Road Trips

Road Trip: LA to San Francisco in Two Days (Part II)


Welcome back to my overly-detailed two-day Pacific Coast road trip itinerary post! If you’re back for more, you clearly enjoyed Part I, which detailed the LAX-Cambria portion of the trip. Today we travel from Cambria to south of San Francisco and enjoy one of the best stretches of roads in America, Route 1 through Big Sur.

Day 2: Cambria to almost-San Francisco

8:00am: Phone interview. What an exciting start to day two, right? Sorry. Sometimes life must happen. Because I’m sort-of out of work at the moment (the joy of being self-employed is sometimes being self-unemployed), I am also looking for work at the moment (anyone need anything written or edited or any professional development/training for their organization? Anyone? Seriously, I’m asking.) Thus, when offered a phone interview, one takes it even when traveling. Said phone interview took longer than I thought; I include it here to excuse myself for the late start to the day.

10:00am: Departed Cambria.

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10:30am: The elephant seals at San Simeon. Because of limited time and limited money, I chose to skip Hearst Castle. Instead, I continued up the coast to the elephant seal beach. The lovely front desk woman at Cambria Palms told me about this spot the night before and was adamant that I visit.  I can understand why. The elephant seals were SO FREAKING COOL. I spent far too long watching them play and cuddle and flop around on the beach. I took my big fancy zoom lens I rarely use and had a little too much fun with elephant seal photography (anyone need an elephant seal photographer? I could also do that for a living. I’d be super happy. Anyone?) I could go on and on about how awesome this beach was. Instead, I will leave you with some photos: (seal cuddles!)




Noon-ish: Lime Kiln State Park. While this trip was not exactly super planned out, I did do a tiny bit of research and note-taking before I left. So I knew to look for various state parks as I drove up the coast. The first one I encountered was Lime Kiln State Park. So I stopped. Lime Kiln State Park is a tiny spot nestled between the sea and the hills, with three camping areas, one of which is directly on the beach. There were a few short trails which I explored–one which led to a waterfall and one which led to the old lime kilns. To get to either, you get to traverse a short but lovely path through several groves of trees. I really liked these tree-groves. See?


Very grove-y.

Anyway. I’m glad I stopped here because it is definitely somewhere to which I would return to camp. In fact, I can’t imagine that the tent sites don’t book up months in advance, as this is somewhere I’d want to stay for a while. The woodsy sites would likely be my choice, but as I’ve said, you can also camp right under the bridge that is Rt. 1, directly on the beach. This picnic table is part of the beach-front camp area:


There were also very clean restrooms featuring flush toilets and hot showers. I don’t know how much a camp site costs here, but I assure you, whatever it is, it is worth it.

Note: This is where I discovered that something happened to my Nikon and that while I could still shoot, I could no longer access the menu or preview or delete. This put a tiny damper on my day and may explain why the photos that follow are either iPhone pics or not that great. Apologies. 

2:00pm: Nepenthe. It is now 2pm and I still have not eaten anything (this is a trend when I travel solo). Nepenthe was the one restaurant I’d actually heard of before–and dining options are far and few between in Big Sur–so when I turned a corner and saw the sign, I stopped for lunch. What a view! And the meal itself was fantastic, too. I expected overpriced, sub-par food. Instead I found overpriced excellent food and a great (overpriced) wine list. But then overpriced is to be expected. It’s pretty remote, and someone had to get all of that food out there. And the view is worth the cost as well.

If you want lunch but don’t want to pay a premium, there’s also an outdoor cafe with slightly more reasonable prices. But for a few bucks more, you can have a fantastic shrimp BLT and a glass of local-ish cabernet. That’s what I recommend.

I likely spent more time here than I should have, wandering around after lunch and admiring the view and poking around in the charming gift shop. I found a ring I wanted very much, but because silk scarves were upwards of $120, I didn’t even bother to ask the price of the ring; I know I could not have afforded it. But window shopping worked for me (and I needed some additional out-of-the-car time.)

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4:00pm: Point Lobos Reserve. Right before you drive back into civilization, you will encounter Point Lobos on your left. Please do stop. It is a lovely spot of well-maintained trails that snake along the cliffs along the sea. I spent a good hour here, just wandering around. If it had not been so late in the day, I’d have stayed longer.





6:30pm: The End. I turned inland north of Monterey to head towards dinner with friends (hi Karen and Tom!) at Trail Dust BBQ in Morgan Hill.  There are no food or beer photos because we ate all of the food and drank all of the beer.

Please note: if you are going to do this trip, please do not turn inland where I did. Continue up the coast all the way to Pacifica, and spend an evening in Pacifica (and then ideally several evenings in San Francisco proper). The scenery north of Monterey is lovely (once you get back onto the coast and out of the artichoke fields) and San Francisco is one of the most vibrant cities in the US. I skipped those parts because I’ve already done that drive and I’ve already spent a good deal of time in San Francisco. Also this was a budget trip, and budgets and the Bay Area mix like steel-toed boots and testicles.

The Return Trip–San Francisco to LA in Two More Days

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If you’re still with me, I feel obligated to tell you that for a variety of reasons involving me being ridiculous and how much it costs to rent a car at one airport and drop it off at another, I chose to not just drive from LA to San Francisco, but to drive from LA to San Francisco…and back. I gave myself another two days to make the return trip. But don’t worry, I won’t outline everything here. Mainly because I didn’t do so very much on my way back down. In case you didn’t gather from the thousands of words, above, I did quite a lot on the way up. And I was tired. So I chose instead to make the return trip about enjoying the drive–I stayed on Route 1 for all of the first day, going back down through Big Sur again. Because it was fun driving north and was equally fun driving south (and south you are on the cliff-side). But other than stopping for meals and at scenic overlooks, I mostly just drove for two days.  So here’s the condensed version of things you should consider adding to your trip if you choose to drive this route in one (or both) directions(s):

Castroville for Artichokes. On my way north, I noticed that the sign for Castroville featured an ‘Artichoke Capitol of the World’ banner. And I was all like: I like artichokes. And then I was all like: I wonder if there’s an artichoke themed restaurant? I’m happy to report that yes, there is. And you should go there. It’s called the Giant Artichoke Restaurant. I ordered something like the ‘artichoke sampler platter’, which featured fried artichoke hearts, a steamed artichoke, and some grilled artichoke bread, which was a lot like zucchini bread. I also took a photo of the giant artichoke. Because giant artichoke.

Morro Bay. I’m really glad I made this my overnight stop on the way back down the coast. Morro Bay is known for having a really big rock in the harbor–creatively named Morro Rock (pictured above). Said harbor is lined with shops and restaurants, and was walking distance from my budget motel. So I walked down, had a lovely dinner overlooking the sunset, and took some Morro Rock photos. As it was off season–and later in the day–most of the shops were closed. But I could see how Morro Bay would make a great destination. I’d definitely return.

Pea Soup Andersen’s. I did not consciously decide that this leg of the trip would have a touristy restaurants featuring green vegetables theme, but that’s pretty much what happened. I started seeing signs for Pea Soup Andersen’s 67 miles before arriving in Buellton, and I thought: I need to eat breakfast/lunch. And I like pea soup. So I stopped. It was a good decision. Get the bread bowl. You won’t regret it.

So. Should you make this trip in two days (and two days back?) Yes. Yes you should. Unless you have two weeks. Then totally take the two weeks.

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