Pacific Coast Highway or Route 66?
April 2, 2007 11:53 AM   Subscribe

Route 66 or the Pacific Coast Highway?

My wife and I are planning our honeymoon for August. We were thinking of going down Route 66 starting in Springfield, IL, but that might be too hot. As an alternative, we were thinking of flying to Portland and then renting a car and driving it down HWY 101 (aka the Pacific Coast Highway) to San Francisco.

Have you done either of these, and if so, do you have any advice, complaints or general ideas?
posted by drezdn to Travel & Transportation (38 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I have driven down PCH from Portland to LA and it is an incredible drive-- the Oregon coast is beautiful, and you drive right through the redwoods as you go south through California. I highly recommend it.

Haven't done Route 66, but I've been in the desert in August and saying it is "too hot" is a severe understatement. You'll spend most of that portion of the drive in an air conditioned car, which probably isn't what you're looking for.
posted by InfidelZombie at 12:12 PM on April 2, 2007

Route 66 will probably be pretty boring and not all that scenic. It will definitely be incredibly hot, and there will be tons of trucks. I have done the drive from Oregon to San Francisco and it is AMAZING. There are tons of adorable little towns to stop in and stay at Bed & Breakfasts, also. You can stay in Bend, Oregon, Eureka, there's a beautiful town in northern California called Jenner. Visit Lassen national park, Crater lake, the Oregon caves...

That's the way to go for a honeymoon!
posted by pazazygeek at 12:16 PM on April 2, 2007

Note that Lassen Volcanic National Park is more than 200 miles away from the PCH.
posted by muddgirl at 12:23 PM on April 2, 2007

one more vote for the PCH, it is gorgeous.

Doesn't sound like you're coming down here, but in Southern CA there are a lot of parks and easily accessible hikes into the SM mountains and such on the PCH, whereas Route 66 is mainly traffic.

have fun and congratulations on your nuptials!
posted by kitalea at 12:27 PM on April 2, 2007

PCH. There's no compare. You'll drive through the Tillamook area, where I suggest Cape Lookout state park. I also reccomend visiting the Lost Coast south of Eureka, CA... it's gorgeous, off the beaten path, and not touristy at all. There's tons of bed and breakfasts along the PCH... as opposed to the few remaining run down indian-teepee motels you'll find on rt. 66. ;-p
posted by SpecialK at 12:27 PM on April 2, 2007

101 is a great road. Just be ready to go slow on parts (not really a problem, because the views are well worth it.. not to mention the beaches). There's also good camping/lodging along 101.
posted by devilsbrigade at 12:30 PM on April 2, 2007

PCH. But I would plan on going further south than SF if possible.
posted by dame at 12:33 PM on April 2, 2007

Route 66 is fun too, but more in that relics of an abandoned US way, so not really appropriate for a honeymoon. (Save it for your anniversary)
posted by Eddie Mars at 12:34 PM on April 2, 2007

I've done both. PCH is gorgeous. It will be incredibly crowded, so be prepared to go slow and stop often.

Route 66 is lots of fun for other reasons. I've driven the Interstate version of 66 several times between Chicago and Flagstaff. I would say that you should do it someday, but it's not the drive you want for your honeymoon in August.
posted by FlamingBore at 12:43 PM on April 2, 2007

I would definitely choose the PCH (having done both). I'd recommend building in some time at Jedediah Smith State Park near Crescent City, CA, for the best redwoods. Further down, Prairie Creek state park is pretty sweet also, but has a LOT more visitors, and August will be very crowded there.

The only reason you might choose Rte 66 is that the coast-hugging sections of PCH will be COLD and most probably fogged in during August. If you're going to be hiking and doing side-trips, it might not matter, but if your intention is windshield tourism then the fog can be, um, dispiriting.
posted by janell at 1:01 PM on April 2, 2007

The first time I drove through the old 66 west of Kingman, AZ in August, I thought, "Damn, if this car breaks down I'll probably die here of heat exhaustion before anybody finds me."

