How long does it take to drive from Monterey to Hearst Castle, along Highway 1?
June 14, 2010 12:30 PM   Subscribe

My family and I will be taking a road trip along California's Highway 1 from Monterey to Solvang in mid-September. We want to stop for a tour of Hearst Castle along the way. What time should we leave Monterey, and by extension, which tour timeslot should we schedule?

Part of our California experience is the drive along the coast, so we cannot deviate from the planned route. We're advised to reserve our Hearst Castle tour in advance, so I need to know which of the timeslots to purchase, and what time we ought to leave Monterey in order to make that tour.

Our drive will take place on a Tuesday in mid-September. Routing via Google maps indicates that the trip will take 2 hours and 10 minutes from Monterey to Hearst Castle, but that's if I drive at 50 mph non-stop. Does anyone know what the speed limit is along CA-1, or the traffic conditions along that stretch of road?

One thing I also haven't considered is if there are scenic "must see" stops along the route, which would undoubtedly cut into the commute. If anybody knows of particular areas that could delay us, I would greatly appreciate the heads-up!
posted by CancerMan to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The PCH from Monterey to Hearst Castle is basically along a gigantic cliff. For at least half of it you will not be able to speed (or for the love of god shouldn't) and might have to actually drive slower than the speed limit. A lot of people have died on that road, so be careful. 2 hours sounds about right to me, but you might want to stop and take pictures. I think I've done it in 1.5 hours, but I've driven it quite a few times. The views are pretty amazing. Lots of turn outs on the road where you can stop and look at the view. There is also a high likelihood you'll get stuck behind some slow tourists and it can be hard to pass at times.

There might be a bit of traffic out of Monterey/Carmel in the morning, but not too bad.

I went to Hearst Castle about a year ago and we arrived quite a bit earlier than our slot and had no problem getting into an earlier tour, so I would make a later reservation and then just try and squeeze in early. The tours go every 15-20 minutes if I remember correctly.
posted by whoaali at 12:46 PM on June 14, 2010

The drive from Monterey to Heart Castle is world famous and deservedly so; the scenery is unparalleled and the best on the entire American Pacific coast. I seem to recall Heart Castle closes around 4 or 5pm; I would book the latest slot possible, and leave Monterey in mid-morning, so as to spend the best part of the day on the coast without being rushed. Pack a picnic lunch and stop at one of the beaches. There are multiple lookout spots where you are going to want to stop -- probably every 5 or 10 minutes you'll find another one -- and you should give yourself the chance to enjoy the view. Also, right around Heart Castle are a few beaches where elephant seals like to hang out. I don't know if they'll be there in September but they were there in July last year.

Practically speaking -- the road is VERY twisty and your speed will often drop to 20mph or even 10mph as you negotiate the curves. From about Carmel out to Ragged Point there are not many straightaways and they tend to be short. Traffic will probably be moderate until you reach Big Sur but will then drop off quite a bit. I think the total drive, Monterey to Heart Castle, could be done in two hours if you were in a rush, but you would be cheating yourself if you did that.
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:49 PM on June 14, 2010

what whoaali and PercussivePaul said, it's not a drive I would want to do with a hard arrival time (as an anecdote, my cousins were in a similar position to you a few years ago, driving from Monterey to our rehearsal dinner about 50 miles south of the Castle a few years ago. They pretty much missed the rehearsal dinner, didn't give themselves enough time and showed up harried and stressed after everyone had eaten...and bummed because they were in too much of a hurry to actually take in the view.)

In September the road conditions should be fine, but I've been on the road when there's been a rockslide and traffic is down to 1 lane.

Savor it! Have lunch at Nepenthe or Ragged point, Worst case is you spend some time in San Simeon or Cambria, checking out the elephant seals, antiqueing, walking the board walk, wine tasting, etc. From the Castle you're probably about 2 hours or so from Solvang.
posted by snowymorninblues at 1:00 PM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh by the way. If you feel like stopping for lunch you'll find opportunities are quite limited. A restaurant will appear in Gorda (the Whale Watcher Cafe) and you'll think, ah, this is the place... only to find a slice of pie is $9 and a burger, $20. Keep driving to Ragged Point and you can get a burger and fries for $10.
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:10 PM on June 14, 2010

Seconding Percussive Paul, take food with you from Monterey/Carmel. There are a couple of restaurants in Cambria, but we were glad we'd stocked up at the supermarket before leaving. Same goes for gas! Expect to pay a pretty penny at one of the probably 2 or 3 gas stations along the way if you don't get gas in Carmel.
posted by whoaali at 1:34 PM on June 14, 2010

Gorda is the one of the few gas stations between Monterey and Hearst Castle, and the cost of gas directly supports the tiny town's diesel generator.

That said, the area is GORGEOUS. It's been much too long since I've been up that way, but I used to go hiking once a month with a friend. There are a number of parks along that route, and a lot of trails. This page ranks favorites trails and miles per trail, which can help you gauge which to investigate.

Depending on the age of your kids and what kind of out-of-door activities you all might be inclined to undertake, from collecting jade in Jade Cove, to the many paths in Point Lobos State Reserve that can take you to the Whalers Cabin to some neat rock formations along the ocean. About five miles before Hearst Castle, you might be able to see the elephant seals, as young-of-the-year and juvenile elephant seals haul out to rest in September.

If you pick a few of these, tack on a few more hours to your route. I'd suggest you leave as early as you're comfortable, and have your list of potential stops, turning off the road when you want to take a break. Pack snacks and a lunch, as others have said the food can be expensive when you find it. If you leave at 9 or 10 am (or earlier if you are the active and lively sort), you should be able to make it by 3 or 4 pm. Getting there later might work, but there are more sights to see (and some distance to drive) if you want to make it to Solvang that night.

Regarding the reservations for Hearst Castle: if you're going on a Tuesday in September, you're missing both the summer crowd and the weekend folks, so I don't think you should worry too much about getting a scheduled tour time in advance, but it's been a while since I've been to Hearst Castle. They might prefer you have a reservation now, even if you reschedule when you get there. Cell phone reception is spotty along the coast, so don't rely on that if you were thinking you could call and reschedule if you choose to spend more time along the way.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:28 PM on June 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

If the timing of your trip changes, you might check into the Hearst Castle evening tours. Being there at sunset is pretty awesome when the weather cooperates, and there are actors in period costume wandering about on the property to add to the mood.
posted by dws at 6:54 PM on June 14, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone, for your suggestions. We had a wonderful time!

We booked the latest Hearst Castle tour at 15:40, though I noticed the fine print that indicated a service fee would be charged if I decided to change the date or time. In the end, we didn't have to worry about that, as our drive began from the Point Lobos area at 12:15 and it took us exactly 3 hours of non-stop driving.

We did pack some sandwich wraps and bottled water for an "in-drive" meal, and topped off the gas tank of our minivan. The weather was awesome and traffic conditions were pretty light; just a couple of RVs and several cyclists to exercise caution around.

Thoroughly enjoyed the Hearst estate tour!
posted by CancerMan at 9:51 AM on October 12, 2010

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