California Dreaming: A Journey Beyond the Ordinary

San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts at night time

"Whether you're a wanderer, a foodie, an artist, or a dreamer, California has a place for you, a story for you."

California, the Golden State, is a land of dreams, diversity, and unparalleled beauty. From the iconic Golden Gate Bridge to the star-studded streets of Los Angeles, every mile traveled promises a new adventure.


As a native San Franciscan, I've traveled through this state countless times, and each trip unveils a new facet, a new story. Whether you're a food enthusiast, a nature lover, or simply an avid traveler, this guide will take you on a mesmerizing journey down the Pacific Coast.

Packing Tips:

Before we embark on this journey, a word to the wise: California's weather can be as diverse as its landscapes. San Francisco, with its microclimates, can be particularly tricky. So, pack a lightweight jacket, comfortable walking shoes, and perhaps a scarf or two. Trust us; the Bay Area's chilly winds have caught many off-guard! And if you're venturing on a boat ride, bundle up!

golden gate bridge - vegan travel from SF to LA

Wine Country: Beyond the Vines


For any wine aficionado, the rolling vineyards of Sonoma and Napa Valley are a sight to behold. These regions, synonymous with world-class wines, offer more than just a tasting experience. They're a blend of history, culture, and the art of winemaking. However, for the conscious traveler, finding vegan wineries can be a challenge. Here are three gems that not only produce exquisite wines but do so with a vegan touch:


  1. Thumbprint Cellars: Located in the heart of Healdsburg, this winery is where every bottle tells a story of the land, the climate, and the passion that goes into winemaking. Discover their tales.

  2. St. Clair Brown: An urban winery and culinary garden in Napa, it's a place where traditional winemaking meets modern aesthetics. Their garden offers a serene spot to savor their vegan wines. Experience the blend.

  3. Mayo Family Winery: Nestled in the scenic landscapes of Sonoma Valley, this winery is a testament to family, tradition, and passion. Their tasting rooms in Glen Ellen promise an intimate wine experience. Taste the tradition.

Thumbprint Cellars wine bottle
Image: Thumbprint Cellars
Image: St Clair Brown Winery

San Francisco: The City of Golden Moments


As a native San Franciscan and having worked in this bustling city for the majority of my life, I've seen countless tourists embark on their Californian adventure from here. San Francisco, though compact at just 7x7 miles, is a treasure trove of experiences. From its iconic landmarks to its hidden gems, the city promises memories that last a lifetime.

With its blend of urban charm and natural beauty, is a city that promises endless discoveries. Whether you're walking its steep streets, exploring its diverse neighborhoods, or simply soaking in its panoramic views, the city leaves an indelible mark on your heart.

Experience the diversity and culture of San Francisco’s neighborhoods, such as Chinatown, Haight-Ashbury, North Beach, and The Castro. You can explore the history, architecture, art, and cuisine of each area.


  • Golden Gate Park: A green oasis in the heart of the city, this park spans over 1,000 acres. It's not just about the greenery; it's about the experiences - the Japanese Tea Garden, the Conservatory of Flowers, and the California Academy of Sciences. The park is a testament to nature's beauty, right in the middle of urban hustle.

  • Mission District: A canvas of vibrant murals, this district is the heart of San Francisco's Latino culture. Beyond its visual appeal, it's a hub for social justice and community activism. Dive into its history with a walking tour or immerse yourself in the arts at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts.

  • Presidio: Once a military base, now a national park and community space. The views of the Golden Gate Bridge are unparalleled. My personal recommendation? Fort Point. Stand beneath the Golden Gate Bridge and let the Pacific's vastness captivate you.

  • Chinatown: Dive into the rich tapestry of Chinese heritage. From bustling markets to tranquil temples, it's a sensory delight. Experience authentic Chinese culture at the Fortune Cookie Factory or delve into history at the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum.

