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California road trip is booked - anyone like to share their hints/tips best places to visit/eat or cook things to do?

(50 Posts)
Sarahlouboo Fri 22-Nov-19 17:55:38

Going to San Francisco, Yosemite, Monterey, Big Sur, Santa Barbara and LA. Looking for all your recommendations of free and not so free stuff to do/cool or fun places to eat (our DS will be 12 years). Lots of good LA threads but haven’t seen so much about the other places on itinerary. We will be going late August/early Sep. Also is there such thing as a one day Disney ticket?! Can’t find one if so. DH only wants to go for Stars Wars world. Thank you in advance! flowers

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NeedAnExpert Fri 22-Nov-19 17:59:43

You HAVE to do the Aquarium in Monterrey.

KTD27 Fri 22-Nov-19 18:03:11

The cottage in la jolla- go for brunch. It’s the most incredible food. Like I still salivate at the memory and would go back tomorrow if I could
Plus - if it’s busy (usually) and there’s a line outside, they serve you cake to pass the time. I mean. If that doesn’t signal a necessary trip then I don’t know what does.
When we were in Santa Barbara we did a food tour which was brilliant. Not sure if you’d ever got time to do one of those but was really worth it. They have a famous ice cream store in town which I can’t remember the name of but is worth a visit. Oh and do a wine tasting there too 🤤

KTD27 Fri 22-Nov-19 18:03:50

Oh just realise you didn’t say San Diego. In which case la jolla might be a drive too far. That cake though...

BritInUS1 Fri 22-Nov-19 18:14:15

On the way down from San Francisco, stop near Half Moon Bay and eat here

Then visit Santa Cruz. Have a walk along the boardwalk, it's very different to the rest of California.

Monterey has 2 very different parts - the Fishermans Wharf end is very old and rustic. You can take a whale watching tour from here.

Lunch here is well worth it

The other end is much more touristy, the aquarium is a must do. Carmel is also a great stop off point, lovely little town with lots of good places to eat

I love driving down Highway 1, and we love this little eatery at Big Sur

KTD27 Fri 22-Nov-19 18:17:02

Ooh if you’re going to stop in half moon bay and have some room spare I’d recommend great sea food. Not exactly fine dining but omg so good

KTD27 Fri 22-Nov-19 18:19:45

McConnell’s!! That’s the ice cream place. And this I think is who we used for the food tour

Soontobe60 Fri 22-Nov-19 18:20:54

We stayed in half moon bay and also went to Santa Cruz. Our dd, who was 14 at the time, had a surfing lesson there. We went into a surf shop, spoke to the owner and booked a private lesson for the following day. It's the thing she talks about the most!
From Yosemite, we went to the Grand Canyon. Not to be missed.
Where are you staying n Yosemite?

Sarahlouboo Fri 22-Nov-19 18:24:43

Oh my, great recommendations already, thank you so much! They will all go on my spreadsheet smile

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Sarahlouboo Fri 22-Nov-19 18:25:34

Soontobe60 - we are staying at Yosemite View Lodge which I believe is basic just outside the park.

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BritInUS1 Fri 22-Nov-19 18:29:14

I live about 40 minutes from Half Moon Bay, so ask away

BritInUS1 Fri 22-Nov-19 18:30:59

San Francisco, hire bikes and cycle over the Golden Gate Bridge, lunch in Sausalito and get the ferry back

If you want to go to Alcatraz, book early

Here for fab ramen

TheCWord Fri 22-Nov-19 18:34:26

Hearst castle - the kitchen tour

Sarahlouboo Fri 22-Nov-19 18:35:16

Hi BritinUs1 - I had to google Half Moon Bay! Unfortunately we won’t be going that way as we are going to Yosemite then joining the coast at Monterey. What a gorgeous part of the world you live in!

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Sarahlouboo Fri 22-Nov-19 18:36:35

KTD27 - thanks for your recommendations, the fish place looks amazing!

Getting told off by DS for not watching Bake Off with him so will be back later! So excited!

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Bellebelle Fri 29-Nov-19 18:53:04

I’ve done the trip twice, once from LA to San Francisco and more recently (last summer) San Francisco to LA with DD’s who were 10 & 13 at the time.

In San Francisco I highly recommend going to the farmers market which is at the ferry terminal a couple of times a week. I’ve never seen anything like it, the most amazing fresh produce piled high on the stalls and lots of delicious food to buy and eat while you’re walking around.
Did Alcatraz on my first visit and it’s worth it if you’ve got the time to spare.
We went to a baseball game and it was great fun, stadium is right on the water so brilliant views too.

