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CA Road trip: need help with driving times, routes, etc.

CA Road trip: need help with driving times, routes, etc.

Jul 4th, 2004, 04:55 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 61
CA Road trip: need help with driving times, routes, etc.

We (2 adults, 12yo girl, 9yo boy) are planning a trip down the CA coast. (Hotels are already booked.) In several cases, there are alternate routes for the drive and probably better or worse choices depending on time of day, etc. I'd love advice from those more knowledgeable than I about CA roads and traffic. (Our goal is to maximize fun, which might mean minimizing time-in-car or might mean taking a longer route that allows for interesting stops. It definitely means minimizing sitting in traffic!)

Please recommend driving routes (or routes to avoid), estimate driving times, suggest early or late departures, and let me know where the must-stops are. We are travelling in early Aug:

Sat SFO to Yosemite Valley. Flight is due in around noon. My instinct is to go "straight", but I imagine we'll hit traffic in/near the park anyway.

Mon Yosemite Valley to SF. Possibly via Mariposa? Or Tuolumne? We could even do dinner on the E side of the bay and arrive SF late. Any advice (route or time of day) to minimize traffic?

Fri SF to Big Sur (Pfeiffer Big Sur St. Pk). We need to be checked in by dark (or a bit earlier, given the roads!) but plan to leave SF early-ish and meander down. Best route? Recommended stops? How long will this drive take (on which route)?

Sat Big Sur to San Simeon. Presumably this is a short-ish drive (though I don't want to underestimate the hairpin turns!) We are hoping we'll have time for a short hike in Pfeiffer Big Sur before we leave, etc. We have booked a 4:40 tour of the castle and would prefer to arrive in time to see the 3:45 movie. Is this realistic? Drive time estimate? Where else should we stop? (McWay Falls....)

Sun San Simeon to Hollywood. I think that we will not even try to get into LA until late, allowing more time for the drive and stops in various towns (dinner in Santa Barbara?) Is this a good or bad idea? Best routes? I anticipate beach traffic Sunday night....

Tues LA to La Jolla. We may be going by way of Culver City (show taping) and unable to leave before 3 or so; otherwise, we'll be coming from sightseeing and could leave at our discretion. We could also opt to stay in the LA area later and try to drive after traffic, if there is such a thing. Recommended routes? Driving time estimates (presumably vary with time of day)? We'll be returning to LA on Sat, probably with more time for the drive then, so a fast and sweet route would be OK if we were driving late.

Saturday La Jolla to Manhattan Beach. This is the last drive of the trip and we could use it to see the sights between the two cities. Recommended routes? Stops? Driving time estimates?

Thanks for any advice you can give us. We plan to get a triptik from AAA, but I bet the locals know things AAA doesn't....
brie is offline  
Jul 4th, 2004, 05:24 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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I can't comment on your entire trip but I do have a question. Why would you go to Yosemite and then back to SF. We did a northern California trip that went from SF to Napa, sights in between, on to Lake Tahoe for three nights, into Yosemite through the East Gate. We spent two nights there, left through the Mariposa Grove of tall trees, definately worth seeing, down through Fresno, a night in Cambria and then on to Big Sur.
DawnCt is offline  
Jul 4th, 2004, 10:37 PM
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With a 12 & a 9 year old, you should definitely stop at Point Lobos State Park, just south of Carmel.

Because it's a Sunday, I'd say that the drive from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles is pretty bad from 5pm to 9pm. And leaving Santa Barbara at 9pm wouldn't get you into Hollywood until 10:45. I think I'd do a lunch stop in Santa Barbara then a stroll on the beach and pier, and an afternoon drive to Hollywood, maybe leaving Santa Barbara around 2:30pm.
tracys2cents is offline  
Jul 5th, 2004, 02:45 AM
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Wow...looks like a good trip. I agree with DawnCt, unless you need to go back to SFO, I would leave through Mariposa, Fresno to Monterey then down to Big Sur. It's about a 5 hour drive. Did it with 2 children last year. Tuolumne is on the other side and would put you further away from SF bay (although beautiful). Tuolumne is my favorite - not as crowded or hot as the Yosemite valley. It's about an hour drive from the Yosemite Valley. Can you do SF prior to Yosemite?

LA La Jolla - you don't say which part of LA you will be...but you are looking at 2 solid hours of driving time WITHOUT traffic. On a Tuesday you can expect the traffic to start on the 405 fwy at about 3pm and last till 7-8pm depending on accidents, etc. If you leave "LA" area around 7:30pm, you should get to LA Jolla by 10:00pm. Not much to see at that time of the night so it would be straight down the 405 to the 5.

