Fun on Highway 1
June 18, 2006 3:45 PM   Subscribe

Driving up the California coast from LA to San Fran, 101 to 1, before turning inland at Santa Cruz. Looking for recommendations for great places to stay (relatively cheap) and great things to do along the way. Big Sur is definite, and I'm looking to overnight in the area. Everyone has favorites along this route. I want to hear 'em all.
posted by fourcheesemac to Travel & Transportation (25 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The Madonna Inn. For sure check out the men's bathroom, it's like nothing else in this world.
posted by about_time at 4:08 PM on June 18, 2006

taking 1 from LA to Ventura (rather than 101) is a much nicer drive and (depending on traffic) sometimes even faster.

On bad smog days, the valley really fills up which I find unpleasant.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 4:21 PM on June 18, 2006

Near Santa Cruz, head inland to Gilroy. Lots of antique stores and if it's the end of July don't forget your breath mints cause it's Garlic Festival time!
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 4:36 PM on June 18, 2006

Monterey Bay aquarium. Good stuff.

Santa Cruz boardwalk.

Obvious choices, yes, but worth a look.
posted by dentata at 4:58 PM on June 18, 2006

We were just through Carmel and Monterey yesterday; Carmel is lovely to look around at, with a pretty beach and a beautiful old Spanish Mission.

Monterey has Cannery Row, which is really just touristy, but it's fun to walk down by the water. There's a lot of Steinbeck-cashing-in stuff, if that interests you.
posted by livii at 5:04 PM on June 18, 2006

Hearst Castle
posted by kirkaracha at 5:11 PM on June 18, 2006

There have been bunches of questions about the California coast and Big Sur, so make sure you check out the archives, too.
posted by occhiblu at 5:12 PM on June 18, 2006

If you haven't done the 17-Mile Drive at least once, do it.

And ... Beachcomber Inn in Pacific Grove. It's the closest cheap(ish) motel to the 17-Mile Drive. The motel is right next to Asilomar State Beach. It's a bit of an "adventuresome" place, meaning it's a little light on modern amenities, but the attached restaurant is great, and your other options are expensive Carmel B&Bs and chain hotels in Monterey proper.
posted by frogan at 5:29 PM on June 18, 2006

Thanks everyone, and thanks occhiblu. I did indeed read some of the archived posts on this topic, but travel being what it is, things change from one season to another.

Keep 'em coming. Thank you again, everyone. I'm looking for hidden gems in a well-mined field . . .
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:12 PM on June 18, 2006

Nojoqui Falls Park is a great place to stretch your legs on a short walk to the falls and the park is only a mile or so off the freeway. It's a beautiful short trail through lush growth and lined with bay trees that fill the air with a wonderful smell.
posted by buggzzee23 at 6:25 PM on June 18, 2006

I haven't done this in about four years, but the last time I did, I stopped at this restaurant on the pier at Avila Beach. Great view and fresh seafood, caught right off that pier!
posted by butternut at 7:59 PM on June 18, 2006

IF you go to the Madonna Inn, do NOT stay overnight there. Sure, drive over if you're curious and have a half-assedly-made drink at the bar to soak in the kitschy-ness and the atmosphere (do NOT have dinner in the restaurant, either) and definitely check out the Men's Room, but then hurry on down the road for a place to stay. Gack.

On preview, I second the Beachcomber Inn.
posted by trip and a half at 8:14 PM on June 18, 2006

See if you can stay a night at Esalen in Big Sur. Beautiful spot, wonderful atmosphere and hot springs. Usually only those taking a workshop can stay there, but sometimes there is extra space and you can book a room overnight if you call.
posted by richg at 8:32 PM on June 18, 2006

I grew up on the 17-mile drive. I don't think it's that urgent to drive it, though, and it costs something like $10 just to do so anyway.

Esalen is pretty vital though, nice place to go if possible, and ask in advance about the hotsprings.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:34 PM on June 18, 2006

I agree -- nix on the 17-mile.

