Central CA - Big Sur, Carmel, Cambria Advice

Old Apr 15th, 2022, 05:49 AM
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Central CA - Big Sur, Carmel, Cambria Advice

First time in Central CA. We are active, but 60 yo couple. Flying into San Jose. Have 6 nights to spend. We were thinking:
Day 1: Fly in 1 PM. Rent car and drive to Carmel/Monterey area. Shop for essentials. Stay at a HHI Express or the likes.
Day 2: Drive south down Hwy1 with lots of stops along the way. Spend the night in Cambria. HOTEL suggestions, please 300-400/night
Day 3: Here's the trip question...Continue down to Santa Barbara for the day and spend the night there OR drive back to Carmel/Monterrey? We have done a LA/Malibu trip before but read how special Santa Barbara is. Is it worth the day?
Day 4, 5, 6: Carmel/Monterrey
Thoughts on hotel choices...Monterey Plaza Hotel - inland room OR 7 Gables Inn??? They are about the same amount of money but seem to offer 2 completely different experiences. We see the drawback of the Plaza being in the "touristy" area...and the 7 Gables having small rooms and less amenities. Thoughts, please?

We thought we might rent Bikes and ride the 17 mile loop at PB.
Spend some time strolling Carmel.
Point Lobos State Park
Aquarium

Is there enough to do in Carmel/Monterrey for 3 or 4 days? Is Santa Barbara beautiful but not much to do? Is there another side trip that might be better?
Just having a tough time sorting through the options.
TIA!
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Old Apr 15th, 2022, 06:44 AM
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There's plenty to do in the Monterey-Carmel area: Cannery Row, Monterey Bay Whale Watch Tour, 1855 Point Pinos Lighthouse, 1794 San Carlos Cathedral, and wander around under the redwood trees in Garrapata State Park 20 minutes south on Hwy 1. Nearby Pacific Grove has classic Main Street and a lighthouse. If you are going down to Cambria you should go to Hearst Castle and see all of the lovely artwork and fantastic views of the ocean.

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Old Apr 15th, 2022, 06:56 AM
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Santa Barbara is OK - but not nearly as nice as Carmel/Monterey/Pacific Grove. Much more stuff to do & see in the latter area. Actually, I found Paso Robles to be more interesting than Santa Barbara.

No mention of Big Sur & Nepenthe.? I would stay there for 2 nights and visit all the Pfeiffer places (3 of them). Dine at Nepenthe - A+ for views and ambience & C+ for food. Get the Ambrosia Burger to play it safe. We stay at the Big Sur Lodge.

Cannery Row and the Monterey Wharf are quite tacky, IMO. Especially for someone in their 60s.

Actually, I'm not a big fan of Monterey - compared to Carmel, PG, and Spanish Bay. I would stay in Carmel or PG. We stay at the Coachman's Inn or the Tally Ho in Carmel.

Stu Dudley

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Old Apr 15th, 2022, 07:00 AM
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You did not mention Hearst Castle, for which I would recommend reservations:

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Old Apr 15th, 2022, 07:17 AM
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If you want to see Santa Barbara, maybe consider flying into SB, stay one night, the head up the coast with one night in Cambria or Morro Bay, then on up through Big Sur, to Carmel/Monterey for the rest . . . PLENTY to fill your time on the Monterey Peninsula. Then fly home from San Jose or SFO.

Originally Posted by Michael View Post
You did not mention Hearst Castle, for which I would recommend reservations
Depends when the trip is -- currently Hearst Castle is still closed. Scheduled to re-open in mid-May.
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Old Apr 15th, 2022, 08:02 AM
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Sigh of relief...glad to hear there is plenty to do in the Monterey - Carmel area! Hearst Castle doesn't open until May 11 and we will be gone by then.
Thanks for the great ideas!
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Old Apr 15th, 2022, 08:10 AM
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but read how special Santa Barbara is. Is it worth the day
Unless you take up JanisJ's suggestion of flying in or out of Santa Barbara, I would skip SB if it means backtracking all the way to San Jose. It's nice but more of a weekend destination for LA than a global caliber must-see. If you do decide to visit you can fill an afternoon in Santa Barbara with the Mission and the Courthouse which are both worth seeing.

You will get better use of your time if you fly into Monterey and home from Santa Barbara, even if it means connecting flights both ways.

I have stayed at the HI Express in Marina CA and it is poorly located for Monterey/Carmel sites. Although it isn't that far, the rush hour traffic is bad. Marina and Seaside are a lot cheaper to stay in of course but on the drab end of things since you could be anywhere in the US.

Edit: I see you just posted that you are skipping going far south.
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Old Apr 15th, 2022, 08:11 AM
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StuDudley...Thank you for the confirmation to skip Santa Barbara. I looked at Tally Ho and Coachman's Inn and they are booked. But Big Sur Lodge has availability! Thank you!
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Old Apr 15th, 2022, 08:14 AM
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Thank you tom_mn for your thoughts. Definitely decided to skip Santa Barbara. Was only going to stay at HHI ish for one quick night. But I appreciate your thoughts on the traffic!
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Old Apr 15th, 2022, 08:46 AM
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It IS hard to sort through the options... but you're looking at covering a large area in not much time AND contemplating driving the coast road twice. FYI, if the trip is in May or June, you may encounter too much fog to see the coastal views.

Personally, I think there is a lot to see/do in the Santa Barbara area, but I don't think you'd get much out of a visit of less than a day. If you haven't noticed, Hwy. 1 between about Morro Bay and Gaviota west of SB is almost entirely away from the coast... if coastal views are a priority.

