San Francisco to Los Angeles late January

Old Oct 13th, 2021, 09:47 AM
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San Francisco to Los Angeles late January

American friends in London have kindly offered us the use of their place in Pasadena so I am about to book flights into SFO mid Jan and out of LAX at the end of Jan. I appreciate that it is not the best time of year as far as weather is concerned (but still probably better than London weather in Jan most years!). We have around 16 days and are keen to cover as many experiences as we can. Our interests are varied , good food, great scenery (both coastal and inland) , iconic Californian sights and experiences.

The initial plan is to spend a couple of nights in San Francisco, pick up a rental car upon departure and drive over 5/6 nights south down Highway 1 to Pasadena where we will base ourselves for the remainder of our time and take day trips out from there.

Any suggestions for places to stay, sights to see, things to do, along highway one would be much appreciated. So far I have Big Sur, Monterrey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara as potential locations. Any thoughts on those or other suggestions? As we have six nights and it seems as though the drive time is around 6 hours, would you suggest three two night, six one night stays or some other combination? Are there certain places that definitely require more time compared with others?

Recommendations for specific accommodation along H1 would be much appreciated? Budget is an average of circa $200 per night. As far as style is concerned we are pretty open but would likely lean towards quaint B&B accommodation over chain/big hotels. Likewise interesting places to eat along the H1 route or for our couple of nights in San Francisco?

From Pasadena we would likely take a few day trips out of town. Some passing thoughts include San Diego, Palm Springs, Joshua Tree NP (I have a hankering to ride out into the desert on a motorbike but not sure how easy it would be to rent one and the protective gear, so it will likely remain a pipe dream!). We would also like to head into Downtown LA, Chinatown, Hollywood, Santa Monica etc. sound good? Other suggestions?

If, as I have read from other posts here, there are major storms in the Pacific and roads coastal roads are closed then there will, I suppose have to be a plan B. My initial thought are maybe to divert inland to Yosemite and after few days hiking there head south. Drive inland to Pasadena and spend longer taking trips out from there.

I appreciate that I have asked a lot of questions (there are likely many more!) Thank you in advance for any input.


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Old Oct 13th, 2021, 10:07 AM
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I'm heading out so only have time for one very quick comment now - I'm sure others will chime in soon. But just re Yosemite . . . the only part of the park open in January is the Valley and Badger Pass day ski area. Mariposa Grove is open but only by snowshoeing in 4-ish miles from the south entrance. The back country is inaccessible. Yosemite Valley is glorious in winter though.
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Old Oct 13th, 2021, 10:53 AM
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Try to see Yosemite Valley. It is stunning and there is nothing like it in the UK.

The drive time down Highway 1 will be more than 6hrs. Maybe on the 101, which is what you would call a dual carriageway, and is mostly not along the coast.

Lots of wineries to visit, if you like wine, around the central coast, Santa Barbara, area. Did you ever see James May's trip to California? Oz and James's Big Wine Adventure. Here's episode 1 in case you missed it or have forgotten!


If you make it down to San Diego, the Cabrillo National Monument is interesting and has spectacular ocean and city views. You may even see whales. It's quite a long drive from Pasadena to San Diego, 2 1/2 hours or more each way. You probably would not enjoy that part!

https://www.nps.gov/cabr/index.htm

Closer to Pasadena is the Huntington Library. Well worth a visit although the Rose Garden Tea Room is closed for renovations and I'm not sure when it will reopen. You may not be all that interested in afternoon tea anyway! There are other, excellent, eating options.

https://www.huntington.org

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Old Oct 13th, 2021, 10:59 AM
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The likely only risk of road closures would be on CA 1 south of Big Sur; while that would be a shame it's not the end of the world; you could divert around it easily enough.

A couple of suggestions... First, the migrating monarch butterflies will still be around; you can see them at a number of places around Monterey Bay (one "R" - the city with two is in Mexico.) The butterfly sanctuary in Pacific Grove (on the Monterey Peninsula) is probably the best location.