  • Haight-Ashbury: The echoes of the '60s still resonate here. A haven for artists and bohemians, this neighborhood is a blend of vintage charm and modern creativity.


For those who love structured exploration, here are two tours that promise a unique San Francisco experience:


  • GoCar Tour: An early bird's delight! Explore San Francisco in a GoCar, ensuring you don't miss any of the city's iconic spots. From the Golden Gate to Lombard Street, it's an adventure on wheels. BOOK GoCar HERE.

  • Sunset Cruise: Experience the magic of San Francisco Bay at sunset. Aboard a luxury catamaran, witness the city's landmarks bathed in golden hues. It's not just a cruise; it's a memory. BOOK CRUISE HERE.

Image: GoCar Tour
Image: Sunset Cruise by Luxury Catamaran

Plant-Based places to eat in San Francisco: San Francisco is a haven for all culinary tastes. While there are numerous options to choose from around the city, here are some standout spots to consider during your visit:


  • Description: Founded by celebrity chef Matthew Kenney, BAIA offers elevated Italian classics like lasagna, pasta, and pizza. Expect hearty plant-based meatballs served over soft polenta and buttery garlic knots.

  • Website: BAIA SF

2. Wildseed

  • Description: Emphasizing seasonal ingredients with a vegetable-forward menu, Wildseed is the epitome of California cuisine. It's a top "special occasion" restaurant with botanically blended cocktails.

  • Website: Wildseed SF

3. Gracias Madre

  • Description: Located in the Mission District, Gracias Madre offers a cozy dining experience with dishes like caramelized onion and sweet potato flautas, and soy chorizo tacos. MICHELIN STARRED

  • Website: Gracias Madre SF

4. Shizen

  • Description: A vegan sushi restaurant that combines classic Japanese Buddhist culinary techniques with local, seasonal ingredients. Known for its "Candlestick" roll that comes to the table with actual flames.


  • Website: Shizen SF

5. Peña Pachamama

  • Description: A North Beach spot offering a menu of half raw, half cooked food. Enjoy Bolivian delicacies while experiencing music, dancing, and special performances.

  • Website: Peña Pachamama

6. Nourish Café

  • Description: Offers healthy salads, hearty grain bowls, and baked goods made without refined flours or sugars. Known for its grilled cheese sandwiches with fresh pesto and tomatoes.

  • Website: Nourish Cafe SF

7. Wholesome Bakery

  • Description: A vegan bakery known for its decadent cakes, soft cookies, and buttery scones. All treats are gluten-free and have no refined sugars.

  • Website: Wholesome Bakery SF

8. Beloved Café

  • Description: Offers deeply nourishing smoothies and superfood bowls in the Mission District. A serene oasis for relaxation and rejuvenation.

  • Website: Beloved Cafe SF

9. Judahlicious

  • Description: A throwback to the hippie era, offering green juices, hot soup, raw desserts, and sprouts. Located near Land’s End and Ocean Beach.

  • Website: Judahlicious

10. The Happy Vegan

  • Description: Offers loaded bagel sandwiches and toasts without gluten, soy, or GMOs. A pickup and delivery-only spot.

  • Website: Happy Vegan SF

11. Cha-Ya SF

  • Description: A vegan Japanese restaurant offering dishes from curry udon to stuffed miso-glazed eggplant. Known for its Creamy Yasai noodle soup.

  • Website: Cha-Ya SF

12. Loving Hut

  • Description: A worldwide vegan restaurant chain offering a diverse menu from Vietnamese to Chinese with classic American fare.

  • Website: Loving Hut SF

13. Vegan Mob

  • Description: Food truck that offers smoky, slow-cooked BBQ proteins. Known for its combo plate with various delicious sides.

  • Instagram: Vegan Mob

14. Next Level Burger 

  • Description: A national chain offering burgers, shakes, and a twin concept focusing on plant-based chicken.

  • Instagram: Next Level Burger

15. VeganBurg

  • Description: A vegan burger chain from Singapore on a mission to make fast food sustainable. Offers a variety of plant-based patties and loaded fries.

