• Fernanda Secco

USA: A road trip on Highway 1


One of my biggest travel dreams was a film worthy road trip. One of those that can make you drool just thinking about it. To be honest, there is no better place to do such trip than driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles (or San Diego, if you have more time).

The Pacific route, or California 1, is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful roads to drive - and certainly the largest concentration of convertible cars in the world (LOL). From end to end, the course has a little more than a thousand kilometers between gorgeous beaches, historical cities, wonderful waterfalls and national parks.

Many will say that it makes no difference where the journey begins, but my suggestion is to go from South to North, simply because the most amazing places are further north, and if you see them right away, all that comes later will not be as dazzling. In addition to that, having a car in SF is a hassle that you do not need to go through, so avoid it!

This was my trip itinerary. I tagged some main points by day (more or less) and used Google Maps offline, because in many places 3G does not really work.

It's hard to say how much time you need because it depends on your interests (and of course, the budget). However, I would not recommend making the trip in less than 11 days.

My summary (and suggested) roadmap is:

Days 1 - 3: San Francisco Day 4: Santa Cruz, 17-Mile Drive and Carmel Valley (or Monterey) Day 5: Point Lobos and Carmel-by-the-sea Day 6: Big Sur to Morro Bay Day 7: San Luis Obispo to Malibu Day 8: Santa Monica & Venice Days 9 &10: Los Angeles Day 11: Manhattan, Redondo and Hermosa Beach

San Francisco

I believe that three days are more than enough for you to see everything you need in SF.

In addition to the basic tourist spots, which everyone recommends, I think my best tips are:

  • Take a tour of all the street art of the Mission District, have an ice cream at Bi-Rite and then spend an afternoon at Dolores Park. Buy a wine, have a picnic and enjoy the neighbourhood as a local.

  • There are a few bars with panoramic views of the city, The View in the Financial District is one of them.

  • If you fancy an evening of jazz and pizza, Club Deluxe is the choice but you can also get many yummy cocktails at Local Edition

  • Enjoy breakfast at the Lookout Café and then take a stroll through the ruins of Sutro Baths.

  • Cross the Golden Gate Bridge by bike, on foot, by car or by ferry and spend a day in Sausalito.

If you want more tips (especially on where to eat and drink) see the list of places I visited here.

Santa Cruz, 17-Mile Drive and Carmel Valley

Finally on our way to the south, we started the day with breakfast in by the sea in Santa Cruz. The city got frozen in the 80's, but taking a stroll you will find super cute places.

In about 30 minutes by car, you find the entrance to the 17-mile drive. A private property that takes a course of more or less 27km with stunning views, a super beautiful beaches. To enter you need to pay $10 per car, but honestly the tour is fantastic and worth this buck.

Not far from there is Carmel Valley, a cute little town with many wineries and delicious restaurants. I did an exclusive post for the wines and you can read it here. But my two great tips for this cute town are: a dinner at Cafe Rustica and a wonderful evening at Carmel Valley Ranch.

Point Lobos and Carmel-By-The-Sea

Without a doubt, one of my favorite places to visit was the Point Lobos nature reserve. I've seen lots of great photos on the internet, but seeing it live is really surreal. The most impressive place was China Cove, with a sea in gradient and many shades of blue. I would spend hours just looking at the view. We went very early, around 9:30am, which is ideal since the park is not yet so full. You also need to pay $10 if you want to get the car into the park.
Carmel-by-the-sea is a small town with an European feel. The beach is not very impressive, especially if you compare it to what you will see from now on, but it is a cute place to walk, eat, see the houses and spend a night. I recommend bringing a bottle of wine and watching the sunset on the beach.

From Big Sur to Morro Bay

Probably the day we drove the longest distance. We started the day at Bixby Bridge, that classic bridge that pops up everywhere when you Goggle "Big Sur". The view of the road on this part of the route is incredible! You will want to pull over and take pictures every 10 minutes. If you have not had coffee yet, or need a snack, take a strategic break at Café Kevah, the view is worth it.

We could not visit all the places that were on the list because the Soberan Fires were very intense and some were closed. It is important to research this before going to Big Sur.

