Travel Diaries: California Road Trip – Part One

While I’m getting ready for my big move to London (yippee!), I thought I would start a new series of posts called Travel Diaries – highlighting some of my past travel adventures and where stories of my new travel adventures will live too!

Last August my bestie (and best travelling buddy) and I jumped on a plane to Sacramento, California to embark on our highly anticipated California road trip!

We had been planning this trip since we visited San Francisco in 2009 – we had hoped to go back in 2010, but school, finance and crappie boyfriends got in the way.

Since we only had a short period of time (neither of us had paid vacations, so we were spending money on travel and losing pay at the same time), we decided to drive down the PCH a.k.a Highway 1, see as many sights as we could, and stay in a different town each night. Although Napa isn’t on the PCH, we couldn’t go to California and not go to Napa!


Collecting our luggage in Sacramento


Santa Cruz
Carmel by the sea, Big Sur, Pismo Beach & Solvang
Santa Barbara
Malibu, LA
Santa Monica & Venice Beach

Day 1: Napa Valley
After picking up the rental car in Sacramento we drove to the first destination, Napa Valley.

The area is a beautiful with acres of emerald green rows running up and down rolling hills.


We stayed at a nice little motel, Wine Valley Lodge, a few blocks from the town. What we soon found out though, is that the few blocks from the town were not as walkable as we had hoped.

Our plan was to go on a vineyard tour as soon as we got to Napa, but by the time we got to the motel it was nearly 4:30pm. Luckily, the person at the front desk knew of a vineyard that was open until 6:00pm for wine tasting. Perfect! We jumped in the car and headed to Napa Cellars.

Despite the short visit we had a great time! Our host was lovely and very chatty with hilarious stories about living in Napa. And the wine was delicious! We even bought a couple bottles for the rest of our trip. Bonus: the winery had its own vineyard so we did a self guided tour through its rows of vines stocked full of plump purple grapes just waiting to be sampled.




(Note: Do not eat the grapes off the vine. I forgot how much pesticide is sprayed over the vineyards. Oops.)

After the vineyard we toured a sleepy picturesque town outside of Napa proper, Yountville, bought some souvenirs, and then headed back to the motel to get ready for dinner.

We decided to go to Restorante Allegria, not because we read about it in a Lonely Planet guide or on a Trip Advisor forum, but because we over heard a couple at the vineyard talking about how great the Italian restaurant was that they had reservations for. And it was a good thing we did – the food was delicious (the seafood pasta is a must try), the atmosphere was lovely (we sat outside under heat lamps and sparkling lights), and the wine glasses were large!


After dinner we decided to check out the night life in town. Surely there would be something happening on a Tuesday night in August, right? Wrong. The town was dead. That’s when we learned how far away our motel actually was as we wandered back. I don’t mind an evening stroll, but not in heels and not in the cold. I was very surprised how much the temperature had dropped – it was very warm during the day, but absolutely freezing at night!

– Wine tasting and frolicing through vineyards
– Dinner at Restaurante Allegria

Not so great:
– There was no nightlife, at least not while we were there. I figured they were all passed out from the copious amounts of vino.
– It is freezing at night! Be sure to bring a warm sweater for the evenings.

Day 2: Santa Cruz

The lack of nightlife in Napa meant we were up bright and early the next day. We took advantage of the extra time in our schedule to do a bit of shopping in Napa, try a local coffee shop, and stock up on road trip snacks from Trader Joes. I also scored a pair of white Converse AllStars – I had been on a mission to get them all summer!

From Napa we headed south to Santa Cruz. We drove past San Francisco and her glowing Golden Gate Bridge (San Francisco is a must visit too, but that’s a story for another day).

We could tell we were getting close to Santa Cruz when palm trees started popping up along the road. And our excitment started bubbling up too!


Santa Cruz has that old school beach town vibe, with pastel buildings, neon signs, flamingos and surfboard decor.

We stayed in a motel that was once again just a little further to walk to than we thought when we booked it. But the price was right.

After checking in we put our bathing on suits and headed to the beach! It was a gorgeous warm and sunny day. Perfect for the beach and soaking up the vitamin D (that’s if it could make it through SPF 50 slathered on – I turn a not-so-lovely shade of red if I don’t).

The beach was huge and suken down between the cliffs. We parked the car, gathered our beach bags stocked with snacks and magazines, and proceeded to head down to the beach. At least that’s what we tried to do – the wind had another idea!


The gusts of wind were so strong we couldn’t even open the doors. After a good struggle (and a lot of laughing) we managed to get out of the car and into what felt like a sand blaster! Not the nicest way to be exfoliated.

Determined to go to the damn beach, we charged down the sandy hill, quickly navigated to what we thought was the least windy area, struggled with our towels and layed down to avoid the stinging sand pelting us. “Ha!” We exclaimed (underneath our hats stratgically covering our faces).


After an hour or so of being covered with sand, we gathered our stuff, ran to the shore to dip our feet in the Pacific Ocean – a goal we had for each day we were on the coast. It was FREEZING! We took a few pictures, then beelined back to the car and return to the motel to de-sand (it really does manage to get everywhere).

That evening we headed to the boardwalk. Even now I feel giddy just thinking about it! I’m a great fan of amusememt parks of all sizes and this one has one of the oldest rollercoasters dating back to 1929 (I’m also a history buff) which we road three times! We also took a ride on the skyride in a brightly coloured pod suspended above the boardwalk, running from one end to the other. It gave us a spectacular view of the sunset over the ocean.


After a couple hours and many fits of laughter on the boardwalk, we headed up the pier for dinner. We both decided to try the seafood tacos. She got the battered shrimp and I got the cajan cod. Holy moly they were absolutely DELICIOUS! Highly recommended! They were so good we decided that we were going to eat fish tacos (or some type of seafood taco) in every city/town we went to after that. It is a California specialty, isn’t it?


After our late dinner we wandered back through the downtown restaurant strip. Unlike Napa, there were lots of lively bars, lounges, and cafes still open. We stayed out for a bit but we’re exhausted after a long day and knew the next was going to be even longer – we were hitting the Pacific Coast Highway, stopping in Carmel By The Sea, Big Sur, Pismo Beach, and ending the day in Solvang.

– The boardwalk and its amusement park
– The seafood restaurant on the pier – get the cajan fish tacos!

Not so great
– The beach unless you need a good exfoliation, but definitely not for swimming.
– It was also freezing at night!

Next stop, Carmel By The Sea!
To be continued…


6 thoughts on “Travel Diaries: California Road Trip – Part One

    • Lisa says:

      Thanks! It was an awesome trip! I highly recommend driving the PCH if you get a chance. I’m excited for the change! But I have a feeling Canada to the UK is not going to be a big culture shock… I hope πŸ˜‰

  1. englishroseamericansoil says:

    We did the PCH for our honeymoon in October! Looking forward to seeing more of your photos. We started in San Diego and drove up to San Francisco!

    • Lisa says:

      What a great idea for a honeymoon! I absolutely loved the trip and there was still so much we didn’t see. I have been recommending it to everyone! What were your favourites?

  2. 4blogssake says:

    i did a road trip on Route 1 (that’s it isn’t it, along the California coast?) moons ago. Nice memories. Well, your bestie better come visit you on this side of the pond! (i’ve recently moved to west sussex). Better yet, get her to join the adventure! πŸ™‚

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