Impulsive trip to CA. Suggestions?
February 25, 2013 1:48 PM   Subscribe

I'm traveling to California for a week-long solo vacation. Suggestions on unique places to check out?

So I'm from northern California originally, but live in DC now. I'm taking a much-needed vacation to California for a week. I'm going to fly into San Diego, then leaving from San Jose. Basically, I plan to do a coast trip, going up north from the coast. However, I have a week to play around, so I'm trying to shake things up and do something different. I've done this kind of trip before. I'm thinking maybe checking the desert out, but I'm also trying to be wise with budget. I'll be renting a car.

That said, any suggestions what to do? I'm open and flexible. I also may hit friends up, but I want this trip to be more about me and a release. Things I like doing include driving around, checking out beautiful scenery, and exploring. I'm not too keen in doing stuff inside the city (as I live in a city!), but again, am open to suggestions.

Also, any advice on finding cheap hotels to stay along the way? I'm a bit picky with hotels, but don't want to spend over $50 per night in a hotel. Bottom line: I don't want to arrive to California without knowing where I want to go, but I also want to be flexible and keep things a bit up in the air, while saving gas and hotel funds.

Thanks for your suggestions! Any questions are welcomed and will be answered.
posted by dubious_dude to Travel & Transportation around California (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You want to drive up the coast from San Diego to San Jose, but you don't want to spend more than $50 a night and you're picky about hotels.

How do you feel about camping?
posted by elsietheeel at 1:53 PM on February 25, 2013 [8 favorites]

Yeah, $50 a night is going to put you in very sketchy places. I would say $150 would be better.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:55 PM on February 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

You are in for a treat.

I'd say for sure, call ahead and secure tour tickets to Hearst Castle, and stay one night at the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obisbo! (It may blow your budget, but it's a total experience and completely worth it!)

I like Santa Cruz, but Monterrey or Carmel is nice too!

Then hit the Rosecrucian Museum and the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose.

I'd stick to known options for hotels, your $50 price point is very low!

Check each place with Trip Advisor to insure that it's just a cheap Motel, rather than a Bed Bug Haven.

Have you thought about AirBNB or camping?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:55 PM on February 25, 2013

While outside your budget, the Madonna Inn is an interesting place to stay:

Ask for a room in the old building, however - they tend to be cooler.

Otherwise, Motel 6 is probably your best bet for cheap hotels.
posted by unix at 1:56 PM on February 25, 2013

If you like driving around: in Ventura, take HWY 33 up to the Ojai Valley. Switch to HWY 150. Continue through the town (stopping if you fancy) and go up Dennison Grade. There is a pullout on this grade, almost to the top, and this is where they got a shot of the Ojai Valley, which was used to portray Shangri-La in the movie Lost Horizon.

You can continue up the Santa Paula or go back to the coast, but it is a VERY pretty part of the world.
posted by Danf at 2:03 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh! Solvang can be fun, there's a neat mission there and Pea Soup Andersens!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:05 PM on February 25, 2013

I have stayed in "The Nest" at Treebones Lodge in Big Sur... unique. You need a warm sleeping bag and a hat, but it's pretty awesome.
posted by bobdow at 2:25 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're starting in San Diego, it is well worth the trip out east to Anza Borrego and/or Joshua Tree. (And if I were you - hey, you said "unique" - I'd check out the Salton Sea, esp. Salvation Mountain, while you're at it. It's a spectacular site/sight and it may not be there for much longer.)
posted by goodbyewaffles at 2:33 PM on February 25, 2013

I'm a bit picky with hotels, but don't want to spend over $50 per night in a hotel.

Just nthing that this is one part of your plan that needs rethinking. Even if you're not picky, fifty bucks is not going to get you a night in a hotel, or even a motel. Car camping may be a way to go.
posted by trip and a half at 2:48 PM on February 25, 2013

You could stop outside Pescadero and stay in a Tent Bungalow (Outer Pine Village) at Costanoa for $79/night. (That's close to $50, right?) I've only stayed in the Lodge there but the tent bungalows look quite nice. All bedding (including down comforter) is provided.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 2:56 PM on February 25, 2013

I agree, camping... but there are some pretty neat Hostels, too! There's a couple along the coast that are in lighthouses =)

Camping along the coast is almost always a bit chilly, and camping in the desert this time of year it will get COLD at night. BRRRRR!

I far prefer a private room at a hostel to a cheap motel. It may not be "nicer" but the vibe is "cheap and cheerful" and friendly (and under $50), rather than "did that creepy tucker see me go into my hotel room alone? Oh noes!". I actually don't mind dorm rooms either - often quieter in the off season, and it feels safer, and you meet some cool people. You could also try couchsurfing or Air B&B.

Have fun!
posted by jrobin276 at 3:56 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you haven't seen the elephant seals at Piedras Blancas, I would recommend it. The chipmunks there are very friendly.
posted by soelo at 5:50 PM on February 25, 2013

I highly recommend camping at Andrew Molera State Park. It's beautiful. (Here's a random picture.)
posted by compartment at 6:33 PM on February 25, 2013

Thirding Madonna Inn. There's really nothing like it, and it's totally worth the splurge. Each room is different. When I went there with my family as a kid, we stayed in one of the rock rooms (this one) and I thought it was the coolest thing ever.
posted by SisterHavana at 10:59 PM on February 25, 2013

If you can find a copy of the Mad Monks' Guide to California, it's a collection of some of the best hidden gems of the state.
posted by psoas at 6:20 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have had good luck with renting cars through Priceline - not the guess at a mystery price and see what you get, but the straightforward here's a list of prices and rental agencies. It costs me less than half as much to do it that way as it does to reserve direct with the car place for an airport rental. They will try to upgrade you for 5 or 10 dollars a day to a better car when you check in- plan in advance what you want to do on that. If you have an idea of gas mileage of the options that could help you out.

I've also had good luck with very last minute Priceline hotel bookings - these were the mystery hotels where you bid $50 on a 4 star hotel and hope. I don't know how well that will work outside of a big city, but I have saved a little more than half of the best rate I could get direct from the hotel. Your hotel budget sounds way, way low to me. It's not very reliable, but I have also had luck at a place like Hampton Inn showing up later in the evening and saying hey, I've got a $60 budget, can you help me out for a room tonight? Again, may not work.

I would check out Roadside America and see if anything strikes you, or the Trip Advisor things to do for places along the way. I've done that from my phone from time to time while en route and found some cool things. Also search AskMe, I've found good CA vacation ideas here before.

I enjoyed the desert side trip I took, I thought it was well worth it, but it also seemed like once you get there it's like hmm, I'm here, what to do now. I did explore and find some interesting places but it took some open mindedness.
posted by mrs. taters at 12:31 PM on February 26, 2013

When are you going? If it's not wintry weather, you might consider traveling up 395 and then cutting over on 50 and back down to San Jose. It would be a longer drive, but accommodations are likely to be less expensive on that route, and there is a lot of nature to be seen along the way. You could check out the many Hot Springs along the way, and also the Ancient Bristlecone Pines near Bishop.
posted by gubenuj at 8:07 PM on February 26, 2013

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