This Carolina girl currently feels like a Cali girl. As many of you know, I just recently got back from a week-long road trip in California with my best friend Savannah (or you guys know her as The Savy Traveler). I seriously cannot tell you how much fun we had. The entire week was spent hopping from one incredible destination to the other, taking in these beautiful sites, food, and experiences that I will remember forever. It was also AMAZING to spend time with my bestie because we have been apart for over 2 YEARS! Terrible, and never happening again. This was our first time ever planning and going on a road trip, so there was definitely plenty of trial-and-error. But now I can share what I learned with you guys so that you don’t make the same mistakes that we did! PS: All photos in this blog post were taken by Savannah (aka The Savy Traveler).
I could honestly see myself living in California someday. It has everything from the mountains and hiking, to gorgeous beaches and palm trees, to delicious healthy restaurants and beautiful yoga/fitness studios. It has EVERYTHING. I really just felt like I was in a movie the entire time.
Here are a couple quick tips before I give you guys my detailed layout of the trip.
#1: ALWAYS research the places you’re going at least a few days before you leave. We had an entire day planned at Big Sur only to realize the bridge was out, the really cool tree that you could drive through fell over, and several of the hikes were closed at Yosemite National Park due to weather. Once you get to the place, it’s too late to change plans, so always check before and you won’t be disappointed.
#2: Check TIMES! We ended up arriving at a few places after they closed which was a huge bummer.
#3: Book small-scale hotels/motels for most nights and pick one “splurge night.” This will save you a TON of money. Savannah’s hubby Matt took care of booking most of the hotels, and splitting the rooms in half also saved money which is a plus. The “splurge night” was an Airbnb in LA that was ADORABLE.
#4 Plan EVERYTHING in advance. I’m talking every sight you want to see, every restaurant, every photo you want to capture…plan it all out. We fit SO MUCH into this trip by doing this and it helped everything to run smoothly (for the most part).
#5 Pack LOTS of snacks! We seriously went through a massive amount of trail mix and healthy snacks that Savannah’s hubby Matt brought back from an expo. I always get so hungry on trips, especially if I’m in the car a lot.
Alright, so those are my basic tips for a successful road trip! I’ll now give you my detailed layout of all the amazing must-sees.
Day 1: San Francisco– We started in the beautiful city of San Francisco, and let me tell you, one of the coolest feelings is driving up to the Golden Gate Bridge with the fog surrounding you and seeing the city across the water.
- Stop 1:Golden Gate Bridge– This bridge was so cool and the views of the city are amazing from surrounding lookouts. We took several hikes; one to the bottom of the bridge near the water, and the other above the bridge. Each view is incredibly different and I recommend doing both.
- Stop 2: Lombard Street– Lombard Street is known as San Fran’s “crookedest” street. The view of the city from up there is INCREDIBLE.
- Stop 3: Painted Ladies at Alamo Square– If you’re a major Full House fan like me (cue theme song), this is insanely cool. Alamo Square was under construction while we were there, but you still get a great view of the Ladies and the beautiful skyline behind them.
- Stop 4: Powell Street Cable Cars– We didn’t actually ride a cable car, but we did hop on one and take some pictures…which is pretty much the same thing right?
- Stop 5: Boba Guys– This cute little tea shop is famous for their Boba Tea and especially their matcha flavor. The line was out the door, but I totally understand why because it was the BEST Boba I’ve tried. I got their Strawberry Matcha Tea which was sweet and fruity….YUM. Plus, they use organic cream and super high quality teas to make their drinks naturally and even more delicious!
- Stop 6: China Town- China Town is such a cool place, especially near nighttime when all the lights and lanterns start becoming brighter and more colorful. One of my favorite things was stopping at a little Chinese bakery and getting a chocolate fortune cookie…pretty sure I ate half of my fortune….but the cookie itself was the BEST EVER.
*Tip- Never stay at the Hotel Bijou. It sounds cool and looks cool online, but turns out you will just be stuck unloading your luggage beside a dumpster that homeless dudes are peeing on and wondering why on Earth you decided to book a hotel downtown. HAHA
Day 2&3 : Yosemite National Park– The beauty of this park is UNREAL you guys. The mountains tower over you like massive giants, the sequoia trees are majestic and strong, and there are so many waterfalls that we couldn’t even keep straight which was which. The change in scenery from San Fran was so drastic, but I loved it. Get out your hiking boots for this one. Driving into the park, we were overwhelmed by how powerful the water and rapids were, and just how big everything was. We stayed at the Yosemite View Lodge in El Portal, which is just right outside the entrance to the park and a great place to stay that has that “mountain” feel.
