Central CA Adventure
May 3, 2010 9:17 AM   Subscribe

What are some awesome stops along the way from LA to SF for a weekend road trip?

I'm going to be in California in less than a week and am looking for cool places to stop between LA & SF. In particular I'm looking for big Redwood trees and awesome natural views to photograph. I'm also interested in the urban exploration/abandoned rural decay side of things too.

I'm leaning towards Big Sur, and I found a few interesting places, but it looks like mudslides and wild fires have caused some problems with the places being open to the public. Does anyone have insight into sure things?

Bonus: I'm also looking for a place to stay overnight around that area for less than $75-100.
posted by ijoyner to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Muir Woods is just north of San Francisco, which puts it outside your endpoints, but it's one of the most beautiful places on earth.
posted by roger ackroyd at 9:21 AM on May 3, 2010

I might reserve a motel room in San Luis Obispo, or maybe Morro Bay or Cuyucos, which are beach towns near SLO.

First day, take in the Santa Barbara-Solvang area wine country. It's just off 101, and if you are into wine, it will be interesting.

Then, make it to San Luis, and go to the beach, in Cuyucos, which is probably the nicest beach. Then next morning, take in Cambria, which is the very definition of quaint, in a town. Skip Hearst Castle, in that while it's interesting, it will eat up the greater part of your day. Then, drive through Big Sur. Lots of stops there. You will emerge in Monterey, which has a great aquarium.

For maximum prettyness, stay on HWY 1 up through Santa Cruz, which also has some nice stops. Out by the lighthouse, if the waves are right, you will see some world class surfing.

Then continue on HWY 1 up to San Francisco and if you stay on that route, which is 19th St. through most of the city, you will cross the Golden Gate and Muir Woods IS a very special place, as roger ackroyd says.
posted by Danf at 9:31 AM on May 3, 2010

I'm going to second that if I were looking for big redwoods and beautiful views, I would do that in the few hours north of SF. That's not really what I picture in most of the big nothing between SF and LA.
posted by brainmouse at 9:31 AM on May 3, 2010

Take the 17-mile drive at Carmel, and then explore the Town of Monterey for a while.
posted by rocket88 at 9:32 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

point lobos st. park around monterey. otters, tidepools, and if you are lucky crazy waves crashing into big rocks.
posted by H. Roark at 9:39 AM on May 3, 2010

I might reserve a motel room in San Luis Obispo, or maybe Morro Bay or Cuyucos, which are beach towns near SLO.

You. Need. To. Stay. In. The Madonna Inn.
posted by The Whelk at 9:52 AM on May 3, 2010

2nding the rec for Point Lobos just south of Carmel. Montana D'Oro in Los Osos if you end up staying in San Luis Obispo. No redwoods, but really cool cliffs/ocean views, hiking.

Big Sur is spectacular! Try to spend the night there or close by if you can, You'll take in so much more than just driving through from SLO to Carmel. Cambria's about 60-90 minutes south, and there are some motels there...for your budget you might also try San Simeon, I think there is a motel 6 there. There is also a cool hike through the woods in San Simeon at the beach right across the highway from Hearst Castle. In Big Sur, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is a great place for hiking around, taking in redwoods, etc., and right across the highway is a beautiful secluded beach. This is a good guide to lodging in big sur, fwiw I've never had much luck using priceline, orbitz, etc. for big sur, I always end up using the hotels' own websites/booking systems.

Also, give yourself way more time than you think you'll need, it's slow going on hwy1. I think conditions are ok these days.
posted by snowymorninblues at 10:17 AM on May 3, 2010

Agreeing you really really really want to head north from SF.

Big Sur is ok but tourist-packed, and kind of a letdown after the way people talk about it. Head north on the 1 out of SF. The coast of Sonoma County is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:18 AM on May 3, 2010

Go to Carmel and Monterey! (Fyi, north of SF is beautiful, but desolate, windy, and cold, and is not on your itinerary anyway.) I'd skip the Madonna Inn, and stay at Asilomar in Pacific Grove, which is right next to the town of Monterey -- with the best aquarium I've ever been to, and I've been to a lot -- and the 17 Mile Drive. Carmel is a day trip from there, too. (Also, if you golf, the public course in Pacific Grove gives you a similar experience to the zillion-dollar-ultra-fancypants courses along the 17 mile drive, for about 40 bucks!)

Asilomar used to be a YMCA camp back in the day, and is now a lodge and meeting center, where you'll meet all kinds of interesting folks in the communal dining hall. It's got its own boardwalk down to the beach, rates are usually cheap, and rooms range from old-timey-lodgey to motel-like. Plus deer and fireplaces!
posted by turducken at 10:59 AM on May 3, 2010

Check to see if the camp Pffiefer Big Sur is open. This campground is a big grassy carpet on the ocean side of the Pacific Coast Highway. Awesome for simple tents and ground sleeping, the best.

