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Babiron Aug 10th, 2004 11:38 PM

Suggestions for 1-day drive from SFO to Cambria
One day is all the time I have to take a "leisurely drive" from San Francisco to Cambria in late September. (The next day is when I'll do my Hearst Castle tour before heading on to L.A.) If I leave San Francisco at 6am on a weekday will I avoid traffic? Mapquest says without any stops it's about 4 hours total, and 2 hours just to Carmel.

I think for my main stop I'd like to spend time in Carmel, where I've never been; see the town, have lunch. After leaving Carmel I'm planning on having a couple of rest stops someplace along Big Sur. A place with drinks and scenic views of the ocean hopefully.

I used to live in L.A. so I know the coast between L.A. and Hearst Castle (been to Cambria and Heast Castle multiple times). However, except for one short trip to Monterrey once, the coast north of San Simeon is unchartered territory for me.

If this were you. How would you spend the drive? What would you see? How about enjoyable spots for lunch, dinner, and afternoon rest?


J_Correa Aug 11th, 2004 09:53 AM

This drive is definitely doable in 1 day, esspecially since you will be heading out early. Leaving at 6, you will avoid commute traffic in SF. Depending on your route, you might hit a bit in San Jose or Santa Cruz, but it shouldn't be bad at all.

SF to Monterey, you have a few choices of route:

1. You can cut over to Hwy 1 just south of SF at Pacifica and take it all the way down. With this route you will bypass San Jose and go straight through Santa Cruz. This route takes a little longer, probably 2 1/2-3 hours to Monterey and you will be on the coast pretty much the whole time.

2. The next possibility is Hwy 280 south to San Jose, Hwy 85 south to Hwy 17 over to Santa Cruz and Hwy 1 south to Monterey. This route is a little quicker, 2-2 1/2 hours most likely. Hwy 17 goes through the Santa Cruz mountains which are scenic and you will be travelling the reverse commute direction. If you get away a little late, you might have some traffic through San Jose and Santa Cruz, but it shouldn't be bad, just slowing rather than stop and go.

3. The third route is Hwy 280 south to San Jose, Hwy 85 south to Hwy 101 south to Prunedale, Hwy 156 west to Hwy 1 south. This is an inland route, and probably the quickest because it is freeway and straight roads almost the entire way. This should take 2 hours, possibly a little slowdown in San Jose, but smooth saling after that. This is also the least scenic route. You could take Hwy 101 all the way to Prunedale if you wanted, but I would recommend 280 and 85 south through San Jose just because Hwy 101 goes through mostly industrial areas and has a lot of potholes. Hwy 280 runs parallel and is much nicer.

I think a stop in Monterey or Carmel would be terrific. You would probably be getting there between 8 and 9 if you left SF at 6, so I would stop for breakfast, wander around a bit, and then head south.

For drinks and ocean view, stop at Nepethin - someone help me with the spelling of that :) You could have some lunch there too if you end up leaving Camel before having lunch.

Definitely stop at Point Lobos for a look around, it's gorgeous.

Pfiffer-Big Sur state park has some nice redwood forests and the creek running through.

Babiron Aug 11th, 2004 07:25 PM

Thanks,J Correa, for giving me an idea of the times and routes. I'll look into those sites you wrote too. 6am depature seems drastic, but I don't want to waste time in traffic. I could leave San Francisco a little later, say 9:30, and maybe this won't be too bad, but I might get rushed at the end of the day.

I'll do some more specific searching as to shops, sites, stops and eateries from Carmel to Big Sur.

easytraveler Aug 12th, 2004 01:35 AM

Hi, Babiron!

J_Correa has given you excellent directions and suggestions!

The restaurant is Nepenthe, a few miles south of Pfeiffer Big Sur and on your right. It's easy to miss if you are not looking for it.

If the weather is clear, go along Highway 1. I really enjoy watching the surfers, hang-gliders, beach walkers, etc.

If you start out that early, you could begin the day with a couple of hours at the Monterey Bay Aquarium (opening at 9:30 or 10am) or drive along 17 Mile Drive.

Check out Monterey, Pebble Beach, Carmel in the morning.

If you are a beach person, walk lovely Carmel Beach and watch the dogs at play.

Have lunch in Carmel.

Then hike Point Lobos for at least an hour.

Go on to Pfeiffer Big Sur and do a one hour hike to see the redwoods.

Have a drink at Nepenthe.

If you have the time, check out Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and take a half hour to walk to McWay Falls, the only falls to descend right into the Pacific Ocean.

Give yourself about 2 hours to drive from Julia Pfeiffer Burns to Cambria. You'll want to make a few stops for the wonderful views.

North of Cambria where it says "beach access", there will be any number of elephant seals. Hope the ranger will be on hand for you - great explanations!

These are the most visited spots. There are any number of beaches along the way, like Pfeiffer Beach, or other hikes.

Enjoy your drive!

J_Correa Aug 12th, 2004 10:07 AM

I you wait to leave SF until 9 am, then you will be leaving after the commute, so traffic wont be an issue. In that case you would arrive in the Monterey area about 11 or 12, just in time for lunch and then have the afternoon to make your way down to Cambria. This is definitely doable, you will just have less time to wander around in Monterey/Carmel. Like everything else, it's a trade off.

kimamom Aug 12th, 2004 10:31 AM

I've heard the food at Nepenthe is horrid. A great place for lunch would be Cielo at the Ventana Inn & Spa.

Another nice place in Big Sur is Sierra Mar at the Post Ranch Inn. We're considering a birthday dinner there in a few weeks. Have a nice trip! ***kim*** :)

SAB Aug 12th, 2004 01:06 PM

kimamom-- I wouldn't describe the food at Nephenthe as "horrid'--average and overpriced because of location, yes, but horrid, no. Decent hamburgers and fries which is what most people have at lunchtime.

Allison Aug 12th, 2004 02:44 PM

We were in California in May, and totally enjoyed the drive down the coast. Do not miss Point Lobos. It was the highlight of the trip for my family. If you have to cut time away from Carmel/Monterey to do this...then do so. When we started the drive, I packed a styrofoam cooler that I bought in a drug store with cold drinks,cheese, fruit from stands along the way and sandwiches from a deli. We stopped in one of the state parks along the coast for a late lunch. Once you pay for admission to one park, the ticket is good for the entire day. We have great memories of our picnic that day. Think about it!!

SAB Aug 12th, 2004 07:19 PM


Babiron Aug 12th, 2004 10:46 PM

Thanks for the replies.
I'm patching in the pieces of my itinerary. Here's what I have so far:
1. Leave 6am, arrive Carmel hopefully by 8:30.
2. Grab bite to eat (thinking of Tuck Box??) and walk around town/beach.
3. Go to Point Lobos. Walk until lunch time.
4. Lunch (Here I'd appreciate input. Which one of the 3: Sierra Mar at Post Ranch; California Market at Highlands Inn; Cielo at Ventana Inn. I'll skip Nepenthe.)
5. After lunch, brief stops to look at views as we drive along coast.
6. See sea lions before San Simeon.
7. Arrive Cambria late afternoon.

I'd appreciate some input on 3 questions I still have.
(1) Parking in Carmel? It will be a problem early Tuesday morning?
(2) The lunch spot? All seem great, so it's hard to choose. Any one stand out in terms of food, view, and atmosphere? I've already gotten feedback about Cielo already, with a "try" Sierra Mar.
(3) Suggestions for lodging in Cambria or San Simeon?

Thanks again for the help.

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