About 5 years ago I planned a road trip from San Diego to Big Sur. We ended up going all the way to San Francisco and getting married along the way. After we were done we knew we wanted more, so this summer for our 5 year anniversary we will head back up the coast for more!
On our last trip we splurged a bit and rented a Volvo convertible for the trip. This is nearly perfect road trip in July with a convertible. We loved it so much my wife’s next vehicle was a BMW convertible. We’ve had the car a few years and just feel like we have not taken advantage of the car, the sun, and the coast enough. This will put that situation back into balance as we plan to do most of the trip up the coast or on back roads through other beautiful areas. Perfect places to put the top down and fully enjoy the drive.
The coastal drive from San Diego to LA is awesome, with both Laguna Beach and Santa Monica being on our favorite places list along this part of the coast. However, we can do that drive on any weekend, so to get the most out of this trip we will bypass the coast between San Diego to Los Angeles. We will likely drive up that far the night before we start our trip and stay in the Los Angeles area so we can start our drive along the coast bright and early.
Driving Time: 3.5 Hours
Places to explore:
Beaches from Malibu to Point Magu State Park
Pismo Beach (Cool Dunes)
San Louis Obispo (A favorite local musician Damon Castillo here)
We don’t go beyond Los Angeles as often, and want to drive through Big Sur and add to our experiences in that area on this trip, so we will stay near the coast north/west of LA. My wife, Jenny, grew up in San Fernando valley and spent many weekends and summer days on the beaches north of Los Angeles. On our last trip she shared some stories that driving past this area brought back for her. On this trip I hope we can make some time to visit at least her favorite beach (probably Leo Carrillo State Park) so we can enjoy her reminiscences again. For lunch I would like something fun and romantic, but new. We’ve eaten on Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara several times, so although I’m sure we would love it again, I want to do something different. I’ve never been to Solvang, so that is an option. We could do lunch and throw in some wine tasting, but will have to take it easy as we plan to drive a little further after lunch. If we like a wine we can pick up a bottle or two for that evening. Some of the best rated (on Yelp) wineries/tasting rooms in the Solvang area are: Carivintas Winery (they donate profits to animal charity, so part of the rating may be animal lovers), Shoestring Winery, Bella Cavalli Farms & Vineyard, or Cali Love Wine. There are lots of other choices, but these are the ones that jumped out at me when looking at the reviews.
After Solvang we’ll likely be looking for a place to stay, the lodge at Vandenberg is the price winner, but I’ve stayed there a couple times and I’m thinking we could make it a bit further north. So maybe we’ll look to stay in Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo or what I think would be best, based on the goal of the trip would be to stay in Moro Bay.
Driving Time: 3 Hours (approximately… Google maps would not give an estimate in January 2017 as Highway 1 was closed due to a mud slide. Hope that is cleared by July!)
Places to Explore:
Moon Stone Beach Park
Hearst San Simeon State Park
Hearst Castle (San Simeon)
Lots of stops along the way at: Elephant Seal Vista Point, Point Piedras Blancas, Ragged Point, Salmon Creek Falls, Willow Creek Beach, Limekiln Falls, and at least 50 view points.
Partington Cove Trail
Tanbark Trail loop (at the same trailhead as Partington Cove)
Ewoldsen trail (Same trailhead as McWay Falls which would be nice to visit again)
Leaving Moro Bay in the morning we would be driving the final stretch of California Highway 1 before Big Sur. It will be a great stretch of highway to put the top down and enjoy the drive along the coast.
On our last trip to Big Sur we stopped and toured “Hearst’s Castle” or San Simeon. There are multiple tours to do here, but this trip is about doing different things, so again I think we will drive past San Simeon and look for a hike or two further up the coast. We could drive right through Big Sur and keep going, but depending on what the rest of the trip plan is, I think one good option would be to spend the night again, so that we have time to check out some things we missed last time. We stayed at Big Sur Lodge in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park last time. It is a definite option again, but there are several other places in this area worth checking out too, like Deejens Big Sur Inn, Big Sur River Inn, or for a bit of a splurge Glen Oaks Inn, or if we want to spend a huge chunk of the vacation budget in one night… Post Ranch Inn.
