California Coast (San Fran to San Diego)

Travel Forums North America California Coast (San Fran to San Diego)

1. Posted by nomadgirl (Budding Member 72 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

hey guys, decided to take a drive for a week from san fran to san diego.....any advice, tips, suggestions?

gonna go from dec 3-9....

greatly appreciate it :)

2. Posted by nomadgirl (Budding Member 72 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

ah....anybody? haha

3. Posted by Sander (Moderator 5472 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

It's always the case with these type of questions that the more information you yourself provide (what kind of things do you like to do/see/experience? Are you going for gorgeous nature, partying, seeing all the touristy sights, shopping, surfing, ...?), the better other people can help.
Having driven from Los Angeles to San Francisco in two days once (over highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, which I'm pretty much instinctively assuming you're going to take; don't even think about the I-5, it's so booooooooring), I can say that the most interesting stretch (gorgeous scenery-wise) by far was a bit south of Big Sur up to Santa Cruz, while Santa Maria to Los Angeles was rather boring (with perhaps the exception of Santa Barbara, which was nice to wander around at for a while).
The coast around Big Sur definitely is the highlight of the road, and I can recommend frequent stops whenever an opportunity presents itself. The big problem here is accommodation, which is near inexistent (and highly expensive where it exists). That's a shame, as driving this stretch around sunset is greatly recommended, especially if you catch the usual early evening clouds rolling in at just the right time, with the sunlight filtering through and turning it all into a magical wonderland.
Other than that, I found Santa Cruz to be a nice little city to explore, and although I only drove through myself, I heard good things about Monterey.

Los Angeles is grey, grey, grey, and best left behind as soon as possible in favour of San Diego.

4. Posted by Calcruzer (Travel Guru 2007 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

Okay, here's the bit:

Enjoy San Francisco--Columbus Avenue, Chinatown, Fisherman's Wharf, etc. (hopefully they will have cleaned up this stupid oil spill by the time you get here), then head south on Interstate 280 (don't you dare take Highway 101 unless you like to see strip malls and industrial sites). Take Highway 280 to Winchester Blvd in San Jose, get off and turn left and cross over to the other side of the freeway. On your left is the Winchester Mystery House, and on your right is Santana Row (the best shopping center in northern California). Visit the one and then go get something to eat at Straits or Left Bank or Consuelo's or Rosey McCann's or one of the other nice restaurants in the mall--or at one of the two Krung Thai restaurants within 3 blocks. Then, if you can dress up, go to Sino for a drink and conversation and dancing.

Get a motel nearby. Next morning go to Los Gatos and spend some time cruising up and down Santa Cruz Avenue (main street). Leave here and take Highway 17 south down through the redwoods to Scotts Valley (my home town), then on south to Santa Cruz. Stop off in Capitola and tour the mini downtown area near the beach. Go to Shadowbrook (ask the locals how to get there--it's too hard to explain) just to grab a drink and see this fabulous restaurant and tour their waterfalls, herb gardens, and take their gondola ride up and down the hillside. Continue on to Monterey passing through the strawberry and artichoke fields on the way. Make sure you get to Monterey just after 11 AM or so when the fog has burned off--but while you still have time to tour the place--and get to Carmel (see below)

In Monterey, go to Canery Row and tour the aquarium--one of the top three in the country (the others are in Chicago and Baltimore) and the unusual shops. Enjoy the street musicians--and the absolutely fantastic views. If you want, there is a grand prix track just east of here that you can go visit (and sometimes even drive on) also. Take Highway 68 and go 7 miles east to get to that.

Drive a short ways south and take the 17 mile drive alongside the beach at Pebble Beach golf links. Then go to Carmel and tour the city--and visit the beach (cleanest beach in California). Stay somewhere back near Monterey (Carmel's too expensive).

Day 3 go south down Highway 1 along the coast to Hearst Castle in San Simeon and tour the place. Normally, you would have to buy these tickets ahead of time--but in December you should be okay. After your tour, go to Cambria and take the road along the shoreline or tour the city. They have a place here that sells great pies.

Go just a short ways south and head inland on Highway 46 towards Paso Robles. All along this road for the next 20 miles are wineries where you can do some wine tasting before you get a motel close by (don't want to be driving drunk). Visit the interesting olive oil place in town in downtown Paso Robles--or the caves at Eberle Winery on the east side or the wine cellars at various places on the way. A few of my favorite wineries are Summerfield, J.Lohr, Midnight Cellars, Justin, and Opolo.

