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Old 01-24-2020, 07:00 PM
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Help me plan a California Highway 1 road trip


For the past several years I've always traveled overseas for my summer vacations. But last year I bought a new Mazda MX-5 Miata, and ever since I got it I've dreamed of driving it down Highway 1 with the top down. So I think for my vacation this year I will change things up and stay in California and do just that. I'd do it at a leisurely pace, driving just a few hours per day, stopping to see sights along the way, go on hikes, enjoy the beach, or whatever, then stop somewhere for the night. I'll be starting in the Sacramento area and probably ending in Santa Barbara. I'd want the trip to last at least a week, but I'm sure I'll have enough vacation days to stretch it to a slightly longer trip if I want.

So, I'm looking for advice on some good things to see along the way, where to stop each night, and where's the best place to start Hwy 1. My first instinct was to just start in San Francisco, but in Beckdawrek's "traveling west" thread last week Senegoid suggested going south from the Russian River.

So I'm thinking maybe something like this:

Day 1: I-80 west to CA-12. Take 12 through wine country up to Santa Rosa, then CA-116 over the mountains to CA-1. I see Sonoma Coast State Park is right there at the mouth of the Russian River. Is that worth a stop? Perhaps I'll stop there for a hike, or maybe head south and go hiking at Point Reyes and then maybe visit the Muir Woods. Although the Muir Woods is usually crowded and there are other places to see redwoods along my route. That's probably enough for one day, allowing time for hiking and whatnot. I'll probably get a hotel or AirBnb in the Sausalito area. Or do you think that's even too much for one day? Maybe spend the first day just enjoying wine country and spend the night in Santa Rosa, then head to the coast on day 2?

Day 2 (or 3 if I split Day 1 into two days): Cross the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco. Should I follow the signed CA-1 route through SF, which I know is pretty much just urban streets, or head west on Geary Blvd. and take Great Hwy. and Skyline Blvd. until they intersect 1 south of the city? I'm not sure if there's any place I'm interested in stopping at in San Francisco; I've been there plenty of times. Well, maybe the California Academy of Sciences or the Botanical Garden. Then drive south to Santa Cruz. Where are some good places to stop along that route? Is Mori Point worth a stop? Maybe a detour over to one of the many state parks in the mountains. Maybe Big Basin Redwoods? Or stick to the coast and stop at Año Nuevo State Park. Do I have time for both? I'm debating whether to spend the night in Santa Cruz or head on to Monterey. I'm leaning towards Santa Cruz because then I can spend the evening enjoying the Boardwalk.

Day 3 (or 4): Drive to Monterey if I chose to stay in Santa Cruz the previous night. Visit the aquarium and maybe some other sights in town, then Point Lobos. Then drive down to Big Sur, where I'm guess I should probably spend the night because there doesn't seem to be much in the way of lodging between there and Cambria. Or just stay in Monterey.

Day 4 (or 5): Do some hiking in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Then drive south, maybe tour Hearst Castle, stop in Morro Bay or San Luis Obispo, go enjoy the beach.

Day 5 (or 6): Drive to Santa Barbara. Do touristy stuff in Santa Barbara.

Day 6 (or 7): Drive home via the fastest route.

How does that sound? Am I trying to pack too much into each day? Like I said, I can stretch this out over more days if I need to. Any major sight worth seeing that I missed?
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Old 01-24-2020, 07:34 PM
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Day 2 (or 3 if I split Day 1 into two days): Cross the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco. Should I follow the signed CA-1 route through SF, which I know is pretty much just urban streets, or head west on Geary Blvd. and take Great Hwy. and Skyline Blvd. until they intersect 1 south of the city? I'm not sure if there's any place I'm interested in stopping at in San Francisco; I've been there plenty of times.
If you're not interested in SF, then it really doesn't matter much - just take the fastest way to pick up Hwy 1 to get to Pacifica. Personally I'd take 19th ave to 280 to 1, but that's me. From there, through the tunnel to a reasonably spectacular coastal drive that drops fairly quickly down near the water. The stretch from Pacifica to Santa Cruz is pretty pastoral for the most part. You might stop in Half Moon Bay or the cute towns of San Gregorio or Pescadero. At Ano Nuevo state park there's often a ton of seal lions, depending on the time of year, so worth a hike if there's viewing open. Pigeon Point has a cute lighthouse. Panther beach and (duh) Natural Arches have arches; Panther is a bit of a hike, Natural Arches isn't. I always thought Davenport was a cute place, and the ocean view quite good, though stay back from the cliff edges, we always lose someone that way.

