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A roadtrip along Highway One is a must for everyone at least once in their lifetime. This is a guide for a 7 or 8 day trip on Hwy One. On this trip you'll take in breathtaking scenery (this is what heaven would look like), restore your zen in the serenity and glory of the places you'll visit, and have some of the best (organic) food you'll ever eat!
Along with this guide, it's a good idea to check out Tripadvisor, websites for the individual cities or attractions, and get maps from your auto club to get more information and be prepared for your trip. Tip - the cheapest way to get a hotel room is to book directly with them and some will match a cheaper price if you do happen to find it on the Internet.
I began my trip from Los Angeles, taking the FWY 101 to Santa Barbara. Have lunch in Santa Barbara at La Super Rica for great tacos. This was one of the late Julia Child's favorite places to eat. Then go to the Santa Barbara Pier for an easy stroll and maybe have some seafood if you're in the mood. If you feel like shopping, visit Santa Barbara Downtown but if you're like me and can't wait to get on the road, I suggest you get moving after lunch.
Leaving Santa Barbara on the 101, change to HWY 1 for a scenery of rolling hills. This section on Hwy One between SB to Pismo Beach is known as the "Lost Highway" because people rarely remember to take it. It's an easy and relaxing drive and along the way, you'll pass through three sleepy but charming towns, one of them being of Guadalupe. On the way, look out for turnoff signs to Jamala Beach which is one of the loudest beaches because the waves are constantly crashing onto the rocky beach. If you don't take Lost Highway, you can continue on the 101 until you reach Pismo Beach.
You're off the Lost Highway as you approach Pismo Beach. From around October to March, it's Monarch Butterfly season so you can stop at the Butterfly Preserve at North Beach Campground to see these beautiful creatures. The best time to view them is 11am to 12pm when it is warmer. If you have time, you should also visit the amazing sand dunes at Pismo Beach.
At Pismo Beach, you MUST stop and have a bowl of super yummy clam chowder at Splash Cafe in their scrumptious bread bowl. This is the best clam chowder I've had in my life!
Leave Pismo via the 101 FWY and spend your first night at San Luis Obispo. It's a very charming college town. The Super 8 Motel is right next the the Apple Farm B & B (which you can also stay at but it's more $$$) and it's nice and friendly place. Spend the night in SLO Downtown and maybe catch a movie or have the Motel recommend a nice place for dinner. Finish off the night with desert at the Apple Farm. Slice of apple pie a la mode? Fresh baked cookies? Mmmmm.
Start your second day on the right foot by having a big, hearty breakfast at the Apple Farm. I still dream about their thick cut bacon and muffins. Take some baked goodies from Apple Farm for snacking later. Tip - fill up on gas before you leave SLO and pack some sandwiches in your ice chest. There aren't many gas stations or dining choices on Highway One from here and gas in Big Sur is $$$$$$$$$.
You'll pass Morro Bay. Stop and check out the Morro Rock. It was formed by volcanic activity and is the highlight of the town.
If you have time, stop in Cambria - a charming little town good for antique shopping and delicious oallieberry muffins from Linn's Main Bin.
Make your reservations in advance. Visit this enormous and legendary castle that used to entertain stars like Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford and learn about its eccentric host, William Randolph Hearst, who inspired CITIZEN KANE. The castle is especially beautiful when it's decorated for Christmas.
Located 10 minutes from Hearst Castle, the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery is a must see if elephant seals are in breeding season. You'll see thousands of seals and the male one are just gigantic while the pups will melt your heart. The females begin arriving in late December and give birth within 3 to 7 days and they stay there until mid-March. The pups will not start to leave until mid-April.
This is the most glorious and breathtaking stretch of Hwy One. You're driving along the Pacific Ocean for the entire way and your car will hug the mountainside if you going North as you make the many twists and turns on this part of the drive. Drive slowly and soak up the zen nature has to offer. Of course, whenever there is a turn off area, feel free to stop, take in the scenery and breath the fresh air. And don't forget there are many state parks to hike in Big Sur including the Limekiln SP, Julia Pfeffer SP, and Pfeffer SP. Tip - pay for one park and save the receipt because you only have to pay once to enter state parks for the day.
This is the BEST place to stay the night in Big Sur. You sleep in warm, comfy yurts and restrooms and showers are just a very short walk away. The main lodge is cozy with a fireplace, books, and board games. There's even a jacuzzi! There aren't many dining choices in Big Sur and Treebones offers a tasty dinner and a free waffle breakfast. Around the resort are hiking trails and a whale watching ridge. Right outside the resort is the Sandollar beach and various other lovely beachs.
For your third day, you can either pack some lunches and picnic in one the parks or beachs as you leave Treebone or plan to have lunch at Nepenthe. It's expensive but it has a great view of the ocean and it's where Laurence Olivier proposed to Vivian Leigh.
Call ahead to see when the park closes. There are guided trail hikes and you'll the Monterey cypress (wind twisted trees) and see/hear sea lions along the shore (seriously, you WILL hear them bark!). This reserve is right along the ocean so you'll take in more scenery here.
