Los Angeles to San Francisco road trip

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There are some road trips you have to do in California and that includes the drive along the Pacific Coast Highway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. I made a round trip, but outward journey to San Francisco was along the Pacific Coast Highway, and the return trip was along the less interesting Interstate 5.

Places I visited on my road trip:

  • Hearst Castle
  • Monterey
  • San Francisco

Other locations I had on my initial list but didn’t get a chance to see:

  • Yosemite National Park (Had to cancel because of dense smoke in Yosemite Valley)
  • Santa Barbara
  • Solvang
  • Winchester Mystery House at San Jose

Length of round trip:

6 days (I would recommend a full week to 10 days so you can really take your time). I felt rushed about at times.

Day 1

I started my trip from Santa Monica on a Sunday afternoon. Traffic was fairly light on the PCH in the early stages towards Malibu, but as soon as I reached Ventura, it was heavy traffic all the way until Santa Barbara. A delay of 1 hour and 30 mins on this section of my trip meant I didn’t have time to stop off at Santa Barbara. I finally made it to San Simeon where I stayed for one night.

Day 2

Hearst Castle was only 5 miles drive from where I was staying.

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Unlike other historic monuments I’ve been to, Hearst Castle is situated 5 miles up the hill away from the visitor center, and you can’t really see it or get there by car. You have to book a tour to see it. There are 4 tours of the castle, each in a different area and each costs $27. Once you purchase a tour at the visitor center, you can then board a bus that will take you to the Castle to meet with your tour guide.

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All tours are around 30 to 45 minutes, and they all end up at the castle exterior. I’m not a fan of forced tours, simply because I prefer to walk around at my own pace and taking my time with photos. I just went on 2 tours, the Grand Rooms and Upstairs Suites. I just felt rushed a bit and I ended up taking fewer photos because I wanted to hear what the tour guide was saying out of respect.

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It was around 1pm before I set off to Monterey, but only after taking a peek at the elephant seals nearby at San Simoen.

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The views around the PCH a little further north of San Simeon was mind blowing and it just got better and better as I got closer to Monterey. You travel on windy roads with the mountain with the ocean view on the other side. The trip between Hearst Castle and Monterey should have took me around 2 hours and 40 minutes, but instead took me around 5 hours simply because I stopped and took plenty of scenic photos along the way.

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I made it to Monterey just before sunset and checked into my hotel close to Fisherman’s Wharf. Didn’t do much that evening other than chilled out with well earned beer and a meal.

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Day 3

I had a choice to see the aquarium where they filmed Star Trek: Generations, or go on the 17-mile drive. I had been to a few aquariums recently, so 17-mile drive it was.

There are toll gates that you can get on the 17-mile drive and it costs $9.75 per car. Once you’re paid up, you’ll get a map which lists many scenic points that you can stop off. The drive is one large loop and the road is marked yellow / red and signposted along the way in case you take a wrong turn. The drive should take a few hours if you intend to stop off and take plenty of photos.

After the 17-mile drive, I set off to San Francisco. Unfortunately I had caught a cold upon arriving, so I had no choice other than rest up for the night.

Day 4

I felt much better in the morning, so it was time to check out San Francisco, even though I’ve been here so many times, but never get bored of checking out the same places. Staying in downtown Union Square area made it easier to get around by public transport so I took that option for the first day here.

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The Golden Gate Bridge was the first place I went to like other times, but this time I had a working Google Maps on my phone so getting bus routes was easier.

After a trip there, I went straight to Fisherman’s Wharf, then off to the twisty Lombard Street and finally took the cable car back towards my hotel via Chinatown.

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Day 5

I was more adventurous on my final day here and decided to get around by car only I get really nervous with city traffic because of plenty of cars, one way streets, trams, pedestrians etc. You would think I would be used to it having spent most of my life in London.

I did more or less the same with the car, and even drove down Lombard Street for the first time. I wonder what the residents on that twisty road think of all the tourists.

One of the best spots to get a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge is at Battery Spencer lookout point on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge as you can see below.

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To get to Battery Spencer, head north over the bridge, and just past the Vista point on the right, take the exit onto Alexander Avenue, then take a left so you go back towards the south of the bridge, and then a right onto Conzelman Road just before you go across the bridge. Follow the road and you should see a parking lot to your left. Park up if you can, and if it’s really busy, you might want to consider parking up further along the road at the next parking lot.

