The thought of winter probably springs up images of gorgeous snowy landscapes, vistas blanketed with snow, big wintery coats and warm drinks in hand – but California begs to differ and do we have an amazing California road trip winter 2018 itinerary for you. California might not have that postcard-perfect winter landscapes, but it does offer all-year round sunshine, an unbeatable diversity of sights and attractions, and brilliant displays. Apart from the snow-capped mountains that act as a gorgeous backdrop surrounding California, the city is blessed with reasonable weather all year long, making it the ultimate opportunity to pack your bags and embark on a winter road trip. We’ve got a great list of places to go in California during winter time.
Okay, so you’ve got your road snacks ready for your California Road Trip Winter 2018, your road-trip playlist prepared, you’ve gone through every “Best Games to Play on a Road trip” page on the Internet, and you’ve got your full tank of gas, now it’s time to roll and check out all the amazing places to go in California during winter.
Start off by going north on the 5 freeway out of Orange County towards Los Angeles and be mindful of traffic! L.A, no matter the season, is ridden with traffic and it’s always better to be prepared in advance. If you’re traveling on the weekend, then expect even more traffic than anticipated.
Before moving to downtown, pick up the 101 freeway that goes towards Hollywood and Ventura. The trip will take you about 2 hours to arrive at Ventura. Ventura is a picturesque coastal city with a refreshing sea breeze enamoring the entire place, a historical pier and dozens of quirky shops and markets. It’s worth stopping there for a while (specifically for stacking up on food from In N’ Out)!
After stopping at Ventura (or In N’ Out…we all now why you stopped in the first place!), the city of Santa Barbara lies 20 minutes ahead. Santa Barbara with its idyllic shorelines, incredible climate, college atmosphere and red-tiled roofs is the ultimate place to begin this road trip.
Where to stay:
Santa Barbara is dotted with hotels, B&B options and motels so you won’t run out of choices or places to stay at. Santa Ynez, the vast wine country, is a recommended place to stay at, with its sweeping valleys, and gorgeous landscapes.
What to do:
- Wineries: Blessed with over 120 wineries, Santa Ynez offers you a chance of spending your days wine-tasting from uniquely beautiful wineries to the other.
- Solvang: A small Danish town, Solvang was founded by Danish immigrants in 1911 and has since become the representation of what a perfect Danish town would look like. Cobblestone streets, flags, bakery shops, gingerbread and of course – windmills, dot the entire town. The unique village can be explored in a few hours thanks to its compactness and small size!
- Pea Soup Andersen’s: As you’re driving up the 101 highway, you’ll find one billboard after the other advertising for Pea Soup Andersen’s. Despite its current reputation as a tourist trap, the place has been a favorite for travelers and locals alike who want to go and try the iconic Pea Soup. It’s been a haven for anyone road tripping around California and is worth visiting at least once!
The thought of a heart breakfast with fresh-baked goodies and hot coffee should be enough to wake you up early on your second day. Enjoy a generous meal at the Madonna Inn surrounded by quirky architecture and locals and tourists alike.
After you’re done with breakfast, separate from 101 freeway and switch to California 1 or the Pacific Coast Highway. You’ll drive for an hour north until you reach the Hearst Castle.
The Hearst Castle is a Moorish-style house that is perched on top of a hill on the central coast of California, and has been dubbed as the “enchanted hill”). The castle is a great place to explore, and there are plenty of tours that’ll help you discover the castle. There’s the Grand Rooms Tour which takes you to the Assembly Room, Dining Room, Morning Room, Billiard Room and the theater. In addition to this, there’s the Upstairs Tour which is highly recommended for the fact that it’s less crowded and will give you a more in-depth look.
There’s also a 40-minute show that depicts the story of the Hearst Castle and how it was built. Overall, you’ll be spending a minimum of a few hours in the castle, so you make sure you book your tours in advance.
When you’re done with the castle, enjoying winding views of the beautiful coastline along Highway 1, and then get ready to grab lunch at Big Sur Taphouse. The pub offers delicious beer, incredible food and a great atmosphere in general. There’s a wide array of restaurants surrounding Bur Sur Taphouse where you can get your dinner with a view too! This is one of the top places to go in California during winter.
Head over to Pfeiffer Beach’s Keyhole Arch, where the sunset casts what can be described as a mystical light through the Keyhole Arch. The glow is otherworldly as it colours the water through the tunnel in golden hues, and it’s every photographer’s dream to catch this moment! If you’re there from late November through January, your chances of capturing this beauty are even more!
Where to stay:
If you’re going to spend a few nights in Big Sur, then you’ll be spoiled for choice with all types of hotels, motels, cabins and more. You can also stay the nearby Monterey, an hour away from Big Sur.
Day Three to Six
Monterey and Big Sur offer plenty of exploration opportunities, so it’s recommended to stay there for a few days, to get a good gist and feel of the towns. Even though I’ve listed a few of the most important things you can do below, you can expand the itinerary depending on your needs and whether you ended up liking the towns or not. This should help give you an idea of California road trip idea in winter 2018.
Things to do in Big Sur:
- Hike the Ewoldsen Trail at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Beach: In this active hike you’ll be spoiled with gorgeous ocean views, coastal redwoods soaring above your every move, aged oak trees, wildflowers, and waterfalls.
- Explore Point Lobos State Natural Reserve: This reserve is worth spending a few hours in, where you’ll be perched between rocky cliffs on one side and the waters of the Pacific on the other. Think of rocky cliffs, lush forests, and a diverse wildlife – from sea lions to deer! There’s also a large number of activities you can do from swimming, scuba diving, hiking and much more.
