What to do in LA, Monterey, and San Fran?
July 6, 2005 6:23 AM   Subscribe

My fiancee and I are going to Los Angeles for 5 days, spending a night in Carmel/Monterey, and then spending 3 nights in San Francisco. What should we do and be sure not to miss? We're 24/25 and from outside NYC. Sports, shopping, etc are all up our alley. Thanks.
posted by seinfeld to Travel & Transportation around California (34 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I assume you will have a car. That being said...

Make sure to drive the Pacific Coast Highway (CA-1) from around San Luis Obispo to Carmel (and follow the next day up to Santa Cruz). So much beauty and awesome, your head asplode.

YMMV, but be wary of the Whale Watcher's Cafe on the road around Gorda/Big Sur, the prices are a little ... ahem, strange. (IMHO, they looked like the items were priced in Canadian dollars for mediocre foods)
posted by kuperman at 6:53 AM on July 6, 2005 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yes, we'll have a car. We plan to rent the car in LA, use it to drive north, and ditch it when we arrive in San Francisco.

We plan on staying in Union Square.

posted by seinfeld at 7:05 AM on July 6, 2005

i just came back from san francisco. didn't get much time to do tourist stuff, but the sfmoma (museum of modern art) is very impressive and has a pretty good shop and cafe, too. eating was a pleasure there - loads of restaurants, good food.

otherwise, enjoy driving along roads through "unspoilt" scenery (head asplodes at the irony of it all).

on preview - union square area has a bunch of big stores and it's easy to walk from there to the other areas. it was a real pleasure being in a "big city" that you could walk round. it's a great place.
posted by andrew cooke at 7:08 AM on July 6, 2005

Before ditching the car when you get to SF, you might as well go across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin & check out Muir Woods whch has a nice stand of Redwoods.
posted by Pressed Rat at 7:27 AM on July 6, 2005 [1 favorite]

You're pretty much re-creating our honeymoon from a couple of years ago. A few suggestions:

- The Pacific Coast Highway is magnificent, but allow for PLENTY of time. It's a narrow two-lane highway that gets very crowded in the summer, and you'll come across numerous switchbacks and hairpin turns. If one of you gets carsick easily, really plan on taking your time. But it's oh so beautiful and definitely worth it. Consider leaving LA in the evening one day before you originally planned and stay near San Luis Obispo (perhaps at the Madonna Inn). Then take off early the next morning to head up the coast. This would also allow you to see...

- Hearst Castle. Even if it doesn't sound interesting when you first read about it, trust me: it's worth it. You can rent the movie they show ("Hearst Castle, Building the Dream") on Netflix before you go, so you can devote your time there to a tour of the building itself.

- Consider taking time to do the 17-mile drive at Pebble Beach. Stunning homes and scenic views.

- If you've never been to San Francisco, devote some time to the "touristy" stuff, such as riding the cable cars and going to Alcatraz (HIGHLY recommended). And do at least part of the "49-mile drive" in the city soon after arriving, so you'll be sure to see many of the highlights (including Twin Peaks). Then, once you've seen the tourist highlights, go a little off the beaten path and hit the Casto District and some other terrific neighborhoods, depending on your interests. I'm sure one of the locals on here can recommend some restaurants, shops, and other things far beyond the "tourist city."
posted by arco at 7:58 AM on July 6, 2005 [1 favorite]

I second the Muir Woods, it's truly magnificent. If you're driving from LA to San Fransisco, I'd recommend doing the PCH and stopping along the way, it's one of the most beautiful drives in the US. Ragged Point, Solveng, Pismo Beach, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo are all along the way.
posted by karen at 7:58 AM on July 6, 2005 [1 favorite]

Third the Muir Woods and a drive on the Pacific Coast Highway. I recommend the Monterey Aquarium, for the jellies, if you have the time.
posted by gsb at 8:41 AM on July 6, 2005 [1 favorite]

I second the recommendation for Alcatraz, if you've never been. Be sure to take the audio tour (it was free the last time I was there), and when you're done with that walk around the prison as much as you can. Most people just do the tour and get back on the boat, but there are paths and staircases around the prison that give you very picturesque views of the city and the bridges. I'd also recommend Angel Island for some fantastic views and nice hikes.

