Updated: May 24, 2020
See The Best Of California-Including Highway 101, Carmel, Big Sur, and More. Go On...I've Done The Hard Work For You!
I've done this itinerary personally and for my clients many, many times. There are lots of variations depending on who you have travelling with you. But this is a great combo for thrill seekers, nature lovers as well as wine buffs! This is an outline with generic excursions but we have amazing ground handlers that enable us to have access to places that people are generally unable to access.
Day One – Day Six ( 5 nights 4 full days )
Argonaut Hotel San Francisco
After clearing customs and passport control you'll be met by my team of ground handlers who will take your bags and transferred by private car to your chosen hotel in San Francisco.
Upon arrival at The Argonaut please present your voucher to reception and make your way to your room.
This evening after freshening up take the children for a walk round Fisherman’s Wharf. There are plenty of great places for the children to enjoy a fun family dinner.
Speak with concierge, ask them where they would recommend. I am sure they will find the perfect blend of quality without the huge price tag. Don’t forget to tip! Between 7 and 15%
It’s great fun to dine by the water but many of the Fisherman’s Wharf restaurants (with the exception of a few) are a tad average and can be a little on the pricey side. So why not hop on the Powell-Hyde or Powell-Mason cable-car line for great dining in Russian Hill and North Beach, respectively.
Nearly every ethnic cuisine from Indian to Vietnamese is represented in the various districts of San Francisco and although locals have long headed to the Mission District for Latin food, to Chinatown and the Richmond District for Asian food, and to North Beach for Italian food, they also know that every part of the city offers dining experiences beyond the neighbourhood tradition.
The Argonaut – What to Expect
My recommended hotel in Fisherman’s Wharf is the Argonaut hotel which was originally a four-story fruit-and-vegetable canning complex where boats docked up against the building. The hotel's decor is nautical with anchors, ropes, compasses, and a row of cruise-ship deck chairs in the lively lobby. Spacious rooms, many with a sofa bed in the sitting area, have exposed-brick walls, wood-beamed ceilings, and whitewashed wooden furniture that evokes a beachy mood.
Accommodation – Argonaut Hotel in San Francisco for five nights
After breakfast which can be taken at the hotel or on the wharf you should definitely embark on a tour of Alcatraz, but make sure to get your tickets at least six months ahead of time as the demand is so high. The standard tours are great if you have younger children that may get testy whilst sightseeing.
The marine life in the bay is surprisingly wonderful and people have regularly spotted whales and even great white shark!
Alcatraz Tour - The legendary island that has been a civil war fort, a military prison and one of the most notorious federal penitentiaries in US history.
Cruise on San Francisco Bay to Alcatraz Island and the infamous and notorious former federal prison, which was home to the likes of Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelley, and Robert “The Birdman” Stroud. This trip includes the audio-guided cell block tour.
Enjoy an orientation video with historical footage, self-guided walks, exhibits and Ranger-interpretive talks on topics such as “Famous Escapes.” Also featured is an award-winning audio tour in the prison cell house with actual interviews of former inmates. This memorable tour includes: 45 minute audio presentation “Doing Time: The Alcatraz Cellhouse Tour,” featuring actual correctional officers and prisoners who lived and worked on the Island; orientation video by Discovery Channel; ranger and docent tours; historic gardens and abundant wildlife.
Duration of Alcatraz Tour: Approximately 2 ½ Hours
A 48 Hour San Francisco City Loop Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour is Included In The Price Of This ticket
Hop on hop off busses run each day approximately every 20mins between every stop
You may start your bus tour any day between 10am-5pm after purchase
Have the best of all worlds with an all-in-one super saver tour. This tour combines all of the individual tour’s into one low price adventure that you won't want to miss. You will get to experience Downtown San Francisco, Golden Gate park, the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, the palace of Fine arts, Ghiradelli square, Fort Mason, the Civic Center, and much more.
