Since the state of California is so diverse, it’s nearly impossible to visit the entire state in only seven days. To make the most of a week-long trip, break the state in half. Here’s how to spend seven days in the northern half of the Golden State.
Day 1: Arrive in Monterey
Book a flight for an arrival into Monterey Regional Airport (MRY) and a departure out of Redding Airport (RDD), and arrange a rental car to be picked up and dropped off accordingly. Upon arrival into stunning Monterey, I recommend staying in a hotel in the Downtown area close to the Monterey Marina for the best maritime views. Because you likely had a long flight with a layover or two, ease into the evening by taking a stroll around town and the boardwalk at Del Monte Beach. Have a fresh seafood dinner at one of the various eateries on the wharf and watch boats leave and enter the harbor.
Day 2: Peruse the Pacific
Monterey visitors soak in gorgeous views of rocky cliffs pouring into the Pacific Ocean along the 17-Mile Drive. Although it is a toll road, the views and vista points along the way are well worth the small fee. At the end of the 17-Mile Drive, take a break and catch some rays at Carmel River State Beach. A short drive south of Carmel River State Beach is Point Lobos Nature Preserve, featuring gorgeous nature trails and plenty of opportunities to spot birds and sea lions.
Day 3: San Francisco
Wake up early and leave Monterey for your next two nights in San Francisco. After navigating through traffic and checking into your hotel, visit iconic touristy spots such as the Golden Gate Bridge, drive the famous switchbacks of Lombard Street, and snack on fried fish and clam chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf. If you need a break from city life without leaving the city, burn some extra calories in nature and walk along Lovers’ Lane at the Presidio.
Day 4: Alcatraz Island
No visit to San Francisco is complete without exploring historical Alcatraz Island, the notorious former maximum security prison home to famous and dangerous inmates such as Al Capone and Robert Stroud. Accessible by ferry, visit www.cityexperiences.com/san-francisco/city-cruises/alcatraz to find ferry departure schedules, tour options, and information about the island. I strongly advise all first-time Alcatraz visitors to at least utilize the audio-guided tours in order to make the experience as enriching as possible. Traveling with children or teenagers? Encourage them to watch Escape from Alcatraz before the trip to provide them with more context and pique their interest ahead of time.
Day 5: Stop in Sonoma
Pack up the car early in the morning and head 3.5 hours north to the city of Redding. Along the way, stop for brunch in charming, artsy Sonoma, and participate in a wine tasting at one of Sonoma’s top-notch wineries if you have a designated driver. Sunflower Caffé is the optimum spot for a quick brunch, with the summertime menu sporting a coconut chia seed pudding and a watermelon “frosé,” an ice cold beverage made of local Sonoma rosé wine, fresh watermelon, and lime juice. Once you’re done wandering the streets of Sonoma, continue on your journey to Redding for the evening.
Day 6: Lassen Volcanic National Park
In comparison to nearby Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, Lassen Volcanic National Park often flies under the radar. On a smaller scale, Lassen Volcanic National Park can be compared to Yellowstone, featuring hydrothermal areas, hiking trails, waterfalls, and mountain views. Perfect for a fall visit, Lassen is less than an hour east of Redding. Be sure to stay on marked trails and obey all rules in the park, especially in hydrothermal areas where visitors who stray off the beaten path are likely to suffer burns and/or health problems caused by sulphuric acid and gases in the water.
Day 7: Head Home
After nearly a week of exploring the beauty of Northern California, catch a flight home out of the small Redding Airport. Catch a quick breakfast ahead of time, since dining options in the airport are slim. If you’re sad about leaving, spend the long flight home planning how to spend another seven days in the southern half of the state on your next trip out west.