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Interesting destinations between LA and San Fran??
December 21, 2012 6:33 AM   Subscribe

What exciting things should we do/eat/see/visit on our road trip from San Francisco to LA in early january?

We're a couple in their late 20s - early 30s and we're taking about a week to drive from san fran to LA, in a meandering fashion. We like good food for cheap, good music, and weird tourist attractions, such as the Integratron.

We don't have to drive in a straight line; we want to see things but we don't know much of what's around. There are a ton of suggestions on here for LA things-to-see, but we want to extend the drive rather than getting to the city early.

Besides ideas inspired by this post, do you have any suggestions for a delightful and meandering trip?

Also, if you know of any interesting and cheap places to stay (should we camp in January??) please lay it on us.

Thank you kindly!
posted by andreapandrea to Travel & Transportation around California (19 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
* pulls up chair and sits down *

First, have a look at the Central California and Southern California sections of Road Trip USA's "Pacific Coast" chapters. I drove up the coast from San Luis Obispo to San Francisco once and followed that route, using that book as a reference.

I can recommend Hearst Castle for one; you unfortunately will have to go on a guided tour that only lets you see part of the castle (I tend to not like guided tours, but I'm stubborn), but it was still pretty cool in some Hollywood-meets-The-Great-Gatsby kind of way.

Further up the coast from there, about halfway between LA and San Francisco, you will find this inn. It may feel like a tiny bit of a splurge, but omigod seriously you guys do it just for one night at least. It feels like you're in this tiny village nestled in the side of a mountain; and even if you spring for one of the room with the shared bathroom it still feels really private. There were other guests when I was there but I felt like I was the only person staying there the whole night. There are a couple hiking trails right on the property, one of which leads you up a hill to a bench overlooking the Pacific. Another one is just behind the parking lot, and following that just ten paces into the woods will make you feel like suddenly you're in freakin' Rivendell. I took the best photograph of my life in that exact spot.

Somewhere in Fresno there is supposed to be an underground house, but I couldn't find it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:53 AM on December 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I suggest Santa Cruz as a leisurely stopover. There are tons of things to do there even in February.

Natural Bridges State Beach

Serpent's Kiss - Wicca and Magik supplies!

Sacred Grove - Yep, more wicca and Magik supplies. :)

Santa Cruz Diner

Roaring Camp Railroads

There's also the entire city of Monterey including the popular (and pay to enter) 17 Mile Drive.

There's the madness of Hearst Castle of course.

So, plenty of touristy stuff that's actually quite fun.

Leaving SF there's also the Winchester Mystery House.

San Francisco proper, well, you know, everything. :) Hard to choose.
posted by smallerdemon at 6:53 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you're traveling on the 101, a stop at the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo will be fun. If you have the chance to eat dinner there, the dining room is amazing and the steaks are awesome.

Camping on the coast isn't out of the question in January if you are prepared for rain and cool weather. There are several nice places to stay:
1. Montana de Oro State Park is right on the beach. My favorite beach.
2. Morro Strand State Park is right on the beach, too, and it's easy to access Morro Bay and Cayucos from there. Second favorite beach.
3. Morro Bay State Park is not by the beach, but is a very pleasant place.
4. San Simeon State Park has a decent campground.

Have fun!!!
posted by FergieBelle at 6:54 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


EmpressCallipygos is talking about Forestiere Underground Gardens.
posted by purpleclover at 7:00 AM on December 21, 2012


ZOMG I love the Madonna Inn! Totes worth a visit, even if you're just stopping for pink Cinnamon toast.

Camping in January is going to be COLD. We used to do it in a VW van when I was a kid. Brrrrr.

Here are my favorite places on a meander up the coast, mostly via 101, with occasional detours.

Solvang/Buelton. Have lunch at Pea Soup Andersons. Visit www.missionsantaines.org/. Have a picture taken in front of a windmill.

Aforementioned Madonna Inn. From there, Hearst Castle. Make a reservation!

Santa Cruz, for the hippie-dippy vibe. The Boardwalk is a hoot.

Castroville for fried artichokes. There's a festival in May. WORTH it!

In San Jose, the Rosecrucian Egyptian Museum.

A real off the beaten path location is Pescadero. To to Duarte's. Order and eat the Cioppino and O'lallie Berrie Pie. They also have fried artichokes and abalone. You may never get another chance to eat abalone, so go for it! Om, nom, nom.

For a cheap meal in San Francisco, go to Woey Loy Goey in Chinatown. A dump of a dive in the basement but I've been eating there for 46 years! (OMG, for real?)

Stay at the Nob Hill Motor Inn on Pacific and Van Ness. Free Parking!

Husbunny and I did this on our honeymoon. So you KNOW its good.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:18 AM on December 21, 2012


Stay at Limekiln, though you might wind up wanting to stay at Limekiln. Save time to both enjoy the beach and hike up to the waterfall/lime kilns.

Not cheap, but a night in the cliffside hot springs at Esalen is wonderful.
posted by carsonb at 7:51 AM on December 21, 2012


Stop to see the elephant seals. They're amazing.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:22 AM on December 21, 2012


The mission at San Juan Bautista is exceptional in giving you a feeling of being back in the early 1800's, when the mission system was colliding with settlers from the west. It's a very beautiful slice of history.
posted by anadem at 8:42 AM on December 21, 2012


Nobody has mentioned the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Carmel, Point Lobos Regional Preserve, the Bixby Creek Bridge or Nepenthe restaurant. All must-sees.
posted by cnc at 9:01 AM on December 21, 2012


Camping in January is totally possible, although it's good to be flexible in case you get a big storm. Heading over the Santa Cruz mtns. I would suggest taking an alternate to the main highway and going straight to Big Basin State Park (google maps can show you what I mean).

