How To Spend A Week In California: An Interview with Don Nadeau
I adore California. With unique landscapes, coastal views and a distinctively laid back vibe, California feels like a world away from the rest of the country. I was lucky enough to spend some time there last year where I learned to surf, meet a cast of characters on Venice Beach, explore old-Hollywood in Downtown LA and lived authentically Santa Monica. Regardless of my adventures there is so much of California that I have left to discover. In order to learn more about this beautiful state, I spoke with Don Nadeau, president of BidOnTravel.com, who has been lucky enough to spend much of his life in California. Our expert on travel with a substantial social media following, Don laid out the perfect itinerary for a California vacation and confirmed that no, there you can never spend too much time in Cali.
How To Spend A Week In California: An Interview with Don Nadeau
Describe California in three words.
Tons of variety!
With a week in California, where should I go?
Number one, spend more time. (laughs)
Seriously, so much depends on your preferences. Beach person? History? Architecture? Children? Their ages? And, on and on.
Fair. So let’s focus on what you would recommend for those looking to take in as much California as possible in one painfully short week.
Focus on scenery. California has spectacular scenery and lots of it. Mostly leave its cities for a later trip. Even with children, enjoy places like Disneyland later. Or, with this itinerary, reward them with more convenient to reach Universal Studios on your last day.
For one week, let’s say eight nights. For most, one week off work runs from Saturday through the following Sunday. You could also fly in Friday evening, in order have a full day to enjoy California the next day.
Walk us through this 7 days, 8 nights California vacation.
Okay. Here’s a detailed outline.
Arrive San Francisco as early as possible.
From Market Street near most hotels take the “F” historic streetcar line as far as the Ferry Building at the east end of Market Street.
From there, grab a Golden Gate Ferry to Sausalito for great views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. Then return by ferry to the Ferry Building. This is an inexpensive commuter ferry.
Continue on the “F” streetcar, now north along the waterfront, to the end of the line at Fisherman’s Wharf. Walk west though the Fisherman’s Wharf area (not lingering there) to Aquatic Park.
Take a cable car from Aquatic Park, the most exciting route, back downtown. Or, you can get off at California Street and walk over to Chinatown.
(Please don’t leave late.)
Drive over the Golden Gate Bridge stopping at the vista point at the other end.
Several miles further take the Highway One exit to Muir Woods National Monument. Quickly walk past the area near parking and you’ll soon be in the serenity of the redwoods, without crowds. Continue north on Highway One. If a clear day, drive up to top (near top) of Mount Tamalpais in the state park of the same name. Great views.
Continue north to Point Reyes National Seashore and explore. This is not a beach destination, just a sublimely beautiful one.
After that, head east to Santa Rosa, which has lots of budget and medium-priced accommodation or continue on to Napa Valley for deluxe ones.
If headed toward Napa, be sure to reach there before dark. Otherwise, you will miss experiencing the Sonoma wine area on the way.
From Santa Rosa, take Highway 12 east to the city of Napa. You’ll quickly arrive in Sonoma wine country.
Stop at the historic Sonoma Plaza in the city of Sonoma. This was the northern limit of Spanish settlement along coastal California.
At Napa, head north on Highway 29 to Calistoga Hot Springs. At the east end of the Calistoga business district, turn south on the “Silverado Trail,” which takes you back to what the Napa Valley was like 50 years ago. If you start climbing a hill, you’ve missed the turn.
From Napa (skip the city itself), have your designated driver do the four or so drive to Yosemite Valley. Don’t worry if arrive late. Even if you don’t drink wine Napa and Sonoma are great to visit.
Explore Yosemite. You’ll love it.
You MUST have booked accommodation very preferably in the park itself in advance.
It’s another four-hour drive to Carmel and Monterey area. You’ll find so much to do there. For example, take a, coastal drive through Pacific Grove. Next, though expensive, most people love the private “17 Mile Drive” along the coast. After that continue to beachfront Carmel. Clint Eastwood was mayor there. The renowned Monterey Aquarium also beckons.
Southbound on Highway One, stop at numerous viewpoints on the way to Big Sur.
At Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, just south of Big Sur, hike the short and easy trail to the view of McWay Falls and McWay cove.
Prior to travelling, research Hearst San Simeon State Historic Monument – Hearst Castle. You’ll probably want to stop there and you nearly always need to book your tour ahead online. You are not allowed to wander around alone. Beyond Hearst Castle the route becomes less interesting, but much quicker to drive.
Arrive Santa Barbara. Walk around its garden downtown.
In the morning, leisurely explore beautiful Santa Barbara. Enjoy its scenic drive and beach areas. It’s my favourite California city and one of the best examples of enlightened urban planning in the world. This is America’s Riviera.
Great places to stop, include:
- Carpinteria State Beach (usually excellent for small children),
- Zuma Beach County Park (may be too rough for small children),
- Malibu Pier and adjacent Surfriders’ Beach (no one uses its official name Malibu Lagoon State Beach), one of the most famous surfing venues in the world, Santa Monica Pier, and Venice Beach.
Los Angeles awaits you. I suggest Universal Studios (fun for all ages) and perhaps the Hollywood and Vine area.
Wow! This sounds fantastic! What’s the best season for this amazing road trip?
I love California in spring best—green and wonderful, but this route can be enjoyed all year, including the Yosemite Valley in winter- (Higher elevations close). The waterfalls in Yosemite Valley are far more spectacular in spring when snow melts.
Sounds perfect. Anything else we should know?
Without a car, you can enjoy most places mentioned with a combination of Amtrak trains and buses (Amtrak offers a discounted pass for this) plus Gray Line-type day tours.
Thank you so much, Don! This sounds like the perfect California itinerary and I can’t wait to embark on my next West Coast adventure. From San Francisco to San Diego, California is truly a remarkable, diverse state.
Find more articles by Don Nadeau in the BidOnTravel.com blog.