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-   -   Planning a drive down the Pacific Coast Highway... (https://www.fodors.com/community/united-states/planning-a-drive-down-the-pacific-coast-highway-244702/)

Matt Jul 31st, 2002 07:26 AM

Planning a drive down the Pacific Coast Highway...
 
Hi:<BR><BR>I'm planning a mid-week drive down the Pacific Coast Highway in September, starting the morning in Napa and ending in LA, stopping for one night somewhere during the drive.<BR><BR>We aren't interested in Hearst Castle, and would rather spend time walking through small towns, or 1-2 hour hikes in the parks.<BR><BR>Will we need a hotel reservation for a mid-week night, and if so, what's a good stopping point to target after the first day, so I can look into hotels?<BR><BR>Any other comments you have about a road trip like this will be greatly appreciated!<BR><BR>Matt

David Jul 31st, 2002 07:58 AM

Matt,<BR><BR><BR>I would not suggest taking Highway 1 staring in Napa all the way down to LA. The most scenic part of Highway 1 starts in the Monterey Bay. My suggestion would be to pick up Highway 1 there so that you can take the time to enjoy the spectacular coastal scenery from Monterey south to Big Sur. The drive to LA on Highway 5(the fast route) will be about 6.5 hrs at least). Highway 1 from Napa to LA will add another 3-4 hours at least.<BR><BR>From Napa you should get on 80 west to 780 and merge on to 680 south toward San Jose. Once in the city, 680 south will become 280 north. From 280 take 17 south to Santa Cruz and 1 south to the Monterey and Carmel area. Monterey or Carmel would be a great place to spend the night. You could check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium, 17 Mile Drive, and Fisherman's Wharf. On the way to Monterey on Highway 1 in Moss Landing, I highly recommend Phil's restaurant if you like seafood. For Hearst Castle www.hearst-castle.org do make reservations. The castle is great.<BR><BR>Have a great trip.<BR>

kam Jul 31st, 2002 09:24 AM

Just an alternative to David's route. From Napa get back over to 101 and then follow signs to 280. Take 280 to 85 (marked Gilroy) to avoid the city of San Jose. This will eventually merge with the 101 again (marked Los Angeles) and from there you take 168 west (Marked Monterey Peninsula) This is a pretty route and will avoid San Jose traffic. A good place to stop might be Carmel with nice shops, restaurants and little hotels. Go to Pt. Lobos State Park to spend a couple incredible hours with nature. Next morning get up, drive down through Big Sur, possibly take a short hike at Pfeifer State Park. Have lunch in Cambria or Morro Bay and then cross over to the 101 to get to LA. To do it in two days is pushing, but it can be done. The 5 freeway is desolate, dusty and downright ugly. Getting from Big Sur to the 5 is an incredible waste of time. Stick to 101 after San Luis Obispo. Enjoy. Yes, reserve a hotel---this is summer.

David Jul 31st, 2002 10:08 AM

Matt,<BR><BR>I would not recommend Kam's route because getting to 101 from Napa would be a longer route out of the way. Napa is very close to the 680 freeway. Also, the traffic on 101 in the morning heading into San Francisco will be a nightmare.

kam Jul 31st, 2002 10:28 AM

David, you really think 680 isn't as bad?? I shutter everytime I have to drive it. Going south on 280 and 85 you are actually going a bit against the traffic,and yes while it takes longer to get to 101 from Napa, it gives you the opportunity(mixed blessing, I know) of driving in GG Bridge. He's going to get into traffic no matter what!

Matt Jul 31st, 2002 10:32 AM

I ask for suggestions, I get a debate! <BR><BR>But I do appreciate the advice!

George Jul 31st, 2002 10:50 AM

Stay on Hwy 1 through Big Sur (as though you have a choice!) and do an overnight in Morro Bay. Check out the rock, the town, the neat little places to eat down at the harbor.<BR><BR>I feel quite sure you won't need a reservation....

