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SF, Napa/Sonoma & Carmel/Monterey/Big Sur - doable in 7 days in Oct? (for slow & inexperience drivers)

SF, Napa/Sonoma & Carmel/Monterey/Big Sur - doable in 7 days in Oct? (for slow & inexperience drivers)

Old Aug 29th, 2007, 12:00 AM
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SF, Napa/Sonoma & Carmel/Monterey/Big Sur - doable in 7 days in Oct? (for slow & inexperience drivers)

Hi, please kindly help me with my first American road trip!! We're in our late 20's, who like natural sceneries, touring historical/cultural sites, and sampling food and wine. Both first timers, relatively inexperience drivers and very slow travelers (need time to take lots of pictures).

We'll arrive in SF on Thurs Oct 25, but we have to attend a business thing until Sat, so it's all work and absolutely no play up till then. Therefore, technically speaking, my vacation won't begin until Sun Oct 28.

1) Is it too ambitious to pack SF, Napa/Sonoma and Carmel/ Monterey/ Big Sur all in 7 days? (Oct 28 - Nov 4)

Things I wanna see:
Carmel; Monterey/ Monterey Bay Aquarium; Pacific Grove/17 mile drive; Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park/ waterfall/ outlook trail; Nepenthe; Limekiln State Park and Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery (can we seals in Oct??)

Napa/Sonoma - the usual wine and dine, plus rent bikes to drive around the vineyards

SF - all usual tourist sites, except Chinatown

2) Taking into consideration both the car and tourist traffic and hotel rates, what is the best way to approach all three logistically? ie. should we stay 1 day in SF, then drive out to Napa/Sonoma the next day, Monday? Then head to Big Sur for the drive during mid-week to avoid traffic? And return to SF on Thurs or Fri?

3) Google maps calculates 2 hrs 45 mins from Napa to Monterey. Realistically, taking traffic and our inexperience driving skills into consideration, how many more hours should I add to Google maps' estimates?

So sorry for such a long post. THANK YOU VERY MUCH in advance for your help!
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Old Aug 29th, 2007, 02:43 AM
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We did an itinerary somewhat similar to yours last June. We flew into San Fran, then hit Monterey/Pacific Grove, Santa Barbara, and San Diego. All in one week. Actually, it was more like 9 days since it included 2 weekends... I have not been to Napa, so can't really comment on drive times etc., but I think your itinerary is definitely "doable." Whether or not it will be as enjoyable and relaxing as you'd like is another question. I remember we felt really rushed driving along Highway 101, and felt like we should have spent more time enjoying the scenery. But we got a good overview, and know what to go back to next time
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Old Aug 29th, 2007, 06:28 AM
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Hi, Lee!

Seven days to see all that you want to see is a bit rushed, considering that you want to include San Francisco in those days. However, you do have those days when you are in conference; the nights you can go about and enjoy some of the better SF restaurants and get a feeling for the city, so you really have more time in SF than just the sightseeing days.

I'd allot two days for Monterey/Carmel, but do not drive past Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Turn around and go back after JPB. Limekiln is another 20 miles south on a winding coastal road and offers nothing that you can't get north of it.

As for the seals, you'll see and hear them at Point Lobos which would be a much better stop than Limekiln. Point Lobos is just two miles south of Carmel.

Then two days for Napa - one day for Napa County and one day for Sonoma County.

To drive from Monterey to Napa, take Highway 1 to Highway 156, then Highway 101 and continue all the way north on 101, you will go through San Francisco, but it's a pretty rapid cross town drive, about 20-30 minutes, then you will cross the Golden Gate Bridge, still on Highway 101. After the Golden Gate Bridge and driving on 101 for awhile, you will see signs for Napa, just follow those signs.

The last three days you could spend in San Francisco. Since there is so much to see and do in San Francisco, leaving it towards the end of your trip allows you the flexibility of seeing some things and skipping others and not feel stressed out time wise to try and fit everything in.

If you have any other specific questions, please ask. Fodorites are very helpful and friendly!

Have a great trip and welcome to California!
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Old Aug 29th, 2007, 07:52 AM
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The Elephant seals at Piedras Blancas are great and very accessable, but the are pretty far south of Big Sur proper. You could take highway 1 south from San Francisco and stop at Ano Nuevo and see seal there too. The route will take through Santa Cruz and you can stay on highway 1 all the way south to Monterey. I agree no real reason to drive all the way south to Limekiln.
You'll still have traffic mid-week with everyone going to work. Once you get past Carmel traffic is never too bad.
2 hours 45 to Monterey from Napa? Most likely it will take longer.
I would go to Napa from San Francisco. Spend Monday and Tues. there. Drive south to highway 1 Wed. to Carmel/Monterey, stopping along the way at Ano Nuevo. This trip will take a good part of the day. Spend Thursday exploring Big Sur, have lunch there. Back to Carmel Monterey for evening. Visit the Aquarium Friday morning, then head back to San Francisco after lunch. You should be able to get to SF by 5.
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Old Aug 29th, 2007, 08:19 AM
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I wouldn't recommend driving further south than Julia Pfeifer on this trip either. Limekiln is probably my favorite park in that area, but it doesn't have the "wow" factor you will get north of there. It is more of a quiet place.

For elephant seals, you can see them at Ano Nuevo as mentioned. Much closer to where you are already planning to be. There will probably be some seals there, although it isn't mating or birthing season, so you wont see tons like you would in the winter time.

