How, as a California native, had I not done this spectacular drive before??? The California coastal area between Point Reyes and Mendocino is breathtaking, and a couple of days trip allows you to explore this beautiful coastal area of Northern California (and a 3-4 day trip would allow you to get even more in-depth on all it has to offer, or it could be combined with a Sonoma wine country trip).  Just a stone’s throw from San Francisco and the Bay Area, it seems a world away. 


Here is a two-day fall itinerary. Fall was a perfect time to visit with the colors changing, the beautiful sunsets, and the lack of crowds. And FYI cell service is spotty along this route. Download a map of Point Reyes trail hikes ahead of time if you plan to do some hiking, as well as those of any other parks you plan to visit/hike at.

Day 1: Bay Area – Point Reyes – Jenner

Drive from the Bay Area to Point Reyes Station (the town at Point Reyes). Point Reyes Station is approximately 1-hour drive north of San Francisco. You can take the slightly longer drive up the coast if you want to stop at Stinson Beach (Park Side Cafe is great for breakfast or lunch) or Bolinas (nice museum) en route. 

Point Reyes Station:

This really cute town has a small-town feel, but enough restaurants, shops, etc to wander around for an hour or two (more if you stay for a meal). Worth a stop, even if just picking up some sandwiches for a hike in the park.


Toby’s Coffee ‘Counter’, next door to the Post Office

The Station House restaurant

The Farmer’s Wife – Supposedly the best sandwich you’ll ever have…and yes they are around $25! But supposedly they are big enough to feed three people. 

Brickmaiden Breads – for great baked goods and sandwiches (they do sell out so grab early if possible)


Toby’s general store  – for gifts, picnic items

Palace Market – for all your grocery or picnic needs

Vita – for beautifully curated Homewares, Gifts, Clothing

Coyuchi – Outlet for the fancy upscale bedding brand

Monk Estate– well curated home goods and antique jewelry (plus gallery in back)

Lunch in Olema:

Olema is just a 5-10 minute drive south and there is a supercharger at Tavern X Market, where you can also grab a sandwich, or a meal next door at Due West Tavern Restaurant.

Point Reyes/Inverness:

Time to hike and explore! Point Reyes is a hiker’s delight. You can also see a ton just driving around. It is a big area and be sure you have a map downloaded, or take a photo of a map, in case you don’t have a cell signal so you know your way around. You can find a map here.

Suggested hikes/areas to explore include:

You can also rent Kayaks at Blue Water in downtown Inverness

If you decide to stay overnight in this area, options include:

Manka’s Inverness Lodge

Cottages at Point Reyes

Nick’s Cove (see below)

After Leaving Point Reyes, drive North 

Nick’s Cove: 20 minutes north of Point Reyes on Tomales Bay is Nick’s Cove which is a place to stay as well as a place to stop for a bite or a drink overlooking the water. Stop here for a drink on the pier, and if you can be sure to grab a spot at the end of the pier where there are seats and a little house/shack that are great places to hang out at sunset or any time. 

After Nick’s Cove, I drove north on Hwy 1 until my final destination of Jenner. If you like Oysters, Hog Island Oysters is a stop for you. This section is about a 45-minute drive that takes you inland a bit and then along the coast before you reach Bodega Bay – a small town that could be a quick stop – at which point you then drive along the coast to Jenner. If Salt Water Taffy is your thing then be sure to stop at the cute Patricks of Bodega Bay Salt Water Taffy. Beautiful drive through tiny towns amongst beautiful scenery.  Be sure to do the drive during daylight so you don’t miss the views!

Jenner: I spent the night at the Jenner Inn which was fine, the only place in ‘town’ really (the town is a gas station/convenience store, kayak rental spot, the Cafe Aquatica restaurant, and the Inn…and that’s about it. It’s directly on the water where the Russian River meets the ocean. If you get there while it’s open, have a drink or a bite at the Cafe Acquatica which is terrific – super low-key with chairs next to the water and music on weekends. During winter they are open 8-4. Great spot for breakfast as well! 

After checking in to the hotel I drove to check out Duncan Mills (maybe 10-15 minutes inland) which is a super charming little town with a couple of stores, restaurants, and shops set amongst the redwoods. I almost had dinner at Cape Fear Cafe, which looked great but opted for eating at the water, near the hotel in Jenner, at  River End Restaurant and Inn which is right over the water and had good ambiance/food (a bit fancier than the Capfe Fear Cafe). 

Day 2:  Jenner to Mendocino (aka ‘Mendo’)

The Jenner Inn gave me a bag breakfast but I opted for an awesome lunch across the street at 

Cafe Aquatica – great casual coffee shop with breakfast foods like avo toast, eggs, etc. SUCH a beautiful place to sit outside and eat by the river looking out towards the ocean.

The rest of the day I drove up to Mendocino, a 2 hour 15 minute drive without stops. But this is SUCH a beautiful drive that you should plan on taking most of the day, arriving in Mendo in time to wander through town. Consider the drive like a ‘hop on, hop off’ bus tour where you just stop your car all along the way to explore towns, take photos, to admire the incredible views. Some highlights along the drive North from Jenner to Mendocino:

Beaches/Overlooks: There are many, many beaches and vistas along the way. Pull over whenever it strikes you!

Timber Cove Resort – beautiful hotel overlooking the ocean. I was told it has a great restaurant. The fire pit overlooking the ocean is amazing! 

Fort Ross – Worth a stop to visit and learn the history of this fort built by the Russians and Alaskans in the early 1800s.

TwoFish Baking – located in the Stewarts Point Store in Stewart’s Point, for baked goods sandwiches and more.

