Coastal Adventures in Northern California

I’ve been visiting California from the time I was born, literally weeks after I was born!  It’s interesting to have immediate family from both the East Coast and the West Coast of the U.S.  When most people think of California, I’m sure they think of Hollywood, L.A. or maybe San Diego, so I want to share my stories from Northern Cali, and tell you about the places you must visit!

As I’m sure you’ve discovered by now, I’m a coastal girl, and love to be by the water. The best part about Northern Cali is that you can have the mountains and the ocean all in the same place!  My family lives closer inland in Sacramento, so usually I go to visit them a few days and then head down the coastline.



San Fransisco

There have been a lot of songs written about this beautiful city. “Lights” by the band Journey, was written in the late 70’s and talks about Steve Perry’s love for the “city by the bay”. Other famous musicians who’ve sang about this city include Eric Clapton, Judy Garland, among other big names. I’m not sure that the songs even do the place justice. San Fransisco is home to many celebrities, has some of the best food, some of the steepest roads, and is also home to several big name sports teams, such as the Giants, Dodgers, and 49er’s. San Fran is also where Alcatraz prison lies, where the infamous 3 excapees fled from back in 1962.


One thing that you will recognize here, is that the city is full of life and interesting characters, and is definitely a “water town”.  The San Fransisco bay is a beautiful, deep blue color, that lies under the Golden Gate bridge, and leads out to the Pacific Ocean. Fisherman’s Wharf is a popular attraction where you will see fishing activities, tours to Alcatraz, and also, Sea Lions!  You will certainly get your exercise just by walking around town, but be careful not to turn down the wrong street, as you may just be walking up a 17.5 degree angle on Filmer Street.



Where do I start with the food in San Fran?  The food is amazing, and if you love seafood, then you will be in heaven.  One popular item that you will find in every restaurant is sourdough bread.  I wasn’t that thrilled at first to have sourdough bread served at almost every meal, but once I was back home in Virginia, I was craving it again!  San Fran is also known for it’s Dungeness crab, as it’s a local delicasee.


Santa Cruz 

The next stop on this trip down the Cali coast is Santa Cruz. This coastal town is known for it’s boardwalk and theme park at the beach. Santa Cruz is much smaller than you think and is a tourist spot for maybe a couple of days if you’re looking to see more of Northern Cali, but certainly a place to visit.


There’s lots to do there like riding roller coasters with a great beach view, playing games in the arcade, bowling, boardwalk amusement, and more.  Be sure to check out the restaurant on the pier called “Fire Fish Grill”, and be ready for 360 ocean views while you dine on delicious local seafood!



One of my favorite things to do in Santa Cruz is look for sand dollars. I tend to find one just about every trip I take there.  It’s like a little present was left on the beach just for me.  Please remember “no live shelling”, and be courteous to mother nature. To end the day, get your camera ready for beautiful sunset views from the beach or the pier, wherever you’d prefer.


Monterey Bay

Monterey, California is one of the cutest places you will visit on the coast. It’s full of fun things to do, and environmentally conscious. Here, you will experience beautiful views of the Bay leading into the Pacific Ocean, plenty of day shopping and dining, and let’s not forget the biggest attraction here, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, known to be one of the largest aquariums in the U.S.


You will more than likely spend most of your day at the aquarium due to it’s size.  The Monterey Bay Aquarium was listed as the top aquarium to visit in the U.S.  by “Parent’s Choice Magazine” in 2007.  This place is huge, three stories tall, and filled with numerous exhibits, with a unique “Kelp Forest” containing 320,000 gallons of sea water. You will find unique sea creatures such as white sturgeon, bat stars, and purple-striped jellyfish.  My favorite exhibit is the “Planet of the Jellies” where you will see over 16 different species of jellyfish! You will also be happy to know that this aquarium has won numerous awards for conservation efforts, rehabilitation, and public awareness surrounding conservation of ocean life.



Once you’ve had a break from the overwhelming size of the aquarium, slide on over to “Bubba Gump Shrimp and Company”, named after the classic movie, “Forest Gump”.   This restaurant features local seafood, and family fun dining, that has also won multiple awards.  If you haven’t seen them by now, you will also observe local sea lions napping on the near by rocks by the water just outside the restaurant.



This small town is beautiful!  It is not one of your more well-known places to stop, but I found out about it through one of my Cali family members who said “You have got to stop in Capitola!”.  Your reasoning for stopping would not so much be for a full day of shopping and site-seeing, but for the peaceful serenity this spot provides.


This little stretch of beach is by far an adorable surfing town, lined with a few restaurants, and the cutest little colorful beach homes I have ever seen!  In the town, there is a small fishing pier, and a few seafood restaurants to dine in (I went for brunch!) with great water views.


What I love about Capitola is how quaint and quiet it is, away from all of the tourism and traffic, and a great place for photography for sure!  I love how the rocks meet the water, and I also love seeing the sail boats stationed right near the shore.  It would be a town I’d want to live and raise a family in.  Capitola just captivated my heart and calmed my soul.



If you’d like to see the closest comparison to “white sand beaches” in Northern California, then you’d love Carmel.  You may know this beach spot for “Pebble Beach”, where the PGA tour has taken place over the years.  The golf course is connected to Carmel on one side, and Pebble Beach on the next, with breath-taking ocean views at the top.


The town of Carmel certainly has an upscale feel to it, and you can expect to dress for the occasion when visiting local restaurants and bars.  I was caught off guard while trying to find a spot for a quick bite and drink, seeing everyone inside dressed in blazers and button ups (I was wearing shorts and flip flops of course).  Famous celebrities have lived in Carmel over the years, and some of the biggest names include Clint Eastwood and Bing Crosby.  The median price of a home in Carmel by the sea is $1.8 MM!


What keeps me going back to Carmel though, is the beautiful ocean.  The way the water hits the rocks by the shore is amazing and truly shows the power of our ocean.  You can also expect to see sea creatures such as Sea Urchins and Starfish near the shore and in the crevaces of the rock and sea floor.  If we could ever prove that mermaids exist, I’d expect to find them here.


If you like to adventure to all of these places, try starting your trip in San Fransisco and travel down the coast.  If you spend a few hours in each place, then you can expect the trip to take you 2 to 3 days.  If you find that you’ve fallen in love with one or all, I’d encourage you to venture back and stay over night.  You may end up discovering more sentiments than I already have.


If you’ve been to the Northern Cali coast, please share your story and your favorite spot to visit with a comment below! 


11 thoughts on “Coastal Adventures in Northern California

  1. I love Northern California. Wine country is wonderful … San Francisco is one of my favorite cities … Monterrey-Carmel area is great – gotta love that magnificent drive. Thanks for the reminders.

    1. I’d have to agree! I haven’t made it to Napa yet, but there is a small town called Lodi near Sacramento and it is to die for. About 15 miles of nothing but adorable wineries and vineyards is a great place to be for a day. Thanks for reading!

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