You MUST do the 17-mile drive from Carmel through Pebble Beach. The road is full of twists and turns and you pay a toll but the scenery is worth it. It's especially beautiful if take this drive around sunset time. If you're shape, you can also bike or walk this stretch. Carmel also has nice beachs and tidepools for you to explore.
The 17-mile drive ends in Pacific Grove and the Butterfly Grove Inn in Pacific Grove is a nice place to stay at that won't break the bank. It's built right in front of a butterfly preserve, so if it's the right season, you'll also see Monarch Butterflies.
Have a fish dinner at this restaurant which specializes in fresh ingredients and only fish that's not endangered. I had the best tilapia at this place and it has a nice elegant ambience but you don't have to be super dressed up.
Depending on your time, you can squeeze in Monterey either on the third day or fourth day of your trip. Monterey has a lot to offer in terms of sightseeing, shopping, dining, and of course the Cannery and famous Aquarium (kids and adults will both enjoy!).
Have breakfast at Toasties to start your fourth day. The eggs benedict there is yummy and your coffee cup is never empty.
Visit this reserve as you leave Monterey for Santa Cruz. It has a sort of wildlife and is great for bird watching. As you leave the reserve, don't forget to eat at Phil's Fish Market (7600 Sandholdt Rd., Moss Landing, CA 95039). They're famous for their cioppino and you can try fried artichokes too!
Beautiful city with the charm of a small town but the good things of a city. There's the Henry Cowell Redwood State Park you can hike in or drive thru via Hwy 9. If you feel like a great Italian meal, go to La Bruschetta located on the north end of Henry Cowell right on Hwy 9. That was one of the best Italian meals I've ever had and nothing can beat enjoying tiramisu next to giant redwoods. To stay closer to the heart of Santa Cruz, there's also the Natural Bridges State Park and after visiting the Park, you can drive along Cliff Dr. and take in the beautiful coastline scenery. And there are many quaint coffee shops and book shops and the Pacific Ave Pedestrian Mall which is a busy promenade with hobby shops and cafes, home furnishings stores, and bookstores (visit Bookshop Santa Cruz - it's worth a visit if you're a book lover).
If you like wine (especially dessert wines), you should make a stop at Davenport and drive inward to Bonny Doon to visit the Bonny Doon Vineyard when you leave Santa Cruz. And don't forget to stop at fruit stands along the way. I stopped at Swanson Berry Farm somewhere between Santa Cruz and San Francisco and bought some great homemade jams.
Call (800) 444-4445 for reservations to the 3-mile walk (lasting 2.5 hours) in this park. This would be great if you missed visiting the elephant seals at Piedras Blancas.
Turn off of HWY 1 onto HWY 84 to go to the Pescadoro General Store. They have really cool stuff there â buy a cowboy hat and have a hardy beer at the counter!! But keep a sharp eye out for this or else you'll miss it easily.
Watch the sunset from here if you can.
Staying in San Francisco won't be cheap unless you can crash at a friends (which I did) but this hotel is a steal and it has a lot of artist character. Each room is designed by a local artist. Overnight parking can be expensive though ($30?).
"I left my heart in San Francisco" as Tony Bennet croons and I definitely left a bit of my heart in this city. There is so much to do here so it'll be a hard choice especially if you have limited time. Ideas include shopping at Union Square, Chinatown (Golden Gate Bakery has delicious egg tarts), strolling through the Golden Gate Park during daytime, museums...oh gosh, the list goes on and on.
On your Fifth day, if would be nice to visit nature again after a day in the city. This is a huge reserve with lots of plants and wild animals to check out like the famous Tule Elk and the chances of seeing deer are pretty high. You can also visit the Point Reyes lighthouse if you like and there are plenty of nature hikes. Free maps are readily available from the visitor center. The rangers there are very friendly and helpful too.
The drive from Point Reyes to Mendocino another beautiful stretch and you'll pass through the west side of Sonoma Wine Country. Before you go, you can visit Sonoma's website (http://www.sonoma.com) and request a brochure which will have a listing of all the wineries and the necessary maps. You'll have to turn off from Hwy One to visit these wineries but if you're in the mood for some wine tasting, it's worth it.
I did a tasting there of their famous champagnes and also some wines. Their winery carries some exlusive champagnes that are not sold elsewhere and it's sooooo good! Because of time constraints, I was only able to visit one more winery called Navarro Vineyard and this winery produces some very nice and good priced wine. They also make this wonderful grape juice from Gewurztraminer grapes that tastes soooo fresh and sweet that I wish I had bought more. Tip - look out for fruit stands along the way between vineywards. I stopped at a random fruit stand and bought some organic pink lady apples that were the best apples I've ever had (trust me, I ate a lot of "best evers" on this trip and they don't have to be expensive to be good).
This is where Alfred Hitchcock shot THE BIRDS (1963). This is another seaside town you can explore. Go see Bodega Head - the San Andreas fault (the biggest fault line to cause major earthquakes in California!) runs right through it, separating steep rocky bluffs from sandy dunes. It's also an ideal place for whale watching during Jan/Feb and April/May.
