Taking a road trip around the US is a highly recommended way to explore this massive country. It may be a more time-consuming affair but I believe it’s the way to go for travelers who want to see what the American heartlands are like. Road travel in America is convenient, (mostly) safe, and fun. From my experience, there’s always something interesting to see at every exit (trust me, there’s always a sign that advertises the nearest tourist trap).
Back when I was still a student in San Francisco, we rented a car one weekend and drove all around Central California without any itinerary or idea of what we could see. It actually turned out more fun that way, as it was easy to get around and the journey itself was very pleasant. Our route was as follows – We started in San Francisco in the morning, then drove to Daly City to pick up lunch, then drove south via Highway 1 but not before stopping by Santa Cruz’s beach and its historic boardwalk. We drove further down and upon reaching Pebble Beach near Monterey, we took the 17-mile scenic drive which included the lone cypress, and a brief stop at the affluent town of Carmel. We spent the night at this drive-in hotel in Pacific Grove – a town bordering Monterey. The following morning, we explored Monterey’s downtown, with a stop at their aquarium and Cannery Row. Then, it was a 2 hour drive via Highway 101 to Gilroy and its humongous outlet store complex. We drove further north and spent the night back in San Francisco (though we planned to use the car for one more day). Woke up early the next day and drove up past the Golden Gate Bridge to the densely forested Muir Woods. We then made our way up north to Petaluma and had an early dinner there. Drove back to San Francisco afterwards, and took the scenic route via Lombard “zigzag” street and Twin Peaks before returning our car back to the rental company. Our route map is shown below:
Just a tip for those who are planning to rent cars for such trips, it’s very easy to negotiate with rental companies. Discount coupons are usually easy to find in the internet (just make sure they’re not expired) by entering “name-of-company coupons.” In our booking, we managed to get a discount for our 3-day rental plus a car upgrade which wasn’t a bad deal at all.
Some pictures of the trip.
It was low season during our visit so there weren’t many people at the beach. Many of the attractions at the boardwalk were likewise closed.
There is a small charge (per car) to enter the 17-mile scenic drive, but it’s worth it! There are more than a dozen points of interest within that stretch.
The lone cypress is the main attraction in the 17-mile scenic drive, and is a staple in postcards and brochures featuring Monterey and surrounds.
Many of California’s historic theaters were built with a Spanish-influenced baroque facade (San Francisco’s Castro Theater is another example), and this one in Monterey is no exception.
Many of the trees in the conservation area are several hundreds or more than a thousand years old. The area is so densely forested that light only penetrates in narrow beams such as this one.