Sea Ranch Resort – Big resort of homes spread across oceanfront property. Great place for a group to stay. It also has horseback riding and other amenities. 

Anchor Bay Thai Kitchen – good Thai. 

In Anchor Bay the Mar Vista Cottages are an option for lodging.

Van Damme Park – just before Mendocino this park has a fern trail (currently closed) and a trail amongst pygmy trees, amongst others. 

Mendocino Headlands State Park




There are lots of options, but I stayed at the Agate Cove which was a great b&b with an amazing view overlooking the ocean from the communal breakfast area (where they also have complementary sunset wine hour from 4-5 – so beautiful). Room was great, the breakfast delicious and the staff so kind and helpful.


Lots of options….a few include:

Patterson Pub – casual pub-style dinner where I went. 

Mendocino Cafe for Asian fusion

Good Life Cafe and Bakery (open 8-2 so good for breakfast and lunch)

Lighter dinner at The Waiting Room

Trillium Cafe – nice upscale dinner option

Fish tacos at Noyo Harbor

The Waiting Room – a cozy spot for coffee or cocktails

Day 3 – Drive Home

I took the inland route home which takes you south along the coast a bit and then inland through gorgeous redwood forests and then into the Sonoma wine country. Boonville is worth a quick stop if you have time/things are open


Half Moon Bay, and the areas around it, make for a great daylong, or even just an afternoon, Bay Area excursion. There are tons of things to do, restaurants to eat at, shops to visit, beaches to walk on, and more.  Below is an itinerary that breaks out what a good day of exploration might look like, but know there are plenty of other options you might stumble upon once you arrive! If you are going on a weekend in October be sure to account for ‘pumpkin’ traffic as many will be visiting the many farms to self-pick pumpkins. 

Driving over Highway 92, as you are about to enter Half Moon Bay you can pull over to the left when you pass the greenhouses to stop by Half Moon Bay Lavender (home & garden items and of course lavender items), Highway 92 Succulents, or the Orchid store if you are in the market for any of those. 

Continue to downtown HMB. Depending on your arrival time, you may want to include breakfast or lunch while downtown, followed by some shopping, all very centrally located and walkable.

Half Moon Bay


Shopping: All those below are on one block on either side of the street. There is a lot more on other blocks as well but these are my favorites.

Beach Walk:

Next, to head out for a beach walk next, continue south on 101 just a bit and take a right (towards the ocean) on Poplar Ave. Drive until the end where there’s a parking lot (paid) and then head down to the dog-friendly beach where you can walk for a long way in either direction. If of interest there are also horseback riding area where you can rent a horse to ride along the beach as well.

El Granada:

Time to head North on 101. If you haven’t eaten yet, or want to grab some snacks, head to the Spangler Market next which is in El Granada, on the East of 101 across the street from the surfing beach in Princeton-by-the-Sea. Super cute market that sells sandwiches, has a full butcher and everything else you need. Take your sandwich across the street and watch the surfers while you eat!


This is a great spot to stop for lunch, or if it’s later in the day to have a beer or cocktail. It’s also where the famous big wave spot Maverick’s is (but you can’t see the wave easily from shore FYI). If you want to do a beach walk here you can park at the end of West Point Ave and head out on the beach down towards Mavericks (take a right at the beach). You can also rent kayaks in Princeton if that’s of interest.

Here are some restaurant options to visit:

Sams: Sam’s actually is on 101 before you get to Princeton By-The-Sea. It’s a super popular lunch/dinner spot. Go during the day so you can sit outside.

Barbara’s Fishtrap: Another popular spot for seafood options. 

Half Moon Bay Brewing Company: Across the street from Barbara’s Fishtrap

Jettywave Distillery and Bonfire Lounge: End your day here! Be sure to check their hours (open Fri, Sat, and Sun afternoon/evenings), this is the perfect place to end your day with a craft cocktail or local beer and some delicious food while sitting by a firepit. 

La Costanera: If you’d like a Peruvian dinner to end your day, this is your spot.

Another Lunch Alternative: Lunch at the Airport:

If you are looking for a unique breakfast/lunch spot, grab a table at the Pilot Light Cafe which is just north of Princeton by-the-Sea on the West side of 101, and open 9am,-2pm. The cafe (the cafe is the only building in the ‘airport’) has salads, sandwiches and more. 

Tide Pools:

Fitzgerald Marine Reserve: Visit the tidepools, or just wander, through this marine reserve.

Moss Beach:

Moss Beach has a couple of options for you to dine at or have a glass of wine.

Moss Beach Distillery: If you want to have lunch or dinner with a view of the ocean, or enjoy weekday happy hour from 5-7, this is the spot. On a cliff overlooking the ocean you can sit inside or out and every table has an ocean view.

The Coastal Vine Bar: Also in Moss Beach, but on the other side of the highway. Stop in for an afternoon or evening glass of wine, and live music on special evenings (check website). 


If you want to stay the night, check out the Beachhouse Hotel

which is right on the water next to the harbor in Princeton-by-the-sea. I’ve visited a friend who had a ground-floor oceanfront room and it was the most amazing oceanfront view ever – the water was just outside the door it felt like! Lots of other local options for lodging as well.

PS. If you want to drive south from Half Moon Bay I also have blog that covers

Hidden Gems from Half Moon Bay to Watsonville.

There are lots of hidden gems located just off Highway 1 on the coast between Half Moon Bay and Watsonville. In addition to the beautiful beaches there are plenty of unexpected discoveries waiting for you on a daylong drive or weekend trip down the coast. Whether you are looking for a great hike, a taco voted one of the best in the USA, a farm visit, a zen retreat or some really great sausages, there is something for everyone sprinkled in along this amazing stretch of California. 

