Hello! I just finished a four day, nature-filled road trip around San Francisco and thought I'd share my experience.
The full trip report is here: thegirlwhotraveled.com/lets-go/2018/1/7/dece…
But here's a brief summary and highlights for anyone who might be planning to also drive around San Francisco and down the coast. This is my third trip to San Fran, so I didn't spend too much time doing anything in the city. My road trip included:
Day 2 (Friday): Stopped over in Santa Cruz and went to Ano Nuevo Park to check out the elephant seal breeding.
Day 3 (Saturday): Drove into San Francisco, met up with friends and went to Land's End.
Day 4: (Sunday) Visited Muir Woods, the redwood forest about 30 minutes north of the city
Here's a summary of each day (additional details at the link though):
Day 1: Carmel by the Sea/Monterey: We were up bright and early and headed over to Point Lobos State Natural Park. This place is gorgeous and great for easy walks/hikes along the shore. Download and print the map before you go, as they charge for it otherwise. Also, be sure to get there early (like between 8 am and 10 am)--there is limited parking ($10) and if it gets full, you'll have to park outside on the main road and walk in (which would be a lot more walking). I think we arrived here around 9 am and had no issues with parking. We parked near the Sea Lion trail (bathrooms are clean but bring hand sanitizer and maybe your own paper!) and walked all the way down from there to China Cove. I think that was about a 2 mile walk one way. Then when we returned, we walked up Allan Memorial Grove and from there, you can hear seals out in the ocean and if you're lucky, blowholes from whales! Very scenic and pretty. None of the paths were strenuous though there as some areas with stairs. Great for any age/fitness level.
After hitting up Point Lobos, you can continue driving south to the Bixby Bridge, one of the most photographed bridges in the U.S. It's about 15-20 minutes away and just pay attention to pull out to a small parking area right before the bridge. The roads are only two lanes (coming and going) but it's not a scary drive in my opinion. The picture above is right from the parking lot. If you're a fan of the HBO show Big Little Lies, this is featured on the show and I'm pretty sure both Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman filmed driving around here!
Afterwards, we headed over to Pebble Beach and the 17-Mile Drive. This is basically a gated community but they allow the public to come through and wander around the beach areas. It costs $10.25 to drive through and the directions are marked on the road where to turn, etc. They give you a map with points of interests to go to, so it's easy to follow along. I
Then we drove over to nearby Asilomar Beach, which is 15 minutes north of Pebble Beach, and watched the sunset. There is no formal parking, just come right before sunset and find off the highway parking if you can!
Day 2: Santa Cruz: Around 9:30 am we left Monterey and headed over to Santa Cruz, which is about 40 minutes north. We checked into our Air BnB, grabbed a salad to go from a local place called the Picnic Basket (wow it was so good and fresh) and then headed straight to Ano Nuevo Park, as we had 1 pm tickets to the Elephant Seal Breeding tour. I had heard about the tour while researching for this trip and so glad I came across it. Apparently thousands of elephant seals, which are only found on the Pacific Coast, come up to Ano Nuevo Park for breeding every Dec-March. The park does guided walks that you need to book in advance (I think the rsvp system opens up more than 30 days in advance) and for less than $15, you get to be amongst these amazing mammals (parking is another $10 though).
After arriving at the park, you check into the Marina Education Center, which is where the barn is. Everyone gets a wristband, and then is told to walk one mile out to the meeting point at the shed above. There, you're greeted by a park volunteer who takes you down to the beach to see these massive beasts. End of December was still early for breeding season, there were only 20 newborn pups so far and maybe less than a 100 seals. The ranger said in a few more weeks the beach will be stacked with seals. The tour lasts about 2-2.5 hours, they take you to 3 points to see the seals and most of the time you're behind some sand dune/cliff/ridge and you are advised to keep at least 25 feet away. It was really interesting to hear the history and life cycle of the seals, great activity for anyone except anyone who has mobility issues. Hiking through the sand was a bit tough (also, wear hiking shoes to keep your feet sand free!) as there were a few slopes up and down and the ranger doesn't really wait that long for everyone so if you're really slow and have mobility issues, this may not be for you. Also, poisonous oak is everywhere (there are signs though) but as long as you stick to the marked paths you're fine.
Day 3: SF: On Saturday we drove into San Francisco and went up to Land's End, which is right at the northern end of the city. Parking lot was full when we arrived at 11 am, but we were able to find free street parking in the residential areas nearby. It's a great place to go for a few hours to walk off a meal and get some good nature viewing in! There are multiple paths to take and we just went for a stroll to see the bridge but we didn't go to the end (Eagle's Point). In any case, this place is free and full of locals and tourists and awesome views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Day 4: By Sunday we were exhausted with all the hiking, driving, and running around for the past few days but we managed to get up and get to Muir Woods pretty early. Starting on Jan. 16, 2018, you can no longer just show up though. Reservations are needed due to limited parking. We got there before 9 am and was able to get parking AND we didn't have to pay an admission fee! I guess when the Visitor Center opens at 9 am, that is when you have to pay. Otherwise, it's free to get in. Not sure if that will be the case with the new system as well.
Anyway we were tired so we only did a 2 mile loop round but the forest was nice and has a lot of trails. Definitely print out a map and get ready to be inspired! The first United Nations peace conference took place here in 1945 to honor Franklin Roosevelt, who made it a point to create national parks during his tenure. There's a plaque marking the spot of the assembly and the redwood trees were cool to see. Wish I had more energy to enjoy it but overall this trip was a great getaway from city life and highly recommend it for anyone who wants some nature in their life!