Muir Woods is also worth the trek, depending on how long you're keeping that car. If you have a full day with the car, get up early and head to Muir Woods before the tour buses arrive. There are trail loops ranging from less than a mile to 8+ miles. The long ones don't get you much better views than the 2 mile hike (which is how far you have to go to get away from those tour bus people if you're late).

Consider going to wine country if you're into that. Avoid Napa Valley, unless you (again) like tour buses. Pick any of the other valleys (Sonoma is nice) and you're in for a much quieter experience with free wine tasting and the chance to talk to people that know something about what they're pouring. My favorite so far is Gundlach Bundschu; they have some delicious whites and a great patio for lunch overlooking a lake.

For your time in the city, as mentioned, Union Square is full of big stores (think Gap, Nike, etc.) and some other high-end boutiques. If you're looking for that, you'll be right at home. The Fog City Diner is not too far from there, and reasonable for a nice meal. Walk up to North Beach one day, check out City Lights Bookstore, and hike up Coit Tower if you want more views of the bay.

If you've had enough of the tourists, jump on the BART and go to the Mission District. There are tons of excellent places to eat and drink here. My recent favorites are Charanga, which serves most excellent ceviche and sangria, and Ti Couz, where you can get very tasty crepes for just a few bucks. Good bars include Blondie's, Elbow Room, and the Make-Out Room, just to name a few. For a truly unique dining experience, check out Kan Zaman in the Haight District: Mediterranean food, belly dancers, and hookahs.

There's million places to eat, drink and shop in SF, I'm just pointing out some things that are easy to find, but maybe a little off the tourist-beaten path.
posted by istewart at 8:59 AM on July 6, 2005

My favourite SF neighborhood is North Beach. Be sure to check out The Stinking Rose if you like food with a heavy dose of garlic, and have a drink at Vesuvio's just for the Kerouac/Beat history of the place.
posted by rocket88 at 9:07 AM on July 6, 2005

More touristy stuff:

Walk the Embarcadero. Enjoy the sea lions on Pier 39. Eat a sundae at Ghirardelli's.

Golden Gate Park - check out the Japanese Tea Garden.

Exploratorium/Palace of Fine Arts - fun museum, good photo ops.

If you're into baseball, the Oakland Athletics have $2 admission on Wednesdays.

Chez Panisse, if you can get a table.
posted by event at 9:21 AM on July 6, 2005

Stop at Nepenthe at Big Sur for a meal, preferably during the daytime hours so you can marvel at the view. There's a main restaurant and a little outdoor cafe that's cheaper.
posted by jasper411 at 9:26 AM on July 6, 2005 [1 favorite]

I second Nepenthe for a daytime meal. A Beautiful place.

If you miss that, the California Market at the Highlands Inn on PCH between Carmel and Monterey is also a very good spot to see the coast and have some good food at the same time.
posted by shoos at 9:29 AM on July 6, 2005

Re Chez Panisse: Unless you've got the money (and one month lead time -- they only take reservations one month to-the-day in advance) to eat downstairs (in the main restaurant), try the Cafe upstairs. You can get in there with close to no advance notice (still call ahead if you can), less money, but still enjoy some fabulous food.
posted by istewart at 9:30 AM on July 6, 2005

If you plan on touring Alcatraz, you are required to reserve a spot in advance with the Blue & Gold Fleet to get on the island. Don't think you can call them the day before and get a spot, like we tried. Instead we went on a trip around the bay and under the Golden Gate bridge on a catamaran sailboat and were pleasantly suprised by it.