Here are some suggestions that are within easy reach of Hwy 1, listed in order from North to South, starting after Half Moon Bay, and not including a ton of Santa Cruz (there is another blog for that). This is by no means an all-inclusive list, and it does not include beach suggestions. It’s a list of some of my favorite spots which are all easily accessible during a drive down the coast, some of which you may not have heard of. Be sure to check opening hours and any seasonal restrictions. Also, if you are interested in finding out about any live indie music going on in the area, check out FolkYeah ( before you go in case there is a concert in Santa Cruz you want to check out at the end of the day!


San Gregorio General Store, 7615 Stage Road, San Gregorio

Why not start your day with breakfast at Alice’s on Skyline, then continue down the hill to San Gregorio with the San Gregorio General Store your first stop (or do in reverse and have dinner at Alice’s after a day on the coast). The San Gregorio General Store has everything….from a post office to a bar to fresh sandwiches to live music to western wear to household goods to racoon traps to tee shirts…..and everything in between.


Duarte’s Tavern, 202 Stage Road, Pescadero

This restaurant opened in 1894, Duarte’s is a must stop for lunch or dinner. Don’t miss their famous artichoke soup (or order the off menu ½ artichoke, ½ green chili soup) and the olallieberry pie. Wander around the nearby galleries and shops as well.

Mercado & Taqueria de Amigos 999 Pescadero Creek Rd, Pescadero

If your budget or time doesn’t allow for Duarte’s then be sure to stop in to the taqueria at the gas station across the street. The New York Times called their tacos ‘some of the best tacos this side of Mexico’.  This unassuming spot inside the gas station serves up great tacos, burritos, quesadillas and more – grab it at the counter and you eat at one of the outdoor picnic tables or take it on the road with you. 

Arcangeli Grocery Co, 287 Stage Road, Pescadero, CA

Founded in 1929, and known for their Garlic Herb & Artichoke bread, they are a must stop for bread and baked goods. 

Downtown Local – 213 Stage Road, Pescadero, CA

Quirky cool cafe/coffee spot. 

Ranch Siempre Verde 

Pumpkins and apples in the fall, xmas trees and wreaths in the winter, organic produce in spring and summer, plus AMAZING swings (these are not your basic playground versions….). Picnic overlooking the Pacific – can’t get better than that. Check site to make sure it’s open before you go.

Ano Nuevo State Park, 1 New Years Creek,  Pescadero

Over 10,000 elephant seals a year are at Ano Nuevo and worth a visit (plus the State Park has a lot more than just the elephant seals). You need a reservation for a guided walk to see them (a 3-4 mile hike) Dec – March, and April – November permits are given out 8:30-3:30 on site. 

Harley Farms Goat Dairy, 205 North Street, Pescadero

This working goat dairy, open 11-4 daily,  is a fun visit to see the baby goats in the spring in particular, but is a fun stop all year round. And the gift shop sells great goat cheese, olive oil and amazing smelling lotions, amongst other things.

Pie Ranch, 9080 Cabrillo Highway, Pescadro

Seasonal produce, fresh pies, heirloom grain and wheat flour….as well as books and locally made pottery – Pie Ranch is another great stop on the coast. Pie Ranch’s mission is to ‘cultivate a healthy and just food system from seed to table through food education, farmer training and regional partnerships. Plus they welcome volunteers to help work at the ranch as well – see their site for more info. Their monthly Barn Dances are currently on hold, but hopefully they will return. 

Costanoa, 2001 Rossi Road, Pescadero

You can camp or glamp at Costanoa, but they also have a restaurant and general store should you want to stop in for a meal.  They have both the fast casual Pine Tent (seasonal spring-fall) and Cascade restaurants. 


Swanton Berry Farm, 25 Swanton Road, Davenport

The first certified organic strawberry farm in California, Swanton is worth a stop whether to pick your own berries (check site for timing) or  to pick up some small-batch jam, cider or a fresh pie from their farmstand. 


Note: Santa Cruz is a big city with lots of choices of places to go and things to do. I’ve only highlighted a few favorites that don’t take you too far off the highway. You can check out another blog for Santa Cruz specific things to do. 

Wilder Ranch State Park, 1401 Coast Road, Santa Cruz

The parking lot is either on the highway (free) or in the paid parking lot on the beach side of the highway, and the park has hikes on both sides of the highway. The coastal cliffside walk takes you by multiple beautiful ocean coves or you can head under the highway for a variety of long, beautiful hikes that take you through a variety of terrains. Great mountain biking trails. 

Companion Bakeshop  2341 Mission St, Santa Cruz, CA

Just as you enter Santa Cruz Companion is on your right in a little strip mall. The bakery is on site, and they also provide baked goods for a number of local stores and restaurants/coffee shops. Fresh out of the oven loaves of bread, sandwiches and chocolate cookies to die for, plus lattes and more.

Fonda Felix, 402 Ingalls Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Just a couple blocks from Companion, Fonda Felix offers fresh baked empanadas. They have a commercial kitchen but you can order at the door (check hours) and get them hot out of the oven (or order to go for a party etc). 

Cameron Marks, 402 Ingalls Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Next door to Fonda Felix, this store has really well curated home goods, jewelry, clothing and more. 

Cat and Cloud Coffee, 719 Swift Street, Santa Cruz

Across the street from Fonda Felix and Cameron Marks (and serving baked goods from Companion Bakeshop), Cat and Cloud offers great coffee from the nicest baristas you’ll ever meet.  

Pogonip, 333 Golf Club Drive, Santa Cruz

Another great spot for a hike where not from the highway you find yourself in the middle of beautiful hike options! Also popular for mountain biking.


