I want to drive the coast of California from LA to Portland. I need a suggested itinary to see the hot spots and stay at budget friendly hotels. Also need an idea of how long it would take
I answered this in Trippy in August 2016. But not the whole way to Portland. I did a cut and paste.
If you are in no hurry, then Highway 1 is the way to go. It will take you awhile. Most of it is one lane each way and there are a lot of RV's and slow-moving vehicles because of the gorgeous scenery. If you are driving north, you will be on the land side most of the way; if you are traveling south, you will be on the ocean side. The ocean side is more harrowing to drive, but more beautiful.
Going north, Pismo Beach and Avila Beachare interesting towns to explore. The Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo is a very interesting hotel. Each room is individually decorated and there is a cave room, grotto room, and so many others. A good place to stop for a meal as well. If you go, you must go into the men's restroom - women too (men can watch guard). It is probably the most interesting restroom you will see.
North of Cambria is Pt. Piedras with its lighthouse and San Simeonand Hearst Castle are right there. I like staying at The Cambria Pines Motel when I go to Hearst Castle.
Proceeding north is lots of beautiful scenery and then Big Sur. Beautiful (although there is a fire there right now).
Then you will get up into Carmel By the Sea, Monterey, and Pacific GroveCarmel By the Sea. Lots to do there - lodging, great restaurants, and scenery - a little pricy. There is the 17 Mile Dr 17 Mile Dr Pacific Grove which is beautiful. Pebble Beachand its golf course is also in that area I love lunch there.
Further north you will get into Salinas and Watsonville both agricultural areas and the artichoke capital of the world. Then on to Santa Cruzand its historic amusement park. I was going there when I was a kid in the 40s and 50s.
Then you will finally hit San Francisco. Don't have to tell you about that.
North of SF you will see Point Reyes National Seashore Beautiful! Lots of hiking if you are into that.
Going north, you are now on the Sonoma Coast. If you want to go wine tasting it is not too far off Highway 1 to some great spots. I was born in Guerneville on the Russian River and am partial to the Korbel Winery. Free champagne tastings! Fort Ross is also an interesting spot to stop. It is a a former Russian establishment and was the hub of the southernmost Russian settlements from 1812 to 1842.
Proceeding north more beautiful scenery and you get to Little River (California), Mendocino Farms, Fort Bragg and some other picturesque towns. Mendocino is where "Murder She Wrote" was filmed. There is a hotel there where the cast used to stay and is full of artifacts from the show. Lovely rooms and sometimes you can get a good Groupon or Living Social deal there.
If you have the time a fun thing to do is take the steam train from Fort Bragg to Willets and back.
Further north, you will get off Highway 1 (it pretty much ends) and get on Highway 101 in Leggett. Now you are getting into redwood country.
Proceeding north on 101, you will come to number of small towns, most of which were lumber towns back in the day. My Mom was born in Scotiawhich is an interesting town. It was previously a company town, but just fairly recently the company has started selling the homes to individuals. There is a gorgeous hotel there, The Scotia Hotel, which is constructed of redwood.
Going north, you will go through Fortuna and then you will see a turnoff for Ferndale (Hwy 211). This is a "must see" place. Full of Victorian architecture and fun shopping. I also enjoy going to the cemetery there.
Back on 101 you will reach Eureka (California) , an interesting place. Some more great architecture. A good hotel there is The Carter Hotel which is a B&B - great breakfasts!. If you are looking for a very unique dining (and I use the word loosely), experience, Samoa Cookhouseis a great option. It has been there since 1890 and it is a vast hall where the lumberjacks used to eat. Food is served family-style. I love it as a change of pace.
Going north you are in more redwoods and will see the tiny town of Trinidad (California)which I have always liked. Proceeding north you will be in Humboldt Redwoods State Park and The Avenue of the Giants, also a "must see." Gorgeous redwoods. There is a Drive Thru Tree Road there that is touristy but fun to do once or twice. Also, there is Trees of Mystery with its Paul Bunyan and Babe statues. Beautiful trail - I always find it interesting.
And that is as far as I have been in the recent past. I am sure I have left out some great places but I hope it helps.
Can I go?
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It depends on how far you want to drive per day. But if you're leaving from Los Angeles, you could spend a night or two in Santa Barbara, ( see the coast, Santa Barbara mission, and downtown ) and continue north to San Luis Obispo ( Beautiful downtown, wine country, or a half hour north Paso Robles also a beautiful wine country ), then adjacent on Highway 1 is Hearst Castle. A must see. This is where you will have to divert before you get to pick Sarah because it will be closed on highway one for sure. You can head inland and continue north. Perhaps on Highway 5.
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Leaving LA you will drive a beautiful stretch of PCH to Ventura, then continue on to Santa Barbara. I recommend you look for Choice Hotels (a low end brand), Hampton Inn, Fairfield by Marriott or Best Westerns. It's good to have a brand to rely on for consistency. and sometimes to can get a free night with two nights stay at Choice hotels. You continue on to Hearst Castle, driving the beautiful Route 1. As has been mentioned, Big Sur is partially closed and you will need to detour inland to Hway 101 around King City (California). You can get back on the coast road in Carmel By the Sea, and drive the coast road through Santa Cruz, Half Moon Bay to Sausalito. This is where you have to decide if you want to continue on the coast road, very windy in places, or go back to route 101 inland (boring). It is a personal decision. The Sonoma coast at Jenner is beautiful, and you could drive on to Fort Bragg. I also enjoy the Oregon coast, especially Coos Bay. I would suggest at least 5 days for this trip.
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Some of Highway 1 in California has been covered with a landslide. Be sure to check with CalTrans before you attempt the coast south of Big Sur. Hwy 101 is a good alternative.