There’s a short walk on a footpath towards the lookout from the first parking lot. If you plan on spending some time here after dark, take a flashlight with you as the footpath isn’t lit.

Don’t forget there is a bridge toll of $6 only on the way into San Francisco. The bridge toll caught me out as they got rid of the manual tolls early this year to keep traffic moving so you have to call a number to pay in advance, or just wait until they send you an invoice.

Information on the Golden Gate Bridge toll can be found at the following link.

http://goldengate.org/tolls/

Day 6

Nothing exciting on this day, just took the Interstate 5 all the way back to LA.

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Grand Canyon road trip

A road trip is always nice, just I had never been on one before and was undecided what to see on my trip. I wanted to see the Grand Canyon or Yosemite National Park ever since I moved here, and couldn’t decided which one I wanted to see first. In the end, I choose the Grand Canyon just because there were a few things I wanted to see along the I-40 on the way back.

So, the road trip would start from West LA on the I-10, then merge onto the I-15 and finally on the I-40 to the Grand Canyon South rim. On the return trip I planned to see the Meteor Crater site near Flagstaff, Lake Havasu City, and finally, Las Vegas, then back to West LA.

I stayed a few nights in Williams, Arizona, only an hour drive from the Grand Canyon, then a few nights in Las Vegas, Nevada. I had to make do with Williams since you really had to book months in advance during summer to stay in the lodgings within the Grand Canyon National Park. As this was a last minute planning, there were no vacancies within the National Park.

It took me just one Sunday afternoon to plan all this, and my journey started on Monday morning at 5am.

Day 1

I set off at 5am on Monday to make the first hour of the drive stress free. I didn’t want to get caught up in the morning rush hour in brute force of LA traffic. I made it to the I-15 in about one hour and the drive was indeed stress free.

It took around 7 hours and 30 mins to get to Williams with plenty of breaks. It was pouring down with rain when I got to the Mountain Ranch Hotel, and I didn’t have too much hope for the weather at the Grand Canyon too as it looked like thunderstorms were present. I checked in and dropped my bags off in my room and started my final drive to the Grand Canyon. There is an admission fee for the Grand Canyon which you can get either at the visitor center in Williams or at the Grand Canyon entrance. I decided to purchase mine at Williams. The entry pass will last 7 days too which was good.

What’s amazing about the Grand Canyon is you never know what to expect as you cannot see it on the way there, not even on route 64 towards the south entrance. The first glimpse of the Grand Canyon you’ll see is only when you get there. The closest lookout point is Mather Point which is just behind the Visitor Center near the entrance.

These are some of the views that greeted me when I arrived. It was mainly overcast that day, but luckily, didn’t rain. I took these photos at various lookout points along the South rim.

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Shuttles are free and it will take you to plenty of lookout points along the south rim. You can even walk along the designated paths between the lookout points too. There are restaurants and plenty of restrooms and drinking fountains too.

Day 2

The weather was kind and hot the following day and I set off around 8am from the hotel. I spent a few hours in the west route starting at Yaki point, then work my way towards the east route towards to Hopi point for sunset. It was so hot that I had to alternate between walking and getting the shuttle between some lookout points just so I could cool down.

I packed 4 bottles of water in my backpack and my camera, and when I ran out of water, I would just refill the bottles at the nearest drinking fountain.

As you can see from the following photos, much better weather.

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Admittedly, the sunset photo below could have been much much better if I had made it at Hopi point earlier. I also accidentally left my tripod on the bus on the way there, so I was tripodless for a while until I claimed it back at lost and found.

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Day 3

I definitely would have stayed another night here, just to trek to the bottom of the canyon, but I couldn’t extend my stay because no vacancies were available at my hotel, and I wasn’t prepared to sleep in the car. Onwards to Las Vegas via the meteor crater site and Lake Havasu City. I set off by 8am.

The meteor crater site is located east of Flagstaff, just over an hour drive from Williams. There was an admission fee. I had breakfast there before setting off back on the I-40.