Definitely recommend the PCH through Big Sur. Stopping at Nepenthe for lunch is very worthwhile. Pricey, but the view and setting more than make up for it. Pfeiffer Beach is a great beach tucked away at the end of a two and half mile long unmarked one lane road. Not sure if you're into camping, but if you want to take your time up the PCH camping in Big Sur is fantastic and pretty easy going. We stayed at a little campground called Fernwood that was very reasonable and available on pretty short notice.

As far as LA things go, I can't help you too much there. Touring the Queen Mary in Long Beach is only really worth it if you're either way into giant machinery or Art Deco interior design (thankfully, we were), as the admission is rather expensive. Try everything you can to sneak into the hotel portion of the ship -- the general self-guided tour part is pretty lame. The portions of the ship that it is on are decrepit, but the original interior portions that make up the hotel are magnificent. We stumbled upon a staircase that went down to the hotel and tagged along with a guided tour for a while. A guided tour may be worth it, but I'm not sure if you have to pay for them.
posted by zsazsa at 9:31 AM on July 6, 2005

Response by poster: Where should we stay in Carmel/Monterey?
posted by seinfeld at 9:32 AM on July 6, 2005

Seems like you're spending most of your days in LA, yet most of the hints are coming in on the NoCal side. That's fine, California's central coast may be the most beautiful stretch of land in the country (YMMV, of course). This being said, LA's a tremendous town and worth exploring.

Good Eats:

Grab a sandwich at Phiippe. Grab a plate full of PadThai at The Palms Thai restaurant, then stick around for the Thai Elvis. Enjoy one of LA's tastiest burritos at The Loteria Grill then walk around and explore the surrounding Farmer's Market. At night, sip a cocktail from the bar at Yamashiro and take in one of the best views of Hollywood (though I hear mixed things about the sushi there, so drinks may be your best bet).

And those are just a few suggestions. There's amazing DimSum Downtown. Great Mexican restaurants that have been around since the 20s. And there's always the fast food mecca: In-N-Out!

Good Sights:

LACMA is hosting the traveling King Tut exhibition. Buy your tickets early, it's selling out. The Getty is worth checking out. And for off-the-beaten path museums, I'd recommend The Museum of Jurassic Technology, or dropping by the Hollywood Forever Cemetary -- they play classic movies on their lawn every Saturday as well, and it's quite the scene.

If you're here over the summer, walk up to the ticket window and buy a pair of the cheapest seats available that day for The Hollywood Bowl. It's a great venue.

Speaking of classic venues, odd as it may sound, Dodger Stadium is one of the classic, old-school ballparks (there may only be three or four older baseball stadiums in the country!)

If live music's your thing, pick up an LA Weekly and see who's in town. If live comedy is more your speed, check out the standing show at Largo, or UnCabaret, or the Comedy Central Workspace.

If you like movies, make sure to catch a film at either the Cinerama Dome, or The Chinese Theatre.

Good Shopping:

If you're looking for music, don't leave LA without visiting Amoeba Music (though you can shop at the original when you're in NoCal if you prefer). If you're a bookworm, hit Book Soup, or Vroman's in Pasadena.

And there's so much more to do, but I gotta run. Enjoy LA!
posted by herc at 9:43 AM on July 6, 2005

As a resident of the Bay area (and frequent visitor to Monterey), my suggestions are:

- go whale watching in Monterey. We've been with Sanctuary Cruises, and they were very good.

- drive up Highway 1 from Monterey to SF, but take it slowly: there are lots of beutiful spots to stop and admire the view.

- It's touristy, but walk over the Golden Gate bridge. There are also some great spots to get a view from the Marin headlands to the north of the bridge, including an old missile base above the bridge itself
posted by baggers at 10:00 AM on July 6, 2005

Another vote for The Madonna Inn - stay in one of the expensive rooms and it's a guaranteed night you'll never forget (the Old Worlde Suite has a rock waterfall shower that is simply one of the greatest experiences I have ever had in my life).

Also, in SF I'm a big fan of the Tonga Room in the basement of the Fairmont Hotel.

