It is a well-known fact that the road-trip between LA and San Francisco (or in our case, Sonoma) is epic. It’s a gastronomic journey through the tallest redwoods, staggering coastlines, buzzing cities, quaint towns and perfectly lined vineyards.
This is the journey that will fulfil all your American road-trip dreams!
Prints coming soon to Holly Clark Editions.
We approached the infamous Big Sur coastline as the sun started to set on a day well spent cycling around the pretty streets of Santa Barbara and having lunch with a chilled glass of wine on the pier at the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company.
One of the first impressive vista points you come to on the drive is McWay Falls… once you’ve parked up you can take a small wander through the woods before you pop out above a pristine beach with the turquoise water lapping up against the sands. This was the moment I knew I was going to love Big Sur.
From there, drive just a minute or two more and another vista point stop presents itself on the side of the road. You MUST stop! This view gives you eyes down the entire rugged, sunset soaked coastline and it is one of the most magical sights you will see here.
Once the sun has slipped below the horizon we went to check-in to our first stop – Deetjens. A family run woodland retreat, free from wifi, or phone signal.. with flickering candlelight and a dim lamp in the corner of your room! For a night, you step back in time and totally switch off.
Whilst in the Big Sur we thought it would be fun to go glamping in the redwoods. The Alila Ventana has the most incredible site – you feel like you are in the middle of no-where with the sunlight beaming through gaps in the trees making your tent look like a painting… all whilst knowing that at top of the hill there is the most incredible restaurant where you can have dinner watching the moonlight over the sea and during the day you can spend time in their well known spa which we took full advantage of.
Carmel-by-the-sea is the natural next stop along the coastline up from Big Sur – only a square mile long, the small village is full of kitsch buildings like something straight out of a fairytale! A one night stop was perfect – time to take the scenic 17-mile drive along the coast to Monterey to see the chatty sea lions and I’d highly recommend La Bicyclette for a brilliant dinner.
Our next stop was Healdsburg which has become somewhat of a culinary Mecca. Situated in the heart of Sonoma county, the town has become synonymous with some of the best know restaurants in the region, if not the state, and attracts a very particular type of traveller, seeking a wine country experience a little further off the beaten track than its big brother, Napa Valley.
The drive North from San Francisco into Sonoma County takes you along Route 101 and betrays the area’s primary industry long before you arrive. Neatly arranged rows of vines line the road, like landing lights guiding you to your ultimate destination. The drive took a little over an hour and a half to complete, a relatively short trip in California!
The first hotel we stayed in was The Madrona. Pulling through the imposing gates and up the winding drive is like stepping back into a bygone era of Californian finery. After a tasteful renovation during covid the hotel is full of old farming country grandeur albeit modernised with eclectic style!
With one eye on our expanding waistlines, we made use of The Madrona’s complimentary bikes and ventured out to some of the local wineries. Both the Russian River Valley and Dry River Creek are home to some of the most respected wineries in the area, so you really can’t go wrong! The style of each vineyard varies from the more rustic, through to the highly curated, all of which have their own charm and appeal. One thing all of them share however, is a collective pride in Sonoma as a wine production area, and rightly so, they were some of the best we have ever tasted. If you are feeling particularly adventurous the longer cycle loop via the Lambert Bridge, stopping at the Dry Creek General Store to replenish supplies, is well worth the effort!
With hot air-balloon rides, wine tastings, redwood hikes, bike rides and a few long lunches under our belts it came time to check-in to our second hotel in the area – the Harmon Guest House, a long standing and well known stalwart of the town. Only a minutes walk from the Plaza, the hotel is in an enviable location, right in the heart of Healdsburg.
We checked in and unbeknownst to the hotel we were in mystery reviewing mode for my go-to boutique hotel company – Mr and Mrs Smith. The full review is coming very soon!