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San Francisco to Los Angeles Itinerary Recommendations/Help

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Hello Chowhound Community,

My Fiance and I are traveling to San Francisco in two weeks and plan on driving down to Los Angeles. We have two nights to explore in-between San Francisco and Los Angeles. We are looking for cool things to do along the way, we like to hike, go to vineyards (non-touristy), and eat great local food.

We would love your recommendation on all of the above and of course any driving route we should take, along with hotel accommodations.

Thank you in advance for your help,
Evan

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  1. Welcome to Chowhound, please note, hotel or general tourist information are out of scope for our discussion so please feel free to ask about and discuss food along the way, but please no hotel accommodation discussion.

    1. One of the best meals I ever ate was at a rest stop overlooking the ocean somewhere along Highway 1, between Pacific Grove and San Luis Obispo. The food was picnic-type stuff from the Trader Joe's in Pacific Grove and the ocean was so blue it looked like it had been digitally enhanced.

      Somewhere along that same road we had cheesecake at a roadside cafe/hotel/resort type thing that was owned by the father of the actress from Donnie Darko. The cake was good, but not as good as the view from the lookout point behind the hotel (the same ocean, but with an overgrown and rocky cliff).

      We were on a pretty tight budget since we'd spent most of our money in San Francisco, but regardless, I would recommend finding an oceanside picnic spot somewhere along Highway 1. The scenery is so spectacular it makes 2-day-old 7-layer dip taste like the best thing in the world.

      4 Replies
      1. re: BananaBirkLarsen

        The short answer is: take the coastal highways. If you drive to LA via the San Joaquin Valley, you won't be able to find as many really good eateries (this is the verdict of someone who lives on the Highway 99 corridor and cannot be accused of local favoritism).

        1. re: RobertLaughlin

          Exactly. I also live along Highway 99 and would not suggest it for a road trip.

          1. re: BananaBirkLarsen

            ....unless your last name is "Joad".

            (From yet another Highway 99 local)

            1. re: ricepad

              In which case the main cuisine was "fried dough" if I remember correctly (although it's been awhile).

      2. Here's a recent discussion covering a road trip from SF to San Luis Obispo, which covers the first half of your planned drive to LA, and debates the merits of taking Hwy 1 or 101.
        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/812814

        Then this thread is a report of eating stops between LA and San Francisco, and most of them are south of San Luis Obispo, so covers the second half of your route.
        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/810301

        For vineyards, you can find past discussions by searching for "Paso Robles", "Santa Ynez", Buellton, Lompoc, "Carmel Valley", and other wine appellations. I think you'll find that the wineries of the Central Coast are much less touristy than Napa Valley.

        Hope those will give you some ideas to help focus your trip and inspire more specifics.

        1. There are three roughly parallel driving routes from SF to LA. The closer you are to the coast, the smaller the road and the slower the driving.

          Coast Route 1 is mostly a two-lane-only narrow, crowded, curving road. It has spectacular scenery but is slow going till you hit the San Luis Obispo County line. Not much chow, (or anything else!) at all along the southern end of Big Sur. it would take at least 6 or 7 hours to get from SF to south Big Sur. This SF to LA extreme coastal route and local chow could take a whole four -day trip in itself.

          U.S. Highway 101, mostly four lane and freeway, runs south towards LA behind the coastal range of mountains through the verdant southern Santa Clara and Salinas Valleys ("salad bowl of the nation"). About 1/2 way to LA, you enter the Paso Robles Wine Growing Region. Literally hundreds of wineries within 50 miles. Rural, pleasant and unhurried area. From San Luis Obispo south to Ventura County (2 1/2 hours) the road skirts the ocean front only at Pismo Beach and Santa Barbara. Other than that, rolling hills and ranchos through more wine country. Lots of chow opportunites in the local towns. (Where there's wine, there's chow. Look at a map and search the Calfiornia board for recs.)

          You'd catch U.S. Interstate 5 (from the East Bay area, via Pleasanton) to the wide open San Joaquin Valley. It's a major trucking route, so you'll be looking at gas stations and truck stops for chow opportunities, mostly. Vast boring stretches of driving with little chow, but you get to LA in about 5 hours rather than 8.


          If I were to do this drive, I'd leave at first light or before, take the Coast Route from SF though Santa Cruz to Monterey, stop for lunch in Pacific Grove, and then head east to Salinas, and down 101 freeway to wine tasting in Paso, 2 more hours. Then hop west over Highway 46 to Cambria at the coast, enjoy a snacky-picnic at the beach with local wines from Cambria's Fermentations wine shop, and then drive down the coast towards the SLO area, stopping at Harmony Headlands just south of Harmony , and stay overnight in Morro Bay near Montanya de Oro and Morro Bay St Parks. Plenty of decent casual dining options in MB and Cayucos.

          Next morning, catch an early Cajun breakfast at Bon Temps Creole Cafe on San Luis Obsipo's Olive Street (just off Santa Rosa & 101) or at Big Sky Cafe on Broad St. downtown, then head south on 101 stopping in Buellton and/or Solvang area for more wineries and lunch. Have dinner in Santa Barbara at Brophy's on the wharf or Stella Mare's (a bit fancy) stay in SB overnight if you have the time or leave SB for LA (after the local traffic crush is over) at 8 pm. CalTrans and the Calif. Highway Patrol both have excellent traffic alert websites, for your driving safety. check edhat.com for lodging recs from locals.