The park itself has a spectacular waterfall cliff that pours down on the undeveloped beach. Lots of redwoods on the other side.

Demeter, I love California.
posted by effluvia at 11:22 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you get up to Santa Cruz, head for the Forest of Nisene Marks. This is a park, but very undeveloped. The epicenter of the Loma Prieta quake was centered there, and you can hike to it, but I bet it's pretty overgrown by now.

Also, Ben Lomond in Santa Cruz has some great redwood forest. Even the Santa Cruz College campus is a marvel of ocean views and great redwoods and oaks.
posted by effluvia at 11:26 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Kind of along the route people are sketching out above (what's wrong with you people -- you no like the Five?), one should not miss Pea Soup Andersens and maybe Solvang.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:28 AM on May 3, 2010

Big Sur is amazing, but a weekend road trip from LA to SF? Not much time, and Big Sur works its magic by helping people slow down. Also, I don't know that you could meet your price there - though maybe camping at Pfieffer would do it. If you decide to up your budget, check out the cabins (preferably by the river) at our favorite place.

Best bet might be for you to stop at Nepenthe for a meal/drink/rest while you're passing through.
posted by jasper411 at 11:33 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding The Madonna Inn.
posted by MattScully at 12:59 PM on May 3, 2010

Couldn't disagree more about The Madonna Inn. It's definitely kitschy and worth a stop for a peek at the bathrooms, but there are far, far better places along the coast to drop upwards of $200 (and more) on a place to stay. You're going to be near some of the most beautiful coastal scenery in the lower 48 and choosing to stay at what amounts to a glorified gift shop is missing the point entirely.
posted by dhammond at 1:24 PM on May 3, 2010

Agreed, Madonna Inn overated and not of much interest to people who come to California for "big Redwood trees and awesome natural views."

I make at least one NorCal-SoCal trip annually, and my favorite half-way stopover has become Buellton, not for Anderson's (also way overated) but for easy Solvang and Santa Barabara access, and reasonable accomodation. Find coupons for motels there in the pamphlets available at truckstops and chain restaurants.

The most awesome natural views along I-5 going north are coming down the Grapevine; and outside the Bay Area where the San Luis reservoir comes up against the 252 Gilroy crossover from I-5 to the 101.

Big Sur in a natural beauty class all its own; but adds another day to the trip.

For "urban exploration/abandoned rural decay" go the other direction, via Fresno and Bakersfield on the 99.

And finally, there's Coschwitz in Coalinga.
posted by Rash at 2:24 PM on May 3, 2010

Best answer: Well, it's inching up on summer season, but if you decide to stay in morro bay, La Serena Inn is decent, not too expensive, and has an awesome DRY SAUNA! Plus nice views of 'the rock.' Big Sur is probably another 90 min/2 hrs from there so it would be possible to take a day trip from your cozy base, then zip back to hwy 101 for ease of driving (don't get me wrong, Hwy 1 between Monterey and Morro Bay is gorgeous, but a winding, demanding 2-lane road that you will have the added fun of getting stuck behind rv's & whatnots grinding up a humungous change in elevation.)

Off the top of my head big sur fun: Mill creek's beach; Limekiln (the ladybugs converge back there); salmon creek day hike is boulder-y, creek-y, redwood-y fun with the added plus of climbing to the top of the falls if you feel ambitious.

I have not driven Hwy. 1 since the rains, so not sure what-all is open/closed, but according to Cal Trans there is only construction around Lucia.

For redwoods, Big Basin by Santa Cruz is pretty awesome; I seem to remember camping thereabouts, but am too woozy on vicodans to properly research it. The other Santa Cruz stuff mentioned above is good too & way more accessible for a quick trip; Big Sur redwoods can take a bit of uphill to get into the forest proper.

Odds bodkins! Stay away from Cowschwitz!!! Or at least roll your windows up and turn on the recirc when you are getting close!!But if you do go via San Joaquin valley, maybe check out Mercey Hot Springs.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 11:42 PM on May 3, 2010

Best answer: I also thought of Point Ano Nuevo Park, just north of Santa Cruz. There's a hostel at the lighthouse nearby. My heart is aching remembering how beautiful the site is in any sort of weather. The beach at Point Ano Nuevo is an elephant seal breeding ground. I believe the seals are out in the drink at this time of year, but go for the sand dunes and beaches. The Ano Nuevo beach is protected and uncollected.

Gazing on a beach that has not been picked over by humans will blow your little tiny mind. The sands are littered with gleaming abalone and starfish and sand dollars. Sigh. Beautiful.

The walk through the dunes is a great, gentle workout.

Okay, I'm just going to get in my car and head north.
posted by effluvia at 7:53 AM on May 4, 2010

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