The next stop, after being disappointed with closed roads, was Pfeiffer Beach. The park was closed due to the fires, but the beach was still open for visitation. Here you also need to pay $10 to enter. I suggest going with sunglasses and no caps, the place has a LOT of wind and you'll probably get smashed by sand. McWay Falls were simply too beautiful to be true. Imagine a 25m high waterfall covered in giant stones where the water falls right on the beach.

San Simeon is a must-stop to check out: Hearst Castle, Elephant Seal Vista Point and a cute little restaurant called Sebastian's Store, with great hamburgers and sandwiches. A few miles ahead, you find Moonstone Beach and you can take some pebbles home.

We ended the day, exhausted, at a motel in Morro Bay. The town is cute and has a much more authentic vibe than most. The night was watered with Californian wines and seafood in a fantastic and cheap place called The Galley.

San Luis Obispo, Solvang, Santa Barbara and Malibu

San Luis Obispo is 20km from Morro Bay and is a university town. You can already see that walking through the center. Lots of small shops, restaurants and nice places to walk around. I think the two most curious points of the city are: Bubblegum Alley and the Old Mission of San Luis Obispo.

Not far you will find the little town of Solvang. which tries to replicates Danish towns. Between fakes wind mills and bakeries with "traditional" pastries, you can walk all over town in 45 minutes, but it's a rather fun ride.

For lunch, a stop in Santa Barbara. The city is cute and I really wanted to have more time to spend there. In addition to a walking tour, the city has the Mission of Santa Barbara, one of the oldest churches in the state and where Hispanic influence is obvious. Next trip I want to stop at El Presidio and the Courthouse.

I was too naive to think I would be able to see anything in Malibu. The town is super famous, but the beach is virtually inaccessible. You can only get in if you own one of the mansions. Maybe you're luckier than me and can enjoy an afternoon on Zuma Beach.

Santa Monica and Venice

Hard to find some less obvious tips to recommend in these two famous cities. It is very nice to take a walking tour enjoying the sea breeze (which as my Californian friend says, is the air conditioning of the city) and feel local. Every once in a while some cool events and shows happen at the Santa Monica Pier, if you know of any of them. But of course a visit to the Getty Center will already entertain you for quite some time. Venice has all that curious side with green clinics and canals. There are also interesting bars, clairvoyants and super quaint shops. It's a whole day of fun and a wonderful sunset.

Los Angeles

The city has its ups and downs. Public transportation is rubbish, so use the car better. But the traffic is so crazy and intense that you never know exactly how long it will take to get to places. Two days are enough if you're in a hurry, but the city has plenty of cool to visit. My personal (and not so obvious) tips for you to enjoy LA are:

  • The rooftop bar at Ace Hotel is far from the best bar in the world, but always has cool DJs and you can use the pool without being a guest (uhul).

  • Jumbo's Clown Room was the most curious and interesting place I've been for the entire trip. It's like going to a strip club where no one gets naked, and all the dancers are athletes.

  • Another interesting place is the Time Travel Mart, a surreal convenience store for time travelers.

  • Highland Park Bowl has reopened and is perfect if you want to bowl and drink in one of the coolest and less hyped hoods in the city.

Manhattan, Redondo and Hermosa Beach The worst part of the trip is when it ends! That feeling of unpacking the bags and putting the passport away always hurts me a little bit, so on my last day in California I decided to enjoy a Sunday at the beach with fish tacos and craft beers. We drove to the South Bay and toured the beaches of Manhattan, Redondo and Hermosa. Each has its own particular style, with a more family or surfer vibe. I did not see many tourists there, it was real Californian day to end my trip.

Some golden tips:

  • No one follows speed limits on the road.

  • 'One-way' car rentals are a bit more expensive. Keep this in mind when researching yours.

  • Search for hotels on sites like hoteltonight.com, where there are incredible last minute deals.

  • There is no better time for this trip, but for sure you will be privileged if it is late summer.

This post was originally published in Portuguese on Chicken or Pasta

#losangeles #manhattanbeach #LA #HermosaBeach #Venice #SantaMonica #Carmelbythesea #Monterrey #17miledrive #SF #SanFrancisco #California101 #californiaroadtrip #usaroadtrip

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