A Week of California Coasting

I hope you had a bountiful Thanksgiving and a bargain-filled Black Friday, if you ventured out for the sales.  Our Thanksgiving was a bit different.

We often spend Thanksgiving week in Vegas, but since we had been there in May…  Besides, we wanted something “new.”

Except for popping into Redwood City when we drove the Oregon coast,  we’ve not visited the northern California coast.  The west is our favorite destination, so a northern California coastal drive was a no brainer.

There’ll also be some “old” on the trip:  we’re going all the way down Big Sur, which we did many years ago.  We’ll be driving a good 500 miles along or near the coast, taking in everything from the redwoods in the north to the Big Sur vistas in the south.

And another 150 scenic miles through the Trinity Alps between Redding and Eureka.  Including the “interior” driving, we’ll travel about 1,000 miles.

We’re not spending more than a day in any area.  But we’re not driving more than 150 miles on any day, so we’ll have time to explore.  Our overnights will be in Redding (interior),  Eureka (coast),  Fort Bragg (coast),  Petaluma (inland from Bodega Bay),  Monterey (coast) and San Simeon (coast), at the southern end of Big Sur and the location of Hearst Castle.

We’d taken one of the Hearst Castle tours previously and were looking at a tour of the “upstairs.”  We decided against that when I read that the 45-minute tour includes climbing over 200 steps.  It wasn’t clear whether that is one way or both ways but even 100 steps is a lot on a 45-minute tour.

Although I prefer to stay at either a Choice or La Quinta hotel to earn Southwest points, we’re mixing it up on this trip.  I checked TripAdivsor for highly rated “independent” hotels and found some deals.  In Monterey, we’re staying at the Stage Coach Lodge, rated #7 out of 50 hotels on TripAdvisor.

I used award points to book a free night at the Quality Inn in Petaluma, rated #1 on TripAdvisor.  And in San Simeon, we’re staying at the boutique Morgan Hotel, named after Hearst Castle’s architect, Julia Morgan.

We spent much of Thursday in the air, leaving Jacksonville at 1:30 and arriving in Sacramento at 6:30 Pacific time, which is 9:30 in Florida.  Since we’re flying on award tickets, Thursday was the easiest day to get seats since I had vacillated until mid-October about which week to take for most of our “Coastal California” trip.  After deciding that we needed more than a week for the trip and not wanting a “dead” day during Thanksgiving, I picked this week for most of the trip.

We had a non-stop flight to Vegas, where we had an hour layover.  Not long enough to get out of the airport for an under $10 Thanksgiving steak dinner at Ellis Island Brewery and Casino, just a few minutes from the airport.  From Vegas, it was a short hop to Sacramento.

Friday we drove north on I-5 to Redding, stopping at a small outlet mall to stretch our legs. Surprisingly, there’s a lot in or near Redding such as Turtle Bay Exploration Park which is accessed by the stunning, translucent glass-surfaced Sundial Bridge which does not touch the water.

Saturday, we crossed the Trinity Alps on scenic highway 299, which follows Whiskeytown Lake for a few miles.

Located on Humbolt Bay, Eureka is just south of the western end of Highway 299.  With less than 30,000 residents, it is the principal city in Humbolt County. But it’s location makes tourism a big business.

Today, we’re heading towards Fort Bragg, which will take us through the redwoods, including the 30-mile Avenue of the Giants.  Our schedule’s too tight to make time for the Skunk Train which travels through the redwoods to Willets.

Monday, it’s on to Petaluma which will be one of the longer stretches of “all coast” driving.

Tuesday we head to Monterey taking a route through “Pacific side” San Francisco and it’s Cliff House, and Moss Beach which we didn’t use in previous trips.  Since we’ve already been to the Santa Cruz boardwalk, where I almost “lost it” on a rather sedate roller coaster that became the last one I ever rode, we’ll skip it.  But if we see a “you pick ‘em” kiwi farm, we’ll stop for that as we did last time so Susie can pick herself a snack.

Wednesday, we’ll take the whole day to drive the 95 miles to San Simeon because we’ve driven it before and know it takes a long time. You can’t drive more than about 35-40 in Big Sur because of the twists in the highway.  Nor would you want to drive faster than that because you want to take in the gorgeous scenery.