Intense, but maybe not what you're looking for on a honeymoon trip.
posted by Opposite George at 1:03 PM on April 2, 2007

I haven't done Route 66, but I have done PCH from SF downwards, and it was awesome. So another vote for PCH.
posted by djgh at 1:04 PM on April 2, 2007

Please note as well that Jenner (CA) is on Route 1, not 101. Much gorgeousness is to be found on rte 1, which splits from 101 at Leggett, CA. Rte 1 stays right on the coast; 101 does not.

That said, it's a beautiful drive.
posted by rtha at 1:16 PM on April 2, 2007

I've done Route 66 from Phoenix to Chicago, and the PCH at various points between Orange County and Marin. My take on them both is that Route 66 is mostly a rundown historic tour of the mid-century migration to the West, whereas the Pacific Coast Highway is an awe-inspiring natural wonder. Whatever that does for your decision.
posted by rkent at 1:17 PM on April 2, 2007

Hah. Whoops on the Lassen recommendation. I took a separate trip where I visited Lassen not long before my road trip to Oregon, and in my mind, they were mooshed into the same trip.
posted by pazazygeek at 1:18 PM on April 2, 2007

nthing PCH. Route 66 is kinda fun, but for a honeymoon it ain't exactly romantic. I try to make the drive from San Francisco towards San Diego at least once every few years. It takes forever compared to taking 5 but it's a nice drive. I have a convertible & driving through Monterey, Big Sur, Cambria, Santa Barbara... it's just such a great way to spend a nice sunny day. Be sure to let yourself stop and do some shopping and stuff. Soak it all up. :)

As for the cold & fog during August, that's not always the case. Especially since the weather hasn't been as predictable lately. I've taken that drive during August with fantastic blue skies. And honestly... Route 66 in August can be NASTY. You ever been in Kingman, Arizona in August? Average temperature is about 96°. Bleccch. (Unless you like cowering in an air conditioned car to avoid melting. In which case, more power to you.)

Whatever you choose, just have fun! :)
posted by miss lynnster at 1:21 PM on April 2, 2007

I have driven along I-40 (Rte. 66) between Amarillo and Oklahoma City. You know what's out there? Jack shit and McDonalds.

I have only ever been on the PCH from Santa Monica to Malibu, and I can for definitely sure tell you that the PCH would be much, much nicer. In fact, it is one of my dream trips to rent a car and start in San Diego and head north.
posted by mckenney at 1:24 PM on April 2, 2007

One disappointment I had driving on Route 1 (which, as someone noted, is the super scenic branch of 101 through much of California) is fog, fog, fog. A lot of the views were obscured by fog, especially around Carmel and Monterrey. Not sure there's anyway to predict or avoid fog, but you might check and see if it is more prevalent at certain times of the year.

Also -- splurge for the convertible!
posted by Mid at 1:37 PM on April 2, 2007

Rt. 66 -- excpet the part west of Kingman is the only authentic part left. The rest is best done on I-40 at 80mph. I was born in that part of the country and avoid it in August. Do yourself a favor and go the cool coastal route.

PCH - calif rf 1 is gorgeous, but you might get stuck behind a trailer going 15mph that obstructs your view.

I love taking CA 1 and/or US 101 down the coast. I love going through the redwoods north of SF, south of Eureka. But the rest of the way is gorgeous too.
posted by birdherder at 1:39 PM on April 2, 2007

As someone who's spent much of his life on the California coast, I say, embrace the fog. Redwoods look great in fog. Also, having driven both PCH and 66, go with the PCH.
posted by doctor_negative at 1:49 PM on April 2, 2007

One more vote for PCH. I've done Route 66, in the summer, and while inspiring and very cool on some levels (old America, lonely desert landscapes), it's mostly drab. It's great for alone time.
posted by crickets at 1:49 PM on April 2, 2007

i have never done the PCH thing, but i live in a route 66 town. I can't imagine doing 66 in August, it is just as hot in Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle as it is in Arizona - that a bunch of miles of sweltering heat. Save Route 66 for late fall sometime.
posted by domino at 1:55 PM on April 2, 2007

I've driven both, and there's not much on Rt 66, except for the history of the name.

Let me just nth the 101 idea. I just got back from a trip to Portland and the Oregon coast yesterday, and it was spectacular. Start in Astoria at the top, drive south on the 101, and enjoy the incredible scenery (like Haystack Rock, lighthouses, and sea lions).

