California is known for its long coastline, dotted with beautiful towns and stunning oceanside views. This itinerary focuses on exploring the coast, and includes art, history, and shopping for those who want to delve into the area beyond the water. Experience Big Sur and San Diego, coupled with a stay in Carmel-by-the-Sea, to allow for the ultimate experience in dreamy seaside California. By enjoying time immersed in nature among charming settings, this diverse trip brings to life the culture and gorgeous landscapes of California.
ItineraryPLAN YOUR TRIP
Day 1Enjoy the Beauty of Nature in Northern Big Sur
Wildflower lovers will enjoy spending time at Garrapata State Park, where you can hike among the seasonal flowers exploding with color. Also, don’t miss beachcombing at the mostly undeveloped Andrew Molera State Park. However, the park’s highlight is seeing condors and learning about their habitat at the Discovery Center.
Wear comfortable shoes and head to Point Sur State Historic Park to explore the light station on foot. Make a point to arrive early for the three-hour walking tour, which those who enjoy immersing themselves in history will love. Pay attention as you traverse Bixby Bridge. Several stops along the bridge provide mesmerizing vantage points to snap a memorable photo or simply soak in the view. End your day by eating outdoors at Nepenthe, and stop by The Phoenix Shop to peruse work from local artisans.
Day 2Explore Carmel-by-the-Sea to its Fullest
To satiate your appetite midday, La Bicyclette has a cozy atmosphere and menu featuring European Country cuisine. Afterward, participate in a wine tasting at Lepe Cellars. Varietals such as the 2021 Grenache and 2019 Petit Verdot may tempt you to purchase a bottle to take home as a souvenir of time well spent.
White-sand beaches also await if you simply want to while the time away after consuming beverages made from the fruit of California vines. Ocean waves beckon travelers to stay and enjoy the sun as it sets over the Pacific. If you’d rather stay in town, choose Normandy Inn Carmel or one of the many other local inns.
Day 3Complete Your Park Experience in Southern Big Sur
Lunch awaits at Big Sur River Inn and Restaurant, where you can dine outdoors while sticking your feet in the river. Choose a lighter salad, such as Noelle’s, or order Pasta Castroville if you worked up an appetite. After your meal, head to the Henry Miller Memorial Library and learn about this famous author’s colorful life.
Depending on the season, gray whales frequent Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, named after an early pioneer woman of the area. Gawk at the beauty as you carefully walk along the ridges and experience sightings of both flora and fauna. Of course, the best way to end a day along the ocean is to dine at Coast, where fine art and delectable cuisine await within a building partly constructed from water tanks.
Days 4 and 5Plunge into San Diego Experiences
Grab a Danish or almond croissant for breakfast at Wayfarer Bread and Pastry, and get ready for a day of adventure exploring sea caves on kayaks. For a different view of the ocean, make time to wander the 29 gardens of the San Diego Botanic Garden.
You might choose to alternately stay under the red roofs of the famed Hotel del Coronado, though even if you don’t, schedule a guided walking tour of Coronado Island and hear stories of Navy SEALs as you stroll along the seaside. Although you could sail by day, dusk is the ideal time to head out on a sunset cruise to see San Diego by water. Complete your time by eating in-season fresh seafood at The Fishery. Whether you spread this itinerary over two days or keep it to one, San Diego is sure to capture your heart.