Ooh, and how about brunch in the Palace Hotel Garden Court? If you've seen the movie The Game, that's where Michael Douglas falls into at the end.

In LA, sunset drinks on the Standard Downtown rooftop bar is a must. And you might want to consider picking up a copy of The Worldwide Guide To Movie Locations which'll give you a raft of locations used in the city. Oh, and drive Mulholland from the 405 to the 101 - during the day and at night - for stunning, stunning views of the city and the valley (the entrance to Mulholland at the 405 is very close to The Getty, so you might want to combine those two).
posted by forallmankind at 10:14 AM on July 6, 2005 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Such awesome advice -- thanks guys! I'd love for it to keep coming, so don't stop!

We actually have family and friends in LA so we're not as concerned with what (not) to do in LA as we are in SF.

Whale watching sounds awesome.. I'm getting tickets for the Dodgers game on my birthday, 7/26 -- Great suggestions!
posted by seinfeld at 10:17 AM on July 6, 2005

Another charming town on the way to Monterey is Cambria - funkier than many on the coast, it is home to many artists/craftspeople.
If you have the time, go out to Golden Gate park - the old Sutro Baths ruin is fun to explore, and the Cliff House (recently re-done) is a great place for brunch/lunch (views to die for).
You can get a 7-day (or I think a 3-day) tourist transit pass at the kiosk at the "base" of Market St. (right by the Cable Car turnaround/BART station). It's a screaming deal - it gets you unlimited rides on the Cable Car, MUNI (subway), and the (excellent) bus system. There's a bus that takes you straight out to Golden Gate from the Union Square neighborhood.
Oh, and Greens restaurant at Ft Mason (near the base of the Golden Gate on the SF side) is fabulous, also with killer views (might need reservations, but it's worth a shot.
If you love espresso, be sure to check out Cafe Trieste in North Beach (worth it just for the ambiance, but the coffee makes it doubly worthwhile).
Have a great time!
posted by dbmcd at 10:23 AM on July 6, 2005

I have family in the Monterey/Carmel area:
I'll 3rd or 4th Nepenthe for an outdoor lunch. The views from this place are simply stunning. Words can't describe.
I'll also second the recommendation for Phieffer Beach, if you can find it. I honestly can't think of how to describe the entrance to anyone who hasn't been there. It's a singletrack dirt road that heads off to the left (if you're heading north) of Route 1. The beach (although it's a state park) isn't marked in the least from Route 1. Also, just about everything in Big Sur is named after Julia Phieffer (it feels like, at times) so it's easy to mistake something else for the beach in question.

I would also suggest checking out the golf courses in Pebble Beach. Taking a walk around the Links at Pebble Beach is free and you can get a feel for the place and say you visited Pebble Beach.

If you're looking for a more cute and esoteric view of the Monterey Peninsula, check out Pacific Grove, which is tucked in between Monterey and Pebble Beach. It's a wonderful little town with some good eats and a funky atmosphere.

Finally, for breakfast, check out Jeffrey's, out in Carmel Valley. It's about a half hour off of Route 1, on Carmel Valley Road, but it's worth it.
posted by Inkoate at 11:11 AM on July 6, 2005

Response by poster: zsazsa,

do you recommend a day or evening tour of alcatraz? do we need separate tickets to get INTO the facility? it seems blue and gold fleet just gets you TO alcatraz.. am i correct?

and, about how long should i plan for alcatraz? we have three days and i want to be sure to get everything in..
posted by seinfeld at 11:40 AM on July 6, 2005

Blue and Gold is in cahoots with the park service; your park admission fees are included in your boat ticket.
posted by trevyn at 11:47 AM on July 6, 2005

Response by poster: btw, any reason not to get a Citypass (www.citypass.com) for San Fran? Seems like it's probably worth the money..
posted by seinfeld at 11:51 AM on July 6, 2005