Second, you mustn't miss Point Lobos, just south of Carmel. The nature reserve is one of the most beautiful places on the whole Pacific coast IMO.

Third, just north of the (amazing) Hearst Castle at San Simeon is an elephant seal rookery. In January it will be busy with dueling bulls, lots of babies.. fascinating.



Fourth (okay, so more than "a couple") I'd spend some days in Santa Barbara. IMO there's no more beautiful a place in California most of the year, especially so in the winter. You could tour some wineries, visit picturesque Ojai, eat great food... Most of all, don't miss the "queen of the missions."



Note all these pictures were taken in January.

Google the places on this map to see what resonates. https://goo.gl/maps/ebwcP4NBWyGeWm3MA
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Old Oct 13th, 2021, 01:58 PM
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You can easily check the Caltrans website for any closures on Highway 1 (they also have a toll free number you can call).
I'd do two nights in Monterey (one "R") and a night or two in Santa Barbara (two if you want to do wine tasting nearby in the Santa Ynez Valley). Since it gets dark very early in January (like 5pm) consider adding a night to the Central Coast, like Morro Bay (less expensive lodging), Cambria or maybe Pismo Beach or Avila Beach. Both Carmel (next door to Monterey) and Santa Barbara have gorgeous California missions to visit. Not sure when Hearst Castle will reopen, it is closed until sometime next year for repairs to the access road.
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Old Oct 13th, 2021, 02:26 PM
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I would spend at least two nights in Carmel after San Francisco. It's very quaint and walkable to shops and restaurants. The hotels are cottage-like and not chain type hotels. Go to Point Lobos for beautiful scenery. Drive the 17-Mile Drive to see iconic Pebble Beach. There is a world-class aquarium in Monterey.

From there I would drive leisurely down Highway 1 (the Big Sur drive), stop for lunch at iconic Nepenthe, see McWay Falls and maybe Pfeiffer Beach. Base yourself that evening in Cambria along Moonstone Beach. Again, cottage-style accommodations, many of which have fireplaces, which you will likely need. This drive is weather dependent as the road will be closed if there are storms. Also, be sure and stop before you get to Cambria at the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery. It's very active during the winter months. You can also visit Hearst Castle if it's open by then (currently closed for road repairs). Also, Hearst Winery in San Simeon is a very nice stop. I would spend two nights in Cambria visiting the shops and tasting rooms.

Leaving Cambria you can either divert to Paso Robles for a night or two if you enjoy wine. There are hundreds of wineries in the area with excellent wines. If you choose to go that route, I will happily make suggestions for wineries to visit as I live in the area. Continuing on Highway 1 I would stop in the quaint town of Cayucos. It's tiny but really a quintessential California beach town. Not too many of those left. It's a great place for a walk on the beach as the rest of the time on your drive will be mostly cliffs.

A stop in Morro Bay is a must to see the rock. You can't miss it You will also find sea lions and sea otters in the harbor. San Luis Obispo is a college town and although it has a cute downtown, I really don't see a need to stop there. If you're looking for a beach, Avila Beach is a good stop as it is south facing so tends to have better weather than the other coastal towns. The harbor there is often teeming with whales. Pismo Beach is another beach town but not my favorite as it has sort of a carnival atmosphere.

Again, if you're into wine, or just like cute little towns, a stop in Los Olivos would be nice. Nearby Solvang is touristy but lots of people like it. Santa Barbara is a great town and called the American Riviera. I can't advise on cities after Santa Barbara as I hate going down there. I hear Pasadena is lovely though.

I'm sure you will have a great time!
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Old Oct 13th, 2021, 02:59 PM
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Plan B would be to just fly from SFO or Oakland down to Hollywood Burbank airport which is a hop skip and a jump from Pasadena. Then maybe visit Big Bear or Palm Springs or Idyllwild.
There are frequent, fairly inexpensive flights on Alaska Airlines, or on Southwest Airlines (which will not show up on your normal fly-checking websites, you must use southwest.com )
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Old Oct 13th, 2021, 03:46 PM
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There is also a great monarch butterfly grove just outside Pismo Beach. The trees in Pacific Grove have been trimmed and are not as full of butterflies the last few years.
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Old Oct 14th, 2021, 07:07 AM
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Thanks Barbara, those places look interesting, especially Huntington Library looks which is only a 5 min drive from where we will be staying!
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Old Oct 14th, 2021, 07:14 AM
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Great photos Gardyloo! Blue skies too, something rarely scene in London in January!

