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Los Angeles - San Francisco on Pacific Coast Highway

Outside of Philly
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Los Angeles - San Francisco on Pacific Coast Highway

Alright, so we are heading out to visit relatives late Friday night, 9/13 and plan to rise early, then start trudging North up the PCH toward San Fran. (Note: officially, we'll be driving from Long Beach to Santa Clara, where we have a free hotel lined up) The tentative plan right now is to rise early and hit the road by 6 or 7 AM and go straight to Santa Clara. It should be about an 8 hour drive, which would leave us about 3-4 hours of 'stopping time' with actual daylight. Does this sound ridiculous? Is there way too much to stop and enjoy on the way, or is the drive itself exhilarating enough?

Plan B. would be for my wife and I to fly into San Jose, drive south and then do 17 mile drive while our family drives North and meets us in Santa Clara. Obviously less driving and less cramming, but we'd have to pay for an extra night at a hotel as well as a rental car and we wouldn't get to see where our relatives live in Long Beach (even though it will only be a quick drive through).

Anyway, there are some details...thanks in advance for any feedback you are able to provide!

Los Angeles
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1. Re: Los Angeles - San Francisco on Pacific Coast Highway

Soon, one of the San Franciscans will post to tell you that they don't call it PCH (that's a SoCal thing and, apparently, only refers to the part of the road in SoCal). I can't answer your overall logistical questions, but I did most of this drive recently, on a weekend, and it took 10.5 hours of driving to get from the San Francisco airport region to Santa Barbara, and we did not do Highway 1 all the way (just from Monterey). There's construction on Highway 1 that cost us some time, some slower vehicles (many), and it was difficult to find places to stop for the view (lots of cars everywhere) so at least we didn't spend much time on that. We stopped for the sea lions (15 minutes) and for lunch (40 minutes), bringing the total time to about 11.5 hours.

SB to Long Beach is another 2 hours (at least). If you take PCH from Long Beach to SB, make it 2.5-3.0 hours (there are some tips that could make it faster, really the drive through LAX is not necessary and if you're doing Highway 1 further north, you could skip Malibu).

We found the drive "exhilarating enough"! Now, I've done it many times, but only a few times did we really stop and take our time (staying in Big Sur or Carmel) and always found it a wonderful drive. The sea is so blue and gorgeous, the old bridges from the 1930's are a marvel, the various trees are wonderful (it's worth a quick stop at Big Sur State Park if you get there before dark, otherwise the views at Nepenthe are great if you want a sandwich and you're in the area). The 17 mile drive is nice, but is in no way comparable to the rest of Highway 1.

You can cut over to the 280 at Santa Cruz via Highway 17 and save yourself some time (you don't want to go on up Highway 1 and then over the coastal mountains on a secondary road to Santa Clara on such a short trip).

So yes, it's doable.

You may still want to take PCH from Long Beach (after the airport, it gets scenic and I like that drive as an alternative to all the other options you have) but you need to be aware that you're doing this at L.A. rush hour, especially if you leave at 7 a.m. PCH is the more relaxing alternative and since it will only cost you a little in time (and really, I'm only estimating, a good friend of mine drives this section for 2 hours every day and has done so four days a week for 24 years - and she says, on the whole, PCH is the better alternative - but she isn't going all the way to the 101 in Oxnard...which is where it slows down). So the tip is: if you do meander up PCH towards Oxnard, take Las Posas over to the 101 and that'll get you back your half hour!)

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2. Re: Los Angeles - San Francisco on Pacific Coast Highway

The 17 mile drive is not the same as driving Highway 1 through the Big Sur area. It just goes along the shore and, while pretty, it is not a spectacular drive. It goes by a golf course and you see some expensive houses.

I would not drive from Long Beach to Santa Clara in one day on Highway 1. If you want some of the beauty substitute a visit to Point Lobos, 3 miles south of Carmel, for the 17 Mile Drive.