Last edited by squeegee; 01-24-2020 at 07:39 PM.
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Old 01-24-2020, 07:51 PM
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You should check Google or some other traffic service about the best way to get through SF. What might be a breeze one day, or at one time of day, could be stop & go at another time. I drive Hwy 1 (which Google Maps amusingly pronounces "Pacific Coast Wee") between SF and the San Mateo coast quite frequently. Usually the recommended route is down 19th Ave. but sometimes it will take you another route. It rarely recommends you go all the way to Great Highway, but sometimes I do it anyway because the drive is more pleasant. If you just want to get through the city as fast as possible, use a map app.

South of the city, you might consider stopping at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve if that sort of thing interests you and you can time it to get there around low tide. Sam's Chowder House is the best seafood restaurant in the area but you'll need a reservation; depending on time of day maybe several days in advance. There are a LOT of nice beaches along the coast there, some with better water access, some with more spectacular scenery (waves crashing on rocks, etc), some with better hiking trails. This is the time of year for viewing elephant seals at Año Nuevo, which is pretty awesome but you have to make a reservation and go on a guided walk.

I probably would not recommend a side trip to Big Basin. It's a good hour off Hwy 1 each way, and while the hiking there is nice, I don't think it justifies the time.

Let me know if you want more info; I know the coast pretty well between San Francisco and Santa Cruz.

ETA: I just realized you didn't say when you were doing this. If it's after March or so there won't be elephant seals at Año Nuevo.

Last edited by markn+; 01-24-2020 at 07:55 PM.
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Old 01-24-2020, 08:15 PM
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ETA: I just realized you didn't say when you were doing this. If it's after March or so there won't be elephant seals at Año Nuevo.
It will definitely be after March. No set dates yet, but summer, definitely. Probably like July.
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Old 01-24-2020, 08:34 PM
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Right off the bat, you're missing the best part of the coast. Skip the wine country; that's an easy weekend or even day trip from Sacramento. Day 1 is head north on I-5 to Williams, and west on Hwy 20 to Fort Bragg. Head south 10 miles on 1 and stay in Mendocino. Hike the fern canyons at Van Damme and/or Russian Gulch. Check out the Russian Gulch headland.

On your way south, if you really want some wine, a 20 mile side trip on 128 will get you to the Anderson Valley.

Salt Point SP is a great coastal walk & view. If you're there in May, don't miss the Kruse Rhododendron Reserve.

Sonoma Coast SP is mostly rocky & beach access. Not a lot of hiking on that stretch as I recall.

Fastest way through SF if traffic isn't an issue is Hwy 1 (19th Avenue). Will put you right on 280 & then back on 1 to Pacifica. If traffic is an issue, a great alternative is to turn right on JFK drive in GG park, then left on Sunset. Personally, I'd take either Fulton or JFK, rather than Geary, to Great Highway, unless you really want to visit the Cliff House. On the beach side of GG park, the Beach Chalet is great lunch stop. Great Highway to Skyline to 1, avoiding 280 entirely, is a nice bit of road.

South of SF, Butano SP is a short side trip with some nice redwoods. Stop at Duarte's Tavern in Pescadero for artichoke soup and olallieberry pie.

I concur that Big Basin is too much of a side trip & not the best redwoods, compared to what you will have already seen.

Monterey area - definitely aquarium & Pt. Lobos.
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Old 01-24-2020, 08:34 PM
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I've driven the coast many, many times. Thing is, even at a leisurely pace, you can only see so much. Sometimes it's good just to stop at places that look good and find your adventure as it comes. As far as the first part, down to Santa Cruz goes...

Along the Russian River--Armstrong Redwoods just outside of Guerneville has some nice short hikes and some impressive trees.

Bodega Bay--Spud Point Crab Co. has some really tasty clam chowder. Get some to go and drive up to Bodega Head and enjoy your chowder overlooking the bay. Just a little further down the road you can make a quick stop to see the iconic schoolhouse from The Birds.

Consider spending two days in the Point Reyes area. The scenery is wonderful and there are lots of hikes to choose from. If your budget permits, I recommend the Cottages At Point Reyes Seashore as a base camp for exploration. The Inverness Park Market deli makes great sandwiches.

The Marin Headlands are nice too. The hike out to the Point Bonita Lighthouse is really neat. If you time it right you can take a tour of the Nike Missile site. In Sausalito, the Bay Model is pretty cool.

If you decide to take the Great Highway along the SF coast, the Camera Obscura is worth a short stop.

South of Pacifica, there's a multi-use trail along the old Devil's Slide roadway if you want to stretch your legs. Mori Point is a bit further south...it's okay, but not a must see.

As mentioned above, there are lots of nice beaches scattered along the way between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz. Not all of them have signage, just parking areas with trails heading off towards the ocean. Just north of Santa Cruz, Wilder Ranch State Park has a coastal trail along some really scenic bluffs.

