The California coast was made for unforgettable road trips, great love, and golden memories. We love our home state of California and we’re always amazed that no matter how many road trips we take and how much of the state that we think we’ve seen, there are always endless adventures for us waiting around every beautiful twist and turn. We’ve been vacationing on the Central and Northern coasts of California since we met 9 years ago. We’ve always been enamored with the rugged, romantic coastline, the delicious dining, the endless adventures, and the charming central coast California towns. We headed back up highway 1 and the California coast for a long weekend getaway to some of our favorite towns: Carmel-by-the-Sea, Half Moon Bay, and Sausalito, California. Here are our recommendations for a long weekend California road trip getaway to the central and north coast of California.
This trip was sponsored by Visit California. All thoughts and opinions expressed here are entirely our own.
The Road Trip Route
Zoom in on this map to see all of our favorite stops!
Day 1: Carmel-by-the-Sea
Welcome to Carmel, the quintessential central coast California town. We love long weekends spent exploring the rugged and romantic coastline, the delicious dining options, the plethora of wine bars, and the cozy bed & breakfasts. Carmel-by-the-Sea is postcard pretty and impossibly charming town that has everything you could want in a romantic California road trip.
12 pm: After your arrival into Carmel-by-the-Sea, head to Yeast of Eden, a delicious five barrel brewery and restaurant in Carmel Plaza – the perfect place to begin your California road trip. We highly recommend ordering a flight of sour beers and make sure to get the Sezchuan cauliflower – it’s one of our top 10 favorite dishes in the world!
1:30 pm: Check into the Wayside Inn. This adorable bed & breakfast is located in the middle of downtown and has a charming lobby, beautiful rooms equipped with fireplaces, and breakfast in bed!
2:00 pm: Walk over to Mad Dogs & Englishmen, an electric bicycle shop in downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea. Run by a husband and wife team, Martin and Jennifer, Mad Dogs & Englishmen has a wide variety of super stylish e-bikes to cruise around town in. We own e-bikes at home, but they could not compare to the bespoke bicycles at Mad Dogs & Englishmen! The owners are also amazing human beings that have created a beautiful business together and LOVE what they do. That love is palpable at the shop!
Once you have your e-bikes, cruise down to the beach, enjoy the sweeping landscapes, and try to find some seals and otters playing in the water!
4:30 pm: Bike over to nearby Pebble Beach and grab a nibble. Then, continue your bike along 17 mile drive to watch the best sunset in the in central coast California.
7:00 pm: Walk over to Il Tegamino, a charming Italian restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Il Tegamino is run by Giuseppe Panzutto, a gentleman from Naples (Napoli), Italy. His authentic Italian cooking and gracious hospitality can be tasted in every delicious morsel at the restaurant. We highly recommend the Paccheri al Ragú Napoletano and the Branzino!
Day 2: Carmel-by-the-Sea & Half Moon Bay. Travel Time: 2 hours.
8:30 am: Good morning from the most charming town in central coast California! Enjoy a leisurely breakfast in bed at the Wayside Inn.
10 am: Head to Refuge Spa, “America’s First Co-Ed Outdoor Relaxation Spa,” located in Carmel Valley. Home to the Refuge Thermal Cycle, this serene spa is the perfect place to soak in thermal baths, treat yourself to a sauna and steam, and enjoy the tranquility of Carmel.
12 pm: Continue your California road trip and depart for your two-hour drive to Half Moon Bay. On your way, be sure to stop at Pigeon Point Lighthouse. Stretch your legs and enjoy the beauty of the central coastline.
2 pm: Welcome to Half Moon Bay! After your drive up, enjoy a delicious lunch at It’s Italia. We highly recommend ordering the shrimp and ricotta appetizer, chicken piccata, and pumpkin salad.
3:30 pm: Drive 20-minutes north of town and check into the ultra relaxing and intimate Seal Cove Inn. This boutique inn has stunning rooms, a gorgeous garden, breakfast in bed, and charmingly decorated rooms equipped with bath tubs and fireplaces.
4:00 pm: Head out to Cowell Ranch Beach, one of California’s hidden beaches along the central coast. This stunningly beautiful beach requires about a half mile hike from the parking lot and it’s well worth it. Walk or run along the rugged coastline and enjoy the absolutely breathtaking views. If you’re feeling adventurous, walk down the stairs for a beach walk and enjoy the sunset over the Pacific Ocean.
6:00 pm: It’s time for some delicious dining at Sam’s Chowder House. Sam’s is an institution in Half Moon Bay and it boasts the best seafood around. We highly recommend the lobster roll and clam chowder! They’re the perfect dishes to warm you up after a chilly hike around Cowell Ranch Beach.
Day 3: Half Moon Bay // Sausalito. Travel Time: 1 hour.
8:30 am: Rise and shine from romantic Half Moon Bay! Cozy up by the in-room fireplace and enjoy a delicious breakfast in bed at the Seal Cove Inn.
10:00 am: Walk outside of the Seal Cove Inn and head down to Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. Marvel at the harbor seals sprinkling the coastline, enjoy the Monterey cypress trees that tower above you, and explore the tranquil tide pools of the ocean.
12 pm: Head into downtown Half Moon Bay and indulge in some bangers and brews at Sacrilege Brewing before continuing on your California road trip.
1 pm: It’s time to continue your road trip up the coast to stunning Sausalito. The beautiful California landscape continues to shift minute by minute as you leave the central coast and enter Marin County. It wouldn’t be a California road trip without crossing over the famous Golden Gate Bridge (all the Full House feels!) and cruise into Cavallo Point Lodge, the lodge at the Golden Gate Bridge. This hotel used to be a Coast Guard barracks, but has been transformed into a 5-star boutique resort. We highly recommend booking a suite with bridge views so that you can watch the infamous fog roll over the Golden Gate Bridge.
3 pm: Take the complimentary shuttle into downtown Sausalito and grab a cocktail at Copita, “tequileria and comida.” We highly recommend the Mezcal sour and the enchiladas!
4:30 pm: Head up to Kirby Cove, a beautiful section of Sausalito that overlooks the Golden Gate Bridge and entire San Francisco Bay. If you can, pack a snack and a bottle of wine, cozy up to your sweetheart, and watch the sunset over Sausalito.
7:00 pm: It’s time for another delicious dinner, but this time at Murray Circle Restaurant at Cavallo Point.
Day 4: Sausalito // Departure
8:00 am: It’s another beautiful day in the bay! Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy watching the Golden Gate light up at golden hour before your complimentary breakfast at Cavallo Point.
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