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Pacific Coast Highway's big and diverse. 


My daughter graduated high school and requested a trip down the Pacific Coast Highway. The trip took about 7 months to plan and I did a lot of research because there is so much to see in the state. 

Some notes:

  • The trip started in San Francisco, so the ocean could be on our right (the closer side) when we drove to Los Angeles. 

  • There were no direct flights from Jacksonville to San Francisco, so we left from Orlando. We drove to Orlando the night before and stayed at the Hyatt Regency in the Orlando airport so we could be on time for our 8:15 am flight. 

  • Conversely, we flew into Orlando from LAX but arrived in the afternoon, so we drove directly home. 

  • We rented a mini-van for the trip since it was 4 of us with luggage.

  • The trip was from June 15-24, 2023.


Day One - San Francisco


We boarded our 8:15 am United Flight and kicked back for 5.5 hours. We arrived on time in San Francisco. The airport was easy to navigate and we boarded the AirTran Blue line to the car rental center. Despite being Gold Members at Hertz, our name was not on the Gold Member board and it was a hassle to get the car because they needed a mini-van ready. After about 40 minutes (and me not losing my cool), we were on our way to the hotel in the mini-van we requested. 


But first, a stop at In and Out Burger. I was not expecting much, but we were all pleasantly surprised. The fries sucked, but the burgers were good. 


We checked into The Lodge at the Presidio, dropped off the luggage, and explored. The first stop was Alamo Park and the Painted Ladies. Wow, those hills are steep! We also found the house used for the exterior in Fuller House (it was not one of the Painted Ladies). We visited the Disney Family Museum that was next to The Lodge. It was filled with Walt Disney history! Then it was walking around the Tunnel Tops at the Presidio and off to dinner at Sessions. We also discovered LucasFilms on the Presidio grounds and my daughter briefly contemplated moving to SF to work at LucasFilms. The Presidio is an old military post that has been converted into a recreational area. It is beautiful! The views of the Golden Gate Bridge are spectacular and it's a nice reprieve to be away from the hustle and bustle of downtown. We were off to bed early since 9 pm PST was mid-night back home.


Day Two - San Francisco

We were up super early for our 8 am, 8-hour tour! We booked Dylan's Tours with the Muir Woods and Alcatraz options. The tour was a little pricey, but when we drove to each site and paid for parking and admissions, the tour was a little less. I also love doing tours because you get bits and pieces of local history. Bonus, our tour guide went to high school with Tom Brady (and he had the yearbook to prove it). 


Some sites were seen: Golden Gate Bridge, Muir Woods, Palace of the Fine Arts, Sausalito, North Beach (Little Italy), Chinatown and Alcatraz

Dinner was at Boudin Bistro, home to the famous sourdough bread. 

We capped off the night with a quick trolley ride up the Powell-Hyde line. The sun was going down and freezing, so we rode 2 stops and walked back down the hill, which proved very challenging. 

I was pleasantly surprised by San Francisco. I heard mixed reviews but thought the city was beautiful and much cleaner than expected. The biggest takeaway is that most city residents do not have earthquake insurance, so their million-dollar homes are not insured if the big one comes. 


Day Three - Monterey


We left the hotel early for the 2.5-hour ride to Monterey. Luckily, the PCH was open and we witnessed the iconic cliffs. We stopped at Granola's Coffee for breakfast and took pictures at Half Moon Bay beach. The beach, including the sand, is so much different than the flat beaches of Florida. 

We arrived in Monterey and checked into the Marriott Monterey. We are loyal Marriott customers, and the hotel got great reviews, but the room layout was one of the worst I've seen. I was grumpy, but as my kids reminded me, I could do nothing about the layout - all double bedrooms were the same. 


We set out to explore Old Fisherman's Wharf and check in for the Monterey Bay Whale Watch tour. We had time to eat, so we grabbed a quick lunch at Old Fisherman's Grotto and prayed we kept the lunch down on the boat. The whale watching was awesome. The mamas and babies were diving and feeding, which was something to see. No breaching and no killer whales, but lots of humpback whales feeding. The kids felt 3 hours was too long and got bored. We then headed to Cannery Row for dinner at the Whaling Station Steakhouse. We were not impressed with Cannery Row or the dinner. Monterey is different from the cute little beach time I was expecting. It was very commercialized, crowded, dirty and covered in bird poop.


Day Four - Pismo Beach


We couldn't wait to leave Monterey and head down to Pismo Beach. The PCH was closed between Monterey and San Simeon, so we took Interior 101 and drove through the Salinas Valley. It was absolutely stunning! The farms and vineyards went on for miles and miles. We found Driscoll strawberry farm and Andy Boy lettuce.

We stopped in the charming town of Cambria and had a delicious breakfast of muffins and coffee at Cambria Coffee Roasting Company. Then we visited Moonstone Beach and took in the stunning scenery. Next up was Elephant Seal Vista Point at Hearst-San Simeon State Park. We could have spent hours here watching the seals. Next up was a tour of the grand ballrooms at Hearst Castle. The property took publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst 28 years to build and sits on 80,000 acres. There is an active grass-fed cattle ranch on the property and their top buyer is Whole Foods. 

Lunch was at The Cow Tipper at Oceanpoint Ranch, where the trip's greatest discovery was made - the tri-tip steak sandwich. The cut is flavorful and lean and delicious. 

We stopped at Morro Rock on the way to the hotel.  The rock is a volcanic plug in the chain of Nine Sisters rocks that run from San Luis Obispo to Morro Bay. We then headed to our hotel, Vespera, at Pismo Beach. The hotel was next to the Pismo Beach pier, so we did some people-watching and walked the boardwalk. We sat by the firepits and relaxed until we were frozen and went inside. The weather was a chilly 55 degrees. The hotel had laundry, so we spent a fun-filled night doing laundry and watching tv.