Road Trip for Angelinos – California Hwy 1 to San Francisco & staying at Hotel Paradox and Parc 55 Wyndham.
Many Angelinos are intrigued by the idea of a vacation in San Francisco. Strolling down Market Street, walking the Golden Gate Bridge, eating in Chinatown are some of the things a tourist can appreciate. The summer time draws crowds and inflated hotel rates as the Bay Area’s weather plays a huge factor, but if you’re willing to take on the risk of traveling in the winter months the reward can be huge.
A road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco on California Highway (1) makes arriving at the final destination all the more rewarding. Why fly or take the (I-5) and miss one of the most beautiful coastlines on the planet? Just be sure to give yourself the extra couple of days to enjoy the drive and scenery and if you’re driving up in December, as I have chosen to do, bring a few coats and some gloves.
As you cruise past some of the more familiar parts of the drive for Southlanders — Malibu, Ventura and Santa Barbara — things really start to change once you pass through the tunnel at Gaviota. Coast Live Oaks laden with Spanish moss smother the lush, rolling hills broken up by grazing zones. This provides a spectacular view unique to this area. The Spanish moss that grows in California is actually not a true moss but a lichen – this differs from the Spanish moss in the southern states which is a bromeliad.
As the highway deviates away from the coast through Lompoc and Santa Maria, you quickly hit the beach community of Pismo Beach as Highway 1 merges back with the 101. Pismo Beach offers a nice stretch of beach break for surfers and a pier that illuminates the water in the evening for night surfing. There are dozens of hotels, restaurants and RV parks making this a great place to stop and relax.
Highway 1 splits off from the 101 in San Luis Obispo and guides you west to the seaside village of Morro Bay where you can see the iconic Morro Rock, also called the “Gibraltar of the Pacific.” Morro Rock is the last of a line of long-extinct volcanoes formed about 23 million years ago, which include nine peaks ranging from San Luis Obispo to Morro Bay. These peaks are aptly named the Nine Sisters because they are all in a row, and in close proximity. Morro Bay offers ocean-side golf, miles of unspoiled beaches and enticing restaurants and art galleries.
San Simeon, approximately 20 miles north of Morro Rock, is known for the Hearst Castle, but there is a must-see beachside lookout featuring dozens of elephant seals basking in the sun and flipping sand on themselves. The alpha bulls produce loud roaring noises, grow up to 14 feet long and weigh up to 5,400 lbs. Elephant seals have the ability to stay under water for more than 100 minutes and the average depth of their dives is 2,000 feet.
As you drive north of San Simeon the mystical sea cliffs build and the road transforms into a narrow, twisty highway offering periodic million dollar views of the Pacific. Be sure to pull over at Ragged Point (pictured below) to take photos from the viewpoints. It’s a great place to use the restroom and grab something to eat. There is also a mini-mart farther to the north at a pull off called Gorda where you can pick up cold drinks and snacks.
Willow Creek is a stone throw away from Gorda and is one of my favorite beaches along the central coast for its waves and beautiful creek that runs under a bridge and gracefully meanders into the ocean. Take the time to stop at Sand Dollar Beach for a stroll and the Bixby Bridge (pictured below) for photos.
Catching the sunset at Pfeiffer State Beach in Big Sur is one of the highlights of the entire road trip. The turnoff road for Pfeiffer State Beach has no sign so you need to be either a local or someone that asks a lot of questions on how to get there. To make it easier, just remember that it’s precisely two roads south of the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park campsite entrance off Highway (1) and watch out for exiting cars as you make your way down the 2 mile stretch to the beach. Spectacular offshore rock formations provide openings for the sun’s light to pass through in a magical haze as waves and sea mist warp the lighting. Dozens of photographers are positioned for the popular sunset shot and there’s a lot of jockeying around for the best angle. The area where the light passes through is sometimes called “The Portal” (pictured below) or “The Keyhole” in published articles covering this location’s marvel.
If you love the outdoors and can’t get enough of the Redwood forest experience then camp out for a night or two at Pfeifer Big Sur State Park. The Redwood canopy is so dense you can hardly see the stars at night and all the campsites come with their own water faucet for easy wash up. Additionally, the restrooms are super clean with plumbing which explains the pricey camping fee rates ranging from $35 to $50 per night – much more affordable than a hotel though.
Carmel and Monterey are both popular destinations for travelers with plenty of accommodations – hotels, restaurants, boutiques and art galleries. Both are great places to spend money and pamper yourself. The Monterey Bay Aquarium on Cannery Row always entertains visitors with an annual attendance of 1.8 million. The environment quickly changes as you head north to Moss Landing, a down to earth fishing community in the heart of Monterey Bay, nestled perfectly between Monterey and Santa Cruz.
