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

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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.

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