We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

Route from SF to Santa Cruz

Lansing, Michigan
Level Contributor
58 posts
5 reviews
Save Topic
Route from SF to Santa Cruz

My family (2 adults & a 13 y.o) will travel from SF to Santa Cruz as a day trip as part of a longer CA vacation. I'm struggling w/the route. I've heard Highway 35 is lovely, winding & lots of redwoods, sounds grand. But what about Highway 1 with Half Moon Bay & Ano Nuevo etc. We want to at least drive through if not hike in Big Basin, but it looks like we can get there from either route. We will be going farther South the next day as far as Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park before we double back & head out to Yosemite. If we do the inland route is the next day's drive into Big Sur enough to get our coastline fix? We're from MIchigan, we've got lots of beautiful coastline but don't see the ocean very often - husband & daughther have never been to the Pacific.

Santa Cruz...
Destination Expert
for Santa Cruz
Level Contributor
32,479 posts
6 reviews
Save Reply
11. Re: Route from SF to Santa Cruz

I agree that the coast is a better drive than skyline, for first time visitors.

I am giggling about all the fuss about Alice's restaurant. I don't think anybody much younger than I remembers the Arlo Guthrie song, which, to me, would be the only reason to see it.

Santa Cruz...
Destination Expert
for Santa Cruz
Level Contributor
32,479 posts
6 reviews
Save Reply
12. Re: Route from SF to Santa Cruz

And, anyway, the restaurant on Skyline was named after the song, not the one which inspired it. I can't imagine taking that route to see a biker's hangout named after a song, unless the route is significantly more beautiful than the coast....which it is not. Oh, well.

Lansing, Michigan
Level Contributor
58 posts
5 reviews
Save Reply
13. Re: Route from SF to Santa Cruz

Thanks for the great routing tips. As our trip approaches I've been studying the maps. I have a follow-up q. about Henry Cowell. After we leave our 2 day coastal tour we're heading to Yosemite for 4 1/2 days. Is Henry Cowell enough different than say Mariposa Grove that it's worth a stop? Maybe just a drive through? Trying to balance hours in the day vs. so many things to see. We'll have to stop at a beach along the way & put our feet in the Pacific & we feel we should make an effort to get the aquarium maybe for the last couple hours they're open (staying in Carmel) plus my husband really wants to see Pebble Beach Golf course. Open to suggestions.

Grover Beach...
Destination Expert
for Pismo Beach, Cambria, Big Sur
Level Contributor
20,745 posts
10 reviews
Save Reply
14. Re: Route from SF to Santa Cruz

The coastal redwoods are different than the mountain redwoods. While the mountain Sequoia/redwood trees tend to be shorter and fatter, the coastal redwoods are taller and skinnier.

The best place to "put your feet in the water" is in Santa Cruz, so either stop there on the drive down from SF or on your way to Yosemite before stopping at Henry Cowell, should you decide to stop there.

So, SF to Carmel via Highway 1, Half Moon Bay, Ano Nuevo, Santa Cruz. If you arrive in Monterey by 3:00 pm, go to the aquarium. It's usually less crowded later in the day. Take the 17 Mile drive after the aquarium if your trip is over longer daylight hours (May-September).

Next morning, head to Point Lobos for a few hours, then continue to Big Sur for the day.

HTH

San Jose, California
Destination Expert
for California
Level Contributor
16,151 posts
111 reviews
Save Reply
15. Re: Route from SF to Santa Cruz

Not only are the trees different, but the forests that they live in are vastly different. Coastal redwood forests see a lot of cool fog - so you get ferns, mosses, and other low-growing plants along with several varieties of oaks and laurels. Sometimes you feel like a dinasaur could walk out of the forest at any time. In sunny spots, you get manzanita and other chaparal type plants.

In the sierras where the giant sequoias live, the forests are much different - due to the elevation and winter temperatures, you see a lot of pines and aspens, some oaks grow higher too, although generally not the same varieties. There aren't nearly as many low-growning plants as in the coastal forests, so the forests have a more open feeling, less jurassic. The whole place has a dryer feel - you don't have the fog to keep things damp. Spring comes later in the sierras, so you often see wildflowers late into the summer, esspecially at the higher elevations.

