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Highway 1 Itinerary: Road Trip of a Lifetime - can this be done backwards?

Highway 1 Itinerary: Road Trip of a Lifetime - can this be done backwards?

Oct 28th, 2009, 11:18 AM
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Highway 1 Itinerary: Road Trip of a Lifetime - can this be done backwards?

Hi! I found this on Fodor's California page: Itinerary: Road Trip of a Lifetime
Highway 1 from End to End. My husband and I have talked about doing this for a few years and we may actually have the time and opportunity to do it this December! The itinerary posted starts in LA and ends in SF. However, we need to end in LA b/c we have a family occassion to attend there. So would this exact itinerary still be this wonderful if we started in SF and ended in LA? We'd fly into SFO and out of SNA.

Thank you!

Day 1: Arrival/Los Angeles
Pick up your rental car at LAX and shoot down the San Diego Freeway (Interstate 405) to Dana Point, the official starting point of Highway 1, which in southern California is called the Pacific Coast Highway, or PCH. At Doheny State Park, a great surf spot, you should see some action. Gallery-glutted Laguna Beach makes a good lunch stop before a walk on the pristine beach of Crystal Cove State Park. Feel like a million bucks on a gondola cruise of Newport Beach's yacht harbor or go surf-crazy in Huntington Beach, then get a waterfront room in either town.

Day 2: Los Angeles & Santa Monica
Play tourist in Hollywood and Beverly Hills in the morning, or raise your cultural bar with a few hours amid the masterpieces and gardens of the Getty Center. Sunset Boulevard takes you through tony neighborhoods back to the coast, where the boardwalk at Venice Beach is kinetic with jugglers and daredevil bladers. Balance the tacky pleasures of Santa Monica's amusement pier with a stylish dinner in the neighborhood.

Day 3: Malibu to Santa Barbara
You've seen Malibu's stretch of the PCH countless times on TV and film: mountains on one side, ocean on the other, and mile after mile of beaches. Then, after skirting an ugly port, Highway 1 merges with U.S. 101 for about 70 mi. Spread out behind a beach-rimmed harbor, Santa Barbara goes in big for red tile-topped white-stucco architecture. A real Mexican lunch at La Super-Rica, a visit to the magnificent Spanish mission, and a stroll down hopping State Street (before dark) to Stearns Wharf, and you've done the minitour.

Day 4: San Luis Obispo & Hearst Castle
A couple of hours' drive (during which Highway 1 morphs into the Cabrillo Highway, separating from and then rejoining U.S. 101) takes you through rolling vineyards and rangeland to San Luis Obispo, where any legit road trip includes a photo stop at the wacky, pink Madonna Inn. Downtown, the Spanish mission stands by a tree-shaded creek edged with shops and cafés. Here, U.S. 101 heads inland and Highway 1 continues up the coast to splendidly solitary Hearst Castle, the art-filled extravaganza at San Simeon. Forsake the depressing motels and scary food nearby and backtrack to hospitality-rich Cambria for the evening.

Day 5: Big Sur & Carmel
Today's 100-mi drive, which for much of its distance twists up and down bluffs above the ocean, could easily take four hours—without stops to gawk at the vistas. This part of Highway 1 is famously scenic, but rain-induced mudslides sometimes shut it down in winter. At Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park one easy but rewarding hike leads to a waterfall off a beachfront cliff. Lunch on Nepenthe's terrace comes with a mind-blowing Big Sur view. History, beautifully preserved at Carmel's mission, is turned on its head in the ersatz old-world-ish architecture of the town's myriad galleries and restaurants.

Day 6: Monterey to San Francisco
Between Carmel and Monterey, the Cabrillo Highway cuts across the base of the Monterey Peninsula. If you're determined to maximize your ocean-view mileage, pony up the toll and take the long way around: 17-Mile Drive, which traverses a surf-pounded landscape of cypress trees, sea lions, gargantuan estates, and the Pebble Beach Golf Links. You might forget the tourist hordes when surrounded by the kelp forests and bat rays of the Monterey Bay Aquarium or the adobes and artifacts of Monterey State Historic Park. Northward past a string of secluded beaches and small towns, Highway 1 reaches San Francisco. Check into the lighthearted Hotel Monaco near Union Square and request a goldfish for your room.

Day 7: San Francisco
The best way to do San Francisco is on foot and public transport. A Union Square stroll packs a wallop of people-watching, window-shopping, and architecture-viewing. In Chinatown, department stores give way to dim-sum shops, storefront temples, and open-air markets. Catch a Powell Street cable car to the end of the line and get off to see the bay views and the antique arcade games at Musée Mécanique, the gem of otherwise mindless Fisherman's Wharf. Head to cosmopolitan North Beach for cocktail hour, dinner, and live music.

