- Dana Point Harbor – Orange County
As one of the most family friendly spots in Orange County, Dana Point Harbor has an endless amount of things to do during the day. Spend time kayaking or paddleboarding among the rows of cleverly named boats or walk out to the end of the jetty for an up-close look at the sea lions sunning themselves. Keep an eye out on the waters and odds are you’ll catch a glimpse of dolphins and even whales. For those wanting to venture further offshore, Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari provides an incredible experience with some of the largest mammals on Earth out on the open waters.
- El Matador State Beach – Malibu
This beach is arguably one of the best in Malibu. Wave-cut cliffs line the beach and jut out into picturesque sea arches to walk through and play around. Within the cliffs are small caves you can reach depending on how low the tide is. This area is great for unique photo ops and a way to get out of the sun for a moment. Parking can be a bit difficult to figure out as the lot is small and often full during the afternoon, but there are plenty options along the Pacific Coast Highway if you don’t mind a short walk.
- Solvang – Santa Ynez Valley
Anyone with a love for experiencing new cultures will adore Solvang, a historic Danish village located a short distance from the coast. From shopping in adorable boutique shores and exploring old libraries, to taking a horse-drawn trolley ride through town, the entertainment options can easily fill an entire day’s trip. Visit the scenic vineyards or just walk down Main Street for a quick stop and you won’t be disappointed.
- Hearst Castle – San Simeon
Hearst Castle is the definition of extravagance. Sitting amongst the coastal hills, the mansion is a well-known stop along the coast because of its beauty and historic value. The ‘home’ is an architectural masterpiece, once visited by countless celebrities and other world-renowned individuals. At one point, it took the title of holding the world’s largest private zoo, which is open to the public for tours and visits. It currently functions as a museum of sorts, and though ticket prices are a bit high, is well worth the money.
- Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery – San Simeon
This spot is a must-see for any animal lover. Although the smell around the area is far from appealing, the experience is well worth it. Depending on the time of year, elephant seals line the sea shore, basking in the sun and communicating with one another. Some can even be seen challenging each other and fighting within the waves. There are plenty of viewing areas to observe the massive animals from a safe distance while providing a unique up-close and personal experience.
- McWay Falls – Big Sur
A treasure hidden along the coast, McWay Falls is easily one of the most stunning views in California. The 80-foot waterfall is tucked a bit further back behind the tree line and takes a small walk to reach, but is well worth the search. McWay is one of only two waterfalls in California that cascades directly into the ocean, and the beach below is virtually untouched as visitors are prohibited from descending from the cliffs.
- Painted Ladies – San Francisco
Any fan of Full House will easily recognize these iconic houses residing on Steider Street. The pastel-painted, Victorian-style houses are quite a popular tourist stop in San Francisco, but that should not be any discouragement from a brief visit – whether you choose to just drive past for a quick look, or stop and stay awhile. Alamo Square Park sits right across the street, making for a fun walk around if you choose to stay a bit longer.
- Cannery Row – Monterey
There are plenty of gems along Cannery Row in Monterey, making it an excellent stop for a few hours. Visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which inspired the Pixar film Finding Dory, or take a walk and visit the numerous shops along the beach. Make a stop at McAbee Beach to stick your toes in the sand or climb around the ruins of an unrecognizable building, now covered in beautiful paintings and other hidden artwork.
- Ghirardelli Square – San Francisco
Not much needs to be said about this special stop. If you like chocolate, you won’t regret the visit. End of story.
- PIER 39 – San Francisco
Pier 39 is always bustling with energy and amusement. Although it is often crowded with a mixture of all kinds of different people, it is well worth the stop. Souvenirs are abundant among the many cute shops lining the pier. Stay and eat at one of the many sea side restaurants and watch as boats pull in and out of the harbor or take the kids for a ride on the gigantic merry-go-round.
Photos courtesy of Brenna Deever