Best hikes from SF to LA?
May 30, 2011 8:59 AM   Subscribe

My partner and I are in the early planning stages for a three-week vacation to California this November, and we need help with the hiking parts!

We are planning on flying to San Francisco, spending the better part of a week there, and then renting a car to drive south from there, hiking along the way, and finally flying home from LA about two weeks after leaving SF. We are overwhelmed with all of the resources on the web and don't know where to start to choose the best areas in which to hike.

We are not planning on camping, so we're looking for great day hikes anywhere between SF and LA (either along the coast or inland). Our plan is to choose two or three places as "home bases", so that we're not changing accommodations every night, though we haven't found any of those places either. So, we're looking for recommendations of great hiking anywhere in those areas, as well as accommodation recommendations - our preference is to stay somewhere self-catering, both for financial and dietary reasons.

We're both in good shape, and have done quite a lot of hiking, but are not particularly good map/compass users, so things that are really backcountry are probably a bit risky for us. We love great views, don't mind climbing, and are interested in taking in a range of types of hiking in the 1 1/2 weeks or so that we'll be out there.

Recommendations of great websites and/or books are also very welcome!
posted by sabotagerabbit to Travel & Transportation around California (19 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I love hiking in the Santa Monica mountains and around Malibu. Temescal Canyon has great views of LA and the coast.
posted by HotPatatta at 9:13 AM on May 30, 2011

If you want to see stars of the Hollywood variety, Runyon Canyon is the place to go. And there are a lot of great trails in Griffith Park. You can hike right up to the Griffith Observatory.
posted by HotPatatta at 9:14 AM on May 30, 2011

If you drive down the 1, Big Sur has tons of great hiking (from day hikes to several day backpacking trips complete with great views of the bay and even hotsprings).
posted by special-k at 9:19 AM on May 30, 2011

Ventana Wildenress
Big Sur trails
posted by special-k at 9:20 AM on May 30, 2011

Bay Area Hiker lets you sort hikes by distance/difficulty. Coyote Hills is one of our favorites.

Farther south, Pinnacles National Monument has some kickass trails (by which I mean neverendlingly steep) and condors!
posted by rtha at 9:22 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Bay Area Hiker is a fantastic reference for hikes around the San Francisco Bay area.

Some of my favorites: Palomarin up in Marin, and the San Andres Fault hike at Los Trancos, which is easy, but pretty neat.

On preview, I see rtha beat me to it.
posted by ambrosia at 9:28 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I know you are not looking to camp, but you can stay at a "Tent Cabin" in Big Basin, and they have a package where you can rent all the camping stuff, so that might be an interesting option for a couple of days and it seems pretty economical as accommodations go.
posted by ambrosia at 9:35 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Great recommendations so far, thank you! Big Sur is definitely on the list - I've been wanting to hike there since reading a lot of Kerouac as an impressionable teenager ;)

Please keep 'em coming! And I love the creative accommodation suggestion, ambrosia - I'm definitely open to ideas like that.
posted by sabotagerabbit at 10:36 AM on May 30, 2011

Some great hikes in the Santa Barbara area are listed here: -- I recommend Montecito Peak for a nice strenuous one, or do the Cold Spring Canyon loop instead for something shorter. They start at the same trailhead.

Or go into the backcountry and do Aliso Canyon Trail for a nice 2-3h hike with great views.
posted by tybstar at 10:44 AM on May 30, 2011

Also double check if the parks you want to visit are accessible from where you're staying. Parts of Highway 1 are still closed due to mudslides this winter. This information should be on the park's website, like this one.
posted by apricot at 10:49 AM on May 30, 2011

I have a website called Trailspotting which features over 60 California day hikes (mostly Northern California). Good index, sortable by ability and quality ratings. You can also download many of them for free on your iPhone/Android so you can navigate to them, or check out hikes on your route.
posted by yorkie at 11:04 AM on May 30, 2011

Montana de Oro
posted by rhizome at 11:07 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Point Lobos, just south of Carmel, is often referred to as the crown jewel of the California state park system. It's got a bit of everything - tide pools, woods, beaches, rock arches. In November, you might be able to spot whale spouts, and you'll definitely see deer, seals, and otters. There's also an old whaling station with some interesting artifacts on display.

In San Francisco, don't miss the Lands End trail in the northwestern corner of the city. More of a walk than a hike, but still not to be missed. Great views of the Golden Gate and Marin headlands. If you go at low tide, remains of old shipwrecks are visible in the water. The Sutro Baths at the west end of the trail are a great place to watch the sunset.
posted by mshrike at 11:08 AM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Central coast:
The Nipomo dunes are near Pismo Beach and worth visiting for sure.
The Gaviota Wind caves are a nice short hike close to the freeway.

There are lots of great hikes in the Santa Monica Mountains. The Grotto Trail is one of them.
Although, only an hour north of LA, Vazquez rocks look like another planet.
posted by euphorb at 11:21 AM on May 30, 2011

Seconding the Pinnacles. The west entrance isn't too far from 101. When we were there last spring, we saw (through a docent's scope, after a really arduous climb) a California condor sitting on a nest with a hatchling! It felt like, and probably was, a once-in-a-lifetime thing.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:40 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Um, I can't believe nobody has suggested Yosemite? It's definitely inland but doable since you are taking such a long time to get from SF to LA (which is only about a 6 hour drive). If you've never been it's worth going. It's much cheaper to stay outside the park, and easier to get reservations (and more likely that you will find self-catering places). It is crowded in the summer, but it is crowded because it is spectacular. There are less crowds outside of the Valley - like around Toulomne Meadows.
posted by lvanshima at 4:44 PM on May 30, 2011

If you are not camping, Big Sur is out, unless you plan to spend the 300$+ per night that runs for all hotels in that stretch of coast (there are only a few)
posted by ShootTheMoon at 10:36 PM on May 30, 2011

The Tom Stienstra California Hiking book is really good. Looks like this is the most recent edition.
posted by yarrow at 9:22 AM on May 31, 2011

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