SF/Santa Cruz/Monterey over Memorial Day Weekend

Mikelly1221

DIS Veteran
Joined
May 11, 2000
Hi! We're taking a trip to CA this coming May to celebrate our daughter's high school graduation. We're flying into SFO on Saturday 5/23 and hitting quick highlights of SF, including a night Alcatraz tour.

Tentatively, on Sunday 5/24, we plan to head south to Santa Cruz (boardwalk), ending up in Monterey or Salinas that night. (Salinas doesn't seem that out of the way and the hotels are a bit less expensive.)

On Monday 5/25, we plan to explore Monterey. We will leave in the mid-late afternoon for the 5 hour trip to Morrow Bay.

Considering that this is Memorial Day weekend, how bad of an idea is this rough itinerary? Any advice???? Yes, this is a whirlwind trip, so we're really just skimming the surface. What are the must-dos vs. the save-til-next-time? Thank you! :)

Edited to add: While seeing some of the picturesque coastline would be great, we're more interested in efficient travel. If we have to give up some scenic drives (not all though) for efficiency, that's fine.
 
Last edited:

Miss SD

DIS Veteran
Joined
Aug 25, 2008
I assume that you’re driving down Hwy 1 from Monterey to Morro Bay because it shouldn’t take five hours to get there via 101. If you’re set on 1, I suggest leaving earlier to have lunch at Nepenthe. We drive from SF to SD frequently, but haven’t had time to stop there in a while. I miss the ambrosia burger! Ventana is also a lovely place for a meal. Whatever you decide, don’t leave too late in the afternoon; driving down 1 is no fun in the dark.
 


Mikelly1221

DIS Veteran
Joined
May 11, 2000
I was thinking 101 for efficiency sake; I thought Google Maps had said 5 hours, but I could have been mistaken. How long approx. will it take on 101?

Thank you for the lunch suggestions! :)
 
  • bcla

    On our rugged Eastern foothills.....
    Joined
    Nov 28, 2012
    I was thinking 101 for efficiency sake; I thought Google Maps had said 5 hours, but I could have been mistaken. How long approx. will it take on 101?

    Thank you for the lunch suggestions! :)
    Monterey to Morro Bay should be about 3 hours via CA-1. US-101 is about 2.5 hours. This is assuming clear traffic. CA-1 is a little bit shorter but obviously not a freeway. Having driven on US-101 from San Jose all the way down to Santa Barbara, it is a boring as heck drive until one reaches Pismo Beach. It's just grasslands and scrub brush. The only thing that might be interesting is Pinnacles National Park, but that would take time.

    Since you mentioned Salinas, I've been there a few times. I stayed at motel there because Monterey was very expensive (and many hotels were fully booked). It's really just the largest town in a farming community. The interesting site there would be the National Steinbeck Center and perhaps the Steinbeck House. Once I took Amtrak there as a day trip and hung around downtown until my return train. Nothing else is all that interesting for tourists.
     

    SandyinMonterey

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Feb 1, 2013
    I lived in Monterey for 16 years. It's beautiful there. So much to do and see. Many go to Cannery Row, that's where the Monterey Bay Aquarium is at. When people visit Monterey, they hit the surrounding areas as well. Pacific Grove (PG), Carmel by the Sea, Big Sur. Not much to do in PG, mostly known for their Victorian homes. Carmel by the Sea is a cute town with some very high end shops and GREAT places to eat. If you decide to head into Big Sur, that's a bit of a drive. Carmel Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen. Very popular destination. Yes, hotels are less expensive in Salinas but be careful. Salinas is broken down into different areas. The safest area and the only area I would stay in is the 93908 area/ highway 68 corridor. Another hotel option is Seaside, just outside Monterey. Embassy Suites by Hilton Monterey Bay Seaside is a very popular place to stay. Very quick and easy drive into Monterey. We stayed there when we were moving out of California. Had to leave home but still had paperwork to do. If you have any questions and think I can help. Don't hesitate.
     

    bcla

    On our rugged Eastern foothills.....
    Joined
    Nov 28, 2012
    Yes, hotels are less expensive in Salinas but be careful. Salinas is broken down into different areas. The safest area and the only area I would stay in is the 93908 area/ highway 68 corridor.
    I stayed at a motel in Salinas once because the options in Monterey were just too expensive. It frankly wasn't too bad because it was in an isolated area with just businesses. However, there was a security guard at all times monitoring the parking lot.
     