Day 8: Marin County
If fog hasn't socked in the bay, a drive across the Golden Gate Bridge and a stop at a Marin Headlands overlook yield memorable city prospects. Hike beyond the crowded trails at Muir Woods National Monument to feel the power of the giant redwoods. Highway 1 (now called Shoreline Highway) runs straight through the center of Stinson Beach, whose cafés cater to surfers; reclusive hippie-types hide out at the end of a side road in tiny Bolinas. Put down roots in Inverness or Olema for two nights.

Day 9: Point Reyes National Seashore
You can take a deep breath on this wild and sometimes gray piece of seashore, where you might claim an unspoiled beach for yourself. Expect company around the lighthouse at the tip of Point Reyes, though, for the great view and for elephant seal- and whale-watching in season. Cap a day of fresh air with the best meal of your vacation: dinner cooked over a wood fire at Manka's Inverness Lodge.

Day 10: The Sonoma Coast
Passing only a few minuscule towns, this stretch of Highway 1 shows off the northern coast in all its ragged glory—when the fog stays away. Fort Ross State Historic Park's reconstructed compound of eerily foreign buildings recalls the era of Russian fur trading in California. Pull into Gualala for an espresso, a sandwich, and a little human contact before rolling onward. After another 50 mi of tranquil state beaches and parks you'll return to civilization in Mendocino, a clapboard village of shops, inns, and restaurants.

Day 11: Mendocino & Fort Bragg
A profusion of flowers, cypress groves, and meadows overlooks the ocean in the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. Traveling back in time, the Skunk Train follows an old logging route from Fort Bragg deep into the redwood forest. A little timbering history and a lot of artsy retail fill the restored 19th-century homes and storefronts of downtown Mendocino.

Day 12: Departure/San Francisco
The last 53 mi of your trip take you through wilderness to Highway 1's northern terminus, at U.S. 101 in Leggett. From here, you've got a 3½-hour (181-mi) drive down the 101 to San Francisco, a 4-hour (193 mi) haul sans stops straight to SFO.

If you can, spare yourself some hassle up front by flying into John Wayne/Orange County Airport. You'll bypass insane LAX and land 40 mi closer to Dana Point.

Don't ruin the end of your vacation by driving back to L.A. Many rental-car agencies will waive the drop-off fee for your one-way rental. Even if yours won't, is it worth an extra six-plus hours of driving and all that expensive California gas to avoid paying the typical $99 charge?

If you see traffic backed up behind you on a long two-lane, no-passing stretch, do everyone a favor and use the first available pull-out. Without someone on your tail, you can enjoy the drive.

Prone to motion sickness? Do the driving on the especially tortuous sections of road, focusing on the landscape outside should make you feel less queasy. Opening a window and letting fresh air blow on your face may also help.
dtph is offline  
Oct 28th, 2009, 11:40 AM
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Why not. The drive along the Sonoma coast and Big Sur is better going South anyhow then you are on the ocean side of the road.
Any or all of this is a wonderful trip. What time of year are you thinking of doing it?
joeyi is offline  
Oct 28th, 2009, 11:45 AM
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Thank you joeyi! We'd be starting on Christmas Eve.
dtph is offline  
Oct 28th, 2009, 11:47 AM
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The view is better going North-South. You'll be on the ocean side and the view will be unobstructed. Also it's easier for the pullouts for the views, you don't have to cross the road to get to the pullout.
easytraveler is offline  
Oct 28th, 2009, 11:58 AM
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Awesome. Thanks easytraveler.
dtph is offline  
Oct 28th, 2009, 01:01 PM
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Can this be done backwards? Probably not a good idea to drive that far in reverse. lol
spirobulldog is offline  
Oct 28th, 2009, 01:07 PM
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A few other things for you to consider:

Day 3: Getty Villa at Malibu (free, but you need resevations for parking and entry tickets)

Day 4: San Luis Obispo has a couple of Farmer's Market days, if you're there during one of those days


Day 5: Point Lobos State Reserve, especially on a clear day. If you're short on time, I'd trade the Carmel Mission for Point Lobos.

Day 6: you'll be getting to the Aquarium first. After the Aquarium, try and get on Ocean View blvd which goes along the ocean in Pacific Grove. As soon as the road turns inland, go slowly and you'll see, on the right, the Pacific Grove Gate to the 17 Mile Drive. overnight in Carmel. You should have time to enjoy walking around downtown Carmel or along Carmel Beach.

