Road trips from the bay area that don't involve much interstate driving?
April 17, 2020 12:33 PM   Subscribe

Assuming we all ever get to leave our houses, it still seems like road trips are going to be more of a thing for a while than other kinds of travel, but 1) I find interstate driving unpleasant and 2) everything in the west is so fucking spread out. Where could we go that won't take two days to get to and could be done on smaller highways with less 75mph driving? This is of course nothing like immediate but I wanted to get some ideas. (Personally I am a big fan of Not Going Places but I try to accommodate more normal ways of living sometimes.)

For reference, my nightmare drive is I-5 to LA. Straight, endless, few exits, COWSMELLZONE, everyone drives 80. (And then everyone calls it THE FIVE and it's even worse. )
posted by less of course to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't agree with your assumptions, but I would suggest that Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Forest, Death Valley National Park, and Joshua Tree National Park can all be accessed without going on I-5, driving for a day or less at speeds of <75 mph.

Another option is to simply drive north or south on US 101 and enjoy the coast and coastal towns. Monterey/Carmel-by-the-Sea are beautiful and you can go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
posted by saeculorum at 12:48 PM on April 17, 2020 [3 favorites]

Head directly east to Jackson and south of lake Tahoe by the back roads. It's a nice drive, with lots of interesting small towns in the Delta and the foothills and then Nature when you get up into the Sierras
posted by fshgrl at 12:52 PM on April 17, 2020 [3 favorites]

I often recommend the Lost Coast - a beautiful, varied landscape with relatively few visitors - to people in the Bay Area. It’s about a 5-6 hour drive north from SF, mostly on Hwy 101 (technically not part of the Interstate Highway System). Permits aren’t required for day-use. Humboldt Redwoods S.P. is in that vicinity too.
posted by theory at 12:52 PM on April 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

Head up Hwy 1 along the coast. There're some beautiful spots a couple of hours north of SF - Bodega Bay, places along the Russian River, Salt Point.
posted by hanov3r at 12:58 PM on April 17, 2020 [4 favorites]

Cannibalism jokes aside, Donner Pass is lovely as is Tahoe. There's a back road that parallels the interstate through the Sierras you can take that will give you spectacular views along the way, if you can handle driving twisty curvy roads.
posted by Candleman at 12:59 PM on April 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Bicycle trip up the northern Californian coast. Most popular bike route in the US, makes a fantastic road trip, and you're definitely going less than 75mph.
posted by aniola at 1:06 PM on April 17, 2020

Not a destination suggestion, but a method: when you look at a map, follow the squiggly roads instead of the straight ones. Squiggly roads follow rivers, valleys, ridges. There are views, small towns, places to stop and get your feet wet. These are the old roads that conform to the land instead of bulldozing it into submission. I’ve crossed the Great Plains this way without ever suffering monotony. It’s just slow, is all.
posted by jon1270 at 1:20 PM on April 17, 2020 [5 favorites]

Stebbins cold canyon reserve and Bodega Bay are both nice, and much closer.
posted by SaltySalticid at 1:56 PM on April 17, 2020

I would want to go see Fern Canyon.
posted by babelfish at 2:10 PM on April 17, 2020 [3 favorites]

Fort Bragg/Mendocino is great. (You can find other comments on AskMe with details.) One of the routes takes you west to the coast on a small highway that goes through a redwood park, with lots of pull-outs so you can let faster people go by and, more importantly, look at the ferns, mushrooms, and trilliums.
posted by wintersweet at 2:16 PM on April 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm in Sonoma County and, these days, am occasionally going for don't-leave-the-car drives with my family. We discover new and gorgeous roads/drives every time we do this. Sonoma County is just ludicrously beautiful.
posted by Dr. Wu at 2:31 PM on April 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Google maps has an 'avoid highways' setting!

Also Tahoe and there abouts are largely reachable by back roads.
posted by ananci at 2:31 PM on April 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

Seconding the "avoid highway" checkbox on Google Maps, and if you're in the Bay Area, there are plenty of beautiful places to go without going far...where specifically do you live?
posted by pinochiette at 2:40 PM on April 17, 2020

Coastal California is made for this. Follow US-101 and/or CA-1 up and down the coast for gorgeous views and meandering roads. Monterey/Carmel/Pacific Grove and Santa Barbara to the south, Mendocino, Fort Bragg, and Eureka to the north are all within a day's drive. Sonoma and Napa wine country also has some great drives.
posted by 4rtemis at 4:13 PM on April 17, 2020

Well to avoid freeways, just pick a place to go that isn't near a freeway and go there. If you are in a large city where most people leave town via freeways, there are usually other options except for bridges. Examine a map of your local area and see what directions you can leave town without having to use a freeway for major bridges. Go on a road trip in that direction somewhere.

Where could we go that won't take two days to get to

As you have pointed out, everything out west is very spread out. So what "won't take two days to get to" near, for example, Bozeman Montana is going to be very different than for San Diego. You might consider putting your location in your profile or in your question if you want specific answers.

You could google "weekend getaway near cityname" and probably turn up some ideas. Or look at your state tourism website, sometimes they have suggestions for scenic drives. If you have a nearby neighboring state you could look at their website too.
posted by yohko at 4:34 PM on April 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

A note on CA-1, having driven that way before: if you get stressed out by 2-lane highways with blind corners and steep cliffs to one side, it may not be the drive for you. It definitely checks the boxes of lower speed, not straight and no cow-smell, at least, and to be fair, it's a beautiful drive, but I was white-knuckled on the steering wheel and paying far too much attention to the road to really appreciate that.
posted by Aleyn at 5:55 PM on April 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

The coast and Sierras get a lot of attention, for good reason, but there is a huge amount of California that is hardly ever visited in the northeastern portion of the state. I think the desirability of a road trip out there is highly seasonable, but if this summer works out, areas like Lassen Volcanic National Park and Mt Shasta would be worth a visit. They are high on my list.
posted by feloniousmonk at 6:31 PM on April 17, 2020

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