California Gurls.
May 19, 2011 3:46 PM   Subscribe

San Francisco to San Francisco in 7 days.

'm a California native - lived in the Bay, the Inland Empire, Orange County, Sacramento and San Diego during my 22 years here.

HOWEVER, I'm stumped: a good friend is visiting from DC and has never visited the state before. She's flying into San Francisco on June 22 and flying out of San Francisco on June 29th. We have no other restrictions/places to be.

How can I give her the grand tour? What are the most important, quintessential California things to see? I'm considering driving down the coast to show her the diversity.

Right now, I'm thinking places like Chinatown in San Francisco, driving along PCH, Venice Beach and fish tacos in San Diego are all essential Calfornia viewing for a first-timer, but I'm overwhelmed in planning this. Suggestions?

Bonus points: Should we take the train or drive down the coast?
posted by brynna to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (21 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I like nature. I'd say Muir Woods (an easy day trip) and Yosemite (requires a bit more planning)
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 3:59 PM on May 19, 2011

Drive down US1 instead of the train. After growing up in Minnesota and living in Boston for a while, my mind was blown by how those hills come right out of the ocean, with US1 carved right into them. Better views from the car and you can stop to take it all in and walk on the beaches.

Nature wise - try to fit the redwoods in there too. Probably something in the bay area if you're committed to rolling down to southern CA - I don't think you'll have time for Yosemite to see the Sequoias or redwood national park way up north.
posted by MillMan at 4:01 PM on May 19, 2011

Redwoods? You could detour off of 1 up to Big Basin park and see the redwoods there with minimal work.
posted by GuyZero at 4:02 PM on May 19, 2011

With just seven days I'd definitely consider doing the trip down to San Diego (or wherever your most southerly point will be) by plane, then renting a car down there and doing a one-way road trip back to SF. It'd be tough to squeeze in, but I personally would also consider the deep redwood forests of Northern CA (that is, north of the Bay) to be essential California viewing for a first-timer, but I could understand skipping it in the interest of showing your friend around the places you've actually lived.
posted by contraption at 4:02 PM on May 19, 2011

Drive. The train is great, but if you want someone to really "get" California, you're going to need a car. And the train takes forever.

If I were you, I'd do San Francisco, Yosemite, Monterey, Carmel, and Big Sur and have that be it. That's enough to take up a whole week. Southern California is where I live and I love it here. But trying to cram it all into a week on the road and then get back to SF is just going to leave a bad impression.
posted by The World Famous at 4:02 PM on May 19, 2011

I definitely want to make it down to San Diego - I lived there for 4 years and consider it quintessentially Californian.
posted by brynna at 4:03 PM on May 19, 2011

The World Famous, you're right. I should probably go for depth rather than breadth.

Good thinking.
posted by brynna at 4:03 PM on May 19, 2011

Twin Peaks, the View bar at the Marriott, or the Top of the Mark for aerial views of the city. (Hope it isn't foggy.)
posted by vickyverky at 4:03 PM on May 19, 2011

whenever I have first time visitors I always do the Muir Woods/Stinson Beach drive. its an easy day trip and you can show off the redwoods!!! the dramatic contrast of forest ridgeline and beach is a stunner.

mission burritos
golden gate park

if you drive down the coast you'll have more control/spontaneity on the trip, as there is sooooo much to do & see you can decide some on the fly
posted by supermedusa at 4:03 PM on May 19, 2011

Ha! I lived in San Diego for years, too, and I was going to say skip it because the fish tacos aren't any better than the rest of SoCal and it will add two days to the trip. But if it's a place that's really dear to your heart, I agree that you should fly to San Diego and then drive back up the coast.
posted by The World Famous at 4:04 PM on May 19, 2011

even just a day drive into yosemite valley would be worthwhile. I was just there, and it never ceases to AWE!!!
posted by supermedusa at 4:05 PM on May 19, 2011

Re-reading your question, is there any way your friend could change her ticket to fly into SD and out of SF? Then you'd just have get yourself down there to meet her.
posted by contraption at 4:05 PM on May 19, 2011

WARNING: portions of Highway 1 are closed, some indefinitely.