Check for flight options from San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Airports (even if you don't visit SB). Both are closer than SJ Airport. If you must return to the SJ Airport, I might drive the faster way back (Hwy. 101), esp. if it's foggy on the coast. But that's me, and I've driven Hwy. 1 many times... If it was my trip, I'd spend the time in Carmel/Monterey at the beginning, stay in Cambria a couple of nights, see Hearst Castle if open, visit some wineries in Paso Robles if you're into that sort of thing, and then drive back to San Jose.
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Old Apr 15th, 2022, 08:50 AM
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Everyone was busy typing while I collected my thoughts... I still recommend putting the Carmel/Monterey time at the beginning. You may decide to skip the overnight in Cambria and just spend a day driving the coast road south and then back to Monterey/Carmel.
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Old Apr 15th, 2022, 09:22 AM
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Originally Posted by AndyCarl View Post
StuDudley...Thank you for the confirmation to skip Santa Barbara. I looked at Tally Ho and Coachman's Inn and they are booked. But Big Sur Lodge has availability! Thank you!
I sure hope you aren't thinking of Big Sur Lodge as a base for your stay! It would be a fine one-night stop - but driving back and forth daily along Hwy 1 would be a real chore. It is nearly an hour to Carmel and a few minutes farther to Monterey.

Stay the majority of your time in Monterey or Carmel or Pacific Grove.
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Old Apr 15th, 2022, 11:25 AM
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It never entered my mind that someone might stay in Big Sur to visit the Monterey Peninsula. Thanks for clearing that up for the OP, janisj.

We have reservations for the Big Sur Lodge for my birthday in June. Last year we celebrated our 50th anniversary with 10 nights in Carmel, 2 nights at the Big Sur Lodge, and 2 nights in Santa Cruz. I have visited Carmel/Monterey about every other year since I was born (in San Francisco).

In the Carmel/Monterey area, our best meal last year was at Passionfish in PG, followed by Fandango in PG, then Casanova in Carmel (we may have dined at the latter on our honeymoon). In Big Sur we have/will dine 4 nights at Nepenthe last year and this June.

Stu Dudley
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Old Apr 15th, 2022, 04:07 PM
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Hi Jean...I am liking your idea of placing Carmel first. We are leaning toward stay at the Seven Gables Inn in Pacific Grove. If we were to drive down Hwy1 in one day and return before dark...how far down would you suggest we go to get the most bang for our time...before we would turn back North? I also like the idea of taking the 101 back North. TIA

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Old Apr 15th, 2022, 04:13 PM
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Also, does May fog make Hwy 1 a dealbreaker? Truly not able to see the coast? I was thinking (hoping) it would burn off in the morning. Starting to second guess this trip . Land locked Mid Westerners who haven't traveled since the start of the pandemic.
I really appreciate all your help,
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Old Apr 15th, 2022, 05:02 PM
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The very best months on the coast are Sept/early Oct . . . second best is April/May so it is a great time to visit, fog shouldn't really be an issue at all -- that's mainly a June/summer problem.
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Old Apr 15th, 2022, 06:10 PM
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Originally Posted by AndyCarl View Post
Hi Jean...I am liking your idea of placing Carmel first. We are leaning toward stay at the Seven Gables Inn in Pacific Grove. If we were to drive down Hwy1 in one day and return before dark...how far down would you suggest we go to get the most bang for our time...before we would turn back North? I also like the idea of taking the 101 back North. TIA
If you're thinking of driving down the coast road for a day, I would probably turn around at the Elephant Seal Rookery at Piedras Blancas. That's about 85 miles (2.5 hours) one way,. Sunset will be at 8:00 p.m. There's a nice restaurant at Ragged Point Inn. The Gorda Springs Resort in Gorda also has a restaurant with a view, but we haven't stopped there.
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Old Apr 15th, 2022, 09:41 PM
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Originally Posted by AndyCarl View Post
Hi Jean...I am liking your idea of placing Carmel first. We are leaning toward stay at the Seven Gables Inn in Pacific Grove. If we were to drive down Hwy1 in one day and return before dark...how far down would you suggest we go to get the most bang for our time...before we would turn back North? I also like the idea of taking the 101 back North. TIA

I really do not understand your plan. You have 6 nights. Are you staying in Carmel/PG all 6 nights??? I've visited the Carmel/Big Sur area perhaps 35-40 times in my 75 years. The biggest "bang" is Carmel/PG/Monterey, Big Sur, and perhaps 2 hrs south of Big Sur. That's it, IMO!! Carmel/PG for 4 nights, Big Sur 2 nights would be perfect!!

Stu Dudley

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Old Apr 16th, 2022, 08:11 AM
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One more question, if you can bare with me... Our weekend will be Mother's Day weekend.
Opinions please...are we better off doing Big Sur during the week? Will Hwy 1 crowds be substantially larger on the weekend? Especially because of Mother's Day?
It is the ordering of the days of the trip that is confusing to us! We can extend a day before or after...but still are confused on how to order.
Thanks for your patience!
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Old Apr 16th, 2022, 09:00 AM
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Mother's Day isn't a holiday and folks don't tend to travel much more than other weekends, especially road trips . . . But many restaurants will be a lot busier than usual. No matter which order you do things -- most everyplace will have at least a 2 night minimum over weekends.

I personally would prefer Big Sur on weekdays rather than any weekend, simply because more availability. But since you are talking this May, you might want to decide quickly, things are likely booking up fast.

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