I Was in California for 2 Weeks and Here Are My Top Recommendations for You

Photo of I Was in California for 2 Weeks and Here Are My Top Recommendations for You by ZoomingPlaces

California is called 'The Golden State' for many beautiful reasons. From towering mountains to stunning coastlines, lush forests to dry deserts, beautiful sleepy cities to a vibrant night life, California has it all! It is home to natural wonders, offbeat gems and some very popular destinations in the world, and we are going to talk about it all. So read ahead ...

Let's start with the basics!

When to Visit?

Frankly, you can visit California at any time of the year. Since this State has so much to offer, the best time depends on what you are interested in seeing and doing.

Beaches: Summer (June - August)

Hiking and exploring the mountains: Spring (May - June) or even during Fall (September-October)

Just remember that no matter what month(s) you pick, always pack a few additional layers because California weather can switch in minutes. We travelled in Apr-May and experienced hot days, windy days, super windy days and a thick jacket kind of cold as well. In the evenings, you will need one layer at least, irrespective of how warm it is in the morning.

How to Reach?

Fly to San Francisco or Los Angeles. The only direct flight from Delhi is Air India but there are many connections with a short layover. I flew with Japan Airlines to San Francisco, with a 10-hour long layover in Japan which I of course, utilized to explore and get a flavor of Tokyo.

Now that we are done with the preliminaries, let's get to the fun stuff!

Where to Visit?

Had it not been for my friends in California, I would have gone crazy (read: did go crazy anyway) planning this trip. My friends have lived there for years now, so I was in good hands and now you are.

There is so much to do, so many places to see and very little time no matter how much time you spend here. Pick your top experiences and places and plan your trip accordingly. Let the sunsets and coffee sink in slowly and then for the rest, there is always a next trip!

Immerse in the Charms of San Francisco:

We have seen the City by the Bay in endless movies and trust me, the Golden Gate Bridge is just the starting point of the amazing things to do here. Here goes our top 5 favorite things to do and my heart says I should make this list of at least 20 but that's for another blog, another time.

1. Let's start with the ionic Golden Gate Bridge. There is something about this bridge. The more you look at it, the more you are amazed. No matter how many times you visit this spot, it will never get dull.

2. Visit the beautiful lookout points of the city. Panoramic view from the Twin Peaks or Golden Gate Park is beautiful. The view of the city from Pier 7 is absolutely magnificent.

3. Ride the world's last manually operated cable car system- SF Cable car. It is a beautiful way to get a feel of the city. Locals actually use it as a public transport system. I would stay in the city just to get to work in that cable car, will you?

The happiness of moving with a historical monument :)

Photo of I Was in California for 2 Weeks and Here Are My Top Recommendations for You by ZoomingPlaces

4. Explore the rainbow neighborhood - Castro district. Haight-Ashbury is home to ornate homes, quirky vintage shops, old school record stores, several LGBTQ+ friendly spots and one of the longest running queer bars.

5. Visit Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf to watch the Sea Lions aka the 'Sea Lebrities'. Savor some delicious food, enjoy the shopping experience and maybe take a cruise to Alcatraz Island. We found it a bit crowded but it's a good experience for a first-time visitor.

Bonus- Visit the Ferry building for an amazing food and local artisans shop experience.

Fall in love with the architecture, relish the food at some delicious restaurants and go find your insta-worthy spots. We loved the Lombard Street and 16th Avenue Tiled Steps.

Where to Stay: Most conveniently and centrally located is Union Square which has some great options to stay at. We stayed at Beacon Grand and loved the mix of contemporary vibe with a nod to the past.

Savor the Flavors of Napa Valley:

Napa Valley is famous for its wine and vineyards but there's more to the region than wine tasting. Napa Valley is a 1-2 day trip from San Francisco. Don't miss the below while in Napa Valley

1. It is home to beautiful scenery and some picture-perfect towns- Calistoga, St. Helena, Yountville, American Canyon and Napa city. Drive, walk, stop at some very cute cafes and restaurants. We visited the Bouchon Bakery in Yountville :)

2. Go for a scenic wine tour and taste some of the world's finest wines. I never imagined a winery looking so pretty and luxurious as Artesa Vineyards in the city of Napa- rocky mountains and rolling vineyards till I could see. Another recommendation would be Chandon winery in Yountville which is one of the few wineries in Napa that focus on Champagne style wines.

