We generally stick to theme parks, and more specifically Disney Parks, on this blog. Friends and family would tell you firsthand that those are our favorite places to go to and they’d generally be right. But, we like going other places too! About a week ago we set out for Southern California from the Puget Sound, taking the long route down the PCH once we reached California. The trip had been a long time coming and on my travel bucket list for many years. In this post, I’m going to detail some of the highlights of the trip and add in some thoughts on how you could do the trip in addition to a Disneyland vacation.
As most of you know, California is one of the biggest tourist destinations in the country, if not the world. From the cooler and eclectic northern California to the sunny beaches of LA and San Diego, there is seemingly something for everyone. The Pacific Coast Highway, or Highway 1, runs along the length of California hugging the coast line. If so inclined, you could move on to Highway 101 into Oregon and Washington which would take you through some Redwoods along with the coast line. We ended up only driving down the highway from San Francisco on due to time and if you’re tacking this trip on to a Disneyland vacation then that’s what I’d recommend, as well. It’s not that the sights north of that aren’t worth seeing, on the contrary, it’s just that the trip will end up being weeks instead of just one week.
Before getting into the details and highlights of our specific trip where you could judge for yourself on whether you’d enjoy the stops and sights, I thought I’d break down how I’d do this trip if I was an out-of-stater coming for Disneyland. If you have a week of vacation and are doing 3 days at Disneyland then driving up or down the coast with DL at the start or end works well. Sure, it’d be more fun if you had a few more days to play with but that’s true for all vacations. That’s not to say Southern California doesn’t have plenty to do on its own. Between LA, San Diego, a strong group of theme parks and some of the most pristine beaches and beach towns in the world, you’d absolutely be bypassing strong touring destinations by going for a road trip. Weighing whether you’d like a full scope of California or staying and exploring the southern half more in depth is something to consider as both are incredible options.
Once you do decide to take the plunge and go for this trip, there are a few ways to go about it. This is all assuming that you’re flying to California instead of driving. If coming from the west coast then driving is certainly an option and maybe even a cheaper one, albeit more time consuming. If you are flying then you’ll want to arrive at one of Southern California’s airports. Departing from San Francisco or Oakland is advisable. Doing that vice versa would be the same and I’d always opt for Disneyland at the end because I love it so much. Renting a car between the two locations shouldn’t be too difficult although prices will fluctuate dramatically during the time of year.
I’d budget at least 4 days for the trip between Laguna Beach (or San Diego if you can) and San Francisco. That doesn’t make you rush too much. Obviously, the more time the better! If you have more questions about the details of the trip, then leave a comment below. I’m guessing that’s not why many of you clicked on this post though so let’s get on to the fun stuff! I’ll treat this as a hybrid trip report and travel guide, saying what we did as well as adding my thoughts on certain points of interest.
As I mentioned, we were coming from the north so our trip started in San Francisco. I’ve been to that city several times and enjoy it. On this stop, we started near the Muir Woods and drove through that area before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and spending time in Golden Gate Park. The park is huge and has a number of different sites to see in it. While I prefer Stanley Park in Vancouver BC and Griffith Park in Los Angeles more because of the layout, I’d still say that stopping here for a few hours is worth your time. Even with a few hours spent there, we barely scratched the surface on all there was to do.
San Francisco is a large city but it is surprisingly walkable despite the hills in it. I’ve mainly stayed in the Fisherman’s Wharf area, which makes the waterfront, Little Italy, Lombard Street and Chinatown all walkable. Even Union Square is within a half hour walk. Staying in any of those areas would work out and there are a number of options, especially in Union Square and near Fisherman’s Wharf.
Once checked into our hotel, we walked through Little Italy on the way to Chinatown. Both are impressive and lively, full of incredible restaurants and interesting shops. Those areas run right into each other and are essential to the San Francisco experience. After eating there, we walked back near the hotel and then went to Ghirardelli Square for dessert. While that’s one of the more touristy options in San Francisco, it’s also historic. Much to my father’s dismay, I’d say it’s a little overpriced and overrated but well worth checking out if you’ve never been before.
The next morning we went to the Ferry Building, which is a marketplace of sorts with different vendors and places to eat. It’s a little more bustling on weekends with more options open but it’s well worth visiting regardless of the day. The building’s design alone is worth exploring. I’m a baseball fan and enjoy the Giants stadium so we took some Lime Scooters over there from the Ferry Building and it was fun to circle the stadium. If you love baseball, I’d recommend seeing a game there if possible!
We ended our time in the city with Fisherman’s Wharf which is by far the most tourist centric part of the city. That said, it’s a pretty fun place to walk around when it’s not swarmed with people. There’s plenty of good food around, a fun aquarium and boat tours to Alcatraz and around the bay everywhere you look.
Overall, San Francisco is a wonderful city that you could spend a couple of days in. We didn’t make it there on this trip but we also love the Walt Disney Family Museum and would recommend it to any Disney fan. On this certain pass through, we only spent about 24 hours there and I’d put that as a minimum unless you’re completely averse to big cities.
San Francisco Highlights:
- Golden Gate Park
- Fisherman’s Wharf and Ferry Building
- Alcatraz and Boat Tours
- Walt Disney Family Museum
Drive From San Francisco to Monterey
From San Francisco, we found the Pacific Coast Highway and started our trip down it. This section of the drive was an unexpected surprise as it wound through some flower nurseries and markets on highway 92 before meeting up with the PCH. The forest section was beautiful and eventually led to the beautiful cliff sides looking over the Pacific. It was a small glimpse of what Big Sur would offer but was stunningly beautiful. There was a lighthouse along the way along with a few spots to pull off and enjoy the views. Part of this trip is making sure you have time to pull over and just look around.
The drive from San Francisco to Monterey took just over two hours and was very pretty and calmer than other sections of the drive. By no means was that the best section to drive and going through Santa Cruz is frustrating and not my favorite place on the route. Outside of that though, the drive was easy and beautiful.
We’ll pick up in part 2 of this mini series, listing the rest of the stops along the way! Let us know any thoughts or questions you have in the comments down below. Thank you for reading Wandering in Disney. If you enjoy our content please subscribe to the blog (via WordPress or email) and like our social media pages. You can find all of those things on the right side of this page. Have a great day!