My husband and I are driving from San Fran to Los Angeles and want to know if anyone can recommend some amazing, must-see stops along the way including restaurants, wineries, hotels, look-out points, scenic drives, etc. We know where we are staying in SF and LA but it's everywhere in-between that we have yet to plan.
You have your choice of 3 parallel routes from SF to LA. The fast way in I-5 - nothing to see but concrete and the California Aqueduct (LA's water supply), but it only takes 6 hrs or so. The slowest route is a combination of CA 101 and Route 1, and it's spectacular - 2 days because you'll be stopping at several places: Carmel and Pt. Lobos State Park on Monterey Peninsula, Big Sur, Hearst Castle, and possibly one or 2 nude beaches south of the Monterey Pen. The last option is to take CA 101 all the way - it's part freeway, and part regular highway with lights. It's possible to do CA 101 in 8 to 10 hrs. If you've never been on the coast, by all means take the slow road - enough spectacular view points to fill up your memory card! Try to take the slow road on a weekday because it gets very crowded around Monterey on weekends.
Thank you for the info D. We have nine days, two of which are in SF, two in Sonoma and two in LA, that leaves three days for Monterrey, Carmel and Big Sur. How quickly can we get to LA if we head there directly from Big Sur on the I-5? Do you suggest staying over in Santa Barbara for a night?
Santa Barbara is a great stop down the coast! Plenty to see and do for a day + visit, nice beaches and historic sites. But the summer months are hard to book accommodations (and they are not the cheapest)... the sooner the better. I was up there a month ago and ended up staying in a quaint Bed & Breakfast outside of San Luis Obispo.
Best advice for the drive... take your time and take lots of pictures! It's amazing!
How quickly can we get to LA if we head there directly from Big Sur on the I-5? Do you suggest staying over in Santa Barbara for a night?
If you decide on Route 1 (the best!) and go to Big Sur, it's not real easy to switch over to I-5. My suggestion, cut one of those days in LA! Yes, SB is nice, but now that it's so large it's not my favorite. It's also one of the most $$$$$ stops (along with Carmel). Many people like to stop near Hearst Castle (San Simeon/Cambria). Stop in SB if you must shop or booze it up. 2 days in Sonoma is also excessive (how much wine can you consume?) There's a very good champagne celler in Sonoma* - the Blanc de Noir is great!
- I fear they'll cut me if I tell you the name!
[ Edit: Edited on Jul 29, 2008, at 3:22 PM by Daawgon ]
If you go to the Monterey/Carmel/Big Sur area, but want/need to get to Los Angeles quickly, then take Highway 68 east out of Monterey to Salinas and from there get on Highway 101 going south.
Once you reach Paso Robles (about 1 1/2 hours south of Salinas), you can either stay on Highway 101 south to Los Angeles, or you can take state highway 46 east to I-5 and go south from there. If you take highway 46 east, you'll save about 1 to 2 hours or so, but the view is not quite as nice as staying along the coast.
As far as things to see, south of San Francisco there are wineries in the Santa Cruz, Monterey, Paso Robles, and Santa Barbara areas. In my opinion, the ones near Paso Robles are the best ones (although the ones here in the Santa Cruz Mountain area aren't bad. My favorites to visit, though, are in Paso Robles--in particular, J. Lohr, Justin, Opolo (the most improved wines in the whole state in my opinion), Eberle, Midnight Cellars (my next door neighbor's favorite), and Wild Horse are a few of the best.
If you do get the chance, though, consider taking Highway 1 south of Big Sur, at least as far as Cambria, and then cutting east to Paso Robles, or continue down to Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo, and then linking up to 101 to go to Solvang (an old Danish town), and Santa Barbara.
In my view, San Francisco and Los Angeles are nice towns, but the real highlight in all of California--and the thing that makes it a great place to come to visit, is the drive down the coast between SF and LA, and the redwood forests along this route. The small beach towns of Santa Cruz and Morro Bay and Carmel, the spectacular views along Highway1, the tiny shopping villages at places like Cambria, the great redwood parks near Santa Cruz and Monterey, the small Danish town of Solvang, the wineries of Paso Robles, the mission at Santa Barbara, and the vistas near Malibu are what set California apart from other places in the world--which is why rushing from large city (SF) to large city (LA) is a major mistake if you came to see what is unique about this state.
I sometimes think that if I had 7 days to visit California and it would be my only time here, I'd spend 1 day in LA (tops), maybe one to two days in San Francisco, and the other 3 to 4 days in the area between SF and LA--with maybe 1 day on Mission Bay (with dinner in Old Town) in San Diego. (And 1 day in Yosemite, only if I had 8 days instead of 7).
Oh, and I forgot to mention the two Paso Robles wineries (there were 5 wineries total, but the other three were in Napa Valley) that shared the award for top Cabernet Savignon at the California State Fair this year: Calcareous Vineyards and Kenneth Volk Vineyards.
P.S. The Europeans seem to be taking the approach that if you can't beat them, buy them. An Italian (along with an American) bought Stags Leap of Napa Valley last year for $185 million, and the French are buying Chauteau Montelena (also of Napa Valley) this month for $110 million. Interesting timing since Chauteau Montelena is the subject of a movie coming out in a week--entitled "Bottle Shock"--about how their wine won the big Paris blind taste-testing back in 1973.
[ Edit: Edited on Jul 30, 2008, at 2:08 PM by Calcruzer ]
Thank you so much for the information. My husband collects wine so I'm sure he will want to visit a few recommended places. He'll probably also want to see that movie when it releases. I suppose you've seen Sideways a bunch of times? We enjoyed it and I'm a Steinbeck fan, so this trip is long overdue. In the last 24 hours we've booked some great inns along the way to L.A. as well as made reservations at some restaurants. We're looking at Ad Hoc, Cyrus, Bouchon and others. Are you a foodie too? My husband would love to do French Laundry but I don't believe food needs to be that expensive so we're skipping it (so he says now, but we'll see...).
Do you recommend a specific winery in Sonoma/Napa or only Paso Robles? I can't figure out which are Napa and which are PR...
Well, the most impressive place to go in Sonoma/Napa is the Tattinger's Domaine Carneros site (champagnes and wine wines)--right on the main road that runs between the two valleys. (Highway 121). On this same road, but in the other direction (heading towards San Francisco) is Gloria Ferrer.
Near the Sonoma downtown area are the reds of Sebastiani's and Ravenwood. After you leave town aways, there is Kenwood, Kunde, and then the most beautiful of all the wineries, Ledson.
If you feel adventurous, quite a ways north (like 15 miles north) is Kendall Jackson, (and then another 15 miles, total 30 miles or so from Sonoma City), are Ferrari-Carano, and a whole bunch of wineries. Head west from here to go to the wineries in the Russian River area--which is also where the brandy maker Korbel has their shops and wine-tasting place.
To save time, I'd just do the ones I've listed up to Ledson.
Here's a map of the Sonoma wine region:
P.S. As far as food, I'm not the kind to spend French Laundry kind of money when I can get essentially just as good at many places in San Francisco and the local areas. But that's just me. If you can afford it, they say it's spectacular food--so give it a go. I'd say the best meal I ever had was probably in Paul Prudomme's place in New Orleans--but I've had great food the world over. To give you an idea, I'd say the best ricotto (butternut ricotto) I ever had was at the Mariott in Chepstow in south Wales--so you can find good stuff everywhere.
San Francisco ranks up there, but then I haven't been to the top restaurants of Paris--or even New York, despite having been to Paris at least 5 times, and New York City, probably 40 times. Maybe I'll get the chance during my next trips to these places.