On the Road: California’s Pacific Coast Highway & Yosemite

From Los Angeles to San Francisco, discover rugged coastlines, Yosemite National Park, historic missions and unique art collections as you journey the legendary Pacific Coast Highway.
Rating (4.75)
Program No. 20120RJ
11 days
Starts at
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11 days
10 nights
23 meals
10 B 6 L 7 D
Check-In, Registration, Orientation, Welcome Dinner
Los Angeles, CA
Courtyard Los Angeles LAX/Century Boulevard

Activity note: Hotel check-in from 3:00 p.m.

Afternoon: Program Registration. Meet your group leader at the hotel to receive your room assignment and get your welcome packet containing your up-to-date schedule that reflects any last-minute changes, other important information, and to learn when and where the Orientation session will take place. If you arrive late, please ask for your packet when you check in. The Group Leader will greet everyone and lead introductions at orientation. We will review the up-to-date program schedule and any changes, discuss roles and responsibilities, logistics, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer any questions you may have. Unlike most hotel-based Road Scholar programs, this “On The Road” learning adventure is a rigorous, moving program in which we will be on the road each day with access to our rooms at the beginning and end of the day. Unless noted otherwise, program-related transportation will be via private motorcoach. Free time is reserved for your personal independent exploration. Evenings at leisure offer opportunities to make the program more meaningful and memorable through personal independent exploration, engaging in available activities on your own, or simply relaxing and making new friends among fellow participants. The Group Leader will always be happy to offer suggestions. Program activities, schedules, personnel, and indicated distances or times may change due to local conditions/circumstances. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding.

Dinner: At the hotel, we’ll enjoy a plated meal with coffee, tea, water; other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: Continue getting to know your group leader who will lead introductions. Settle in and get a good night’s rest for the transfer in the morning.

Getty Villa, Transfer to Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, CA
Holiday Inn Express Santa Barbara

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; walking at Getty Villa determined by personal interest. The drive to Santa Barbara is about 81 miles, approximately 2 hours.

Breakfast: At the hotel, enjoy a buffet featuring a variety of choices including hot and cold dishes plus juices, coffee, tea, water.

Morning: After breakfast, we will be joined by a local expert for an overview of the J. Paul Getty Museum and Getty Villa. After checking out of the hotel, we will board our motorcoach and ride to the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades. Oil magnate J. Paul Getty used some of his vast wealth to amass an incredible art and antiquities collection, first displayed in his ranch house on a bluff overlooking the Pacific. In the early 70s, he had a Romanesque villa constructed next to his house to be a permanent museum for his collection. The Malibu villa, modeled after the partially excavated Villa dei Papiri in Italy, became the home of the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1974. In 1997 the Getty Villa was closed and the collection was relocated to the new hilltop Getty Center in Brentwood (Los Angeles). After a nine-year, $275 million renovation and expansion, the Getty Villa re-opened as a home to the Museum's Antiquities Collection. The Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities are arranged by themes including gods and goddesses, Dionysos and the Theater, and stories of the Trojan War, housed within Roman-inspired architecture and surrounded by Roman-style gardens. For your self directed exploration, in the Entry Pavilion pick up a copy of “Today at the Getty Villa” that lists what’s on. You can enhance your gallery experience with a Getty Guide audio player, available free of charge at the Pick-Up Desk on Floor 1 of the Museum with a valid photo ID. The player features commentary from curators and conservators on more than 150 works from the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa.

Lunch: On your own to enjoy what you like at Getty Villa. The Café serves casual Mediterranean-inspired fare and offers both indoor and outdoor seating. An Espresso Cart, located near the Café, serves coffee and espresso drinks as well as sandwiches and snacks.

Afternoon: We will regroup at an appointed time and place, reboard our motorcoach, and travel by way of the Pacific Coast Highway to Santa Barbara, also known as the American Riviera. After checking in to our hotel late afternoon, we’ll have some time to freshen up and relax before dinner. You might like to walk along the Santa Barbara beach and Stearns Wharf, or stroll up State St. just steps from our hotel.

Dinner: At a restaurant in Santa Barbara, we’ll have a plated meal plus coffee, tea, water.

Evening: At leisure.

Santa Barbara Mission & Courthouse, Free Time
Santa Barbara, CA
Holiday Inn Express Santa Barbara

Activity note: Walking, uneven terrain at Santa Barbara Mission. Courthouse tower accessible by elevator and stairs.

Breakfast: In the breakfast room off the hotel lobby, choose what you like from a buffet featuring a variety of choices including hot and cold dishes plus juices, coffee, tea, water.

