Bay Area getaways on California Highway 1 are convenient and beautiful destinations to break free from all the whirlwinds of to-do lists for a couple of days.
Every time I drive through the coast-hugging California highway 1, I feel it transports me not just to any destination but to dreams.
The rugged California coastline by the Pacific Ocean has some of the most spellbinding vistas that one can lay their eyes on.
I easily reconnect with nature, cherish moments of quiet reflections and enjoy spending quality time with family.
And not to mention, ample photo opportunities await along the way. Here is a list of places that are easily accessible from the San Francisco Bay Area to unwind along California Highway 1.
So, ready for a weekend drive? Roll down the windows, and let the sweet, damp air fill the car.Bay Area weekend getaways on California Highway 1 #Caifornia #BayArea #Travel #RoadTrip Click To Tweet
Map of the best 12 Bay Area weekend getaways on California Highway 1
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Mendocino and Fort Bragg – One of the beautiful Bay Area weekend getaways on California Highway 1
Mendocino, a quaint corner of Northern California is one of my favorite weekend getaways on California Highway 1.
It is stirring because of its profound natural beauty and rural identity, with its series of hamlets, small towns, and rural ridges. It is also famous for its intoxicants — its celebrated wine, beer, and marijuana.
I love its beautiful ocean-bluff setting overlooking a steel-blue sea. I loved my stay at Little River Inn, a romantic hotel in Mendocino. The beautiful surrounding here instills peace with a seeping certainty.
I remember reading, strolling, and indulging myself in wine tasting. Time slows down here. Wherever I visited in Mendocino, I found myself surrounded by relentless waves, flower-strewn bluff-tops, and sunsets that seem to go on forever.
The brightest late-night life in Mendocino may be the starry sky – infinite, full of constellations, and the perfect canopy for a star-gazing walk.
My favorite is Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. It is a beautiful public garden with numerous meandering paths by the Pacific Ocean.
While exploring Fort Bragg, the biggest city on the Mendocino Coast, I enjoyed its signature attraction, a former town dump that was transformed by time into a beach of gleaming sea glass.
Fort Bragg is also home to the world-famous Skunk Train, which takes travelers through a forest.
Immerse yourself in one of the romantic coastal towns in California, and spend a beautiful weekend cocooning in comfort with crashing ocean views.
Where to stay: Agate Cove Inn, JD House – Inns of Mendocino
Bodega Bay – A gorgeous Bay Area weekend getaway on California Highway 1
Bodega Bay is a picturesque beach town in Sonoma County located in northern California. Nestled in a beautiful stretch of Sonoma County’s 55-mile Pacific Coastline, Bodega Bay is home to stunning beaches.
On one fine winter morning, from Highway 1 in the town of Bodega Bay, where a smattering of shops sells kites, I drove to Westshore Road, which eventually leads to the bluff top parking lot for Bodega Head.
I instantly fell in love with the coastal bluffs laden with wildflowers. I enjoyed hiking through the grassy headlands while enjoying the sea breeze and the blue-water vistas extending to the horizon.
Bodega Head offers stunning bluff-top vistas, enticing trails, beach access, and abundant wildlife viewing, from seabirds to seals and migrating whales.
At 265 feet above the roiling waves, Bodega Head is one of California’s best whale-watching vantage points (migration season is December to April).
Also, don’t miss exploring the nearby tiny village of Bodega, where Alfred Hitchcock filmed one of his most famous movies, “The Birds”.
If you are in the mood to explore a new place that has plenty of things to do then choose Bodega Bay for a weekend trip and explore the beautiful Sonoma coast.
Where to stay: The Inn at the Tides, The Lodge at Bodega Bay
Point Reyes National Seashore
A trip to Point Reyes National Seashore has many layers of beauty. When I saw large herds of tule elk, native to California, basking in the sun on a green valley, it gave me a bucolic feeling.
I loved the wildness of the Pacific when I spent a day at Drakes Beach. With a beautiful view of the vast expanse of the Pacific from above, Point Reyes National Seashore is a gem.
I greeted the twilight with the symphony of the evening wind. This natural sanctuary is a refuge for us mortal souls. I would highly recommend savoring all the attractions slowly.
Stay in a hotel at Inverness and explore the bucolic and the wild.