On you return from La Jolla to Manhattan Beach, there are alot of places to see depending on what you want to do and see. On place is the Long Beach Aguarium.

Also, the SoCal beach towns are great just to hang out at the beach - Manhattan Beach being one of the best.

Post your email address and I will contact you if you want more specifics.

Anyway...it all looks great.
onthego2 is offline  
Jul 5th, 2004, 10:02 AM
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It's been awhile since I've driven from SF to Yosemite so I won't comment on that part of your trip.

From SF you could take route 1 the whole way, which takes about 2 hours to Santa Cruz and another hour and a half to Big Sur. Or you could take 101 ( I can't stand 101 until you pass San Jose) all the way to Salinas then take 68 to Monterey and route 1. Or yet another way would be 280 to 85 to 17 which takes you to Santa Cruz, then take 1 south to Big Sur. The 101 route is probably the most boring way but the quickest.
There is always some traffic going through Silicon Valley but the traffic in Santa Cruz and Monterey usually isn't too bad.

I'd stop at Pt. Lobos for sure and if you take route 1 the whole way a stop at Steamer's Lane on West Cliff drive in Santa Cruz to watch the surfers could be fun. Lunch on the Santa Cruz wharf is also an option. If you take 17 to Santa Cruz you could stop at Henry Cowell State Park to see the redwoods although you'll see some in Big Sur. I'd recommend stopping at any fruit stand you might see and getting some fresh berries for the drive, August is berry season.

From Big Sur to San Simeon it takes about 3 hours w/ stops. Besides McWay falls you could stop just south of Pt. Piedras Blancas to see the elephant seals.
viamar is offline  
Jul 6th, 2004, 02:10 PM
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Saturday afternoon from SFO to Yosemite you will hit traffic, but not nearly as much as you would heading out in the morning. I would go "straight", just like you said. When you get closer to Yosemite, be prepared for some steep sections of highway.

Coming back, it will be a monday, so traffic wont really be an issue - all the weekenders will have left on Sunday. Taking the 140 route, via Mariposa is a good one. It will add a little bit to the trip, but only about 30 or so minutes. You can head back north on Hwy 99 at Merced, or you can get back to the Bay Area via Hwy 152 to Gilroy and take Hwy 101 north. Hwy 152 will take you through some farmland, some is very pretty, some not so interesting. If you have some time and want to see a bit of California that most do not, take a detour to San Juan Bautista. There is a nice mission and several reconstructed or fixed up historical buildings in the old town square. Things close up around 4pm there.

J_Correa is offline  
Jul 6th, 2004, 03:34 PM
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SFO to Yosemite Valley. 80 to 580 to 120
Yosemite Valley to SF. Mariposa route is nice I think that is 140 (Do you have to go back to SF?)
SF to Big Sur. If taking Hwy 1 leave plenty of time.
Sat Big Sur to San Simeon. Ditto above
San Simeon to Hollywood. You can cut back to 101 at Morro Bay and take it all the way down to LA area.
LA to La Jolla.
La Jolla to Manhattan Beach.
myst is offline  
Jul 6th, 2004, 03:50 PM
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Culver City to La Jolla: As mentioned above, just hop I-405 south, which merges into the I-5 south at the "El Toro Y". Follow I-5 south to La Jolla (maybe the La Jolla Village Dr exit-- takes you into the heart of LJ).

La Jolla to Manhattan Beach: Well, I-5 north, take the I-405 N split up into LA county. You can take the Rosecrans Ave exit and head west on Rosecrans into MB. This is the fast route. There are pretty sights heading up Pacific Coast Highway through Orange County (especially between San Juan Capistrano and Newport Beach), but the drive on PCH between Seal Beach and Santa Monica runs through some butt-ugly parts of southern California (including the roughest parts of my hometown). You'd just end up back on the 405.
rjw_lgb_ca is offline  
Jul 15th, 2004, 06:01 PM
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Thanks, all! Fodors folks are so great!

Two more specific questions: On the arrival day, we'll need to stop somewhere between SFO and Yosemite to buy a case of water, a cooler (that will come into the lodge with us!!), shampoo, etc., not to mention lunch. Any suggestions on a good stopping point (probably nearer SFO than Yosemite) where we can find these sorts of things? Any place else that might be entertaining to break the drive on a LOONG day would also be appreciated. (On the way back, J_Correa's suggestions sound excellent.)

