California Road Trip: SFO-Mount Shasta-Monterey (10 days)
Updated: Nov 20
Over the years we have lived in the beautiful Golden State, we have seen many popular attractions. Yet California is so vast that we still have a long list of places we need to cover. On this 10 day road trip, we did not want to rush and make it only about visiting popular tourist destinations. We designed this itinerary with photography as our main goal while having the best relaxing time.
Golden Gate Bridge - San Francisco
Day 1: The whole of day-1 was spent driving. Our first stop was San Francisco. We drove 6 hours from down south to Crowne Plaza Hotel, Foster City. We chose to stay in Foster City as it falls just between San Francisco and Santa Clara, only a 30 min drive either way. Santa Clara has some of our favorite Indian restaurants so we wanted to stay as close as possible.
Day 2: Only an hour north of San Francisco, Point Reyes National Seashore offers some of the best sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. First we headed to Tomales Bay State Park for the historic Pierce Point Ranch, which was once a dairy but now a tourist attraction. The ranch is well maintained, but with nothing more than few hay bales stocked in the barn and abandoned old rusty equipment. We hiked around 2 miles on the long 10 mile Tomales point loop trail to see some tule elk. We did not see any but it was a beautiful hike with gorgeous ocean views. Surprisingly, we did see a herd of elk grazing as we drove our way out on pierce point road.
Tule Elk / Tree Tunnel
Pierce Point Ranch at Tomales Bay State Park
The drive to Point Reyes Lighthouse was long but beautiful with grasslands on both sides and stunning cliff views. Fighting chilly wind, we climbed up and down 300+ stairs to the lighthouse for some more amazing views of the ocean. On our way back to the city, we stopped at Sausalito for a quick snack and to gaze at the ocean and SFO city from the vista point. We made our last stop at the end of Moore road on the north side of the golden gate bridge to photograph the bridge.
Point Reyes lighthouse
Day 3: Mountain view Cemetery in Oakland is a popular tourist attraction. A peaceful resting place for the deceased and living as well. It was like a park with many joggers and dog walkers. The mausoleums, elaborate tombstones and statuary made in memory of loved ones date back to the 1800s. Then we came back to SFO and drove around on the steep city roads admiring the charming bright colored century old victorian style homes. We drove down the famous zig zag Lombard Street (Crooked Street). Then we went up Twin peaks to get a full night view of San Francisco city.
Mountain view Cemetery
A statue / Elaborate door
Day 4: San Francisco National Cemetery is a military cemetery located on a grassy hill with rows and rows of white tombstones. Not only was it well maintained but its elevated location offered beautiful views of the bay and bridge. Then we drove to Fort Point and Baker beach to get some nice clear views of the golden gate bridge which are on either side on the south end.
San Francisco National Cemetery / Sun rays on the cemetery
Palace of Fine Arts
Our next stop was the Palace of fine arts. Very impressive architecture surrounded by the beautiful marina neighborhood. Sun had already set so it was time to view the downtown from a different angle. One of the best spots is Yerba Buena Island which is off an exit on the middle of Bay Bridge. We were clicking away at the brightly lit tall buildings reflecting on the bay waters when raccoons decided to startle us a few times.
Downtown San Francisco from Yerba Buena Island / Palace of Fine Arts
Day 5: It was Christmas and we could sure feel the vibes in our hotel from all the decorated Christmas trees. Lucky for us one gas station was open that day so we fueled up and took off to Mount Shasta on a 5 hr drive. We checked in at Best Western Plus Tree House hotel and went to find dinner. The small charming downtown on Mt Shasta blvd though deserted that night was attractively lit by Christmas decor.
Its Christmas / Mount Shasta
Day 6: It was the year of severe drought in California which explained the scanty snow and feeble number of visitors. This morning we headed east on highway 89 to McArthur Burney Falls. It felt very cold as we got closer to the base of the stunning falls. Frost on surrounding vegetation that formed from the mist coming off the falls made for a beautiful hike on the loop trail.
McArthur Burney Falls
McCloud Falls / Off Highway 89
We made our next stop at the middle falls of McCloud falls which is also on highway 89. Then we leisurely drove off the beaten path and were soon surrounded by grasslands, empty trees, frozen water pools and grazing cattle.
Day 7: We spent this day in the most relaxing way possible. We went back to McArthur Burney Falls to get some more pictures. Then we stopped at Lake Siskiyou and Castle Lake. We strolled along the lakes and the small bridge enjoying absolute solitude. Watching the reflection of trees and hills on the still waters and ducks swimming by the lakeshore was such a peaceful experience.
Lake Siskiyou bridge / Lake Siskiyou
Day 8: We checked out early and visited the Sundial bridge in Redding 60 miles south of Mount Shasta on I-5. We spent the afternoon with our family in Stockton. At twilight, after a 3 hr drive we arrived at Hotel Pacific in Monterey.
Day 9 and 10: These 2 days we spent touring Monterey, Carmel and Big Sur. A drive on 17 mile drive, sunset at Pfeiffer beach (Purple sand), hike at the beautiful Point Lobos State Park, captured spectacular views from the Bixby Bridge and along pacific highway-1. A good lunch at Big Sur Taphouse is worth mentioning. The hot weather in the area completely in contrast to Mount Shasta made for a very exhausting last 2 days of our long trip.
Point Lobos State Park, Carmel
A sign to the beach / Bixby Bridge
We planned to visit Hearst Castle on our way back home but we were exhausted and started to crave our own beds. So we decided to end our trip and drove back home.
Pacific Highway-1, California / Pfeiffer Beach or Purple Sand Beach