Mendocino is a small artsy town and it's great for exploring the galleries if you enjoy art. If you want to forgo Mendocino, then Fort Bragg is another option for the night.
Stay here for the night if you're budget minded (after all, you probably already spent an expensive night in San Francisco). The cabins are clean and quiet and it's probably one of the cheapest accommodations you'll find in Mendocino. My cabin was only $49 when I went and it had a view of the ocean. I even saw three deers outside my cabin the next morning.
If Pacific Cabins is cheap then why not splurge a little on a delicious meal? Moosse Cafe features tasty seasonal organic food in an elegant intimate setting. If you're going on the weekend, you might want to make a reservation.
Day 6, you should have breakfast at Home Style Cafe which is right on Hwy One (on your right side when heading north) in Ft. Bragg. Coffee is so good there that I had 6 cups and took one to go. Or, if you feel like an early hike and then brunch, go visit the Jug Handle State Reserve which is between Mendocino and Ft. Bragg. It features a 2.5-mile trail called The Ecological Staircase. You'll see an amazingly complete record of ecological succession here with terraces formed by glaciers, wind, sea, and tectonic activity.
At Leggett, Hwy 1 becomes 101. You'll encounter the first Drive-Thru tree here so watch out for the signs and be prepared to pay entrance fees to drive through the tree. Hope you're not driving a big car. It's a surreal experience to drive through a giant tree and this is a "must do" for anyone visiting the Redwoos. There's also the Chandelier Drive-Thru tree nearby but I only did one since they charge fees.
From Leggett, it's about a 45 minute drive when you can turn off the 101 and drive the famous Avenue of the Giants (follow the signs and do not drive back on the Hwy 101 by accident). You pass one more drive thru tree and Confusion Hill (where gravity is defied!). There are many trail turn offs here so you can park and take a hike and gaze way, way up at the giant redwoods. Get a map of Ave. of the Giants online before going or pick one up when you get there. The joy of this stretch is driving slowly and soaking up the aura of the redwoods.
Back on Hwy 101, Loleta is only a few miles away and if you love cheese, you have to go to the Loleta Cheese Factory. There are tons of variety there and lots of tasty organic choices too. They also have these fabulous baskets with wine, crackers, and their cheeses that will make a great picnic.
From Loleta, drive BACK a few miles to Ferndale. This is a LOVELY little town that's Victorian themed and the architecture and history in this town is very interesting. For example, Chinese laborers built railroads here back in the mid-1800s and the General Store in town has a little upstairs museum window dedicated to their presence. The shops close early (5pm) here but they are worth exploring the next day too and you can grab delicious sandwiches from the Ferndale Meat Company. If you're going during summer, stop by Jackie's Jett Jam for some yummy homemade jam. Ferndale is also host to the finish line of the annual Kinetic Sculpture Race during Memorial Day Weekend. This is a fun and bizarre race and you can check out old sculptures at the Ferndale Kinetic Museum.
There are a few B & Bs in Ferndale but Collingwood is THE place to stay at. The hosts, Peter & Chris, are warm and welcoming and their four dogs are the most adorable. The place is beautiful all around with a peaceful living room where you can enjoy a nightcap, tea, coffee, and sweets that are provided free by the hosts. A nice fruit basket greeted me upon entering my beautiful room (the Brazil Room). The feather bed was so fluffy and comfy and you'll enjoy a relaxing bubble bath with Chris' homemade bubble bath (the pear scent is good enough to eat!). Peter and Chris certainly gets all the details right and Chris is a great cook! Peter would be happy to make dinner reservations for you too and you MUST have him make it for Hotel Ivanhoe. They have the best Spencer Steak (hands down, no arguments about it) and you'll understand why when you see those cows grazing on your way into town.
Day 7 is a toss up. You can either continue up Hwy 101 to Eureka/Arcata or drive back to San Francisco for the night before heading back to Southern California. Arcata is one of the most lovely towns in California and you can explore the other 3 redwood parks north of Arcata and then come back to spend the night there. If you do choose to continue driving north then Day 8 will be a mad dash and a super long drive on either the Hwy 101 or Hwy 5 to get back to Los Angeles. If you choose to start driving back then you can take Hwy 101 to Leggett and switch back to Hwy One where you will encounter the town of Willits. From there, take Route 20 to go through the Russian Wine Valley for more wine tasting and Rte 20 will take you back to Hwy 101. However, if there's heavy rain then Rte 20 might be flooded and hard to drive.
If you did not drive up to Arcata on Day 7 and you're starting Day 8 from San Francisco then take the FWY 101 instead of FWY 5 to visit Solvang (aka Danish Town). This is where they filmed SIDEWAYS (2004) and you can visit all the filming locations, do some wine tasting, grab some mouth-watering butter cookies, enjoy the Danish character of the town, and have a delicious steak dinner at The Hitching Post.
Well, if you're a local then I won't have to tell you what LA has to offer. Everything you want (great fine and casual dining, museums, endless shopping, theme parks, etc) and don't want (horrendous traffic, pollution, etc.) is here. But hey, you've got to love city where you can eat tacos for lunch, Japanese ramen for afternoon snack, and then a nice juicy steak at Morton's at night.