Going Our Way: A road trip up the California coast

By K.C. Summers
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, February 11, 2011; 12:35 PM

Mary Lashinsky loves San Diego but has never been to San Francisco; her husband, Nick, adores the latter but has never visited the former. So the Alexandria couple has planned a spring trip that meets both their needs: a seven-day, 560-mile drive up the California coast from one San to the other.

For road trippers, of course, this is the dream drive, with some of the most beautiful and dramatic scenery in the country: secluded beaches, crashing waves, rugged cliffs, even sunbathing seals. Ordinarily, a week would allow plenty of time to take it all in. But the Lashinskys want to spend three days in San Diego, two in Carmel and three in San Francisco. That doesn't leave much time to stop and smell the seals.

Still, even if you're rushed, there's no way not to have fun on this trip. Wait, I take that back. If you're susceptible to carsickness, be sure to pack your go-to remedy. This is a twisty-turny drive.

Note that we're actually talking about several roads here. California Route 1 - a.k.a. Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway or PCH - is the one that hugs the coastline. U.S. 101 is mostly inland and generally parallels Highway 1, but sometimes merges with it. Then there's Interstate 5, which is what you'll take from San Diego to Los Angeles to save time before switching over to the 101. From there, you might want to take the 101 all the way to San Luis Obispo - the drive's halfway point - before getting on Highway 1. Study a map, consider renting a GPS and check road conditions before you go (800-427-7623, www.dot.ca.go).

Who: Mary and Nick Lashinsky, 34 and 32 respectively, of Alexandria

Where: Road trip from San Diego to San Francisco

Why: To show each other their favorite cities - and check out Carmel and Monterey along the way

When: A week in early May

Budget: $2,000

"We enjoy outdoor activities, wineries and shopping. We'd love restaurant recommendations for San Diego, Carmel and San Francisco."

Getting there: Airfare from Washington to San Diego, and then from San Francisco to Washington, will run about $360 each on Southwest, although you can sometimes snag a sale price closer to $300. A rental car for one week starts at $327 from Budget on Priceline.com. Tip: Try bidding for a car on Priceline, for a potential savings of up to 40 percent.

Days 1-3: Arrive in San Diego, go to the beach, visit friends and family. Stay in the historic Gaslamp Quarter. The Andaz, a Hyatt hotel with a rooftop pool and a four-story nightclub, starts at $537 for a three-night stay, including parking - but shop around. Hotels.com currently has a third-night-free offer, bringing the total down to $399. Parking, however, is not included ($35 a night). (Hotel rates quoted here do not include taxes.)

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