Seriously, I'll make you look at all my vacation photos if you doubt me on this.
posted by Gamblor at 2:16 PM on April 2, 2007

I've driven much of the PCH through that part of the country. It's absolutely beautiful! One piece of advice is to always always get reservations before-hand; the coast gets really crowded during June, July and August. If you can't get reservations (say, at a campground) then plan an early stop for the day (before dinner time, at best). A few summers ago My boyfriend and I were once stuck driving from the Oregon coast to Interstate 5, and then down to Grant's Pass before we found a hotel room (after midnight!) - every single campground and hotel/motel we passed was full!
posted by muddgirl at 2:32 PM on April 2, 2007

August? PCH. If you were going in May, I'd probably vote the other way.
posted by salvia at 2:45 PM on April 2, 2007

I've driven PCH many times, and I live close enough to 66 to walk over and stare at it all I like. I've never understood the attraction of 66, but some people are really into it. If you are both history buffs and find looking at old gas stations in the summer in the desert romantic, go for it. Be sure to bring extra water.

But I think most people would enjoy PCH more. If you have time, I would check out the 'lost coast' on hwy 1 in Northern California. PCH goes inland in that area and is not all that interesting, hwy 1 hugs the coastline through some beautiful remote areas, and it has fewer tourists.
posted by yohko at 2:47 PM on April 2, 2007

I also live within walking distance of Rt. 66, about midway between Chicago and Los Angeles, and have driven the entire length once or twice. There are a few places where you can get off the freeway and enjoy a little bit of the original road or an old structure, such as a bridge. A few towns still have a good route 66 feel - for instance, Flagstaff is pretty cool, so is the aforementioned Kingman, and Albuquerque still has a lot of the old hotels and 50s-style signage. The stretch of Indian pottery/petrified wood/meteor crater crap along I-40 in dusty northern AZ is kind of fun to look at. But all in all, it's pretty schmaltzy stuff. I mean, a tourist trap is still a tourist trap, even if it's a historic tourist trap.

I absolutely love the PCH. In fact, my wife and I are planning to camp down the stretch from Seattle to SF this summer. The part between SF and LA is also very beautiful.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:05 PM on April 2, 2007

The fog is present almost year round because of the cold currents off the coast. The only difference is if it is 10 miles off shore or up in your face. This is usually determined by the weather in the interior. When it is hot inland, the rising air sucks in the fog from off shore. This would generally be the case in August. Make sure you have some warm clothes because, while it may be sunny, by mid afternoon there could be a strong 50 degree on shore wind which gets stronger as the interior heats up. The fog and wind is part of the charm of the coast so learn to embrace it.
posted by JackFlash at 3:33 PM on April 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've driven both Route 66 and PCH in the summer. Route 66 has plenty of cool spots, but honeymoon material it's not. Long swaths of PCH, on the other hand, are about as romantic a drive as you can find in the entire country. I'm a big fan of the central California stretch from Santa Cruz down through Monterey, through the glories of Big Sur, then on to San Simeon (where you can visit crazy Hearst Castle!) into San Luis Obispo. (The suggestions for northern CA are great, too -- the area around Jenner is wonderful and very romantic as well.)

Congrats on your marriage -- have a great honeymoon!
posted by scody at 3:37 PM on April 2, 2007

I also love the PCH south of SF. Only caution: if you have a problem driving on the edge of a cliff you might consider 101 at that point. I drove it pretty cautiously.
We spent our 20th anniversary in Half Moon Bay, which was great.
posted by MtDewd at 3:54 PM on April 2, 2007

101/1 are definitely what I would choose -- the exception might be if one of you gets extreme motion sickness, because there are some parts of the coastal highway that are VERY winding. But it's worth it, anyway.

When you are in the redwoods area, there are sections where you have to get off modern 101 and get on the old highway to really get the best experience. Do this. Also, that's where a lot of the great old kitschy tourist businesses are, and that's half the fun of driving the old highways.

MtDewd is right about the cliff driving in some sections; that can be a little nervewracking as well.