Last edited by blondebear; 01-24-2020 at 08:39 PM.
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Old 01-24-2020, 08:59 PM
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Right off the bat, you're missing the best part of the coast. Skip the wine country; that's an easy weekend or even day trip from Sacramento. Day 1 is head north on I-5 to Williams, and west on Hwy 20 to Fort Bragg. Head south 10 miles on 1 and stay in Mendocino. Hike the fern canyons at Van Damme and/or Russian Gulch. Check out the Russian Gulch headland.

On your way south, if you really want some wine, a 20 mile side trip on 128 will get you to the Anderson Valley.

Salt Point SP is a great coastal walk & view. If you're there in May, don't miss the Kruse Rhododendron Reserve.

Sonoma Coast SP is mostly rocky & beach access. Not a lot of hiking on that stretch as I recall.

Fastest way through SF if traffic isn't an issue is Hwy 1 (19th Avenue). Will put you right on 280 & then back on 1 to Pacifica. If traffic is an issue, a great alternative is to turn right on JFK drive in GG park, then left on Sunset. Personally, I'd take either Fulton or JFK, rather than Geary, to Great Highway, unless you really want to visit the Cliff House. On the beach side of GG park, the Beach Chalet is great lunch stop. Great Highway to Skyline to 1, avoiding 280 entirely, is a nice bit of road.

South of SF, Butano SP is a short side trip with some nice redwoods. Stop at Duarte's Tavern in Pescadero for artichoke soup and olallieberry pie.

I concur that Big Basin is too much of a side trip & not the best redwoods, compared to what you will have already seen.

Monterey area - definitely aquarium & Pt. Lobos.
Twoflower, right off the bat, you’re missing the best part of the coast. Sure, take 20 to Fort Bragg, but don’t go left/south. Turn right/north. IMO, the prettiest part of 1 is from Fort Bragg to where it turns inland. From there to Leggett, it’s no longer scenic, but it does have about 50 sharp turns that are a riot in a Miata. I know.
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Old 01-24-2020, 10:55 PM
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Right off the bat, you're missing the best part of the coast. Skip the wine country; that's an easy weekend or even day trip from Sacramento. Day 1 is head north on I-5 to Williams, and west on Hwy 20 to Fort Bragg. Head south 10 miles on 1 and stay in Mendocino. Hike the fern canyons at Van Damme and/or Russian Gulch. Check out the Russian Gulch headland.

On your way south, if you really want some wine, a 20 mile side trip on 128 will get you to the Anderson Valley.

Salt Point SP is a great coastal walk & view. If you're there in May, don't miss the Kruse Rhododendron Reserve.
All the above is some beautiful traveling, fer sure. But I think adding all that to the OP's plan is too much for one trip, and might even entrap him into doing a "whirlwind" sort of tour, and we don't want that to happen.

I suggest that the entire Route 1 / Hwy 101 trip north of Santa Rosa and Hwy 116 is worth seeing, but is best done as a separate road trip unto itself. If OP wants to travel down the coast to Santa Barbara, I'll stick with the suggestion to start at Hwy 116. Save Fort Ross, Ft. Bragg, Skunk Train, Willetts, Clovedale, Anderson Valley all for another day.

When you DO get into that quadrant of the galaxy, save some time to visit the Williams Soaring Center on Husted Road in Williams just a short way off Hwy 20. Go fly a glider! (Last I heard, requires reservation several weeks in advance, they are so busy!)

Hwy 20 passes Clear Lake, which may have some things to see. From there you can head west to Hwy 101 near Hopland (near Ukiah) or down to Calistoga at the top of Napa Valley, with several directions you can go from there.

CalPine energy company has a visitor center in Middletown (down Rt. 29 between Clear Lake and Calistoga). They have guided tour buses to the geysers geothermal fields.

A little farther down Rt. 29 towards Calistoga is Robert Louis Stevenson State Park, with a trailhead leading up to the top of Mt. St. Helena, with spectacular views out across Napa Valley.

But.... We're wandering away from your dream of driving Route 1. If you haven't toured Napa and Sonoma Valleys already, that's another day trip or several for another time. Visiting Anderson Valley could be a better fit with this trip.

Near Pt. Reyes is Marshall Station, small town on Rt 1. Stop there and kick around a bit. Little kitschy gift shops to buy knick-knacks to bring home for your friends. A bit south of Pt. Reyes, across Rt. 1 from Bolinas Lagoon, there's the Audubon Canyon Ranch bird sanctuary, which includes a hiking trail. Be sure to check their hours before you go.

Two short videos with beautiful aerial photography over Bay Area, San Francisco, Marin County, Napa Valley, Point Reyes:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggv5kkjqHrI 6 minutes.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qDdnfIANUxU 4 minutes.

I think you can skip Muir Woods. You have to pay and IIRC there isn't really a lengthy hiking trail there. Plenty of other redwoods in plenty of other places. blondebear suggested Armstrong Redwoods near Guerneville just off Rt 116, and I second that idea.

