Day 22-24: San Francisco

Los Angeles to San Francisco

Friday 30 July – DRIVE: Los Angles, CA to San Francisco, CA

  • Check-out of hotel
  • DEP Los Angeles
  • DRIVE Pacific Coast Highway
    (approx 485 miles / 9 –12 hours)
  • optional HIKE McWay Falls Trail – Jullia Pfeiffer Burns state park
  • optional VISIT beaches and parks along the way
  • ARR San Francisco
  • Check-in Travelodge Golden Gate

NITE: Hotel Travelodge Golden Gate / San Francisco, CA


36 DEP: 0800 – Los Angeles CA
(DRIVE: 230 miles / 4.0 hours = 5.5 hours estimated segment time)

37 DEP: 1330 – Morro Bay CA
(DRIVE: 245 miles / 4.5 hours = 6.0 hours estimated segment time)

ARR: 1830 – San Francisco CA
(TOTAL: 475 miles / 8.5 hours = 11.5 hours estimated travel time)




ACTIVITIES en route:
The Pacific Coast Highway – Travelers drive the Pacific Coast Highway for the scenery. Even those who only have time to pull off the road for a moment or two will have the experience of a lifetime.
(see the website)

Driving the stretch of Highway One between San Francisco and Los Angeles:

  • In ideal conditions, the drive between Los Angeles and San Francisco on Highway One takes about eight hours.
  • Summer can provide some of the foggiest weather and the most tourists. A better time to go is fall. (Either way, bring a sweater for chilly evenings.)
  • Highway One is a small, curvy, two-lane road that passes through many less populated areas. Drivers not used to mountain driving, let alone driving on the side of a cliff, will probably want to avoid driving at night.
  • It is wise to plan ahead and leave plenty of time for possible delays. (certain areas, like Devil’s Slide just south of Pacifica, are especially prone to rockslides and road closures).

Big Sur – incredible landscape along the sea
(see the website)

Big Sur’s beaches show off the California coastline at its rugged, unspoiled best. Due to their similar names, two beaches in particular — Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park’s beach and Pfeiffer Beach — are often conflated, but each is separate and has its own unique charms. While some of Big Sur’s wild beaches are accessible by car, visitors should expect to hike to reach most of them.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns state park
on Highway 1, Big Sur
(see the website)

For most visitors, “Big Sur” is synonymous with popular Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Often overlooked is a smaller slice of Big Sur located ten miles south—Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. It’s a shame to overlook it. A redwood grove, dramatic coastal vistas, and the only major California waterfall to tumble into the Pacific are some of the park’s attractions.

The park is a tribute to hardy pioneer Julia Pfeiffer Burns, remembered for her deep love of the Big Sur backcountry. Her father, Michael Pfeiffer, started a ranch in the Santa Lucia Mountains in 1869. In 1915, Julia Pfeiffer married John Burns, and the two ran a cattle ranch while living at their home located south of the present park.

You can easily sample the coastal charms of four-square mile Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park by following the short Waterfall and Partington Cove trails. The park’s coastal trails are great “leg-stretcher” jaunts to break up the coastal drive. In winter, the paths provide fine observation points from which to sight migrating California gray whales.

McWay Falls trail: (0.5 to 0.75 miles each way)

  • The hike: From the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park lot, take the signed trail toward Scenic Overlook. Along McWay Creek you’ll spot some eucalyptus, quite a botanical contrast to the redwoods growing up-creek. (During spring, ceanothus and dogwood splash color along the trail.) The path leads through a tunnel under Coast Highway and emerges to offer the walker grand panoramas of the Big Sur coast.
  • You’ll soon reach the overlook, where you can observe slender but dramatic McWay Falls tumbling a hundred feet from the granite cliffs into McWay Cove. On your return, you can take a side trail and meander over to the park’s cypress-shaded environmental campsites, which are perched on the former site of Waterfall House.
  • DIRECTIONS to trailhead: Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park straddles Highway 1, about 36 miles south of Carmel and some 10 miles south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Turn inland into the park and proceed to the day use lot.

Garrapata State Beach
(see the website)

Garrapata State Beach: Many consider Garrapata State Park’s secluded beach to be the best in Big Sur. While there are no facilities, this sandy, unspoiled beach has stunning views and is easy to get to. You’re also likely to spot sea otters, sea lions, seals and even the occasional migrating whale. Nearly invisible from the road, Garrapata State Park’s beach can be reached from the trailheads at points 18 and 19. (see the website)

LOCATION: All turnouts for Big Sur’s Garrapata State Park are located on the west side of Highway One.:

  • From Rio Road in Carmel, drive 6.7 miles south and look out for the “Garrapata State Park” sign. The first numbered turnout is located immediately after that sign, with turnouts 2-19 following. If you pass a mile marker labeled “MON 63.00,” you’ve gone too far.
  • From Big Sur, drive 18 miles north (slightly north of Rocky Point) and watch for mile marker “MON 63.00.” Turnout 19 lies shortly thereafter.

