Hi California!
March 7, 2011 7:52 AM   Subscribe

What should I see in San Diego, Sacramento, and driving in between? Within the next month, work is sending me (from the East Coast) to San Diego and I will then likely drive up to Sacramento.

Out of a week, I'll be tied up with actual work for about a day. I will probably head to San Francisco for a day or more, and I'm not too interested in LA but I could be persuaded otherwise for sure.

I assume I will drive up the I-5, but I am willing to detour from that and would be happy to take a more scenic route, although the 8 or 9 total driving hours is about the most I want to spend unless I'm detouring somewhere.

I'd like to spend a day or two at the beach, eat some In N Out, and see some quirky/off the beaten path things - touristy is okay but less preferred. I don't especially care about shopping.

Budget - I'm looking to be sensible but not necessarily to skimp, so assume that money is a consideration but not a huge one.

posted by mrs. taters to Travel & Transportation around San Diego, CA (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
If you do end up going near LA, make sure to stop and see the Getty, which is not only an amazing museum but also a building worth seeing (I mean the new one; I've never been to the villa, but I'm sure it's also great).

Absolutely, definitely go to Yosemite! Stay at the Yosemite Bug and enjoy the park, which is pretty much my favorite place in the world. It's great if you're outdoorsy, but I'm not and I still adore it.

In San Francisco, try to make it to the de Young Museum (if you like art museums) and the Exploratorium (if you like awesomeness). Eat at Tajine.
posted by you're a kitty! at 8:15 AM on March 7, 2011

If you stop in San Francisco, and you like meeting mefites, there are a lot of us here. Also, yes, you should stop at the Exploratorium if you like awesomeness.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:21 AM on March 7, 2011

For San Diego:

It's not off the beaten path, but I definitely recommend the San Diego Zoo. It's really very good. Alternately, their Wild Animal Park (up in the Escondido area) is a lot of fun as well, and has a more "nature preserve"-y feel to it.

For food, I recommend going somewhere and getting a California burrito (San Diego thing, where you get fries in the burrito instead of rice). For maximum quirky, go to the Lucha Libre Taco Shop.
posted by Tknophobia at 8:23 AM on March 7, 2011

I-5 is soulless and awful. It takes you up the central valley, and the boring side of it, at that. If you're dead set on not driving more than 8 or 9 hours it's your only option for the trip. I'd detour over to 99 at Bakersfield to at least hit the cities in the central valley. There ain't much joy there but they are honest towns.

But, if you're willing to spend more time, drive up 101. Ventura, Santa Barbara, Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles, and Monterey are all wonderful places to stop for a night or a visit. Beaches, wineries, old Spanish missions, Hearst Castle, the Monterey Aquarium. Lots of goodness. Google says this route is 10.5 hours as opposed to 8.5 hours via I-5. That may be a bit optimistic. But 101 vs. I-5 is the difference between a vacation and a grueling drive.

Quirky/off-the-beaten-path says Pismo Beach to me. If you'll forgive the self-link, I just spent a night there and wrote up a blog post about the area. Pismo is small, beachy, funky, and fun. Alternatives.. Santa Barbara is beachy but upscale, more glamourous. San Luis Obispo is a college town, beautiful and relaxed. Paso Robles is more of a farming town, inland, but also nice.
posted by Nelson at 8:23 AM on March 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

Oh, and for quirkiness you can't beat 826 LA and 826 Valencia (in SF) - the Echo Park Time Travel Mart and Pirate Supply Store, respectively. All proceeds go to support writing workshops for kids.
posted by you're a kitty! at 8:36 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

There've been a couple questions about San Diego/southern California tourism lately: here's one, another
posted by illenion at 8:44 AM on March 7, 2011

Depart from San Diego early in the morning, maybe two hours before you think you'll be very, very hungry. Take I-405 north. Hit Pann's for a very good but calorically devastating breakfast. Think eggs, chicken fried steak and buttermilk bisquits with a side of grits. Seriously. Wash it down with coffee. But don't call the waitress "garçon" when you order your refill--it wasn't really a film location for Pulp Fiction, though it does feature the same sort of mid-century "Googie" architecture which originated in this area. I go for the best chicken fried steak I've found outside Texas.
posted by Hylas at 9:13 AM on March 7, 2011

Well as long as your gonna be in Sac, why not spend another hour or so and check out Lake Tahoe? Hwy 50 is the most scenic, but can be slow due to traffic, especially on weekends. And winter is still on here, so be prepared for snow.

Ill second the Crocker in downtown Sac.
posted by elendil71 at 9:26 AM on March 7, 2011

Los Angeles isn't the stereotypical vapid hellhole that everyone seems to make it out to be. Missing it, especially if you've never been, would be a tragedy. MeFite run HiddenLA points out some of the offbeat points of the town.