  • Website: VeganBurg SF

16. Golden Era Vegan Restaurant

  • Description: Offers Asian-fusion dishes in the Civic Center area.

  • Website: Golden Era SF

17. Thai Idea

  • Description: A vegan Thai restaurant offering dishes without the fear of fish sauce or shrimp paste. Known for its Wing Bomb appetizer.

  • Website: Thai Idea SF

18. IndoChine Vegan

  • Description: Offers sizzling teriyaki vegan chicken and sushi rolls with kale salad on the side and Thai iced tea.

  • Website: IndoChine SF

19. Lucky Creation

  • Description: Offers vegan dim sum in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Known for its Taro Fish and cheesecakes.

  • Facebook: Lucky Creation

The Coastal Beauty: Driving South from San Francisco

Embarking on the journey south from San Francisco, the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) awaits, promising a mesmerizing blend of urban allure and nature's grandeur. This iconic drive, stretching from the bustling streets of San Francisco to the serene beauty of Carmel and Big Sur, is a testament to California's diverse landscapes.


Car Rentals: A car is essential for this leg of the journey. We've always found Discover Cars or RentalCars to be a reliable choice in our experience.


The drive from San Francisco to Carmel and Big Sur is approximately 150 miles, translating to about three hours of drive time. But trust us, you'll want to stretch that time, making frequent stops to soak in the views and explore the myriad attractions dotting the route.


  • Half Moon Bay: Just 30 miles south of San Francisco, this coastal town is a haven for beach lovers and art enthusiasts. Whether you're looking to catch some waves, indulge in a scenic picnic at the Half Moon Bay State Beach, or simply stroll through its art galleries, this town promises a tranquil break from the drive.

  • Santa Cruz: Another 45 miles down the PCH, the vibrant beach town of Santa Cruz beckons. Renowned for its iconic boardwalk and amusement park, it's a place where the ocean meets entertainment. For nature lovers, the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park offers a chance to wander amidst ancient redwood groves.

  • Monterey: A further 45 miles south, the historic city of Monterey offers a blend of marine life, cultural heritage, and scenic beauty. While the city is known for its marine conservation efforts, travelers can also explore Cannery Row, a waterfront street that's now a bustling hub of shops, eateries, and boutique hotels.

  • Carmel-by-the-Sea: Just a short drive from Monterey, this enchanting village is characterized by its fairy-tale-like cottages, art galleries, and pristine beaches. It's an ideal spot for a leisurely stroll, some shopping, or simply relaxing by the sea.

  • Big Sur: The crown jewel of the PCH, Big Sur is where the mountains kiss the ocean. This 90-mile stretch between Carmel-by-the-Sea and San Simeon is a visual masterpiece. From the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge to the serene McWay Falls, every turn offers a postcard-perfect view. For those looking to delve deeper into Big Sur's beauty, this guided half-day tour promises an immersive experience.

Overnight Stays: After a day filled with exploration, finding a cozy spot to rest is essential. For those looking to stay in the Carmel or Monterey region, here are two sustainable options:


  1. Quail Lodge & Golf Club: Nestled amidst the green landscapes of Carmel, this resort promises luxury and relaxation. Whether you're a golf enthusiast or simply seeking tranquility, this place has it all. Book your stay.

  2. Portola Hotel & Spa: Located in the heart of Monterey, this hotel offers a blend of comfort and sustainability. With its proximity to major attractions and commitment to eco-friendly practices, it's a top pick for conscious travelers. Book your stay.

Bixby Bridge - Big Sur
Bixby Bridge - Big Sur

Santa Barbara: The Coastal Gem of Southern California


As the Pacific Coast Highway unfolds its scenic wonders, the picturesque city of Santa Barbara emerges, offering a blend of Mediterranean vibes, Spanish colonial architecture, and pristine beaches. This coastal gem is not only a visual treat but also a haven for sustainable travelers and vegans.