Day 8: since you are coming from the North, Highway 1 will turn inland and you should see signs for Muir Woods. After visiting Muir Woods, take Highway 1 inland to where it joins Highway 101 and you will be on 101 headed towards San Francisco. From 101, take the last exit before the Golden Gate Bridge, it'll read "Sausalito". At the stop sign, turn LEFT. Go about 100 yards and you'll see the road fork, take the RIGHT fork which will say "Marin Headlands". Drive up to the top of the hill and park in the dirt. Then walk up to the battery point for a fantastic view of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco and the entire Bay to Oakland. On return, when you get to the stop sign at the fork, turn RIGHT; this will get you onto the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco.

Have a great trip! Bring layered clothing as the weather can change from cold to warm during the same day - blouse/shirt, sweater, jacket.
easytraveler is offline  
Oct 28th, 2009, 02:22 PM
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easytraveler - Wow! Thank you so much for the extra tips! I really appreciate it.
dtph is offline  
Oct 28th, 2009, 02:47 PM
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Of course you can take it north to south. I'm, however, one of the few who prefers the south to north direction because:

1. Going north to south, the sun will be in your face for the entire day in December. Hills will be shadowed, and the ocean won't be as scenic as it would be if you were looking north with the sun at your back.

2. The Bixby Bridge along Big Sur, and several white cliffs along the San Mateo Coast are better viewed looking north, IMO.

Don't miss Pt Lobos (as easytraveler noted) - I'm surprised the Fodors folks didn't mention this (they must not be monitoring this forum).

For anyone else contemplating this itinerary, I don't think Day 1 is advisable on a work day. We lived next to Dana Point (in Laguna Beach) for 4 years, and LAX to Dana Point on a work day could take 4 hours if you hit it at the wrong time (which is almost anytime on a work day). And then, on the same day the itinerary has you heading back north from Dana Point, visiting Laguna Beach (half to full-day visit, IMO) then Newport Beach - where Hwy 1 is not that scenic, but some jaunts along the coast at Corona del Mar, "the Wedge" on the Newport Peninsula, ferry to Balboa Island can be quite enjoyable (another half day). However, the OP would probably not follow this part of the itinerary since he/she will be staying in Orange Co.

I would forgo some of the LA stuff. Dana Pt, Laguna, Newport Beach, Malibu are all nice. LA & Santa Monica are not - if you are mainly doing a coastal trip. I would squeeze 1 1/2 to 2 days from this LA area and add those days to the region from San Simeon to San Francisco (stay 2 nights in Carmel).

Have you read my list of "favorites" in the San Francisco area??

Stu Dudley
StuDudley is online now  
Oct 28th, 2009, 02:54 PM
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would love to do this myself someday..

happy trails to dtph.. saving away this itinerary and thread for that future trip
wanderlust125 is offline  
Oct 28th, 2009, 02:59 PM
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Thanks Stu Dudley - I am heading home now, but will definitely be checking your list of favs tonight. Thank you for sharing!
dtph is offline  
Oct 29th, 2009, 07:23 AM
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Now I need more specific help...Here are our details: We land at SFO the morning of Dec 24. We would like to be in Vegas early Dec 30 and spend New Years Eve there. We'll leave Vegas on Jan 1 and head to LA until Jan 5. We want to drive along Highway 1 following as much of the original posted itinerary as possible with the number of days we have. Can you help me pick out the best of the itinerary that you think we'll be able to do, what places to stay overnight or 2 nights and also anything additional worth doing that wasn't included? Thank you thank you thank you!
dtph is offline  
Oct 29th, 2009, 08:03 AM
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The Fodors itinerary you've posted is a 12-day itinerary, whereas you indicate you have only 7 days with about 5 days in LA. You're going to have to split up the Fodors itinerary and do the Southern California portion when you get to LA.

You have to quit Highway 1 either around Highway 58 or Highway 166 and cut across the state to Barstow where you pick up Interstate 15 to Las Vegas.

to get to Las Vegas is a lot of desert driving. You should allot at least one day to cross eastward to Las Vegas and at least 1/2 day to cross westward from las Vegas to LA.

I'd cut out Mendocino and even Muir Woods, since you will be seeing redwoods at Big Sur. My suggestion is to start your Highway 1 journey no further north than Point Reyes. Spend some time in Napa/Sonoma visiting the wineries, then spend at least a ouple of days in San Francisco. Then start southward and spend one night in Carmel and one night in Cambria.