Morning: Departing the hotel by motorcoach, we’ll ride to the Santa Barbara Mission for a docent-led field trip. Founded in 1786, Mission Santa Barbara was the 10th of the missions to be built in California. It is called the "Queen of the Missions" for its beautiful hilltop setting and majestic views. Our morning continues with a field trip to the Santa Barbara Courthouse where a docent will lead our exploration. The Courthouse is the jewel in Santa Barbara's architectural crown, on the National Register of Historic Places and a National Historic Landmark. Completed just four months before the U.S. stock market crash of 1929, the building looks as if it belongs in southern Spain with its Spanish-Moorish architecture and surrounding sunken garden. The top of the 85-foot clock tower offers panoramic views of the surrounding city and the mountains.

Lunch: At a favorite local restaurant in downtown Santa Barbara, we’ll have a sandwich with side salad, dessert, soda, coffee, tea, or water.

Afternoon: Free Time. Take this opportunity for personal independent exploration to see and do what interests you most. Please refer to the list of Free Time Opportunities. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions.

Dinner: This meal has been excluded from the program cost and is on your own to enjoy what you like. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions.

Evening: At leisure. Prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning.

Wine Making, Lavender Farm, Piedras Elephant Seal Colony
Cambria, California
Cambria Pines Lodge

Activity note: Walking, uneven terrain in Santa Ynez. Walk on elevated boardwalk up to 2 miles. Ride from Santa Barbara to Cambria is about 150 miles, about 2 hours.

Breakfast: Hotel buffet.

Morning: As we check out and depart the hotel, we’ll be joined on the motorcoach by a local wine expert who will share knowledge about the wine-making process and the expanding Santa Barbara wine region. In Los Olivos, we’ll visit Clairmont Lavender Farm. In a setting surrounded by the Santa Ynez mountains and 300 year old oak trees, five acres of entirely organic Grosso lavender are harvested by hand. We will meet one of the family members who run the farm and learn about the many uses of this fragrant herb, employing our senses of sight, smell, and touch at this unique family owned enterprise.

Lunch: At one of the original vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley, we’ll have box lunches featuring the entrées we selected previously (see “Notes” section for details). We’ll also enjoy a complimentary wine tasting.

Afternoon: Our journey continues north to Morro Bay and San Simeon where we will meet a local expert. Our guide will introduce you to the unique ecosystems found on the California coast. Keep an eye out for otters in Morro Bay which always steal the show. We will explore one of the last intact estuaries that exists between central California and Mexico. You will find many birds and unique plants as you walk the elevated boardwalk through the estuary. You might also hear the barking of harbor seals. We will continue our natural history exploration with a visit to the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Colony. These marine mammals use this beach to breed and rest from their usual time spent in the ocean. This beach is busy December to March with the births of pups occurring at night. By 1900, this mammal was down to a population of 100 which prompted protection from Mexico and the United States. Elephant Seals started to show up on the beaches near Big Sur by 1982 and at the Point Piedras Blancas area in 1991 and their population has been growing ever since. Seals are on the beach year-round but the time of year dictates their activity.

Dinner: At the hotel.

Evening: We’ll be joined by a local expert for a lecture on Julia Morgan, one of America's most important and prolific architects. She was the first woman to study architecture at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and the first woman to work as a professional architect in California. During her 45-year career, Morgan designed more than 700 homes, churches, educational structures, office buildings, hospitals, and stores. She is most famous for Hearst Castle, where she designed virtually everything, supervised construction, and worked closely with Hearst to integrate his enormous art collection into the buildings and grounds. Prepare for check out and transfer in the morning.

Hearst Castle Field Trip, Transfer to Monterey
Monterey Hotel

Activity note: Walking approximated 2/3 of a mile; climbing approximately 159 steps; standing during 45-minute docent-led exploration; limited seating available.

Breakfast: In the hotel restaurant, we’ll enjoy a breakfast buffet plus juice, coffee, water; other beverages available for purchase.

Morning: We’ll check out of the hotel and depart for our field trip to Hearst Castle. It’s a 5-mile ride up the hill from the Visitor Center to the big house! We’ll have a docent led exploration. We’ll begin our exploration in Casa Grande, the main house, starting with the Assembly Room, largest of the 14 sitting rooms and once the gathering place for Hearst's guests. We’ll visit the Refectory, the estate’s only dining room, where mustard and ketchup bottles were interspersed among silver candlesticks. The Billiard Room contains two 1920s era billiard tables, a 15th century Spanish ceiling, and a Renaissance tapestry, examples of Hearst’s prolific art collecting. We’ll also see the theater that showed movies produced by Hearst’s Cosmopolitan Studios, many of which starred his long time companion, Marion Davies. We’ll then have time for self directed exploration to see what you like at your own pace. You can stroll through the extensive gardens, wander around the fantastic outdoor Neptune Pool in Greco-Roman style, and the indoor Roman Pool modeled after the ancient Roman baths with blue Venetian glass and gold tiles. We’ll depart aboard our motorcoach.

