California Road Trip Stops (North to South) | Intentional Travelers

02 Nov California Road Trip Stops: North to South

We spent most of the month of October on a road trip through California. These are some of the sights and treats along the way, listed from North to South. If you’re planning your own California road trip, our hope is you’ll find some ideas for where to stop.

Obviously we didn’t cover all of California, so these recommendations are only from this one particular trip. Here’s a map of the places we cover:

California Road Trip Stops (North to South) | Intentional Travelers

Shasta

Starting from the North on I5, Mt. Shasta was our first stop in California after crossing the border from Oregon. (Note that Mt. Shasta, Lake Shasta, and the town of Shasta are all in different places and not as close to each other as you might think!)

California Road Trip Stops (North to South) | Intentional Travelers

We stopped for lunch at Black Bear Diner in Mt. Shasta, which serves generous portions of classic American fare. They have franchise locations all over the West but it always feels like a nice family place, reminiscent of summer trips to Yellowstone National Park.

California Road Trip Stops (North to South) | Intentional Travelers

Williams & Corning

Williams, California and Corning, California are both small towns with popular places to stop along the I5 corridor between Redding and Sacramento.

In Corning, the Olive Pit‘s tall sign towers above the shop, advertising olive tasting. Their shelves are stocked with all kinds of flavored olives and other edible gifts and souvenirs. You can also taste olive oils, balsamic vinegars, wine, and craft beer; or grab a sandwich and milkshake from the adjoining cafe.

Granzella’s has a similar, well-stocked gift shop feel as the Olive Pit. They also have a restaurant, sports lounge, deli, ice-cream bar, and bakery. There are plenty of tempting treats there to please any palate.

San Francisco

Staying with friends outside of San Francisco, we took the BART into the city for a day. Starting with the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market along the Embarcadero, we sampled the amazing Maple Bacon Breakfast Sausage by 4505 Meats and some artisan drinks at Blue Bottle Coffee Co, among other things.

We did the tourist thing, riding a trolley car to Ghirardelli Square and Fisherman’s Warf, but not without stopping to pick up some famous Chinese-style beef jerky from Jackson Market and walking the incredibly steep streets of San Francisco. Lunch was at Boudin Bakery, a huge place on the Warf swarming with people who want their popular clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl.

California Road Trip Stops (North to South) | Intentional Travelers

We were also treated to an exceptional dim sum meal at Koi Palace over in Dublin, California. Every dish was delicious!

California Road Trip Stops (North to South) | Intentional Travelers

Santa Cruz

Not having spent time in Santa Cruz before, we both thoroughly enjoyed exploring this area. Unlike the rest of California, there was still plenty of green to be found in Santa Cruz. It reminded us a lot of Portland on several levels – except with surfing.

California Road Trip Stops (North to South) | Intentional Travelers

Our friend and host took us hiking nearby in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park (above) and Pogonip park (below), where we came across a labyrinth, a goldfish pond, and a landing full of carefully stacked rock formations with little paper notes tucked into them!

California Road Trip Stops (North to South) | Intentional Travelers

We watched talented surfers up close from the cliffs at Steamer’s Lane, then explored Natural Bridge’s State Park where thousands of monarch butterflies gather in the trees for the winter. It was a sight to behold- unfortunately, our camera zoom wasn’t strong enough to get a pictures worth sharing.

California Road Trip Stops (North to South) | Intentional Travelers

We had the pleasure of sampling many tasty treats in Santa Cruz (including an awesome schooling in artisan dark chocolate in our friends’ home). The hot chocolate perfectionists at Mutari Chocolate House serve up organic gourmet chocolate drinks in a beautiful, artsy cafe setting. And Penny Ice Creamery delights the tastebuds with home-made, seasonal ice cream concoctions from locally sourced ingredients. We didn’t snap a picture, but the gluten-free crust at Pleasure Pizza was so good, we didn’t even want to try the regular kind.

Highway 1

The winding drive along Highway 1 from Monterey Bay down to Morro Bay is slower going but wonderfully scenic.

We didn’t stay long enough to get many pictures but both Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea are coastal towns with really nice areas to walk around and window shop.

California Road Trip Stops (North to South) | Intentional Travelers

The route is littered with scenic stops overlooking the ocean. Just pull over and enjoy the views!

California Road Trip Stops (North to South) | Intentional Travelers

Solvang

The small town of Solvang was founded by Danes in the early 1900’s so its buildings reflect the traditional Danish style. You’ll find a couple of windmills, some thatch-roofs, and plenty of Danish restaurants and bakeries. It’s a fun place to walk around and explore, just off the 101 between Santa Maria and Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is another cool, coastal town with Spanish architecture and pretty marina. Unfortunately, we only had time for a couple quick hours of work online before we had to move on.

California Road Trip Stops (North to South) | Intentional Travelers

The simple campground at Dennison Park is a nice and affordable place to park a tent overnight and enjoy fabulous views of the sunset over Ojai Valley.

California Road Trip Stops (North to South) | Intentional Travelers

We also enjoyed a nice hike/jog to the hidden Eaton Canyon Waterfall in the hills above Pasadena, although the pictures from our phones didn’t turn out very well.

San Diego

We spent the majority of our California road trip in San Diego. It was our end destination, which we happened to visit twice in this one trip. Apart from hanging out with family and working online, we saw a few sights and hit up some favorite restaurants.

Coronado is a neat area, technically a peninsula, across a bridge from downtown San Diego. We spent an afternoon exploring around the famous Hotel Del Coronado, Centennial Park, and the Ferry Landing Marketplace.

We spent the first half of our San Diego stay in the Ocean Beach area where my brother enjoys surfing. Despite being an experienced surfer, this was the first time Jedd surfed in waters that weren’t warm!

San Diego has a lot of great options for restaurants. Some of our top picks are:

  • Great Maple serves up some unique and generous breakfasts, like two huge slabs of brioche french toast topped with maple syrup and bacon. Or their maple bacon donuts. Don’t be afraid to split a dish or take some home.
  • BO-Beau Kitchen & Bar makes delicious French-style meals. The crispy brussel sprouts with pancetta, parmesan, and balsamic are out of this world. Flatbreads, pistacchio-crusted salmon, and duck confit were also delicious.
  • Cafe 21 is great for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. We snagged a bunch of small plates during happy hour and every single one was amazing. Sampling their flight of six sangrias was also fun. My brother and sister-in-law love the food so much, they had Cafe 21 cater the rehearsal dinner before their wedding.
  • Con Pane Rustic Breads & Cafe has some of the best cinnamon rolls we’ve ever tried – and that’s saying a lot. The bread is a light, sweet brioche and the frosting balances really nicely.

These last two photos explain the real reason we came down to San Diego in the first place. Michelle’s brother got married!

California Road Trip Stops (North to South) | Intentional Travelers

At first glance, this may look like the crowning of a king and queen. In a way, it is. They’re now the king and queen of a new family union. My brother and sister-and-law wore these capes and crowns as part of the Egyptian Coptic tradition. After the ceremony, we hopped over to the San Diego Zoo where wedding guests got an after-hours tour of the animals before feasting and dancing the night away at the open-air reception.

California Road Trip Stops (North to South) | Intentional Travelers

 

So that was our trip! (Not pictured: quality time catching up with friends and family all over the state, plus the usual online work.) Have you visited any of these places? What recommendations do you have for road trip stops in California?

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