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a VirtualTourist member from Sterling


PCH road trip

Could someone recommend where to start a 5 day road trip SOUTHBOUND on the Pacific Coast HWY
where we could see Carmel, Monterey, Big Sur, etc
What would be the best airport to fly into, and depart from..??
Is there a secret to being able to score a convertible rental car or a jeep?
(we are going to fly in from Washington, DC and want a trip for our 25th anniversary..fancy hotels not necessary..we want to be able to find places to run/hike along the way)

10 Answers

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from New Jersey

Probably the easiest would be to fly into San Fransisco. That will have the most flight options however may not be the cheapest. I found Sacramento a little cheaper to fly into but would add 1 hour to your driving time to Carmel.

answered by
a VirtualTourist member

Hello PCH,
Best airport to land is San Francisco airport.
If you are intending to finish the trip at San Diego - you can fly back to DC from there.

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from Vancouver

Fly into SFO, you don't say whether you will be staying in San Francisco or not, but either way you should make your way to Hwy 1. From the airport travel North on 101 to the San Bruno exit, take the freeway west to 280 North travel on 280N to Highway 82 west, that will take you to Hwy 1 where you can turn south. Travelling on Hwy 1 south you will pass through Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz, (a must stop) Watsonville, Castroville (artichoke capital of the world) Monterey, Carmel, Big Sur, Moro Bay, at that point you will travel inland (east) to San Luis Obispo and turn south on Highway 101. Just south of Avila you can turn highway 1 again, or you can choose to stay on highway 101 south. If choose to return to highway 1 you can follow it all the way into Southern California. Google a map of California and you can follow the description I have given you and make alternative decisions.

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from Idyllwild

San Francisco, although sometimes the Oakland airport (just across the Bay) is cheaper. You could also check San Jose, which is closer to your destination, but it is a much smaller airport.

In 5 days, you could make it all the way south to Los Angeles or San Diego, but if you want to do a lot of hiking and exploring in Big Sur, you could easily spend that much time just between Monterey and San Luis Obispo. In fact, to really explore and get to know Big Sur, you should really avoid the rush to get down south.

Keep in mind, Big Sur draws a lot of travelers and accommodations between Monterey and San Luis Obispo are very limited. During the summer, you likely find all of the lodging as well as camping options to be booked, especially on weekends. This is a trip you may need to map in advance in terms of where you are going to spend the night. That being said, I have never experienced a "crowded" Big Sur, - it's just that there isn't a lot of development there.

Toward the southern end of Big Sur, there is a 'hotel' called TreeBones that is a collection of yurts on a bluff above the sea - definitely worth checking out.

Have an awesome trip!

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from Idyllwild

I guess I was assuming that you were going during the summer,. Disregard that part if not....

Nearly all of the car rental companies offer jeeps and convertibles. You pay quite a bit more for these. Use to compare, or check Hertz or Avis directly. You can usually choose your vehicle type on their website.

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from Sacramento

With only five days, I'd fly into one of the San Francisco area airports. (We usually use Sacramento, but there are several so do price shopping.) Much as I love San Diego, I'd plan to fly out of Los Angeles because I'd use my five days to get there. The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) deserves all five days.

Santa Cruz or Monterey would be a good stop. Big Sur is a must see. Other stops could be San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and any of the coastal villages.

As for the car, check all of the rental car agencies you can find because rates vary wildly. They're all about the same so take the best deal.

Type these places into the VT search window and see what members have already written about them. There will be photos, places to stay, things to see and do and external web links to help you.

Good luck and happy anniversary.

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from Chicago

In all my trips to So Cal I've never been upgraded to a jeep or convertible. If you really want one then I think you have to reserve one at the higher price. After checking the regular agencies try Hotwire you might save a few $$$ but unlike other car rentals you are commited once you book. I did a one way rental Miami-Ft. Lauderdale with them not too long ago and saved quite a bit (of course Miami-Ft Lauderdale is much closer than LA-SF)

And just something to consider, I tried Hotwire with some random dates, doing a one way rental from LA to SF was about $20 per day, doing it the other direction was $80 per day. So I'm guessing a lot more people drive SF to LA than LA to SF. You might want to check that before booking your flights. I'm not sure if one way is better than the other, seems to me when I drive the southern parts of it that the view is nice both ways but is a bit more stunning north to south.

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from Sacramento

We've driven the PCH both ways because we live here. My husband doesn't care which way we go, but I definitely prefer going south to north, i.e. LA to San Francisco. The reason: Going north, you are on the right side of the highway opposite the ocean and cliffs and have the other traffic lane between you and the dropoff. I'm not good with heights and sometimes, it just feels good to me to have that extra lane of the road there. If heights bother you (the driver), you might want to do it LA to SF rather than the reverse. If it saves money, hey, that's great. On the other hand, if you want to shoot photos out the car window, go SF to LA so you don't always have oncoming traffic ruining your pictures.

There are pulloffs to take photos, but there are so many places that deserve a photo, that you may find yourself shooting out the car window, at least I do. You may be more disciplined than I with a camera. ;^)

Certainly, Dabs is right, the view is better SF to LA because you aren't looking through cars going the other direction. It's really beautiful both ways though, one of my favorite drives. Some day come back and try it San Francisco and north. That's my favorite part. Very wild up there.

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from Westlake Village

Congratulations on 25 years of marriage. Best wishes for the next 25. Some great answers so I will just add my opinion as to PCH, Hwy1, that my preferred drive is afternoon, north to south. If fog, it has lifted by noon. The Sun will not be in your eyes, and the pull-offs to park to get that perfect photo is on the ocean side by heading south. Many towns to see as well as those mentioned. Cambria, Morro Bay, Pismo Beach and Solvang to mention a few. Cambria is a honeymoon destination and might make a great stop for your 25th Anniversary holiday. See my Cambria VT reviews: [original VT link]
In fact, two other Honeymoon/Anniversary locations in California are on the road from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Carmel-by-the-sea: [original VT link]
and the other is Santa Barbara:[original VT link]

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from Stockton

Not much to add. You didn't say when you are coming so I will add that weekdays are better to drive it during the tourist time. If flying to SFO then I would drive to Monterey and spend the night. Then start out not to early as pointed out the fog can sit until 11:00 AM or later and then come back by 3:00 PM. So easy morning to rest and get on the road by 10:00 or 11:00 AM. I would go to Cambria and spend two nights, on day two back track a little to Heart Castle for one of the tours then overnight again in Cambria. Some stay out on the beach but I think staying in downtown is better and you can walk to more/better places to eat. The PCH from Cambria is sort of problematic. There are good parts and boring parts that can be missed. Best to take Hwy 1 to San Luis Obispo then stay on 101 south the rest of the way to
Oxnard then get back on Hwy 1 on into Los Angeles. OK, maybe there was more to add..

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