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Road trip help...Santa Barbara or Pismo Beach?

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Bethpage, New York
posts: 322
reviews: 27
Road trip help...Santa Barbara or Pismo Beach?

I’ve never been to the central coast and it’s been on my list! Love knocking things off the travel list. We’re planning on the end of August.

We’re going to go from LA to Santa Cruz and have 8 nights total. My hub has never been to LA so he wants to see it (and has a friend there) and we have friends in Santa Cruz we’ll stay with for two nights at the end of the trip. We’d arrive late on a Friday night (arriving LAX after midnight) to the following Saturday night (leaving on a red eye at 10pm)

I’m torn on some things. Do we skip staying in Santa Barbara altogether and hit Pismo beach instead?? Do we want to go to the Channel Islands for a half day trip and spend two nights in SB? I’m torn on that! I think it may be too much. In Pismo, I found the Dolphin resort that looks great, but I hate to just spend one day there. I want to both explore and relax and have the nicest beaches/view and hotels possible. For Santa Barbra, I was thinking of the Harborview Inn, but its looking very expensive.

Need help on a hotel in Big Sur. Something nice with hot tubs/springs, etc (does that exist?) or do we stay in Monterey? I definitely am wanting a bunch of relaxing beach/pool time but it’s hard when there is so much to see. Definitely hitting the Monterey aquarium one day on the way to Santa Cruz.

Here’s what I have so far…any help/recommendations on where to stay is greatly appreciated! Am I doing too much?

Fri 8/18 Arrive really late on a Friday night—get to Santa Monica at about 1am. Staying at Shangri La.

Sat 8/19 – Stay in Santa Monica/Venice—pool and beach time

Sun 8/20 – Pool/beach, Drive around Hollywood—see tourist stuff and then Topanga if there is time. Stay in Santa Monica one more night or drive to S. Barbara in the evening.

Mon 8/21 – Go to Santa Barbara. Stay at the Harborview inn. Hang at hotel/pool/beach town.

Tues 8/22 - Channel Islands cruise? Half day. Stay in Santa B. OR drive directly to Pismo beach or Big Sur

Wed 8/23 – Pismo Beach or Big Sur—national parks/beaches

Thursday 8/24 – Pebble beach/Monterey aquarium, drive to santa cruz by evening, stay with friends in santa cruz Thursday night

Friday 8/25 – stay in SC w/friends

Sat 8/25 – stay in SC for day---go home on 10pm red eye

Sun 8/26 – arrive early AM

posts: 29,532
reviews: 789
1. Re: Road trip help...Santa Barbara or Pismo Beach?

Sounds ambitious and fun! The Harbor View Inn is a gorgeous property in Santa Barbara.

The Dolphin Bay Resort in Shell Beach is the nicest in the area and located in a beautiful setting. Enjoy your trip! :).

Southern California
posts: 7,747
reviews: 1
2. Re: Road trip help...Santa Barbara or Pismo Beach?

Been to both and far prefer Santa Barbara.

Bethpage, New York
posts: 322
reviews: 27
3. Re: Road trip help...Santa Barbara or Pismo Beach?

Thanks. I dont think I should do one night in SB and one night in Pismo right? Too much traveling? Maybe just Santa Barbara instead...although the dolphin looks amazing and is cheaper.

So torn!

Grover Beach, Ca
Destination Expert
for Pismo Beach, Cambria, Big Sur
posts: 16,348
reviews: 9
4. Re: Road trip help...Santa Barbara or Pismo Beach?

Pismo Beach is less than a 1 1/2 hour drive from Santa Barbara. There are hot springs tubs nestled on a wooded hillside at Sycamore Mineral Springs near Pismo Beach that you can rent by the hour.

The only lodging with hot springs/tubs I know about in Big Sur is at the Esalen Institute, but it's more of a communal experience, so I suggest looking at places on the Monterey Peninsula. The Monterey Plaza Hotel, Best Western Beach Resort Monterey are a few choices on the water.

So. Cal
posts: 1,162
reviews: 18
5. Re: Road trip help...Santa Barbara or Pismo Beach?

