Blessed with a viable fog-cooled and sun-kissed climate and a dramatic landscape, the San Francisco Bay Area is a visual feast where neither water nor hills are ever too far away. Add to this the cultural medley: Within every neighborhood, from Santa Cruz to Oakland to Mill Valley, a diversity of tastes and interest is thriving. See it in the cuisine, the bookstores, the arts, and the recreational opportunities. To embrace all San Francisco has to offer get out and explore. Walk the streets, drive across the Bay Bridge, go south down the peninsula to Silicon Valley and cruise along the San Mateo coast. Find great sights, museums, art, culture, and family fun attractions. There is a plethora of attractions and activities to satisfy the desires of every one who visits.View Full Itinerary
Few places in the U.S. are as opulent as the Hearst Castle, which publisher William Randolph Hearst built in 1919 in the hills above San Simeon, California. It is roughly the halfway point between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Outfitted with imported treasures from around the world (ancient Greek vases, Italian tapestries, Oriental carpets), the palatial mansion and grounds became—and still are—symbols for ostentation.
In fact, Hearst Castle was the model for the mansion Xanadu in Orson Welles' movie Citizen Kane, which is a thinly veiled portrait of Hearst.
Only in recent years has the estate's architect, Julia Morgan, begun to receive her due as a pioneer in a field previously reserved for men. She worked for Hearst for 27 years, continually adapting the building to fit his ever-changing wishes. (Morgan reportedly even designed the ceilings to be adjustable in the event he wanted them higher or lower.) It could be argued that Hearst's robber-baron tastes occasionally nudged the architect's hand a little too much. Witness, for example, the outdoor Neptune Pool, a pseudo-Greco-Roman folly that is the very definition of gaudy.
Run by California State Parks, there are four separate tours, each focusing on a different part of the grounds. Seeing all four tours in one day is best left to those with the hardiest constitutions. If you can settle for less, Tour 1 is the best option. Make reservations well in advance; many visitors arrive without them and are dismayed to be turned away at the gates, especially during the popular summer season.
If you're in the area at the proper time (Friday and Saturday nights September-December and March-May), you can see the castle on an evening tour. Docents in 1930s clothing pretend to be the guests and staff at one of Hearst's cocktail parties. Those on the tour can wander through the elaborate rooms as the actors sip martinis, work on puzzles and socialize in grand fashion.
Those who don't want to spring for any of the tours can wander the museum at the base of the hill for no charge. Toll-free 800-444-4445. http://hearstcastle.org.View Full Itinerary
Straddling Highway 101 between Los Angeles and San Francisco, San Luis Obispo is a quaint, convenient stop-off for travelers on Highway 1, the scenic coast highway. It's the home of California State Polytechnic University and is known for its Thursday Night Farmers Market downtown—one of the best anywhere. It's a great walking town where visitors can stroll by historic landmarks, Victorian homes, shops and restaurants. The town has a lovely Mediterranean climate and an even more lovely setting, as it's surrounded by the Nine Sisters—former volcanic plugs. Toll-free 877-756-8696. http://www.sanluisobispovacations.com.
Inland of San Luis Obispo, the Paso Robles area is one of California's up-and-coming wine-growing regions.
Nearby is the coastal town of Morro Bay, which has an active harbor and lively fishing industry. It's the best place in SLO County to try local oysters and salmon. A massive rock formation juts out of the water just offshore, and the area has many nature and wildlife preserves. One of the most interesting is the Morro Bay National Estuary, which includes 2,300 acres/930 hectares of mudflats, tidal wetland and open bay. The estuary is home to two dozen threatened and endangered species, including the peregrine falcon, brown pelican and sea otter. http://www.mbnep.org.
A wide array of plant species are found on the southwestern shore of the bay, in the pedestrian-only Elfin Forest Natural Area. Morro Bay is considered globally important for migrating birds on the Pacific flyway, and the return of the birds is celebrated in January with a winter festival held over the Martin Luther King Day weekend. Phone 805-225-1633. http://www.morrobay.org.
