LA to SF road trip - do's and don'ts

Feb 2nd, 2009, 12:16 PM
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LA to SF road trip - do's and don'ts

We are going to spend 5 days before a cruise driving from LA to SF with stops in Cambria, Monterrey and SF. What things are "must sees"? What are "don't sees"? I have hotels booked. What restaurants in Cambria, Montery and SF are ones we shouldn't miss?
indianajudy is offline  
Feb 2nd, 2009, 12:36 PM
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Monterrey is in Mexico, Monterey is in California. which one are you visiting?

Please help us to help you by giving us some idea of your budget - we could recommend hamburger places or 4* restaurants.

Where are these hotels that you have booked? Is one in Cambria?

What are your interests? Museums? Landscape? Music? Sports?

Not trying to be annoying, but it's so hard to answer your questions without more details.

Thanks for helping us!
easytraveler is offline  
Feb 2nd, 2009, 12:47 PM
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We will visit Monterey, CA. We have one night hotel booked at The Fog Catcher Inn in Cambria? The next morning we will tour Hearst Castle. Then, we will drive on through Carmel (?) and on to Monterey. We will stay at Casa Munras there for one night and plan to visit the Aquarium. We are reading Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday which are set in the Fisherman's Wharf area of Monterey. We have booked 2 nights at the Holiday Inn at Fisherman's Wharf for two nights -- then the drive back to LA to pick up our cruise.

We don't want the most expensive restaurants, but also don't want run-of-the-mill hamburger places that we can go to in Indiana. We will probably plan to have one meal a day at a rather nice $20-25 cost per meal restaurant. We love historical places, unique sights and places we just shouldn't miss on our very fast-paced four-day trip. I'm afraid we are trying to fit in too much in a short time, but none of us have been to California before and just have these few days available before our cruise. Any advice would be helpful.

indianajudy is offline  
Feb 2nd, 2009, 01:56 PM
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Here are some things in the San Francisco area that my 4th generation Hoosier wife and I enjoy doing.

I would not try to rush the segment from Hearst Castle to Carmel. Our coast is much prettier than the Indiana dunes.

I would dine at some outdor place on Columbus St in North Beach (Little Italy). I like Rose Pistola (outside tables), and my 3rd generation FIL likes North Beach Restaurant (no outside) - but there are a dozen or so other less expensive places on that street. I would also dine a Betlenut (Asian) on Union St - one of our most interesting neighborhood shopping streets. They also have outside tables. Do not dine at Fisherman's Wharf - that is not "typical" San Francisco.

Also, I would stay in Carmel instead of Monterey.

My FIL says that there is 9 inches of snow in Naptown now - it's near 70 here & we've spent the entire day gardening outside.

Stu Dudley
Purdue '69

StuDudley is offline  
Feb 2nd, 2009, 02:56 PM
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If you drive straight through from LA, depending on where exactly you leave from and at what time of day, it could take something like four hours to Cambria.

Assuming that you want to make that more than a motoring day, here are a few names to look up for your trip between LA and Cambria:

From LA drive via Moorpark and Santa Paula to Ojai: Highway/road numbers 101 to 23 or 118 to 23 north, non-numbered road Bardsdale Ave west to S. Mountain Road through the plantations to Santa Paula (on 126 - don’t take it), through town on 150 to Ojai for an early brunch. What a drive! Look it up (

From Ojai head west, still on the 150, to the 101, and in Santa Barbara drive up to the mission (

Then take State Street to the 101 and the turn-off where the 154 heads north, up and over the San Marcos Pass - great views back over the ocean, and almost surreal landscapes on the other side, pull over and look.

Take a left at 246 to the Danish town Solvang (, worth a brief stop and look, it really looks Danish, and they sell awesome bakery items everywhere (not just “Danish” but them, too, of course).

Keep west on the 246 and rejoin the 101 north at Buellton, pull off at Pismo Beach, on Ocean View or Wadsworth Exits, and head for the ocean and the Pier. Say Hi to the cranky cormoran (but leave him alone...), he owns the place.

Get back on the 101 North and follow signs to Morro Bay on Highway 1.

I prefer to turn off before and take Los Osos Valley Rd, it links up with Highway 1 - in Los Osos you simply hang a right into S. Bay Blvd and a left at the junction with the 1 which - right there - is called Cabrillo Highway.

Soon you’ll be in Cambria, which has two parts - the motels and shops and restaurants in a busy frontage street along a stretch of the 1 between two traffic signals, and the “real” town up on the hill.