Cheese Shop 831, 3555 Clares St Suite V, Capitola, CA 

A couple blocks off Hwy 1, located in an unassuming strip mall, you’ll be surprised at the quality and knowledge of cheese in this small store that sells local as well as international cheeses.

Gayles Bakery and Roticceria, 504 Bay Ave, Capitola

Wonderful baked goods, sandwiches and more. Eat in or take out.


Beer 30, 2504 S. Main Street, Soquel, CA

Casual outdoor beer garden for you and your dog (pet friendly!) where you can grab a great beer and a light bite and also play some corn hole while you hang out on a beautiful afternoon or evening.

Pretty Good Advice, 3070 Porter Street, Soquel

Vegetarian fare from their nearby 83 acre farm. Stop by for great food, at a great price. Mike’s Good Morning Deluxe sandwich can’t be beat, as well as the Arnold Palmers. Sourced from his local farm, this Michelein starred chef makes simple, delicious options. Yum. 

Home, 3101 N. Main Street, Soquel

For dinner, this spot is hard to beat. Chef Brad Briske serves up delicious, locally sourced meals. The backyard patio is so welcoming and cozy – we recommend making your reservation for this area if possible. Check for days open/hours. 

Land of Medicine Buddha  5800 Prescott Road, Soquel, CA 95073, USA

This hidden gem (I’m hesitant even to write about it for fear of word getting out…) located 10 minutes off the highway has a beautiful 6 mile hike loop that takes you through redwood forest and shrine gardens. This Buddhist retreat center offers mediation, lodging and classes (check website). You feel transported while here. 


The Forest of Nisene Marks

Our favorite local hiking/running spot, Nisene Marks is another local gem. Just minutes off the highway you are transported into huge redwood forests. With over 40 miles of trails, you can opt to walk along the wide main road or peel off on one of the many smaller side trails. Biking is allowed on the main road, as are dogs.

Mentone, 174 Aptos Vlg Way, Aptos, CA

Run by a Michelin-starred chef David Kinch, Mentone offers high-end pizza and other Italian fare for dinner Wed-Fri and brunch and dinner Sat-Sun. Reservations recommended.

Pizza 1, 253 Center Ave Aptos, CA 95003

Totally old-school neighborhood pizza by the slice or the pie, their homemade dough and top ingredients make this causal, delicious pizza at its BEST!

Bamboo Giant Nursery, 5601 Freedom Blvd, Aptos, CA

Looking for bamboo? This is your spot!


Power Plant Coffee, 7990 CA-1, Moss Landing, CA 95039

Located on highway 1 in Moss Landing, Power Plant coffee is such a great addition to the area! As they say, it’s “coffee, plants, pies, good vibes’ here. From the coffee and avo toast to the amazing curated gift shop (hate to even call it that as it’s so beautiful!), the vibe here really is one of local community. The the shop offering local items, amazing books and special gifts underneath it’s bright soaring ceiling is a reason to stop even if you don’t drink coffee!

The Haute Enchilada Cafe, Social Club and Gallery, 702 Moss Landing Road, Moss Landing

Fun lunch or dinner spot (sister restaurant of the Whole Enchilada which is on Hwy 1 a block away). Don’t miss the gallery in back…tons of local artists! 

Elkhourn Slough, Moss Landing, 7902 Moss Landing Road 7902 Moss Landing Road

One of the most important estuaries around, full of a huge variety of bird and sealife. Rent a kayak or take the boat ‘safari’ (google them – one option for each) and come face to face with otters, harbor seals and more! 


Blossoms Farmstore and Coffeeshop – 2904 Freedom Blvd, Corralitos

Stop in this cute spot for some local produce, locally produced body oils/sprays/balms (the lavender is my favorite) as well as  coffee/baked goods.

Corralitos Market and Sausage Co. 569 Corralitos Rd, Watsonville

Although officially in Watsonville, this is just down the road from Blossoms, past beautiful apple orchards. Wonderful sausages in all flavors, as well as marinated chicken, great wine selection and more in an old country store setting.  Sausage sandwiches are their top sellers for lunch. 


Freedom Meat Lockers –  160 Hi Grade Ln, Freedom, CA 95019

Popular Freedom Meat is offered here – all types of sausages and cuts of meat in this little store in a residential area. A small selection of their meats are also now offered in the Pleasure Point area of Santa Cruz at the Pointside Meat Shop on 41st., in case you can’t make it all the way to Watsonville.


Gizdich Ranch: 55 Peckham Road, Watsonville  

Pick and pies!

Cowboy Corner Cafe, 946 Main St, Watsonville, CA 95076, Phone: 831-761-8996

Big breakfasts or lunch. Bring your appetite.

Imura Japanese Restaurant, 1994 Main St, Watsonville, CA 95076

Great sushi and overall japanese food. 

Annie’s Glass, 310 Harvest Drive, Watsonville, CA

Glass is hand blown on the premises, and for sale in the adjacent shop. It’s a very particular style, but if that’s the style you like then this is your spot for blown glass.

If you are looking to break up your drive to Tahoe from the Bay Area or are looking for an interesting destination within 2+ hours of San Francisco, Auburn is an area with a lot of hidden jewels.  Located between Sacramento and Tahoe/the Sierras, Auburn has tons to offer for those looking for great hiking, biking, restaurants, shopping, and more. It can be very warm in the summer (often in the 90s) and the winters are fairly mild, with only rarely having a dusting of snow. So plan  your activities accordingly (ie in the summer be sure to hike early in the day and follow it with midday swimming, lunch and shopping!). 

Below is a list of some of our family’s favorites that will make for a great weekend, or even just a fun stop off en route to or from Tahoe from the Bay Area.