- Stop 1: Cooks Meadow Loop- This meadow has a great view of the mountains and has these beautiful bridges and rivers that are perfect for capturing the entire essence of the park. Right beside the meadow is Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls which you don’t even have to hike to in order to get an incredible view.
- Stop 2: Bridal Veil Falls– You wouldn’t believe how powerful this waterfall was! The hike is just a few minutes to the base, and you get SOAKED. It was pretty cool, but hard to get a great view of up close just because there is so much mist surrounding you. Getting a further-back view is the best way to go. Just experiment taking different walkways and paths through the woods until you get the view you want.
- Stop 3: Tunnel View-You can drive to this beautiful lookout that oversees the famous view of the mountains, waterfalls, and trees that meet the skyline in a picture made for the movies.
- Stop 4&5: Vernal/Nevada Falls Hike– We did this hike on day 2 of Yosemite because it’s pretty intense and long. About 7 ½ miles round-trip, this hike takes you to the AMAZING Vernal Falls, and then up to Nevada Falls. Both spectacular, and the views of the mountains along the way are breathtaking. Be prepared for an all-day hike. You will probably want pizza after.
*Tip- Never take a trail that has a “closed trail” sign. You will end up on a ledge with a snow bank on one side and NOTHING on the other, and have no choice but to cross. That was probably the most terrifying experience of my life. And another tip, do not start up your drone next to someone. It just might lose control and slice their leg (which is on video by the way, and I still have a bruise). That’s okay though, every trip leaves some battle scars.
Day 4: Monterey/Carmel- On to a totally different change in scenery, and I loved every second! The beaches in Cali are much different than what I’ve experienced before. They are rocky and the waves are so powerful and the water is a gorgeous shade of blue. I would have liked to spend a little more time in each town, but due to time limitations we were able to fit everything into one day.
- Stop 1: Perfectly Pressed Juice– You know I had to get some juice before we started our day! This juice bar was super yummy. I recommend getting one of their delish juices or smoothies, but I was NOT a fan of their green smoothie pulp. I cannot do chunks of spinach in my smoothie haha.
- Stop 2: 17 Mile Drive- This lovely drive covers so many beautiful landscapes of Monterey/Carmel. There are some stops that don’t really have an interesting attraction, but there are a few that I highly recommend you stop at such as Pebble Beach and the Lone Cypress. There are also many places to pull of near the ocean, if you want some down-time for a nice picnic or just to relax.
- Stop 3: Point Lobos State Reserve-This was definitely one of my favorite parts of the entire Cali trip. This gorgeous area has so many hiking trails and beautiful sites, but we found two “hidden” gems that are a must-see. China Cove is one of them, which you can view from a lookout above the actual beach. The water is blue and absolutely beautiful, and we even got to see a family of sea lions just hanging out on their own private beach! If you walk a little bit past the cove, you can get down Gibson Beach which was completely deserted when were there! It would be the perfect place to spend a day if it was warm…but unfortunately it was FREEZING while we were there, but of course we had to take pics in bikinis like it was warm.
- Stop 4: Carmel by the Sea- I wish we could have spent more time in this beautiful little town! The only place we stopped at here was the Mediterranean Restaurant, and I’m so glad we did! The ambiance was so unique and fun, and they played fabulous music and danced around while we ate…plus the food was fantastic. I could eat their hummus and pita bread all day.
- Stop 5: Paris Bakery Café–We stopped at this cute little café on our way out (because I had to have my coffee) and it was adorable! All of the pastries and breads really made me feel like I was in Paris, plus the coffee was great.
*Tip-We stayed at Casa Munras and it was lovely! Great place to stay that is very clean and close to all the main attractions. Also, if it’s Spring, make sure you take pants/long sleeves…not just bikinis/shorts/and dresses! You will FREEZE.
Day 5: San Luis Obispo/Los Angeles- As we traveled towards LA, we stopped in San Luis Obispo which had several cool spots we wanted to see. They didn’t take very long so it worked out well and we reached LA by the afternoon.