I also second the idea of seeing the Bay Model at Sausalito. It's right on the waterfront near the north end of town.

Just off Hwy 101 just before it runs onto the Golden Gate Bridge you can get off at Alexander Avenue and drive up the mountain into the Fort Cronkhite Marin Headlands, past the ruins of several World War II fortifications, to a never-fully-completed big gun emplacement at the top of the mountain.
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Old 01-24-2020, 11:14 PM
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Big Basin itself isn't right on the coast, and it's a rather long detour to get there from Highway 1. However, there is a lengthy (30-some miles) hiking trail, the Skyline To The Sea trail, that runs the entire distance from the top of the mountain (junction of Skyline and Route 9), through Big Basin, right down to Rt. 1 at Rancho Del Oso, a little south of Año Nuevo State Park. You can stop there and hike part of the way (as far as you want) up the mountain.

Is Hearst Castle at San Simeon on your itinerary?
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Old 01-24-2020, 11:19 PM
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Day 6 (or 7): Drive home via the fastest route.
The fastest route is undoubtedly I-5, and also the most boring (with but a few minor exceptions).

You should drive home on U. S. 101 -- A bit longer and slower than I-5, but much more varied and interesting, and much shorter and faster than Rt. 1. It's a real good compromise of fairly-quick and fairly-interesting. You can stop for sightseeing side-trips as you wish, depending on how tired you are by them.
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Old 01-25-2020, 12:25 AM
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All the above is some beautiful traveling, fer sure. But I think adding all that to the OP's plan is too much for one trip, and might even entrap him into doing a "whirlwind" sort of tour, and we don't want that to happen.
Yup, I saw you had mentioned CA-20 etc. in that other thread, but I decided against that route because I was afraid it would add too much time to the trip. I figured the wine country and CA-116 was a good compromise.

Fun fact: The very first project I worked on for my first real job after college (which was when I moved to California) was codenamed Guerneville, because one of the team members owned a house there.

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Is Hearst Castle at San Simeon on your itinerary?
Yes, see day 4 or 5.

I will take everyone's advise and skip Big Basin. And probably skip the Muir Woods. I have family coming to visit at Christmas this year, I was thinking I'd take them on a Marin County day trip and I can visit the Muir Woods with them then.
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Old 01-25-2020, 01:03 AM
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Just North of Hearst Castle stop to check out the elephant seals on the beach. Make sure you make reservations for a tour at Hearst Castle. If possible time your visit to San Luis Obispo for a Thursday night - the farmers market is more of a street festival. If it’s the last Thursday of the month, half-drunk, costumed cyclists take over the downtown streets after 9pm. It’s a sight to behold.
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Old 01-25-2020, 01:14 AM
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Wildabeast, I went to High School in Folsom, back when it was primarily still an prison town and Aerojet was on the skids (the late 70's). Prior to that, I lived in Colusa and went to the Fort Bragg area multiple times every summer to escape the heat. I have taken highway 20 from Williams to Fort Bragg dozens of times (back in the 60's and 70's)

You have a choice for one week: north or south. These are not the same country.
North is redwoods, fog, beaches and a lot less people and traffic.
South is sunshine, Missions and the odd traffic jam. And a lot more driving.
Maybe even a 3rd midway option of SF area/wine country/Big Sur

All of the above are great but very different. Pick your poison then we can help more. BTW, jealous you can do the trip. I took my family, by way of Seattle and seeing my mom in Sacto, down 1 from Monterey about 5 years ago. Wish we had budgeted a day and a half for San Luis Obispo...
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Old 01-25-2020, 01:22 AM
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ETA: I just realized you didn't say when you were doing this. If it's after March or so there won't be elephant seals at Año Nuevo.
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It will definitely be after March. No set dates yet, but summer, definitely. Probably like July.
They're there more or less year-round, its just that the exciting breeding season will be over. But in July and August the big bulls are lolling around molting( females and juveniles molt more in the spring ). The con is you're not going to see nearly as much activity - just almighty huge animals lazing around like giant slugs in the sand. Maybe a little light rough-housing between some late lingering juvenile males in the water if you're lucky.

The pro is no guided tour with paid registration required. You can just walk on out and gaze at the big beasties. At closeish range they're pretty impressive even taking a nap, especially the full-grown males.
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Old 01-25-2020, 01:24 AM
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ETA: I just realized you didn't say when you were doing this. If it's after March or so there won't be elephant seals at Año Nuevo.
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It will definitely be after March. No set dates yet, but summer, definitely. Probably like July.
They're there more or less year-round, its just that the exciting breeding season will be over. But in July and August the big bulls are lolling around molting. The con is you're not going to see nearly as much activity - mostly just almighty huge animals lazing around like giant slugs in the sand.

