Florida Man on the Run

Pacific Coast Adventure Planning

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The impetus for my coming grand Pacific Coast adventure was the failure of another smaller adventure to ever happen. Hurricane Irma dancing its way up the state put an end to that trip before it began. That failure left me sorely disappointed, especially with the circumstances being out of my control. I could have easily planned the trip a second time, timed for better weather, but I decided that it was a chance to “Go big, or go home” so to speak. And with that, the Pacific Coast Highway became our destination.

Planning out this trip has been full of excitement and learning along the way. I have done a ton of web surfing and research. Google Maps is packed full of little markers, highlighting tons of places to visit. There are miles of bookmarks in one folder on Chrome. From planning the initial route, finding the perfect hikes, picking accommodations, and more. I’ll shine a bit of light on how all of this came to be and my thinking along the way.

Planning the Route

Before beginning any good road trip, one really needs to know what road they will be on. The Pacific Coast Highway was to be the centerpiece of this trip, but it officially doesn’t run all of the way up the coast. I had planned to make the journey all of the way to the Oregon-Washington border before following the Columbia River back to Portland. Fortunately US 101 picks up where the Pacific Coast Highway leaves off and completes my route.

With the general roads figured out, it was time to get a little more specific and to avoid roadblocks. The California DOT website was vital in discovering and keeping track of these. The primary obstacle on our trip up the coast is the landslide north of Ragged Point. With the road being closed until September of 2018, there is absolutely no way through on the PCH. In order to miss as little as possible, I set up a detour through Paso Robles and down Nacimiento-Fergusson Rd. This brings us out just south of Limekiln State Park. With that avoided, it was time to layout the finishing point for each day.

Map of our drive up the Pacific Coast
1,358 miles?!? Going to need a serious cup of coffee to do that in one day

I was able to get 13 full days off of work to complete this trip. This is nowhere near enough to do the Pacific Coast Highway justice, but such is life in corporate retail America. With two of these days taken up with flying, it left 11 to split between driving and being stationary. Ultimately, my wife and I settled on two full days in Portland (plus the day we drive in and the day we fly out). We gave ourselves one full day in LA with my sister (with the reverse in/out of Portland). That left eight days for driving from Los Angeles to Portland. I needed to find seven locations along the way that were a good balance between drive time and adventure time along the route.

Deciding on the daily travel time for the trip was key to finding the stopping locations. I settled on eight hours of road time each day. This covers all of the actual driving, sightseeing, hikes and other stops on the way. Splitting the day into eight hour blocks for traveling, destination and sleep is my plan. You might find you want to cover more ground each day or spend more time at each final destination. In either case, make sure you set a reasonable limit for travel time and let it serve as your foundation.

With the guideline above, I settled on seven places to call it a day. Some are obvious on any Pacific Coast trip like Monterey and San Francisco. Others were necessary to avoid my daily limit (Fort Bragg, CA and Newport, OR). The last few were more strategic, creating shorter drives to allow for more hikes (Eureka, CA and Crescent City, CA). Once I settled on the final destinations, it was time to find the fun.

Finding the Perfect Hikes

What defines a perfect hike will vary wildly for everyone. The amateurs that me and my wife are, the perfect hikes are easygoing and packing a punch. With the limited amount of time I have for each day, it was also imperative to find short hikes. Fortunately, there are a ton of resources that can put your efforts in the right place.

Google maps was a key part in finding the right places. If it wasn’t along my established route, it probably wasn’t going to happen. Simple Google searches of hikes at places along the way, like Limekiln State Park, provide great information. Zooming in on your route can locate any number of trails or spots to examine. If you have a particular desire to see a specific natural feature (for me it’s waterfalls) then searching those can provide plenty of material to start with.

Limekiln SP is exactly the hike I was looking for. Not overly difficult and packed with beauty.

At the end of the day, I feel I’ve found a good balance between the time available and the hikes I’ll do. The day between Cambria and Monterey has hikes at Limekiln, McWay Falls, Partington Cove and Pfeiffer Beach. My time in Northern California will feature hikes at Fern Canyon and to the Grove of Titans. Even in Portland I have a number of hikes at Mount Tabor, Powell Butte and in the Columbia River Gorge. All in all, I’m packed full of small excursions the whole way.

Developing an idea about what you want to see on the way is vital to a successful trip. I decided to focus on the hikes and natural wonders along the way. I’ve had to sacrifice other places on the road to accomplish this. While Hearst Castle, Monterey Aquarium and everything on offer in San Francisco interest me, I quickly realized I can’t do everything. Understanding this early on eliminates any potential disappointment from cutting something last minute. Recognize the time you have, plan accordingly, and don’t stretch yourself thin. The goal is to have fun, not see every possible sight between A and B.