Where to stay: Highland House, Hillside Home with Deck and Views
Capitola – One of the quirky Bay Area weekend getaways on California Highway 1
Capitola is a cheery beach with candy-colored houses. It is the oldest seaside resort town in California. If you are looking for a picturesque, quaint, and relaxing vacation destination then Capitola village fits just perfectly.
I enjoyed a leisurely walk at the Capitola wharf and witnessed a stunning sunset. I often feel that a long, wandering walk is the best way to imbibe the sights, sounds, and smells around us.
You can go fishing from Capitola Wharf (no fishing permit is required when fishing off the pier). Also, look out for the frequent flowers left on the wharf’s railing that add an additional pop of color to the vibrant village scene.
I also loved the beautiful murals sprinkled in and around the Capitola village and the wharf. I love the way murals revitalize public spaces.
You’ll find excellent culinary options in this popular beachfront destination. During your stay, explore New Brighton State Beach, Lighthouse Field State Beach, and Seacliff State Beach.
If you’re lucky you might even catch a local surfing competition. Capitola is large enough to enjoy diverse activities yet small enough that it can be explored on foot.
While there are many beach towns along California’s beautiful coastline, there’s only one Capitola. I love visiting this quaint beach town, and I highly recommend it both for a day trip or a weekend trip from the Bay Area.
Interesting fact: On 18 August 1961, residents in the town of Capitola, California, awoke to find sooty shearwaters slamming into their rooftops, and their streets covered with dead birds. News reports suggested domoic acid poisoning (amnesic shellfish poisoning) as the cause. This incident inspired the iconic Alfred Hitchcock film ‘The Birds’.
Where to stay: Capitola Venetian Hotel, Quality Inn & Suites Capitola
Carmel-by-the-Sea – A taste of Europe and art on a Bay Area weekend getaway on California Highway 1
The architectural mishmash of storybook English cottages and Swiss Alpine chalets will transport you to Europe when you will explore it by walking. The beautiful paintings in 100 art galleries that line the town’s orderly grid of streets will fill you with inspiration.
In the morning, you can go for a stroll along the crescent of sugary sand beach that gives way to turquoise Pacific.
If you love framing beautiful views with your camera, then the Carmel beach, edged by wind-carved cypress trees is totally worthy of your attention.
Exceptional dining, wine-tasting rooms, and boutiques make it an ideal place to relax. Sometimes the tactile experience of traveling is as memorable as what we see in front.
It sets the memory in all sorts of ways. Carmel-by-the-sea always brings back memories of days I spent in Europe!
Travel Tip: There are plenty of ways to enjoy a beautiful day in Carmel-by-the-Sea! Read my travel guide about the Top things to do in Carmel.
Where to stay: Hofsas House Hotel (read my detailed review), Carmel Mission Inn
Pacific Grove – Butterfly town – One of the vibrant Bay Area weekend getaways on California Highway 1
Pacific Grove, the small town is beautiful all year-long. But the magic carpet or the blooming ice plant that graces Pacific Grove’s shoreline at Perkins Park during the spring makes it one of the perfect destinations for spring break.
Also, from October through February, thousands of monarch butterflies migrate to Pacific Grove, cluster together on pine, cypress, and eucalyptus trees in the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary.
Due to this unique phenomenon, Pacific Grove is nicknamed Butterfly Town and gives us another reason to visit Pacific Grove during the holiday season. I especially enjoy its laid-back vibe – a Xanax for the soul!
Where to stay: The Monarch Resort, Asilomar Conference Grounds
Big Sur – A natural paradise on California Highway 1 for a weekend getaway
Big Sur, a rugged, mountainous stretch of beautiful California coastline is magical.
I love driving on the road between rock faces, one side rising up and one straight down beside the Pacific ocean.
When the evanescent fog hangs low over the water, it seems like I am driving above the sky. Or, when the haze is thinner and blurs the line between water and air on the horizon I feel I am driving next to infinity.
Amidst the humdrum of daily life, when I want to get lost and wrap myself in the veil of green and blue, I decide to spend a weekend in Big Sur amidst majestic Coastal Redwood trees along the pristine Big Sur River and where the Santa Lucia Mountains rise abruptly from the Pacific Ocean – a dramatic landscape undoubtedly.