The pro is no guided tour with paid registration required. You can just walk on out and gaze at the big beasties. At closeish range they're pretty impressive even taking a nap, especially the full-grown males.

Last edited by Tamerlane; 01-25-2020 at 01:26 AM.
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Old 01-25-2020, 01:39 AM
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Just adding that if you are in Folsom, I personally would skip all the Bay Area stuff and start with Monterey and/or Santa Crus and/or Big Sur as the first destination. Save Wine Country for a long weekend or something.

As I posted earlier, SLO is pretty cool and worth more than 1/2 a day. Moro Beach and Pismo are both good but one of those two is probably good.

For me, the Elephant Seals are a must see, but an hour or two is plenty.

Watch for the zebra herd(s) near Hearst Castle. My kids and wife thought I was messing with them, but there are Zebra herds out there. Weird but oddly cool.

Last edited by China Guy; 01-25-2020 at 01:41 AM.
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Old 01-25-2020, 01:55 AM
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I suppose we oughta ask: How long have you been in California, and in particular, how long in Folsom or anywhere around Sacramento area?

I'm starting to think more and more what I and others are saying: Don't cram too much in one trip. For a long multi-day trip, head south. Maybe even skip Marin and Sonoma counties, like China Guy says, and start some place at or south of San Francisco.

Everything from San Francisco on north to, say, Willits or so is in the range of a one-day or possibly two-day weekend trip. You can visit those places anytime, and you certainly should, if you haven't already.

I suggested Napa/Sonoma for a separate trip, but I am wondering: Have you already visited all those places? Anyone who has been in northern California for a while would view those areas as fodder for various weekend day-trips and not necessarily part of a long-haul road trip.

Last edited by Senegoid; 01-25-2020 at 01:56 AM.
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Old 01-25-2020, 11:16 AM
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If you happen to be in San Luis Obispo looking for a place to eat breakfast try the Del Monte Cafe near the train station. It's been there nearly forever. Good food, reasonable prices. And if you're lucky a train will come by.

Edit: I am not a SLO resident nor affiliated with the cafe. But I always eat there if I pass through in the morning.

Last edited by ASGuy; 01-25-2020 at 11:18 AM. Reason: add postscript
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Old 01-25-2020, 10:08 PM
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If you happen to be in San Luis Obispo looking for a place to eat breakfast try the Del Monte Cafe near the train station. It's been there nearly forever. Good food, reasonable prices. And if you're lucky a train will come by.
Some good hiking terrain in SLO county too if you want to take the time.

Route 1 merges with 101 at the northern end of SLO City and diverges again at Pismo Beach. Towards the southern end SLO City, right alongside 101 is the Madonna Inn, famous for having "fantasy suites" of various designs. Right behind that is a mountain with a big M on the side (which everybody supposes stands for Madonna, which is actually a big family name around SLO, but it actually stands for Mission, a local Christian school). Nearby is a parking lot and trailhead, so you can hike up Madonna's Mountain.

On the backside of Madonna Mountain is Foothill Blvd and across the street from that is another mountain with several trails to the top.

Just a bit farther south on 101, at south end of SLO City is Los Osos Valley Road. Take that all the way to Los Osos and keep on going until you reach Montaña de Oro State Park. (Used to be free. Don't know if it still is.) Continue until you come to beach parking on the right, ranger station on the left. That big mountain you see behind the ranger station with the zig-zag trail is Valencia Peak, a good 90-minute hike to the top.

A bit farther south on 101, before you reach Pismo Beach, is Avila Beach Dr. You can take that to Avila Beach, little seaside touristy town. Everybody used to agree that was "funky" (subject to everybody's notion of what "funky" means). Then the whole waterfront neighborhood got contaminated with leaks from a nearby oil tank farm, so they dug up the whole neighborhood and beach and tore down everything there (preserving all the bricks of at least one old building to re-build it later). Everybody was afraid that the re-built Avila Beach waterfront would be "Disneyfied" and IMO that's at least somewhat what happened.

On the road to there is a side road leading to a hidden beach, Pirates Cove, clothing optional. Beyond Avila Beach is a pier and beyond that is Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant where you can get irradiated to energize you for the southern half of your road trip.
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Old 01-25-2020, 10:22 PM
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Continuing southward from San Luis Obispo:

At Pismo Beach, U. S. 101 and Route 1 again diverge. You could follow Rt. 1 through Pismo Beach and Oceano. Then, I suggest that you follow the road back to 101 rather than continuing to follow Route 1, unless your objective is to take the entire Route 1 just for completeness.

Route 1 and 101 merge again a little south of Buellton. That whole stretch of Route 1 from Oceano to there is, I think, pretty much uninteresting. If you just stay on 101 for that part of the trip, it will be much faster and, I think, marginally more interesting.

