We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

Southern California coast in 5 days?

Buffalo, New York
Level Contributor
67 posts
1 review
Save Topic
Southern California coast in 5 days?

My husband and I have decided we want to go to California for our 10 year anniversary; 8 days in February 2015. We'd like to stick to the coast and go no farther north than San Francisco. I've been doing a bit of research and we already scaled back quite a bit of what we thought we would get to see/do. I was hoping to fly into Vegas and spend one full day and night there, and then fly into either Los Angeles, San Diego or San Fran and make our way up or down the coast (depending on where we flew into) and fly back to Buffalo, NY.

The only must haves on our list along the coast include: driving Highway 1 (especially near Big Sur), seeing redwoods (can't figure out how far south they are found or how close to the coast), and going to Santa Monica Pier/Venice Beach.

Things we'd like to do: Hollywood/LA tour of some kind, San Francisco Bay bridges, see Alcatraz island (not tour it), see some beautiful beaches (some of the smaller state park beaches along the coast seem amazing) or just stay ocean side one or two nights to catch sunrise and sunset, check out a Mission area (Monterey?). The Seal Rookery sounds really neat too. I'd love to cross into Tijuana but my husband isn't sold on going there.

We are fairly adventurous and tend to prefer activities that give us a touristy taste but are more off the beaten path.

I'm debating skipping the first night in Vegas, though I don't know if I'd ever get to make it out there again. My husband has been a few times and is indifferent, but would be nice to say I've been. Chances are if we even made it out West again, the kids would have to tag along since it's taken some major planning to be able to be gone a week on our own so Vegas would be left out.

With all this in mind and a hotel budget around $100-150/night, is this feasible for 8 days. Or should we be looking to skip San Diego and go from LA up to SanFran? I don't want to spend the whole week in a car but we definitely plan on covering some miles.

Thanks for any input or suggestions!

Point Lobos State Reserve
Beaches, Nature & Wildlife Areas, State Parks, Hiking Trails
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Nature & Wildlife Areas, State Parks, Hiking Trails
Marin Headlands
Nature & Wildlife Areas, State Parks
Armstrong Redwood State Reserve
Nature & Wildlife Areas, State Parks
Santa Monica, CA
Destination Expert
for Santa Monica
Level Contributor
19,064 posts
253 reviews
Save Reply
1. Re: Southern California coast in 5 days?

Have you looked at the right side of this page? Full of great information, and a lot of it about this drive, too.

I suspect that adding San Diego to the mix will mean too much driving.

Please remember that we do have winter, and February can be our coolest/wettest month. Here are the stats:

weather.com/weather/…USCA0987

weather.com/weather/…90089

In LA, focus on staying in Hollywood, Marina del Rey, or at a budget hotel in Santa Monica (Comfort Inn, TravelLodge, or Sea View Motel). If you stay in MDR or SM, you are less than 7 miles from LAX, which saves on driving time there.

Santa Clara...
Level Contributor
21,920 posts
26 reviews
Save Reply
2. Re: Southern California coast in 5 days?

Do read the top questions on the right. With 5 days- is that 5 nights? - I would skip Vegas and San Diego. Even that, you will barely have time to do SF to LA via Big Sur. It usually takes 2 nights on the road along Hwy 1 which leavea you only 2-3 nights to split between LA and SF. Most folks recommend 3 nights for SF and LA each. I might scale it back more and only do Hwy 1 and SF or LA and not both. With an anniversary trip, SF fits better IMO. If you have 7 nights, then perhaps you can do both.

Coastal redwoods - you can see at Henry Cowell in Santa Cruz. Along the way to or fro San Francisco. Or Muir Woods north of SF. There are trees along Hwy 1 too but not big groves like at the state parks.

Edited: 05 April 2014, 21:28
Marathon, Florida
Destination Expert
for Marathon, Islamorada
Level Contributor
15,482 posts
38 reviews
Save Reply
3. Re: Southern California coast in 5 days?

We stayed in Santa Monica for a few nights (loved it) and drove up 1 (most of the way - weather got bad) to SF. Coming back to Santa Monica we took the main highway and actually really enjoyed the drive. Not much to see but it was easy and I did like seeing all the farms. On the way N we did cut over and stay in Santa Ynez for two nights. Beautiful area.

Our favorite day of SM was renting bikes and biking for the whole day to Venice and back and N until we couldn't bike anymore.

We flew in and out of San Diego, and as much as I like SD I wish we hadn't included it in this trip.

In SFO check out Coventry Motor Inn. I'm a princess when it comes to hotels and was skeptical about this place - but we were very happy staying there. Room was very clean and well kept.

http://www.coventrymotorinn.com/

Buffalo, New York
Level Contributor
67 posts
1 review
Save Reply
4. Re: Southern California coast in 5 days?

Thanks. I did browse the side links but everything seemed geared toward lengthier trips (2+ weeks) or did not give me all the information I was looking for. It sounds like we will still have to scale back. If we spend 2 nights in Vegas, we are left with 5 nights in California. (I realized that was confusing after posting and tried to edit but got an error).

