com to find the best car rental deals. I recommend comparing rental agency reviews on Google to ensure you are booking with the best company in that destination, as the reviews are often more accurate than the car rental search engines.
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