At Buellton, you can get off 101 and head east to Solvang, which is some people's idea of a cute tourist town. It has Danish roots, and a large Danish-themed downtown area full of Danish-themed gift shops, restaurants, and other kitsch.

Stay on the main road just a few miles past Solvang and you reach Santa Ynez, a smallish town with a native American reservation nearby. There's a mission there you could visit (one in SLO too). I found a library there with lots of interesting California and local history books. I sat and read one about, IIRC, William Cody or maybe it was Kit Carson. Also just a mile or two farther (you knew I was going to say this) there's a commercial glider port! If you didn't fly a glider at Williams, you can do it here!
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Old 01-25-2020, 10:40 PM
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Originally Posted by Senegoid View Post
I suppose we oughta ask: How long have you been in California, and in particular, how long in Folsom or anywhere around Sacramento area?
I've been here for 15 years (It'll be exactly 15 in February). And in Folsom for that entire time. I have been to been to some of the places I mentioned in my rough draft itinerary before (like Point Reyes, the Muir Woods, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Santa Cruz Boardwalk), although I consider them worth seeing again, and some of them I haven't been to in over a decade now. I've been to Napa, but I haven't actually been to Sonoma. And I've done the section between Pacifica and Santa Cruz before. But never in a Miata, and I have a feeling that would enhance the experience . That was kind of why I included the Marin County stuff, because I couldn't find a route that included all of the section from Pacifica to Santa Cruz without going through San Francisco, and I figured if I was going there I might as well visit Marin County as well. But I suppose I could take CA-92 to Half Moon Bay and start there. That would at least include most of that section. But it's really the section from Big Sur to Cambra that I consider a must see. I've never done that part before and I understand it's the most scenic.

And it sounds like I should plan for more time in SLO. That's a place I really haven't spent much time. Tell me more about SLO. What are some fun things to do there?
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Old 01-25-2020, 11:05 PM
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There's more to see in Monterey too. In the same area as the Aquarium there's Cannery Row, a historical cannery district that's been largely converted to touristy shops. One building there has a large carousel, if that's your thing.

But also, Monterey had a lot happening in early California history about the time that Ca was becoming a state. There are a lot of historically significant buildings and places there, much of it within walking distance of the Aquarium IIRC. You can visit the old Courthouse, where I think you can pick up a brochure with a self-guided walking tour of the area. There is also a Maritime Museum in the same area.

You could also take a whale watching boat trip, but that's a full day excursion in itself.
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Old 01-25-2020, 11:26 PM
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Marin / Sonoma / Napa is worthy of a trip unto itself or several, IMNSHO. For your Pacifica-SantaCruz trip, how about take I-80 right into San Francisco, and if you aren't really interested in S. F. (that's a full day trip itself too), just stay on the freeway and connect up with southbound I-280 which has a connection to Route 1 somewhere near Pacifica. Take that all the way to Santa Cruz and beyond, to Monterey, Pacific Grove, and Carmel. From there, there are several routes that will get you back to 101.

At the formerly treacherous Devil's Slide section of Rt. 1, there is now that huge tunnel bypass. But the Devil's Slide section is now open for walking, biking, or horse riding and you can park at either end of the tunnel to get there.

Heading back up that region of 101, there's Gilroy and some other communities in Coyote Valley. There's a mountainous road connecting Gilroy to Rt. 1 through Watsonville and a route through Castroville among others.

Not far from Gilroy there's San Juan Bautista, a mission town with a mission and historic park. There's also Hollister, with (wait for it . . . ) a commercial glider operation! (Expensive there!) Blog full of pictures!
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Old 01-25-2020, 11:41 PM
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Originally Posted by WildaBeast View Post
And it sounds like I should plan for more time in SLO. That's a place I really haven't spent much time. Tell me more about SLO. What are some fun things to do there?
Well for me the big thing was the hiking. There are other places to hike there too. Also all over the place in the Big Sur area. And that Farmer's Market and the elephant seals have been mentioned. You could visit Pismo Beach and Cambria.

At the north/west end of Cambria, eat at Main Street Grill. BBQ ribs and chicken! Across the road from that is Moonstone Beach and Moonstone Beach Drive with another waterfront park at the other end too and a bluff-top trail.

In between Cambria and SLO is Cayucos and Morro Bay. You could visit those. And a little wide spot in the road called Harmony with a few artsy shops and studios, if that's still there.
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Old 01-25-2020, 11:52 PM
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If you're stopping in Cambria, also check out Nitt Witt Ridge, a house just a little up the hill (walking distance from the main drag) build out of junk pieces, abalone shells, empty beer cans, and other such construction materials. Additional information.
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Old 01-25-2020, 11:52 PM
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San Luis Obispo County (or more accurately, just south of Morro Bay) was my stomping grounds for 20 years. I know that part of the coast pretty well.

