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LA to San Francisco

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kent uk
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LA to San Francisco

We are two retirees arriving mid January in LA with the intention of driving the coast road to SF where we depart 7 days later.

Research shows that the distance is about 500 miles so could be covered comfortably in three days. Is this so?

We would also like to visit parts of Yosemite whilst up there. Is this feasible - possibly by making a detour away from the coast road before returning back into SF.

Our interests tend to be in scenery and nature than man made


As the plane tickets have not yet been booked, we could reverse the flow and travel south to north instead.

We do prefer the quieter areas to stay in as against central parts of town.

Thanks in anticipation

I have already learnt a great deal from this site, not only regarding this trip but my previous and first venture into the States earlier this year - Florida, again touring by road.

Petaluma, California
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1. Re: LA to San Francisco

Based on your interest of natural scenery - here is what I suggest. Go to http://www.parks.ca.gov/

Here you will find all the 260+ State parks in California. Most are on the coastline.

Try www.ccnha.com

or www.hearstcastle.com

for a suggetion of how this would work for you.

There is a fabulous old house on the Malibu coast to start your trip called Adamson House. You would love this.

Then on to Santa Barbara to see El Presidio. And the beaches are fabulous.

Next I would go to the Dunes in Pismo Beach There is a nature Center there too.

ALSO - In January Monarch Grove in Pismo will be open - DON"T MISS IT! Fantastic.

Next, Montana de Oro State Park and Beach. Tons of hikes and don't miss Living History at the Spooner Ranch House.

Then on to Morro Bay and Morro Rock. Also the only Natural History Museum in the state park system.

After that you can go to Hearst Castle. Some of the most pristine state parks are in Santa Cruz. Of course you cannot miss the Monterey Aquarium, although not part of the state parks system.

If you are truly into the "natural" environment, using the State Parks web site can completely fill your trip. Look at a map of the state, note the towns you will be driving through such as Morro Bay, then type that into the search on the Park web site, and all things availble at that sight will come up. Also, many types of maps are available.

Have fun!!

Fremont, California
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for San Francisco
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2. Re: LA to San Francisco

In January, it might be rainy. As such, it might be a little slow going at times....but you can see the area.

Also highway 1 between Cambria and Carmel might be closed due to this reason.... This is the hardest part of the road to drive (i.e. most curves)...but you'd still be able to have fun drive up the coast without going on this stretch. Itinerary below will indicate this...

With this in mind, I would suggest the following stops.....

1) Drive from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara the first day.

This drive is 95 miles - about 2 hour drive.

Santa Baraba is a wonderful place to stop with Stern Wharf, nice downtown, and Santa Barbara Mission to visit.

Its such a a lovely spot that I'd recommend staying here overnight. Its low season so hotel rates will be lower than during the summer.


2) On 2nd day I would drive the backroads (Santa Ynez and stop for lunch at Solvang) and then continue on to Pismo Beach where you can enjoy touring this city. This city is quite scenic and has a nice fishing pier to walk out on. Solvang is a cute Danish community (horse country around it) with windmills, Danish bakeries and shops, and a cute place to have lunch.




and then continue on to Morro Bay. This is a quiet town with an intersting rock (could be a bit cool, foggy in January) but nice place to visit. There are lots of motels/hotels in town with low season rates in January. You might want to consider

Inn at Morro Bay http://www.innatmorrobay.com/

but the town also has a variety of other motel lodging.

Check the web site for more information.


Drive from Santa Barbara to Morro Bay is:

119 Miles 2 hours which will give you lots of time to explore the various areas above.

In Morro Bay recommend either eating at Inn at Morro Bay or Dorns'


The following day drive up the coat to Cambria.

Suggest breakfast at Linn's


and then continue on to Hearst Castle and take

Tour 1 movie/tour of home if you have not been there before.


At this point backtrack down Highway 1 to the Cambria road that will take you to Highway 101. I would not recommend driving the stretch on Highway 1 from Cambria to Monterey in the winter (note: it might even be closed).

On the stretch of road from Cambria to Highway 101, there are some Paso Robles Wineries if interested...



Once you get to Highway 101 drive north until you get to the Monterey cutoff. It will be indicated on the road and drive to Monterey.

about a 3-4 hour drive from Morro Bay to Monterey (but you'll be stopping if you want to do the above...i.e. Hearst Castle, etc.)

In Monterey, of course there is the aquarium, The Cannery, and Fisherman's Wharf. You might want to stay in Carmel at one of the cute motels/bed and breakfasts there. In MOnterey Green Gable Inn has an excellent view of the ocean.

Also, you might want to consider Asilomar State Park - great lodge, rooms, wonderful place by the ocean...


http://www.visitasilomar.com/ (you would be a leisure guest includes room/breakfast for a reasonable rate)

After Monterey check the weather forecast. It might be snowing in the Sierras which may mean chains/etc. Its always good to carry chains if you are driving to Yosemite.

