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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

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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San Francisco Hotels: I love the new design at the Proper Hotel, the Fairmont is my favorite for old-world luxury, or you could stay at an Airbnb.

Carmel / Big Sur Hotels: I think the bucket list hotel is always the Post Ranch Inn. I love the design at Ventana, and for in Carmel, the Hotel Carmel is a great choice.

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. The Ultimate One Week Itinerary for Northern California

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.

The Ultimate One Week Itinerary for Northern California

The Ultimate One Week Itinerary for Northern California

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.

The Ultimate One Week Itinerary for Northern California

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.

The Ultimate One Week Itinerary for Northern California

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. The Ultimate One Week Itinerary for Northern California

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.

The Ultimate Weekend Guide to Yosemite National Park

Day 7: Return to San Francisco

Make the drive back to SF!

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PS — Are You Booking a Trip Soon? Use My Booking Checklist!

These are the sites I use most to book my own trips. Using the links below is a great way to support Bon Traveler’s travel journalism at no extra cost to you. If you need help organizing your itinerary, get my free travel itinerary template here.

1. Book Your Flights

I use Skyscanner to find the best flights. It searches 100s of airlines and websites across the globe to ensure you’re not missing out on any route options or deals.

2. Book Your Accommodations

I use for hotels and guest houses. They have the biggest inventory and consistently offer the best rates.

3. Book Your Tours & Experiences

I use Viator or Get Your Guide to find the best tours and experiences. They are my favorite tour search engines. I always check both as their inventory varies depending on the destination.

4. Book Your Rental Car

Self-driving is the best way to explore most destinations. I use Discover Cars for our rental cars, select full coverage insurance, and opt for a reputable company like Alamo, Hertz, or Sixt.

5. Don’t Forget Airport Lounge Access

I use Priority Pass to gain access to 1,400+ VIP lounges and airport experiences worldwide. The Priority Pass app is the first thing I check when I have a layover. I’ve been a member for over a decade, and having a comfortable place to relax before and between flights makes air travel so much more enjoyable.

6. Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

I never leave the country without travel insurance. It provides comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong (ie. illness, injury, theft, and cancelations, etc.). I use it frequently for my travels to stay protected.

My favorite companies that offer the best coverage and rates are:


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