A great place to stay near Monterey is Asilomar. It's mostly a conference center but they make leftover rooms available for a good value and it's really beautiful.

Pinnacles National Monument, near San Juan Bautista has caves and cool rock formations. Bring a flashlight for the caves.

I've never been, but the Channel Islands look amazing. That's where I would meander off to on this trip.
posted by silvergoat at 10:19 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


In terms of fancy places to stay in Big Sur, there's always Ventana.

When I was little we stayed at the Big Sur Lodge.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:26 AM on December 21, 2012


Stop at one or more of the missions to compare them.
Fresno underground forest.
Look up harvest festivals in small farming towns . These are usually themed depending on the town and the season.
Hearst Castle is a must see.
Winchester Mystery House.
Big Sur for some nature and history.
Santa Barbara is cute and cultured.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 11:24 AM on December 21, 2012


Ditto Monterrey Aquarium, Hearst Castle, and omg most definitely the elephant seals - seriously one of the greatest things I've ever seen in my life. I also really enjoyed the Carmel Mission. Do not, I repeat do not, no matter how bad the fog is, get suckered into staying here - keep driving.
posted by naoko at 8:06 PM on December 21, 2012


Totally visit Hearst Castle and Cambria. Harmony is a town near there that is also an art colony and very cool.

Nearer to LA, at Buellton, visit Pea Soup Anderson's, which is a great pea soup place. It's more fun than it sounds, I swear! In that same neighborhood is Solvang, which is a tiny Scandinavian town with great Scandinavian-themed shopping and dining. And the drive through the area has a lot of ostrich farms, which is interesting to watch.
posted by blnkfrnk at 11:36 PM on December 21, 2012


I'm from Fresno... The underground house is closed in winter. Just so ya know...
posted by jrobin276 at 4:11 AM on December 22, 2012


Oh yeah...camping on the coast is do-able, I've done it. :-) Some of the campgrounds have cabins, too.
posted by jrobin276 at 4:14 AM on December 22, 2012


Sorry, I will also add that the underground gardens are only ever open kinda randomly, I think because the family disagrees about what to do with it. (We kinda know them) Closed in winter because of heavy wet clay and increased risk of collapse. Anyway, it IS pretty cool if you do get the chance.

Also, Kings Canyon National Park is an easy day trip from Fresno...huuuuge trees, snow, the nations christmas tree! Highly recommend.
posted by jrobin276 at 4:21 AM on December 22, 2012


Note that Highway 1 is closed near Carmel at night for road construction, and there are also some one-way sections.

From Caltrans:

SR 1
...

[IN THE CENTRAL CALIFORNIA AREA]
IS CLOSED 15 MI SOUTH OF CARMEL /AT ROCKY CREEK RD/ (MONTEREY CO) FROM 2100 HRS EACH NIGHT TO 0700 HRS EACH MORNING SUNDAY THRU THURSDAY THRU 2/28/13 - DUE TO CONSTRUCTION - MOTORISTS ARE ADVISED TO USE AN ALTERNATE ROUTE

1-WAY CONTROLLED TRAFFIC 15 MI SOUTH OF CARMEL /AT ROCKY CREEK RD/
(MONTEREY CO) FROM 0700 HRS TO 2100 HRS MONDAY THRU WEDNESDAY & 24 HRS A DAY FROM 0700 HRS THURSDAY TO 2100 HRS SUNDAY THRU 9/1/13 - DUE TO CONSTRUCTION

1-WAY CONTROLLED TRAFFIC AT VARIOUS LOCATIONS FROM THE
SANTA CRUZ/SAN MATEO CO LINE TO 2.4 MI NORTH OF THE SANTA CRUZ/SAN MATEO CO LINE FROM 0700 HRS TO 1700 HRS MONDAY THRU FRIDAY THRU 1/31/13 - DUE TO
CONSTRUCTION

1-WAY CONTROLLED TRAFFIC AT VARIOUS LOCATIONS FROM 6.3 MI SOUTH OF
FORT ROSS TO FORT ROSS (SONOMA CO) - DUE TO A SINK HOLE

posted by snuffleupagus at 4:19 AM on December 23, 2012


hi, just popping back in to say thank you and to let you know what we did!

in big sur, we stayed at deetjen's, drank at nepenthe during sunset, and ohmygod had the best ever mocha and baked goods at the big sur bakery. if we had more time, we would have eaten a meal there, that place was amazing.

in San Luis Obispo we saw elephant seals, stayed in the gypsy rock room at the madonna inn (waterfall showers!) and ate the worst and most expensive lemon meringue pie ever. everything about the madonna inn was over-the-top in the way that we love except the food was grossssss. we went to the SLO Donut Co for INCREDIBLE donuts and had good coffee across the street from there in an espresso bar whose name i don't know.

we ended up not camping but staying with friends in their beach-side mansions. so, you know.

we also did most of the stuff on this list for santa cruz, and ate ice cream (3 times!) at marianne's.

thanks everyone!
posted by andreapandrea at 11:01 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


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