For overnight in Big Sur try the Ventana campground.
posted by Rash at 9:08 PM on June 18, 2006

trip and a half has the right idea about not staying at the Madonna Inn, but their Steakhouse serves incredible Filet Mignon and Ribeye.
posted by letitrain at 9:14 PM on June 18, 2006

For overnight in Big Sur try the Ventana campground.

I'll add a strong second for the Ventana campground, though it's been 15 years since my last stay. I spent most of 1977 living in the campground while working on a job a few miles north and fell in love with it. It's definitely the best place to stay in Big Sur.

I'll also second the Madonna steakhouse. The BBQ fundraisers along Broadway in Santa Maria are also a great place to sample some delicious tri-tip and pinquito beans. Santa Maria Style BBQ
posted by buggzzee23 at 10:41 PM on June 18, 2006

Do the 17 Mile Drive, but combine it with brunch or lunch at the Inn at Spanish Bay. The food is excellent, the breakfast and lunch prices are reasonable, and when you pay the bill, give them the entrance receipt for 17 Mile Drive, and they'll reimburse you. At least that's the way it used to be (been a while for me).
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:43 PM on June 18, 2006

I haven't been there in a while, but Pfeiffer State Park in Big Sur is right off the PCH, if you like camping, and it's got wifi. There's the Tassajara Hot Springs retreat, and Sykes Hot Springs in the Ventana Wilderness is great if you don't mind a vigorous hike.
posted by nj_subgenius at 10:49 PM on June 18, 2006

There's a great campsite south of Big Sur, called Kirk Creek, right on the bluff overlooking the ocean. It's my favorite place to camp down there. Pfeiffer State Park is going to be a ZOO during the summer months. If you want a motel-ish place there, try the Glen Oaks. It's very basic, and the traffic noise is bad during the day, but at night it's nice and quiet. All the lodging in Big Sur is pretty expensive. Nepenthe is a great place to eat, because of the view. I like to go to the outdoor cafe (upstairs) for breakfast, because it's cheaper and usually less crowded.

Don't miss the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It's one of the finest in the world. Mid- to late-afternoon is a great time to go -- the school kids are gone, and the little ones have gone home for nap time. It's just less crowded and noisy. There is a great restaurant in the Aquarium, if you don't mind a pricey meal, or there is a snack bar with lunch items.

I'm in Santa Cruz, so I'm a little partial to this part of the state. Feel free to email me (address in my profile) if you have any specific questions, or need a hand figuring out where to stay, etc. Depending on what your interests are, there is a great deal to check out and enjoy here.
posted by shifafa at 12:14 AM on June 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

We spent two nights at The Back Bay Inn in Morro Bay. Avoid the slightly touristy part of the town, hop in a kayak and explore the bay and the bird sanctuary (with or without guide). We had a great time.

Seconding the Monterey Bay Aquarium, it's not to be missed.
posted by swordfishtrombones at 1:04 AM on June 19, 2006

Thanks everyone, and esp. shifafa for the offer of personal guidance.

Keep 'em coming if you got 'em. Gracias a todos.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:10 AM on June 19, 2006

Near Hearst Castle, the Best Western Cavalier Inn. Yeah, it's a Best Western, but they have a block of rooms that are literally thisclose to the ocean. Get a 2nd floor room and watch the parasailers. At night gather 'round the chimney-cue's and chat with other travelers. They have 2 nice sized pools, also.

Dinner in Cambria at The Sow's Ear cannot be beat. Go for the Salmon in Parchment.
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 2:08 PM on June 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

June 23 24 25, Blues, brew's, BBQs, Monterey Blues festival.
posted by hortense at 9:02 PM on June 19, 2006

Yes, the Cavalier Resort is excellent. They've got firepits and chairs on the short hillside between the rooms and the water - a great place to relax and enjoy the sunset. Or you can get one of the rooms SoftSummerBreeze mentioned and literally get ocean mist on your balcony.
posted by letitrain at 10:11 PM on June 19, 2006

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