The Journey Continues: Transitioning from the rugged beauty of Monterey, the drive to Santa Barbara via the Pacific Coast Highway is approximately 240 miles, taking around 4 hours and 30 minutes without stops. This route is a visual symphony, with the Pacific Ocean's azure waves, rugged cliffs, and serene beaches playing the main notes. Along the way, you'll encounter iconic Californian landmarks like Big Sur, San Simeon, Morro Bay, Pismo Beach, and Santa Maria.


  • Santa Barbara Botanic Garden: Spanning 78 acres, this garden is a living testament to California's native flora, some of which are rare and endangered. Wander through its trails and immerse yourself in the state's diverse plant life. The garden's conservation and research programs further its commitment to preserving California's natural heritage.

  • Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History: Dive deep into the region's natural history through interactive exhibits and programs. From the mysteries of the universe in its planetarium to the wonders of the ocean at its sea center, the museum offers a comprehensive look at the world around us.

  • Santa Barbara Farmers Market: A celebration of fresh, local, and organic produce awaits you here. With over 130 farmers and vendors, this market is a testament to sustainable agriculture and community development. As you shop, the aroma of fresh produce fills the air, complemented by live music and a plethora of vegan delights.



In need of a bite? Mesa Verde Restaurant: For those with a penchant for vegan cuisine, Mesa Verde Restaurant is a must-visit. Drawing inspiration from Mediterranean and Mexican flavors, the dishes here are crafted using organic and locally-sourced ingredients. A highlight from their menu is the street tacos, a treat for the taste buds.

Eco-Friendly Exploration: For those keen on exploring Santa Barbara in an eco-friendly manner, this Electric Bike Tour offers a unique perspective of the city. Glide through its streets, taking in the sights and sounds, all while leaving a minimal carbon footprint.

Overnight Stays: After a day of exploration, retreat to the Hotel Milo Santa Barbara. This eco-friendly and pet-friendly haven promises a blend of luxury and sustainability, ensuring your stay is both comfortable and conscious.

Santa Barbara

Journey to the City of Angels: Los Angeles Unveiled


Los Angeles, the City of Dreams, is a vibrant tapestry of creativity, culture, and cinematic magic. Nestled between the glistening Pacific Ocean and the rugged San Gabriel Mountains, it's a global hub where the entertainment industry flourishes, diverse traditions intertwine, and innovation reigns supreme. Whether you're drawn to the cinematic allure of Hollywood, the gastronomic delights reflecting its rich cultural mosaic, or the sun-kissed beaches and scenic trails, LA promises a unique experience for every traveler.


Driving down to Los Angeles via the Pacific Coast Highway to Santa Monica. The distance from Santa Barbara to Santa Monica is about 90 miles by car. The driving time is approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes without stopping. However, this may vary depending on the traffic conditions and the route you choose. The Pacific Coast Highway route is more scenic and follows the coast for most of the drive, passing through places like Ventura, Malibu, and Pacific Palisades.


Vegan restaurants you should try in Los Angeles: LA is a mecca for plant-based eating, and while the list is long, here are some highlights to explore during your trip:

1. Cafe Gratitude

  • Location: Multiple locations in LA

  • Top Recommendation: Chocolatey peanut butter treat made with puffed quinoa.

  • Why: A staple for LA visitors, Cafe Gratitude offers a delightful vegan menu with a homey touch. Their weekend brunch is a must-try, especially the vegan french toast and pancakes. Dive into their crispy quinoa almond butter square for a sweet treat!

  • Website: Cafe Gratitude

2. LOVE Organic

  • Location: West Hollywood

  • Top Recommendation: Patsyu, Pad Thai, and the spicy tuna crispy rice made with tofu.

  • Why: A fusion of Thai, Japanese, and Mexican dishes, LOVE Organic is a haven for those seeking diverse vegan options. Their dishes are not just vegan but are crafted with love and organic ingredients.

