My partner and I are planning a Cali road trip for December for over three weeks. We have the majority figured out but I am struggling a little bit with where to stay when we drive the Pacific Coast/Highway 1.
We are doing this trip backwards from reading most of the recommended routes:
Start LA > Pacific Coast (start San Diego)> San Fran > Napa > Tahoe > Vegas > Finish LA
We will start with a couple of nights in LA then head to San Diego to start the Pacific Coast road trip where we have a total of 5 days and 4 nights to make our way to San Fran.
Main points of interest for us are:
- San Diego
- Santa Barbara
- Santa Monica
- Huntington Beach
- Big Sur
I feel that we can cover the southern coast in a couple of days easy but I cant work out the best area to stay in for this part?
Is it easy to find a motel or accommodation on route and just turn up. We want to also have a real Southern Cali experience?
Big Sur, Carmel & Monterey we are looking for some accommodation to stay off the beaten track and be surrounded by the great outdoors (we live in Hong Kong so cant wait to be surrounded by tress and space) - Any non camping recommendations? I have looked at some 'glamping' style accommodation but a lot has already been booked out.
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts and recommendations for a real American experience.
Thank you in advance...
You cannot drive up Highway 1 from Santa Barbarato Big Sur and there is nowhere reasonable to cut over to Highway 101 much north of Morro Bay You can get as far north as San Simeon and Ragged Point but you will have to backtrack to highway 46 south of Cambria to get over to 101
You can go a short distance from Monterey down to Big Sur but the highway south of there is closed.
Note: I just checked the closure map to find this information - you can look at it yourself here
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Tip: Be very strategic about your driving times while in Southern California. The San Diego/LA areas are a mess on Fridays for travel and during rush hour. Trips will be much faster/comfortable if you avoid traveling in SoCal during those times.
Here is my suggested itinerary if you
Night 1: San Diego
- Where to stay? If you want to see the city, I'd recommend somewhere in the gaslamp district. If you care more about the coast/beach towns you could go just North of San Diego and stay in La Jolla or Del Mar.
Night 2: Santa Barbara (approx. 3.5 hours from SD)
- Check out the beaches, the pier, state street, hiking trails, urban wine trail (tasting rooms galore), take a sunset cruise on the Double Dolphin.
- Where to stay? Depends on your budget - Santa Barbara has some super spendy hotels like the Biltmore which are beautiful but there are also some less spendy hotels right in the downtown area that are still spendy but not at that same level (Spanish Garden Inn and Hyatt to name a few).
Night 3: Big Sur (approx. 4 hours from Santa Barbara up Route 1 - it is a BEAUTIFUL drive)
- On your drive up to Big Sur you will pass some very cool places/things: Pismo Beach (beautiful view), Morrow Bay (nice stop), Cambria (great little town with a great restaurant called The Hungry Cat) - it also has the Elephant Seal beach which you can stop for 5 minutes and see hundreds of giant elephant seals - worth the quick stop!, San Simeon where Hearst Castle is - if interested you can book a tour in advance, Ragged Point (nice little stop to check out a killer view (although you will see those views from the cliffs as you drive along Big Sur).
- In Big Sur . . . Check out the beaches, if open go to Nepenthe for lunch, check out the hiking trails, and the waterfall.
- Where to stay? I've always camped but there are some lodges in the area (just a few) so I would book them ASAP.
Night 4: I don't know Monterey/Carmel that well so I will leave this one up to you BUT if you can add an extra night to any of the previous places listed I would recommend it. They are all great!
Night 5: San Fran
I think of Huntington Beach, Santa Monica and Malibu as part of the Los Angeles area. But you can drive from San Diego to Santa Barbara along the coast and see those three cities along the way. The actual driving distance along that route will take 4 or 5 hours.
But because of landslides along California route 1, you can't drive from Santa Barbara to Big Sur along the coast. You will have to take California 101 to Monterey which will take about 4 hours. You can stay in the Monterey area and take a trip down to Big Sur and Carmel By the Sea - those places are pretty close together. And you could also drive along the coast north of Monterey
I have not stayed in that area recently so I have no personal experience to give you a hotel recommendation.
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