“Napa, Tahoe, Yosemite, Big Sur… the names alone conjure up a vision of the American West! But truth be told, I’d not been since I was knee-high to a grasshopper! So when the I got the chance to go back, I decided to do things a little differently...

Rather than drive south out of San Francisco down Highway 1 (like so many people do), we’d venture inland and explore some of the different landscapes that make California so amazing.

​Driving around the state is really easy, so the plan was to spend a few days in the big city, head north to wine country, then go east into the mountains on the state’s border with Nevada. After that, we’d drive back across country to the coast and spend some time there before returning home. That would give us a nice variety of scenery and landscapes, the chance to try a few different activities and the opportunity to sample some of the best food and drink the Golden State has to offer!


​I was really keen to see why San Fran features on so many ‘favourite cities’ lists; and it didn’t take long at all! It’s a beautiful place and, if you stay centrally in Union Square, it’s very walkable too – though of course it can be very hilly! On our first day, we crossed to Alcatraz (remember to book in advance), which was fascinating. You can spend all day on the Rock and the self-guided audio tour gives you a real sense of what it was like to be an inmate. 

After that we took a stroll down to Fisherman’s Wharf and hired bikes (electric ones are available) for a ride across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, a little town with some lovely shops, cafés and restaurants – well worth a visit (cycle one way and get the ferry back). Fisherman’s Wharf itself is quite commercial, but it does have a great choice of restaurants and bars. And you can’t leave without a stroll up to the affluent Nob Hill district and Lombard Street (famous for its eight hairpin bends). 

We stayed at Hotel Zetta by Union Square, a boutique high-tech hotel with quirky re-purposed furnishings (like the chandelier made from spectacles), a virtual reality room, children’s playroom and all in all, a really nice vibe.


​After picking up our rental car, we headed north (across that bridge again) towards Napa. The route takes you up through pretty Sonoma Valley first, but eventually we reached the picturesque village of Yountville with its inviting shops, cafés and restaurants. Peaceful and tranquil, it’s also home to the super-popular French Laundry restaurant (advanced reservations there are a must). Bikes at the ready again, we set off on a tour of the vineyards. The landscape is (thankfully) quite flat, but even on a half-day tour of two vineyards with wine-tastings, you do cover quite a distance.

In fact, Yountville is an ideal spot for exploring on foot or by bike. Here we stayed at Carneros, a little way south of Yountville, tucked away off Highway 12. What a little gem. The cottages reminded me of traditional small-town America, lovely and cosy, complete with a front porch, firepits and loungers in the courtyards. It’s great for families, with two pools and movies and games always available. There’s great local food and wine here too, with a deli on-site – so you can put together the perfect gourmet picnic!


​It was a five-hour drive to our next stop – Lake Tahoe – but worth every minute as the ever-changing scenery on this route is just stunning. Some parts of Tahoe can be a little tacky and commercial (especially around the two casinos), but keep heading for The Lodge at Edgewood and they’re soon forgotten. A gorgeous hotel with lots of firepits, shoreside chairs and a heated outdoor pool, it’s an excellent choice for families whatever the season. 

In winter of course there’s excellent skiing too, with shuttles to Heavenly Village, a ski concierge and door-to-door service to the lifts. Nicknamed America’s all-year playground, it’s no surprise Tahoe works brilliantly for both couples and families, there’s just so much to do. We took a sunset cruise which was absolutely breathtaking. But boy, it was those views that got me... the crystal-blue waters of the lake look fantastic from any vantage point, and I’ll never forget looking back across the lake and seeing its dramatic snow-capped-mountain backdrop (it was May!).


​Tahoe to Yosemite takes around four hours in summer but again the trip is more than worth it! And everything they say about Yosemite is true… and then some. It's so picture-perfect; I imagine if you sat down and listed everything you want from a national park this one would tick every box. The landscape is everything you ever dreamt of, but the downside can be its popularity, especially come summer. 

Spring is a great time to visit though as when the snow melts, the waterfalls are at their best. Of course, there's no shortage of outdoorsy escapades too; with everything from canoeing, climbing and hiking to wildlife photography, you could spend days exploring this area! There are only a couple of hotels in the park itself so many visitors choose to camp, park up their RV or rent a lodge; but there are more options just outside the park and it's easy to drive in every day.


​And so on to the lovely Californian coast! From Yosemite it’s a much less scenic drive of over four hours and we headed first to Carmel-by-the- Sea. Famed for once having Clint Eastwood as mayor, this is a picturesque little village and a great place to simply wander and relax. South from here along the coast is Big Sur and the drive is every bit as spectacular as they say – I must have taken hundreds of photos! 

Spectacular describes the legendary Post Ranch Inn (our home that night) too. It’s the ultimate in adults-only luxury, with impeccable service and just 20 or so super-private luxurious lodges, each with varying but equally fabulous views out to the Pacific. Even if you don’t get chance to stay, lunch here is an absolute must! Heading back north, we stopped off in Monterey. Busy and a little touristy, the town plays on its maritime heritage (made famous in Steinbeck’s novel, Cannery Row) and is another great spot for families. We took an awesome whale-watching trip and easily spotted humpbacks, dolphins, sea otters and sea lions. The perfect end, you could say, to a memorable tour around Northern California!”

Find Out More...

  • Hotel Zetta SoMa, San Francisco, California

    Next door to the vast Westfield San Francisco (Union Square's only indoor shopping experience), Zetta’s high-tech, creative interiors are a magnet for 'work-hard, play-hard' trendy, tech-savvy and art-loving types.

    Call us on 01244 567 000 to start planning your next holiday.

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  • Carneros Resort & Spa Napa, Napa Valley, California

    On 28 acres of rolling hillside bordering both Napa and Sonoma Counties, and with a bounty of unique resort amenities, there’s nowhere else in Wine Country from which to explore such a variety of vineyards.

    Call us on 01244 567 000 to start planning your next holiday.

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  • The Lodge at Edgewood Tahoe Lake Tahoe, California

    This water’s-edge, LEED-designed chalet-style lodge is the South Shore’s best place to stay, with an array of outdoor activities, an 8500-square-foot spa and an award-winning 18-hole championship golf course.

    Call us on 01244 567 000 to start planning your next holiday.

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  • Post Ranch Inn Big Sur, California

    Organically designed and nestled on a ridgeline 1200 feet above the crashing surf, Post Ranch Inn is a fantastic and luxurious place for couples needing peace and seclusion.

    Call us on 01244 567 000 to start planning your next holiday.

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