  • Website: LOVE Organic

3. Erewhon

  • Location: Multiple locations

  • Top Recommendation: Vegan tofu sticks, buffalo cauliflower, and Japanese roasted sweet potatoes from the hot bar.

  • Why: Erewhon is not just a restaurant but a high-end market offering a plethora of vegan options. Their hot bar is a must-visit, with dishes that are both delicious and health-conscious.

  • Website: Erewhon

4. Sidecar Donuts

  • Location: Santa Monica and other locations in LA

  • Top Recommendation: Seasonal vegan and gluten-friendly donuts.

  • Why: Sidecar Donuts is a haven for donut lovers. With a rotating vegan flavor every season, it's a sweet spot you can't miss!

  • Website: Sidecar Donuts

5. Pura Vita

  • Location: West Hollywood & Redondo Beach

  • Top Recommendation: Vegan pizza with a gluten-free crust.

  • Why: Pura Vita brings Italian classics to the vegan table. Their vegan pizza, especially with the gluten-free crust, is a game-changer. Dive into the Italian vegan world here!

  • Website: Pura Vita

6. Pine and Crane

  • Location: Downtown LA and Silver Lake

  • Top Recommendation: Vegan scallion pancakes and bok choy dumplings.

  • Why: Authentic Taiwanese flavors with a vegan twist. Pine and Crane offers dishes that are rich in flavor and tradition.

  • Website: Pine and Crane


  • Location: Beverly Hills

  • Top Recommendation: Vegan croissants.

  • Why: While LADURÉE no longer offers a full vegan menu, their vegan croissants are a must-try. This iconic French bakery ensures every croissant is flaky, buttery, and absolutely delightful.

  • Website: LADURÉE



Sustainable Ways to Explore LA: For those looking to explore Los Angeles in an eco-friendly manner, the city offers a plethora of sustainable activities. From non-profits dedicated to greening the city to eco-friendly tours, LA is at the forefront of sustainable urban living. 


For a detailed guide on sustainable activities in LA, check out Sustainable Ways to See LA.

Venice Beach

Exploring the Coastal Cities:

  • Malibu: A coastal city known for its celebrity homes, scenic beaches, and natural parks. Activities include surfing at Malibu Lagoon State Beach, visiting the Malibu Pier, and hiking in Malibu Creek State Park.

  • Santa Monica: A vibrant city known for its iconic beach, historic pier, and bustling Third Street Promenade. Attractions include Santa Monica State Beach, Santa Monica Pier, and Palisades Park.

  • Downtown LA: The heart of Los Angeles, where culture, finance, and history converge. Explore the Arts District, visit the Grand Central Market, and immerse yourself in the city's rich heritage.


Concluding this Californian Adventure:


As we draw our journey through California to a close, it's essential to reflect on the vast tapestry of experiences this golden state offers. From the misty allure of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge to the sun-kissed beaches of Santa Monica, from the rugged cliffs of Big Sur to the bustling streets of Los Angeles, California is more than just a destination; it's a feeling, an adventure, a story waiting to be told.



This article has been a mere glimpse into the heart of California, a state that seamlessly blends nature's grandeur with human-made marvels. 


Every corner of this state whispers tales of dreams realized, of boundaries pushed, and of cultures celebrated. The vegan delights we explored are not just about food but a testament to California's spirit of innovation and its commitment to a sustainable future.

As you embark on your own Californian adventure, remember that every road you take, every beach you walk on, and every bite you savor is a part of this state's rich tapestry. Whether you're a wanderer, a foodie, an artist, or a dreamer, California has a place for you, a story for you.


So, pack your bags, set your spirit free, and let California's magic envelop you. Here's to the sunsets you'll chase, the waves you'll dance with, and the memories you'll create. Until next time, keep California dreaming.



Marcus A.

Lombard Street - San Francisco
Lombard Street - San Francisco