Lunch: At a local restaurant with a coastal ambiance, enjoy a plated meal featuring the entrées we selected previously (see “Notes” section for details) plus coffee, tea, water; other beverages available for purchase.

Afternoon: We will continue along the Pacific Coast Highway to Monterey, CA. Enjoy the scenic views of the California coast and the Pacific Ocean. We’ll check- in to the hotel late afternoon.

Dinner: At a restaurant, we’ll enjoy a plated meal.

Evening: At leisure.

Monterey Aquarium, Monterey Peninsula
Monterey Hotel

Activity note: Extent of walking at Monterey Aquarium determined by personal interest.

Breakfast: At the hotel, choose what you like from the breakfast buffet that offers hot and cold choices plus juices, coffee, tea, water.

Morning: We’ll set out on a field trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, located on the bay along Monterey's historic Cannery Row, immortalized by Pulitzer Prize winning author John Steinbeck. Since opening in 1984, the Aquarium has become a leader in ocean conservation through its exhibits, education, research, and conservation programs. It provides literal and figurative insights into the habitats and sea life of one of the world’s richest marine regions. There are 34 major galleries with nearly 200 exhibits showcasing more than 35,000 creatures representing more than 550 species. This is a self directed exploration. View the exhibits and attend the Aquarium programs of interest to you, free with our Aquarium admission. The program schedule is subject to change, so check with the information desk current show times.

Lunch: On your own to enjoy what you like. The Aquarium has a full service restaurant, a café for casual dining, and a coffee bar that also serves pastries and desserts.

Afternoon: We’ll travel via motorcoach with our naturalist and historian who will acquaint us with the Monterey Peninsula, starting with Monterey, the most historic city in California; "New Monterey" or Cannery Row, an area immortalized by John Steinbeck; Pacific Grove, the Butterfly capital of the world; Pebble Beach's famous 17 Mile Drive; and the charming Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Dinner: This meal has been excluded from the program cost and is on your own to enjoy what you like.

Evening: At leisure. Prepare for check out and transfer in the morning.

Transfer to Yosemite National Park
Fish Camp, CA
Tenaya Lodge

Activity note: The drive to Yosemite is about 200 miles, approximately 4 hours. Walking approximately 1.5 miles during the day: 150 feet into El Capitan Meadow; dirt path, flat terrain. To base of Bridalveil Fall is 1 mile roundtrip; steep trail, uneven terrain. Loop at Lower Yosemite Falls is about 1 mile roundtrip, flat, paved.

Breakfast: Hotel buffet.

Morning: We’ll check out and depart Monterey for Yosemite National Park.

Lunch: At historic Wawona Hotel in Yosemite, enjoy a plated lunch with salad, entrée, side dishes, bread and butter, dessert, milk, coffee, tea, water; other beverages available for purchase. The Wawona Hotel is a National Historic Landmark with authentic Victorian architecture set amid the big trees.

Afternoon: Our on-board instructor will lead our field trip through Yosemite Valley, world-famous for its impressive waterfalls, cliffs, and unusual rock formations. The first stop is El Capitan Meadow for a clear view of El Capitan, a favorite for experienced rock climbers. Rising more than 3,000 feet above the Valley floor, it is one of the largest granite monoliths in the world. Our next stop is Bridalveil Fall. At more than 600 feet tall, it is one of the most prominent falls in Yosemite. Some Native American tribes believe it to be the home to a vengeful spirit and that those who look directly into the waterfall will be cursed. In the central valley, we'll visit the Sentinel Bridge and Cook’s Meadow area. Sentinel Bridge is famous for its upstream view of the Half Dome. As we walk through Cook’s Meadow, enjoy views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and Sentinel Rock. The meadow is named after John J. Cook, who owned a hotel in Yosemite Valley in the 1880’s and often grazed cattle there.

Dinner: At the lodge enjoy a plated meal including salad, entrée and dessert.

Evening: At leisure.

Full Day Yosemite National Park Field Trip
Fish Camp, CA
Tenaya Lodge

Activity note: Walking around Mariposa Grove up to 3 miles round trip on uneven terrain. Walking 1 mile on paved path to Lower Yosemite Falls.

Breakfast: At the lodge enjoy a breakfast buffet with a variety of hot and cold items.

