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Itinerary ideas for SAN-SFO, ~4 days in Jan

Itinerary ideas for SAN-SFO, ~4 days in Jan

Old Oct 11, 22, 6:15 pm
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Itinerary ideas for SAN-SFO, ~4 days in Jan

Hi!

So I have a few days to get from SAN to SFO. I don't land in SAN until 4pm on Monday, and need to drop my car off at SFO by 11am on Thursday, so only have 2 full days in California.

I've been to San Diego/LA/SF before, plus driven up to Santa Barbara/Malibu from LA, and down to Monterey and Carmel from SF. I haven't been anywhere between San Diego city and Long Beach, or between Santa Barbara and Carmel, nor been anywhere inland other than Joshua Tree and Death Valley. I haven't done anythng around San Fran other than the city itself.

I'm doing this trip mid week in January. I was originally hoping to go to the Sequoia National Park, but i'm not keen on driving in the snow, and am worried that the conditions there will be a bit too cold and wet anyway.

I was thinking of doing the Coastal Route with 1 night south of LA (i'm coming from London, so don't want to drive too far from SAN on day 1), 1 around San Luis Obispo, and the last arounnd Monterey, although I would then be covering a fair bit of ground I've already seen.

However, I'm not familiar at all with the Central Valley or anywhere away from the coast. I was hoping to maybe do some easy hiking, see some hills, whilst avoiding needing snow chains! I have a National Park pass, so would like to get some use out of it if possible.

Any ideas? Anything anyone can suggest to help form my itinerary would be greatly appreciated!


(This is a small section of a round-the-world ticket, influenced mainly by availabilty of reward tickets, hence the odd spec!)
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Old Oct 11, 22, 6:37 pm
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Have you been to Pinnacles?
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Old Oct 11, 22, 10:23 pm
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In wintertime stay away from elevation if you aren't prepared to deal with chains, and many passes in the Sierras will just be closed.

For easy hiking without needing chains, aim for desert areas (and bring water). Anza Borrego, JT, Mojave Nat'l Preserve. But they're mostly the wrong direction for ending up in SFO in a couple days. Maybe take the 8 to 79 to Julian, have some apple pie, and stay in Julian the first night, then go through Anza Borrego to PSP via Salton City and see the Salton Sea before it's gone, then head north. If there's weather you can take the 215 over the mountains via Cajon Pass, which is a little lower than taking the Grapevine (the 5) and further inland so there's less chance of snow. But its a big loop with a lot of driving that doesn't get you much closer to SFO. The next day would be up through the central valley, and I don't know where you'd want to stop there - the interesting stuff is on the other side of the mountains but the passes back across will be closed. You could do a loop through Searles Valley/Panamint Valley (Death Valley Lite) and see the Trona Pinnacles (different from The Pinnacles NP). Loop back through Mojave and see the airplane graveyard, but I have no idea where you'd want to stay. Probably not Bakersfield. Then the last day take the 5 to up to San Francisco. Kind of a lot of driving, but some interesting scenery and terrain. But not a lot of services or touristy things.

Depending on traffic you can get from SAN to LA in a couple hours, so you might also consider going just past LA the first day and be done with the SAN-LA segment already when you start the next.

Morro Bay is pretty nice along the coast. It will be cold for a Californian, but coming from London you might think it's just fine, and you can spend a little time there, maybe do a tour of Hearst Castle.
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Old Oct 12, 22, 12:00 am
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Originally Posted by shefgab View Post
.. I haven't been anywhere between San Diego city and Long Beach, or between Santa Barbara and Carmel, ..
doubt you can use your national parks pass as you dont have a lot of time to venture inland (and days are short in jan and weather can be iffy) so i'd just focus on those missing parts.. there is nothing in central valley worth visiting unless you are into agriculture.. north of San Diego anyhting along the coast is wonderful.. i'd recommend staying first night in oceanside where a couple hyatt-affiliated hotels are well located and more reasonable priced than many resorts in OC.. Carlsbad has an outlet mall if you want to mix in some shopping.. Then perhaps a night in coastal orange county or just say in Oceanside for 2 days and explore the area a bit more..
Then drive north (quite far - pick times with less miserable traffic across LA) all the way to either Pismo Beach (yet another coastal) or San Louis Obispo (inland). explore that area a bit and head to SF very early next day
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Old Oct 12, 22, 9:39 am
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Thanks for the replies guys!

Originally Posted by Zorak View Post
Have you been to Pinnacles?
No, but looks like a good option - rarely snows there apparently.

Originally Posted by chrisl137 View Post
In wintertime stay away from elevation if you aren't prepared to deal with chains, and many passes in the Sierras will just be closed.