Good to know there will diversions. I have been wondering whether or not to book account on the H1 section of the trip, just in case of problems. Thanks for the link , I shall check that out. Also for the places to visit which I shall put into my Google map. Monarch butterflies! We just missed the migration when we were in Morelia, Mexico a couple of years ago , supposed to be a sight to behold!
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Old Oct 14th, 2021, 07:20 AM
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Thanks so much for the detailed response AustinTraveller. Have made a note of those suggestions of places to visit and will check them out. Note the suggestion to stay a couple of nights in Carmel but wonder if it is perhaps too close to San Francisco? Had a quick look at Cambria and that looks nice. Will no doubt come back to you with request for vineyard suggestions !
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Old Oct 14th, 2021, 07:24 AM
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Cow - will keep that option B in mind should the pacific weather kick off when we arrive. Based on past performance, a distinct possibility. In past years we managed to hit Thailand for the Tsunami, Peru for the Arequipa earthquake and Indonesia when one of their volcanoes erupted! Beginning to take it personally!
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Old Oct 14th, 2021, 07:25 AM
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Good to know Michelle will see how it all fits in with the rest of our trip as it develops!
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Old Oct 14th, 2021, 07:32 AM
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Originally Posted by janisj View Post
I'm heading out so only have time for one very quick comment now - I'm sure others will chime in soon. But just re Yosemite . . . the only part of the park open in January is the Valley and Badger Pass day ski area. Mariposa Grove is open but only by snowshoeing in 4-ish miles from the south entrance. The back country is inaccessible. Yosemite Valley is glorious in winter though.
"one very quick comment" Sorry not good enough! Given your encyclopaedic knowledge of my country, I am expecting great things 😉

Seriously though, thanks for the input on Yosemite. A shame as I loved those Ansell Adams photos of Yosemite from years ago but absolutely no interest in skiing or snow shoes given my accident prone nature. May give it a miss unless I can find an easier way of getting a look.
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Old Oct 14th, 2021, 09:51 AM
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A brief FYI, the Monarch butterfly population has decreased a LOT over the last few years. People are planting milkweed specifically to help them. The adults drink the nectar of many native flowers, but they need milkweed to lay their eggs and the caterpillars only eat milkweed. The right type of milkweed.

https://monarchjointventure.org/get-...t-for-monarchs
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Old Oct 14th, 2021, 10:00 AM
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You would not regret two nights in Carmel, even though it's close to SF. It's completely different.
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Old Oct 14th, 2021, 10:22 AM
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On my way out again (sorry ) but just two more quickies. Don't eliminate Yosemite because the back country is inaccessible. And no need to worry about the snowshoe/skiing bits. No need to visit the Mariposa grove, and I've been to YNP many times and only been to Badger Pass once (on my honeymoon no less). Many MANY of Ansel Adams most iconic photos were taken in Yosemite Valley which is the open / accessible area in winter. I personally would try for two nights there.

As for Carmel being too near SF for a stop over . . . Not at all. There is so much to see in the area that two nights there would be a minimum IMO. SF all the way to Cambria via Big Sur is a long haul and you'd have to skip / miss so many great sites/sights.
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Old Oct 14th, 2021, 10:25 AM
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Originally Posted by crellston View Post
. . . thanks for the input on Yosemite. A shame as I loved those Ansell Adams photos of Yosemite from years ago but absolutely no interest in skiing or snow shoes given my accident prone nature. May give it a miss unless I can find an easier way of getting a look.
In case you misunderstood, you'll have plenty of Ansel Adams moments visiting Yosemite Valley. No need whatever for the snowshoes or back country hiking. Don't deprive yourself by thinking it's "only" the valley, views from the valley are magnificent and it couldn't be easier, drive in, get out of your car and and you're surrounded by it!