J Correa Jul 31st, 2002 12:14 PM

I don't have any suggestions for getting through the Bay Area in the morning - you will hit traffic with any route. <BR><BR>I agree about staying in Morro Bay for the night. It's a nice little town with several restaurants right on the Embarcadero. The rock is fun to explore. We took a glass-bottom boat tour around the harbor. The first trip of the morning is the best because the water is calm and you can really see the fish and other animals.

David Jul 31st, 2002 12:31 PM

Kam,<BR><BR>It makes no sense for Matt to go out of the way to the 101 from Napa. I have driven both 101 south from Marin County in the morning as well as 280 south for SF in the morning and both of those roads are very congested. In addition, Matt would have to get off of the 101 in SF and take 19th Avenue to get to the 280. 19th Avenue is one of the streets with the worst traffic in SF. Invariably you end up getting most all of the stop lights. In my experience 680 is not much of a problem after 9AM<BR><BR>Matt,<BR><BR>Sorry about the conflicting viewpoints. But in all honesty your best bet would be to stick to the route that I gave you. Either way you will have traffic, but with Kam's route you will not have enough time to have enough time to enjoy the Central Coast.

Dawn Jul 31st, 2002 12:53 PM

<BR>I find it interesting that Kam is suggesting that taking the 280 to the 85 is a way to avoid San Jose traffic. The 85 runs right through San Jose (West San Jose, Santa Teresa, and Blossom Hill areas). At least it did the last time I drove it about 2 weeks ago. Also, taking the 101 south of San Jose in the Morgan Hill area is not a good idea due to the traffic jams that occur as a result of the freeway construction. I think that David's route would be better.

Traveling man Jul 31st, 2002 01:10 PM

David/Dawn, give it a rest. You will never allow others to have a differing opinion, you must always have the final word. Dawn, the 85 does not go through downtown SJ, as does the 101. I'm sure that was Kam's point. Kam is right, the 680 is notorious for horrendous traffic, and David is right, the east bay is a more direct route. Stop the mudslinging already!<BR><BR>Matt, are you interested in making tracks or the most scenic route? Sounds to me like Big Sur would fit the bill for hikes and parks. Carmel and Santa Barbara are worthy of strolls through small towns. You can't make it in two days if you stay on the coast the whole time, unless you do nothing but drive. Could you spend two nights getting down the coast?

Dawn Jul 31st, 2002 01:26 PM

Traveling Man, I am Dawn and NOT David!<BR><BR><BR>Matt <BR>You are going to get into traffic with either Kam or David's route however, as Traveling Man pointed out, David's route is more direct. I drive 680 almost every day and David is correct about the traffic being no problem after 9AM. I would avoid 19th Avenue in SF at all costs. You can also take the carpool lane on 680.

kam Jul 31st, 2002 02:03 PM

I think the one thing we agree on is that Matt is going to get into traffic--I didn't criticize David's plan, just suggested an alternative. Certainly didn't want to stir up this nest of hornets. Have a great time on the Central Coast, Matt, I wish you had just one more day. (and 85 does not go through the middle of San Jose---that's why they built it about 6 years ago!)

J Correa Jul 31st, 2002 02:04 PM

I agree with Traveling Man that if you can take an extra day for your drive down the coast, it will be much more enjoyable. The coast route is beautiful and you will want to stop and look at things. It's also very curvy so the maximum speed in many areas is about 35 mph. <BR><BR>My vote, if you've got an extra day, would be to spend the night in Monterey and then at Morro Bay. Carmel is interesting, but is rather upscale. If you like upscale, then go for it - lots of people absolutely love it. Monterey is more diverse. With this itinerary, you wouldn't have to worry so much about Bay Area traffic because you'd only be going to Monterey the 1st day. You'd also have plenty of time to explore parts of Big Sur and the coastline along Hwy 1. I recommend stopping at Point Lobos if you have time. <BR><BR>As for the traffic south of San Jose on Hwy 101, it can be a problem since they are widening the road. The morning commute is northbound so that isn't a factor, but construction might slow you down. Another alternative is to take Hwy 17 south from San Jose and pick up Hwy 1 in Santa Cruz. You shouldn't hit much traffic at all going that route as the morning commute is also northbound on 17. <BR><BR>

