Northern California Trip Report (Series Introduction)

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Northern California 2016

Back in July (yeesh, I can’t believe it was that long ago already), Ken and I traveled to Northern California for a week. One of Ken’s friends from college was getting married to his long-time girlfriend in Oakland, and we were invited! We figured, if we’re going to spend 5 hours on a plane traveling from the east coast to the Bay Area, we may as well make a vacation out of it!  

Northern California Trip Itinerary | Travel | Santa Cruz | Big Sur | Carmel | San Francisco | Muir Woods

It was interesting because Ken and I are not summer travelers. Fall and spring all the way!** I despise heat, crowds, and the more expensive travel rates that come with summer travel. But luckily one of those elements would be avoided – the heat! Northern California weather is gorgeous all year round, so that was a big plus!  

We considered lots of itinerary options, and ultimately decided on two nights in Santa Cruz, two nights in Big Sur (Carmel), and four nights in San Francisco.  

We used a mix of points and paid travel for this trip.

The Flights

Knowing that San Francisco is serviced by JetBlue, I pretty quickly decided that I wanted to try out JetBlue’s Mint class. We booked our flights from DCA to SFO (which included a short connection at JFK).  We opted for one points ticket and one paid ticket. For the points ticket, I transferred points from American Express Membership Rewards. It doesn’t have a great transfer value (250 MR to 200 JetBlue points), but I didn’t have any big plans for Membership Rewards points coming up, so just transferred some anyway.  For the paid ticket, we spent $617 (which included both segments, DCA-JFK-SFO), which I thought was an excellent price for lay flat seats on a five hour flight.  

The return flights were a little trickier. I try my hardest to avoid connections when returning from a vacation. But decent seats (read: lay flat) on a nonstop from SFO to any DC area airport was a tough find. Ultimately, I found one daily United flight that was a nonstop from SFO to Washington Dulles on a 777 with lay flat seats! And lo and behold, it had points options available.  It was a three-cabin aircraft, but we just opted for business class seats.  Boom.  100,000 miles (there was no saver availability) and $11.20 for two tickets.


The Hotels

I tried multiple VRBO and AirBnB options for this trip, but didn’t have any luck, as I lamented in this post.  So, we would have to stick to hotels.

Points redemption / chain hotel options in Santa Cruz close to the beach were extremely limited, so we stayed at a B&B called the West Cliff Inn in Santa Cruz. It was actually the first B&B we’ve ever stayed at, and it was fantastic.  So, we paid out of pocket for this hotel, but were able to use some Barclay Arrival Card points to recoup some of the costs in the form of a credit card statement credit.

In Big Sur, i was able to score two free nights in an Ocean View King with Balcony at the Hyatt Highlands Inn Carmel. The nights were 25,000 Hyatt points each. That same room was going for more than $600 / night, so that was a great redemption value!  Plus, they didn’t charge a resort fee.  

After exploring multiple points options hotels in San Francisco (like the Hyatt Regency, and even considering a Fairmont credit card application to get two free nights at the Fairmont in SF), the hotel photos and locations just kind of left me like, meh.  So, we opted for another non-chain hotel for the San Francisco portion of our trip: The Scarlet Huntington. This was also another really fantastic hotel.


The Rental Car

The rental car was definitely a splurge. After enjoying our convertible we had rented a few years earlier in the Florida Keys, we decided to rent one for our Northern California trip too!  We’d pick it up at the airport, use it for our drive along the Pacific Coast highway in Santa Cruz and Big Sur, and then return it at a San Francisco city location since we wouldn’t need a car once we got to the San Francisco portion of our trip. That worked out beautifully, and in fact, the in-city rental car return location was very close to the Scarlet Huntington Hotel.  


What this trip report series will include

I’ll review all the hotels, as well as Jet Blue’s Mint Class and United’s 777 nonstop business class service from SFO-IAD. I’ll also post LOTS of pictures of our pacific coast highway drive, and our sightsee-till-we-dropped activities in San Francisco.


**Interestingly, this was the second year in a row though that we had summer travel plans. The previous year was our Alaska cruise!  Although summer is pretty much the only time to travel to Alaska on a cruise!