I've been spending a lot of time ferrying back and forth to Fresno and Bakersfield for work, so I can now drive SR 99 with my eyes closed (which you have to do anyway when the fog rolls in). Taking Interstate 5 through parts of the Angeles National Forest is nifty, you'll get to see Fort Tejon, though I've never stopped. You'll also get to drive over the infamous Grapevine Hill, which notoriously gets shut down at the first flake of snow.

Bakersfield is the punchline to many jokes, but it does have a neat downtown area. There's an outpost of downtown LA's mac-and-cheese-only restaurant there. I forget what the name is, but there's a pretty good sushi joint in there too, which is really surprising for the area. Buck Owens was from Bakersfield, and you'll know it if you stop at the Buck Owens' Crystal Palace.

There's a little roadside stand halfway between B'Field and Fresno called Bravo Farms. Their restaurant/cafe is pretty good. Fried cheese curds and burritos with both steak and chicken.

Fresno also has a couple of neat little districts, but I've not spent as much time there. I posted an AskMe about it once, and someone pointed me to the Tower District, where you'll find independent shops and restaurants. Also, the housing stock surrounding the area are the beautiful Craftsman houses that are disappearing from most of the California landscape.

But I concur that you'll want to stay off of the 5 for as long as you can, unless you're just in a god awful hurry.
posted by hwyengr at 9:55 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you do decide to drive up the 101, stop at Jocko's in Nipomo - when I was growing up in southern California with family in northern California, my dad always made us drive the longer 101 route up to visit them just so we could stop at Jocko's for some awesome steak and burgers.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 10:06 AM on March 7, 2011

Response by poster: Hi everyone - thank you for the good ideas so far, keep them coming! The 101 sounds like the way to go (thanks Nelson!), I'd rather have a good drive than a still long but awful drive.
posted by mrs. taters at 10:17 AM on March 7, 2011

For food, I recommend going somewhere and getting a California burrito (San Diego thing, where you get fries in the burrito instead of rice).

Note: the California burrito is a specific menu item at most taco shops in San Diego - it's a burrito with carne asada, fries, cheese and pico de gallo inside. The fries do not "replace" rice in the burrito, because just about any burrito you order from anywhere other than Chipotle will not contain rice unless you request it as an addition.
posted by LionIndex at 11:00 AM on March 7, 2011

The most interesting part about that drive is the desert. (On preview: this does not apply to the 101 drive- just the I-5 drive.) Any chance you can get to Joshua Treegoogle images? I seem to remember Cottonwood Springs being a neat, easy and short hike with a reward of big horn sheep and greenery. (It's a few hours out of the way- probably 2 or 3). or the Anza Borrego, (flickr) which is closer to San Diego? It's spring. Hopefully the cactuses will still be blooming!

I dislike San Diego rather intensely. It's one of the more racist, classist and (coincidentally?) right-wing places I've spent time in. However, it has a pretty cool collection of nautical stuff. (If you're into tallships, they have 'em, including the one they used in Master and Commander, which was mutilated for the film, but is still worth climbing around on, imo. They won't let you climb the rigging, though, damn it.)

Los Angeles is full of cool stuff, especially having to do with the film industry, but I don't remember enough to tell you where to look for it. I just remember being captivated by the surreality of it, a la Postcards from the Edge. Remember that scene where a suburban house, complete with picket fence, drives away from behind them? Like that.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:01 PM on March 7, 2011

The fries do not "replace" rice in the burrito, because just about any burrito you order from anywhere other than Chipotle will not contain rice unless you request it as an addition.

Mission style burritos explicitly contain rice. That's where Chipotle got the idea.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:22 PM on March 7, 2011

My comment was specific to places in San Diego, as referenced in the first sentence.
posted by LionIndex at 12:37 PM on March 7, 2011

Have lunch at a seemingly average cafe in Hollywood. You will probably be served by the most glamorous waitress you've ever seen.

Hollywood is just to the west of LA.
posted by nikkorizz at 3:59 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

There is also the railroad museum in Sacramento. If you're in Santa Barbara, you should really eat at La Super-Rica (on milpas). Don't forget the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
posted by lab.beetle at 5:10 PM on March 7, 2011

I think the most beautiful house in California is in San Diego. It's rarely open for visitors, but just give yourself 15 minutes to walk around outside the Villa Montezuma if you can, it's that amazing.

And you're missing out on a lot if you decide to skip L.A. -- so much that I'd simply encourage you to check out past L.A. threads or yeah, lynnster's HiddenLA.
posted by Scram at 8:48 PM on March 7, 2011

« Older The negative of music   |   Help me have a midwest adventure! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.