Road Trip to Romance: San Francisco to Monterey on Highway 1

Posted on August 15, 2008

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Hugging some of the most beautiful coastline in the world, State Route 1 runs much of California’s length and picks up various names along the way: the Great Highway, the Pacific Coast Highway, Cabrillo Highway. Whatever it’s called in the region you’re traveling, it’s the most scenic way to travel.

And what could be more romantic than cruising together alongside California’s Pacific coast? Pause at a turnout to stretch your legs, and let the wind rustle your hair and revive your energy as you peer out to sea side by side in hopes of spotting whales. Hold hands as you walk on a deserted beach. Stop at a roadside cafe and warm your hands on a cup of coffee as you chat about subjects too frivolous for the day-to-day frenzy at home. Cruise into a tiny coastal town and check into a cozy inn with a view of the sea.

Not far from home, this rugged coast beckons. Start in San Francisco and work your way south; take a week or just a long weekend. By the time you reach Monterey, you’ll remember why you got together and why you love California’s Central Coast.

San Francisco
75 miles from Sacramento on Interstate 80
With San Francisco only an hour or so from home, Sacramentans can spend plenty of time there and tend to turn up their noses at the city’s tourist traps. For this trip, though, head straight for the most tourist-ridden of them all: Fisherman’s Wharf. Go to the far end, where Jefferson Street meets Hyde Street, across from the recently redone Ghirardelli Square.

Love Boats—The 252-room Argonaut Hotel stands at the corner, housed in the historic Haslett Warehouse of The Cannery. Stay here for the night (starting at $359) and you’ll be in the ideal position to explore San Francisco’s maritime history. The boutique hotel has been designed around a nautical theme, its décor heavily dominated by bold blues and rich golds, with boating paraphernalia and captain-style furnishings at every turn. Guest rooms are cozy and luxurious—many with original exposed brick walls or steel warehouse doors—with windows that frame views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower or the Transamerica Building. From the Argonaut’s lobby, wander in to the Maritime National Historic Park visitors center. It’s free and packed with exhibits, including a Farallon lighthouse lens, a shipwrecked boat and letters written from seamen to their sweethearts. Across the street from the hotel, Hyde Street Pier ($5 admission) invites visitors to explore four historic ships. Cruise the decks of the Eureka steamboat with your sweetie, imagining riding the ferryboat together back in the 1920s. Duck up into the wheelhouse and steal a smooch.

Devour Clam Chowder and Sourdough—Grab your lover’s hand and fight the crowds through the crab-stinky sidewalks of Fisherman’s Wharf until you find a vendor selling clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. Sure, you’ll look like a tourist, but the potato- and clam-laden soup soaks into the bread bowl to create a delightfully satisfying meal on a brisk San Francisco day.

Get Good Licks—Grab an ice cream cone from Norman’s in The Cannery; it’s a tiny place off the street, and the friendly folks serve a mean cone stuffed with San Francisco’s famous Mitchell’s ice cream.

Walk in the Park—From Hyde Street Pier, take the path past Aquatic Park. Watch for wetsuit-encased swimmers who skim the water’s surface as they do laps offshore, then follow the walkway out onto the sea wall toward Alcatraz Island. When you reach the end, grab a hug and wonder if those guys who escaped from The Rock really made it across the choppy bay.

Hop the Cable Car to Little Italy—Across Hyde Street from the Argonaut, catch the cable car ($5 each way) to North Beach, where Italian food awaits. Cuddle up in the itty-bitty L’Osteria Del Forno, a gem on busy Columbus Street. Meat-eaters should order the milk-braised roast pork and hope it comes with the restaurant’s signature rosemary roasted potatoes and carrots. Other house specialties include ravioli and gnocchi and plenty of vegetable-and-cheese concoctions, hearty Italian soups and, sure to ruin your dinner, a basket of warm and moist housemade focaccia.

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