Plus SAUSALITO LOOP BUS TOUR
Sausalito is a charming and picturesque town on other side of Golden Gate Bridge. Hop - Off here to enjoy its galleries, souvenir shopping, bay views and its many restaurants.
Visit Sausalito and Possibly Muir Woods
One of the most prettiest and visited towns in the San Francisco Bay Area, Sausalito has a long history dating back to the 1700’s. The maritime history of this small port town is still evident in almost all aspects of life from the fresh seafood served in the restaurants to the large number of boats always docked in its harbours. Visitors come for the shopping and entertainment to be had here and residents enjoy their quiet place by the waves of the bay. Stop in Sausalito and discover the difference a short hop across the bay can make!
If you are looking for shopping in Sausalito, the downtown area has almost every type of shop available all stocked with unique and one of a kind ideas for gifts and home items for you or your loved ones. If you are looking for men’s and women’s clothing, stop in at Claire’s Attic or Paul and Shark, or stop by Cha Cha Cha for the kids. Housewares from Eyeitalia and Real Napa will certainly catch your eye, and the specialty shops such as Habitat Books and Bacchus and Venus have something for everyone.
For visitors who would like to experience the quaint charm of Sausalito’s waterfront and window shop, there are also many historic buildings in town dating back decades. Many of the restored and well maintained buildings will give you a glimpse into the storied history of Sausalito. Take a stroll along the waterfront near the harbours and see the harbour seal enclaves that call Sausalito home as well.
Dining in Sausalito simply can’t be beaten and there are a huge array of restaurants, cafes, and sandwich shops and delicatessens available for those visitors who need a bite to eat. If you're looking for the freshest in seafood, take a look at the menus of the many restaurants specializing in the catch of the day in this city by the bay.
Sausalito is also known for its proximity to some of the most majestic and famous views and scenery in the entire Bay Area. The Marin Headlands, a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, is located just blocks from downtown, and within a short drive are both Mt. Tamalpais and Muir Woods where you can get a view of some of the oldest coastal redwoods anywhere on the planet.
I have regularly hired bikes and had some great fun in Muir Woods but that was when I was much fitter!
San Francisco - Suggested family sightseeing activities.
Golden Gate Park
Personally I love Golden Gate Park, even more so than Central Park, New York. It's huge, with plenty of activities for everyone. The cherry on the cake for children is the Koret Children's Quarter where generations of San Franciscans and visitors alike have enjoyed the playground and original Herschel-Spillman carousel. The park itself is over 1,017 acres and stretches from the famous Haight Astbury neighbourhood to Ocean Beach to the West.
Head for the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf for a San Francisco Explorer Cruise, here your family will have the opportunity to explore San Francisco's unique Natural History, Architecture and Native American Culture. On this 90-minute cruise, sail under the colossal San Francisco Bay Bridge, along the stunning San Francisco skyline, around Treasure Island, and along Alcatraz Island.
Bay City Bike Rental and Tours
Enjoy a memorable day exploring the City, Presidio, Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach.
Then cross the Golden Gate Bridge and see the splendour of Northern California: sleepy coastal towns, fine dining and beautiful views of San Francisco and the bay. After your trek, relax on a ferry cruise back to San Francisco or continue trekking through Marin and Muir Woods.
Neighbourhoods to visit
Essentially a residential neighbourhood of plush pieds-à-terre, Victorian flats and Edwardian cottages, Russian Hill also has some of the city's loveliest stairway walks, hidden garden ways, and steepest streets—brave drivers can really have some fun here—not to mention those bay views. Locals flock to Polk and Hyde streets, the hill's main commercial avenues, for their excellent neighbourhood eateries and fantastic window-shopping.
Day Six – Day Nine Riverside Inn Napa Valley
After a leisurely breakfast you will pick up your rental car at 15.00 hrs at The Alamo Office O’Farrel/Union Square and then head back to your hotel to check out and collect your bags before heading off for your journey to Sonoma/Napa Valley. Your route will have been mapped out for you prior to commencing your journey but your full size, gleaming and immaculate air conditioned vehicle is complete with sat nav so there’s no need to stress about the driving.