Wilder Ranch state park
1401 Coast Road, Santa Cruz
(see the website)
Phone 1-831-426-0505

Wilder Ranch State Park, Ohlone Bluff Trail: For an incredible, oceanside walk over rocky cliffs and into quiet beach coves, visitors should head straight to Wilder Ranch. The Ohlone Bluff Trail, named after the former indigenous inhabitants of the area, can be picked up near the historic Wilder Ranch buildings. There are plenty of quiet picnic spots along the trail, but visitors need to pay attention to the hour, as some parts of the trail are impassible during high tide

  • The hike: The path, an old ranch road, heads coastward. Signs warn you not to head left to Wilder Beach (where the snowy plovers dwell) and discourage you from heading right, where pesticides are used on the fields of Brussels sprouts.
  • The trail offers a bird’s-eye view of the surf surging into a sea cave, then turns north and follows the cliff edge.
  • Old Landing Cove is smaller than you imagine, and you wonder how the coastal schooners of old managed to maneuver into such small confines. If it’s low tide, you might see harbor seals resting atop the flat rocks located offshore.
  • One more natural attraction at the cove: a fern-filled sea cave. The ferns are watered by an underground spring.
  • The trail continues another half mile along the bluffs, offering vistas at seals basking on the rocks below to sandy beach. This is a good turnaround point (for a 3.5 mile round trip).

DIRECTIONS to trailhead: From Santa Cruz, head north on Coast Highway four miles to the signed turnoff for Wilder Ranch State Park on the ocean side of the highway. Follow the park road to its end at the large parking lot, where the signed trail begins.


12 APR: Looking more closely at the post-Route 66 part of our trip, I am wondering if we should split up the drive from LA to SF on the Pacific Coast Highway, camping somewhere in between the two cities…

According to the mapping program, if we want to take the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1), we are looking at almost 500 miles… or about 9.5 hours of drive time… so 12 hours of travel time. Now in other spots we have tried to split that up so it isn’t so much at once… Although here we will allegedly be somewhat rested, after two full days “off” in LA…

Am thinking it is about as much of a drive as we have the first day of the whole trip (which is a massive drive day)…

Possible alternatives are to cut short the last day in LA and start up the coast a bit (also avoiding paying for another expensive hotel night)… or cutting into San Francisco Day One instead… (again avoiding a costly hotel)…

The argument AGAINST “breaking” the Pacific Coast Highway segment is that after almost 3 weeks of driving, maybe it is good to rest a little and then just plow thru the PCH, with just one or two short stops along the way to stretch our legs and look at the beauty… We will be going from hotel to hotel that way, and so it isn’t really that big a deal if we arrive a bit late in the evening… we (or maybe just me, if you guys rest en route) can go straight to sleep, if need be…

14 APR: After discussion about the PCH and time spent driving versus in hotels/cities yesterday, we have pretty much committed to getting it done in a single long day. We will try to leave very early from L.A. (and should be well rested) and even if we arrive after dark in S.F., we will be arriving to a pre-booked hotel, so can go directly to sleep.

That said, there IS some incredible scenery, and we WILL need to stop along the way to stretch our legs and eat lunch and stuff. We should probably try to plan to make our breaks at the nicest segments of this drive.

I will try to get whatever info i can about traffic along this route during our timeframe, and we will see if we should try to shave time off the drive by doing part of it differently…

The folks at Pacific Coast Highway Travel site say that we have pretty much just one possibility of shaving time off the drive:


Quickest Route: About 380 miles, or 6 hours of driving

Pacific Coast Highway Route: About 460 miles, or 9 hours without a break

Combining the Two: Note that if you set off from either end along the Pacific Coast Highway then there’s no easy place to cut across to the freeway and make up time. What you gain in time you’ll lose in getting to the freeway to begin with, as it doesn’t run close to the coast.

Highway 101: Although the Pacific Coast Highway and Highway 101 are mostly one and the same, there’s a stretch of this route toughly between Salinas and San Luis Obispo when 101 goes inland. Going that way is about 126 miles, or about 2 hours of driving. Taking the coast route is about 150 miles and will take about 3 hours, as it’s a slower route. That’s what we’ve assumed you’ll do in the above estimate of 460 miles. So if you really need to, you could shave an hour off your driving time by skipping this bit of the coast. >>

So maybe we plan to do this detour (it is at the start of our drive as we are going from south to north), and if we have gotten up really early it will be dark then anyway…

17 APR 2010: I was able to get a little more info from the folks at Pacific Coast Highway Travel site. According to them:

<< I wouldn’t recommend trying to do the whole coast route in one day. It probably can be done if you share the driving with someone, and you’re sensible in allowing something like 12 hours. It also depends where you start in LA – if you set off really early like 5am or 6am you might miss the traffic but otherwise it could take you an hour just to get out of LA! I’ve never done the drive in the summer but I don’t think it gets too busy, not in the sense of clogged roads, but it is a slow drive anyway because of the winding roads, and also you get lots of slow-moving RVs and on some stretches there are not a lot of places to overtake. Your average speed is probably only going to be 40mph if you’re lucky, so bear that in mind. Once you leave LA you won’t really get chance to switch across from the coast road to the interstate to speed things up till you get to just beyond Monterey when you can switch from 1 to 101 and have a faster drive to San Francisco. By that time you’ll have done Big Sur, which really is the best stretch, and while the coast north of Monterey is also beautiful you’ll have seen the best bits so as you are pushed for time I think this is where you’d be advised to make the switch. So – I wouldn’t recommend doing it in one day although if that’s what you have to do – give it a go. >>

So i think that gives us an answer to our questions… our original 12 hour-estimate seems on target. And the traffic issue doesn’t seem to be as bad as we might have thought (actual California residents probably take the quicker route). I think we should plan to leave really early from LA, then decide near Monterey if we want to get off and take the quicker segment the last bit (as we may be tired of beautiful scenery by then!).


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