Later, when you get up into the Big Sur area, where everything is named Pfeiffer something, look for a Ranger Station on your right, it is a sizeable hut with a parking lot, they will give you maps and tell you how and where you can drive to the ocean front - this varies with the (recent) weather. If you’re in luck, you can do it without 4-wheel drive.

Carmel has a few separate regions - the Carmel Valley, the elevated Carmel town above, and the ocean-side Carmel-by-the-Sea. Look for the turnoff for the start of the 17-mile drive before you get into Monterey, after you climb up from the shopping center with the big Safeways on your right (great for provisions, an exceptional deli section!) and the gas station - the first signs of civilization in a long time, you will know what I mean.

It costs something like 12 bucks for a car, and during the first few miles of the 17-mile drive you’ll wonder why you spent that, all you see is the garage doors of expensive houses. But it gets better, much better - bring you camera and binocs!

The 17-mile drive drops you into the back of Monterey on the peninsula, not far from the Cannery Row and Acquarium area (the A. is a must, by the way).

Next major stop: Santa Cruz - funky in parts, modern in others - go check out the boardwalk area.

Enjoy your drive!
DalaiLlama is offline  
Feb 2nd, 2009, 03:43 PM
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Thank you for your helpful comments. I assume that the restaurants you suggest are in SF?

Can you suggest a nice, but not high priced place to stay in Monterey?

We had about a foot of snow last week with more forecast for tonight. We are getting very anxious for our flight to California.

Another question, will be need warm clothing for our visit to the SF area in March? Sweaters? Coats? Having never been there, we need some advice. Thank you for your help.
indianajudy is offline  
Feb 2nd, 2009, 03:45 PM
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I meant -- a hotel in Carmel, not Monterey. Sorry.
indianajudy is offline  
Feb 2nd, 2009, 03:58 PM
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Those restaurants are in San Francisco.

For about the last 10 years, we have visited Carmel as a day trip - so I don't have any current info about hotels. Most of the hotels are carbon copies of each other. We've stayed at the Coachman (or maybe it was the Vagabond Inn) a few times in the past. There are lots of posts on Fodors about hotels in Carmel.

ALWAYS bring warm clothing to the Northern Calif area. Sweater in the daytime, coat for dinner out.

My wife's father sat outside for several days when he was here for Christmas, and went back to Indianapolis with an intentional sunburn.

My wife corrected me - there is 12 1/2 inches of snow in Indianapolis right now.

Stu Dudley
StuDudley is offline  
Feb 2nd, 2009, 05:05 PM
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I would support Stu's suggestion that you spend one night in Carmel and not in Monterey. I definitely do NOT recommend the Casa Munras in Monterey. My recollection (from a conference years ago) is that it's old and smelly.

You could try and search for hotels in Carmel on or do a bit more research on the following small property (I have never stayed there, but it's gotten some good reviews):

Another choice of a night would be slightly south of Carmel in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

click on "Big Sur Lodge" and look at their cottages. Very rustic. At the moment, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park has parts that are closed, but you didn't say when you are coming, so the park could be open by the time of your trip.

Another rustic choice in the area is Deetjen's

This is VERY rustic, do not expect big city amenities.
easytraveler is offline  
Feb 2nd, 2009, 05:12 PM
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Why are you driving from LA to SF and then back to LA for the cruise? Fly into SF and drive south to LA. No need for a RT in a car
denice7 is online now  
Feb 2nd, 2009, 05:45 PM
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May I suggest that you do this trip in reverse? Drive quickly up to San Francisco after arrival in California and then start leisurely down along the coast. The views are better going North to South.

Day 1: After you arrive in California (will it be at LAX?) head north on Interstate 5, the fast route for San Francisco. It should take you about 7 hours to drive LA to SF. If your flight arrives late, you could stop anywhere along the way and spend the night, for example, in San Jose. We can help you with the first overnight if we knew your time of arrival in LA.

Day 2: Spend the next day and night in San Francisco.

Day 3: Very early in the morning, start down Highway 1 to Monterey and do the aquarium and the Monterey area.

Do 17 Mile Drive and, especially Point Lobos south of Carmel and stay the night in Carmel.

Day 4 Again early start on Highway 1 to Cambria. If you have the time, hike Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to see the McWay Falls

Very easy hike, wheelchair accessible and about an hour of your time.

do a tour of Hearst Castle and keep going south as far as you can. Possibly overnight in Santa Barbara.

Day 5 start out from Santa Barbara early for Los Angeles. Does your cruise leave from the San Pedro pier at 1pm?

A lot of the above timing depends on your time of arrival in LA and could therefore be shifted forward or backwards.

easytraveler is offline  
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