For easy hiking without needing chains, aim for desert areas (and bring water). Anza Borrego, JT, Mojave Nat'l Preserve. But they're mostly the wrong direction for ending up in SFO in a couple days. Maybe take the 8 to 79 to Julian, have some apple pie, and stay in Julian the first night, then go through Anza Borrego to PSP via Salton City and see the Salton Sea before it's gone, then head north. If there's weather you can take the 215 over the mountains via Cajon Pass, which is a little lower than taking the Grapevine (the 5) and further inland so there's less chance of snow. But its a big loop with a lot of driving that doesn't get you much closer to SFO. The next day would be up through the central valley, and I don't know where you'd want to stop there - the interesting stuff is on the other side of the mountains but the passes back across will be closed. You could do a loop through Searles Valley/Panamint Valley (Death Valley Lite) and see the Trona Pinnacles (different from The Pinnacles NP). Loop back through Mojave and see the airplane graveyard, but I have no idea where you'd want to stay. Probably not Bakersfield. Then the last day take the 5 to up to San Francisco. Kind of a lot of driving, but some interesting scenery and terrain. But not a lot of services or touristy things.
Funnily enough I have actually been to Salton Sea before from SD - I just forgot because it wasn't so interesting haha. I did enjoy the drive over the hills. I drove through a few pretty towns on the way - perhaps Julian was one of them? I shall investigate!

Originally Posted by azepine00 View Post
doubt you can use your national parks pass as you dont have a lot of time to venture inland (and days are short in jan and weather can be iffy) so i'd just focus on those missing parts.. there is nothing in central valley worth visiting unless you are into agriculture.. north of San Diego anyhting along the coast is wonderful.. i'd recommend staying first night in oceanside where a couple hyatt-affiliated hotels are well located and more reasonable priced than many resorts in OC.. Carlsbad has an outlet mall if you want to mix in some shopping.. Then perhaps a night in coastal orange county or just say in Oceanside for 2 days and explore the area a bit more..
Then drive north (quite far - pick times with less miserable traffic across LA) all the way to either Pismo Beach (yet another coastal) or San Louis Obispo (inland). explore that area a bit and head to SF very early next day
OK, skip the Central Valley then.
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Old Oct 12, 22, 10:34 am
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With only two full days and three huge and very trafficky metro areas to navigate, frankly I'd skip the coastal option and just head to the desert, Palm Springs specifically. The drive from SAN to PS takes a couple of hours; I'd probably net even try to get anywhere on the Monday you land; the route crosses some mountains, and while wintery conditions are unlikely, after going through the border yoga at SAN it could well be getting dark by the time you're in the hills, not ideal.

There are several nonstop flights daily from PSP to SFO ($79 on UA) so what I'd do is take Tuesday and Wednesday to explore the Coachella Valley and especially Joshua Tree National Park, and maybe drive a little on old Route 66, then drop the car at PSP and fly up to SFO, arriving at or before you were planning to get there anyway.

Google the places on this map - https://goo.gl/maps/y9Z3yEJhXZLx3pLM8 . These include the Palm Springs Aerial tramway, which will take you from the desert to (likely) snow up on Mt. San Jacinto. A loop through Joshua Tree is an easy and incredibly rewarding day's drive; maybe cap it off with a date milk shake at iconic Shield's Date Farm in Indio. You could also spend a day heading up to old Route 66 near the "town" of Amboy, just to say you've done it. Map - https://goo.gl/maps/W6HPkMp1ZBX6aw966

There are numerous places to stay in Palm Springs, in all budget ranges. And the food options are also extensive; I'd highly recommend Sherman's in PS for a real Jewish deli experience, and there are fantastic Mexican cafes and restaurants up and down the valley. Palm Springs is home to terrific mid-century architecture, a very fine wee art museum, and lots of cool shops. For what it's worth, PS is also home to a very big and active gay community.

A couple of Joshua Tree pictures, taken in January a few years ago.







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Old Oct 12, 22, 10:46 am
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I second Gardyloo 's suggestion. The drive from San Diego to Palm Springs is scenic, especially going thru Temecula (route 371/74). Be sure to stop at the metal sculptures of Ricardo Breceda enroute. Fascinating. https://www.travelyesplease.com/trav...gs-sculptures/

Joshua Tree is stunning and January is a great time of year to visit.

We enjoyed our tour of the Annenberg Estate, not a must, but pleasant. You would need to book in advance.

https://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/24/u...he-public.html
https://sunnylands.org/

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Last edited by SanDiego1K; Oct 12, 22 at 10:56 am
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Old Oct 12, 22, 11:05 am
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I missed that the OP has previously visited Joshua Tree, but don't know when in the year that might have been. In the event this is not interesting, then a second option would be to fly from SAN to SFO ($89) and then drive south to the Monterey Bay area. (The savings on not having to pay a one-way surcharge on the car rental would likely more than offset the flight cost.)

