I'm from Australia and will be arriving on 20th May in LAX, hiring a car and driving up to San Francisco. I will have 7 full days of travel for my journey, I've noticed some really good recommendations on this forum for travelling in the other direction, look forward to some tips on this route.
Thanks very much
Okay, first things first--book all of your hotels on whatever route you take before leaving Australia. You will be here in California in the "high" season, and the hotels in both smaller and larger towns will fill up during ths period. Also, you should be aware that the weekend of May 27-30 is "Memorial Day" weekend in the entire United States and is considered the first major travel (vacation) weekend for all of the local residents also.
I'll post a route for you in a day or two. It's already 1:18 in the morning here now--so I need to get some sleep.)
Quoting VegasMike6's posting on another similar thread:
I vote that you DO rent a car and drive it yourself. There are so many things to see between LA & SF that it would be worth your time IMO to drive this part of Calif.
I will list only a few of the places you might want to visit.
Santa Barbara is a very pretty town and could be your lunch stop. Solvang is a Danish town close to Santa Barbara that many visitors enjoy. Pismo Beach, Morro Bay, and a must see is The Hearst Castle at San Simeon. My friends stay at Cambria and just love it. It might be a place to spend one night. Farther up Highway 1 is Big Sur, Carmel & Monterey. Santa Cruz is next up and has a historic boardwalk & amusement park.
Off the coast, but certainly worth visiting is Yosemite NP. There are more things to see/do between La & SF than you have the time for, but I would spend a few of your days driving this scenic section of Calif.
Since I agree with everything vegasmike6 wrote here, I'm going to discuss a possible route, using his suggestions (and adding in two places just a short ways north of San Francisco).
[ Edit: Edited on 20-Apr-2011, at 09:13 by Calcruzer ]
May 20th- Arrive in Los Angeles and spend the day touring this town and spend the night in this area--probably near Santa Monica (It's a long way from Australia to California).
May 21st- Drive north from Los Angeles on Hwy 1 past Malibu and connect to Hwy 101 (near Oxnard). Continue up past Ventura into Santa Barbara. Since it is the weekend, Santa Barbara will be packed. Park near the train station, which allows for an easy walk to both the main pier and beach and also to the main part of Santa Barbara (both along State Street). Enjoy some Mexican food and a Mexican beer or margarita (okay, since you are going to walk afterwards for awhile) in town for lunch and tour up and down this street. Drive up to the old mission and take a short tour of it and the adjoining rose gardens just down the hill from the mission. Continue on up Hwy 101 the 75 miles or so to Buellton, then exit and drive the four miles east to Solvang. Rent a bike or just walk around and enjoy the scenic Danish town. Go back to Buellton and then north the 8 miles to the Hwy 154 exit. Right here, get off and as you do, make a right turn. Now to the right is Michael Jackson's Neverland ranch--and the road that goes to the left heads to the local wineries (such as Firestone and Zaca Mesa). The road that goes straight ahead goes to Los Olivos. Book ahead at the Los Olivos Cafe for dinner--made famous from the movie "Sideways"--this where the two couples in the movie had their first dinner out. Book your hotel for the night here either, in Buellton or in Solvang.
May 22nd--In the morning, go into Solvang and check out the local pastries at one of their many bakeries--or try a Danish sausage omelet. Drive north to Pismo Beach area. You can do some quick shopping at the cheap "outlets" in Arroyo Grande (just before you get to Pismo) or just head straight for the beach areas for a quick walk around. Leaving Pismo, head on up to San Luis Obispo and stop in at the Madonna Inn to see their strange rooms or just head west on Hwy 1 to Morro Bay immediately. From here, get on Hwy 41 towards Atascadero, but go only about 4 miles on this road and you'll see a gigantic avocado farm on the left which sells about 5 different types of avocados. See if they have any ripe ones available for you to purchase. Turning around, head back towards Morro Bay and get on Hwy 1 north all the way to Cambria. Visit the main part of town, then go to the north end of town and turn left at the signal to drive down to the Moonstone Beach area. I suggest eating at the Moonstone Beach Cafe and getting a hotel in this area. Then drive north about 6 miles to San Simeon and take a tour of Hearst Castle (buy these tickets even before leaving Australia==on the California state parks website, because they always sell out in the summertime). After the tour go back to Cambria and spend the night.
May 23rd - Okay, a bit of a detour today--primarily because the road (Hwy 1) north of San Simeon is closed between here and Carmel due to a landslide.
