Road Tripping the Northern and Central California Coast

CheapAir is exploring classic itineraries to help you get out and discover cool destinations right in your own backyard. First up, classic and picturesque (mostly) coastal getaways. Bay Area vacationers have many vacation spots a stone’s throw from home.

Napa/Sonoma, CA

napa vineyards, california
Wine country is just a quick 45-minute scenic drive north of San Francisco. Head over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and discover charming rolling hills and verdant countryside, all in the service of bringing you some of the best wine in the world. Napa has a slightly more upscale vibe (with hotels and restaurant price tags reflecting that hierarchy). On a tight budget? Consider staying in Guerneville or Calistoga, charming small towns in the area.

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Eureka/Humboldt, CA

avenue of the giants, ca
The port town of Eureka is a picturesque 4 hour drive out of the city, and serves as a perfect home base for families interested in exploring the Sequoia Park Zoo and Sequoia Park, where you can picnic amongst towering, majestic redwoods. You can also continue exploring the magic of the redwoods as you travel to Humboldt, 50 miles from the Oregon border. The Avenue of the Giants, as well as many beaches and dozens of parks and forests in Humboldt County, make this stop ideal for active families.

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Santa Cruz, CA

santa cruz surfers
The scruffy beach town of Santa Cruz is situated about a 1.5 hour drive south from San Francisco, and has a well-earned hippie-friendly rep. It’s also a classic California beach town, which makes it a fun, relaxed getaway for couples and families alike. Check out the boardwalk (immortalized in many a movie throughout time), take a coastal hike (we like the Old Cove Landing Trail at Wilder Ranch State Park – you can see whales, dolphins and seals from your cliffside vantage point), or just chill out in town and people watch. It’s a great place to peep surfers in their natural habitat.

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Monterey/Carmel, CA

mission carmel church, ca
Continuing down the coast, and depending on your mood you could pop into the town of Monterey for the Monterey Aquarium alone (which should be re-opening soon). It’s a wonderful attraction, made for young families. While Monterey gets more visitors, Carmel-by-the-Sea is a quaint and low-key little town, perfect for a romantic weekend.

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Big Sur, CA

big sur, california
For once-in-a-lifetime, rugged views of the Pacific, you can’t go wrong with Big Sur. Situated about a 2.5 hour drive from San Francisco, for such a remote destination it’s packed full of unique accommodations, from charming log cabins to luxury 5-stars like the Post Ranch Inn. Check out Nepenthe for amazing views while dining overlooking the Pacific.

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San Louis Obispo, CA

bells of mission san louis obispo, ca
The destination furthest south, San Louis Obispo was named for the 1700-era Spanish Mission at the city center. The town is also famous for its Farmer’s Market (and in California, that’s really saying something). Local vendors from the region descend every Thursday evening. Though the market is currently on hiatus, plans for its return are underway. In the meantime, explore the walkable downtown area, with many cozy and chic shops to wile away the hours, take a leisurely stroll on Moonstone Beach, or explore tidepools in Montana de Oro State Park.

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