I would like to see San Diego, especially since it will be a bit warmer and it would be nice for some escape from Buffalo, NY winter, but that does seem like the obvious cut to make. If we only spend one night in Vegas I would be happy with that...that then leaves us with Sunday-Saturday for California. Would this be enough time then to begin in the LA area and go up the coast to San Fran? I am thinking two nights near LA, two nights along the coast, and two nights in San Fran. Is this more realistic?

If only we had 20 days...I saw an incredible 19 day itinerary on one of the forums, lol!

Edited: 05 April 2014, 23:07
Santa Clara...
Level Contributor
21,920 posts
26 reviews
Save Reply
5. Re: Southern California coast in 5 days?

Yes - the 2-2-2 split would be better. Warm weather is all relative. Be aware that nights are also cool in Vegas in February in the desert.

Buffalo, New York
Level Contributor
67 posts
1 review
Save Reply
6. Re: Southern California coast in 5 days?

Bluewater - I think you've convinced me to let go of San Diego. We've done a lot of east coast beaches over the years (actually got married in Marathon!) Everything we see and read about the Pacific Coast seems so much different than anything we have over here... I'd like to have extra time to explore if we want.

Thanks!

Buffalo, New York
Level Contributor
67 posts
1 review
Save Reply
7. Re: Southern California coast in 5 days?

Thanks for those weather links. Buffalo's average February temp this year was 26, so 50's will work! I didn't realize about the precip...that's a bummer but I will be glad it's not frozen :)

Buffalo, New York
Level Contributor
67 posts
1 review
Save Reply
8. Re: Southern California coast in 5 days?

Phew! So much information. After a few more days of researching, I am letting go of Vegas. We can't justify the extra expense for one night. Upon pricing hotels I realized we are traveling Valentine's weekend which is apparently a popular winter weekend for Vegas. Plus I think we should really have the extra time to explore on our way down the coast. If we made it to San Diego that would be a bonus, but I am not going to plan on that either. We'd rather be able to get some quality sightseeing time in and avoid traffic.

So the updated plan is 8 days in California, flying one way BUF to SFO or Oakland(whichever flight is cheapest). Spend 1-2 nights in the SF area, picking up a rental car Sunday or Monday and head down the coast. We would like to do 2 nights along PCH and 3 nights in the LA area, possibly staying one night in Santa Monica and then the other two a bit further south since we will fly out of Long Beach.

Based on everyone's amazing info and pulling from other itineraries, we were going to see redwoods at Henry Cowell, Santa Cruz boardwalk, Monterey Bay, hoping to catch sight of some ocean wildlife, mainly stopping along the way at some of the smaller beaches and coves just to take in the coast. We are not planning on Hearst Castle, maybe just stopping into Santa Barbara for lunch. We haven't decided which towns we will stay in yet on the way down either, but am thinking Cayucos or Pismo Beach would be good overnight points. We want to spend time in Santa Monica, seeing the pier and heading over to the Venice Beach area. I like the suggestion of bikes. It will be good to get out of the car! Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and eventually the Orange County beach areas.

How concerned do we need to be that it's February? Will the rain greatly effect our ability to travel or sight-see? We live in New York's snow belt so we are hoping to see some sun but since we are not heading into SanDiego, we don't expect to be laying out on the beach. How concerned should we be about it being rainy season and driving PCH? Are there activities we should NOT plan on being able to do?

Edited: 08 April 2014, 16:16
Santa Monica, CA
Destination Expert
for Santa Monica
Level Contributor
19,064 posts
253 reviews
Save Reply
9. Re: Southern California coast in 5 days?

Thanks for the update to your itinerary. I have no issue with you skipping Hearst Castle, it's not my idea of a good time!

I'll leave the bay area plans to the good folks who know it best.

Once you get to LA, it probably will be a hassle to switch hotels. I already shared with you the budget hotels in Santa Monica in my first post. You have a car, so no need to switch if here for 3 nights.

In terms of weather, if you look at the average, monthly rainfall totals, it's not a whole lot, but when we get a winter storm, it can be a doozy for a couple of days. Keep close tabs on the weather and be willing to have an alternate plan, just in case.

Fremont, California
Destination Expert
for San Francisco
Level Contributor
28,921 posts
6,058 reviews
Save Reply
10. Re: Southern California coast in 5 days?

In terms of driving the coastal route, there is a California road alert

http://www.dot.ca.gov/cgi-bin/roads.cgi

You can put in 101 and 1 (the roads that go up the coast) and check for any issues.

Right now if you were to put in 1 for issue you would see some notices.

For example, some of the Big Sur area has some road issues - they are only one lane for a short part.

Nothing to be concerned of. You just wait for the time that is yours to drive the one lane to the next part of the road that is two lane.

If we do get heavy rains around your trip, do check before you drive through Big Sur. That is where the biggest concern on road conditions will occur - sometimes if its heavy rains, it might cause road slippage and thus the area is closed. In this case you would just drive 101 and then drive over to Monterey and continue from there.

Probably will not happen, but worth checking. During the time you are here you might get a glorious warm spell or some rain - (in LA rain usually means you will see the sidewalk looking a bit wet.....although they do get a few days of real rain.)

Hopefully that does not occur, but given the timing of your trip, worse checking.

Edited: 08 April 2014, 20:06