The ticket you buy for the Blue and Gold fleet includes round trip to and from the island as well as the tour itself. IIRC, the whole thing took about three hours or so, but you can choose when you want to make the return trip back to the city. (Someone correct me if I'm wrong...) Be sure to allow yourself enough time to explore the island (i.e. don't head out there too late in the afternoon). We did an evening tour, and the sunset view from the island is great.
posted by arco at 11:52 AM on July 6, 2005

Read that CityPass page closely, as the "Blue and Gold Fleet" tour included with it does not include Alcatraz unless you make advance arrangements. If you're really planning on hitting several of those sites it might make sense, but I always hesitate to buy those "get me in to everywhere" tickets because inevitably I find other things to do with my time and feel "required" to get my money's worth and use the tickets. It's not a bad deal, though, all things considered.
posted by arco at 12:01 PM on July 6, 2005

My usual warning: it's COLD in San Francisco, and everywhere near the coast, at this time of year. The middle of the day usually warms up ok, but some days just stay foggy. Don't expect to get by in shorts, and bring at least a fleece jacket.
posted by anadem at 12:06 PM on July 6, 2005

I went down to Monterey a few weeks ago. I also had a limited amount of time so here are a few recommendations.

Stuff to do:
- If it's a nice day I recommend the 17 mile drive. If it's foggy then skip it and go to the aquarium.
- The aquarium is busy. Get advance tickets to pick up at will call. Hang out there for a few hours (the exhibits are truly great). When you get tired of all the kids go out and have a few margaritas. Then go back and watch some of the educational movies.
- Avoid Cannery Row. There is little here of redeeming value.

Places to eat:
Tarpy's Roadhouse. This place is good. A little spendy. The food is great. The service is awesome.

I've never been there, but Bonny Doon Winery is on the way up to SF from Monterey. They have good wines and it will give you a chance to get a taste of a winery without having to go up to Napa.
posted by quadog at 12:21 PM on July 6, 2005

Sorry, not sure how I botched that link.

Tarpy's Roadhouse.
posted by quadog at 12:26 PM on July 6, 2005

If you're interested in something unusual, Marina Dunes is one of the most fun/cool/hip/romantic hotels I've ever experienced. Be sure to get an ocean view room if you go. To minimize the environmental impact, some rooms are heated by fireplace and you park your car and ride to your dune-side cottage in a golf cart. Very cool.
posted by Gable Oak at 12:44 PM on July 6, 2005

Definitely do the 17 mile drive in Carmel/Pebble Beach. It's beautiful - and lots of places to stop and stare.

Union Square in SF is cool - where are you staying? I'm racking my brain trying to remember where we stayed - there's a guy in a Beefeater uni out front. Anyway - it was nice, but the rooms were miniature! Parking in SF is very expensive. Maybe do all your driving the first day then ditch the car for the last two.

Definitely go down to the Embarcadero. Touristy but neat and fun. Ride a cable car.
posted by clh at 2:55 PM on July 6, 2005

I second (or whatever) the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Tarpy's.

Pepper's in Pacific Grove has good, reasonably priced Mexican food.

In Monterey, try to stay some place downtown --- the Portola Plaza is nice. The Hotel Pacific and Merritt House are nicer. The beauty of staying near the plaza is that you can walk the entire waterfront --- my favorite part of Monterey.

And in Moss Landing, just north of Monterey, the Elkhorn Slough Safari is really, really great. I know, stupid name. But. A slow boat with an on-board naturalist takes you up the slough. There are zillions of birds, and you get really close to the otters, seals and sea lions. It's a great way to spend the morning.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:29 PM on July 6, 2005

Also, the Museum of Jurassic Technology in LA is something that you will never see anywhere else....
posted by mudpuppie at 4:31 PM on July 6, 2005

Response by poster: mudpuppie,

How about the Stonehouse Inn? Any comments about it's location?

It's located at 8th Ave and Monte Verde Street.

posted by seinfeld at 12:14 PM on July 7, 2005

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