Also, take muddgirl's advice and get reservations all the way. We ended up driving all the way to Corvallis to find a room one night in July (having planned to stay much, much closer to the CA/OR border) because it was not only peak tourism season, but there was some big antique car show or something that had filled hotel rooms, RV parks, and campsites everywhere. It was so frustrating.
posted by litlnemo at 4:24 PM on April 2, 2007

It's a little way off 101, but you should go to Hendy Woods State Park. It never seems to be jammed full of people. It's got big redwoods and silence, and in the fog, it's a cathedral.

Be aware that on certain stretched of Rte 1, even the driver can get carsick (well, I can), and if you're driving south, you're on the edge of a cliff the whole way. No guardrail in a lot of places.

Are you sold on 101 over 66 yet?
posted by rtha at 5:59 PM on April 2, 2007

Whatever you do, do NOT choose PCH over 66.

Just kidding, the Oregon and North CA coast is amazing, I never heard the highway called PCH this far north, though. You'll have to balance spontaneity with having a place to stay though. The campgrounds and hotels seem to fill up fast in the summer. If you do it right, you'll make random discoveries and have adventures the whole way while staying in some amazing, unique places. Highly recommended and romantic -- Sylvia Beach Hotel near Newport, OR. Google it, you won't be sorry.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:38 PM on April 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

101 hands down, 66 is mostly interstate now....
posted by occidental at 11:52 PM on April 2, 2007

Yeah, now that 66 has been more-or-less replaced with equivalent interstates everywhere, it's of fairly limited appeal. Unless you make the pronounced effort to get off the beaten path, it's all the same homogenous dreck, with gas stations and Stuckey's as far as the eye can see.

Contrast PCH, which is gorgeous. Drove from Washington all the way down to Santa Cruz - mostly on US-101, veering out to CA-1 (and even Mattole Road as needed to hug the coastline) - with my fiancee a couple of summers back and had an absolutely marvelous experience the whole way through. Small coastal towns, quirky little roadside diners, the occasional microbrewery (and/or cheese factory), artistic bridges, places of historical interest - something for everybody's tastes. Plus oodles of redwood trees and majestic seascapes to boot. Fantastic romantic fun - I nth the recommendation, too.
posted by youhas at 12:37 AM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

66 has been replaced by Interstates through most of NM and Arizona, but farther east there's quite a bit of it left, and the parts that aren't have other back roads that more or less get you around the areas where the Interstate was built over the old road.

That said, it's not terribly interesting, IMO, although it is interesting to see the change of scenery. BTW, from experience, it's effing hot in Kingman in July, but higher up in the mountains it's pretty nice. Also, west of Kingman, at least, (the only part I've been along in AZ or NM) there is enough traffic that you probably wouldn't die should you break down, presuming you had some water with you, although it might be a long while before anybody came along.

Oatman is pretty interesting, and the drive west of Kingman is very nice, IMO, despite the mountains not being all that high nor the valleys all that deep compared to north-central AZ. One thing out that way that was awesome was the first part of the drive between Prescott, AZ and Yuma, AZ. In the summer, as you come out of the forested hills you find yourself with the most amazing panorama of flat desert punctuated by enormous dust devils. I wish I had gotten a picture of it.

I'd probably do 101, because it's better scenery, but as I mentioned, the change from prairie to hills to flat desert to mountainous desert to high forest to high grassland back to mountainous desert is pretty darned interesting, just much less easily appreciated at the time when you're driving for hours with hardly any scenery (aside from scrub and cactus, at least). Which you prefer depends on whether you'd like the previously mentioned quirky towns with things to do or small town middle America with hardly a soul in sight once you get past eastern Oklahoma. (and very few people on the road east of there, but there are more towns the farther east you are)
posted by wierdo at 1:00 AM on April 3, 2007

Never done the whole route 66 but I can say that the 101 will change your life. It will make you feel large and small, essential and insignificant and happy above all else. I know this assessment is completely unfair but I had to say it nonetheless.
posted by Meemer at 12:54 PM on April 3, 2007

Absolutely the PCH, but I beg you to go a little further south than SF, so you don't miss out on Hearst Castle, Carmel and Monterey (esp the aquarium).
posted by Joh at 3:38 PM on April 3, 2007

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