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  1. Default Between SF and SD on the coast, mid December, for 7 days only!

    Hello Guys,

    First time poster here, although reader since the inception of a road trip in the US.

    ** Background:

    Iíll be in Austin, TX for business during the 1st week of December, and the 2nd week my girlfriend will join me for a 1 week vacation on the west coast. Arriving afternoon Saturday 8th and departing both morning Saturday 15th. Sadly, her dates are fixed and canít be changed however, we are fortunate to have good flight options (inbound & outbound) from either LAX or SFO which means picking one to arrive and depart from the other. Havenít booked any flights (domestic & International) so Iíll see how our plan shapes before finalizing flight details.

    ** Interests & things to do:

    Our main focus is to rent a vehicle and enjoy a road trip on the west coast. If that sounds broad, Iíll narrow it by saying from our initial research the coast is full of gems to discover and enjoy. Iíve done the Great Ocean Road in Australia (Hello Lifey :D) and it was a magnificent drive. Hence the idea of a road trip along the coast, and to name few of what might be of interest to us:

    - National parks or state parks (weather permitting?!)
    - Lookouts / observatories / sceneries and any photo opportunities. (Sheís a photographer fanatic of some sort).
    - Beaches & mountains
    - Historical sites
    - Architectural beauties
    - Distinguished small towns and attractions
    - Wildlife parks

    As you might tell, nature is probably the theme of this trip, but we also would like to spend couple of days in SF and SD depending on our route and days spent on the road. LA is not part of our plan this time. So, skipping LA is intentional, LAX is just an entry or exit point for us.

    **Financials & travel style:

    Our travel style is on the control freak side (hope she doesnít reads this, lol) we are always detailed and plan almost everything. So this will be a first for both of us to hit the road, stay in motels/hotels whenever we feel it, stop at attractions and take it easy. Our idea is to take our time on the road, be spontaneous and make plans as we go. I bet itís not going to be easy for two control freaks, lol. We sat together and discussed this thoroughly and agreed to have the free spirit style.
    Iím aware of the one way fee for a car rental but due to the time limit weíll bear it.

    **The questions and queries, based on the above info:

    - North to South (SF Ė SD) or South to North (SD ĖSF) ?
    - Although itís hard to predict December's weather, does it ruin the beauty of the drive/coast ?
    - How viable is it to visit the Grand Canyon (south rim) in our time frame? (weather and time wise)
    - SUV or normal sedan? Any advantage of having an SUV ?
    - Yosemite NP for day trip from SF ? And how is it weather wise ?
    - Is 3 full days to do the Coastal trip between SF - SD (or SD-SF) on a relaxed pace, enough ? or more than enough and should be shortened ?
    - Best way to avoid LA but not miss on anything important on the coast.
    - Staying in SF and SD is better in the outer suburbs or downtown to be near everything ?

    Appreciate any advice, tips and ideas or suggestions.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    North to South along the coast has the advantage of driving on the ocean side, and thus the side where you'll find the turnouts.

    I believe December is one of the better weather months along the coast - less chance of fog.

    Grand Canyon is possible, but would be a rather significant detour. Its a full day drive each way from either LA or San Diego, so 2 days out of an 8 day trip would be pure drive days and would likely force you to cut other things out of your trip.

    A sedan is likely going to cost you much less than an SUV. The only real advantage of an SUV would be if you head into the mountains, where 4 wheel drive could provide an advantage. However, either way, you'd likely have to carry chains into the mountains even with 4WD.

    Yosemite is just too far away from SF to be considered a daytrip. Its about 4 hours each way. It is in the mountains and there will likely be snow on the ground, and while you might not need them, you would need to carry chains into the park (they are able to rent from places just outside the park).

    3 days is a nice pace for the coast.

    The only real way to avoid LA would be to cut inland around Cambria and head all the way over to I-15 via Bakersfield (CA-46, CA-58, US-395). That would, however, require you to miss all of the lower central coast.

    If you stay in downtown SF, you could probably get by without a car in a city where parking can be quite expensive and transit is pretty good. SD would be a bit easier to commute from the suburbs, but you might want to pay for the convenience of being downtown. Your call there.

  3. #3


    Quote Originally Posted by MMM9 View Post
    - North to South (SF Ė SD) or South to North (SD ĖSF)
    North to South is generally considered to be the preferred direction of travel primarily because when traveling south, the pull-outs are on your right making it easier to stop for a look-see or a photo.

    With only seven days to work with, Grand Canyon is probably not a viable option. Even if you went to Grand Canyon from Los Angeles which would be the shortest route, you'd be looking at a round trip of nearly 1,000 miles so if you spent a day at the Canyon, the trip would take three of your seven days.

    Have A Great Trip!!!

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    San Diego has a pretty decent trolley and bus system, but having a car in the city is nowhere near as much of a hassle as it is in San Francisco. The freeway system in SD is a lot more developed than the one in SF. The city is a lot more spread out, SF is all crammed in at the tip of the peninsula and the traffic is a lot worse.

    To see more of the central coast and avoid the worst of LA traffic, you can continue on 101 as far south as Ventura, then take CA-126 to I-5 to I-210 to I-15. It's still congested, but not as bad as trying to go through the heart of the city or staying close to the coast.

    Another advantage to taking I-15 into SD is you will be passing near the San Diego Safari Park outside of Escondido.

    Something you might want to look at - getting from SD to LAX by car can be a real hassle except at off hours (I-405 is the most congested freeway in the country) - and your international airfare going in and out of SFO is likely to be considerably cheaper than departing from LAX. Check into dropping the car in SD and taking a flight up to SFO. Looks like one way airfare from SAN-SFO is about $87 per person.

  5. Default

    Thanks guys very informative posts!

    I didn't want to be one of those "one time posters" so I'm planning on updating this and asking from time to time.

    So to update the status:

    Arriving SFO and driving South to (LAX or SD) depending on our schedule and drive as it will be free plan ;)

    Dropped the high altitude (winter) national parks idea. Will keep it warm and along the coast.

    We only booked our accommodation in SFO and everything else will be as we go.

    Is that alright for December ? Are hotels going to be a problem ? We like to be free and decide when and where to rest for the night instead of sticking to a timetable.

    So, hotels in December along the PCH-1 will be problematic or easy ?

    Thanks again in advance!

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    You shouldn't have any problems finding hotels on the fly, but there isn't much of anything between the Monterey/Carmel area and San Simeon. From there south, you should never be more than an hour or so between a good selection of hotels. Note this road closure on the PCH:


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