View Full Version : Yosemite big sur and coastal drive

31-Jul-2014, 06:06
We are an Australian couple and have five days self drive from October 4 to visit Yosemite and big sur area after a 6-day cycle of Bryce and Zion canyons. Depart San Francisco Oct 4. Need to arrive LA to depart US late evening oct 9. Planning two nights in Yosemite. Not sure how to distribute the time across Monterey, the inland and coastal routes and which inland route to take to Yosemite and then onwards to big sur and coastal drives. Which towns would make scenic and convenient stopovers? Should we stay a night in Monterey? Open to suggestions for taking best advantage of the beauty of this area.

mike rosenlof
31-Jul-2014, 06:44
Use google map directions for the inland routes to and from Yosemite. They will be reasonable. It's about a four hour drive Yosemite to Monterey with no stopping.

My wife and I did part of your tour just a week ago. We stayed in Morro Bay at the south end, and Pacific Grove (next to Monterey) at the north end. You can do that distance in less than a day, but with plenty of stops, it can easily take all day. We were driving south to north. Arrived at Point Lobos around 3:00 PM after about a 10:00 AM start from Morro Bay.

Between the town of Big Sur and Point Lobos there are several state parks. The Pfeiffer Beach if I'm getting the name correct is a great (but popular) place to stop. You should find it more quiet in Octoer than we did in late July. Stop at the Elephant Seal viewing spot (well marked parking area).

Lodging is scarce and expensive along this stretch of coast. You'll want to book ahead.

John Kasaian
31-Jul-2014, 08:09
October is a great time for both Yosemite and the central coast. If you haven't been there on the way into Yosemite, Mariposa on the way out will give you a taste of the Gold Rush country. The Boardwalk in Santa Cruz will probably be closed so begin your final leg in Moss Landing and lunch at Phil's Fish Shack. Check out the beach out back after lunch. Going through Monterey---check ahead for special events like golf tournaments, which tend toward gridlock and over-booked rooms. A spin through 17 mile drive is in order, The Fishwife in Pacific Grove is an excellent restaurant (there are lots of good eats in Monterey/Pacific Grove/Carmel) The Centralia is a B&B in Pacific Grove I can recommend. There is a Holiday Inn Express in Cannery Row if you're a Steinbeck fan and don't mid sorting through the tourist traps to see the locations he wrote about. The State Park by the pier is interesting and educational and the foot path along the shoreline is a good place to chill after the long drive from Yosemite---if there isn't a golf tournament going on.
In Carmel there are a few photo galleries worth checking out. You can easily spend most of the morning at Point Lobos. Big Sur is a good afternoon drive. The old lighthouses are now hostels and they have reasonably priced rooms if you feel adventurous (and don't mind occasionally brushing elbows with children on school field trips.) At the southern end is Ragged Point---an excellent place to stretch and enjoy a cappuccino. If you want to see Hear$t Ca$tle it is shown by guided tour only, and organized at the visitor center on HWY 1.
Starting around Cambria there is a great deal to see and do and lots of options for rooms and dining. It will be harvest season so I recommend packing picnics (the Apple barn in San Luis is a fun farm market) and enjoying the weather and scenery as much as possible. Cayucos is probably the last of the classic beach villages, Morro Bay has a great wine tasting room (Stax) and boat tours around "The Gibraltar of the Pacific" if you are so inclined and there is the Skate Board museum(free!) Pismo Beach is famous for cinnamon rolls, clam chowder and Italian food.
For lodging on that part of the coast I recommend the Kon Tiki in Pismo or The Shoreline in Cayucos(in the old section that's right on the beach where you can hear the surf at night, not the new section with a view of the parking lot) make reservations as these fill up fast.
There are plenty of wineries and Spanish missions to explore along the way. Santa Barbara & Ventura are closer and more like LA than not. The Getty Villa in Malibu is worthy of a stop if you have the time and are into museums---a real treasure. More than enough of stuff to fill up the last leg of your trip so take your pick.
Good voyage!

Drew Wiley
31-Jul-2014, 08:18
That's quite a cramped schedule. But a scenic route that is still fairly quick (too quick): Once you leave Zion, head straight thru ugly Las Vegas, then right across
Death Valley (which will still be hot, but not terrible), then right over to Hwy 395 at Lone Pine. Then follow 395 north to Lee Vining, possibly making brief detours up side roads to see the aspen, which will be turning at the higher elevations. At Lee Vining, you head up Hwy 120 over Tioga Pass then clear down into Yosemite Valley. From there you can cut straight over to the coast, if you have any time left at all. October is my least favorite month on the coast, but one of my favorite
in the mtns. But a day or two spent around Pacific Grove or Pt Lobos is always rewarding. Just sounds like an awfully rushed schedule for that much driving, but
it's doable. At least you'll be in Zion and Bryce a wonderful time of year, though a bit of snow up high is always a possibility anywhere in the West in Oct. Always
carry extra food, water, and warm sleeping bags when traveling. You never know when you might be seriously delayed by weather or road conditions.