The drive from San Francisco to Sonoma/Napa Valley is approximately 70 miles and should take around one and a half hours to drive. The landscapes in and around Sonoma are breath-taking and the wines aren't too bad either. The weather is near perfect year round and there are more Michelin-star restaurants than you can shake a stick at. Even with kids in tow Napa is worth a visit because there are plenty of things to do (for some!) other than wine tasting. Visualise yoga in the vineyards, World class holistic spas, hot springs and mud baths as well as tons of under the radar experiences.
Accommodation at the River Terrace Inn Napa Valley for 3 nights
Ideally situated in the heart of vibrant downtown Napa the Noble Houe Hotel's owned River Terrace Inn is just a stones throw from some of the regions most unique attractions, activities, dining and wine tasting. It's easy to get around the immediate area from this property as the hotel provide bikes for your use, alternatively or you can easily take a short stroll and visit bustling Oxbow Public Market (home to dozens of artisanal food outlets. The guest bedrooms at River Terrace Inn are large and well appointed and the whirlpool rooms are a real treat.
Activities for the children in Sonoma and Napa Include-
Old Faithful Geyser in Calistoga, Scientopa Discovery Centre, Train Town, The Petrified Forest in Calistoga, Ramekins Children’s Cooking Camp, Mumm Napa Winery, Snoopy Museum, Sonoma State Historic Park and for the adults the Napa Valley Vine Trail.
Day Nine- Day Fourteen Tenaya Lodge Yosemite National Park
"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to mind and body alike", wrote John Muirin in his beloved 1912 book The Yosemite. More than a century later, this majestic California national park still reaches those lofty goals via its dramatic landscapes, incredible selection of outdoor pursuits, and the possibility of soul searching reflection. I guess it's just a tad busier these days so you gotta book early (said in true travel agent fashion!)
The drive from Napa Valley to Yosemite West Entrance is approximately four and a half hours. Therefore, it's advisable to take an early breakfast and allow for a stop for lunch on route to Yosemite (I can even help you plan the toilet stops if you have kids onboard!) On the way to Yosemite National Park, Highway 132 merges with Highway 120, the scenic route that skirts along the northern edge of Mariposa County. Travelers on Highway 120 will pass through the quaint towns of Groveland and Buck Meadows, which are just minutes away from all the excitement Yosemite has to offer.
To get properly orientated I would recommend either on day one or day two a 4-hour program with some short walks and keep the kids interested with fun stories and facts geared towards connecting to the outdoor world. You can purchase the Junior Ranger Handbook once you arrive at the Thomas Hill Studio at the Wawona Hotel, this is the Visitor Centre for that area. This is an activity they can easily enjoy on your own.
Tenaya Lodge holds campfire programs most evenings, the hotel team will gladly give you more information if you enquire with them.
On the day of your private tour I would recommend that you arrange for box lunches from your hotel hotel as purchasing food in Yosemite Valley can be tricky in peak months due to long lines and average quality of food.
You will receive the park news upon arrival, this gives you the lowdown on all of the latest things to do and experience within the park.
The price for the half day program is $350.
Yosemite is full of opportunity. You can get about by hiking, biking or by taking a bus tour and for those of you that are really adventurous by horseback or mule. Yosemite National Park is a wonderful family-friendly destination, offering educational and enriching experiences for all ages. Many of the Yosemite kids programs are designed to bring your family closer to nature and closer together.
Specific children’s activities include-
Wee Wild Ones –Stories, songs, crafts, games and other activities for kids 6 and under
Junior Rangers Programs-Little Cubs (ages 3-6) and Junior Ranger (ages 7-13) programs
Story Time –Storytelling programs targeted for kids age 12 and under
Ranger Ned's Big Adventure! -Theatrical fun for the whole family.
Winter Family Celebrations - Join Yosemite Interpreters for crafts, nature walks, stories, and general winter fun.
