Driving south from SF
December 21, 2010 8:20 PM   Subscribe

Driving south from San Francisco to southern California over an entire week. What's interesting on the way?

The only things I have on my list so far are the airplane graveyard in Mojave and random things in Death Valley National Park. Not really interested in Disneyland, other national/amusement parks, or driving through LA. What else can I do?
posted by pantsrobot to Travel & Transportation (29 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Pinnacles National Monument. In addition to seeing a chunk of volcano that used to live several hundred miles south, you might get to see condors.
posted by rtha at 8:32 PM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hearst Castle. I've actually never been because I'm somehow cursed and every time I come close to going, something or another goes wrong (this happened the last time I had tickets and was right frickin' there but they closed the whole place and my hotel threw all the guests out), but it certainly looks really amazing and I've been told it's well worth the trip. So do what I am apparently unable to do and go see Hearst Castle.
posted by zachlipton at 8:43 PM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Santa Cruz Boardwalk
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Hearst Castle
Big Sur
Just driving along Highway 1 is breathtaking.
posted by chbrooks at 8:43 PM on December 21, 2010

i second heading down PCH and stopping at the the madonna inn.
posted by violetk at 8:55 PM on December 21, 2010

Best answer: I asked a semi- related question that has some good responses.

More here.

You really can't go wrong by driving down CA-1, unless you're the sort to get carsick. Though I suppose there's not too much to *do* other than hiking and marveling at the stunning beauty of that coastline. But if you're going through death valley, then this stuff probably doesn't apply...
posted by palacewalls at 8:56 PM on December 21, 2010

Response by poster: Whoa that was fast! I was planning on driving down inland (Death Valley, etc) and returning on Highway 1. Thanks for thenresponses so far, AskMe does not disappoint.
posted by pantsrobot at 9:09 PM on December 21, 2010

If you are driving down the backside of the Sierras, you could turn right at Lee Vining and cruise over into Yosemite. Of course, that is a national park, but you could make an exception for it.

-Mono Lake is amazing.
-Bodie is an actual ghost town, and pretty interesting.
-Manzanar Internment Camp. I don't know what is actually there now. It was pretty desolate the last time I passed by, but haunting.
-White Mountains/Shulman Grove in the Inyo National Forest
posted by SLC Mom at 9:24 PM on December 21, 2010

The mission at San Juan Bautista and its surroundings take you back centuries.
posted by anadem at 9:25 PM on December 21, 2010

When do you plan on doing the drive? If you're driving in winter Death Valley might indeed be better than PCH in rain. Hwy 1 also is at risk of rock slides which can close the road for months.
posted by X4ster at 9:28 PM on December 21, 2010

Best answer: I haven't done the meandering California road trip in a while, but here's what sticks out from when my dad and I would go:

Winchester Mystery House is pretty nifty.
Yes stay at the Madonna Inn!
Monterey Bay Aquarium is great - plus Monterey is very pretty. As a kid I also remember enjoying going to see the Elephant Seals at Año Nuevo State Park.
Carmel-by-the-Sea is such a cute little town.
If you're interested in California history, there are some neat missions to tour.
There is a neat little Danish village called Solvang near Santa Barbara.
posted by radioamy at 9:37 PM on December 21, 2010

Winchester Mystery House

Solvang, CA
posted by illenion at 9:42 PM on December 21, 2010

If you are driving down the backside of the Sierras, you could turn right at Lee Vining and cruise over into Yosemite.

Probably not until May or June. I think every pass across the Sierra is closed for the winter from just south of Lake Tahoe to highway 14 or something.
posted by LionIndex at 9:43 PM on December 21, 2010

In L.A., the La Brea Tar Pits can be an interesting stop if you're in to natural history.
posted by dws at 9:47 PM on December 21, 2010

Best answer: Oddly enough, just had this conversation with a friend a half hour ago.

If you're taking the 5, be sure to double-check that I-5 through the Grapevine is open before heading out. That's a notorious section that winds through the mountains and gets very snowy in winter, with the weather we're having now I wouldn't be surprised to hear there's a big rig jackknifed across the road and/or that they're requiring chains in that stretch. I'm sure 395 is getting dumped on right now too, Mammoth has had 10.5 - 15 feet of snow since last Friday.

On the coast route, I'd recommend taking 101 between Buellton and SLO. There is a stretch of Hwy 1 there but it's by no means scenic and usually in poor repair, better to pick it back up again in San Simeon. Speaking of which, Hearst Castle is amazing but be sure to book tickets ahead because it's like to be sold out otherwise. That's also the northern end of the coastal wine country, which runs from Santa Ynez through Santa Maria, San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles. If you watched Sideways, that's where it was set and filmed. Plenty of beautiful scenery, good food and wine along there.

If you like CA history you'll be traveling northbound roughly along the old Spanish highway, El Calle Real, which means easily being able to visit any of the missions. If that appeals to you, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and San Juan Bautista are my favorites.
posted by cali at 11:28 PM on December 21, 2010

Best answer: Gigantic Elephant seals! The winter is a prime breeding time when you can see tons (literally) of them at two spots along the coast - Ano Nuevo South of Half Moon Bay, and Piedreas Blancas near San Simeon. You will need reservations for a guided tour at Ano Nuevo so book early - I'm unsure about San Simeon.
posted by benzenedream at 11:35 PM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you are driving down the backside of the Sierras, you could turn right at Lee Vining and cruise over into Yosemite.