Santa Barbara is an international destination along with vacationers or weekenders who can't get enough of the place. It deservedly is known as the American Riviera. During the summer rates are high due to supply and demand. I'm guessing if you took a look at the Motel 6 at East Beach the rates will be close to $200.00. It is what it is. I would reserve a refundable cancellation now and then check to see as your visit approaches if something comes along that interests you more.

Two nights would be ideal in Santa Barbara. You could stay in Pismo for a night but most choose Cambria before they head up Highway 1, especially if you're interested in visiting Hearst Castle in San Simeon. Actually, if you stayed in Pismo Beach you wouldn't have made it very far. It's only 1.5 drive from Santa Barbara.

A TA member recently wrote a trip report and said the highlight of their trip was a kayaking trip out to Santa Cruz Island. Personally, I think the Channels Islands National Park is one of California's most priceless treasures. Only you know if taking time away from Santa Barbara and pool time is worth it or hectic. :)

***Sat 8/25 – stay in SC for day---go home on 10pm red eye***

I'm assuming you are flying out of LAX. It's doable, faster and easier if you take the 5 down. The coast will be busy with beach goers and most likely you'll run into traffic congestion in areas. I lean on the cautious side and like to be less than a couple hours away from the airport just in case anything goes awry. That's just me.

Other than that, I think your itinerary looks really good!

Have a great trip!

Shell Beach...
Destination Expert
for Big Sur
posts: 1,582
reviews: 9
6. Re: Road trip help...Santa Barbara or Pismo Beach?

Some rooms at the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur have private in-room hot tubs (the Pacific Suite and Cliff House room classes). Even the rooms without hot tubs have jetted spa baths big enough for two. Never you mind how I know that, but it is from personal experience...

The Post Ranch is my favorite hotel on Earth, and certainly one of the best in the US. Since you already mentioned Dolphin Bay, it's in the same price point category. The Dolphin Bay ranges from $335-$1000/night, the Post Ranch from $600-$2200.

Kibblesmom is right about the proximity of Pismo Beach and Santa Barbara. Stay in one or the other, but not both.

I've included 3 links that may be useful. One has suggestions of things to do and see in Big Sur, the second is to my blog's page of driving times and routes along the coast, and the third is to my blog's home page, with more Central Coast travel tips.




Bethpage, New York
posts: 322
reviews: 27
7. Re: Road trip help...Santa Barbara or Pismo Beach?

Thank you everyone. I am actually flying home from San Jose, so that makes it very easy!

Bethpage, New York
posts: 322
reviews: 27
8. Re: Road trip help...Santa Barbara or Pismo Beach?

I wish I could afford the Post range cliff room. It's going for $1600/night. The cheapest room I found was $780. Um, no can do :)

I could do the Dolphin, but its a toss up between that and Santa Barbara--Harborview. So torn!!

Grover Beach, Ca
Destination Expert
for Pismo Beach, Cambria, Big Sur
posts: 16,348
reviews: 9
9. Re: Road trip help...Santa Barbara or Pismo Beach?

Okay, perhaps a description of the towns is in order here to help firm your decision.

Santa Barbara: The touristy parts are clean, attractive & safe. Great shopping, dining, nearby activities. Upper middle to upper class playground.

Pismo Beach: Nice long stretch of sandy beach, but the touristy parts are dirty, run down and filled with lots of cheesy shops and. quite frankly, some less than desirable visitors. The area where Dolphin Bay is located is pretty nice, but there isn't much around there.

The only negative I can think of with a stay in Santa Barbara, is the length of the drive up to Monterey via the coast. It's a 5 1/2 hour drive WITHOUT stops, but since there is so much to see/do en route, will likely take you at least 9-12.

Avila Beach...
posts: 936
reviews: 8
10. Re: Road trip help...Santa Barbara or Pismo Beach?

Regarding Big Sur, Fernwood Resort has a couple of rooms with hot tubs on a private deck, but it is definitely not upscale - the rooms are very small and basic, but the deck and hot tubs are quite lovely with a view of the redwoods. Sycamore Mineral Springs in Avila Beach (right next to Pismo), mentioned by Kibblesmom, is also a lovely place to stay with a private hot tub on a deck outside each room. There is no ocean view, but it is a beautiful setting with ocean close by.

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