Susie enjoying Big Sur on an earlier trip

Thursday morning, we’ll share air with the “one percenters” in Cambria before checking out Morro bay and San Luis Obispo.  Then, we head north to Gilroy, about 70 miles south of San Francisco.  We’ve been to the Garlic Capital of the World a number of times, mostly recently in 2007 for the Garlic Festival.  Gilroy also features a very large (145 stores) outlet mall, which I prefer to the larger Great Mall of the Bay Area’s 200+ stores and 1.3 million square feet.

Friday, we stop in San Francisco where we’ll roundezvous with one of my high school friends I’ve known since 5th grade.  Following that, it’s on to Sacramento for the night before flying back to Florida Saturday.  I like that this flight has just one stop but no change of planes.

I hope to have the travel photos up on my website before New Year’s.  Depending on computer availability at the hotels, I may be able to provide some updates from the road.  And since we won’t be visiting Hearst Castle,  you can take the YouTube tour.

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6 responses to “A Week of California Coasting

  1. This just sounds wonderful, but a bit exhausting! I loved that pic of Susie, although it gave me vertigo just looking at it!

  2. What a marvelous way to spend the holiday! Can’t wait to see the pictures.

  3. Mabuhay from Petaluma! I was off by about 90 minutes on this leg from Ft. Bragg; we missed everything from south of Uglala because that’s when we lost light and that’s how long it took to get to Petaluma from there. Lots of great scenery (from what little I could see before it became pitch black) but there’s more scenery to come. It was pretty scary driving in dark and fog, even at 25 mph. A wrong turn and it’d be over the mountain….

    This leg reminded me a lot of Big Sur in terms of scenery. I’m dizzy from all the twists and turns in the road. Just one after another. In one spot it was that way for 22 miles..just left, right, left, right. Many hairpin turns too.

    I’m going to sleep good tonite!

    That’s all for now!

    This pretty much ends the “new” portion of th trip, as Tuesday it’s on to San Francisco and Monterey, where we’ve been before.

  4. This is a final update from Gilroy, Garlic Capital of the World and home to a 145-store outlet mall where Susie and I each picked up a pair of slacks at Izod dirt cheap.

    Let history note that it was Gilroy where I had my first In-N-Out burger, which has been much ballyhooed. Verdict: for $2, it destroys the “like” competition, such as BK, MCD’s, etc. But it can’t touch 5 Guys. Only 3 types of burgers, no combos, and one size fries.

    Yesterday was an interesting leg: we saw, in my experienced opinion, the best “flatland” ocean views in Pacific Grove and then the best “mountain” ocean views in Big Sur. It took us 5 1/2 hours to drivbe the 75 miles of Big Sur. Arrived in San Simeon with about 15 minutes of daylight left, which was just enough to take about 18 closeup photos of elephant seals at a small presevre just north of San Simeon. You’ll see why they’re called elephant seals whe I get the photos posted.

    We’re now over 1050 miles since the trip began, with about another 100 left. Gas ranged from $3.49 here in Gilroy to $4.40 in Big Sur. Tenps were in the mid-50’s during mid-day and in the 40’5 at night. I hope FLorida will be warmer….

  5. Fortunately my corporate experience enabled me and my wife significant travel benefits. We have been all over North America on OPM. Big city wise I enjoy NYC the most but Chicago is a close second. (Very close) But the Pacific Northwest is so unique it was always an exciting destination. We have driven from Port Angeles Wa to San Diego and it’s all good. What nature provides there is worth seeing and if there weren’t so damn many people already living there it might well have been a relocation prospect for us. Many great memories. Glad you enjoyed it and that you apparently missed the high winds that kicked up..

  6. Ditto pt, I was very worried about you and Susie on those mountain roads when the Santa Ana wind started. One place (Pasadena, maybe?) recorded a gust of 96 MPH. I posted a comment to that effect on Facebook and your friend Suzanne replied saying you were fine and left her 3.5 hours before for Sacramento to catch your plane. You gotta love FB! BTW, I just love the sound of the word “Petaluma”!

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