San Francisco/PCH North

~Here’s How You Do It

San Francisco on a dime? This trip involved no camping but yes, you can bet your bottom dime that it was cost friendly from beginning to end. We did shake things up a bit and reversed our travel direction, powering to our farthest destination spot as our starting point and working our way back. We left Los Angeles and headed straight for Point Reyes via the Interstate 5 freeway. This made for a rather hearty driving day but the gods of traffic were with us and we made good time.

Our goal of reaching Limantour Beach by dusk was realized after about 8 hours of driving and a stop off at the market in Point Reyes for some snacks. We had no idea what to expect of Limantour, as we’d never even heard of it. A perusal of maps revealed that it was just a bit south of the Point Reyes Lighthouse. The Point Reyes area is flush with hiking trails so this will go on the “do again” list.

Limantour’s parking lot turned out to be pretty empty and as we made our way to the beach, the terrain was reminiscent of the Hamptons, with tall grasses swaying in the breeze. If you visit this area in winter as we did, take a jacket and perhaps a stocking cap, as it gets chilly and we encountered some wind. As for our wine-sipping sunset? I will let the photos do the talking but know this: we had the place to ourselves and it was a stunningly beautiful, life is in session moment for sure. And a side note, yours truly makes a seafood chowder that has been known to peace broker warring nations and for this trip a gorgeous container of it traveled in an ice chest along with wine, cheese and crackers. Fellow adventurers, I cannot share emphatically enough the amount of money saved when you are able to bypass restaurants even a few times. It can shave hundreds off your trip cost and if you are not the amazingly talented chef (ok, fine…cook) that this traveler is, grab some food at the market for the cooler and prepare to picnic. If you are vacationing in an area with a Trader Joes, check it out for a wonderful assortment of reasonably priced wines as well as food.

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First view of Limontour Beach as the sun was sinking

First view of Limontour Beach as the sun was sinking

After Limantour and our long day of driving, we checked in at the Point Reyes Hostel, which was located about 5 minutes from the beach. Unfortunately, a thorough exploration of the hostel and surrounding area was not to be as darkness had arrived but the room we had was clean, warm, and comfortable and the adjacent (shared) bathroom had a large marble shower with plenty of hot water. For those unfamiliar with hostelling, check the section on this site as it proves a boon for the cash conscious crowd.

We hit the road very early the next morning with a goal of seeing the Golden Gate Bridge at sunrise. We made it and it was worth it. Our viewing was from the Marin Headlands side, which gave a silhouetted cast to the bridge with the sun coming up behind it. Once again, windy and cold but no fee, not even to park and we were happy to share the viewing space with a yoga class. Yoga outdoors at sunrise overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge–once again an outrageous example of some lives in session.

Sunrise from the Marin Headlands
Sunrise from the Marin Headlands

Our day was syncing smoothly as we headed to the Alcatraz ferry area for our 9am departure. This tourist attraction requires advance purchase of the tickets as it does sell out. My guy purchased online and only had to have his iPhone handy to verify our tickets. We grabbed breakfast at a nearby market and got on the boat for the island. The views were stellar and once the boat docked (about a 15 min. ride), we were able to take a self-guided tour of the prison as well as watch a movie on the history of this famous home to past notorious criminals such as Al Capone. The island itself is a lovely, flower filled oasis that at one time housed, in addition to the inmates, prison employees and their families including children.

Alcatraz building
Alcatraz building

After our Alcatraz venture, we headed to Chinatown and agonized for a good hour over how to find a good Chinese restaurant. Now this might seem a no-brainer in Chinatown but there were too many options and we weren’t starving which was also frustrating. Finally we settled on a simple storefront that had the required health department stars and took a chance. It turned out excellent. This has me sharing that I think possibly in Chinatown you have two options: research and get a recommendation and shoot for a real dining out experience or go on the fly like we did, as it seemed to work out fine.

Chinatown
Chinatown

Next up on our agenda was the “haight”, as in Haight Ashbury. This is a blast for hippies and for the wanna-be hippie crowd. It feels like a throw back to the 60s and 70s and has a Rolling Stone energy that is fun to visit. Do note that the gift shops pony up souvenirs but the actual thrift stores are a bit pricey.

For transportation around the city we did utilize the cable cars and that was a blast. They are fairly easy to decipher and you can purchase bulk tickets, but don’t expect them to be bottom barrel on price like Santa Barbara’s. These iconic cars are a must, but if you are watching the funds, plan carefully on getting around the city. If you drive, beware: it is a bit tricky to get used to navigating the combination of one way streets and cable cars zigzagging across traffic.