Just outside of San Luis Obispo you'll find more than 20 mi/32 km of beach in Pismo Beach, where visitors can find affordable oceanside accommodations and laze away the afternoon watching fishermen on the pier and surfers catching the break. Collecting clams is a local tradition each October, when it hosts the annual Clam Festival. The Oceano Dunes, nearby, are a major recreational venue for quad bikes and dirt bikes. Phone 805-773-7924. http://classiccalifornia.com.View Full Itinerary
Located 65 mi/105 km south of San Francisco, Santa Cruz is in many ways the quintessential California town, combining a laid-back counterculture atmosphere with plenty of shore activities and, of course, surfing. The historic boardwalk contains one of the oldest amusement-park areas on the West Coast. One of its roller coasters is a National Historic Landmark, but the park also includes a state-of-the-art coaster and an amusement area with special effects and robotics.
The prominence of surfing in Santa Cruz can be judged by the statue the city erected to celebrate the sport. There are several places along the coast to shoot the curls (or watch others do it). Steamer's Lane, off Lighthouse Field State Beach, is the town's most famous spot, and Cowell Beach and Manresa State Beach are also popular.
Whether you can hang 10 or not, you'll enjoy the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, contained in a lighthouse off West Cliff Drive, near Lighthouse Field State Beach. It covers the sport from its infancy in the 1930s, explaining changes in board technology and chronicling the stars of the surfing world. Phone 831-420-6289. http://www.santacruzsurfingmuseum.org.
Of course, the town's numerous beaches can be used for activities aside from surfing. You could, for instance, hang out on the beach. There are also fishing and swimming for those who want to be active, and sailboat cruises for viewing the beach from the bay.
There's a lot of shoreline to choose from in the Santa Cruz area, so you should be able to find a beach to fit your activities and temperament. We like Natural Bridges State Beach for the monarch butterflies that congregate there October-March. For a more upscale beach-town experience, you can drive 6 mi/9 km to enjoy Capitola's beaches and shops. This delightful resort village has some exceptional bed-and-breakfast inns and shorefront fine-dining restaurants.
The University of California at Santa Cruz campus is located in the hills overlooking the town and bay. The campus' modern architecture blends impressively with the redwood-forest surroundings. http://www.ucsc.edu.
If you're in Santa Cruz between December and March, don't miss the chance to see the elephant seals bellow, snort and frolic during breeding season at Ano Nuevo State Reserve in Pescadero, about 20 mi/32 km north of the city. Guided walks along the dunes area of the reserve are available by reservation only—make your plans at least a month in advance because the walking tours are very popular. The reserve is one of only two mainland seal-breeding colonies in the world. Because the state began limiting access to the area in the 1970s, the seal population has grown from only 35 to more than 3,000 animals. Phone 650-879-2025. http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=523.
Another must-see near Santa Cruz is one of the area's redwood parks—most notably Big Basin Redwood State Park, a hiker's park about 25 mi/40 km up-canyon from Santa Cruz. (It was California's first state park.) Another good spot for inspirational hiking is nearby Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.
A historic narrow-gauge railway, the Roaring Camp and Big Trees Railroad, carries sightseers from Felton to the beach in Santa Cruz through Roaring Camp. Their Redwood Forest Steam Train goes from Roaring Camp to Bear Mountain and back. http://www.roaringcamp.com.View Full Itinerary
Price are per person, based on double occupancy, and subject to availability and change without notice. Prices reflect land only accommodations, airfare is additional. Blackout dates/seasonal supplements may apply.
Information and pricing is subject to change without notice. While we do our very best to ensure that information and pricing appearing in this website is complete and accurate, we cannot be responsible for incomplete and inaccurate representations, which may or may not be under our control. In the event of a pricing error, misrepresentation or omission, we reserve the right to adjust the pricing or make any other corrections.