You're overnighting in Monterey and then Santa Cruz? What is your sightseeing plan between the two -- which are really just an hour or so apart? If you don't have a long list, consider going from Monterey to Santa Cruz, then inland to the redwood trees, Stanford, etc., and arriving in SF late that night for an extra night there. That way you wake up in SF (not SFO, hopefully, which is the airport) and have two full days there.
The drive along the coast highway 1 is the prettiest and well worth it.
I would drive it as far as Half Moon Bay. Then take highway 92 to 280. You will need to drive south (but still scenic) to then see Stanford University. (i.e. its a bit out of the way but doable).
Once you see Stanford University, get back on the freeway and drive to San Francisco on 280.
You will miss a bit of the coast, but will have seen some of the best areas.
Be sure to see the kite surfers at Waddell State Beach (hopefully they are out) as its fun to see them. Across the road is a section of Big Basin State Park with redwood trees
Since you have driven the Big Sur Coast, the 50-mile section of coast between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay will be pretty, but "ho-hum" by comparison. I would not consider it worth having to take a detour south to visit Stanford. Both Hwy 17 and Hwy 280 are very scenic, and will give you a different kind of scenery.
I am very familiar with both of these routes.
/From Santa Cruz, take Hwy 17, w3hich goes over the Coast Range. Just after Los Gatos, take Hwy 85, marked Mountain Viee. Then watvch for the 280 exit, marked San Francisco. Take the Sand Hill exit down to Stanford..Edited: 07 January 2015, 00:55
EEK, sorry about the typos. I was typing fast to beat the time allowed for editing......sheesh.
Looks like you have gotten some good responses. For me it is highway 1 all the way but I agree that since you have already done a large chunk of highway 1 through big sur and what not that the group might be ready for a different variety. I have a hard time saying that hwy 17 is scenic but you may want to detour on highway 9 and visit the redwoods in Henry Cowell before rejoining the "rat race" of 17/85/280. It would be a nice contrast to the ocean scenery and those trees are amazing!
Enjoy the trip!
I agree to see Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park on the way.
Stay on Hwy 1 as you come north, rather than taking the Hwy 17 exit. When you come to the major intersection marked "Big Basin/Boulder Creek", or something like that, turn fright onto Hwy 9. 7 miles later watch for the entrance to Henry Cowell on your right. When you have finished your visit, turn right on Hwy 9 and go into the town of Felton. Take Mt. Hermon Road over to Hwy 17. Hwy 17 is "scenic" in that it goes over the coastal range through forest.
I don't find Hwy 280 a "rat race". When it was built, it was called "the most beautiful freeway in the world", referring to the part of it which goes in the foothills of the Coast Range. I find it a very pleasant trip in that section.
Thanks everyone for the advice. I have settled on Bfast in Santa cruz, Henry Cowell, Felton, then Mt Hermon back onto 17/ 85 then 280.
Looking very much forward to the trip.
For breakfast in Santa Cruz, the "famous" place is Zachary's on south Pacific Avenue. Sometimes on weekends people line up on the sidewalk to wait for a table.
I don't wait in line for breakfasts. The Walnut Avenue cafe, just off Pacific Avenue, would be another good choice.. They have outdoor seating as well as indoor.
Have a great trip.
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