31-Jul-2014, 09:01
I stayed in San Jose (where I flew into) when I visited CA. It's not a long drive to Point Lobos and you get to see a variety of farmland on (101 and 1) and coast/dunes (1) driving there. SF would not be much further.

I'd suggest a full day at Lobos. I could easily spend many days in that area with my interest in photohistory and motorsports (mazda laguna seca nearby) Point lobos looks small, but I spend half a day there and only got around to about 1/3 of it.

I didn't make it much past Bixby bridge on my day of adventuring before having to head back to catch my evening flight.

Drew Wiley
31-Jul-2014, 10:06
Traffic between San Jose and the Monterey Peninsula can be abominable at times, and even in Carmel there can be a big mess on Hwy 1 by mid-morning. If you don't
mind distinctly less than luxurious accommodations, you can always find a spot in a cheap motel in Seaside, which is the blue collar neighborhood of Monterey. An
interesting place to stay which often has available rooms is right down the street from the famous mission in San Juan Bautista, just off the Hwy 101 turnoff to
Monterey. Again, basic affordable accommodations, but plenty to see and photograph in the immediate vicinity, and safer than Seaside. But a lot of weddings are
held there, so call in advance concerning vacancy, esp for weekends.

Robert Hall
31-Jul-2014, 11:32
Please remember to drive on the right. ;)

Adam Long
1-Aug-2014, 01:55
We did a similar trip on our honeymoon a few years back, though we took three weeks over it. We got round the accommodation problem by hiring a campervan, there are firms where you can pick up in SF and drop off in LA. In early October you should be able to get a spot in a Yosemite campsite pretty easily. There is a beautiful campsite on Big Sur too, in a grove of coast redwoods. Not sure when these sights close for winter, a local might be able to tell you.

As others have said, it's a tight schedule, but one day in Yosemite is better than no days in Yosemite. I'd head straight there from SF and spend a couple of nights in the valley. Check out the Mariposa grove of giant redwoods on your way out of the park, then follow your sat nav to Monterey. There is a campsite right in the middle of town, check out the aquarium and quay, then head south down the coast. The scenery is wonderful, we had a delay due to roadworks which was enlivened by a pod of dolphins.

3-Aug-2014, 18:49
We did a similar trip on our honeymoon a few years back, though we took three weeks over it. We got round the accommodation problem by hiring a campervan, there are firms where you can pick up in SF and drop off in LA. In early October you should be able to get a spot in a Yosemite campsite pretty easily. There is a beautiful campsite on Big Sur too, in a grove of coast redwoods. Not sure when these sights close for winter, a local might be able to tell you.

As others have said, it's a tight schedule, but one day in Yosemite is better than no days in Yosemite. I'd head straight there from SF and spend a couple of nights in the valley. Check out the Mariposa grove of giant redwoods on your way out of the park, then follow your sat nav to Monterey. There is a campsite right in the middle of town, check out the aquarium and quay, then head south down the coast. The scenery is wonderful, we had a delay due to roadworks which was enlivened by a pod of dolphins.

3-Aug-2014, 19:03
Thanks to everyone for these suggestions. Just clarifying we will fly out of our cycling trip in Utah to SF where we hire a car at the airport and head off on the road trip to Yosemite late morning Saturday October 4 to end up in LA departing for Sydney 10:00pm October 9. Sounds like we should head straight to Yosemite from San Fran and expect to arrive late afternoon. Then after two nights there head to Monterey for one night do some sightseeing in Monterey precinct and then choose two places for a one night stay each between Monterey and LA touring local sights. How though do we take in both the coastal and inland scenic routes without too much backtracking? We hadn't thought about hiring a Winnebago or similar but I guess it would be cheaper and allow more flexibility though it may require too much preparation and stocking up which we won't be able to do coming from Australia. Any other suggestions for this general plan would be welcome.

John Kasaian
4-Aug-2014, 23:35
HWY 1 winds along the coast and joins 101 at various locations. If and when you need to make up time hop on 101, for scenery take 1. If it's the old missions your after, most are on 101 but there are a few on 1 (Carmel, Bonaventura, San Luis Obispo, La Purisma .) It's the same deal with the wineries. With limited time, I'd stick with 1 unless you find yourself needing to book it to LA to catch your flight.