- Stop 1: The Madonna Inn- I was SUPER psyched to see this adorable pink inn. So apparently the inn has nothing to do with Madonna, which I didn’t know. But I still loved it. It was eclectic and vintage, and obviously very girlie. The main dining room was definitely the coolest part. It was decked out in pink and gold, and had these awesome vintage booths that surrounded a gold tree as a centerpiece. I NEED to stay in one of their rooms sometime; they are supposed to be even more glittery.
- Stop 2: Bubblegum Alley– This super cool and random spot was really close to the inn. It’s this tiny alley that is completely covered in gum (hence the name) and so of course we got some bubblegum and took pictures. You’re obviously supposed to stick your gum to the wall before you leave but I wasn’t about to put my hand near that wall, so I tried throwing my gum at it…but that was a total fail.
- Stop 3: Venice Beach-Driving into LA was so cool! The beach, the palm trees, all of the houses overlooking the ocean…I totally felt like I was on an episode of The Hills (cue theme song). We went straight to Venice Beach. The only cool part of Venice beach was the beach and the classic “Venice” sign. The shops near the beach are sketchy, but if you walk a few minutes you get to a much nicer part of Venice that has boutiques and cool restaurants (one of my FAVES that I will mention in an upcoming blog post).
- Stop 4: Griffith Observatory- “City of Stars, are you shining just for me?” Ahhhh anyone else obsessed with La La Land? The observatory is from the movie, but it also has a FANTASTIC view of the city at night. We totally sang La La Land music the entire time, it was fantastic.
*Tip-This goes for the entire trip, but it was especially effective for when we were in LA. Make sure you get up early enough to fit everything in that you want to do. Also, you spend a lot of time in traffic, so you have to account for that time too. I’m an early-bird, so I woke up at 6 a.m. almost every day which worked out well.
Day 6: Los Angeles-I think some people have mixed feelings about LA, but I personally loved it. I could totally see myself living a little out of the city someday. It just sparked inspiration for me and really made me see what I wanted from life. I guess that’s why everyone goes there to achieve their dreams right? Plus, it’s just a cool place in general. Most of my stops in LA were food stops (of course) and I will be sharing about all of those in an upcoming post.
- Stop 1: Soul Cycle– If you follow any health/wellness people on Instagram, Soul Cycle is a staple for them. Now I TOTALLY see why. Between the awesome music, the fun choreography, and the overall positive vibe, I LOVED IT! I wish we had one in NC. Let me tell you, it will definitely get your day off to a great start at 6 a.m.
- Stop 2: Hollywood Sign- This is obviously a must-see in LA. We didn’t hike all the way up to the sign, but just drove near it so that we could get some good pictures with it in the distance. I recommend walking up the hill a little past where most people are taking pictures to get the best shot with no one in the background.
- Stop 3: Pink Wall (Melrose Avenue)- This awesome pink wall is perfect for some epic photos. Props to my girl Savannah for taking some super cool pictures. I felt like I was in an episode of America’s Next Top Model or something trying to get that epic jumping shot. Also, across the street they had a really cool La La Land painting so we had to take some pics there too.
- Stop 4: LACMA Lamps– This collection of lamps is from several movies and dance videos. They were so fun to play around with (just don’t get caught climbing on them).
- Stop 5: Santa Monica Pier- The Pier was a great way to end our trip. It’s got such a fun vibe, between the rides and cotton candy, to the street dancers that are so fun and talented. There was a violinist that played for a few hours, and I could have listened to him all day. He was playing the Titanic theme song as the sun set, and I will never forget that moment. It pretty much sums up the vibe of LA: chaotic, beautiful, memorable.
*Tip- Getting an Airbnb is the best way to go in LA, and we found the CUTEST place! I wish we could have stayed there for the entire trip. If you are ever close to LA, you have to check this place out. It’s got such a cozy, French countryside feel and has plenty of room if you have a large group.
Overall this trip was spectacular. There were some hard things that went down, some mishaps…but for the most part we got to see so many incredible places and experience amazing things. I highly recommend this Cali road trip to anyone because you get to see so many different landscapes and cities…there is something for everyone! Soon I will be sharing about all the awesome places to eat in LA, so stay tuned for that post!
This Carolina girl might just be a Cali girl at heart….
Ashlyn Tori <3
PS: Make sure to check out my bestie’s Instagram @thesavytraveler for awesome travel inspiration! She’s kind of legit.