Road Trip: US-1 from San Francisco to San Diego

This post is part of  our 26-day road trip from Wisconsin to California.

After exploring five national parks ( see our previous posts on Rocky Mountains, Arches, Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Yosemite), we were ready for beaches. How could we not take the classic US-1 from San Francisco to San Diego! Although the coastline is about 550 miles, it took us about 9 days. We stopped wherever we felt with no strings attached. It was certainly a fantastic drive!

Stop 1: San Francisco

Yosemite to San Francisco is about a four hour drive.  Lots of curvy roads leaving the mountains, then farmland until you get to the suburbs.  My cell phone couldn’t pick up any signal until the suburbs, while we even had a signal in desert areas in Nevada, Utah, and Arizona.

My view on American cities in general, is that, to explore a specific city, you need to stay there at least a week to really see and enjoy it, otherwise, you end up just doing tourist things that are not as appealing ( my opinion only though ). Since neither Ben nor I had much interest in city life, we decided to just stay downtown for a night, visit friends, wander around, and then head to the beach. In general, San Francisco looked much older than what I remembered, but is certainly a very unique city: roads are still hilly, trolleys are still cute, Fisherman’s Wharf is still dirty, Golden Gate bridge is still crowded all the time, and the city is still foggy.



Golden Gate Bridge: before the fog


Within 20 minutes, Golden Gate Bridge almost disappeared


China Beach


I love submarines


Of course, you know the view


It was quite interesting to see how the driver operated the trolley

It looked much more hilly in reality than in the picture.

It looked much more hilly in reality than in the picture. We spent a great night with friends.

Stop 2: Santa Cruz


We left San Francisco in the afternoon and headed for Santa Cruz.  It was so foggy the whole way that we barely even saw the ocean on the right side. Santa Cruz is where surfing was originally introduced. When we walked on the beach boardwalk in the late afternoon, surfers were enjoying their rides. Otherwise, the whole beach area was pretty much dead: restaurants and shops were empty, no kids playing at the roller coasters, but it was perfect for us to walk.

The next morning when we had breakfast at the hotel, for a moment, I thought we were in China since Ben was the only non-Chinese in the whole dining room.



Beach Board Walk at Santa Cruz


Enjoy the sunset


The moon looked seriously big over the ocean


Sea lions love to play by the dock


Stop 3: Monterey, Carmel and Big Sur


We are both big fans of the underwater world, so we decided to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I loved all the types of jelly fish and octopi they have there.  I have never seen a lot of these in other aquariums.  This reminded us once again that we should get back to scuba diving soon!

From Monterey Bay to Carmel, we took the 17-Mile drive ( this is the name of the drive) , a $10 toll road, supposed to be a “wonderful” ride.  It basically runs through mega private mansions and a bunch of golf courses, right by the ocean. Every single mansion has a sign like ” Private Property. Do not park any time”, and surrounded by tall fence.  So the ocean-side is basically owned by super rich people and you have to pay to drive by. When you are allowed to park at some public area in between, ugly metal fences were put right by the cliffs!  I only wish we knew ahead what the 17-mile was really about.

Carmel though is a wonderful town.  The beach is incredibly beautiful with the soft white sand.  I just wished the weather was warm enough to swim!  Through Carmel, to Big Sur and beyond, the coastline is amazingly beautiful. Maybe next time we will rent a convertible, :).



Jelly fish at Monterey Bay Aquarium


Big red octopus


Two loving penguins


Carmel River State Beach. The sand is incredibly clean and soft.



US-1 Coastline


Stop 4: San Simeon: Elephant Seals and

Hearst Castle


San Simeon is just a tiny town, but is in the perfect location between the elephant seals vista point and Hearst Castle. At the vista point, I could not believe there were indeed hundreds of elephant seals lying around the beach, about 10 feet away from us!



Elephant Seals in the ocean. They kept kissing each other.


Isn’t she cute?


Elephant seals vista point

Hearst Castle, hmmm, how should I describe it? If you google it, you will learn much more about it.  “It is a must-see to end all must sees, an eye-popping extravaganza with a 165-room castle, 127 acres/51 hectares of terraced gardens, fountains, and pools”. It is definitely impressive, however,  I am just puzzled why people could be so obsessive on designing a house. Wouldn’t it be more meaningful and satisfying to help poor people instead of spending money like this? Though thanks to Mr. Hearst, we got to see some Africa zebras running on the field.


Hearst Castle


Overlook from the Castle


Indoor swimming pool


Game room


Grand room

Stop 5:Huntington Beach


After Hearst Castle, we decided that we were done with touristy things.  No wine tasting, and definitely no Los Angeles. Ben’s goal for the trip was to go surfing at least once. So we decided to hang out at Huntington beach for two nights, the capital of surfing.   Ben did surf, but unfortunately didn’t surf at the right time and had to struggle with a strong wind and big irregular waves.  He was very proud that he was able to get up a bunch of times, though did end up with  a few bruises and scrapes.  Definitely a good workout!  We watched the real surfers from the pier the next day, they made it look so easy.


Old Mission Santa Barbara


Surfers by the pier on Huntington Beach


Ben’s struggle with the wave

hbeach-1 hbeach-4 hbeach-5

Stop 6: San Diego


Our final stop in California was San Diego. Everything we heard about San Diego before was positive.  And everything we saw indeed was great!  Ben’s friend was a great host and we spent wonderful time together.  After maybe twenty year’s waiting, Ben finally got to eat at  Shakey’s Pizza, an old childhood pizza place that he used to go to as a kid that went out of business in the midwest long ago.



Hello, Panda



Midway Museum




Under our friend’s influence, we become big fan of Yogurtland

Our original plan was to stay for about a week, to truly experience the city and relax. Unfortunately, Ben hit his fatigue point that even laying down on the beach couldn’t fix.  So, we definitely will have to visit San Diego again in the future.


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5 thoughts on “Road Trip: US-1 from San Francisco to San Diego

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