3. Indulge in a farm-to-table dining experience at some amazing award-winning restaurants.

4. While we went for a day trip to Napa, it will be lovely to stay at one of the many vineyard resorts. The hotels and resorts in Napa Valley can get pretty expensive but the breathtaking views make it worth every penny spent. Just an advice, book beforehand!

5. If you are not on a budget, splurge on the Napa Valley Wine train experience. We have saved this for some time later for us as we couldn't include it in our itinerary this time. It takes you on a 36- mile round trip journey and we hear its a once in a lifetime experience for sure.

Chase Waterfalls and Rainbows at the Yosemite National Park:

It is one of the most popular national parks in the United States, and for good reasons. The park is home to towering waterfalls, magnificent granite walls, giant sequoia trees, and stunning views of the Sierra Nevada mountains. You can plan this as a 2-3 days trip from San Franciso.

1. Go for a hike. There are hikes for all levels- beginners, advance, wheel-chair friendly. Whichever you choose, be rest assured that you will be treated with the most amazing views. Go at your pace and enjoy the hike. We did the Vernal/ Nevada Fall trail. Another really good one is Glacier Point and Half Dome.

2. Admire the rainbows and waterfalls. There are various spots where you can set up a picnic. Don't litter!

3. Witness the golden hour from the Tunnel View. Like they say "In Yosemite, you may never witness the same scene twice." You can spend hours, days, months enjoying the view and hiking the numerous trails. Each sunset, each season looks different, and it is all so gorgeous.

US is home to numerous national parks and the state of California has its fair share. A few other national parks you can visit here are Sequoia National Park and Death Valley National Park

Where to Stay: Hotels and camps inside the park get sold out pretty fast. Book a stay as soon as your plan is finalised. If you can't find anything decent inside the park, there are many AirBnbs and hotels nearby. We stayed at this absolutely cute and cosy home in Oakhurst. Other areas to stay at are Ahwahnee, Curry Village.

Drive and Discover the scenic Pacific Coast

If I had to pick an experience to define 'The journey over the destination', it will be this one. The drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles along the Pacific Coast highway is a road trip to remember for life. Some pit stops and some maybe an overnight stop you shouldn't miss:

1. Carmel-by-the-sea is a fairy tale beach town with cute coffee shops, chocolate and fudge shops, cottages with high pitched roofs and stone chimneys, art galleries you could spend hours at and some really quirky and fancy boutique stores. Must stop at one of the cafes for a meal or coffee. We dined at various places out of which Stationæry and La Bicyclette were my favorite.

Oh, there is so much that I almost forgot the beach here! Stay options in Carmel can be quite expensive especially in the peak season and weekends. Stay in nearby towns like Monterey if it doesn't fit your budget.

2. Go whale watching in Monterey or in Point Lobos State Reserve. Whale watching season is the longest in the state of California. Humpback whales and blue whales can be found year-round. We stayed at Ramada by Wyndham here.

3. Stop for stunning 360-degree views of rugged cliffs and crashing waves at the Bixby Creek Bridge on the Big Sur coast. This one is probably the most photographed bridges in California due to its architectural aesthetics. It is a reinforced concrete open- spandrel arch bridge. You will stop before the bridge begins (if you are driving from San Francisco) looking at everyone standing there but I assure you that the better view is from the other side of the bridge. So don't forget to stop!

4. Visit the McWay Falls. We couldn't really stop here but we hear it's a beautiful tidefall. The only other waterfall in California that empties directly into the ocean is Alamere Falls.

5. Explore the picturesque Danish town of Solvang. By the time we reached here it was quite late. It is a little detour but makes for a great stop. Explore its charming bakeries, go for wine tasting at one of the dozen wineries in the town and admire the very cute architecture.

17-mile drive is something on most people's list when they visit California, but we thought it's not worth the hype. Not saying it's not a beautiful drive, but California has much more to offer like the drive to Bixby bridge and further.