Picking Accommodations

With nightly destinations settled and hike plans completed, I decided to find the best accommodations. I considered two options for this trip. The first was to go frugal by camping and only stay in hotels at the big cities. The second option, and one I chose, was to stay in a hotel each night. While me and my wife love camping, the combination of long drives and hours spent on our feet made camping far less appealing. In the future on a trip which will have less driving, we will likely take advantage of the large number of great campgrounds that exist along the Pacific Coast Highway.

Going the hotel route for the whole trip is also not the cheapest option. Hotels.com is my preferred booking site, but even with the deals there I’ll be averaging about $100 a night. A small saving grace is that I’ll get a free night of over $100 thanks to the rewards program. One of the best parts of booking through Hotels.com is that all of my hotel bookings are going to be paid for once I arrive. Booking directly or through some other sites usually require prepayment. Paying at the hotel allows me to save up for the trip until right before we leave instead of needing to save even further in advance.

Kangablue at Caravan, The Tiny House Hotel. Check the site for all the wonderful pictures of Kangablue and their other tiny homes!

Even Hotels.com wasn’t able to get me the best stays every night. While in Los Angeles and San Francisco, Airbnb had the cheaper places. Hotels in these cities of the quality I was seeking are out of line with what I was willing to spend. The Airbnb stays here were better, though they lacked the pay upon arrival option. You can expect to see initial reviews of all my bookings on the daily recaps during the trip.

The highlight of our hotel stays is also by far the most unique. My wife has been in love with tiny homes for years. Fortune has it that the world’s first tiny house hotel is in Portland. Caravan, The Tiny House Hotel was opened in July of 2013 and has provided a unique experience for thousands of guests. I wanted it to not only be a pleasant surprise for my wife (which it was when I told her) but the crowning jewel of our stay. Enjoying our stay at Caravan could ultimately lay the ground work for a whole different kind of adventure.

The Loose Ends

There are a number of other small parts of the planning which I’ll cover here. The biggest of these small items is the rental car. Coming from Florida by plane, means taking a road trip of this length requires a rental. The type of car you get also plays a huge factor in how much you’ll enjoy the time on the road. The Pacific Coast Highway deserves a car that you’ll enjoy driving and that certainly isn’t going to be the cheapest compact in the lot. Convertibles are a stellar choice for summer and early fall trips when the weather is warmer and less rainy. For my trip I opted out of the convertible and into a full-size car to provide room for our gear and shelter from unpleasant rain and wind. I advise booking this about six to eight weeks in advance to get the best rates.

Luggage is another concern that you will have to give some thought to. What you can bring is determined by a number of factors including flight, car, duration, and activities. I’ll be flying on Southwest, which is pretty generous in its baggage allowance. Being able to check two bags per ticket and bring two small bags on the flight is great. The wife and I will be taking full advantage and utilizing the space in our car as well. Since we will be gone for two weeks, we will pack for the full duration instead of washing clothes. Our gear will be packed away, using every inch of space we have available to us.

One final task I needed to complete was finding places to eat. We both love food and my wife is also vegan meaning that it takes a little effort to find the right spots. Fortunately there are a number of sites with good information, the best of which is Happy Cow. Their site allows quick searching of restaurants in the desired area with helpful labeling. I utilize it constantly to help find vegan-friendly eateries and it has been a great help in planning this trip.

Pacific Coast Planning Wrap-Up

As you can tell by the length of this post, there is a ton of time put into planning a trip like this. A great deal of it was researching and discovering what to see on the way. Finding the right hikes and sightseeing points is really what will make or break this trip. Locking down your accomodations and transportation early lets you spend the time finding activities. Getting a good understanding of your baggage, especially if flying, stops you from needing to ditch something last minute. And of course, knowing where to grab a good bite to eat will leave you satisfied even if the day isn’t perfect otherwise (and can be the icing on the cake of a perfect day).

Thank you for taking the time to read my thorough account of how I planned my Pacific Coast Highway adventure. Please reach out to me if you have any questions at all because I’m happy to help you plan too! To catch more of my adventures in real time be sure to follow me on Instagram and Twitter! If you want to see more of my trip beyond mere images and words, check out my YouTube channel too!

NOTE: All companies linked to or recommended in this post are simply personal recommendations. None of these companies are sponsoring this post or blog, just getting a free shout out because I use them.

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2 Responses

  1. After years of bushwhacking in the coast redwoods, we find there’s no perfect trail anymore, after seeing the hidden groves. All the trails are very nice in the coast redwood parks, but the tranquility in the heart of the parks is something available there almost any day. Maps are generally useless for us and we rely on GPS and compass. But for others, I find that the redwoodhikes.com is a very good option. I do write extra content at my end when I realize something differs from his description. But his maps are the best.

    1. Redwoodhikes.com was one of the sites I used that was really helpful in planning the trip. Good information on what to expect and some good guidance on finding a few hidden spots. I only wish I had time for more hikes in the redwoods.

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