First, I'm sorry to say you're going to be doing the Big Sur drive at the worst time of year. In July, Highway 1 is packed with tourists and you'll be ass to elbow following every RV doing about 15 MPH almost the whole time. Very often in summer when it's hot inland, the fog sucks up against the coast and you can't see a damn thing. But if that's when you can go then it's when you can go. You will still enjoy it, I'm sure.

Sure fire jaw-dropping spot to stop for lunch and a view (assuming the fog isn't obscuring it) is Nepenthe. Expensive, but you're buying the view.

If you can stop in Limekiln on your drive south from Monterey, there's a fine little hike through the redwoods to a (can you guess?) lime kiln. Keep a sharp eye after passing Lucia. The turnoff comes up quick and you can easily miss it. Nice place to walk off some of that lunch you had at Nepenthe.

Hearst Castle is next, but be advised the tour will take at least a couple of hours and at that time of year, you may have to wait for an available tour time. Crazy place but worth the tour if you haven't seen it.

Personally, I'd book rooms in Morro Bay and make that your base of operation to explore. You'll have easy access to the beach and other areas of interest. San Luis Obispo is only about 13 miles away and an easy, pretty drive down Highway 1.

Things to do in Morro Bay:

Go kayaking on the back bay. There's a spit of land between Morro Bay and the open ocean that makes for easy, scenic kayaking. A fine adventure!

See if you can spot the Peregrine falcons nesting on Morro Rock. Take a picnic and spend the day building sand castles on Morro Strand beach. Or if you'd rather not fuss with a picnic, there's no shortage of seafood restaurants along the main street.

Things To Do in SLO:

Yes, the Farmer's Market on Thursdays. Try not to miss. Partake of the Santa Maria-style barbecue tri-tip sammiches. You'll be delighted at the quality of the musical groups that play regularly there. Very festive and fun.

Don't miss the Mission de Tolosa downtown, an easy and worthwhile place to explore. Outside the Mission, it's a lovely ramble all through the downtown area and adjacent to the creek. The whole town is a boutique.

If you like Italian food, San Luis Obispo is your kinda town. It was largely settled by Italians and the influence is a happy one. I can unreservedly recommend Buona Tavola for lunch. They make a hearty salad (insalata alla tosca) that I still dream about. It's next door to the Fremont Theater, a short walk east from the Mission and across from the courthouse. You can't go wrong.

The other big draw in SLO is the Madonna Inn. Not my cup of tea, but if you haven't seen it, it's worth a quick look-see. Located just off 101 as you head south. It's different. Don't stay there, just look around.

Hidden Gems in SLO County:

Montaña de Oro State Park. You can walk along the headlands (do keep a sharp eye for rattlesnakes sunning themselves on the path) or explore the eucalyptus groves. If you time it right, the Monarch butterflies stop in the groves on their migrations, thousands of them. Quite a sight. But even without Monarch butterflies, Montaña de Oro is hidden and special. The locals won't appreciate me mentioning it.

Sycamore Mineral Hot Springs. You can book a private hot tub and enjoy a soak in a truly lovely setting. If you're feeling stressed, book a massage, too. Most restful!

I've got more if you want it, but this is already long enough. Happy exploring!
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Old 01-25-2020, 11:57 PM
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More aerial photography of the places you plan to visit, including San Francisco, Pt. Reyes, Sausalito/Tiburon, Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay, and Big Sur. These pics are either by of the same guy who shot those videos I posted a few posts above.
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Old 01-26-2020, 12:00 AM
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If you really feel the need to experience the monument to kitsch that is the Madonna Inn, make sure to use the urinal in the bar’s men’s room. I won’t spoil the surprise.
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Old 01-26-2020, 12:03 AM
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Not much to contribute here, just want to say I'm jealous and might crib some of these ideas for a future road trip myself. I did once drive south on PCH in that general vicinity at sunset on or about the longest day of the year and it was magnificent.
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Old 01-26-2020, 09:33 PM
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In the Big Sur area, you can tour the Point Sur Lighthouse (if they have the bridge fixed) and take a hike out to the mouth of the Big Sur River at Andrew Molera State Park.

In Morro Bay, Giovanni's Fish Market has delicious smoked salmon and albacore.

Cambria is the home of Nitt Witt Ridge, worth a stop if you're into weird roadside attractions.

In between SLO and Montana de Oro is Los Osos Oaks, with some really gnarly old trees and a bit of a haunted forest vibe.

Down the road from the Sycamore Hot Springs is Avila Beach; drive down to the end of the road and walk out on the pier for a nice view. If you're there on a Wednesday or Saturday you can tour the San Luis Lighthouse. If you don't have time for that but still want a great view overlooking the ocean, head up Cave Landing Road to Pirate's Cove Lookout.