From here go south to Buellton, get off Highway 101 and go east to Solvang (an old Danish town with great bakeries and quaint shops). Rent a bike if the weather is nice and ride around town and over to the old mission. Then go south and spend the night in Santa Barbara. Enjoy the evening walking up and down State Street and along the beach area.

Next day, (Day 5) go south to the LA area. I suggest you head out towards South Pasadena and stay near there and tour the Huntington Gardens in San Marino (close by). On Day 6, head south along Highway 1 to San Diego. In San Diego, go to "Old San Diego" and enjoy the old Mexican village, and have a great Mexican meal while listening to mariachis in the lit up haciendas. The next day, go to Sea World or just down to the gaslight district (or both). If the weather is good, go to the San Diego Hilton on Mission Bay and rent some waverunners and have a blast riding these (or a sailboat if you like something calmer) on Mission Bay.

P.S. I'm presuming you are driving one way, then flying back (take Southwest one way for the cheap fares--I think it's only $39 one way if you book now--14 days ahead of time or more and fly on a weekday--since they are full on the weekends). If that's not the case, then shorten this trip up and head back to San Francisco via the two national parks of Sequoia and Yosemite if you have the time. Otherwise, it is possible to drive back from LA to SF in one day via Interstate 5--but it will be the most boring day you have ever spent in a car in your life.


5. Posted by nomadgirl (Budding Member 72 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

wow! thanks for the great advice! i can't wait to experience this itinerary!

6. Posted by Calcruzer (Travel Guru 2007 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

Have a great time. One last thing I forgot to mention is that you should try and visit the Santa Barbara mission when you are there (it's the second largest one in the state--and probably the most beautiful (along with the one in Carmel). Right next to the mission is a park with beautiful roses (although I don't know if they will be flowering in December).


7. Posted by nomadgirl (Budding Member 72 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

thanks for your great advice calcruzer and sander!

any recommendations on a good area to stay in santa barbara?

8. Posted by Calcruzer (Travel Guru 2007 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

Best places are down near the harbor/pier, along the beach. Next best would be on State Street itself--somewhere near where it crosses Mission Street.

P.S. Also, staying in Montecito is nice--but extremely expensive. Consider staying in Goleta for the cheapest hotels that are still in a nice area (Goleta is where the University of California at Santa Barbara is--but the area is about 7 miles from the central part of Santa Barbara)


9. Posted by snorklebum (Budding Member 13 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

Don't forget that SD is gateway to Tijuana if you want to top off your drive by crossing into Mexico. If you are not American, make sure you have a multi-entry visa.

San Diego is all about the beach, really. Pacific/Mission Beaches are great for skating and biking...miles of Cal beach a great place for the young, volleyball, a roller coaster, lots of bars and coffeehouses.
Bananas Bungalos hostel is a great place if you want a wild time with lots of Australians and other beach loving travelers.

Ocean Beach is counterculture heaven. Surfpunks, hippies, all fits in here. Lots of bars, a cool cafe out on the pier where you can watch surfers and sometimes seals. South of there you can walk on the rocks and hit minibeaches along the cliffs. North of the pier leads up to dog beach if you like dogs it's great...they go nuts out there. Check out The Black...the country's most eclectic head/lifestyle shop.

La Jolla is pricey, but a great place to walk along the shore. From the cove, one of the most beautiful spots in the country you can walk south to the Children's full of seals and sea lions...a sheltered area created by a jetty that arches out to sea...and has a walkway all the way to the end. Windandsea and other breaches further down...reachable by walking along rock shelves with tidepools and such are classic Beach Boys calif stretches of sand.

It's hard to get to, but if you really like nude beaches, Black's Beach up by UCSD is a famous one.

North of San Diego PCH runs through a series of small towns that are very cool for shopping, sipping a drink by the sea, etc. Cardiff, Solana Beach, Encintas, etc.

Sounds like you're in for a great drive.

10. Posted by snorklebum (Budding Member 13 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

BTW if you are above hostel class and want a hotel you will remember, try the Catamaran in Pacific Beach. It's on the Bay side, not the ocean, but it's one cool place with beach and boardwalk out front, ocean across the street, near everything.

For a once in a lifetime stay, there are cottages right out on the Crystal Pier.

Lots of cheaper hotels in PB, also. Look around the free paper stands and you can find a little book with coupons that might come in handy,