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Old Oct 14th, 2021, 11:44 AM
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My #1 suggestion is a meetup during your time based in Pasadena.

I usually do not stay in B&Bs in California. Hopefully others will have some specific suggestions. I can suggest preferred neighborhoods and locations.

For the Monterey Bay Area I prefer to stay in Pacific Grove and you may find some B&Bs there.
My preferred neighborhood is near the Asilomar Conference Grounds (As a single I like the historic units designed by Julia Morgan). There are some B&Bs nearby, but I haven't tried them.
The food at Asilomar isn't good but there is no shortage of dining options (Red House Cafe for breakfast, Passionfish for dinner).

I have not overnighted in Big Sur. There aren't a lot of options. Maybe Ragged Point Inn.

At the south end of the Central Coast you hit San Simeon (which does not have much as far as lodging, although I'd stop for Elephant Seals) and then Cambria which has a few B&Bs. A lot of people like Moonstone Beach but I've only stayed at the Cambria Pines Lodge @ the Fireplace Rooms when on special (which are on the top floor hence no elephants overhead). Moonstone Hotels is the owner and they also run J Patrick House B&B. www.moonstonehotels.com

Farther south there are plenty of options in the stretch from Cayucos to Morro Bay. You probably would not have to book far in advance in winter here. Being cheap I've mostly used one of the inexpensive motels with decent reviews.
I like several nights in Morro Bay, there are nice walks out to the rock and farther south at Morro Bay State Park, Elfin Forest and Montana de Oro. Bayside Cafe recommended at the State Park for dining before or after visiting the boardwalk.

From Pismo you have to cut inland via San Luis Obispo (SLO) which is often short on lodgings due to the University but is near some good wineries.
When you reach the coast again you will pass through the Pismo Beach area (nice for walking at low tide but very touristy in season). I used to like Big Sky Cafe for their salads and wine by the glass.

Knowing you are a steak person then this stretch of the Central Coast is where you MUST try to get to the Casmalia Hitching Post . TOTALLY old school and worth the detour.
https://hitchingpost1.com/dinnermenu.html
Yes, there are far fewer Monarch butterflies than previously.

For inexpensive lodging after Pismo, we used to stay in Lompoc. There is a reasonably good Embassy Suites there, and the "Wine Ghetto". Also Mission La Purisima. Favorite restaurant there is Sissy's Uptown Cafe but they have very limited hours now. More likely to be open for lunch, apparently. Staffing issues.

Re away trips, there is some great hiking around the Coachella Valley and Joshua Tree but of course prices go up in Snowbird season. If you go Sunday-Wednesday when there isn't an event it should be better. And since you will be here you should be able to book nonrefundable prices. Caliente Tropics is funky low-cost motel that I've used a few times. There are some nicer ones farther back in the residential area behind Palm Springs, Desert Hills Hotel is not far out of your range (and often sells out).
Desert Hills | Hotel Rooms

I agree that you might consider a trip out to the Grand Canyon and/or Zion National Park, weather permitting.
San Diego is okay but I think the Central Coast is just as nice.

I would suggest a few 2-night stays along Hwy1, rather than the 1 nighters.

What about Death Valley and driving up the east side of the Sierra Nevada? You can see Mt. Whitney from the McDonald's in Lone Pine. Manzanar is worth a visit as is Mono Lake. Bishop has reasonable lodging (not being a ski resort town).

You could drive Pasadena to Bishop and then to Death Valley, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon and/or Zion NP. From Zion NP (Springdale) to Pasadena is a doable but long day's drive.
We have been known to do that as a long weekend but not in winter when daylight hours are shorter.

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Old Oct 14th, 2021, 01:37 PM
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I wouldn't have high expectations for monarchs. The over wintering population has drastically declined https://www.westernmonarchcount.org/data/ The best location based on last winter may be Natural Bridges in Santa Cruz WMNYC_data_02.17.21.pdf
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