Fall is a really popular time for the wine country, so I would plan to be there not on a weekend. Looking at the time you have though, most of your trip will be mid-week, so you shouldn't have really any issues regardless of which order you do things.
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Old Aug 29th, 2007, 01:05 PM
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that itinerary is crazy for 7 days if you are a slow driver, want to see "all" SF sites and like to take a lot of pictures and travel slow.

first, you will need a minimum of 4 days in SF. given what you wrote, even that might not be enough for you. You will need 2 days to do a trip to Monterey/Carmel. It's a 3-4 hr drive one-way, and you will be making stops. I would even recommend 3 days for you. So that would cover your 7 days if you wan to enjoy it the way you described. A trip up north to wine taste can be done in a day trip, but fitting it in would be slightly rushed for you.

You could also cut days in SF and spend more time in other parts. However, you will not see "all" tourist spots of SF and your SF city stay will be rushed.
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Old Aug 29th, 2007, 01:10 PM
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3-4 hours to Monterey from San Francisco? I don't disagree that the poster should limit their trip to San Francisco and EITHER Napa/Sonoma or Monterey/Carmel, but one-way to Monterey shouldn't take more than 2 hours.
 
Old Aug 29th, 2007, 01:46 PM
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If you take Hwy 1 from SF to Monterey and hit traffic in Santa Cruz, I could see the 3 hours each way.

I do agree though that this itinerary is pretty packed if you want a slow trip.
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Old Aug 29th, 2007, 02:41 PM
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Unless you really enjoy wine or have never been to a winery you may want to pass on Napa/Sonoma this trip. As an alternative I would suggest spending Sunday and Monday in SF. A good Sunday walk is from the Giants ballpark to Golden Gate Park, all along the waterfront. I would consider a tour of Alcatraz to be a must.

Spend the rest of the week heading down the coast to Big Sur, Monterey and Carmel. If you have time continue south on the Pacific Coast Highway and visit Hearst Castle and San Luis Obispo. On your last day head back to SF via the 101.
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Old Aug 29th, 2007, 02:44 PM
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A good Sunday walk is from the Giants ballpark to Golden Gate Park, all along the waterfront.

I live here and I have no idea if it is actually possible to walk this entire way (of course you can "over hill and dale", but can you actually connect the Embarcadero with Golden Gate Park along the waterfront)?
 
Old Aug 29th, 2007, 03:00 PM
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No, that poster must mean Marina Green or something. It would be a LONG walk to Golden Gate Park and certainly not via the Embarcadero.
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Old Aug 29th, 2007, 04:19 PM
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I meant 3 hours with Carmel, not just Monterey.
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Old Aug 30th, 2007, 07:27 AM
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If you do want to skip Napa you can check out the winerys in the Carmel Valley and the Santa Cruz mountains. Although it doesn't quite compare to the Napa Valley. The vines are just beautiful at that time of year. It seems that you could fit a few San Francisco sights while attending the business thing.
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Old Aug 30th, 2007, 08:22 AM
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LLL, can you reiterate how many actual sightseeing days you have - not including your business days? If you have 7 sightseeing days, doing Napa/Sonoma, Carmel/Monterey and San Francisco is easily doable. With only 5, however, I'd stick by my earlier recommendation to spend 3 days sightseeing IN San Francisco, and two days in EITHER Carmel/Monterey OR Napa/Sonoma.
 
Old Aug 30th, 2007, 04:59 PM
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Not only do I think that this is a crazy itinerary for 7 days, but crazy to encourage first timers to do it. These are people that want to "wine and dine and rent bikes" for goodness sakes! You could certainly "touch your toes" in each of these places in a week if you have a car, but you could hardly stop for long and enjoy any of them.

LeeLeeLee: unless you think you will never, ever have a chance to see this area again, you might confine your visit to a narrower area and really savor each place.
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Old Aug 30th, 2007, 05:52 PM
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Yes, you COULD do it if you want to barely taste any of those regions which you could easily spend a week at each....the question is do you want to do that? Throw in the "Slow and inexperienced driver" factor, and things look even less relaxing...my suggestion is to concentrate on 1 or 2 places....you'll enjoy it more....just my opinion.....
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Old Aug 31st, 2007, 11:45 PM
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THANKS SO MUCH for all your helpful insights! Sorry I couldn't log on sooner to say thanks, my computer died on me.

I must admit, my itinerary seems a little crazy. But my current job only gives me 10 holidays a year and I often have to reserve that for going back home in Asia to visit aging grandparents. So I really don't think I'll have another chance to visit CA anytime soon, and that's why I am being so ambitious this time.

See if this will work, sorry, I don't have all the details as of yet.

Sat- SF: done with business at 6pm, dinner in town

Sun- SF: full day sightsee

Mon- SF~Monterey/Carmel: leave at 9am to avoid morning traffic; stop at Ano Nuevo (Seals); other stops (not sure what yet) ; then arrive in Monterey/Carmel mid/late afternoon; tour Monterey/Carmel/Pacific Grove; 17 miles drive

Tues- Monterey/Carmel~Big Sur: full day at Big Sur; we'll stop at Julia Pfeiffer Burns; if we have extra time, we'll head to Limekiln

Wed- Big Sur~Napa: 5 hrs drive? if we start at 9am, can we get there by 2pm? rest of the day in Napa

Thurs- Napa/Sonoma: full day in wine country

Fri- Napa~SF: head back to SF in morning, 2 hrs ok on a Fri morning? Rest of the day in SF

Sat- SF: full day in SF; maybe rent bike to ride across bridge

Sun- leave SF at 3pm


Thanks again in advance! Man, I can type..hehe..please throw me any suggestions that you might have.
LeeLeeLee is offline  
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