Big Sur means a rendezvous with forest, mountains, ocean, and a river. Spend time in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and Limekiln State Park – all intensely naturalistic settings! One of my favorites is the outstanding coastal headlands at Soberanes Point in Garrapata State Park.
Art and nature merge on this rugged coast, one of California’s most spectacular settingsVisit California
Where to stay: Big Sur Lodge, Big Sur River Inn
I was mesmerized when I saw the constant flood of ocean water sweeping in and out of the “door” of the famous rock arch at Pfeiffer Beach on California highway 1.
If you plan to spend time in Big Sur, don’t miss Pfeiffer Beach, one of the prettiest beaches in California.
New Camaldoli Hermitage – A monastery in the mountains above California Highway 1
I came to know about New Camaldoli Hermitage while reading one of the books by Pico Iyer. His description and words inspired me to see and feel the place in person.
And I am glad I visited this Benedictine monastery. It gives us a chance to get away from the balance sheet of life that makes us anxious; profit and loss; successes and failures; the illusory corporate ladder, and the relentless chase to achieve the elusive higher class in society.
If you are like me, who has no interest in religion at all but craves peace, and silence for quiet contemplation and silent reflection, then this is the place to be, a hidden gem in the Santa Lucia Mountains high above Highway 1.
The empty benches throughout the monastery struck a chord with me. As if they are inviting us magnanimously to the banquet of nature and reflection.
It was peaceful to sit and look into the sea, to the mountains, or when the breeze shook the branches of the trees, at the sky. I would love to go here again to sit and write, perhaps when I will find it difficult to face the reality of the modern-day.
To me, I write when I need to react; another way to communicate because it gives me a certain distance and time for reflection.
But that being said, I feel extremely lucky to have the leisure to take notice of my existence in a world of abundance where some people are still struggling against hunger.The empty benches throughout the monastery struck a chord with me. As if they are inviting us magnanimously to the banquet of nature and reflection. #Travel #California #Nature Click To Tweet
Ragged Point – A rocky overlook with spectacular views on California Highway 1
Ragged Point, a lofty perch, 400 feet above Pacific blue waters, offers spectacular views where the Pacific Ocean and the rocky California coast collide in a symphony of water, rock, and sunshine.
Soak in the views of miles of deep blue ocean and crashing waves. I love strolling through the gardens at the Ragged Point Inn & Resort, often called the gateway to Big Sur.
The pathways here are filled with drifting Monarch butterflies and hummingbirds. Don’t miss taking a photo at the “Portal to Big Sur”, a wooden sculpture that looks like a big donut!
Also, if you are in the mood to go for a hike, then challenge yourself with the Ragged Point Cliffside Trail, a strenuous downhill 0.6-mile trail that leads to a black sand beach with views of the region’s renowned 300-foot Black Swift Falls or Nature Trail.
You can also choose to relax and enjoy the seascape and a lovely seacation. At the end of the day, don’t forget to catch the beautiful sunset from the Ragged Point Inn & Resort, which inspires celebration and reverie.
Where to stay: Coast Riders Inn
San Simeon – A serene Bay Area weekend getaway on California Highway 1
San Simeon, a serene seaside town smack-dab between Los Angeles and San Francisco, is the home to the world-famous Hearst Castle.
But alongside the Hearst Castle, San Simeon shines bright with its beautiful beaches, a pier, an elephant seal rookery, where you can see a line of big happy seals, bellies up in the sun, and the coastal discovery center, a joint venture between Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and California State Parks.
During my stay at Cavalier Oceanfront Resort, I enjoyed nightly bonfires overlooking the beach, relished the refreshing ocean breeze at midnight, and during the day, enjoyed the sunshine while sitting beside the scenic seaside bluff.
With the relaxing vibe here, along with all the comfort one can ask for, Cavalier Oceanfront Resort is a perfect pause when traveling along California’s awe-inspiring Pacific Coast Highway. Spend a weekend in San Simeon for an authentic Central Coast experience.
Where to stay: Cavalier Oceanfront Resort
A visit to the Piedras Blancas Rookery, the home of the elephant seals, is like watching a National Geographic video. It is simply spectacular!