Next you will have to start across the state, get to Las Vegas (one day) and spend New Year's in Las Vegas.

Then drive to LA (1/2 day) and spend the rest of your time in LA, possibly with a side trip to San Diego.
easytraveler is offline  
Oct 29th, 2009, 08:16 AM
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Easytraveler - that sounds incredible and thanks for being so thorough and making it easy for me to understand. You really live up to your member name =) I'm going to review this on the map with my hubby tonight and may have more questions later!
I'm still open to all suggestions...
dtph is offline  
Oct 29th, 2009, 09:19 AM
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My suggestion...skip Las Vegas. You are adding 2 days
of driving just to spend New Years Eve there? I'm not
sure why you want to go there but Vegas 'ain't all that'.

Spend New Years Eve in SF and focus on your coastal adventure. Save Vegas for another trip or you'll turn this into a nightmare of driving and driving and driving and much of it back and forth across boring desert and flat farmland. The trip sounded fun until you threw Vegas into the mix. It is about a 9 hour drive from SF to Vegas as I recall. Drive less and have more fun IMO.
peterboy is offline  
Oct 29th, 2009, 09:24 AM
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You'll have some problems with your itinerary because of Christmas. Wineries will be closed then - and I suspect that they will close early on Christmas eve too. You may even have trouble finding restaurants that are open on Christmas unless you do some research in advance.

Here is what I would do:

Get an AAA map of San Francisco. Don't rely on any handouts from your hotel.

Spend the first two nights in San Francisco. Stay at one of the Lombard Street motels, which will give you quick access to the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin & Sonoma coast. On the 24th, you have the choice of seeing some of the typical San Francisco sites, or doing a more "coastal thing. Here is my chice for the "coastal thing":

After you check into your hotel, head west on Lombard to Divisadero and turn left (south) on Divisadero. Head uphill (steep) and travel a mile or two to Fell St. Turn right (west) on Fell & soon you will be driving by the Golden Gate Park Panhandle and then into the Park. Keep going down JFK drive till you hit the Pacific Ocean. This will be Ocean Beach, and it's kinda fun to watch the waves on a stormy day. Get out of the car & watch the surf. Then head north on the Great Highway (road along the coast), and keep going as it passes the Cliff House (lunch or, at thre Beach Chalet) and bends east onto Pt Lobos then becomes Geary Blvd (Geary is a major street). Keep heading east on Geary, and turn left (north) on 34th St and enter Lincoln Park. Continue on to the Palace of the Legion of Honor. This is one of our major art exhibition places (along with some other uses). It was built by Alma de Bretteville Spreckels, who married into the Spreckels fortune (sugar), built the museum, and donated it to The City. A few years ago it displayed the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit, last year the Degas exhibit, and also has the largest collection of Rodin statues outside of Paris.

After passing the Legion, take the right (only way you can go) on to El Camino Del Mar. Get the camera ready for some fantastic views of the Golden Gate. I always take guests on this route. You will be driving along a golf course. Just before you leave the course and enter a residential area, park the car & walk to the viewing platform to your left – you’ll see it from the road. Return to the car & continue along El Camino Del Mar. You will enter the Seacliff Area which (I suspect) has the most expensive homes in the City. Robin Williams lives there – look for a dinosaur topiary peeking over a hedge on his home (it’s not on the immediate waterfront). When entering Seacliff, keep left whenever you can – especially paying attention to a “Y” onto Seacliff Ave. Just after this Y, turn left on to a dead end & perhaps have a look at China Beach & the views from there. Continue along Seacliff Rd as it snakes around and exits the Seacliff area at 25th St. Turn left (east) off 25th on to Lincoln. Proceed north on Lincoln for some more exceptional views of the Golden Gate and the Bridge.

Lincoln will eventually twist around, and go under the Golden Gate Bridge. Immediately after it goes under the bridge, look on your left for a sign to the Golden Gate Bridge. Follow this up and cross the Golden Gate Bridge.

Head north across the Golden Gate Bridge. Just past the bridge, take the Alexander Av. exit towards Sausalito. When you get to the stop at the end of the freeway off ramp, turn left & go under Hwy 101. Proceed like you are going back across the bridge to SF, but take the road to the right that goes up-hill, just before actually getting on 101. There will be a sign that says you are entering the Golden Gate National Recreational (GGNRA) area. Continue up on this road – it’s called Conzelman on the map. You will see what are (in my opinion) the best views of San Francisco – The GG Bridge in the foreground & The City behind it. This was formerly a military area that is still laced with bunkers, gun turrets, underground tunnels etc. It was opened up in the ‘70s. The views of The City, the Bridge, and the Golden Gate are breathtaking. You can see down the San Mateo Coast from up here. Go all the way to the top until you hit a much smaller one-way road. On the way up, get out & enjoy the sights. Kids will love the bunkers & gun turrets. At the top where the main road ends, there is the largest gun turret, where you can climb up to for an almost 360 degree view. This view is best in the evening when the sun is in a position to light up the bridge & highlight downtown.

