Friday, November 10, 2023

How to road trip with family from San Francisco to Los Angeles

It's always been a bucket-list travel item for me to journey down the coast of California between San Francisco and Los Angeles. (I once went from San Fran to Monterey for a beach wedding, but that's only a sliver of the Highway 1/Pacific Coast Highway journey.) Well, the full trip - as a family vacation - is coming up soon. And after a pretty decent amount of research (this blog article is one of many good resources), here's the draft itinerary.

The good thing about flying east to west is that you can still pack a lot into Day 1 after landing. The plan will be to stay at Hotel Caza in Fisherman's Wharf, which should allow us enough time to stroll through Golden Gate Park and get some always-mouth-watering west-coast sushi for dinner.

Day 2 will focus on waking up to see the seals lounging and taking a tour of Alcatraz, which is high on my son's list after he saw Clint Eastwood's classic Escape from Alcatraz.

Day 3 will begin the journey south, with some of the things high on the list south of San Francisco including:

  • Stop to gaze out for a while at the famous surfing waves at Half Moon Bay and then grab some lunch at Sam's Chowder House
  • Año Nuevo is probably the logical state park to stop at (out of many possible ones along this stretch)
  • Maybe we'll stop at the Santa Cruz boardwalk and ride a few rides
  • Finish the day with dinner in Monterey and stay there for the night, possibly at the Portola Hotel & Spa or in Big Sur at the River Inn

Day 4 I'm really thinking ambitiously:

  • Everyone says we must stop at the quaint village of Carmel-by-the-Sea, where Eastwood, incidentally, once served as mayor
  • Just south of Carmel is Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, which is said to have can't-miss nature ideal for families. We'll try to hit the Cypress Grove Trail
  • Next, the famous 90 miles of coastline known as Big Sur unfolds, with potential stops at Garrapata State Park's two-mile beach hike, Nepenthe restaurant, the oft-photographed Bixby Bridge (there’s a pull-off with parking on Old Coast Road at the northeastern corner of the bridge), and the easy out-and-back or loop hikes at the Pfeiffer Falls Trail
  • At the Piedras Blancas State Marine Preserve/Elephant Seal Vista Point, the seals can usually be viewed right from the turnoff 
  • I have always wanted to tour the Hearst Castle, looming high above San Simeon, but it probably won't happen on this trip
  • Much more likely and very awesome sounding would be if we can sandsurf at the Oceano and Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes. Eighteen miles south of Pismo, they are the largest intact coastal dune ecosystems on the planet. Some of the dunes stretch to higher than 500 feet and appeared in The Ten Commandments and many other movies

Next is the one spot where it's alright to leave Highway 1, heading inland by cutting east on 166 into Santa Maria, then catching the 101 South through Los Alamos and back out to the coast. Then we'll aim to sleep in Santa Barbara, a gorgeous coastal town known as the American Riviera.

Day 5 we'll wake to a straight shot into Los Angeles. Heading south from Santas Barbara, Highway 1 officially becomes the PCH, and the beaches are wider and longer, no longer wild and rugged, and the surf culture really picks up.

  • Malibu's Zuma Beach and Point Dume will be must stops. L.A.’s rich and famous live in the town's bluff-top houses. Part of Point Dume is a nature preserve where we'll get amazing views of Santa Monica Bay, the north Malibu Coast, the Santa Monica Mountains, and Catalina Island in the distance. A quick stop in the Malibu Country Mart may be our best chance to see a celebrity
  • Even though my skateboarding son has already been there, we'll certainly have to stop for a bit for him to hit the world-famous park on the beach in Venice
  • Then my plan is to head back up where we came from and cut up San Vincente Boulevard through Brentwood. The O.J. Simpson murder house at 879 S. Bundy Drive there in Brentwood is just south of San Vincente. If the family indulges my L.A. noir obsessions, maybe we'll even get a little further east to see 10066 Cielo Drive, where the Charles Manson gang killed Sharon Tate
  • Then we'll try to be on the 405 for as little time as possible in order to get up to Mulholland Drive, perhaps my favorite road in the U.S. It follows the ridgeline of the eastern Santa Monica Mountains and the Hollywood Hills and has outstanding views of the Los Angeles Basin, the San Fernando Valley, Downtown Los Angeles, and even the Hollywood Sign. Jack Nicholson is among the many celebrities who live there and Runyan Canyon has a famed hike starting at 2000 N. Fuller Avenue at the east end of Mulholland. This whole time we will probably have a homebase at our cousin's place due west of Hollywood in Topanga Canyon (incidentally on the same street where the Manson Family began their murder spree by killing music teacher Gary Hinman)

Day 6 was going to be a tour of Universal, but now we're rethinking that such a plan could be a major pain in the ass, so renting bikes along the beach and eating at Mel's Drive In (think American Graffiti) may be more along the lines what we'll all enjoy. We should be able to drive through Laurel Canyon and have dinner in Hollywood (my daughter can't wait to see the Hollywood Walk of Fame)

Day 7 - Whew. If we get to somehow grab one last hike, maybe for another view of the Hollywood Sign, before flying out of Burbank, I'll be pretty happy. Regardless, this is going to be an action-packed trip.

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