There are three main ‘areas’ of Auburn (plus a couple of other nearby areas I’ll point out as well) in terms of restaurants and shops. You have to drive between these different areas, and each has a very different vibe to it. I’ve broken the recommended restaurants/shopping up by area to make it easier to navigate.

Restaurants and Shopping

Old Auburn: 

‘Old Auburn’ is on the South side (on the right as you are headed toward Tahoe) off hwy 80 at the Lincoln Way exit. You can’t miss the large statue of a person panning for gold, and this couple block area around it is ‘Old Auburn’.  It is easily walkable, is filled with historic buildings from the gold mining days, and has a selection of restaurants and stores.



Downtown Auburn:

A few blocks away, but not really in walking distance, is ‘Downtown Auburn’.  This is my favorite part of Auburn as it has an old, small town feeling with local shops and no chain stores. Some of the stores feel like they are from another era (and I often wonder how they stay in business) but recently there has been a whole new crop of trendy spots, with more on the way.



Regular ‘Auburn’

The area of Auburn on the other side of Highway 80, on route 49, is more the area with tire stores, Target, Best Buy, etc. Not a pretty area to wander at all, but there are a couple of places to check out for food/drink.

Other Nearby Area Spots:

Just north of Auburn there are a couple of places definitely worth going to that are popular spots for people en route to Tahoe, as well as with the locals.

Restaurants/Fruit Stands:

A couple of other restaurants we like that are a bit east or west of Auburn, off of Highway 80:

Wine Tasting

There are a lot of wineries in the area and the Placer Wine Trail features extensive choices. A quick Google search will show you all the options.

Outdoor Activities


Auburn has become a real hub of sports such as endurance running and mountain biking. It calls itself ‘the endurance capital of the world’, and is the end location of the Western States 100 race that starts in Tahoe each summer. Auburn is also home to the Tevis Cup 100 Mile Endurance Equestrian Ride.

The Auburn State Recreation Area is the hub for hiking and running trails.  The park, situated on two forks of the American River, is just off Interstate 80 and covers 40 miles of the North and Middle forks of the American River. There are numerous trails for running, hiking, biking, and horseback riding as well as multiple outfitters offering rafting of Class II, III, IV and V runs. 

Check their website for trail maps. Some of our favorite trails include:

Further up Highway 80 in Colfax is another trail we like which takes you out for great views over the American River, and you can swim as well before heading back. 

Mountain Biking

Lots of options in Auburn SRA, a quick Google search will bring the trails up for you.


There are tons of rafting options on the American River. Google ‘rafting Auburn, Ca’ and you’ll find lots of outfitters for a great day on the river.


You can swim in the American River – the easiest spot to access is at the confluence where you and park and easily walk to the shoreline for a dip. 


Santa Barbara is a great place for a couples trip, girls trip, or any other type of trip as it has something for everyone. From Carpenteria up to Isla Vista, this area has so much to offer – from hiking/surfing/biking to great restaurants to wonderful shopping. Santa Barbara and Monetecito have lots of hidden gems and there is a ton to do. 


Drove from LA up the coast, stopping at the Malibu Country Mart for lunch. Lots of upscale shopping there as well as various casual dining choices. Didn’t have time for a longer stop, with lunch on the pier. Picked up a friend at the Santa Barbara airport which is so convenient and small. 

Checked into the Santa Barbara Hotel on State Street. Great downtown location with everything in walking distance – from the beach to restaurants and shopping. Yummy free coffee in the am and delicious big cookies in the afternoon. Still good to have a car to visit other areas but it’s a good central option with large rooms and reasonable prices. 

Afternoon shopping in Summerland. Beautiful, upscale home and design stores in a quaint small shopping area. Don’t miss Field & Fort (you can also grab a coffee here and sit outside in their garden), The Well, Porch and Botanik. Even had an Ellen sighting at Field & Fort 🙂 

Drinks at the Rosewood on the water – BEAUTIFUL and definitely worth the price of a beer or cocktail at sunset! You sit right on the water, after walking through the amazing hotel with old-world charm and gorgeous grounds. Great way to kick off the weekend!

Dinner at Loquita on State Street – wonderful Spanish cuisine. Don’t miss the paella. 


Breakfast at Pierre Lafond in Monticito (grab and go coffees and pastries etc at the market in upscale small neighborhood shopping area) before heading out for a hike. Hiked starting at the Romero Canyon Trailhead which takes you up the mountains behind Moneticito. Popular mountain bike area as well. Terrific views of the water and all of the area. Had a Gwenyth Paltrow sighting driving down from the trailhead.

Hike was followed by some shopping at Wendy Foster next to Pierre LaFond in Montecito and lunch at Brophy’s on the pier in Santa Barbara. Seafood and other dishes on the water.

After lunch we headed to the Funk Zone area of downtown Santa Barbara. We grabbed a coffee at Dart coffeeshop next door to Mollusk surf shop (soft tshirts with great designs and other surf inspired wear) and wandered down to The Blue Door, 3 floors of fun vintage home finds.  This area of downtown is very trendy and hopping! 

Dinner at Black Sheep, followed by ice cream at McConnell’s. Opted out of having cocktails at Joe’s on State Street across from the hotel, known for their powerful martini, amongst other things.


Breakfast at Allessia and at the Handlebar coffee shop (next door to each other), with a quick pop in Jack & Jones clothing store (also next door to Allessia). The Three Pickles is also on this stretch, known for their pickle martinis. These are all across the street from El Presidio which you can tour.

eBikes from 9:30-11:30, rented ahead of time from Cal Coast adventures. They have a wide range of bikes and they were $20/hr. Book ahead.  Cal Coast is located a couple blocks from the beach and we rode up the coast past Santa Barbara City College and the Mesa and then down the coast past the zoo and to the Rosewood in Montecito. Great bike paths that take you along the coast – beautiful and fun. You can also rent mountain bikes as well. Highly recommend. 