But if you make it to Cambria, there are dinner + hotel packages for $99 a night (according to the recent bombardment of TV ads). If you take Highway 46 from the 101 south of Paso Robles, it's only a ~30 minute trip to get from the inland area to the coast, and from there you can cruise south on Highway 1. Cayucos is a quaint, cutesy beach town (with delicious cookies, if nothing else). Keep on Hwy 1 until you get back to the 101, and head south from there, as the next stretch of Highway 1 is hit-and-miss - some small suburban communities, some wonderful rural areas, etc.

Santa Barbara is weird, in a Fake Town sort of way. A rather nice mission, but a LOT of the "Mission Style" buildings, which can be fun to drive past.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:08 PM on May 19, 2011

A drive down Lombard Street is one of those only-in-San-Francisco pleasures, especially if you do it in a cab so you don't have the heart palpitations.
posted by Mchelly at 4:42 PM on May 19, 2011

I'm totally cheesy and I like taking an afternoon and visiting Hollywood. It wouldn't feel like the quintessential California tour to me if you left out the silver screen. Just seeing the Hollywood sign gives me a little thrill. (I told you it was cheesy. I'm just a big fan of old Hollywood!)
posted by TooFewShoes at 5:40 PM on May 19, 2011

I'd avoid the train. The last time I took Amtrak it was 14 1/2 hours late getting from San Jose to Los Angeles. Worse, Amtrak missed several chances to fix the problem during the journey. I really wish that the train was a viable way to travel but it isn't.
posted by rdr at 6:34 PM on May 19, 2011

I've lived in California for nearly thirty years and went to Joshua Tree for the first time a couple years ago. That was transformative for me. One *essential* part of California is J-Tree, especially the part about lying in a field of cactus and yucca looking at stars. It is ten hours' straight driving - mostly on 5 - from SF, just for calibration. If you find 5 wasted time, then try to get her to fly into LA, OC, Long Beach or SD.

As for the coastal scene, it gets beautiful and wild between Pillar Point and Santa Cruz, on 1. Cut inland on 9 at Santa Cruz and go to Big Basin or Henry Cowell Park if you want a hike through redwoods.

Try going to Bolinas, the beach scene there is delightful.

Wine country is pretty and the drive through the Russian River valley (101N - 116W at Santa Rosa - 1) to Jenner and the lovely open beaches with seals is another very Californian experience.
posted by jet_silver at 9:33 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Drive from SF to Yosemite thru to Death Valley down to San Diego and back up to SF on HWY1. It misses virtually all of northern California but it has a lot of everything (mountains, coast, beach towns, wineries, desert, SF, LA, SD, Monterey, Big Sur, Yosemite, etc).
posted by doctor_negative at 9:51 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

June 26th is gay pride in San Francisco, which would meet some people's definition of quintessential California. The city and its hotels are full of happy gay people all weekend so it's not the best time to be there if you're not interested in the parade and associated events.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:04 PM on May 19, 2011

Does your friend want to be spending days of her vacation in a car or train?

Showing her California from SF to SD would be like her showing you the east coast from DC to Detroit or to Portland (Maine) in a week. If you flew in to visit her for a week and hadn't ever been to DC before, how much of the East Coast would you see?

I'd recommend spending your limited time together doing memorable things, rather than getting to places and hurrying on to the next stop.

Chinatown, downtown Berkeley, North Bay wilds, Alcatraz, Santa Cruz Boardwalk, the California burrito. There's a ton of quintessential California right here in the Bay Area, and you've only got a week.
posted by aniola at 4:09 PM on May 20, 2011

Definitely seconding redwoods - you might also consider Purisima Creek if you're driving down 1 (which I also agree you should do).
posted by kristi at 11:21 AM on May 21, 2011

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