Traveling man Jul 31st, 2002 02:24 PM

J. Correa, I agree with your suggestion to go over 17. If I were to do this drive and didn't mind driving the less direct route in order to appreciate a more scenic route, I would suggest going over the Golden Gate, late enough to miss the commuters, down 280 along Crystal Springs lake and the Santa Cruz mountains, down 85, over 17 and down highway one to Carmel (or Monterey). Stroll and have lunch. Continue your drive down to Big Sur (no wine with lunch!) and spend the night at the lodging of your choice, depending on budget.<BR><BR>The next day, continue down highway one, which merges back with 101, and stop for lunch in Santa Barbara. After lunch, continue down 101, then go back to highway 1 in Ventura, and go through Malibu to Santa Monica. <BR><BR>You'll wish you had two days to explore Monterey, Big Sur and Santa Barbara each, but you'll get a taste and perhaps plan another trip with more time in the future.

Dawn Jul 31st, 2002 04:29 PM

The drive over the Golden Gate onto 19th Avenue and then 280 is not suggestible in this case because Matt only has 2 days to get to LA.

Matt Aug 1st, 2002 08:44 AM

That is always the problem on a vacation, trying to do everything worth doing in a short period of time. This is only a small part of a week-and-a-half road trip, so we are forced to pick and choose. We are hard-core road-trippers, and being on the road for 12 hour days is no big deal for us. We usually try to spend 50% of the time driving, and 50% on two or three choice stopping points for a an hour to two each.<BR><BR>From everyone's comments, it looks like the best idea will be to try to make Monterey before lunch, and Pt. Lobos or Big Sur by 3 or so for a few hours of hiking. Then either stay around Big Sur, or back track a bit up to Carmel for the night. The next day, try to make Murro Bay for lunch. We are meeting friends in Santa Monica for dinner that night, so we really don't have to make it to LA proper. <BR><BR>Once again, thanks for everyones' comments!!!

sightseer Aug 1st, 2002 09:47 AM

If you enjoy hiking and don't mind casual, but clean accomodations, I'd recommend making reservations for the Big Sur River Inn for that first evening. <BR><BR>Then if you're still interested in taking a short hike the next day, instead of stopping in Morro Bay for lunch, you might want to consider a short hike at Montana de Oro. You could pick up a picnic lunch in nearby Los Osos and enjoy the scenic beauty of this state park before heading back to pick up the 101 down to LA.

L Aug 8th, 2002 10:23 PM

I would rather stay in San Luis Obispo because it it midway between SF and LA. It is a nice little town. On Thursdays there is an awsome Framers market. <BR><BR>To avoid 19th avenue: On the Golden Gate Bridge, head for the far right tool gate. Right after you pay the toll turn right into the Presidio. It almost looks like you are turning into a parking lot. At the end of the presidio, turn right onto Clement. At the end of clement, turn left (back at coast). You will soon pass the Louis (best pancake breakfast and view) and the Cliff House. Now you are at the avenues. Go the designated speed limit to hit all the traffic lights on green. You will notice the locals doing so. Now you are on Skyline. this takes you all the way to Daly city. Now you have a choice of going to hwy 1 or 280. This is called the scenic route, less stressful and better than 19th.

Carl Aug 9th, 2002 06:12 AM

L's suggestion of going through the Presidio, etc instead of 19th Avenue is way too roundabout and confusing. Not to mention the fact that you will encounter some nasty traffic on the city streets. The best option to get to Monterey before lunch is to not take 101 into SF and avoid the bad SF traffic by taking the 80 to 780 to 680 route. At least that way you will be on the freeway the entire time and avoid SF traffic.


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