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Temperatures reached 110 degrees when I arrived at Lake Havasu City. I spent a few hours here walking along the beach and took shelter from the sun at one point just to have lunch before setting off again.

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I arrived in Las Vegas around 7pm. I was so tired from all the driving and walking I had done in the last few days, that I actually just had dinner and went straight to bed, honest.

Day 4, and 5

I drove to Hoover Dam early in the morning and had breakfast there and watched a short video.

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Vegas… need I say more.

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I had to pack my tripod away at the Bellagio, since it was over crowded and I had my tripod kicked a few timed accidentally by people gathering round.

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Day 6

The return home. I set off early around 6am on my final trip back to LA on Saturday and made it in time to return the rental car.

Conclusion

Definitely worth the drive to the Grand Canyon and the best road trip I’ve been on as of yet. Some people might tell you that you can just do a tour in a plane over the Canyon, but I tell you it’s not the same. You really have to feel it, breathe it and actually be there to realise the sheer scale of it, and how spectacular it really is.

I’d go see it again another day, and I would definitely recommend staying up to 3 nights, because your first day will be spent driving there.

Huntington Library and Gardens

This is a place you can really chill out. It reminds me of Kew Gardens, Richmond, UK. Huntington Library and Gardens is located in San Marino, California. There is an admission fee of $20 during weekdays for one adult, and $23 over the weekends. There are tours too onsite.

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I definitely recommend spending a day here. There really is a lot to see and you won’t be disappointed. I drove last time, and this time I used public transport this time and regretted it since you have to walk around 30 to 40 mins between the Metro station and the Gardens, and it was a fine hot day as usual.

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Huntington Gardens was recommended to me by a ex-colleague, and I have to say, it’s one of the few tourist attractions that you can really lose track of time just from walking around. It’s huge! There’s no need to rush around though, since you can sit by the benches in the garden and read a book and take a break every so often.

There are many ways to walk around, and I choose to start at the Chinese garden because it was the nearest one to get to from the entrance. It’s so authentic that you could actually be somewhere in China.

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The Japanese garden as to be my favourite.

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There are many more gardens to explorer, including the Desert, and Australian garden too.

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Make sure you have plenty of water before you walk around. It’ll get hot, but there are plenty of shaded areas around the gardens.

La Brea Tar Pits & Pertersen Automotive Museum

I visited these two places a while ago, but have only just got round to writing it up.

La Brea Tar Pits
This place really sounded intriguing to me, so I drove there late Saturday with a few friends a few weeks ago. It’s located on next to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

After parking close by, I was greeted by the smell of tar, yes, there are many tar pits here out in the open, although the pits are fenced of for safety precautions. There was a museum, but I didn’t get a chance to go in, because we arrived after 3pm and we were short on time.

They do have a tour guide who will tell you the history of the tar pits and walk you around the various pits. You might need to look up their tour schedule on their website though.

Petersen Automotive Museum

This museum was close by too so we checked it out too. There are cars to see here as the name of the museum suggests. It’s over a number of floors. There is an entrance fee.

The history of the automotive industry in Los Angeles is on the ground floor, and it’s full of vintage cars.

The next floor up is more of a car showroom, with old prototypes, vintage, and a few modern cars. The Batmobile featured in Batman (Michael Keaton) was on display here too.

Redondo Beach

Another day trip, this time to Redondo Beach. There are lots of fresh seafood at the pier if it’s your cup of tea. There’s an Arcade too with plenty of classic arcade games from Pacman to Time Crisis, and the usual games you would find at a fair ground.

If you have time, you should take the boat trip. It is a 45 minute ride round trip. If you’re lucky, you might see dolphins out there too.

Griffith Observatory

Definitely a must see attraction if you visit LA. Fantastic view of LA up here. Hollywood sign to the North, and Downtown LA to the Southeast.

Entry to the building is free with lots of stuff displayed about the observatory, and make sure you walk up to the top of the building too and snap some stunning photos.

Weekends are a little chaotic to find decent parking, so head up during the week instead. If you go at weekends, the car park at the Observatory gets packed quickly, so drivers are directed to park on the twisty road nearby meaning you could end up walking uphill for over 1 mile to the observatory which is what I had to do. Still, good exercise.

Pack walking shoes too in case you want to check out the hiking trails nearby too.