Staying on the NorCal coast over Labor Day - how far ahead to book?
July 30, 2010 7:04 PM   Subscribe

I'm heading up to the northern California coast over Labor Day - will I need to book accommodation ahead of time? (Also, what shouldn't I miss along the way?)

Not being a USA-ian native, I don't know how busy the Labor Day holiday weekend is, and I've booked myself on a road trip that covers the holiday weekend.

I'm going to be driving the 1 north from San Francisco over the long weekend, and I'm thinking of stopping in Bodega Bay, Fort Bragg, and Arcata (give or take). The question is, when should I book accommodation? Do I need to book it NOW NOW NOW because the holiday weekend is always booked out; can I wait until a couple of days beforehand; or can I walk in at 5pm on the day and ask if they've got any rooms?

(And, obligatory - is there anything I shouldn't miss on the drive north from SF? I was thinking of taking the PCH all the way up the coast to Arcata, then the 299 across to Redding, then doubling back down to SF via the 5 and the 101... anything sciencey, nature-y, or photographically interesting is fair game.)
posted by The Shiny Thing to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
That is an amazing drive along the coast! It's one of my favorite places I have been on Earth. I can't vouch for Labor Day weekend, but in general this is not a road a lot of tourists take. Tourists will down in Big Sur or over in Wine Country for the most part.

The town of Sea Ranch is beautiful and architecturally unique. Just be aware there is literally one hotel. I was able to walk in and get a pretty cheap room when I was there, but then that was October. There is also a state campground nearby.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:02 PM on July 30, 2010

Btw if you were able to get a little further north on the 5, Mt. Shasta is cool. To some extent, it's just a mountain, but it's a surprisingly huge rising out out of flat land and as such it's pretty impressive. I've also heard good things about the Lava Tubes a bit to the east but haven't been yet.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:04 PM on July 30, 2010

You should definitely book now. I have spent a Labor day weekend driving, driving, driving...just looking for a place to crash. Gave up and ended up back at home, tired as all get out.

A lot of Californians are broker than they have been in recent years. It's likely they're doing more camping/hiking/coastal-driving than flying or taking elaborate trips. More parks are closed than before, too. I'd book it and not worry about fighting others for the last and least desirable spots.
posted by iamkimiam at 8:16 PM on July 30, 2010

In many places, it may already be too late to book campsites, nice bed & breakfasts, hostels, or Vacation Rentals By Owner homes.

But mid-range hotels in Ft. Bragg are likely to be available. This economic analysis done in 2004 briefly analyzes the Ft. Bragg lodging market beginning on p. 21. Average occupancy rates hover around 30 percent. However, with just over 1000 rooms in town (perhaps a few more or less, depending on the last six years), I would imagine Labor Day weekend might still be able to sell out. (I don't know if there's an event in town that weekend, which would make it even worse.)

On your way back, check out the Sundial Bridge in Redding. I don't understand your route from there. You say "the 5 to the 101." Do you mean the 5 to the 505 to 80 and then across the 37 to the 101? Or are you cutting west earlier than that? You might leave some time to photograph or look at the Sutter Buttes, even if just from I-5. Eat a meal in downtown Davis.

Have a great trip!
posted by slidell at 8:22 PM on July 30, 2010

(Pardon my typo there.)
posted by slidell at 8:23 PM on July 30, 2010

Don't miss Mt Tamalpias, take the aptly named Panoramic Hwy (a right turn off Hwy) over the mountain. There are absolutely stunning views of San Francisco & the coast. I usually also take Ridgecrest Rd and rejoin Hwy 1 at Bolinas Lagoon. So you miss Stinson Beach (which is fine by me). You could also take in Muir Woods, which is worth it if you have never see a giant coastal redwood. But don't worry you'll see a lot more redwoods when you get to Ave. of the Giants just north of Myers Flat. It's worth getting off the freeway to take this slower road through the woods (they run parallel). It's all a beautiful drive.

If you have time Stay on 299 past Redding and don't turn south until you hit 89. Take a right turn down through Lassen National Forest towards Suzanville, the continue down 395 for as far as you have time. My favorite route back is taking a right at Mono Lake / Lee Vining over the Tioga Pass (120), through Yosemite and back to the Bay Area.
posted by Long Way To Go at 8:50 PM on July 30, 2010

I would book now - it was in South Oregon rather than San Francisco, but I was stuck once on the 1 without a room and had to drive a few hours back to the valley to get a room. It was not fun.

You can usually cancel by a certain point on day-of, if you find a different place that you'd rather stay that has a vacancy.
posted by muddgirl at 9:17 PM on July 30, 2010

Book now. I used to live in BB and it was packed over Labor day. Good luck.
posted by special-k at 12:58 AM on July 31, 2010

If you head a bit north of 299, you can visit Patrick's Point State Park, which has some gorgeous scenery. It's probably already booked up for Labor Day, though I have heard that attendance has dropped off recently since they've jacked up the camping fees.

On a similar note, you should book your accommodations around Arcata as soon as possible. The first weekend that Humboldt State is in session is famous for drying up all vacancies (in Arcata and Eureka). I imagine, since it's so close, that Labor day might be similar. Good luck!
posted by El_Marto at 6:24 AM on July 31, 2010

You mentioned Ft. Bragg, but not Mendocino. A must see. The Harbor Lights Inn in Ft. Bragg has great rooms overlooking the fishing harbor. Vaulted ceilings, fire places and balconies. And yeah, I'd reserve Now.

From SF take Hwy 101 North through the Sonoma County wine country. Healdsburg is wonderful for food, shopping and wine.

Sea Ranch is pretty and unique, but aside from the scenery, there's not a lot to do there. Look around and move on.

Once you get on Coastal Hwy 1, keep your eyes on the road. The view is like nothing you've ever seen, but it's a loooong way down!

posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 7:34 AM on July 31, 2010

If you walk around in the grass fields in the state parks and such watch out for snakes. We saw 2 in 5 min just North of SF. Family relative who mountain bikes says they are all over in the grass this time of year.
posted by UMDirector at 8:09 AM on July 31, 2010

Sea Ranch is pretty and unique, but aside from the scenery, there's not a lot to do there. Look around and move on.

If you need lunch, though, look for the big outdoor grill setup in the lefthand parking lot in Gualala, which is just north of Sea Ranch. They do a fantastic tri-tip sandwich. And see my comment here for breweries to stop at.

We did a similar drive some years ago - we even rented a convertible. It was like being in a car commercial - it was spectacularly fun and beautiful. Stop at Fort Ross, a few miles north of Jenner; it was founded by Russian fur traders. It's on beautiful land, and you might see whales from the bluffs.
posted by rtha at 9:54 AM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

When people come through Ukiah, i usually take them to Orr hot springs, and then a bit further up the road to montgomery woods state park. the hot springs is also a great place to stay, but might be a bit busy on the holiday weekend.
posted by St. Sorryass at 11:52 AM on July 31, 2010

I want to mark everything "best answer".

Thanks for all the advice; looks like I should start booking first thing Monday morning!
posted by The Shiny Thing at 7:48 PM on July 31, 2010

Why wait? Book what you can now, online, and make calls Sunday for whatever can't be booked online. It's never too soon! Well, sometimes it's too soon. But not this time! (Let us know when you want to have a meetup, if you want to have a meetup, in SF.)
posted by rtha at 8:15 PM on July 31, 2010

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