With 2 days to explore we’ll have time to see some things we did not check out last time.
Driving Time: Places to Explore:
High Bridge Falls
Andrew Molera State Park
Hurricane Point View
Bixby Creek Bridge
Rocky Creek Bridge
Point Sur State Historic Park
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve (lots of walking here too)
Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Casanova Restaurant Carmel by the Sea
We’ll have a second day to explore Big Sur. Many of the sights are quick stops, but I think we will want to spend more time exploring Point Lobos, and possibly bike parts of the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail. I don’t think we will want to go too far up the coast after a full day exploring so our next night could be in Carmel by the Sea, Monterey, or if we are more ambitious Santa Cruz. Since we were married between Carmel by the Sea and Monterey, I think we’ll want to revisit some things there (especially the pretty little cove in Berwick Park where we were married) and explore some new things before we leave.
Driving Time: 3 Hours
Places to Explore:
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Natural Beach State Park
Coast Dairies State Park
Shark Fin Cove
Pescadero State Beach
Half Moon Bay State Beach
Golden Gate Bridge
Wineries near Santa Rosa and Sebastopol
Leaving the Monterey area it would be nice to drive along the coast as far as possible, but even better to take the fastest route past San Francisco to Muir Woods just north of San Francisco to explore. This has been on my list for a while, and I would love to be able to hike some (or all – it’s only about 6 miles) of the trails in Muir Woods. We had lunch in Half Moon Bay five years ago and really liked the vibe of the place. But then there are lots of cool places around here. Sausalito was another favorite on that trip and during our later visit to San Francisco when we bike across the Golden Gate Bridge. Either place would work for lunch before hiking in Muir Woods.
Then it would be good to head up the coast for a ways then turn inland to explore the Russian River wine country. Maybe dinner at a winery and then spend the night on the east side of this area, say in Sebastopol.
Driving Time: 3-5 Hours
Places to Explore:
Russian River Area Wineries (Iron Horse, Gary Farrell Winery, Korbel Winery, and others)
Highway 116 along the Russian River back to the coast
Sanoma Coast State Park
Fort Ross (Historic Russian Compound)
Stillwater Cove Regional Park
Salt Point State Park
Bowling Ball Beach
Point Arena Lighthouse and Museum
Point Cabrillo Lightstation
Westport Union State Beach Park
A beautiful drive by the coast with the top down!
Drive Through Tree Park
Then the next day take California state route 116 back to the coast along the Russian River. There are tons of places here to eat lunch. All of them are rated well, so we’ll just stop somewhere that looks cool once we get hungry. This day will mostly be about driving along the coast but I’m sure we will be stopping to check out some things along the way. That evening it would be nice to get to an area just south of Redwood State and National Parks. I think Myers Flat would be a good stopping point so we can enjoy the Avenue of the Giants drive the next day. There is an Inn and camping available in this fairly small town. Depending on how far we want to drive, we may want to stop sooner, either along the coast maybe Fort Bragg, or at a forest area before Myers Flat like the Redwood River Resort.
Driving Time: 3-4 Hours
Places to Explore:
Avenue of the Giants
Humboldt Redwoods State Park (Humbolt Redwood Hikes)
Del Norte Coast Readwood State Park (Damnation Creek Trail, Mill Creek Trails)
From Myers Flat it is only about 3 hours or less drive to Crescent City, but there are lots of places to explore. I would like to pick a couple easier hikes rather than one tough hike so we can explore different areas of the Redwood State and National Parks.
That night we could stay in Crescent City or continue on through some more Redwoods to Grants Pass Oregon.
Driving Time: 8-14 Hours
The next day the top would go up for what could be a very long drive on I-5 all the way down to San Diego. Optionally we could spend the night in Sacramento to break it in to a two-day trip.
Update (2/22/2017): Highway 1 through Big Sur is not looking good for the summer of 2017. So I’ll be updating the plan. Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge has been condemned. I’m pretty sure it will take more than a few months to replace that bridge.