Not in winter. Don't count on it until July 4th with the amount of snow that just got dumped on the Sierras. You can reliably cross the Sierras at Donner Pass, via Hwy 50 or 88 or Tehachapi Pass to the south in the winter. 50 and 88 are less reliable but they are actively plowed and you won't get delayed for long. A lot of the other passes are NOT plowed so check before you go!
posted by fshgrl at 11:45 PM on December 21, 2010

Best answer: Recently visited La Purisima Mission and was blown away. It's well worth a detour if you're on the Central Coast and have an interest in early California. (Self link to blog post and photos).
posted by Scram at 12:24 AM on December 22, 2010

Best answer: Are you going soon? If so, anything basically north of Bishop needs snow tires or chains. Current California road conditions (major roads).

I would wait until the current storms blow out.
posted by shinyshiny at 1:35 AM on December 22, 2010

Since you're already going to look at the Mojave boneyard, Blackbird park in Palmdale could be worth your time, since they've got a pretty good collection of airplanes (the only place with an SR-71 and an A-12, a U-2, etc). It's not as good as the Flight Test Center museum in Edwards, but unless your trip is timed with one of the few times that's now open to the public (Edwards is generally not open to the public) or you have another way onto the base, it's pretty good.

Are you into interesting food? There are some nice Basque places up in Los Banos...
posted by kaszeta at 1:48 AM on December 22, 2010

Response by poster: Ouch, should have anticipated the road closures. Was planning to leave at the end of is week. Thanks for the tip.

Blackbirds and delicious food? Genius!
posted by pantsrobot at 5:18 AM on December 22, 2010

Route 395, on the 'backside of the Sierras,' is easily one of the most spectacular roads I've driven. This was ~10 years ago, I was headed for SF and, like you, didn't anticipate road closings. A local directed me to Donner Pass, which was plenty exciting because I was riding an old motorcycle. A gas station attendant told me that chains had been required to get through the pass the day before.
posted by jon1270 at 5:51 AM on December 22, 2010

Best answer: Mono Lake on the way down; Nepenthe on the way back up, for SURE.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:03 AM on December 22, 2010

Best answer: I don't have experience with areas south of LA, but reptile and I did the SF->LA drive last March.

We went to:
Monterey Bay Aq. (good),
Winchester House (utter crap, overpriced and no photos allowed, and this from a historian and architecture buff),
Hearst Castle (beautiful, great tour guide, as many photos as we goddamn pleased),
Solvang (eh, but a good pastry shop and I managed to pick up Danish stuff for my family), and spent a lovely quiet day in Ojai recovering from driving in rainstorms.

We lucked out staying in Big Sur; it was the off season and we got upgraded to a room with a fireplace.

We did drive down Hwy 1, and at one point we had to stop and move a rock out of the road. March was also prime seal mating time, so there were ginormous seals everywhere off the road down by San Simeon. There were also volunteer nature guides there, which was kind of nice.

We did not go to the computer museum in Mountain View because it opens relatively late in the day, but we'd heard good things.
posted by cobaltnine at 7:10 AM on December 22, 2010

Big Sur is a big place with limited lodging options. Where exactly was your fireplace room?
posted by Rash at 8:02 AM on December 22, 2010

Best answer: My bad, my bookmarks are all screwed up right now. We stayed at Glen Oaks. It looks like it's running $155/night weekdays in Jan for a queen (picked randomly as it's not specified by the OP.) That is one of the cheapest options in the area. We originally were supposed to stay in a cottage, which is out back, in the wooded part, but the massive rainstorm and low occupancy = offer of a closer room with an indoor fireplace instead of an unusable fire pit.
posted by cobaltnine at 8:42 AM on December 22, 2010

Best answer: Though I love 395, with the winter storms this time of year that's a bad place to try to keep on a schedule. On the other hand, Mono Lake and the June Lake loop are gorgeous in the winter, and Bodie is cool. From the Bay Area you can take I80 or 50 up through the Tahoe area and over to 395. And that's reasonable if you're going to get as far east as Death Valley and Mojave, but this time of year keep a really close eye on the weather forecast and expect to be flexible.

You might also want to head down the central valley, either via 99 or I5. If you head down 99, I found the tour through the Forestiere Underground Gardens worth a stop. And every town has its founding robber baron wannabe, the Kearney Mansion tells the story of yet another dude being a bastard to claw his way to the top and dying just after he built his dream house, but I found it an interesting look at how an area becomes developed (he sold grape farms and dreams to immigrants).

If you're headed down I5, a detour over to the Coalinga Iron Zoo is fun. Depending on how you get to Mojave, watching a train pass over itself in the Tehachapi Loop is... well... either you're a train person or you're not.

I second dws on the La Brea tar pits, but if you're going way the heck over to Death Valley and uninterested in LA, then that's probably out.
posted by straw at 10:13 AM on December 22, 2010

Dewar's in Bakersfield
posted by rhizome at 10:25 AM on December 22, 2010

Best answer: Filling in details from my earlier post...

Blackbird Air Park is at Avenue P and 25th in Palmdale (by the Lockheed Plant). Pic here.

The Basque place I like best is The Wool Growers, 609 H Street
Los Banos, CA. Best roast chicken ever.
posted by kaszeta at 10:27 AM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oooh! Esalen. Hunter S Thompson spent a great deal of time there, and now it's a sort of rich, new agey retreat place. BUT, you can go to their hot springs, which are on the cliffs overlooking the coast, for pretty cheap. It's awesome. Have I mentioned that the hot springs are only open to the public from 1am - 3am? So yes, if the picture of hiking or swimming in Big Sur all day and then chilling in a fucking hot spring in the middle of the night appeals to you at all - DO IT.
posted by ke rose ne at 11:06 PM on December 22, 2010

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