Other activities Include-
Rafting, swimming, fishing, art classes, ranger walks and talks, golf, photography weeks, live theatre to name but a few.
Accommodation at the Tenaya Lodge Yosemite National Park for 5 nights
Day Fourteen – Day Nineteen Tides Hotel Monterrey ( or if budget allows plump for the beautiful Carmel Valley Ranch, the family will thank you for it!)
You are heading for Highway 41 which will take you approximately between 3 and a half hours to Monterey. As you continue out from Yosemite Valley and the Wawona Road you will pass famous landmarks which include Yosemite famous landmarks including Bridalveil Falls, Half Dome and El Capitan.
Monterey is a pretty coastal community with a vibrant and invigorating energy-home to the famous Cannery Row and Monterey Aquarium and the Monterey National Marine Sanctuary which enables visitors to encounter whales, sea lions, sea otters and a unique array of aquatic bird life.
During the summer months Monterey Bay becomes the feeding ground for multiple whale and dolphin species. Journeying from their warm-water breeding grounds, the various whales travel to Monterey Bay to indulge in the rich food sources available. This is your opportunity to see humpback whales, fin whales, minke whales, orcas (killer whales), and the mighty blue whale (the largest animal to inhabit the earth). In addition to these large whales, Monterey Bay is frequented by porpoises and large pods of Risso’s dolphins, northern right whale dolphins, and Pacific white-sided dolphins.
Monterey Bay Aquarium is located on the site of a former sardine cannery on Cannery Row on the Pacific Ocean shoreline in Monterey, California. It holds 35,000 plants and animals representing 623 species. Sea life on exhibit include stingrays, jellyfish, sea otters, an 11 lb. lobster over 50 years old, and numerous other native marine species, which can be viewed above and below the waterline. The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Juvenile White Shark Project started in 2002 and is helping research and exhibit white sharks caught off the California coast. This project is promoting study, awareness and conservation of these magnificent animals, their latest white shark addition went on exhibit in August 2009.
Nestled in the towering Santa Lucia Range, Carmel Valley is a lush, intimate setting situated on the sunniest side of the Monterey Peninsula, offering an array of activities including Big Sur, the Tassajara Hot Springs and Zen Centre, Chateau Julien Winery and The Holman Ranch Equestrian Centre.
Explore the terrain of Big Sur, although Big Sur has no specific boundaries, many definitions of the area include the 90 miles of coastline between the Carmel River and San Carpoforo Creek, and extend about 20 miles inland to the eastern foothills of the Santa Lucias. Besides wonderful sightseeing from the pacific highway, Big Sur offers hiking, mountain climbing, and other outdoor activities.
Accommodation at The Tides Hotel Monterrey for 5 nights
Day Nineteen – Twenty Cavalier Ocean Front Resort San Simeon
Depart early at around 11.00 to avoid the morning mist for the 2 and a half hour gloriously scenic drive down highway 101 to San Simeon. This is an epic drive and regarded as one of the best road trips in the U.S.A. In my opinion it's by far best to drive down the Pacific Highway than up it as it's easier to pull into viewing points and you're not constantly looking over your shoulder to catch a glimpse of the scenery. The reason that I suggest a stop on route is that on a good day it will take you around four hours to drive to Los Angeles but this is a drive that shouldn't be rushed and there are plenty of stop off points en-route. My favourite part of the drive is the Northern section of the 101, my advice is don't underestimate the traffic and watch out for the wandering Zebras close to the highway!
Stay overnight at The Cavalier Oceanfront Resort San Simeon
Day Twenty-Twenty Two BW Pepper Tree Inn Santa Barbara
Next stop on the itinerary will be Santa Barbara but not just so the kids can stock up on Hollister gear. Santa Barbara has a pleasant Mediterranean vibe often called the American Riviera, it's awash with pretty low-rise Spanish style buildings which house pretty boutiques, cafe's and bars. Whilst in Santa Barbara you should take the opportunity to learn about California's Spanish history and take a side trip to explore the pretty, nearby Santa Ynez mountains.
