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.

PCH/Big Sur Day Trip

Helotes, Texas...
Level Contributor
5 posts
31 reviews
Save Topic
PCH/Big Sur Day Trip

My husband and I are planning a day trip down the PCH while we visit SF in April. We are picking up the car at the SFO airport (since we will be dropping it off there the next day when we leave), so we are not sure which route to take. Should we take PCH both ways (from SFO to Big Sur and then from Big Sur back to San Francisco Pac Heights), or should we take Hwy 101 over there and then PCH back? Also, what are some good places to have lunch in that area? Thanks for the help!

Best Seller
Napa and Sonoma Wine Country Tour
2,259 reviews
from US$99.00*
Best Seller
San Francisco Super Saver: Muir...
1,579 reviews
from US$117.00*
Best Seller
Big Bus San Francisco Sightseeing and...
209 reviews
from US$110.00*
Best Seller
Muir Woods, Giant Redwoods and...
2,472 reviews
from US$62.00*
Bloomington, Indiana
Destination Expert
for Bloomington
Level Contributor
8,800 posts
22 reviews
Save Reply
1. Re: PCH/Big Sur Day Trip

Don't have time to comment on the route aspect, but will point out that we generally hear that there isn't a drop fee when picking up/dropping off at SF (city) and SFO (airport). To say it differently (not sure that came through clear) most of what we hear is that you can pickup in the city and drop off at the airport (or vice versa) without a drop fee. Not sure if picking up in the city would be more convenient given your details, but I would think it is likely it would be.

Now, we *do* occasionally hear about a fee for this (but it's pretty rare), so be sure if there will be one or not before booking.

Also generally, but not always, we hear lower costs when renting from the city (at least somewhat due to airport fees), but again it's not always the case.

That's all for now,

hlo

Edited: 16 January 2014, 22:47
San Francisco
Level Contributor
36,629 posts
26 reviews
Save Reply
2. Re: PCH/Big Sur Day Trip

First of all, at the risk of sounding pedantic, Highway 1 is not called "PCH" north of Ventura or so. (Too much LA based TV shows I suppose.)

How far into Big Surare you planning on going? To go the length of Big Sur (to Cambria) and then cutting over to Highway 101 is waaayyyy too much for a day trip. Once into Big Sur there is no place to cut over to Highway 101 until Cambria. So it's a matter of heading down a little ways and then turning around and coming back.

SF to Monterey is 2 hours each way. So you can dip your toe into Big Sur but you certainly can't dive in.

Los Angeles
Destination Expert
for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park
Level Contributor
10,991 posts
108 reviews
Save Reply
3. Re: PCH/Big Sur Day Trip

I guess National Geographic has been watching too much TV. Anyway, here's a lovely primer on Highway 1 from National Geographic:

…nationalgeographic.com/travel/…

Personally, I think I'd take the 280 (cut over near the airport) down to the 17 on the way south, and then do it all Highway 1 on the way back. I dislike the 101 between SFO and Salinas/Monterey intensely. My first suggestion (280 to 17) will get you to the scenic portions of Highway 1 faster, IMO.

If you really have a lot of time, you can use parts of Skyline (west of the 280, east of the 1) to get to the 17 (some great parks and stuff up there, but I don't know your time preferences).

sf
Level Contributor
3,474 posts
Save Reply
4. Re: PCH/Big Sur Day Trip

Just to add to above, 101 between Gilroy & Salinas is a mess due to major road improvements, which I doubt will be finished by the time of your trip. For a day trip to BS, I'd take 101 to the exit for the Monterey Peninsula, over to 1, and maybe 17 to 280on the way back depending on the time of day. 101 through San Jose at rush hour isn't pleasant.

San Francisco
Level Contributor
36,629 posts
26 reviews
Save Reply
5. Re: PCH/Big Sur Day Trip

Interesting article but it only refers to "Pacific Coast Highway" in its title. Otherwise it refers to "Highway 1" and "Route 1." So it appears that National Geographic is correct at the detail level.

Santa Cruz...
Destination Expert
for Santa Cruz
Level Contributor
32,578 posts
6 reviews
Save Reply
6. Re: PCH/Big Sur Day Trip

I would like to suggest a slightly different route going south to Monterey. Yes, take Hwy 280 first. If you are going to leave from the airport take Hwy 380 up to 280.

If you are leaving from the city (you mentioned Pacific Heights) get on Hwy 101, which is Van Ness Avenue in the city, and then take the Hwy 280 exit when you get to it. Do not go all the way to the airport on Hwy 101. Too much traffic.

If you are picking the car up in the city you will probably be getting it in the Union Square area. Just ask for directions to 6th Street, which runs right into 280.

When you get to Cupertino take the Hwy 85 exit, marked Gilroy, and follow it until it merges with Hwy 101, south of San Jose. This takes you around the San Jose city traffic. Then watch for Hwy 156 WEST which will take you into Monterey.

I am not sending you over Hwy 17 to the coast at Santa Cruz because your time is limited, the road over the coastal range is very pretty, but slow because of winding and twisting, and Hwy 1 from Santa Cruz south is not on the coast, but goes inland somewhat, so you won't be missing scenery.

If you plan on going to Big Sur and back in one day you will want to leave SF early. It is over 2 hours by the route I gave you to Monterey.

I would not try to go all the way south to Cambria and then cut over to Hwy 101 to come back unless you want a VERY long day. You will probably want to visit parts of Big Sur and the retrace your route, and you could just stay on Hwy 1 all the way back to the city for a nice drive along the coast.

Lunch. Depending upon the time you get there, there is a restaurant high on the cliffs on Highway 1 near Big Sur called Nepenthe. Great views.

Edited: 17 January 2014, 00:07
Grover Beach...
Destination Expert
for Pismo Beach, Cambria, Big Sur
Level Contributor
20,907 posts
10 reviews
Save Reply
7. Re: PCH/Big Sur Day Trip

SF to Big Sur is approx. a 4 hour drive WITHOUT stops. Suggest you only go as far south as Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to see McWay Falls and then turn around to make your way back to SF, taking in the main sights on the return trip.

Something like this:

SF to McWay Falls @ Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (1 hour)

Nepenthe for lunch (1+ hours)

Bixby Bridge (15 minutes)

Point Lobos State Park (2 hours)

It will make a for a really long day trip, but doable if you get an early start to your day.

Helotes, Texas...
Level Contributor
5 posts
31 reviews
Save Reply
8. Re: PCH/Big Sur Day Trip

Great advice, thank you so much everyone! We will be starting our day early.

San Frantastic
Level Contributor
947 posts
30 reviews
Save Reply
9. Re: PCH/Big Sur Day Trip

IMHO this is Not. A. Day. Trip. No matter which route you take, you will spend more time in the car than enjoying anything.

Here's my .02:

Why not head toward Big Sur right from the airport? You can take 101 to Monterey and then Hwy 1 from Carmel to Big Sur (this is the pretty part of Hwy 1; from San Francisco to Monterey, not bad scenery, but kink of meh). Visit Point Lobos (a MUST!), and soak in as much ocean scenery as you want. Then turn around and spend the night in Monterey (more affordable options than in Carmel -- I really like Casa Munras). Wake up early the next morning and either wander around town for a bit, or hightail it back to San Francisco where you return the car to SFO and make your way into San Francisco.

Helotes, Texas...
Level Contributor
5 posts
31 reviews
Save Reply
10. Re: PCH/Big Sur Day Trip

Would a day trip North be a better idea?