The Kon Tiki Inn is the place to stay if you decide to spend the night in Pismo.

Last edited by blondebear; 01-26-2020 at 09:38 PM.
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Old 01-26-2020, 09:59 PM
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I second Giovanni’s in Morro Bay. Easily the best fish and chips in the county.
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Old 01-26-2020, 11:11 PM
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Another great place for smoked fish is Ruddell's Smokehouse in Cayucos.
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Old 01-27-2020, 12:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Senegoid View Post
For your Pacifica-SantaCruz trip, how about take I-80 right into San Francisco, and if you aren't really interested in S. F. (that's a full day trip itself too), just stay on the freeway and connect up with southbound I-280 which has a connection to Route 1 somewhere near Pacifica.
I don't know why I didn't think of that route before. I think it's just because from limited past experience I've found that traffic approacuing the Bay Bridge pretty much always sucks, no matter what time of day I've been there. So I usually try to avoid it, which I guess has become so much of a habit that I didn't even think of it as a potential route. Ususlly when I visit San Francisco I either park in Walnut Creek and take BART, or just not drive at all and take Amtrak to Richmond and BART from there.
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Old 01-27-2020, 01:16 PM
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At Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (there's two Pfeiffer parks - this one and the Pfeiffer Redwoods one), there's a waterfall that empties into the ocean, a short walk from the highway. I don't know if it will be running after springtime, but I saw it a month ago and it was cool. Rainbows in the mist if you can get down lowish.

Last edited by squeegee; 01-27-2020 at 01:17 PM.
  #35  
Old 01-27-2020, 01:29 PM
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Also, it may be worth getting a year-long state park pass for $200 if you plan to hit a lot of coastal areas. You just wave it at the booth in parking areas and glide through. And there a _lot_ of state beaches on your journey, with parking at $10/pop. You may not make 20 stops to break even, but it's worth something to not hassle with parking or feeling you need to get your $10 out of a stop somewhere.

Last edited by squeegee; 01-27-2020 at 01:31 PM.
  #36  
Old 01-27-2020, 02:34 PM
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I don't know why I didn't think of that route before. I think it's just because from limited past experience I've found that traffic approacuing the Bay Bridge pretty much always sucks, no matter what time of day I've been there. So I usually try to avoid it, which I guess has become so much of a habit that I didn't even think of it as a potential route. Ususlly when I visit San Francisco I either park in Walnut Creek and take BART, or just not drive at all and take Amtrak to Richmond and BART from there.
My impression, it's only really that bad during "rush hour", at which time all those freeways turn into long-term parking lots.

During other hours, it's not all that bad except on the stretch of westbound-I-80 through Berkeley, which is bumper-to-bumper 24/7/365. (well, 24/7/366 this year.) Once you get through that, it should be okay.

Fun fact: I-80 and I-580 merge and later diverge, such that the stretch through Berkeley is both of those freeways at once. But their official designated directions are opposite: So when you're on westbound I-80 you're simultaneously on eastbound I-580 and vice-versa. So either way you're traveling west and east at the same time.
  #37  
Old 01-28-2020, 02:40 AM
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There are lots of redwoods to see in Big Basin and Big Sur. Muir Woods seems redundant, and since the place is overcrowded you might want to skip it.

It takes about four hours to see the Monterey Aquarium, so be sure to leave adequate time for it. The aquarium and Point Lobos are two of my favorite places. Since they're close to each other, it might make sense to stay in Monterey overnight.

Things to see in Big Sur include McWay Falls (a waterfall that falls directly into the Pacific Ocean), Point Sur Lightstation (a lighthouse open to the public), Ventana Wildlife Center, and San Dollar Beach.

Since you'll be driving through the area, you might want to get some Santa Maria BBQ. The essential elements that make up this type of BBQ are beef cooked over oak wood, pinquito beans, garlic bread, green salad, macaroni salad, and red salsa. Some of the restaurants that serve this style of BBQ are in nearby towns (not just Santa Maria). One of them is the Hitching Post II in Buellton (not directly on Highway 1), which was featured in the movie Sideways. You can read about Santa Maria BBQ here.
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Old 01-28-2020, 03:35 AM
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I’ve had dinner at Robin’s, at the East end of Cambria, many times. Always something good on the menu.
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Old 01-28-2020, 09:55 AM
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You can get Santa Maria BBQ at the SLO farmers market on Thursday evening (just look for the longest line for the best). The best place in the county for SMBBQ is Jocko’s in Nipomo just north of Santa Maria. If you’re alone just eat in the bar there and avoid the long wait for a table.

Has anybody mentioned the 17-mile drive in Pebble Beach? That’s some of the most beautiful coastline in the state. Don’t balk at the $10 entry fee; it’s well worth it.
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