Santa Cruz...
Destination Expert
for Santa Cruz
Level Contributor
32,479 posts
6 reviews
Save Reply
16. Re: Route from SF to Santa Cruz

november_moon has given you a good description of the differences between the coastal redwoods and the Sierra sequoias.

Henry Cowell is not far off Hwy 9 as you drive through Santa Cruz on Hwy I, and I think would be worth at least a quick stop. There is a loop trail of less than a mile which you could take from the Visitor's Center.

redwoodhikes.com/Cowell/San%20Lorenzo.html

To get there, as you drive through Santa Cruz south on Hwy 1 the road makes a left curve and becomes four lane. Shortly after that turn left onto Hwy 9. The sign may say Boulder Creek. There is a traffic light here. For reference, on the right hand corner is a Hot Springs Spa store and there is also a large structural blue and yellow sign saying "River Street".

After you turn left it is only 7 miles to the park, just before the town of Felton.

As for a quick "put your toes in the Pacific" stop I would suggest one of the state beaches on your way down the coast between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz. These are easy to to get to as they are right off the highway and have parking alongside the road. They are: San Gregorio, Pompono, Pescadero, and Bean Hollow, and are very nice, with no crowds, just some nice people and sometimes their dogs.

Have a good trip.

Edited: 6:18 pm, May 15, 2012
San Jose, California
Destination Expert
for California
Level Contributor
16,151 posts
111 reviews
Save Reply
17. Re: Route from SF to Santa Cruz

The state beaches between SC and Half Moon Bay are some of my favorite. Pull over at any that pique your interest. Some have actual parking lots and others have wide shoulders where you can park on the side of the road. If you park on the side of the road, just make sure there is plenty of room to get your car out of the road - seems obvious, but I have seen plenty of people park where there wasn't really room so I mention it. If parking is not allowed in a particular area, there will be signs saying no parking - otherwise you can pretty much park anywhere that there is room.

Lansing, Michigan
Level Contributor
58 posts
5 reviews
Save Reply
18. Re: Route from SF to Santa Cruz

All the suggestions are so helpful & enlightening. Sounds like Henry Cowell is defintely worth the stop, even if we just do the loop trail. I've heard Hwy 9 is a great drive, but I presume that's coming from the other direction (?)

Thanks too for the info on Point Lobos, it sounds wonderful, we'll look forward to a hike there the next morning. Then we'll continue down the coast as far as Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. I've heard the route South of Carmel is even more spectacular (is that possible?) & it seems like the state park is a good place to stop before we double back & head toward Yosemite. We just need to get to Oakhurst by bedtime.

Santa Cruz...
Destination Expert
for Santa Cruz
Level Contributor
32,479 posts
6 reviews
Save Reply
19. Re: Route from SF to Santa Cruz

<<<I've heard Hwy 9 is a great drive, but I presume that's coming from the other direction (?)<<

Yes, Big Basin redwoods is a large park on the northern end of Hwy 9. Most people come at it from Saratoga, which is off Hwy 280. So you would miss the coastal drive. You won't have time to drive from Santa Cruz up to Big Basin and then back to the coast, And the roads in the park and getting there are very winding.

I think your plan sounds good.

Grover Beach...
Destination Expert
for Pismo Beach, Cambria, Big Sur
Level Contributor
20,745 posts
10 reviews
Save Reply
20. Re: Route from SF to Santa Cruz

The route south of Carmel IS spectacular. The Big Sur drive begins once you cross the bridge at Rio Road on the southern end of Carmel. It encompasses Point Lobos, Bixby Bridge, Point Sur Lighthouse, etc.

While the Highway 1 drive between SF and Monterey is scenic in its own right, it isn't nearly as dramatic as the Big Sur drive. SF to Monterey has you almost at ocean level for much of the drive, while the Big Sur part of the drive has you on elevated roadway hundreds of feet above the ocean, which provides amazing vistas of mountains rising dramatically right out from the sea, crashing surf and even a few of those infamous deep hairpin turns. Then the road will move inland toward the "village" area of Big Sur and you are welcomed with tall, slender redwood trees gracing the sides of the highway. Once you pass Nepenthe, the ocean vistas come back into view all the way down to San Simeon (Or, in your case, Julia Pfeiffer Burns/McWay Falls).