To fully enjoy this experience and if you have time, divide this road trip into 2 or more days. It can get quite tiresome to do everything in 1 day. You can pick Morro Bay or a place nearby as the mid-point and then drive further to LA from there.

Experience the Glitz and Glam of Los Angeles:

LA is a must-visit for any first-time travelers to California. Here's our top 5 favorite things to do in LA (in no particular order).

1. Our most favorite place in the city - Griffith Observatory. There is not a single thing we don't love about this place. The exhibit, star gazing, the view of the city along with Hollywood sign, sunsets from here- this place has all my heart.

2. You cannot come to LA and not visit the adventure parks. There is a plethora of options - theme-based, thrill based, kids friendly and more. Keep at least a day for this and more if time allows. We loved Universal Studios and of course, the dreamy Disneyland Park and had a super fun time at the Disneyland Adventure Park. We have Knott's Berry Farm and Six Flags M theagic Mountain on our list for the next time.

3. LA is synonym to Hollywood for most of us and we surely can't miss the glitz and buzz of Hollywood while we are here. Take a walk in the neighborhood, visit the TCL Chinese Theatre and even though we didn't think it's worth the time- go see the Hollywood Walk of Fame for yourself.

4. Explore the vibrant neighborhoods of Venice Beach and Santa Monica. Spend a lazy day at the beach and enjoy the bustling night life. Like our cabby told us- "you don't really know the LA vibe, till you have experienced Santa Monica."

5. Don't forget to visit LACMA if you love art. And irrespective, do experience the Urban lights sculpture by Chris Burden located at the entrance of LACMA.

Bonus- If you love books, this place is going to be your wonderland and if not, you will still fall in love with The Last Bookstore. It is one of the largest new and used bookstore. There is a rare book section, a color coordinated section, vinyl records section and so much more.

Apart from the above, don't miss a single sunset here- Watch it on the Rodeo drive while you are shopping, watch it in the Sunset boulevard amidst rows of symmetrical palm trees, watch it from a rooftop bar, watch it from a parking lot and I mean literally anywhere.

Where to Stay: Traffic in LA is crazy irrespective of where you stay. There are some areas you should definitely avoid late night. Downtown or Hollywood is good to stay at with many options to choose from.

Explore Some Offbeat Gems:

I guess it's obvious by now that there is so much to see and experience in California that just one blog will never be enough. We have tried to include our favorites - some touristy and some not so touristy. Here are some offbeat gems and cities you shouldn't miss in this State.

1. Visit the cutest, dreamy cities in the Bay Area- Saratoga, Los Altos, Burlingame, Sausalito and Half Moon Bay. Eat at the charming local bakeries, experience the wineries and bars and have an amazing dining experience. Most of these cities are a couple hours drive from San Francisco.

2. You simply cannot miss the sunset and wine experience in Milpitas at Big Dog Vineyards. It is one of the most stunning sunset hour I have experienced, and I travel for sunsets :)

3. Explore the outlandish town of Joshua Tree and visit the Joshua Tree National Park for its stunning desert landscapes.

How to Get Around?

If you are on a budget, you can take public transportation which to be fair can be a little inconvenient sometimes. We felt this for most of the places in the US. The most convenient option is to rent a car. Finding a parking in the major cities like SF and LA can be little tiresome. So, use a mix of rentals and uber while in the city.

Having said that, the best way to explore any place is on foot and there is no exception here. Where distance doesn't permit, uber/ rental is the way to go.

Good to know to help you plan your trip to California better:

- Start planning early, especially if you're visiting during the peak season. It can get quite expensive.

- Book your flights and accommodations in advance, especially if you're traveling during the summer season or holidays (basically the peak season).

- Rent a car and drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles (or vice versa). The Pacific Coast Highway drive will blow your mind away.

- Read all the rental terms and conditions very carefully. Sometimes they charge an exorbitant amount for the smallest inconvenience.

- Don't forget to pack comfortable shoes as you will be walking A LOT!

Happy Travels! Let us know in the comments if you have any questions and we will try our best to answer.

For more such travel updates follow us on Instagram @zoomingplaces.

Earn credits and redeem them on Tripoto’s weekend getaways, Mindful Retreats and vacation packages!