Cambria – A taste of art and nature on a weekend getaway on California Highway 1
Cambria, a quaint village by the sea has an artistic flair. The wide-open spaces and the fresh coastal air make it an irresistible destination for a moment of pause.
While walking on the Moonstone beach boardwalk, forget all the pressing problems, escape into a world of nature, and adore it with your imagination. Sing, if you love singing; whisper a poem to your better half; Place the easel and paint, if you haven’t touched the paintbrush for long; Sink your toes into the sand and catch glimpses of marine life swimming by!
On an indolent afternoon, visit the vault gallery and enjoy the art of leading Plein air painters. Don’t miss visiting Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, an extensive trail network that follows the coastline and climbs into serene pine forests 400 feet above the ocean.
If you plan your visit around October 31, then you will get the opportunity to see the unique Cambria Scarecrow Festival.
Where to stay: Moonstone Landing, Little Sur Inn
Located a few miles away from the coast, I drove to Paso Robles from San Simeon. It was a beautiful drive amidst valleys, majestic vineyards and oak dotted hills.
The beautiful scenery all through the way pumped in me a fresh impetus to indulge with all my senses. I liked the small-town charm, good food, and wine, and let the rest of the world melt away for a few days.
I sipped not only the finest wines but loved taking a walk around the beautiful gardens and massive sculptures at Sculpterra Winery.
I especially enjoyed my time exploring the art and artifacts at Allegretto Vineyard Resort. The view of Santa Lucia Coastal Mountain Range cascading down to the sea at several designated overlooks especially before the sunset won my heart.
I visited Paso Robles around November and witnessed beautiful fall colors in the vineyards. If you want to slow down and slip into a state of relaxation, then Paso Robles, the beautiful California wine country with beach access is an apt choice.
Where to stay: Allegretto Vineyard Resort, La Quinta by Wyndham Paso Robles
While walking amidst the Field of Light and Light Towers by Bruce Munroe at the Sensorio in Paso Robles, I felt as if I am seeing the microcosm of life.
Some dark, some bright colored shades illuminating under the extravaganza of an open and boundless sky. But overall, in the end, it looked like a beautiful painting.
Cayucos – A laid-back Bay Area weekend getaway on California Highway 1
The laid-back town of Cayucos in California’s Central Coast, right on Highway 1, has miles of spotless white beach, perfect for taking long and contemplative walks.
Unlike the fast life of the San Francisco Bay Area, life moves slowly here, and you can feel your troubles drift away with the waves crashing on the beach.
The famous 953-foot public fishing pier in Cayucos remains my favorite. It was like getting out to sea without ever leaving land.
I witnessed a vibrant sunset from the pier, and I saw the beautiful town and the hill when I looked back from the pier in a way that I never could from shore.
The fresh sea breeze and the sound of waves gently rolling under the crimson sky stippled with clouds were relaxing.
While walking back, I loved the aromas of freshly cooked fish and chips. No wonder strolling along the pier is a quintessential thing to do in Cayucos!
If you are here for a weekend, explore nine beautiful murals sprinkled throughout town. Don’t miss Estero Bluffs State Park, just north of Cayucos, for dramatic views of Estero Bay and the landmark Morro Rock.
If a long weekend is near, make a trip to Cayucos, often described as the last of the historic California beach towns.
Where to stay: Shoreline Inn, On the Beach Bed and Breakfast
Morro Bay – The place with a rock on California Highway 1
One of my favorite coastal landmarks along the California coastline is the Morro Rock, the extinct volcanic peak in Morro Bay, a cozy city in California.
Miles of beaches and an idyllic backdrop let you dream and relax and is a beautiful destination for a weekend trip from the San Francisco Bay Area.
Explore the Morro Bay State Park, located along the National Estuary, rich in wildlife and beautiful views, and Montaña de Oro State Park, which features rugged cliffs, secluded sandy beaches, coastal plains, streams, canyons, and hills, including 1,347-foot Valencia Peak.
Choose to go biking, hiking, or surfing and then sit on the beach with your favorite cocktail and soak up the sun.
Let the kids play with the bucket and sand while you finish up reading an unfinished book.
The sound of crashing waves, the feel of sand between the toes, the smell of the briny ocean air – a day at the beach is a feast for the senses and gifts memories that linger amidst our busy urban lives.