Winter is a great time to visit this area - one can see the migrating monarch butterflies at Pacific Grove, visit the terrific Monterey aquarium and the lovely old Spanish mission in Carmel... But (to me) the highlight would be stunning Point Lobos, the incredible Big Sur coastline, and ideally visit the elephant seals at Piedras Blancas, close to the amazing Hearst Castle, now reopened. On the way south or back north, a stop at the Henry Cowell redwoods near Santa Cruz would possibly leave the OP gobsmacked, as it has for various pals of mine from the UK who experienced the redwoods for the first time. Again, google the places on this map. https://goo.gl/maps/8GWYLjKMX61kqPBg8

More pictures, also taken in January...





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Old Oct 12, 22, 11:07 am
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Originally Posted by SanDiego1K View Post
I second Gardyloo 's suggestion. The drive from San Diego to Palm Springs is scenic, especially going thru Temecula (route 371/74). Be sure to stop at the metal sculptures of Ricardo Breceda enroute. Fascinating. https://www.travelyesplease.com/trav...gs-sculptures/

Joshua Tree is stunning and January is a great time of year to visit.

We enjoyed our tour of the Annenberg Estate, not a must, but pleasant. You would need to book in advance.

https://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/24/u...he-public.html
https://sunnylands.org/

That route doesn't go by the sculptures, though, unless there are some more that I don't know about. You'd want to go via Julian or almost-to-Warner Springs and drop into the desert via Banner or Montezuma Grade and go through Borrego Springs. If it's a wet year, 79 is lower than the Mt Laguna route (which is pretty and low traffic) and more likely to be passable.

(edit: it looks like there are bunches of them at his studio that the route does pass)
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Old Oct 12, 22, 11:54 am
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Originally Posted by chrisl137 View Post
(edit: it looks like there are bunches of them at his studio that the route does pass)
We walked amongst fields of his sculptures. Here is one:
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Old Oct 12, 22, 12:15 pm
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Oh, speaking of walking among fields of things, another FTer and I visited Sensorio in Paso Robles around this time last year and thought it was pretty cool: https://sensoriopaso.com/
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Old Oct 15, 22, 1:21 pm
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Monday - stay in SAN area and rest. Get settled. Sleep well.
Tuesday - wake at 7-ish and then I would drive to Cambria / Morro Bay on this first full day; luncheon at The Madonna Inn, San Luis Obispo en route. Visit Hearst Castle.
wednesday - I would drive to half moon bay with a stop at Santa Cruz area for luncheon. Enjoy half moon bay.
Thursday - wake around 8 and drive the 30-60 minutes to Sfo to return car.

i live in San Francisco. I visited cambria / Morro bay / San Luis Obispo / Santa Barbara / Santa Cruz during 2021-2022. I haven’t been to half moon bay for a couple years - usually just drive through it via highway 1 when going to Pescadero.
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Old Oct 15, 22, 4:22 pm
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With just 2 full days you don’t have much time.

it’s either coastal or inland route.

coastalroute

day 2 night in LA area
day 2 night cambria, Morton Bay Area.
day 3 to SF along Big Sur

the past couple years storms have resulted in wash outs along the Big Sur area between Monterey and cambria.

the other option is see Joshua tree and then see pinacles mp ational park

night2 lookat Palm Springs srea
night 2 along 101 south pf pinnacles

in going this way you have a 3500 ft mountain pass to cross. If weather system comes in, snow is a very real possibility in these areas.
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Old Nov 5, 22, 5:34 pm
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Whales. Does the idea of seeing a gray whale interest you? You're going to be in CA in peak migration season. https://www.oceanicsociety.org/resou...ia-and-beyond/ Personally, I'd have a trip plan around that - but again it's totally weather-dependent. A whale watching boat daytrip in a storm isn't something most people enjoy...
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Old Jan 7, 23, 6:26 pm
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Hi, OP here! Thanks everyone for all your very helpful inputs

So I'm leaving for Califonia next week. The itinerary I went for in the end was a night south of LA, a night in San Luis Obispo, and my last night in Monterey, clinging to the coast all the way.

Obviously it's been quite wet recently. When I planned this I was hoping for at least some dry if not sunny weather to do the coastal road up past Lucia and Big Sur. The forecast still looks pretty wet along the coast, and Google Maps shows flooding around Carmel currently, which would be on my route heading North. Do any of you know if the roads are completely closed? Or should they have dried out by this time next week?

I'm thinking I should cancel my hotel in Monterey and book somewhere else inland and take the 101 north, rather than the coastal road. I guess once I leave San Luis on the coastal route, you're commited to the route as there's nowhere to head inland if it's still flooded around Carmel?

Thanks for your thoughts!
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