The California weekend trip is practically an art form, and it’s all about knowing where to go.
One of the best things about living in the San Francisco Bay area is the availability of nearby destinations. Skiing in Tahoe? Check. Wine tasting in Napa? Check. Lounging on the beach in Santa Cruz? Check, check, check.
With so many options to choose from, it can be tough to make a decision. I still haven’t lost my Midwestern-born fascination with the ocean, so I always lean in favor of coastal spots. Luckily, that’s something that California has no shortage of!
While you can’t really go wrong, here are my top four picks for coastal weekend getaways in northern California. And keep an eye out for a bonus fifth location in one of tomorrow’s posts!
1. Tomales Bay
Tomales Bay makes this list because of its prime location. Barely an hour and a half from downtown San Francisco, this beautiful area is home to two esteemed oyster companies (Hog Island Oyster Company and Tomales Bay Oyster Company) and miles upon miles of gorgeous scenery.
It is also conveniently situated between Point Reyes National Seashore and the Petaluma wine region – so regardless of whether your group is active outdoors or just actively drinking, there’s a little something for everyone. One of my favorite days here was on a recent girls’ trip, when we started with a DIY-oyster shucking brunch on the bay, followed it up with a winery stop at Azari and ended with an evening at Lagunitas Brewing Co.
2. Santa Cruz
A fantastic idea for a day trip (see my post on Shark Fin Cove), Santa Cruz also makes for an idyllic weekend destination.
The boardwalk downtown is an picturesque sight to behold, my favorite way to spend time here is to make the most of Santa Cruz’s numerous beaches.
Whether you pack your sandwiches at home or grab them from the famous Zoccoli’s, plan to spend your days napping on the beach with the occasional game of volleyball as an interruption. If you’re looking for a little seaside entertainment, the surf breaks at the white-sand Four Mile Beach usually turn up a good crowd.
Full name Carmel-by-the-Sea, this tiny little spot with a big name is perfectly suited for a quieter weekend. Carmel is dotted with nearly one hundred art galleries and even more boutique shops, and its downtown area evokes the charm of a small Swiss town.
A weekend spent here should alternate between appreciating the local galleries and trekking inland to visit the numerous wineries in the region. If you’ve exhausted your artistic possibilities, a visit to Heart Castle farther south may be just the trick to wrapping up your weekend.
4. Big Sur
What’s not to love about this place? Easily one of the most striking and recognizable coastlines in the world, Big Sur is the ultimate escape. If staying at one of the many parks or campsites along the coast isn’t your thing, rest assured: Big Sur also happens to have a number of charming B&Bs and inns along the way that will doubtless be perfect for your getaway – romantic or otherwise. Enjoy the drive on the way: if you’re in a rush, you aren’t doing it right.
Cell phone reception is basically nonexistent, but the scenery is so beautiful and the area people are so willing with directions that it goes practically unnoticed. Embrace it. Make sure you get to Deetjen’s for breakfast at least once, and visit Nepenthe on a sunny afternoon for one of those lunch-that-lounges-into-dinner type of days.
Even if you don’t want to hike, at least make a point to stop by Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and appreciate their waterfall. It’s one of the only few on the Pacific coast that falls directly into the ocean, and it’s right off of the road.
Check back tomorrow for a fifth coastal location that’s not to be missed. I’ll give you a hint: we’re heading north!