- Sunset photos at McWay Falls: The 80-foot McWay Falls is a sight to behold, with ethereal streams of water, backdrops of the crashing waves and the contrast of the works. This setting creates the perfect photography opportunities.
- A visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium: Explore the diverse marine life on display in this aquarium.
Day Seven and Eight
After you’re done with Monterey, it’s time to head north on Highway 1. From then you can transition onto the 156 East, and then reach the 101 North.
In two hours, you’ll find yourself in sunny San Francisco.
Where to stay:
There is no doubt that San Francisco is sprawled with accommodation options for places to go in California during winter, and you might be overwhelmed with the amount of choices (that are usually quite pricey as well). For the best location, definitely head over to something that Is more centrally located, like Union Square or Fisherman’s Wharf. Both are cultural and tourist hotspots with a wide array of dining, entertainment and accommodation options.
Tip: Keep in mind that wherever you choose to stay in the end, you will be met with expensive parking.
Things to do:
San Francisco, with its picturesque streets and iconic vistas has an endless list of things to do, and people who live there practically never run out of things to do.
Here are some of the things you can do in two days:
- Walk/Bike/Drive the Golden Gate Bridge: What is San Francisco without its iconic symbol? The Golden Gate Bridge, painted with the beautiful hues of the sun is the perfect place for a walk, bike or drive!
- Chocolate at Ghirardelli Square: Is there anyone out there who doesn’t love them a bit of chocolate? Grab a seat and enjoy the wide options of chocolate-covered delicacies.
- Clam Chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf: If you don’t usually mind tourist traps, then this is the perfect place to go to. Try the renowned clam chowder there!
- Lombard Street: A crooky colorful street that is encompassed with lush greenery, beautiful colours and unique architecture, this street is definitely worth visiting!
- Coit Tower: This towers act as a symbol of the city while it dominates the entirety of its skyline. If you’re going to visit there, make sure you’re prepared for long waiting times. You’ll be paying around $2-8 for admissions.
- Sausalito: At first, this town may look like a major tourist trap with boutique shops, souvenir shops and all types of tourist-oriented places. But still, it’s worth visiting. With its colorful houseboats reflected upon the harbor, the general “lovely, homey” atmosphere it has, the city is undeniably cute.
- Explore the Redwoods of Muir Woods National Monument: Get your hiking shoes ready and explore the beautiful redwoods that are symbolic of Muir Woods. It’s advisable to go to the top with your car, and then hike your way down.
Day Nine and Ten
Enjoy a hearty breakfast and get ready to hit the road. You’ll be practically heading north on the 101 to Santa Rosa which is only an hour away from San Francisco to continue on your California road trip in the winter
When you arrive at Santa Rosa, we recommend visiting the Russian River Brewing Company. If you’re a beer lover, then you’ll be in luck since some of the world’s most renowned beer is brewed there, spoiling you with delicious handcrafted beer.
After you’re done with Santa Rosa, it’s time to head to Sonoma, which is 40 minutes from Santa Rosa if you head east on the 12.
Where to stay:
It is most definitely recommended to stay either at Sonoma or Napa. Both of these are perched in the heart of the wine country, and will give you the chance to explore wineries around them.
Things to do:
- Wineries: You’re in the middle of wine country, so of course, expect to be met with dozens of wineries. Check out Menage a Trois, and try the wine there.
- Cheese: Wine and cheese? Yes please! Head over to Vella Cheese and get a taste of delicious hand-crafted cheese. The handcrafted cheese there dates back to 1931!
- Yountville: Whether you want to spoil yourself at Bouchon Bistro or French Laundry, or just get a few nice treats from one of them, those Michelin starred restaurants offer you this and more. Of course, due to their impeccable service and quality of food, you’ll be waiting for a long time to get inside.
Day Eleven to Thirteen
Waking up early isn’t usually everyone’s cup of tea (it definitely isn’t mine!) but it’s essential for you to do so when you’re leaving the Bay Area. Drive along the 12 East to the 4 East, and then connect to the 120 East. This takes you straight to Yosemite National Park.
Solitude, stunning scenery and the true definition of a winter wonderland await you in the snow-covered trees around you, the wide array of activities and the breath-taking vistas that look like they’re straight out of a fairytale. The Yosemite National Park is one of the top places to visit in winter.
– During winter: $25.00 will get you a seven-day access pass.
– April and October: $30.00
– Annual pass: $60
Where to stay:
Yosemite Valley Lodge: This is definitely one of the most popular and affordable places to stay in Yosemite.
Things to do:
- Exploring the Valley & Photography: As you’re surrounded by incredible scenery, it will be hard not to snap a few (or hundreds!) of pictures, really revel in the beauty of it all and let the landscape enamor you. Check out the Half Dome and make sure not to miss the sunset views from there.
- Snowshoeing : Find a ranger, and snowshoe your way around the valley! Snowshoeing will give you the advantage of being able to explore around with very low-maintenance.
- Hike: Hiking will completely depend on when you’re visiting, and how much snow there is. If there aren’t high levels of snow, then definitely try out the Panorama Loop Trail.
Revel in the beautiful memories of your road trip, laugh at the hardships, make sure you have all your belongings, pack up and go back home! The memories you’ve made will live with you forever.
Hopefully this will help as a guide for you to come up with California road trip ideas in winter 2018 and some wonderful places to go in California during winter 2018.