    Mikelly1221

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    May 11, 2000
    We're staying on Kent St., just off 101, exit 328. Would this be a good/safe location or should we find something else? We're really just in Salinas to sleep and then leave.

    Thank you for the suggestions to do in the Monterey area! :)
     
  • Sun_soakin

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Apr 7, 2016
    I agree with the Seaside suggestion, I’d definitely stay there over Salinas. That said, there are a lot of really basic hotels in Monterey that are cheap. If you are going to Santa Cruz and then to Monterey, then Salinas is definitely out of the way.
     

    sndral

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Feb 3, 2008
    We're staying on Kent St., just off 101, exit 328. Would this be a good/safe location or should we find something else? We're really just in Salinas to sleep and then leave.

    Thank you for the suggestions to do in the Monterey area! :)
    Not sure why anyone would stay in Salinas if they are coming from Santa Cruz to visit Monterey since to get from Santa Cruz to Monterey you just head south on Hwy.1 and the detour to drive over to Salinas and back to Monterey is a waste of time. I suppose if your plan was to leave in the morning from Salinas and head south via 101 w/out visiting Monterey it might make sense, but since your plan is to spend the evening and the following day in Monterey you’ll waste a lot of your time on your whirlwind trip going back and forth. No offense to anyone in Salinas, but there really isn’t much there and as mentioned there are some really seedy areas.
    There are some quant but charming, reasonably priced places to stay in Pacific Grove - have you tried looking there?
    What are your interests? Shopping? Carmel by the sea is a fun visit. Nature/wildlife, then a whale watch boat, the aquarium, Pt. Lobos are good choices. Wine tasting, then Carmel Valley is worth a visit.
     

    Sun_soakin

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Apr 7, 2016
    We're staying on Kent St., just off 101, exit 328. Would this be a good/safe location or should we find something else? We're really just in Salinas to sleep and then leave.

    Thank you for the suggestions to do in the Monterey area! :)
    I don’t feel like there are really any good/safe places to stay in Salinas. I wouldn’t recommend staying there and it’s completely out of the way.
     

    tink89

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Nov 13, 2017
    We live in the bay area about 1 hr from Santa Cruz. I would say to not get a hotel in Salinas. We travel to San Luis Obispo occasionally and only stop in Salinas to get a Starbucks drink. It is not a city to sight see or stay. I would either get a hotel in SC or Capitola or just get one in Monterrey.
     
  • bcla

    On our rugged Eastern foothills.....
    Joined
    Nov 28, 2012
    We live in the bay area about 1 hr from Santa Cruz. I would say to not get a hotel in Salinas. We travel to San Luis Obispo occasionally and only stop in Salinas to get a Starbucks drink. It is not a city to sight see or stay. I would either get a hotel in SC or Capitola or just get one in Monterrey.
    Depends on how busy Monterey is. I remember once I was looking to go take my family to the Monterey Bay Aquarium after a company outing at Gilroy Gardens. We ended up staying in Gilroy because the hotels around Monterey (and even Salinas) were either fully booked or going for $300 a night for something as basic as a Super 8 motel. It was Monterey Car Week. Also - you should see what it's like around any major golf tournament at Pebble Beach.
     

    tink89

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Nov 13, 2017
    Depends on how busy Monterey is. I remember once I was looking to go take my family to the Monterey Bay Aquarium after a company outing at Gilroy Gardens. We ended up staying in Gilroy because the hotels around Monterey (and even Salinas) were either fully booked or going for $300 a night for something as basic as a Super 8 motel. It was Monterey Car Week. Also - you should see what it's like around any major golf tournament at Pebble Beach.
    Yes I agree. Monterrey hotels are always on the pricey side. But i would still avoid a stay in Salinas. Gilroy would be fine but its a bit out of the way.
     

    bcla

    On our rugged Eastern foothills.....
    Joined
    Nov 28, 2012
    Yes I agree. Monterrey hotels are always on the pricey side. But i would still avoid a stay in Salinas. Gilroy would be fine but its a bit out of the way.
    We were in a situation where I wasn't sure what other options we had other than paying $300 for a motel room in Monterey. All the lodging in Seaside and Marina were fully booked. Some of the hotels in Monterey had rooms for more than that hotel. I get it. This was a very popular weekend. On the way to the aquarium we saw lots of tents set up with auto displays. And it still doesn't stop families from coming on vacation.

    I guess we could have just gone home to the East Bay and driven back in the morning. We've gone to Monterey as a day trip before.

