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messy1 Feb 7th, 2013 09:13 AM

Help Needed-Hearst Castle, Redwoods, Grateful Dead-Oh My!
Greetings California experts! I hope you have the time to help me. I'm trying to plan a trip for my wife & myself to celebrate her 50th birthday & our 22nd wedding anniversary. We both work two jobs and find ourselves short on time to do a lot of research online or otherwise. We'll have 7-8 days, probably flying into/out of SFO or Oakland from Atlanta early morning & renting a car. This will be at the very end of March/beginning of April(we know-Easter weekend & all but only time we could work out time off together from all the jobs).

My must(or really wanna)sees are some redwood trees & the Grateful Dead Archives at UC Santa Cruz. Already checked & Archives will be closed for UCSC Spring break the last week of March but they reopen on April 1 so would like to plan around that. Wife desires a tour of Hearst Castle and visit to Big Sur. We have debated a day in Half Moon Bay-is this area worth the time or maybe spend the time in/around Cambria on the other end of our drive?

We are avid, albeit amateur, photographers so looking for beautiful scenery of course, good food, beaches to walk on & just to not be rushed too much. We have done the San Francisco highlights trip a few years back so can skip this trip.

I would really appreciate any ideas/advice on an itinerary, lodging that any of you have enjoyed(under $200 a night), and of course restaurant & activity recommendations. I will thank you in advance for any help & the time you take to answer!

boom_boom Feb 7th, 2013 09:22 AM

If you haven't visited Point Reyes Nat. Seashore you'll find lots of photo ops there. There are some nice B&Bs around Olema, Pt. Reyes Station, that would be in your price range. Also, a but further north in Bodega Bay several motel options.
For the redwoods Santa Cruz area makes a nice base for Big Basin Redwoods State Park and others. Many nice wineries if so inclined in the area as well. Just 1 persons view, but I'd gotto Cambia, Morro Bay, and San Simeon if a choice between Hearst Castle and Half Moon Bay.

Gardyloo Feb 7th, 2013 09:32 AM

I would base myself around the Monterey peninsula, from which both Santa Cruz and Big Sur/Hearst Castle can each be done as day trips (around an hour to Santa Cruz, two hours to San Simeon.) Not having to break camp will help you manage your time more effectively. You also should look into flying into San Jose (SJC) rather than OAK or SFO - much quicker to the Monterey Bay area.

There are numerous lodging choices, in Monterey itself, Pacific Grove or Carmel, ranging from very high-end to numerous B&Bs, vacation rental homes... no shortage. Ditto places to eat and places to shop.

Good beaches (cold water, though) plus marine life, the incredible Monterey Bay aquarium, Point Lobos state park, maybe still some elephant seals at the Piedras Blancas breeding beaches (next to San Simeon), the 17-mile drive at Pebble Beach (if you don't mind paying the rich people $10 to drive past their houses)... lots to do, and a very romantic area for an anniversary week.

Some photos I took in the area (and northern CA/Oregon coast) over the past couple of weeks:

MmePerdu Feb 7th, 2013 09:38 AM

Fly into San Jose if you can and, yes, skip Half Moon Bay in favor of towns around Monterey Bay. You might consider staying in Capitola, just south of Santa Cruz. Look on Trip Advisor for places that are recommended.

There are several nice motels along Moonstone Beach Drive in Cambria, very near Hearst Castle. Again, look on Trip Advisor for one that suits you. My recommendation would be out of date.

I suggest you buy a good California guidebook so you can take it along to make up for planning you may not have time for now. You have the basic outline but don't want to miss things in the area that a guidebook will fill in as you go.

MmePerdu Feb 7th, 2013 09:42 AM

I don't suggest doing Hearst Castle as a day trip from towns on Monterey Bay. It's a beautiful but long drive down Hwy 1 and you won't want to rush it. Take your time, make stops and stay in Cambria.

sf7307 Feb 7th, 2013 10:13 AM

Definitely fly into San Jose if you can - it'll save you time and traffic woes heading south toward Monterey.

Half Moon Bay is a pleasant suburban town that happens to be on the ocean. Nice if you're passing by, but not really a destination in and of itself. I'd also head south, and concentrate on the area between Capitola and Cambria.

A few years ago, we did a day trip as far south as Nepenthe (near Big Sur). Here's my report. We didn't even have time to hike Point Lobos or Big Sur that day.

messy1 Feb 7th, 2013 10:14 AM

Thanks you guys-great start! Thanks for the heads up about airport choice too.

gardyloo-appreciate the advice on basing in the Monterey area. It makes so much sense.

MmeP-are you saying that we should skip Hearst Castle? Not worth it?

and boom-i'll check into Big Basin for the redwoods.

I would love to find a "home base" be it hotel, motel or rental right on the beach somewhere. I know it will be more money but would be very special. May have to sacrifice some sleep for a night or two to look.

sf7307 Feb 7th, 2013 10:17 AM

You could have two bases -- a few nights in the Monterey/Carmel/Pacific Grove area, and a few nights in the Cambria/San Simeon/San Luis Obispo area. It would mean you wouldn't have to drive to an from Monterey every day (I think MmeP meant don't do Hearst Castle from Monterey and expect to return the same day --- instead stay around Cambria/San Simeon and do Hearst Castle from there).