And driving from SF to Big Sur, would it be worth taking 1 down through Half Moon Bay (and might that be a less busy route?) or should we just bite the bullet and take the 101 through Silicon Valley? (I think viamar suggests the SR1 route, which sounds nicer to me, and I'm guessing 101 would be pretty heavy traffic early on.)

Thanks again!
brie is offline  
Jul 15th, 2004, 06:06 PM
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I cannot imagine planning a trip, especially a road trip, without mapping software. I've tried them all. Microsoft Streets/Trips is the best I've found (though I typically loathe MS products and it's not perfect).

Unlike the free online mapping sites, with the software you can plan and modify and print and save, and modify and save and print...
djkbooks is offline  
Jul 15th, 2004, 08:40 PM
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Commute times on 101 means a lot of traffic, going south or north. What I don't like about 101 is that until you pass San Jose it's crazy. People drive way too fast and it's pretty narrow. Highway 1 from SF to Santa Cruz is much more relaxing and although not as scenic as Big Sur (what is?) there are areas that are very pretty. It's fun to stop at the road side fruit stands too. A word of warning about 1 though, there's an area just south of Pacifica called Devil's Slide. It's very high up and narrow and the ocean is a long way down but you'll be doing plenty of that kind of driving in Big Sur and Yosemite.

The 280 to 85 to 17 to 1 route sounds complicated but it might be your best option if you don't want to deal with 101 or 1. 280 is much nicer than 101 and it will get you down to the Valley just as fast.
I hope I haven't just totally confused you!
viamar is offline  
Jul 16th, 2004, 05:19 AM
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No, viamar, never confusing but *always* helpful. Thanks!!!

(djkbooks, I'm a map person too, but they can't always tell you about local nuances as, e.g., viamar does. I'll be sure to print maps whatever route I take!)

Anyone for the where-to-stop-SFO-to-Yosemite question? I think we just need a shopping center (sigh), though something picturesque would be lovely. (Gotta buy water and other miscellany; gotta eat.)

brie is offline  
Jul 16th, 2004, 06:32 AM
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Can I suggest an alternative route that might potentially subtract one night in SF?

I would revise the itinerary upon exiting Yosemite. At Mariposa turn right and follow SR 49 (as in 49ers) north through the Gold Country all the way to Placerville, then take US 50/I-80 the rest of the way into SF. Unless you've visited it before, the Gold Rush country is fascinating, historic, and very beautiful, with lots of interesting things for you and your kids to see. Stop at the excellent historic (museum-y) town of Columbia, take some side roads to Volcano, Murphys, Chinese Camp, etc - all very interesting places, some of them near-ghost towns, and maybe end up overnighting somewhere around Placerville, Grass Valley if you get that far, or at some motel-with-pool in the Sacramento area. SR 49 can be slow going in places, also hot (but not as hot as the valley floor); the good news is that once you hit US 50/I-80 you roll into SF in a couple of hours or so.

I would probably stop at a gas station or Wal-Mart somewhere roadside to provision yourselves. Depends what route your "straight shot" from SFO takes. Over the San Mateo Bridge then 580? In which case Livermore will lure you with its special magic.

Concur on Pt Lobos - a must stop, especially with kids. And did anyone mention the Monterey aquarium? If not, I will...

Have a look at Morro Bay/Morro Rock at the bottom end of coastal SR 1. Not a bad place.

Sure, Santa Barbara for early dinner. Don't be put off by the looks of the place near the 101 freeway - go into the town center and start (like the rest of us) thinking about how you could afford to move here. I wouldn't sweat the PM traffic on 101 SB into LA - it can't hold a candle to weekday traffic on these roads. I swear people are commuting into LA from Oregon at this point.

Culver City to La Jolla on a Tuesday at 3? If you're lucky, it will be a piece of cake. Otherwise, just join the elephants on parade on the SD Fwy and gut it out. There really aren't any acceptable alternatives. For the first few miles (minutes? quarter hours?) you can amuse the kids with IDing the cool jets from faraway places landing at LAX - busy time of day for arrivals of international heavies. Hey, it's better than nothing.

On the drive from La Jolla to MB, stop at Mission San Juan Capistrano, actually an interesting place despite tourist schlunk about swallows etc. Then follow PCH through Dana Point and Laguna and follow the coast road all the way into Long Beach. Turn off (you'll need a map) into Balboa Island (or "little Bal") which will immediately start competing with Santa Barbara in the "how could I manage to move here?" sweepstakes. La Jolla to MB using this route could easily take up most of a day, vs. around 2 1/2 hours on I-5/405 using the zoomzoom approach. But why would you want to do that? No airplanes to watch.

