In August of 2014, we went on a Wild West Adventure to explore California’s Gold Country. We drove from Santa Barbara to San Francisco via the Pacific Coast Highway, through Gold Country into Lake Tahoe, down through Yosemite National Park, and back to Santa Barbara. We did this over the course of a week. While there is still so much to explore in California, this is our account from Santa Barbara to San Francisco along the Pacific Coast Highway.
If You’re from Outside the US
The following is part 2 of our Wild West Adventure. If you missed part 1 go check it out! If you’re looking to do a trip like this and you’re an international traveler, be prepared and get your ESTA Application here. You’ll also find helpful ESTA tips throughout this article so you can travel stress-free.
The Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Barbara to San Francisco
Leaving Santa Barbara at 5:00 am will land your belly in San Luis Obispo for breakfast. Thanks yet again to my dear friend Justin, we had a special place in mind, the Madonna Inn. We didn’t know what to expect of this place other than eggs and orange juice, but we were starving and that was a good enough reason to go.
As soon as we pulled in I was in retro love. This place immediately pulled my vintage heart strings which I kept somewhere between my Elvis and Marilyn Monroe tattoos. Good Lord, how could such a killer find exist without my knowledge? It proves to show, the eastern and western United States are indeed worlds apart.
After Leaving the Madonna Inn
The sun was rising and beaming through the sea fog as we made our way winding through flower-lined sea cliffs along the Pacific Coast Highway. It reminded me of the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland. It was rugged, fresh, untouched nature, like a painting we somehow managed to teleport into.
For travelers outside the US
What is ESTA? ESTA stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization. It’s the system used by the Department of Homeland Security to clear international travelers so they don’t have to wait for a Visa.
Fairytale Traveler Tips
While taking California’s State Road 1 all the way to San Francisco is a little bit longer, it’s completely worth it. Allow yourself some cushion to stop for pictures and slow drivers. Here are a few places along the way worth seeing. You can either just stop and take pictures or go on a short hike. Here’s a great link to California’s Tourism site with great trip planning tools.
- Cayucos State Park
- Estero Bay
- San Simeon State Park
- Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park
- Big Sur State Park
- Carmel or Monterey good for a lunch spot
San Francisco, Everybody’s Favorite City
We arrived at San Francisco about 3:00 pm. This would be our last night of luxury and leisure before heading east into the mountains. I planned a surprise for the Little and booked the Kid’s Suite at Hotel Union Square and a night tour of Alcatraz which you can read all about in my giant article in the Hotel Guide (recommended).
SIDE NOTE: Hotel Union Square is quite possibly the coolest boutique hotel I have ever been to. The Kid’s Suite was amazeballs. The Little had his own play area, computer, game console, and toys. I had a giant bed, a flat screen and a bottle of wine. WIN!
We had a blast riding cable cars, exploring Fisherman’s Wharf and looking for ghosts in Alcatraz at twilight. San Francisco played a big role during the Gold Rush because so many people migrated there. Union Square in 1849 was just a camping ground for gold miners on their journey into the Sacramento Valley.
Fairytale Traveler Tips
Book your Alcatraz tour way in advance. The night tour especially sells out months ahead of time. Way cooler at night.
How do you know if you qualify to use the ESTA Application?
You qualify for ESTA if your stay in the United States will be 90 days or less. If the purpose of your trip is for business, pleasure, vacations, short duration medical treatment, or transit en route to another country. If you have a valid passport lawfully issued to you by a Visa Waiver Programme country. If you have a return or onward ticket. If your travel will not terminate in contiguous territory or adjacent islands unless the traveler is a resident of one of those areas. If you are a citizen or national of one of the Visa Waiver Programme member countries.
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