Grover Beach...
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3. Re: Los Angeles - San Francisco on Pacific Coast Highway

This will be closer to a 9 to 9 1/2 hour drive WITHOUT stops, so you would have less stopping time than you think. Is it doable? Sure, but you really won't have time for stops in Santa Barbara, Pismo Beach, Cambria or Carmel/Monterey. Some of the scenic stops can be done in less than 15-20 minutes, though. Like the elephant seal rookery, McWay Falls @ Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and Bixby Bridge.

As long as you realize that this is just a road trip and not a stop at your leisure kind of drive, then I say go for it. But plan on being exhausted by the time you roll into Santa Clara. The drive up through Big Sur is slow, winding and very tiring. But so worth it.

Skip the 17 Mile Drive. You really won't have the time for it anyway

Edited: 17 August 2013, 22:47
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4. Re: Los Angeles - San Francisco on Pacific Coast Highway

<<Soon, one of the San Franciscans will post to tell you that they don't call it PCH (that's a SoCal thing and, apparently, only refers to the part of the road in SoCal). >>

Nothing like a nasty start to an informative post.

Cookie ... I don't know "they" is to you ... but it's the state's naming system. In fact, on the Central Coast Route 1 is referred to as the "Cabrillo Highway."

I'm often befuddled at SoCalers lack of respect. As if everything in the state must be in lockstep with their habits. No wonder NorCalers would love to split the state and charge you all through the nose for water :)

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5. Re: Los Angeles - San Francisco on Pacific Coast Highway

There are at least three other threads today in which NorCal point out semantic problems, I thought I'd just be helpful AND give a warning about the semantics. That's about the average per day (actually, some days I've counted a dozen or more; after years of trying to discourage it, I've decided to warn people about it).

Call it what you want, that's the SoCal view. Of course, I lived in NorCal for 15 years. And out of the state altogether for some other years.

You'll never hear a SoCal person mentioning that you can't call it PCH. But, since this trip is headed northwards, the person should know, I suppose. Maybe we need a state level faq about Semantics (much looser in SoCal than in NorCal, IME and IMO).

It wasn't meant to be nasty, and I think maybe it sounds nicer coming from someone else who makes the same faux pas, don't you? (I'm sure you don't, Sal...that was just a joke).

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6. Re: Los Angeles - San Francisco on Pacific Coast Highway

<<You'll never hear a SoCal person mentioning that you can't call it PCH>>

Of course not. Because in SoCal it's called PCH.

Highway 1 is referred to as PCH most likely due to Hollywood movies and TV. But it is not PCH north of, what?, Ventura?

<<Call it what you want, that's the SoCal view.>>

Ah yes, typical.

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7. Re: Los Angeles - San Francisco on Pacific Coast Highway

>>There are at least three other threads today in which NorCal point out semantic problems,<<

<<<<Call it what you want, that's the SoCal view.>>

Don't you understand that when you give info, and directions, especially, to visitors who are visiting Northern California, that insisting on the SoCal view is confusing to them?

Most ordinary people 'up here' don't know about "THE PCH." So when a visitor says that Cookie told them to take "THE PCH", and how do they get there, our little minds go blank.

Edited: 19 August 2013, 05:30
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8. Re: Los Angeles - San Francisco on Pacific Coast Highway

The Coastal Highway system has many names and route numbers in California, which does create some confusion...

San Diego County has one term (Coast Highway, Old Route 101, and many other names, as the road changes names in certain cities).

Same in the Orange County/LA County and Ventura County. The main Route is known as the Pacific Coast Highway, which is also called Highway 1.

Then past Santa Barbara to the north, you have two coastal options, "Highway 1" which really goes along the coast line much of the way, or Highway 101, which is close, but more straight and an easier drive.

As you can tell, there is not one name or "route number" that covers the drive. Alas, like many other things in California, what one area has or does, is not what they do elsewhere in the state...

Edited: 19 August 2013, 05:42
9. Re: Los Angeles - San Francisco on Pacific Coast Highway

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10. Re: Los Angeles - San Francisco on Pacific Coast Highway

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