Happy planning.
Gardyloo is online now  
Jul 16th, 2004, 07:47 AM
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Gardyloo has fleshed out the PCH drive between SJC and Long Beach very well. I will add that you will barely cross the LA County line to get into Long Beach, then you should turn right onto Second St./Westminster Ave., then a left onto Studebaker to get to the I-405 heading north.

You may be tempted to continue on PCH through Long Beach. DON'T DO IT. In another four miles you will start one of the ugliest drives of your trip through west Long Beach into Wilmington and then Carson and Torrance. Yucch. Besides, if you time it right, you may find yourself driving up the 405 and having a jet pass overhead as it approaches Long Beach Airport (LGB).

Balboa (a community within Newport Beach) is quite lovely, but I have a preference for Laguna Beach myself. A little slice of Bohemian Paradise in southern California. And the considerable money in Laguna doesn't hit you in the face as strongly as it does up in Balboa, FWIW.

Someone mentioned going to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. It's a good facility, although I do note that Birch in La Jolla is excellent. However, the AotP is a short drive away from the Queen Mary, which can be kinda fun. There are nice parts of LB between PCH and the Queen Mary, if you know how to get to them; if you're at all interested (some great places to grab lunch, for example), please let us know.
rjw_lgb_ca is offline  
Jul 17th, 2004, 11:39 AM
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Gardyloo, rjw, THANKS!

Loads of specifics (and several good smiles) on various parts of the routes. I am looking forward to it all so much....

Livermore, huh?
brie is offline  
Jul 27th, 2004, 09:47 AM
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Two Yosemite-specific questions:

I'm thinking about heading in via Wawona (assuming we get there early enough in the day). Coming from SF airport, is this a mistake? Would we be better off just going in 140 (or 120)? If we do go in via Wawona (stopping at Mariposa Grove and Tunnel View), what is the best route from SFO to that entrance? (Leaving SFO very early afternoon on a Sunday; need to stop somewhere to buy supplies and eat lunch.)

Second, part of the motivation for doing the southern part of Yosemite on Sunday is to spend the last half-day in Tuolumne. If we do that, we'd presumably exit via 140 headed back to SF (city, possibly stopping for dinner in the East Bay...Berkeley?) What is the best route in that case? And is it possible to take *part* of Gardyloo's suggestion and see *some* of 49 -- maybe up to, say, Chinese Camp? -- and still keep the trip to 6ish hours?

Unfortunately, this trip is going to be too short to do everything. I feel like a kid in a candy shop, wanting it all, and just want to make sure that when I get there -- and don't have this wonderful resource handy! -- I can make informed (if difficult) choices.

Thanks again for helping!!

brie is offline  
Jul 27th, 2004, 09:57 AM
Join Date: Feb 2004
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We just got back from a trip from SF down coast to San Simeon with kids in a van. I posted 5 TRIP REPORTS that might help with that portion of your trip. Check them out (can link by clicking on my screen name)and they might help you plan a little. Not exactly the same itinerary. Have a great time!!!
nytraveler10 is offline  
Jul 27th, 2004, 10:37 AM
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Thanks, nytraveler10. I have actually read your posts (and copied down lots of great points -- thanks!!!) and generally feel like I have the overall route down.

Since these questions are specific to the Yosemite pieces, I'm going to continue this set of more focused questions in their own thread [Now at http://fodors.com/forums/threadselec...&tid=34516734]
brie is offline  
Jul 27th, 2004, 11:24 AM
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I also am wondering why you are returning to SF after visiting Yosemite. You will be wasting one whole day. I am thinking that it is probably because you cannot change your Yosemite reservation. You do have reservations, right?
You might want to reconsider and not go to Yosemite this trip. Another time you could see the park and the Gold Country and perhaps go to Tahoe. Personally I think you will be disappointed if you only have a limited time to spend in Yosemite. It is a magical place. Believe me, you (and especially the 9 and 12 yr. old) WILL want to spend more than one day there.
As far as the water and cooler issue, what I usually do is pack my toiletries and cosmetics in our cooler and then I have it when I need to carry ice. You will not have any trouble finding water any place in California. There are stores all over, big stores and little convenience stores. Let that be the least of your worries. Be sure to bring heavy sweatshirt or jacket for SF. Summer can be one of the coldest times there. We can always tell the out of area tourists; they have on the tank tops and shorts and are shivering! Have fun time.
webecca is offline  
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