Shopping at Diani Living (great hats, body products, home products, gifts), Diani (clothing and shoes), Rooms and Gardens (home decor), and Wendy Foster on State street.

Lunch was fabulous pizza and salad at Bettina in the Montecito Country Mart which has great stores like ClareV, Mast Gallery, Clic, Hudson/Grace, and James Perse. The bread at Bettina is also to die for. 

Beach walk at Pedaro lane just south of Summerland. Beautiful long beach with gorgeous homes on it. 

AMAZING dinner at San Ysidro Ranch. Save this one for a special night – it’s a magical place up in the hills with a wonderful bar and restaurant. You can stay there as well ($$$) – really really beautiful and full of history. 


Drive by of Santa Barbara’s ‘famous fig tree’- one of the oldest in the country.

Great breakfast at Jeannies in Monticito (there are several locations). Wandered down Coast Village Road (where Jeannies is located) and stopped in for some shopping at Maison K, Angel, j. McLaughlin, and Whistle Club.

Shopping at KMJ, a tiny workroom/shop that features  ‘ ReWorked ReConstructed ReVived One-of-A-Kind Pieces’. Kate takes old mens button down shirts and reworks them into one of a few modern women’s styles. She can rework a shirt you provide as well.

Drive through the University of Santa Barbara/ Isla Vista.

To airport and home!

Palm Desert in winter is a great time to get out and discover some of the terrific hiking in the area! As we were there during the pandemic, we didn’t have the ‘distractions’ of things like restaurants, shopping, and golf which allowed us to do a hike each day without any FOMO regarding other activities – and it was fantastic!

Here are three hikes to do in the Palm Desert area – one is a very popular local spot and the other two are a bit further away (but both within an hour drive) and they were spectacular.

Hike 1: Bump and Grind

The very popular ‘bump and grind’ trail is right in the heart of Palm Desert. Park on Parkview Drive right behind the Target in the Desert Crossing Shopping Center. The hill ends right at the street, so just park and then start on up the hill!

This 4 mile loop is filled with lots of walkers and runners and is a great way to get your heart pumping and still have plenty of time left in your day for other activities. It’s recommended as best from October through May, given the desert heat, has 1105 elevation gain and allows for views over downtown Palm Desert.

It took about 1 hour 15 minutes. Don’t forget your water.

Hike 2: Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Trail in Mecca Hills Wilderness

This hike was AWESOME – one of my favorite I’ve done in ages. The huge walled canyon you walk through, the ladders to climb up the slots, the feeling like you’ve ‘discovered’ it when you get to the end of the dirt road and find it.

Unlike the ‘commercial’ (but stunning!) slot canyons of Arizona where you buy a ticket, have a guide and are ushered through in groups…here you feel like it’s just you who have discovered this beautiful place. The slots aren’t as dramatic as those in Arizona, but here you are hiking, not on a tour.

We missed the dirt road turn off when driving to the area (not great cell service), but the 10 or so extra miles we drove was through such spectacular desert scenery (plus some very ‘Breaking Bad’ looking campers parked in random places) that we were so happy for the error! Once we got on the dirt road there are a few areas for hiking but we continued to the end where the ‘ladders hike’ is.

There is a 4.9 mile loop that apparently can normally be heavily trafficked, but on our day we saw maybe 5 other groups. After you park you will see the sign indicating where the entry is to the trail. You will start walking between two canyon walls on either side of you. You can either continue on this trail for a few miles or…this is key…after you have walked about 100 yards you will be a big arrow made out of rocks in the trail. The rock arrow points left to where the entrance to the ‘ladders’ are. Enter and you will see where people have brought in ladders that allow you to climb up between the slots – there are about 3-4 ladders you climb to get to the top. Then you can continue the loop hike (great views of the nearby Salton Sea), coming back down a couple other ladders (easier ones) on the way back. If you don’t want to do the ladders just keep going straight up between the canyon walls for a beautiful moderate hike!

Afterwards, continue your adventures to the Salton Sea, or head on back to PS. Don’t forget water! No restroom facilities at this trailhead although there are some at other trailheads en route to this one that you’ll pass as you drive.

Hike 3: Joshua TreeJoshua Tree is usually a trip in and of itself, but we decided to do an early morning hike and be back in PS by early afternoon.

Leaving Palm Desert by about 6:30 we were in the North Entrance (by Visitors Center just past Yucca Valley) to the park by 7:30 and on the trail by 8.

There are different entries to the Park but we decided to use the main North Entrance, hike up and back to Ryan Mountain, a summit that allows one to have a great view of the Park, and then leave via the Oasis Visitor Center exit at Twentynine Palms. This allowed us to see a lot of cool stuff the park has to offer (the big amazing rock formations, the Joshua Trees, a view of the park from the summit) in an efficient way. We did not make it to the south end of the park this trip.

The Ryan Mountain trail is short (3 mile out and back) but steep (1069’ elevation gain) so it is a good workout. We went early so had few other people on the trail, and it was a bit windy at the top, but the views are terrific. It took us about 1.5 hours and was a great way to start the day! There are lots of areas to stop and look at things both before and after the trailhead, so be sure to leave time for more exploring and amazing photo ops of the wonderfully unique landscape and rocks such as Skull Rock and the Jumbo Rocks.

We continued our drive around the loop to exit via the Oasis Visitor Center at Twentynine Palms. Happy Trails!