Pete Roody
5-Aug-2014, 07:16
Another must see for a photographer is Garrapata Beach!


Leszek Vogt
5-Aug-2014, 12:59
One of the problems you'll face is that Hwy 1 is addicting (in a good way). Some of the beaches are accessible, while others will be around 500' below you....and the views will not quit. Whether you'll encounter a fog, clouds or clear sky...every turn opens up new vistas. The portion from Monterey to SLO (San Luis Obispo) is roughly 130 miles, but it's packed visually and it takes longer because of slow curves, but also because you'd want to stop and inhale some nice ocean breeze, ponder, + taking photos (repeat X times). I'd add that Cambria offers one of a kind glass gallery (only few of this type in the country), the Moonstone Bch is great for tidepooling....and the food at Robin's or Linn's has always been superb. You could also spend some time in Cayucos/Morro Bay or Montana de Oro (v. relaxing park w/ocean views). In the old days SLO was 4hrs drive from LAX (LA airport), but with influx of folks this may have increased. I'm mentioning this only as a guage. You can choose to stay in Lompoc or even closer to LA....tho prices of lodging tend to be higher on the coast, whether in season or not. Oh, one more thing, since you'll be hitting some of these places over a weekend....you could easily encounter tourist traffic....particularly around Monterey and Carmel.


Drew Wiley
5-Aug-2014, 13:19
Gosh, they don't have a month! Maybe barely enough time to hit up a spot of two around Monterey, that is, if they drive like a bat out of hell past a jillion sights
in the desert and past the Sierras just to get to the coast to begin with. Hwy 1 isn't exactly fast.

Tim Stahl
29-Aug-2014, 21:39
I just noticed your posting. I have done this trip about a half dozen times. I am going to assume that you are interested in the scenery as opposed to say shopping. I am also going to make an assumption that you have not made any decision on where to stay or what kind of vehicle to rent. I am also making an assumption that you would rather stay in a hotel as opposed to camping. If I am wrong on any of my assumptions, then it will effect everything else.

(Ensure it is not snowing in Yosemite) Grab a convertible car from SFO. Reserve ahead of time.

IF you arrive to SFO in the morning, head down to the Ghiradelli Square area (Capurro’s has a good clam chowder, grab a table on the street to people watch), the Presidio, Golden Gate Bridge, and Golden Gate Park (Stow Lake, Japanese garden, Botanical garden), then head out of town before 1pm.

IF you arrive to SFO any time after noon-ish, just get out of town. Get on the freeway, and get out of town. Every time I am on the roads near the Bay Area after 3pm, there is always a traffic jam, slow down, or something that causes a problem. You are going to need the time to drive anyway.

Option three is to grab a hotel in San Francisco, spend a day taking in the various interesting sites, and head to Yosemite the next day.

You have a four hour drive to Yosemite. I personally like to come into the park on 140 from Mariposa, however, this will add thirty minutes to an hour onto your drive. No matter which way you enter the park, keep the stupid receipt when you pay to enter. The park service has become Nazis and will ask for the receipt on your way out of the park… if you don’t have it, they will try to extort another entrance fee. I’d suggest you stay at the Ahwahnee Hotel in the park. It is the most expensive location to stay in the park, but is also a very beautiful property. If you are more $$$ sensitive, then the Lodge at the Falls is a nice property that I have stayed in a number of times. There is also more rustic lodging at Curry Campground where you can stay in a nice tent (suggest one with a heater for October). No matter where you decide to stay, I would make reservations sooner than later. I am only suggesting locations in the valley because you are not paying significantly more to stay inside the park, but you are gaining drive time to the valley, and to be blunt, time is probably more precious to you than what you would save $wise by staying outside the park.

Food. The first night, I would suggest dinner at the Ahwahnee dining room, whether you are staying at the property or not. Attire is more upscale (suggest button down shirt and slacks / nice dress), they will not let you in if you are wearing shorts or a T-shirt. I would suggest making reservations now, and ask for the table that looks at the falls if you will be there during daylight… same for the morning, yes reservations for breakfast (blue jeans and a polo are ok for breakfast)… seriously. If you decide to stay two nights in the valley, the dining room at the Lodge at the Falls is very nice, more casual, more relaxed, and a completely different menu. I have never needed a reservation for the dining room at the Lodge at the Falls (though I could see it in the summer).

You don’t have a lot of time in the park, would suggest hitting the NPS website and figuring out what is most important to you to see. Google earth with the location tagged photos is another source of information.