Highly recommend, they do a great brunch type menu and they have great wooden seats built in the river where you can sit and dangle your feet in the water.

Santa Cruz - stopped for an afternoon, we weren’t that impressed, felt like Blackpool in the sun.

Pismo Beach - brilliant overnight stop spot. We didn’t explore the town itself as got there late afternoon and left the following morning but it was long enough to walk down the paths from the cliffs to the beach, swim in the hotel pool and then sit round a fire pit at the hotel at night overlooking the ocean - one of my favourite California experiences. If you stay there book a hotel on the ocean front.
San Luis Opisbo - just inland from Pismo beach and where I stayed first time I did the trip. Great little American town and if you stay on a Tuesday it’s BBQ night when they have the most amazing night market along the Main Street selling food. It’s possible to stay in Pismo Beach but drive into San Luis Opisbo for the day/evening.

Pacific Grove - very pretty town between Monterey and Carmel (they run into one another) which I stayed in both times and highly recommend. Cheaper than staying in Monterey and nicer accommodation imo. It feels like an American town from the movies with a wide Main Street lined with beautiful painted wooden houses and you’ve got easy access into the other two towns.

In LA my favourite place is Santa Monica (which I think some say isn’t actually LA) as its on the coast and has great restaurants, shops etc but easy access to LA itself. We got ubers whenever we wanted to go into the city but apparently the train service from Santa Monica is really good. Venice Beach also great for restaurants on the Abbot Kinney Blvd (it’s all “very LA hipster” but still lovely).

Been to a few of the studio tours in LAand recommend the Warner Brothers tour out of all of them. It’s worth looking up in advance if there are any shows filming while you‘re there and applying for free audience tickets, we just missed a filming of Fuller House which DD2 was gutted about!
Go and see a film at Mann’s Chinese Theatre (cinema in Hollywood Blvd where all the hand prints in the cement are).

I know that you can buy day tickets to Disney as they have the prices published at the gates into the parks but I don’t know if you can buy them for one day only online. We bought tickets for 5 days as it was barely more than the 3 day ticket and as we stayed in Anaheim for 4 nights we went everyday but not full days. I think they price the tickets so that it’s always worth buying for more than 1 day and as there are two parks in California (both worth visiting) probably better to get one of their online deals in advance. I’m sure Disney will have worked out that if they price it so that you buy a ticket for multiple days that you’re more likely to come for more than one day and therefore spend more on food etc once you’re there!

I absolutely love California and want to go back again soon but one thing I say to people is to be aware of the number of homeless people there are. On my first trip many years ago it was evident in San Francisco (and still seems to be worse there in terms of the number of homeless people you see) but second time around even the smaller, more manicured towns such as Santa Barbara have homeless people walking down the street pushing their belongings in trollies without any shoes on. The reason I mention it is that many of them have mental health problems (if you look into the reasons for the homeless problem in California you’ll find that one of the main reasons are mental health and substance abuse) and they can be quite vocal, shouting at passers by and in San Francisco particularly often gather in quite large groups. I never felt unsafe but my DD’s found it quite intimidating and it put them on edge a bit. San Francisco is also very different to everywhere else you’re going. I think it’s a fantastic city but while it has many pretty streets and picture perfect areas it is quite a busy, dirty city in places - it has the pace of NYC but without the polish if that makes sense. The first time I went it was a bit of a shock after the comparatively clean and manicured places I’d been further down the coast but I loved it second time around once I knew what to expect.

stucknoue Fri 29-Nov-19 18:57:38

We bought one day Disney tickets but it was a long time ago. Hollywood bowl is iconic for concerts, we went to Alcatraz in San Francisco

ruthieness Fri 29-Nov-19 19:00:53

yes book Alcatraz early - people arriving on the day amazed to find sold out for a month ahead!
and book for first boat of the day - jet lag is your friend - lovely to arrive to empty island - and it is always v cold there - take jumpers.

LA- the Getty - just wonderful!

Chanel05 Fri 29-Nov-19 19:12:09

LA - Griffith Observatory to view the Hollywood sign.

Hollywood Blvd of course, though I would say that the further you walk down, the more uncomfortable it feels in atmosphere.

Love love love Santa Monica Pier.

Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills.

BubblesBuddy Fri 29-Nov-19 19:15:02

Nepenthe Restaurant at Big Sur on highway 1 has a sensational location. If you can afford it: have lunch at the Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur. It’s fabulous.

Carmel is just lovely. Nicer than Monterey. Do the whale watching trip though from Monterey. We also had lunch at the Pebble Beach golf club.

SF has the cable cars, great restaurants and neighbourhoods. I always recommend a Lonely Planet guide to give you lots of ideas that suit you.