For those of us who live within a few hours drive of Yosemite, this magical place can be a quick one or two-night getaway, as well as a longer trip. And to avoid the incredible crowds and traffic that summer can bring, the fall is a great time to see the park with more breathing room. And if you can manage for a fall weekday you may even have more of the park and its trails to yourself than usual.

Day 1:

My 24-year-old son, who is an avid bird and wildlife photographer, and I headed up on a Monday in early November so he could try to find some owl shots and we could have a quick park visit. We leave the Bay Area by 12:30 and were at our first destination, a meadow outside the park entrance where he’d had good luck with owl sightings in the past, by 4. We explored some beautiful meadows full of fall foliage and dramatic backgrounds and just as the sun had gone down and the light was starting to fade a great gray owl swooped by landed not far from us. We followed it for about 20 minutes until it flew out of range. Success!

We headed to Rush Creek Lodge, a wonderful play to stay that is located outside the entrance to the park. It has a great pool, spa, dining room, bar, games area, fire pits etc, and is wonderful for couples or families. No TV’s in the rooms as instead, they have games to play and encourage you to be outside rather than watching TV inside! The same group also owns Evergreen Lodge, another great option about 5 miles away, off the main road, from Rush Creek. With Covid precautions in effect, we had a socially distanced dinner in the dining room that was delicious (cauliflower app is great and my son loved the brisket mac and cheese) and got to bed early.

Day 2:

We were up and out by 6 am to try to find the owls at sunrise. No luck in finding them this time, but it was still beautiful!

We then headed into the park itself about 9 – and it’s about a 40-minute drive from the entrance to the valley floor. There were SO few cars on the road and the park was such a pleasure to explore by car and foot with SO LITTLE TRAFFIC! The fall colors were out, the sky was blue, it was warm and spectacular.

There are of course so many hike options and we were there more for the photography than big hiking this time, but we walked to Hidden Lake (no water this time of year but still a nice walk), had lunch at the Ahwanhi Hotel (the spectacular dining room is worth a visit if only for a cup of coffee), drove up to Granite Pass (45 mins each way from the valley floor and it takes you through the amazing ‘tunnel view’) for the incredible view of the entire area that really lets you get a feel for the scope of what Yosemite is like no other vantage point does. The waterfalls are not raging this time of year, but the climbers are still on El Capitan (bring your binoculars), the hikes are still spectacular, Half Dome still dominates the skyline and it’s an amazing quick getaway. We did a few more owl meadow stops and were on the road home by 4:30 completely recharged and feeling lucky to live so close to this magnificence.

Explored Carmel by the Sea with its many wine bars, fine dining (that are dog-friendly) and art galleries. Enjoyed walks on the beach and exploring the local attractions. We didn’t stay at a hotel there, so no recommendations on lodging.

Below are recommendations on how to have a great couple day trip to Carmel!


Pebble Beach17 Mile Drive Scenic Tour – pass by beautiful estates and world-class golf courses including Cypress, Pebble Beach, and Spanish BayMonterey Aquarium – one of best in the world

Point Lobos Natural Reserve – great hikes and viewsRestaurants:Sit outside at the Forge for dinner or lunch

Little Napoli or Bicylette for Italian

Best burger ever at the Tap Room in Pebble Beach.

You can also have a hot chocolate outside at the Lodge overlooking the 18th hole sitting outside by a fire

Explore one of the 15+ wine bars

Dinner or drinks at Clint Eastwood’s Mission Ranch often featuring music


Twilight cocktail on the rooftop bar of Vesuvio Restaurant on 6yh and Junipero St.

A drink at the Hyatt Pacific’s Edge restaurant which has a picture window where you can watch the whales depending on the time of year.

Picnic on the Beach at Sunset:Cheese and wine to bring to the beach from The Cheese Shop on Junipero St.


Stroll along Ocean and don’t miss the newly renovated shops in Carmel Plaza Shopping Center

Shops not to miss include Carmel Bay Company (great sweaters and scarves upstairs) and Cottage of Sweets to bring a treat home to your favorite sweet tooth.Numerous galleries all over Ocean and the side streets.

For a short trip to explore more shopping and dining explore the Carmel Crossroads, a short drive away

If you head to Monterey, before the aquarium grab a great breakfast at First Awakenings for breakfast and walk down to see the seals by the wharf.

Carmel Valley is a 20-30 minute drive and there are great boutiques, olive oil tastings, and wine bars. It is a great day trip as sometimes the weather is nicer there if Carmel by the Sea is foggy.

We took a day trip to Big Sur with our 3 adult kids (19, 21, 23) and our dog to visit the area after realizing that our kids had never been to this slice of heaven that is only a few hours from our home!  Our hiking options were very limited because our dog was with us – should you go you should definitely check out the hikes at Molera, Pfeiffer Big Sur Park and Julia Pfeiffer State Park, amongst other options along the drive. You should also check road closures as the area can be shut with landslides.  Lots to explore, trails to climb and stop offs to see on a day to Big Sur. There are lots of camping options, as well as a limited range of hotels. There are some general stores as well as a handful of restaurants, but not many gas stations or many ‘stores’. It’s not a ‘city’ but more of a scattering of places alongside highway 1. 

Bixby Bridge: We drove down from the North on Highway 1 which is SUCH a spectacular drive. We left a bit late and chose not to stop at Monterey or Carmel (which you pass right by) en route, arriving at Bixby Bridge (which is south of Garrapata State Park) at about 11:15am. The parking area on Hwy 1 and the little dirt road next to the Bridge were coned off so there was no parking/photo ops allowed (last time I was there these were open). 

