1. Enter the World of Hitchcock at Bodega Bay
Bodega Bay's claim to fame is as the setting for Hitchcock's The Birds. While birds rained terror upon the town in the movie, the reality is a quaint fishing village that will still manage to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
2. Sample Seafood at Half Moon Bay
Half Moon Bay is an easy day trip from San Francisco. Take a step back in time and explore quaint shops and restaurants. The seafood is simply outstanding. The giant wooden cap'n may be a little over the top but he sure as heck leads the way to a great fish lunch.
3. See Otters in Monterey
I serendipitously pulled off the road at Moss Landing in Monterey and what did I find swimming in the water? Sea Otters! I could have stood there all day watching them frolick. It's not all fun and games though. There is also the question of lunch. I even got to see one of the sea otters toy with and kill a duck! For more about birds and wildlife in Monterey, check out this post.
4. Stroll the Beach near Asilomar and 17-Mile Drive
17-mile drive represents California coastal beauty at its finest. You'll pay a hefty toll to drive the route ($10 at the time of writing). Consider staying in the area in or around Asilomar and then getting up early to walk along the beach for free. It's a truly zen experience with the shorebirds running along the edge of the water and the sound of waves crashing in. For more information and photos on walks near Asilomar, check out this post.
5. Visit Steinbeck Country
We'll detour inland for just a moment to Salinas, California, birthplace of prolific American author John Steinbeck. Salinas feels like a journey back in time with vestiges of old-fashioned Main St. USA still visible. Get to know Salinas' native son at the National Steinbeck Center. I picked up a copy of Travels with Charley in Search of America when I visited. It was written by Steinbeck later in life describes 3 months of travel all around the United States with his faithful dog Charley. Given how much he seemed to enjoy that trip, I feel like Steinbeck is a kindred spirit.
6. Marvel at the Elephant Seals at San Simeon
Continuing further south, we arrive at my favorite place of all along the California Coast: San Simeon. We visited in January and watched the large male elephant seals fight for dominance and the best mating opportunities along the beach. Friends of the Elephant Seal offers plenty of advice on visiting.
7. Imagine the Good Life at Hearst Castle
Nearby, Hearst Castle offers a glimpse into the life of the late newspaper magnate, William Hearst. The property was popular among A-list celebrities in the 1920s and 1930s and today offers stunning views.
8. Taste Wine in Paso Robles
There are a tremendous number of wine regions in California. Paso Robles is lesser known but top notch. Spend a weekend exploring the town and sipping some fine reds.
9. Be Transported to Denmark in Solvang
Solvang is a curious place. Windmills greet you on entering the town. Danish bakeries line the streets. An ostrich farm lies just on the outskirts of town. Solvang is unique in all of California and is a good place to stop en route to Santa Barbara.
10. Live the Beach Life in Santa Barbara
I used to visit the University of California at Santa Barbara frequently for work. I always marveled at the campus sitting on a cliff overlooking the sea and would think to myself I'd never get any work done if I was a student here! In addition to UCSB, Santa Barbara offers a posh downtown and miles of beachfront walks. Santa Barbara is a city I could imagine retiring to. It's very chill.