I really liked Santa Monica and Santa Barbara. Lots of the well known areas in central LA are tacky. However the Max Factor Museum is great. The best building in LA is the Getty Centre but the Getty Villa in Malibu is definitely worth a visit.

The beaches are great in many areas but Carmel’s is lovely. You might also see elephant seal colonies and other seashore flora and fauna down Highway 1. We saw orcas at Santa Barbara one February.

In general, follow Lonely Planets recommendations and you won’t go wrong! Have a great trip.

Bouledeneige Fri 29-Nov-19 19:38:07

We did a similar trip but went on to the Grand canyon and Vegas before ending in LA.

Here are my tips:

Yosemite - you dont mention what time of year you're going. If its in the summer holidays it will be over 100 degrees on the valley floor. The kids were knocked out by the scenery - I would definitely recommend going up to Glacier Point to see El Capitan and the whole vista of the valley and the Sierras. But we cut our stay short it was so hot you couldn't walk any distance - or even barefoot on the ground to the swimming pool. Book accommodation now - it goes fast. Particularly in the park or close to the gates.

San Francisco - we hired bikes at the Golden Gate Park having had a nice mosey through Haight Asbury. We cycled through the Park down to the beach - loved it.

Took the Alcatraz tour - booked well in advance of going - they sell out quickly, which we all also enjoyed. The guides there are very good.

Monterey - we took the behind the scenes tour as well, where they told us about octupuses moving between the tanks across the floor!

Carmel - a lovely vibe wandering across the beach. Its a bit misty in the mornings.

Cambria - Moonstone beach is very lovely with narrow board walks through the grassy dunes and lots of sculptures made of driftwood on the beach . We stayed at the Fogcatcher Inn - totally loved it - my best of the whole trip.

Hearst Castle - we didn't get there but everyone raves about it. But we did see the elephant seals on the beach which were great and quite a sight.

Be careful to regularly check whether Route 1 is intact through Big Sur - it regularly falls into the sea as it did when we were there, with a big detour inland.

LA - we did Griffiths observatory and a planetarium show - its great. And great views of LA below.

We also walked along Venice Beach and Santa Monica. Lovely. We adored Universal Studios as well - particularly the Harry Potter ride (despite long queue wait) and the Studio Lot Tour. It is brilliantly well done with lots of effects and surprises plus they are genuinely filming there - my DD spotted a star from i-Carly having a fag break behind a sound stage.

We also did the Beverley Hills tour of the rich and famous's hedges and gates which I wouldn't bother with again.

polkadotjersey Fri 29-Nov-19 19:38:41

We stayed at the Yosemite View Lodge on our honeymoon two years ago. It's old-fashioned but lovely. I highly recommend the Four Mile Trail up to Glacier Point and the Mist Trail back down for incredible views and waterfalls.

Sarahlouboo Sat 30-Nov-19 20:00:29

Thank you all sooooo much for such detailed recommendations, tips and ideas @Bellebelle @ruthieness @stucknoueit @BubblesBuddy @Chanel05 @Bouledeneige - it is truly very helpful! I will definitely invest in a Lonely Planet guide. We are going in late August/early Sep so I am prepared for hot weather. We have already booked accommodation and Yosemite View Lodge is our hotel in Yosemite @polkadotjersey!

Quite a few people have mentioned Hearst Castle and I can’t really get my head around it! We are travelling with a 12 year old DC, do you think they will be bothered/interested?

Thank you again flowers. Very excited!

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Stripyhoglets1 Sat 30-Nov-19 20:25:24

Yosemite view lodge is great. Not flash and a bit old fashioned but I loved the location next to the river and sitting in a hot pool at night with the Merced river thundering past was a highpoint. Take food in as they have kitchenettes in the rooms the hotel shop sells loads but is obvs marked up. The pizza place is good there but gets busy.
We drove up to Tolumne Meadows in Yosemite past lake Tenaya which was beautiful. We paddled in the rivers and lakes.
We took a folding cool bag to keep food cool in the car and used ice from the hotel ice machines in bags to chill things!
Eating out was good value and we always took leftovers for lunch the next day as the restaurants are used to doing that and some gave us plates and cutlery when they knew we were staying in a hotel.
Monterey Aquarium was excellent. In San Fransisco head to the old ferry terminal area. Much less busy than fisherman's wharf and you can walk along and climb steps up to Coit Tower through some beautiful houses.
Enjoy it - we loved the place and I want to go back.

Stripyhoglets1 Sat 30-Nov-19 20:26:51

We had this place recommended but didn't get there sadly.

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