The college surf town of Santa Cruz is somewhat like a combination of Venice Beach and Santa Monica, but with a much nicer coastline and a lighter pulse. Our stay in Santa Cruz was complimented nicely by Hotel Paradox (www.thehotelparadox.com, 611 Ocean Street Santa Cruz, CA 95060, 831-425-7100) – centrally located with ample parking and verdant surroundings . Hotel Paradox is a fine example of well executed modernist architecture and interior design — a rarity on the central California coast. The very unique registration desk is a dramatic counterpart to the modernism of the surroundings – it consists of only one piece of wood – a large and long section of eucalyptus tree trunk. It suits the place well, even though Santa Cruz is in redwood country, and is a definite conversation piece.
The staff at Hotel Paradox exuded the warmth of Santa Cruz and made every effort to ensure a comfortable and pleasant experience. I was really blown away by the immaculate pool and spa facility, a feature that can reveal a lot about how the rest of the facility is maintained. Every detail of the pool area was in perfect condition – crystal clear water, super clean tiles and deck, welcoming fire pit, plenty of deck heaters, pristine lounge chairs, illuminated wood pool enclosure, tree trunk side tables and pool lifts for the disabled. There is even an inside/outside bar and lounge area accessible from the pool deck that’s tied in nicely to the on-site restaurant, Solaire Restaurant Bar.
Solaire’s fresh farm-to-table American comfort food not only tantalizes hotel guests, but also attracts Santa Cruz locals excited about a new dining experience featuring local ingredients, wines and brews. Solaire offers in-room dining for hotel guests that includes breakfast, lunch or dinner options.
Hotel Paradox is also a hit for conference and meeting spaces, boasting the largest ballroom (4,400 square feet) in downtown Santa Cruz that includes catering, audio/visual equipment and Wi-Fi. Other services include airport shuttle transportation, business center, concierge, fitness center and 24-hour front desk assistance. Overall, the outstanding customer service coupled with the hotel’s “attention to every detail” makes Hotel Paradox Santa Cruz’ finest establishment worthy of return.
Find time to rent a bike and cruise West Cliff Drive just north of the pier all the way past Steamer Lane to Natural Bridges where you will witness world class surfing and beautiful panoramic views. There are also volunteers in blue vests that are there to answer any questions one may have about marine life or Santa Cruz in general. Be sure you have a couple of extra minutes to spare should you ask about Great White Shark attacks and sightings as the response is very informative with pictures.
The road between Santa Cruz and San Francisco, Cabrillo Highway, is another sweet part of the drive. It’s worth pulling over at Año Nuevo State Park to stretch out the legs, use the restroom and walk the nature trails to various viewpoints overlooking pristine coastline with tons of wildlife – including the largest grouping of elephant seals anyone will see in California. Farther up the coast is Half Moon Bay that is known in the surfing world for its big wave surf break, Mavericks, an attraction for the best big wave surfers in the world.
It’s quite a site from Cabrillo Highway as you enter the greater San Francisco area — the densely populated edge jumps out at you. There’s nothing else quite like San Francisco’s unique housing and neighborhoods, setting itself apart from the rest of the state. What a delight to be welcomed by the pounding surf of Ocean Beach, Golden Gate Park’s gardens and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge (pictured above).
Our stay in San Francisco was perfectly served by Parc 55 Wyndham (www.parc55hotel.com, 55 Cyril Magnin Street San Francisco, CA 94102, 415-392-8000); a boutique hotel near Union Square offering luxuriously renovated rooms with great views at reasonable rates for a hotel of this caliber and location. Our elevated room on the 30th floor had a spectacular view of San Francisco’s skyline and the bay-style windows helped us enjoy the breathtaking views. Parc 55 Wyndham’s convenient location to San Francisco’s vast amenities could not be better with BART and the cable cars literally right outside the hotel’s entrance.
The hotel features 1,015 rooms and 15 suites, more than 30,000 square feet of event space that’s ideal for weddings or business conferences, three on-site restaurants and a 24-hour health club. The hotel staff offers world class service as everyone extends a warm welcome whenever you pass by. I found the concierge desk extremely helpful and the valet service to be efficient and professional. We highly recommend staying here at the Wyndham as you will be very satisfied. The location is great, amenities are fantastic and overall beauty and decor are top notch.
Parc 55 Wyndham makes your visit to San Francisco a success. Step outside the hotel and ride the cable car to Chinatown for lunch or to Fisherman’s Wharf for a stroll. Walk the Golden Gate Bridge, visit Alcatraz, experience countercultural Haight Street, high-end Pacific Heights, the Mission District, North Beach and take a ferry to Sausalito. There is so much to do and see in this incredible city.
Photos by Daniel Dale