CA central coast road trip
November 10, 2005 4:03 PM   Subscribe

Help me plan a post-Thanksgiving road trip up California's central coast!

the basics: my boyfriend, his brother (who will be visiting from out-of-town), and I are going to take a 3-day road trip up the central coast the weekend immediately following Thanksgiving. (We may also have the company of another female -- a frisky fox terrier! -- but that's not definite.) Our basic itinerary is:

Day 1: Drive from LA (possibly stopping in Solvang). Overnight in San Simeon or Cambria.
Day 2: Hearst Castle in the morning. Drive up to Big Sur. Overnight in either Big Sur or Carmel.
Day 3: Drive back to LA. (Possible stop in Solvang if not on Day 1.)

I've been to Hearst Castle once before (stayed at the Cambria Pines Lodge) and have also stayed a night in Big Sur (at Ripplewood cabins). I've spent a few hours in Solvang having coffee and wandering around. My main questions are:

- Are there any pet-friendly accomodations in Big Sur? I've found places in both Cambria and Carmel (the Cambria Pine Lodge and the Carmel River Inn, both run by the same company) that will take pets, but nowhere in Big Sur. (I'm also fine with non-pet-friendly recommendations too, since we're only about 50/50 on bringing the dog anyway.)

- Recommended sights/restaurants/bars in Carmel/Monterey? (Preferably not too touristy, with the possible exception of Steinbeck-related stuff.)

- I've never driven up PCH this late in the year -- how early does the fog tend to roll in?

- Good Danish restaurants in Solvang? We're probably not going to do the wine tasting thing (saves on the merlot jokes), but if anyone has a really strong recommendation on that front that they're dying to share, go ahead!
posted by scody to Travel & Transportation around California (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Instead of Ripplewood, stay - if you can - at Deetjen's Big Sur Inn, which may allow a quiet dog. This place is fantastic, and I recommend it VERY highly - the cabins are all unique and super rustic and comfy. The restaurant is, along with St. Orre's way up by Gualala, one of the two best places to eat on the coastal hwy, IMHO.

The Aquarium is worth seeing if you haven't been. In Buellton, hitching post is actually really good - they haven't rested on their laurels, even though business is great since the film. I have not been to the original one (still open) in Casmalia, though.

I think the restaurant at Nepenthe is overrated, but the view from the deck is terrific, and the cafe, up on top, does have great burgers, and if the weather is good you can't beat a couple of beers (if not driving on that crazy road!) and a burger with a view of the ocean. THE view of the ocean, really.
posted by luriete at 4:16 PM on November 10, 2005 [1 favorite]

Ripplewood is certainly our favorite place in Big Sur. Nothing against Deetjun's - we had our honeymoon there, and the luriete is right, the restaurant is beautiful and tasty (especially for breakfast!). But we just feel more comfortable at the cabins at Ripplewood (though be sure to get a cabin by the river). The restaurant at Ripplewood also has a fantastic breakfast which is incredibly cheap! Unfortunately, they do not allow pets... And they're probably full -- though they often have cancellations, if you happen to call at the right moment.

I agree with luriete about Nepenthe, though I'd also recommend it after dark, when they have the fire going in the firepit, it's all just too beautiful. Foods way overpriced, but you can get a drink and hang out. I don't have much positive to say about Carmel - just too precious for my tastes...

Pfeiffer Beach is incredibly difficult to find, but it's totally cool - if you're heading north, you turn left somewhere around Pfeiffer State park - no sign or anything, and a windy road that totally makes you think you're in the wrong place, but you finally get to a parking lot, and just hike in the last 30 yards or so.

One thing that's kind of wacky but big fun is the hot spring at Esalen institute. They are open to the public by reservation from 1 am to 3 am (!) (see bottom of page for info on reservations) I know, who would want hot springs at those hours? Well, go and you'll be one of them!

But scody, these are pretty long drives you're talking about, especially on highway 1, with curves and such. Are you sure you want to cram in so much driving? Unless you all like driving LOTS, maybe you'd be better off choosing a spot and staying around relaxing?
posted by jasper411 at 4:50 PM on November 10, 2005 [1 favorite]

I've had good luck finding dog-friendly lodgings in California through this site, but I can't personally vouch for anything listed on their Central Coast listings.