We ended our day at Crissy Field for a stroll along the waterfront and then photos of the bridge from the opposite side of the Marin Headlands before crossing over to stay at the Marin Hostel near the black sand beach and on Marin Headlands State Park grounds. This hostel is comprised of 2 converted turn of the century buildings. We’re talking hardwood floors, large kitchens with every appliance, and shared baths with tubs. This place proved the very picture of Zen and it was hard to believe the city of San Francisco was right on the other side. Hiking trails abound, including one where we got a mystical photo of the bridge the following morning as the sun hit the top and lit it like the star on a Christmas tree. The evening we checked in to our room, we unpacked and made it down to the famous black sand beach just in time for sunset and this is a not to be missed, experience. You can hike to it (about ½ mile) or drive down and park in the lot for free.

Black Sand Beach at sunset

Black Sand Beach at sunset

Back at the hostel, we indulged in hot baths, my famous chowder and crackers, and deep sleep courtesy of the quiet locale. This hostel induced a much needed exhale, so the next morning brought a relaxed departure. First we took in a mini scenic drive and then made our way to Sausalito (10 min. drive) for breakfast at the lighthouse restaurant. This place rocks, but it’s tiny, so get there early or prepare to wait. Our off-season trek had us in luck and we were coffee-ing it up quickly. The food was not cheap but it was delicious and, remember, we saved by eating two meals à la picnic food from home.

The drive from San Fran to our next stop, the Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel was scenic and sans traffic. Due to the good time made traveling, we arrived a bit too early to check in to this hostel so we visited Half Moon Bay and stumbled upon a group of eateries with patio dining and water views. A chipotle margarita with pineapple juice at one outside bar turned out to be just about the most righteous cocktail ever created and set the chilled out tone for the rest of our day as we visited some local tide pools and watched seals frolicking in the surf before heading back to the hostel.

The Montara hostel had a large yet cozy common room with complete kitchen and this coffee addict did a few cartwheels upon the discovery that the front desk will make, to order, a whole assortment of coffees. These are simple little cups of caffeine not frappa-mocha-latte-espressos but folks, this palate was grateful. Our room was small but darn near perfect. The only changes I might make would be trading the queen size bunk for just a queen bed and an enlargement of the window as the view was the bomb but a pretty tiny, however, keep in mind that eschewing the renovation to five star ocean front standards is what keeps places like this affordable. We paid less than $75 dollars. Do be aware that the lighthouse is of the putt-putt variety but the beach below is ethereal and serene.

Parking lot side of Point Montara
Parking lot side of Point Montara

If you are considering hostels along Pacific Coast Highway also check out Pigeon Point (a full size lighthouse) as it is a short 30 min. north of Santa Cruz and boasts an outdoor hot tub that can be reserved hourly. Having partaken, I can tell you that it is on the ocean overlooking the crashing surf and it is fan-freakin-tastic. The rooms (a row of cottages) are of the typical hostel variety and the outdoor picnic tables, ocean side, are rustic primo. Do not miss the beach below and to the left of the hostel as certain times of year, the beachcombing yields hidden treasure.

Santa Cruz is the next stop for many and seems a good fit if you like shopping and amusement parks. The ocean front park was crowded at the glance we took on the drive through, and given that I had stayed in the Santa Cruz hostel and explored the area on a previous visit, we skipped a repeat. There are tons of fans of Santa Cruz, so if you enjoy the higher energy amusement parks provide, this town is a good fit.

Santa Cruz hostel
Santa Cruz hostel

Our final stretch along Highway #1 included a stop off in Big Sur at our favorite restaurant, Nepenthe. Kindreds in the money saving game, take note, Nepenthe is a little expensive. We make it our splurge. You can absolutely check out the view on the patio and peruse the gift shop for free if the prices are a deal-breaker. The drive from Nepenthe and onward is magnificent with stretches of Pacific Coast Highway that you’ve seen in magazines and media. If you can be leisurely, do. This part of the trip is to be fully appreciated and a slower pace will not disappoint.

As you finish the trip there are several options, varying in cost. Camping in Kirk Creek for $22 a night is possible as well as a stay in Cambria. Cambria is a more cost friendly choice than Santa Barbara. We Internet searched and got a gorgeous ocean front room at the Little Sur Inn with fireplace and marble tub for around $180, however, we were in the Sunday-Thursday golden price time and that is the beauty of balance. Hostels run $25-$100 on average so you can put your money toward a treat.

As you plan your trip, know that there are dollar amenable choices if you do your homework and the scenery is the same stunning beauty no matter your financial situation, so enjoy it to the fullest and take tons of photos.

 

Life Is In Session