Accommodation for 2 nights At The Best Western Pepper Tree Inn (swap for West Hollywood if you prefer to do Universal Studios & a city stay)
Day Twenty Two – Day Twenty Nine-The Ranch At Laguna Beach
Continue down the highway 101 which will take you approximately three hours to the South of Los Angeles. I would recommend staying at one of the beach resorts so the children have the opportunity of visiting a number of different beaches and enjoy a number of sea based adventures. My personal recommendation would be to stay at Laguna Beach. It's an artist colony and one of California's hidden gems boasting seven miles of unique coves and sandy beaches. Beyond the beaches and broad walks Laguna is home to more than 20,000 acres of beautiful, protected wilderness making it a fabulous place for out door activities.
There are a number of great beach hotels to choose from in Laguna including the gorgeous Surf and Sand but in summer the parking in town can be horrendous so, for me, my personal choice would be to stay at the homely Ranch at Laguna Beach. Nestled between Aliso And Wood Canyons The Ranch gives you a blend of coastal cool and canyon vibes with stacks of activities for everyone including ranger talks and walks for the kids.
Accommodation At The Ranch At Laguna for 7 nights
Day Twenty Nine - Day Thirty Nine-Waldorf Astoria Grand Wailea Maui
Drop off your hire vehicle at 15.00 at Los Angeles Airport in time for your 18.05 hrs flight from Los Angeles to Maui, Hawaii.
Stay 10 nights at the Waldorf Astoria Grand Wailea Hotel or similar
On the last day you will collect a vehicle at 11.00 from the Alamo Office at Maui airport. You will have the vehicle for 7 days and will drop it back off at Maui Airport on the return journey home.
Accommodation for 10 nights at The Grand Wailea Hotel Maui
Day Thirty Nine-Day Forty Crowne Plaza Los Angeles Airport
You will drop off your hire car at 11.00 hrs at the airport in time for the 13.20 flight from Maui to Los Angeles
Your flight lands in Los Angeles at 22.11 hrs
Accommodation At Los Angeles Airport for 1 night
Day Forty One
Depart from Los Angeles Airport at 17.50 hrs which arrives into Heathrow, UK at 12.20 hours the following day.
Suggested Other Activities in California
San Francisco Bay Tour
See San Francisco’s top attractions from the water on this 1.5-hour tour by rigid inflatable boat. Your guide will provide gear to keep you dry and warm as you take off from Pier 39. Pass the infamous prison of Alcatraz, Coit Tower, the Presidio and glide under the Golden Gate Bridge while your captain provides insightful narration. Numbers are limited to 12 people to keep this small-group tour as intimate as possible.
What to Expect
Explore The Ferry Building, Presidio, past Alcatraz, and cruise under the Golden Gate and Bay Bridge on this 90-minute tour. You will have the opportunity to explore the city front, and back to our home port for a quick visit to the world famous Pier 39 Sea Lions where you can see them eye to eye. No need for binoculars on this trip, you will see it all up close! Narrated by your captain, you’ll learn something new about this historic area, and view the waterfront in a way that’s unlike any other experience on the bay. Take photos, make memories and enjoy one of the finest ways to see it all up close and explore the bay! This small-group tour is limited to 12 people, ensuring a more personalized experience.
You will see the following site on this tour:
· Pier 39
· Under the Golden Gate Bridge
· WWII Liberty Ship & Submarine
· The Presidio
· Fort Point
· Past Alcatraz
· Under the Bay Bridge
· Yerba Buena & Treasure Island
· Port of Oakland
· AT&T Park (During Ball Games)
· San Francisco Fire Boat Pier
· 1898 Built Ferry Building
· Coit Tower
Muir Woods & Sausalito
Sonoma And Napa Valley’s
There’s a special place in Napa for all of your little Frozen lovers and/or knights-in-training—a full sized 13th century castle that’s straight out of a fairy tale book. It comes complete with a moat, emus, peacocks, guided tours, and the coolest dungeon tasting room ever where you get to sip while the kids are kept happily occupied with breadsticks and grape juice. A knight’s suit of armour in the corner completes the ambiance.