15 minutes past the bridge is Andrew Molera State Park (no dogs on trails so we didn’t stop) which has great hiking as well as camping options.

Lunch: We were deciding between a few places for lunch –  the Big Sur River Inn (15 mins past Molera), Big Sur Roadhouse (a few mins down the road further) or Nepenthe (which is 7 mins further and has an ocean view but is more crowded and more $$). We chose the Big Sur Roadhouse which is small, has outside dining options (where the dog could join us), has counter service for salads, tacos, wraps etc. The food was good and we were happy to be outside around a fire pit. After lunch we walked down a trail from the parking lot to an area by the river that has a ‘pop up’ the first Sat of each month where a few vendors were selling things and a taco truck was set up amongst the redwoods. 

About 1pm we continued driving South. It’s not far to Pfeiffer Big Sur Park (which we came back to later), followed by the turn off to Julie Pfeiffer Beach (which we came back to later). 

We drove on to the Henry Miller memorial library (on the left as you drive South). This is a non profit library housed in a home that belonged to Henry Miller’s best friend (Miller lived 5 miles south). It’s a rustic bookstore with free coffee outside as well as a stage for summer concerts, some various art installations amongst the redwoods and a big old converted school bus parked next to it that transforms into a pirate ship for Burning Man (welcome to Big Sur 🙂 ). A fun, quick visit and worth a stop. 

Just past the library is Deetjen’s big sur inn on left side – another restaurant option, followed by Nepenthe on the right overlooking the water. 

Drove next to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and McWay Falls, about another 15 minutes of beautiful scenic driving South. You pay $10 to park in the lot and your voucher is good to park at the other parks the rest of the day. On the mountain side of the highway there are trails that are good for a quick hike or a long one. To get to the falls you take the tunnel under the highway and see a waterfall flowing into the crescent beach below (no beach access). Usually you can walk around the point and get a full panorama view of the coast as well as read some historical information – but the ‘point’ was closed off during our visit. Dog had to stay in the car for this location.

This is as far south as we chose to go. We headed back North, stopping to see the amazing Ventana Inn (across the street from the equally amazing Post Ranch Inn). 

Next stop was a short hike at Pfeiffer Big Sur Park where there is path on which dogs ar allowed (not a real ‘trail walk’ though). If you don’t have a dog with you there is tons to explore here. We backtracked north the half mile or so to attempt to get to Pheffer Beach. The turn off can be easy to miss as there is no sign for it. Heading North on 1 look for the yellow ‘Narrow Road’ sign onto Sycamore Canyon Road which is just pas the Big Sur Station and make the sharp right turn. The beach, which is known for it’s keyhole rock ( the sunset that shines through the keyhole rock brings out tons of sunset photographers)  and purple sand. It is about 3 miles down a road and there is limited beach parking so when it’s full there is someone at the start of the road controlling car entry. As we were there late afternoon it unfortunately was full and we couldn’t get in which was disappointing (I’ve been there before for the famed sunset and it’s worth the trip – I’ve included a photo of it from last visit). 

Grabbed some coffees and snacks at the River Inn (in summer they have chairs in the River where you can rest with your feet in the water while you have a drink), and then headed on home. 

The drive north during late afternoon/sunset time is just amazing. There are lots of places to pull of and look at the views, climb down to the beach or along trails to overlooks. The scenery of the entire day, whether it was the coastal rocky views, the big sweeping hillsides or the redwood forests, is breathtaking. 

A fun mom/son day visit to SF to eat, explore, relax and be entertained. This did not include the tourist ‘regulars’ (Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf etc), but focused more on the area toward the other side of the city.

– 16th ave stairs visit – this is in a neighborhood off 19th ave where the steps have beautiful mosaics on them and are surrounded by incredible succulents. Great view at the top

– Tartine is a great bakery and cafe that now has multiple locations. There is one on this side of town at 1226 9th Ave. Great bread, pastries, sandwiches etc. Eat breakfast or lunch there or take to the next stop (be sure to grab a cookie for later in the day!). The other place I considered for breakfast burritos was Bean Bag cafe

– Sutra baths/Cliff House/Camera Obscura. These are all located along the coastline at Lands End Trail, 680 Point Lobos Ave, SF. Park and walk down to see the remnants of what was a HUGE indoor saltwater swimming pool right on the coastline. You can walk the trail to the right all the way to Lands End for views of the Golden Gate. As you face the ocean to the left of the baths there is the Cliff House (famous restaurant right on the water). Walk just past that and you’ll see a building that says ‘Giant Camera’ on it. This is a camera obscura that was once part of a Kiddy Park that was in this area. Pay the $3 entrance fee and see this cool giant camera that somehow has a moving video of the area’s surrounding projected onto a cement disc in the middle of the room – based on a design by Leonardo da Vinci. Very cool!

– We were short on time but wanted to head to the Presidio next to the Disney museum and to Andy Goldsworthy’s ‘Wood Line’ in the forest. If you have time add these in.

– Then off to the de Young museum. We went to a special exhibit on Ed Hardy’s Tattoos but go to anything there – it’s great! They have a cafe as well and the natural science museum is across the road as well, plus it’s in Golden Gate Park where there’s the Japanese Tea Garden, real buffalo, boat rentals etc etc.

– Next off to downtown where we parked at Sutter Stocken garage, grabbed a Starbucks and headed to Buddha Bliss spa. We booked ahead (necessary) and had great deep tissue massages. You can also have Thai (they will walk on your back if you want them to!).

– Union Square is a couple blocks away so we did some shopping 🙂

– Grabbed a quick bite at Sears Fine Food off Union Square

– Went to a show at the San Francisco Playhouse – just around the block

A great day!

We found Reset