I like to stay a night at Wawona on my way out of the park… it’s a neat old place, but I have overheard some people who think its age is not a benefit, and complain about small rooms, thin walls, shared bathrooms (though there are in room bathrooms if you select that option), etc…. During the summer months, I actually look forward to getting out of the valley, away from the masses of people, and to this much more relaxed location. It also sets you up for an easy exit from the park the next morning.

On the exit from the park, I would suggest driving past the turn off for the exit, and continuing to the redwood grove (Mariposa Grove) in the park and taking a walk with these giant trees. It’s worth the few minutes extra drive and whatever time you decide to spend there.

It is a three and a half hour drive to Monterey from the exit gate closest to the Mariposa Grove. There are a variety of things to do in Monterey, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is fantastic. Again, Google is your friend on trying to figure out what specifically to do.

If money is not a concern, I would suggest the Hyatt Highlands Inn in Carmel. Go get the reservations for this place now… and if they don’t have them online, call the property and see if you can get a room. If you are unable to get a room at Highland Inn, I would suggest the Portola Hotel as a backup (though it is a nice property in its own right). The Portola also has the benefit of being walking distance from a number of interesting sites.

The dining room at Highlands Inn is very nice. If you happen to be staying there, it’s a no brainer. If you are at the Portola, you will have to make a decision… either drive to the Highlands Inn dining room, OR, there are a number of nice restaurants within walking distance on the wharf.

On your drive South, don’t hesitate to pull off and take a look around... numerous times, it's all beautiful. Do stop at the Pfeiffer Beach. The beach has a purple color sand, I am told because of a deposit of manganese garnet that is eroded and washed out to sea by a nearby stream. It is very interesting in the right light.

Unfortunately, this is the farthest south I have been on HW1. I have usually run out of time at this point, and am driving like a crazy person trying to get back to an airport somewhere. I hope some of this was helpful.

30-Aug-2014, 05:20
Canyons, Yosemite, SF, Hwy 1, you are going to burn A LOT OF films :-) You can't see it all and as others have mentioned, there will be traffic problems here and there. So may be plan on seeing less rather than more. If I start in SF, please be sure to take 280 S. You can take route 1 but the prettier part is further south and 280 is quite beautiful in its own right. Do not take Rt 101, as it's... ugly.

To swing to HWY 1, you can do it at either 92, 84, 17, or 152, in that order coming down. So it depends on how much time you want to spend. 92 gets you to Half Moon Bay, and my guess is that it will take ~an extra hour or two compared to if you wait to cross at 152 to Monterey.

IMHO, the stretch south of Carmel to Big Sur is the most spectacular section, although you really cannot go wrong on any stretch of Hwy 1. There is a section that rises, I don't know, may be a thousand feet (~300 meters), combined that with the narrow two lanes road and twisty curvy while you are just a few feet off the cliff... lets just say keep your eyes on the road and not the spectacular rocks just down the cliff. If you are unlucky, you may get behind some RV or trucks. In that case, just pull off to a nice vista view, eat a sandwich and listen to the ocean. You can get lost for hours just by doing that.

30-Aug-2014, 06:11
I have been down the coast only once so I will not offer suggestions. As for Yosemite, I worked there for a summer. I would strongly suggest reservations, even in October. Start now. Two days is not much time in YNP. But if it were me I would do the tourist rounds in and around the valley on day one. You will have to choose between the Vernal/Nevada Falls/Half Dome hike, Glacier point (about a half day driving excursion), or maybe the Yosemite Falls Trail or Tenaya Creek trail leading out of the valley. There is a trail from Glacier Point to the Valley. They used to run a bus service from the valley to both Tuolumne Meadows and Glacier point. You can catch a ride then hike back down to the valley. Yosemite Falls Trail and Glacier Point trails are great options. I am not sure about the length of the Tenaya Creek trail but is looks like a wonderful hike. Perhaps others can comment on that. North Dome is quite nice.

Day two I would hit 120 to Tuolumne Meadows and the domes/meadows/creeks/lakes it has to offer. That is a short sentence for such a tremendous amount of photo ops. Ellery and Tioga lakes are good subjects but they are out of the park. Don't loose your entrance fee receipt. You might want to take a little bit more of a drive and drop down into Mono Lake or perhaps take the June Lake loop. As mentioned, snow is not out of the question at this time of the year.

Enjoy your trip.

Robert Langham
1-Sep-2014, 07:06
There is a thread with a bunch of Big Sur, Point Lobos, et photos down in the Lounge.