Go four miles south on Hwy 1 to Hwy 46. Take this route east towards Paso Robles. After going over the small mountain (where you should stop at the top and take a look back down towards the ocean--a phenomenal view)--then you will end up driving through the Paso Robles wine country. You'll see lots of wineries on both sides of the road--and since you'll be taking this drive on Monday, they won't all be packed (like they would have been on Saturday or Sunday). Stop and enjoy a few wine tastings--but go easy on the amounts--since there is still a lot of driving to do.
(Some of my favorites are Hearthstone and Castoro for reds--and Veris (near Castoro) for whites or champagnes--these are all on the west side. On the east side, right alongside Hwy 46 is Tobin James--kind of an old wild west setup for wine tasting--or you can tour the caves at Eberle Winery--which is kind of interesting--not as crazy about their wines, though). You can find free maps to print out at pasowine.com that show where these (and all the wineries) are. You could take an entire day just to do the wine tasting her if you are into that (since they have 170 wineries in the area)--but if you want to go see Yosemite, you'll need to keep moving.
Anyway, head on north up Hwy 101 to Salinas, where you will take the exit for the "Monterey Peninsula"--Highway 68 is what you are looking for--although as long as you head west, you can end up finding Carmel and Monterey easily enough. In Monterey, visit the Cannery Row area and the Monterey Aquarium--and in Carmel, visit the town center and take at least a portion of the 17 mile drive alongside the water that goes past Pebble Beach and the Cypress Point golf courses. Spend the night somewhere near here.
May 24th--Head out on Hwy 1 north towards San Francisco, then get off on Hwy 156 through Hollister and connect to Hwy 152. Just east of where these two roads meet is a place called "Casa de Fruta" that is worth a stop. Then head east on 152 until you pass the reservoir (lake), then get on 33 going north to 140 going east. Take this to the city of Mariposa, and then on into Yosemite. Come back out on Hwy 120 west to Hwy 49 and then go north to either Angels Camp or Murphys nearby. This is the old "Gold Rush" country--and is famous for tales of mining and jumping frogs and the 1849 Gold Rush that largely put California on the map. This is about a 7 hour drive, though--so start out early on this day.
May 25th--from Angels Camp, head north on Hwy 49 until you reach Placerville, then get on Hwy 50 East and go to South Lake Tahoe. You'll see the casinos as soon as you cross over the Nevada state line. You can either stay here and relax at the pools or spas (and try your luck gambling) and then see a show, or you can go east over to Carson City, then head out east 6 miles, and cut north to visit Virginia City (formerly the largest city west of Chicago except for San Francisco--but now home to fewer than 1,000 residents). Made famous by its Comstock Lode mining operation (silver mining) which took billions of dollars of silver from the mines--and by the television show "Bonanza". It still looks exactly like an old western town--and has lots of interesting tourist places--including Mark Twain' old newspaper office, a tour of some mines--and Wild West Saloons complete with old bartenders and young saloon girls. From here drive the 20 miles up to Reno (or back to Lake Tahoe)--and spend the night (if you didn't stop in Lake Tahoe already).
May 26th--Drive Interstate 80 back through Sacramento towards San Francisco. Stop for lunch at Davis--a well-known college town just 15 miles west of Sacramento that has lots of interesting ethnic restaurants. Take a detour when you get to Fairfield and drive on Hwy 12 into Napa Valley. Go up to Calistoga and spend the night here at one of their hotels with the spa waters that run underground and is piped into the hotels--or continue on to the Sonoma Valley just a few miles on to the west. The main square here has an old mission, a cheese factory/store--and wineries in all directions. About halfway between Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley on the main road (Hwy 12) is the Tattinger Carneros winery--a must stop in my view because of its beauty and great views. They also give a great tour/video on how wine/champagne is made.
May 27th--On the way to San Francisco, head out west (instead of straight south) and visit the Muir Woods area and the town of Sausalito before arriving at the Golden Gate bridge. If you stop before the bridge (off to the right), you can climb up to a great vista spot and get some photographs of the bridge and the city beyond that will be real "keepers".
Once you cross the bridge, stay to the left which takes you towards the main part of town, plus the Palace of Fine Arts (less than a half mile from the bridge), plus Fisherman's Wharf, Little Italy, Chinatown, Coit Tower, and the Embarcadero area.
Enjoy your trip.
Thanks very much everyone -some very helpful information here, extremely concise! Going to finalize my route over this Easter long weekend here.
Cheers for all your help