Morning: We will visit the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias which contains about 500 mature giant sequoias. Giant sequoias are perhaps the largest living things on Earth and may exceed 3,000 years in age. This grove was a part of the original Yosemite Grant Act that was signed by President Abraham Lincoln along with the Yosemite Valley. John Muir's favorite grove was the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias and advocated for their protection. Reopened on June 15, 2018, the Mariposa Grove restoration project aimed to restore the grove's dynamic ecology and increase the grove's resilience. Many visitors from around the world are eager to visit the beloved grove of trees that has been closed for the last three years. Be prepared to share your experience with other arboreal enthusiasts who may be craning their necks to see the sequoias for the first time. Your patience with the opening and new infrastructure is appreciated. Keep an eye out for the sequoia saplings that have taken root with the absence of people.

Lunch: At the historic Ahwahnee Hotel, enjoy a plated 3-course lunch with salad, entrée, dessert, with coffee, tea, or milk; other beverages available for purchase. The landmark dining room has high beamed ceilings, granite pillars, and floor-to-ceiling windows with views of Half Dome, Glacier Point, and Yosemite Falls.

Afternoon: We’ll walk outside for a talk about the Ahwahnee Hotel that dates from 1927. Known for its magnificent façade and architecture, this hotel was designed to complement its natural surroundings. Ride the free Yosemite Valley Shuttle bus to Lower Yosemite Fall. Starting from the trailhead, we’ll walk the path with our naturalist.

Dinner: Enjoy a plated dinner at the lodge.

Evening: At leisure.

Transfer to San Francisco, City Excursion
San Francisco, California
The Park Central San Francisco

Activity note: The drive to San Francisco is about 185 miles, approximately 4 hours. Getting on/off a motorcoach.

Breakfast: At the lodge.

Morning: We’ll check out and depart Yosemite for San Francisco.

Lunch: En route to San Francisco, we'll stop to have a sit-down plated lunch with entrée, dessert, coffee, tea (hot and iced), water; other beverages available for purchase.

Afternoon: Upon arrival in San Francisco, we’ll be joined by our local San Francisco expert who will provide an introduction and overview of its highlights while we drive through the city. San Francisco is made up of several neighborhoods that each have a unique personality. We’ll check in to our hotel late afternoon.

Dinner: On your own to enjoy what you like. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. San Francisco is known for its culinary delights. A wide variety of food choices are available with walking distance of our hotel. If you have something special in mind, we recommend making reservations in advance.

Evening: At leisure.

Alcatraz Island, Free Afternoon, Farewell Dinner
San Francisco, California
The Park Central San Francisco

Activity note: We’ll be taking a short ferry ride from the San Francisco dock to Alcatraz Island ($37.15 value). Walking distances up to 1/4 mile on steep and uneven terrain on much of Alcatraz.

Breakfast: At the hotel, enjoy a buffet plus juices, coffee, tea, water.

Morning: The history of Alcatraz is much more fascinating and complex than the name it gave to America’s infamous Federal penitentiary. Early native people never settled there because they considered it cursed. Native American activists who occupied it in November 1969 held out for 19 months. Today, it is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and hosts vast numbers of seabirds as well as multitudes of visitors who want to see the former prison that opened to the public in 1973. Contemporary American Indians return each November for commemorative ceremonies. Upon arrival at the Alcatraz dock for our field trip, we will be greeted by a National Park Service ranger who will give a brief orientation including information on any special activities available that day. The remainder of this field trip will be a self guided exploration you can follow according to your own interests, at your own pace. Park Service staff offer free programs to visitors throughout the day on topics such as escapes, military history, American Indian occupation, natural history, and more. There are numerous exhibits including a cell house audio tour covering the penitentiary era.

Lunch: On your own to enjoy what you like.

Afternoon: Free Time. See and do what interests you most. We’ll rendezvous at the restaurant the Group Leader will announce.

Dinner: At a local restaurant, we’ll enjoy a farewell dinner featuring a plated meal plus wine, coffee, tea, water. Share your favorite experiences with new Road Scholar friends.

Evening: At leisure. See something more of the city or just relax. Prepare for check out and departure in the morning.

Program Concludes
San Francisco, California

Activity note: Motorcoach transfer to airport.

Breakfast: Hotel buffet. This concludes our program. We hope you enjoy Road Scholar learning adventures and look forward to having you on rewarding programs in the future. Please join our Facebook page and share photos of your program. Visit us at www.facebook.com/rsadventures. Best wishes for all your journeys!

Morning: Load luggage onto motorcoach for transfer to airport.

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