    The least crowded I've seen Cannery Row was when I visited around the time of a major golf tournament. All the hotels are fully booked (often requiring a full week reservation) and families are discouraged by the prices. I went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and when I mentioned the crowds to a docent, she said that families are gone and most attending the tournament (including many who pay but don't stay during the practice rounds) don't think of coming.
     

    Mikelly1221

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    May 11, 2000
    I really appreciate everyone's thoughts...I think we're going to get away from Salinas, doesn't sound like a good plan, even for just a place to stay. I'm going to try to find somewhere different, closer to Monterey, or at least not so much of a detour.
     

    Linda P4

    Earning My Ears
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    Joined
    Dec 18, 2019
    I would suggest Seaside as well when you are in the Monterey area. Salinas can be sketchy. I just moved out of Santa Cruz recently and it's getting pretty sketchy there too. It's good that you are going to just spend a few hours and keep on going. Monterey is awesome though. Spend more time there.
     

    sndral

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Feb 3, 2008
    I really appreciate everyone's thoughts...I think we're going to get away from Salinas, doesn't sound like a good plan, even for just a place to stay. I'm going to try to find somewhere different, closer to Monterey, or at least not so much of a detour.
    In your searching do take a look at Pacific Grove right next door to Monterey, for some reason PG hotels seem to cost less than many in Monterey and IMO are in a much nicer location than many hotels w/ a Monterey address. Of course, I have been visiting family in PG for decades and now that I live in Monterey take my daily walks along PG’s ocean walking path, so I am most likely biased, but PG is a quant quiet little town surrounded by ocean and everywhere in PG is literally a 1-10 minute drive to Monterey. On this map the dividing line between Monterey and Pacific Grove is David Ave. in fact part of the aquarium is located in PG and the other part in Monterey https://www.cityofpacificgrove.org/visiting/map-directions
    Link to T/A re: hotels in PG
     

    smercerdiemont

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Jan 1, 2011
    If you will be in the Monterey area for dinner I cannot recommend Rosine's more highly. It is amazingly good. Do not forget to order dessert either. The dessert case is truly impressive and does not disappoint.
    If you are going to be on Cannery Row stop at Troya Turkish Delight and Baklava. It's my favorite stop when visiting the Monterey Aquarium. It is a really pretty walk from Cannery Row to the Pier, and some beaches along the way. The Pier has some cute shops, the candy one is fun. I don't know which way you are traveling, but there is a tiny town, San Juan Bautista, that has a Mission you could go see as well.
    I personally wouldn't stay in Salinas. I would suggest staying in Monterey or Aptos. The hotel we stayed at that area is Best Western Seacliff Inn. It does not offer continental breakfast anymore though :( Capitola has some adorable hotels/ inns that I would suggest, like Capitola Venetian Hotel or the Capitola Hotel. If you are in Santa Cruz try out the Crepe Place for a meal. It is delicious and has whimsical seating under the wisteria. Big Sur is beautiful and if you have time, go to the Pfeiffer Beach. It has purple sand. Another beautiful place is Henry Cowell State Park and Roaring Camp Railroads.
     

    beachdreamr1229

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Mar 12, 2013
    Don't stay in Salinas. It's just not a safe place. I lived in Santa Cruz for 3 years and have made the drive south many times. The Boardwalk is great (but I'm biased because I worked there). Just be careful at night. You might also want to take a walk on West Cliff Drive or head to Felton to ride an old train. If you're considering staying near Santa Cruz, there's a Best Western and a Fairfield Inn on 41st Street in Capitola that are nice and close to food and a mall. They aren't right on the beach, but the drive is not difficult. If you're set on going to Monterey, staying in Seaside would save money. But, within Monterey limits, there's a decent Best Western or two as well as some very nice upscale hotels on the waterfront.

    As for the drive to Morro Bay, highway 1 is beautiful, but a super long drive. If you take the 101 down, it's only about 2-3 hours and the drive is still pretty in its own way. There's some good seafood at Dockside Restaurant, which is right next to Morro Rock. Inland (San Luis Obispo) there's a cute little hotel/restaurant called Apple Farm that has amazing apple dumplings.

    Enjoy your trip!
     

    Pamela M

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Sep 7, 2016
    I would head to Santa Cruz as early as you can from SF. Hwy 17 can be slow going if you head over on a weekend - especially a 3 day weekend. Taking hwy 1 is longer but it is a beautiful drive.

    I often go surfing in Santa Cruz and will leave very early before traffic then take hwy 1 home.
     

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