Completing the West Coast: San Francisco to San Diego

In this post: San Francisco, Yosemite National Park, Santa Barbara, Monterey, San Diego

San Francisco

Continuing down Highway 101, I arrived into San Francisco via the Golden Gate Bridge, which makes quite an impressive introduction to the city. After spending the last 5 days driving alone and sleeping in roadside motels (due to a serious lack of a hostel scene along the coast), I had booked into a hostel called The Green Tortoise and I made a good group of friends almost instantly. It was great to hang out with a like-minded bunch of travellers wanting to explore the city by day and check out the bars and live music scene at night.

The Golden Gate Bridge

Various sight seeing trips included a visit to the iconic row of houses nicknamed “The Painted Ladies”, a hike to the top of Twin Peaks to take in the stunning views from above, a bike ride across the Golden Gate Bridge, a visit to the Mission District to soak up the atmosphere and check out the amazing street art, and a relaxing afternoon of listening to an array of live pianists perform at the Golden Gate Park.

The Painted Ladies.
The view from Twin Peaks
Street art in the Mission District
‘Flower Pianos” – 12 pianos in the park.

3 nights in San Francisco didn’t seem like nearly enough time, as there’s so much to do there, I had visited before and managed to take in some of the sights back then, but I could have easily kept myself occupied for a week or more.

The crooked part of Lombard Street.
A tram negotiating one of the steep climbs up through the streets.
Alcatraz in the distance.
San Francisco is full of character and charm.

Yosemite National Park

From San Fran I had another hire car booked and planned to spend 3 nights in Yosemite national park. The drive out there was a bit of a grind, it took around 3 hours from San Francisco city centre to the hostel in the village of Groveland, which was just outside of the main park, and the landscape en route was mainly flat and covered with dried golden grass. Once I had checked in, I decided to drive another hour or so into the centre of Yosemite just before sunset and I was instantly blown away by how beautiful it was, the contrast from what I saw earlier in the day was mind-blowing. I arrived at “Bridalveil Falls” late in the evening and it was almost deserted, I managed to get close to the waterfall without being swarmed by hundreds of people trying to take the perfect selfie.

Bridalveil Falls in Yosemite Valley.
El Capitan at sunset.

Prior to arriving in Yosemite I had done my research and planned a couple of hikes, the first of these was called the “4 mile Trail” and the route takes you to the top of Glacier Point which offers some amazing views down into the valley, views which are even more incredible knowing you have just walked up from the bottom of the valley and are about to walk back down again! The name “4 mile Trail” is a bit misleading however, as I tracked it on my phone and it was actually 5.5miles each way, but still it was a very rewarding hike.

Yosemite Valley.
Glacier Point with Half Dome looming in the distance.

After a long day of hiking, we decided to go for a few locally brewed beers at California’s oldest Saloon bar The Iron Door. It’s a cool place to unwind and it definitely gives you a taste for what it would have been like to hang out in a Saloon bar back in the days of the Wild West.

California’s oldest Saloon bar – The Iron Door

My second hike was along the “Mist Trail” which takes you up past Vernal and Nevada Falls where the reason for the trails name soon becomes apparent. After a solid day of hiking the previous day, I struggled with the last mile or so to the top, but again, the views were stunning and the aches and pains soon disappear. I took a slightly different route on the way back down, along a small section of the John Muir Trail, which is named after the explorer who helped with conservation around Yosemite and many other National parks across the US. The full trail is 211 miles from start to finish, but the section i hiked was around 5 miles.

Vernal Falls along the Mist Trail
Nevada Falls taken from The John Muir Trail heading back down.
Along the John Muir Trail.

Monterey and Santa Barbara

To complete my journey south to San Diego I decided to opt for an upgrade of hire car, for an extra 20 bucks a day I managed to go from a Toyota Corolla to a convertible Ford Mustang which I grew very attached to!

A nice upgrade from my Corolla.

My first stop after San Francisco was the wealthy fishing town of Monterey, it’s home to an area called Pebble Beach, an area of privately owned land, which you have to pay to access. For $10 dollars you can enter “17 mile drive”, which loops around the stunning coast line and past a series of some of the world’s best golf courses. Monterey used to be famous for it’s sardine canning factories, which are no longer in use, however the area named “Cannery Row” has now been turned into a popular tourist attraction where you can find museums, an aquarium, no end of amazing seafood restaurants, and souvenir shops.

17 Mile Drive around Pebble Beach.


Between Monterey and my next stop Santa Barbara, is another area of incredible natural beauty called  “Big Sur”, basically another strip of coastline full of incredible beaches one side and national parks on the other.

Pfeiffer beach – Big Sur.
McWay Falls – Big Sur.


Santa Barbara was the perfect stop to relax for a few days, I decided to stay here instead of LA for it’s laid back surfer vibe and it didn’t disappoint, two days of being beach bum was just what I needed after all that driving.

Santa Barbara Beach.

I stopped in Venice Beach (just outisde of LA) for only a few hours, but managed to bike along most of the beach and take in a few of the sights.

VW campervans at Venice Beach.

San Diego

I had finally made it all the way from Seattle down to San Diego, my last stop in the USA, an epic road trip taking around  3 weeks to complete and it’s going take a hell of a lot to beat, from the stunning, incredibly varied landscape, to the contrast of tiny villages and massive cities, hiking mountains one day and surfing waves the next, the Pacific Coast Highway has it all.

When I arrived in San Diego I was fortunate to be able to stay with Seamus, a buddy of mine who I had met whilst travelling through Australia. Seamus was a great host and showed me some awesome places to eat and drink around town and we had a blast. San Diego seems like the perfect place to live, it’s sunny all year round, has a great night life, plenty of sights to see, and is situated along a stretch of coastline with perfect conditions for surfing, and during my stay I managed to take full advantage of all of these.

Surfing at Pacific Beach.
Balboa Park
Street Art down at Pacific Beach.

Whilst in San Diego we managed to get our hands on tickets for a Blink 182 gig, they were one of my favourite bands growing up, so i loved it, they played an awesome set which included most of their classics.

Catching a live Blink 182 show was a definite highlight of mine.

San Diego is also home to Del Mar race track, so we spent an afternoon of placing bets on the races and drinking Margaritas, I didn’t even come close to backing a winner, but it was great fun.

An afternoon at the Del Mar racetrack in San Diego

Next Up…

The start of my adventure through Latin America, first stop Mexico City.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Kris says:

    Hey Andrew!

    Great trip, great pics, great stories! Check out (you have to translate it…) if you want to have inspiration for your next destinations. Except South America… 😉

    Have fun,


    1. drewharrigan says:

      Hey Kris,

      Where are you in the world right now? Still travelling around I hope. Just took a look at your blog and it’s awesome man, need to brush up on my German though!


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