4045 St Helena Hwy Calistoga, Ca 707-967-6272 Online: castellodiamorosa.com
High above Napa Valley sits a winery with 4×4 tours of their mountain vineyards. They also offer everything for the foodie-focused family including a farmer’s market for all of the season’s latest picks, culinary provisions from their General Store, and a Monday Family Night with delicious kids’ specials that even the pickiest of young eaters will enjoy.
738 Main St Saint Helena, Ca 707-963-4555
If you are looking for a spot to park your posse poolside, then head to Geyserville to spend the day at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery. In addition to tasting rooms and a family-friendly restaurant, this historic winery has two large pools that are open to the public. Make your reservation well in advance to grab one of the poolside cabins that include lounge chairs and umbrellas for the perfect pool day. You can even order from the Pool Cafe and have your food and beverages delivered to your lounge chair. Perfecto!
300 Via Archimedes Geyersville, Ca
Kids of all ages will enjoy learning about long-time Santa Rosa resident and Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz at this museum with interactive exhibits, animated Peanuts specials, original comic strips and more. Then head next door to the ice rink that Schulz had built in 1969 for some family skate time and snacks at the Warm Puppy Cafe.
2301 Hardies Lane Santa Rosa, Ca
Generations of parents have made a pit stop at TrainTown, located just a mile down the road from Sonoma’s main plaza. Take the 20-minute train ride around the park and then check out the other old-school rides – a carousel, Ferris wheel, dragon coaster and more. Visit the miniature town and petting zoo before you head out.
20264 Broadway Sonoma, Ca
This winery boasts a laid-back atmosphere and “fun for the whole family” with vineyard views (expansive and picturesque), a 70-acre ranch (where you can spend the night), and a beautiful setting with picnic areas for rent and tasting package reservations.
23355 Millerick Rd. Sonoma, Ca
Cline Cellars Vineyard and Winery 350 acres means something for everyone at this family go-to. And while the grounds don’t look like much driving in, once you’re behind the wall kiddos get treated to a breadth of pretty lawns, ponds, paths and fountains, and the California Mission Museum with its historic display of all 21 missions built to scale in 1939. They’ll love seeing the turtles, fish, and exotic birds while you’ll love the wine tasting in a charming 1850s farmhouse.
24737 Arnold Dr Sonoma, Ca 707-940-4000 Online: clinecellars.com
Carmel and Monterrey Excursions
Carmel by the Sea which is a quaint and eclectic village of fairy-tale cottages and inns which are nestled amidst an endless variety of wonderful restaurants and bars, an array of art galleries, specialty shops and boutiques all of which are framed by a stunning white sand beach. Monterey is a pretty coastal community with a vibrant and invigorating energy-home to the famous Cannery Row and Monterey Aquarium and the Monterey National Marine Sanctuary which enables visitors to encounter whales, sea lions, sea otters and a unique array of aquatic bird life. Nestled in the towering Santa Lucia Range, Carmel Valley is a lush, intimate setting situated on the sunniest side of the Monterey Peninsula, offering an array of activities including Big Sur, the Tassajara Hot Springs and Zen Centre, Chateau Julien Winery and The Holman Ranch Equestrian Centre.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is located on the site of a former sardine cannery on Cannery Row on the Pacific Ocean shoreline in Monterey, California. It holds 35,000 plants and animals representing 623 species. Sea life on exhibit include stingrays, jellyfish, sea otters, an 11 lb. lobster over 50 years old, and numerous other native marine species, which can be viewed above and below the waterline. The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Juvenile White Shark Project started in 2002 and is helping research and exhibit white sharks caught off the California coast. This project is promoting study, awareness and conservation of these magnificent animals, their latest white shark addition went on exhibit in August 2009.
Monterrey Bay Whale Watch As Seen On NAT GEO BBC And More