The distance between San Luis Obispo and Santa Cruz is almost 3 hours (approximately 165 miles), this route can be done by the 1o1 Hwy or by the Hwy1, it is much more recommended for the latter, although you will have to sacrifice (surely for time ) some very interesting routes and visits found on 101 Hwy.
If you want this route to give you time to see everything, you have to leave early. You have the option of taking Hwy 1 to go along the coast or 101, if it is the first time you are going to do this route, without a doubt, Hwy 1 is much better for the impressive views of the Pacific. Some of the stops you can make:
This town is going to be your first stop, your interest is focused on Ocean Ave because of the aesthetics of its historic buildings, the pier, and some of its antique shops (especially Rich Man – Poor Man, also on Ocean Ave, is a shop huge on two floors where you will find everything).
Make a stop in the East Village (you have to deviate a bit from Hwy 1) of the town, it is surrounded by trees, picturesque houses, art galleries, and cafes. This stop can be used to make provisions for your climb to Big Sur (in the supermarket on the main street they make some spectacular sandwiches for $ 7).
From this town, you will have directions to Hearst Castle (I think there are more interesting things on the route, although it will not leave you indifferent if you visit it) considered a national historical monument, to access, statues of Ancient Greece, swimming pools and spectacular fountains, the zoo and its design based on a Spanish cathedral. If you go here, do not think that you will be able to see something in the surroundings, since this castle is located on a hill, so if you come here it is because you have it very clear.
On your route to Big Sur, you will see signs of seal sightings, the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse (to visit it you have to make an appointment, otherwise, you will be able to observe it from afar); the Jade cove (according to the guides you can find black jade, surely when you pass you will see tourist buses and several parked cars, that is what the guides have 🙂); Gorda (because of the shape of the coast); Punta Ragged, with spectacular views of the coast and cliffs; Lucia, a good stop for the views and to see the simple hotel that is right next to the cliff.
The remarkable thing and why it is essential to stop in this park is the McWay Waterfall, it has a 24-meter drop and overlooks the sea, from the path that takes you to see the waterfall there is a viewpoint with several benches, a good time to have a short picnic. If you want to go to the park (you have to cross the road), you have to pay $ 10 and you can take the opportunity to do a route along the Ewoldsen trail (it has 7 kilometers)
During the climb to Big Sur, you are sure to make more stops, it is inevitable since it is a true spectacle of nature, especially if you see it in the sun (without it, it is still very beautiful but it loses a lot since there is usually a lot of fog). This route is full of curves, so take it easy, it is not to go fast, and above all, be very careful with cars, both at stops and when crossing the road, drivers tend to be careful and stop if you want Cross the road even if there are no indications for it (if you see that one passes very fast, does not respect the exits of the cars or parks in the most unusual places, surprisingly they are usually Italian, French or Spanish 🙁).
This town is like a Hansel and Gretel tale, with beautiful houses, nature everywhere and very chic shops. The main streets for walking are Ocean Ave (across the entire town) to Junipero Ave (to the east) and Monte Verde St (to the west), in San Carlos St in Carmel Plaza. If you come in August (in the middle, there are always vintage car exhibitions) you will be able to enjoy cars that you have never seen anywhere.
Carmel and Pacific Grove are joined by 17-Mile Drive (you will be able to take it from Hwy 1, there are already indications, by the way, this road is always collapsed, the only “relief” will be to see the cars that pass by this), to be able to access this private road you will have to pay (it is very worth it). During the tour (at the entrance they will give you a map with the main points of the tour) you will be able to see residential areas, mansions, golf courses (where world championships are held), until you reach Pebble Beach (if you are lucky with Sun is very beautiful, if not, bundle up because there is a lot of wind and a cold fog).
Before leaving Carmel, you should stop by the San Carlos Borromeo Mission (3080 Rio Rd), it is together with the Santa Bárbara Mission one of the most beautiful that you will be able to see, it is also very well cared for and with an environment of bucolic nature. Here is buried the Franciscan missionary Junípero Serra (the name that you will see in every one of the missions you visit on your tour of California). The pace of the mission tour is set by you as there are no guides.
Mandatory stop to visit their aquarium ( Monterey Bay Aquarium at 886 Cannery Row), it is open until 6:00 p.m. It is quite good, well documented and with very well maintained and varied facilities. One of the main attractions is the tank where the dolphins are, the open pools and it is highly recommended to go to the jellyfish (Drifter’s Gallery). The tour of the aquarium will take you at least 2 – 3 hours, to avoid wasting time getting the ticket, you can book it online.
Another interesting point is its pier as it is full of sea lions, you will have seen quite a few in the aquarium, but from here you can see them very closely. Downtown is not of special interest, but if you want to visit it, you will do it quite quickly, it is small.
You will surely be late to this city, if you feel like it, go to the promenade (Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk) which is next to the amusement park (one of the oldest on the Californian west coast), movies are shown on the beach ( go warm because it’s cold). Another point of interest is the Municipal Embarcadero full of restaurants/seafood restaurants.
On your route to San Francisco, make a detour to the town of San Juan Bautista (it is on 156), here you will find the Mission of San Juan Bautista (406 2nd St) the 15th of the Spanish missions (of the 21 that there are along with the state and linked by the Camino Real, notice during the tour that in those places where the Camino Real that linked the missions passed, there is a bell at the top of what is a kind of cane), the square surrounded by the caballerias, the Plaza Hotel and the Castro-Breen Adobe, all these monuments are located between Washington St and Mariposa St. When you finish, take a walk around the town, the main and historic houses are concentrated around the main street.
When you leave San Juan Bautista you will have to take the 101, this road is the way to the Premium Outlet of Gilroy (681 Leavesley Road # 175, Gilroy), they are larger if possible than the Desert Hill Premium Outlet in Los Angeles, if you see that you are going to have time, stop by Saks Fifth Avenue, Cole Haan, BCBG Max Azria or Levi’s. Like the rest of the Premium outlets, if you have registered on their page, you will be able to print their VIP brochure and their discount coupons.