After you have thoroughly explored the area where "the main road ends", continue down "literally" the smaller road - which is a wone way road. You'll now enter the Marin Headlands. This is a lovely area to walk to lighthouses, beaches, more batteries & bunkers, views back to the City, etc. There are some roads that wander around in this area, but try to get an AAA map of Sausalito to see where you are going. There are really only 2 ways out of this region - so eventually you'll return to civilation even if you don't have a map. Follow the signs to Sausalito. Drive down the main road through Sausalito (Bridgeway), and perhaps take a walk around. Great views across the Bay to San Francisco. Return to San Francisco and follow the sighs to Lombard St & back to your hotel.

Dec 25 - Christmas. Explore the Marin & Sonoma Coast.

Get an AAA map of this area between San Francisco & Mendocino - perhaps the "Central California" map.

Head over the Golden Gate Bridge & continue north on 101. Take the Blithdale exit off 101 to Mill Valley. If you are a M.A.S.H. fan, you'll will recognize this place as the hometown of B.J. Hunnicut. Keep following Blithdale as it worms around a little in some not-so-picturesque areas before it reaches the center of Mill Valley (you’ll know when you get there). Then take Miller Ave. South. Shortly after the double road section of Miller Ave ends, take a right on Shoreline Highway – this is also the famous Ca Highway #1. Follow this to Muir Beach & Stinson Beach. This is a pretty drive. After a couple of miles past the Miller/Shoreline junction, there is a turnoff to Panoramic Hwy and the Muir Woods redwood grove. If you want to visit Muir Woods, do so but remember that it gets overwhelmed with day trippers from SF in the summer.

Continue on Shoreline (Hwy #1) past Muir Beach & on to Stinson Beach. There are some nice views of the ocean along this route. There’s a lookout over Muir Beach.

Stay on Hwy #1 past Stinson Beach. You will start to see a large land mass to your left (ocean side) This is Point Reyes National Seashore, where you could spend several days exploring the wildlife & natural beauty of this area. Drake’s Bay, on the west side of Pt Reyes, is where this Northern California area was first discovered – long before San Francisco Bay was discovered by Spanish explorers. Hwy #1 will go past a long lagoon (Tomales Bay). Just past the lagoon, Hwy #1 will turn inland.

Continue on Hwy 1 past Valley Ford. When it intersects the Bodega Highway, turn right (inland/east) & go to Bodega. This is where Alfred Hitchcock filmed several scenes from “the Birds”, including the schoolhouse scene.

This next stretch is my favorite. Continue north on Hwy # 1 past Jenner. Great views of the coast. If Ft Ross is open on Christmas, pay it a visit. Keep going north - but be aware of the time because you'll need to take one of the few roads that head back inland so you can pick up 101 & get back to San Francisco before it gets real dark.

Dec 26. Head out early & spend 2 nights in Carmel. Visit pt Lobos.

Dec 28. Leave Carmel and head south along the prettiest section of Hwy 1. Stay 1 night iin Big Sur - perhaps at the Big Sur Lodge. Explore Pfeiffer beach, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State park, and have lunch and/of dinner at nepenthe.

Dec 29 - continue down the prettiest section of Hwy 1 to San Simeon. Visit Hearst Castle. Stay in San Simeon or Cambria.

Dec 30 - Head to Lost Wages (Las Vegas).

Stu Dudley
StuDudley is online now  
Oct 29th, 2009, 09:27 AM
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I agree with peter 100000%. After San Francisco, Carmel, and the fantastic coast - Las Vegas will seem like a trip to a K-Mart (as you can probably tell, I have no interest in Vegas)

Stu Dudley
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Oct 29th, 2009, 09:46 AM
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hahaha....i dont really want to include vegas in this trip either! i go once a year and hubby goes more frequently. but he really wants to go again for nye. so we may just have to include it.
dtph is offline  
Oct 29th, 2009, 10:37 AM
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>>so we may just have to include it.<<

Why didn't you indicate that in your initial post???

Stu Dudley
StuDudley is online now  
Oct 29th, 2009, 10:45 AM
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b/c i didnt know that until last night =(
dtph is offline  

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