Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pacific Coast Highway in July

Hey Jamie,

First off, I love your site. I've spent many bored hours at work looking at your routes and planning many road trips (some completed, some yet on the schedule.) My wife and I are going to California this July. We are starting from San Diego, and making our way up to Napa over the course of 10 days. We have several stops planned and the timing is fairly well set by a wedding in LA and a visit with family close to San Francisco. We are thinking of staying in San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Monterey, with family near San Fran, in San Fran, and in Napa.

My main question is; Do you think it is too much driving to do Santa Barbara to Monterey in one day? We know that it is going to be our main day of driving, but we also would like to be able to drive up route 1 and enjoy the sights and not feel too rushed. We have to stay in Santa Barbara the night before the drive, but I guess the stop in Monterey could be changed to something closer (although we would really like to visit Monterey.) Your thoughts on what sights to see and if that is biting off more than we can chew for one day?

Thanks a lot.



Hey Nick --

Thanks for your nice message and kind words. San Diego, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Napa Valley... What's not to like? Sounds like a fun time.

About the Santa Barbara to Monterey leg, it IS indeed a long day's drive, especially along the stunningly scenic but very very slow Hwy-1 drive thru Big Sur. Because it is such a windy road, and often full of slow-pokes in big RVs, the drive "up" north along Hwy-1 from San Luis Obispo to Monterey can take 4 or 5 hours, but if you follow US-101 it's more like 2 hours (at 80 mph, the standard speed).

Having said that, I do have a viable option for you: make the run from Santa Barbara to Monterey via US-101, then the next morning do a scenic drive south down Hwy-1 thru Carmel to Big Sur. Carmel has a gorgeous beach, and some very expensive art galleries, and it's a lovely ride from Carmel down to Big Sur. You could definitely make it there, have a lovely lunch somewhere (at posh Nepenthe, or the most homey Ripplewood?), and then make your way back via Monterey and up to SF (or with family near SF?), without having to rush at all.

The best parts of Big Sur are found in these 30 miles south of Monterey -- the stretch further south is less glorious (but still breathtaking!).

If you go this way you do add some backtracking mileage, but you get to see Big Sur with fresh eyes, and without any pressure. If the weather is fine, plan a stop at Point Lobos state preserve just south of Carmel, which has a very pretty stretch of coastline, and lots of sea otters playing in the waves.

Big Sur is less than an hour from Monterey, and from Monterey, the trip to SF is only another 2 hours (unless Silicon Valley traffic gets in your way!), so you've got 4 hours driving maximum.

I've done the various permutations of this trek twice a year or more for the past 30 years, so I know it all pretty well. The Salinas Valley actually has some pretty spots, too, including two lovely old Spanish Missions, one right off US-101 (at San Miguel), and other (San Antonio, in Jolon) tucked away on a disused Army Base that used to belong to Wm Randolph Hearst, of Heart Castle fame. (Carmel's Mission was the HQ of the whole enterprise -- not surprisingly it's very nice, as well.)

Plus there lots of John Steinbeck connections, if you like that sort of thing. King City is "East of Eden" central.

Monterey itself is definitely great -- some fine old buildings and gardens in the "Historic" downtown, a great Aquarium out at Cannery Row, and gorgeous scenery all make it well worth a stop. I also love the adjacent hamlet of Pacific Grove and the beach at Asilomar (which is a nice place to spend the night -- Asilomar is owned by the state of California, and is a preserved / restored 1920s YWCA encampment, with gorgeous rustic buildings, right on the waterfront. The lobby has a pair of handsome old oak pool tables, next to a raging fireplace too -- my idea of heaven! :-)

I've got tons more details and info in my Road Trip USA books -- one on Pacific Coast Highway route, another on the whole USA -- which have more (and more up-to-date!) info than what's "up" on the website. But even if you knew nothing about anything you can't go far wrong around here -- it's a gorgeous part of California.

This is more than you asked for, I think, but I hope it helps. Happy Trails,

Jamie Jensen
Road Trip USA

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home