The breeding season doesn't "offically" begin until December, but you'll be so close that it would be worth checking out the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery near San Simeon.
posted by ambrosia at 5:19 PM on November 10, 2005

Willow Creek bridge is a cool little picnic spot,one mile north of Gorda,secluded beach north of the creek.
posted by hortense at 5:47 PM on November 10, 2005

As long as you're in the neighborhood of Hearst Castle, you may as well stop at the Madonna Inn. As hotels go, it's very colorful.
posted by SPrintF at 6:32 PM on November 10, 2005

Deetjen's is a favorite of one of my friends. I found the beds uncomfortable and the cabins way too rustic for my not very picky tastes. The last time I was a guest there was many years ago so it's likely that they've remodeled the rooms since.
posted by rdr at 6:44 PM on November 10, 2005

these are pretty long drives you're talking about, especially on highway 1,

highway one is an awesome drive, but it's reeealll slow. it took me something like eleven hours to get from sf to la when I took highway one there (and switched over to the 5 at SLO).

that said, I spent many years when I was very young in carmel (we'd go once in summer, and once in winter), and it's got a special place in my heart, although it's become considerably more and more touristy (and sadly, the dilli deli is no longer there). Regardless, it's still very nice to visit and walk around. If you've never been there, I'd go. And go to Dennis the Menace park (which is more in Monterey, but close by)! it kicks ass, although they've taken out some of the really awesome playground equipment.

there's also some awesome hostels along highway 1, that I stayed at when I did a bike trip from SF to Monterey. Piegeon's Point is particularly lovely (there are private rooms available), and they have a lighthouse!
posted by fishfucker at 7:45 PM on November 10, 2005

Check out the yurts near Gorda
posted by hortense at 9:53 PM on November 10, 2005

You could always camp at Big Sur. Jasper 411 is right about Pfeiffer Beach-it has caves washed out by waves, very cool. Also, don't miss Juila Pfeiffer Burns State Park, which has a lovely waterfall that's a short hike off of Hwy1.
posted by slimslowslider at 10:46 PM on November 10, 2005

Link to Big Sur campsites.
posted by slimslowslider at 10:48 PM on November 10, 2005

Unless you just want to do sightseeing from the car, I'd skip Carmel/Monterey on this trip. Going that far, you'll miss so many great stops and spend most of the time driving. From Cambria, I'd drive up the 1 past Big Sur and take the ~8 mile loop along Coast Road (make sure you have gas), back to the 1 and then drive back into Big Sur for the rest of the day/night. To me, the best part of the coast (for a drive) is between Cambria and Bixby Bridge. But even going all the way to Big Sur from LA in three days is way too fast!
posted by shoos at 11:21 PM on November 10, 2005

Third on Julia Pfeiffer Burns S.P., and MAKE SURE YOU HAVE ENOUGH FILM/MEMORY CARDS/BATTERIES because there aren't many places to stock up along the way.

I guess there's a reason you are skipping Santa Barbara, but it's a great place to stroll and just pick a cafe.
posted by planetkyoto at 2:41 AM on November 11, 2005

Be sure you pre-purchase / reserve at Hearst Castle. It'll be freakin busy. Of the places you listed, I'd suggest staying in Cambria and Big Sur.
posted by Nelson at 3:05 AM on November 11, 2005

November might be late enough that you can get campsites in Big Sur. If you can't find camping anywhere, then Andrew Molera has always had campsites whenever I've gone there. It was very cheap. The downside is that you're surrounded by people which sometimes can be good and sometimes can be bad. The upside is that if you wake up early enough you can walk down to the beach and get some solitude. If you're feeling adventurous, there are beaches in the northern part of Big Sur that you can camp on. Safety (from human being) should be a concern when beach camping. I'm not too up on the law but parking overnight on the side of PCH is illegal. Beach camping outside of parks is also probably illegal and taking a dog without a leash onto a beach is antisocial.

I can't imagine driving PCH in Big Sur in a heavy rainstorm. You might want to adjust your schedule to fit with the weather.

I'm guessing that if you drive up PCH, then you're going to drive over to 101 at Carmel and go home that way. I can't see anyone willingly driving up PCH and then turning around and driving back down it.

Pigeon Point is (I think) well north of Big Sur, halfway between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay so you might want to save it for another trip.
posted by rdr at 3:08 AM on November 11, 2005

Another recommendation for skipping Danish in Solvang and having lunch or dinner at the Hitching Post in Buellton instead. It's terrific. Get a steak and, though it may seem cliche now, their house label pinot noir. I'm salivating just thinking about it. Make a reservation: lines form ridiculously early.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:26 AM on November 11, 2005

For pet-friendly lodging in San Simeon stay at the Best Western Cavalier Inn. A wide assortment of rooms from *right* on the beach to set back a bit and near the pool. There are 'chimney-que's" where the guests gather at night and socialize. I've met lots of interesting characters there! They have a restaurant on-site, or Cambria (and The Sow's Ear) are just 5 minutes down the road.

I've stayed there a number of times and never been disappointed.
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 7:18 AM on November 11, 2005

As long as you're in the neighborhood of Hearst Castle, you may as well stop at the Madonna Inn. As hotels go, it's very colorful.

And tell your boyfriend and his brother to make sure they check out the men's bathroom off the lobby.

If you're into wine, the Central Coast area has some good wineries in and around Pasa Robles
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 8:18 AM on November 11, 2005

Response by poster: A belated thank you to everyone for all the great suggestions!
posted by scody at 10:58 AM on November 15, 2005

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