Pacific Coast Highway 1: San Diego to San Francisco

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Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

My wife and I met in San Diego back in 2007 and although we lived there for 4 years, we never drove the California coast before we moved home to New York. Friends, family - basically everyone we've ever spoken to - has told us to do the drive.  After nearly 3 years back in New York, we headed back to check the item off our bucket list.

Our flight was scheduled to leave Newark Airport at 7pm. For those that live in Manhattan, this is pretty valuable information, so listen up. A cab to Newark Airport is roughly $70. Accounting for rush hour traffic, you'd need to leave around 4pm. As a much more efficient and cheaper alternative, take NJ Transit - it cost $12.50 per person and took 1 hour, door to door. You'll have to transfer once but it's well worth it.

We arrived in San Diego around 10pm and after a small wait for the airport shuttle, we were off to pick up our rental car. At the time of booking, FOX Rental car wanted an additional $1,000 for a convertible for 5 days.

As much as we wanted one, I decided a convertible in January wasn't worth that kind of money. But as luck would have it, the lady at the ticket counter was having a good day (she was adopting a baby girl) and decided to offer us a convertible for $10/day - HELL YES. This turned out to be a blessing b/c if you're going to make this trip, GET A CONVERTIBLE, it's well worth it (even in January).

Our first two days we spent in San Diego visiting friends, reminiscing about the past, and eating the foods we crave daily yet can't get anywhere but in southern california.

Pacific Beach was home to us for 2 and a half years - it's very easy to see why so many people migrate to San Diego.

Sometimes to get the shot you  need to get into some strange places - can you spot me?

But the resulting shot is well worth it.

Riding beach cruisers along the boardwalk was probably our favorite thing to do - a MUST HAVE if you haven't done it!

Our ride for the trip. Again, it's well worth the money for a convertible. Even in the colder months, the weather was around 65 and sunny. To counter the wind, we blasted our feet with heat.

Chronic Smoothies - yum.

After PB, we headed north.

Homage to Thelma & Louise.

First stop, La Jolla. I used to surf Windnsea a bunch. It's a local break that gets pretty aggressive, but if you can handle it, it's one of the better breaks in San Diego.

The local judges.

My favorite meal in San Diego is by far the Acai Bowl at Swami's Cafe in Encinitas. Before you leave, this is a MUST.

Goodbye San Diego. Next Stop, Santa Barbara.

We spent the night in San Luis Obispo. Here's another tip for all you budget travelers - use Priceline to book your hotels. By not booking in advance, we saved as much as 60% on hotel accommodations. Here's what you do - around 5pm, load up the Priceline app on your iPhone. Select the location you'd like to stay in and then hit "NAME YOUR OWN PRICE." Priceline will tell you what the lowest price was paid within a few hours. That's a good starting point. Most of the time, that price is still higher than what you'll end up paying. Reason is, at 5pm, most hotels figure they've sold the rooms they're going to sell for the day - now it's time to start discounting rooms to get whatever they can. They'd rather have someone in there than have it sit empty. I usually go for the highest star hotel they offer and then offer around $50 less than the last price paid. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. The thing to note about priceline is, once you submit your bid, you're locked in and you HAVE to stay there (if the hotel accepts your offer). Anyway, we saved a good amount of money when doing this.

The hotel front desk person saw I was carrying cameras and we started chatting. He told me about a local spot that most tourists don't know about. He gave me general directions and then it was on us to find it. We took this windy road about 20 miles to a parking spot in the middle of nowhere. Since it was raining slightly, no one was around - just Jackie and I. We hiked through this small trail about 15 minutes and when we arrived on the other side it was an awesome sight. Cliffs, ocean, animals.

After taking in the breathtaking scenery, we were back on the road to our next destination: Morrow Bay. The town was quaint with not much to do. We decided to grab a bite to eat at the Coastal Cafe - and my GOD was it good. Jackie got some lobster bisque in a bread bowl (which you can see she enjoyed very much), while I went for some spicy veggie sandwich (to die for) - I wish I remembered the name of the sandwich, oh well.

The next part of the trip was probably our favorite. It was filled with those picturesque views of the California cliffs meeting the Pacific Ocean. This is really where the convertible came in handy. The wind in our hair, the sun on our faces, and the beautiful California coast...doesn't get much better than that.

We stopped again, this time to grab a drink and some appetizers at Orsen Wells' old home (that's now a restaurant). Amazing views again.

These cows have the life.

Our next stopover was Monterey where we had dinner and then went to the Aquarium the next day.

Our final stop in our journey was San Francisco. Since we spent most of the previous day stopping and taking photos, we packed the cameras away and just enjoyed the ride. Our goal was to make it to SF by sunset so we could see the Golden Gate bridge under the setting sun.

That night we went to dinner at Gary Danko's - apparently THE best restaurant in San Francisco. We're not big on 'hype' but we figured 'when in Rome' and booked a table. Almost $300 later, we rolled out of there with our bellies full and our ego's stroked. Gary Danko's lives up to every expectation. The service is bar none and the food was fantastic.

Our next and final day in California was spent exploring the Red Wood trees in the Miur Woods National Park. Really hard to take bad photos in this natural beauty.

Overall this was one of our favorite trips we've ever taken. Anyone looking for a relatively cheap vacation in our own country, this should be your next one!