Gardyloo Feb 7th, 2013 10:35 AM

I don't disagree about a possible two-base approach, but Hearst Castle is definitely doable in a day trip from Monterey or Carmel, albeit a fairly full day. It's a two-hour drive (more or less) not counting stops, then allow no more than three hours for the Hearst Castle tour, then two hours back, so a total of seven hours give or take. If you make an early start of it (say 9 AM) you could easily be back before sunset, and still have plenty of time at the castle and for roadside picture-taking.

My only concern about Cambria is that it puts you a long way from the Bay area airports; you'd probably have to go down to San Luis Obispo before turning around and driving back to SJC/OAK/SFO on US 101 (which, by comparison to Highway 1, is faster but infinitely less scenic). But of course that's doable, it just pretty well whacks a day on a busy highway. In my view having one long day driving rather than two long days would be preferable.

sunbum1944 Feb 7th, 2013 11:00 AM

If you do the Hearst Castle you should plan to spend the night- its a long twisty drive and when I was there in Nov also some traffic delays due to construction. There were so many beautiful stops along the way, we did not get as far as we had wanted to.

Nepenthe Restaurant is worth a stop- beautiful stop and amazing views from there.

We stayed in Pacific Grove and did some day trips from there-our last night we stayed in Campbell- close to SJC airport, cute little town - my daughter lives there.
I also love the town of Capitola - close to Santa Cruz-
I recommend the San Jose airport- much less traffic than the others and very easy to get around.

november_moon Feb 7th, 2013 11:01 AM

From Cambria, you don't have to go down to SLO to get to Hwy 101 - you can take Hwy 33 from Cambria directly to Hwy 101.

sf7307 Feb 7th, 2013 11:01 AM

I'm usually the "drive to the farthest point first" type. On arrival, I'd probably head down to Cambria, and stay there for 3 nights. Then I'd head up the coast to Monterey (take one day to drive). Spend 4 nights in the area. Then you're closer to SJC for the return flight.

janisj Feb 7th, 2013 11:18 AM

I like sf7307's tweak -- Cambria first (down 101 from San Jose and across on 33). Stay 2 or 3 nights, then up Hwy 1 through Big Sur to Monterey/Carmel. Then up to San Jose to fly out.

MmePerdu Feb 7th, 2013 11:56 AM

Yes, thanks sf307, I definitely did not mean for you to skip Hearst Castle. I admit to loving the place, a bit of historic insight into what can be done with unlimited funds. Pillaging and looting of a bygone era. But it's worth a leisurely visit, best done from a nearby overnight, before or after or both.

messy1 Feb 7th, 2013 02:28 PM

Well, had some disappointing news. Heard back from the archivist at UCSC & the current Grateful Dead exhibit will be ending on March 16 with the next exhibit not opening until the end of April! I'm so bummed. ;/ Guess the redwoods will have to make up for it. So that will leave us with another day to wander. Any other ideas in that same vicinity? We are open to anything!

sf7307-i am of the same mind of starting at the farthest point & working our way back. Also, hoping to get a red-eye back to Atlanta so we will have that last day as well.

sunbum-what lodging did you have at Pacific Grove, if you don't mind my asking?

Thanks to all of you who have taken the time to help an overworked fellow!

sunbum1944 Feb 7th, 2013 02:44 PM

We stayed at Sunset Inn in Pacific Grove- its in a quiet area not far from the beach- looks like a motel that has had a complete remodel. There were no amenities such as a restaurant or pool or hot tub- but it worked for us and price was right.

You could kayak Monterey Bay- that is fun. You could go whale watching- you could go hiking.

Do you collect Grateful Dead memorabilia? I have an unused ticket from their last concert in Eugene- I was at the concert.

messy1 Feb 8th, 2013 11:43 AM

Thanks for the hotel info, sunbum! Will look into it. Oh & no I don't collect Grateful Dead memo(if I had the $ I might) but what a fantastic one you have! I am just an aging hippie(as my children call me)and have been a loyal fan since I was very young & went to many of their concerts over the years. You don't know how sad I am that I'll miss visiting the Archives this trip.

Has anyone a good hotel rec for Moonstone Beach, Cambria, or Carmel area?

Thanks for any help-I'm struggling to find enough hours in the day to plan this trip!

MmePerdu Feb 8th, 2013 11:51 AM

Blue Dolphin Inn on Moonstone beach in Cambria was where we stayed and it was very nice. As I said, liked it so much we went back later in the trip. But it's been several years so you'll want to check for the latest reviews on Trip Advisor.

Well, it says it's rated #1 so I suggest you try it.

sharondi Feb 8th, 2013 02:08 PM

Don't miss Point Lobos State Reserve.

Great walking trails with amazing ocean vistas. Excellent for photos! Point Lobos is just south of Carmel.

Big Basin State Park is a great suggestion for seeing Redwoods.

messy1 Feb 8th, 2013 02:44 PM

MP-I had actually looked briefly at the Blue Dolphin before you recommended-it's always great to hear someone's opinion.

Thanks, Sharondi! Good ideas-I had been wondering where might be the best location for the Redwoods. There is so much that we want to see! We need a month to take it all in. Guess we'll just have to come back for another birthday/anniversary trip again someday. :)

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