Travel Tip: Right next to your sunscreen, pack some of your favorite books. If you ask me to recommend a book, I would suggest Songs for the Open Road – Poems of Travel and Adventure by The American Poetry & Literacy Project.
Where to stay: Front Street Inn and Spa, 456 Embarcadero Inn & Suites
The quaint coastal town is anchored by a rock but buoyed by fun diversionsVisit California
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar.Lord Byron
Solvang – A taste of Denmark on California Highway 1
Solvang (Danish for “sunny field”), is modeled like a Danish village, akin to the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales, with half-timbered homes, palaces, towers, gabled roofs, clock towers, and windmills.
While exploring Solvang, I remembered my visit to Copenhagen and appreciated the Scandinavian traits that one can spot sometimes in California.
Take a stroll along Mission Drive, the main street in town, and collect a Danish-themed souvenir. For tasty traditional Danish treats, stop by a few local bakeries and cafes.
Visit the old Santa Ines Mission, and if you are lucky enough, you will get to see an authentic Spanish-style wedding.
I enjoyed my time inside the mission with my family during one of the spring breaks in California. The row of vintage cars (very Instagramable) in front of the mission for the newly-wed couple’s photo session looked lovely.
Also, don’t miss spending some time in the nearby Hans Christian Andersen Park.
I found the juxtaposition of California and a Danish town quite offbeat and gives us the opportunity to escape the familiar.
Where to stay – Hotel Corque, King Frederik Inn
Pismo Beach – A Serene Coastal Haven Where Californian Charm and Natural Wonders Meet
Pismo Beach, often referred to as the “Clam Capital of the World,” offers a delightful fusion of California coastal charm and laid-back beach vibes.
With its classic pier, golden sands, and mesmerizing sunsets, it’s the perfect place to unwind and appreciate the quintessential Californian lifestyle.
As I wandered through Pismo Beach, I couldn’t help but be reminded of other coastal gems I’ve visited. I was struck by the unique blend of beach-town allure and natural beauty that sets Pismo Beach apart from the rest.
Take a leisurely stroll along the iconic Pismo Pier, soaking in the sights and sounds of the ocean. Be sure to sample the local flavors, including the famous clam chowder, at one of the many beachfront restaurants.
Visit the enchanting Monarch Butterfly Grove, where thousands of butterflies gather during their annual migration. If you’re lucky, you might even witness a breathtaking kaleidoscope of wings fluttering around you.
I relished my time exploring Pismo Beach with my family during our California road trip. Watching the golden sun disappear below the horizon and create a mesmerizing canvas of colors was truly a highlight of our visit.
And of course, don’t miss the opportunity to indulge in some wine tasting at nearby vineyards, where the cool coastal breeze meets exquisite California wines.
I found Pismo Beach to be an idyllic getaway, offering a refreshing break from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Where to stay – The Cliffs Hotel & Spa, Pismo Lighthouse Suites, Cottage Inn by the Sea
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In our fast-paced society, the process of experiencing places at a slow pace and eventually feeling connected to them has virtually been eliminated.
We remain plugged into our devices and get trapped in relentless updates.
The reality of a materialistic and technology-driven stressful modern life, the fear of an unknown future impinges on our health, both mentally and physically.
We stop enjoying the bliss of languid mundane tasks and find it harder to make time for family, conversations, and reflections.
Therefore, it makes sense sometimes to unplug, slow down, visit laid-back places and explore slowly over a weekend and feel connected to the place.
It is not a bad idea to abandon the overscheduled routine we’ve fallen into and break free for a few days.
Spending time with family, indulging in deeper conversations, and having meaningful experiences whose traces linger long in our memories will definitely go a long way in rejuvenating ourselves emotionally.
All the places I mentioned here are perfect for Bay Area weekend getaways on California Highway 1.
Enjoy the sheer magnitude of Big Sur, the jagged artistry of the coastline, the endless blue of the Pacific, the raw, wild beauty of California.
Escape to any one of them or all and enjoy the bliss of living near the stunning coast of California. All of them have a calming ethos which I enjoyed personally.
I loved how the horizon grew wider, vaster, and farther away.
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