From Monterey (if weather is good) drive to Yosemite.

This is about 200 miles about a 5-6 hour drive (or longer if snow conditions.) If you decide to do this, do stay inside the park if at all possible. Its at 3000 feet (while the areas around the park are higher altitude and it will be more snow conditions.) I would suggest Yosemite Lodge or Ahwahnee if budget allows.


If you just want a day trip to Yosemite, suggest staying overnight in Sonora on the first day

Best Western Sonora Oaks


and drive up from there for the day and back.

From Yosemite back to San Francisco, the mileage is

about 200 miles.

Then enjoy San Francisco.....

(Note: You can also reverse the trip San Francisco to Yosemite, Yosemite to Monterey, Monterey to Morro Bay.....etc.

I don't think you'll find any issues in getting lodging in January but if you find it an issue, feel free to reverse if that helps get the lodging choices you desire.)

I'm sure others have excellent tips/ideas as well.

Have fun planning....

Los Altos...
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3. Re: LA to San Francisco

A small, but not insignificant, note to add to your planning about Yosemite, since you're traveling in January.

Be wise to weather at that time of the year in the Sierra. It's highly changeable and roads can be slick... or closed.

For example, I would check snow levels and elevations if I were planning to enter the park from the southern gate to get to Yosemite Valley. You have to climb quite high going in that direction.

kent uk
9 posts
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4. Re: LA to San Francisco


Thank you all so much for the superb and detailed information.

After only one day of replies I have so much to consider it will take many enjoyable hours to sort and make decisions.

Just one further point - is there a map publisher similar to our [ UK ] Ordnance Survey series giving reasonable details on the backroads?

Again, many thanks

Chester, United...
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5. Re: LA to San Francisco

AncientBrit - sadly the quality of cartography generally available in the US is way below our OS standards. But I recommend Rand McNally's maps - buy them in bookstore when you arrive in the USA.

kent uk
9 posts
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6. Re: LA to San Francisco

Thanks for info on maps.

Will do!

Thanks to all

San Francisco...
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7. Re: LA to San Francisco

Mini's advice is very good and comprehensive.

On maps, lots of US drivers use maps from AAA (equivalent of our AA), which has a very good range of California maps (whole state, regions, individual cities). The conventions are rather different, but they work well for driving. The maps are free to AAA members, but they also sell to the public. I'm not sure how their value for money compares to Rand McNally.

In January I'd be quite leery of going into the Sierra. The floor of Yosemite valley is not that high, but there's a lot of windy foothill roads to drive through to get there. For a short trip, I'd avoid any prospect of having to put chains or cables on your car. The requirement for these mainly happens when it is actively snowing and for a while before and after. But bear in mind the following:

* Rental companies will specifically prohibit you from attaching chains to their cars.

* Never drive somewhere that might require them without having carefully read the weatherforecast to be sure that you can get there and back in good weather.

* Applying them when it's snowing is no fun. Cables are just about manageable; applying chains for a novice can be like a scene from Scott of the Antarctic.

* If you need to buy them, Walmart and Kragen Auto Parts are good sources, from about $30 up depending on the type of car.

If the weather's good, then the idea of driving to Yosemite and staying inside the park sounds good. The accomodation is pretty limited, and can be rather expensive. Often it's booked up way in advance, but if there was one month that it wasn't I think January would be it!

Have a great time.

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8. Re: LA to San Francisco

If you rent an SUV with 4 wheel drive, you won't have to worry about putting on snow chains. I too, however, would be a bit hesitant about driving to yosemite in bad weather. I know it's beautiful in the winter and many people do go, but I can't imagine driving the Priest Grade (between Sonora and Yosemite on 120) when it's snowing!

nothing more to add! everyone has already given excellent advice!

kent uk
9 posts
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9. Re: LA to San Francisco

Many thanks yet again for the very sensible advice.

We will have to have a rethink on the side trip to Yosemite.

Are there any other Natinal Parks on the route that would be well worth a detour?


Destination Expert
for London
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10. Re: LA to San Francisco

I too would be a little wary of committing to driving to Yosemite in a hire car during January. As long as the weather was reasonable you could stop overnight in one of the interesting old gold towns such as Jamestown or Sonora on Route 49 or head up 120 and stop the night at Groveland which has a couple of nice old hotels. From there it would be less than an hour to the park entrance if the weather was okay.

Just south of Carmel is Point Lobos State Reserve, described as a 1,250 acre coastal wonderland and one of the crown jewels of California's inderfunded State Park system. Cypress trees and sea lions, pine trees and pelicans and migrating whales offshore in winter.

If you didn't go to Yosemite, you could head north of San Fransisco and explore the Napa and Sedona valleys and maybe visit a winery or two or even head further up the coast to Mendocino which looks more like New England than New England.

Have a wonderful time whatever you decide to do.

Adam C