Disneyland to San Francisco itinerary help!


AKA Miss lady who isn't my mommy
Apr 26, 2005
DH and I were just looking over your itinerary and here's our thoughts:

1. Be alert to weather and possible road closures on PCH. There are sections that they are planning on closing during heavy rains due to past issues with rock/mud slides, and if a slide does happen, then there's all kinds of headaches with detours for months. January is usually wet.

2. Your trek from LA to Morro Bay will have the most traffic and actual travel time will depend on that. DH says to have the Beach Boys on and be prepared for long delays.

3. Services are really few and far between on PCH, so make use of gas stations and bathroom breaks when you see them, and pack a lunch (as a PP mentioned) or bring substantial snacks.

4. We love Monterey Bay Aquarium! We've visited both MBA and Aquarium of the Pacific, and prefer MBA. It's true that they're far more conservation/education focused vs entertainment, so there won't be big fun shows and things, but we love their commitment to research and education. They do have an app with the daily schedule of feedings, and if you're there on a weekday without field trips, you should be able to get a good view at those. If you are there on a field trip day, the afternoon is much less crowded than the mornings and can be practically empty mid-week.

5. Kayaking in Moss Landing is AMAZING! Hope that works out for you!

6. If you're interested in a whale watching tour, there are quite a few that leave from Monterey and at least one from Moss Landing that I remember. January is good for gray whales and dolphins.

7. We second the recommendation for Cowell Redwoods, based on ease of getting in and out. Muir Woods is overcrowded and they are really working on limiting access (reservations, shuttle buses, etc.) so be sure to carefully read their website to get all the details before planning a trip there. Big Basin is very nice, but is more out of the way. It's a lovely drive, but harder to get to vs Cowell. We've done all 3, and Cowell is our default for taking out-of-state guests simply because it's so much easier to get to and is less crowded.

8. If you decide to keep your car in San Francisco, double check the parking information at your hotel. They usually charge an arm and a leg per night - in one case, it cost my parents $50/night to park their car, and it wasn't guaranteed to be on-site parking! Our advice is to trust your daughter and lean into the transit lessons she's learned. Worst case is you'd have to call for Lyft or Uber or a taxi, but those are often half the cost of a day of parking. And sometimes hotels will have shuttles to the main tourist spots, so you can ask about that, too.

Hope that helps! Sounds like a fun trip, and your plan is one of the more reasonable ones we've seen! I think you've got a sensible, relaxed trip.


DIS Veteran
Oct 25, 2015
Update on Muir Woods Parking - I was looking at transportation getting in and out of there and saw that they now only offer reserved parking. You would buy your parking ahead of time, print it out or download because no cell service there, and it gives you a 30 minute window (I believe) that you are supposed to arrive. While you won't have a specific space, you are guaranteed parking when you get there and there's no time limit.

There are also 3 areas away from Muir woods that you can leave your car and take the shuttle bus in. Those are reserved times to ride in, but the website said the return trips are frequent and you can just catch a shuttle going back whenever you want. https://gomuirwoods.com/

They no longer allow people to just drive in to park. This is really good news for me. I had Muir Woods off the table, but now I am thinking about going there next summer. We're currently jostling Muir Woods vs. Henry Cowell vs. Sequoia. I've already been to all of them, so just trying to figure out all the logistics. Reserved parking and a shuttle bus have put Muir Woods at the top of the list now.


DIS Veteran
Feb 3, 2008
We're heading back to California in mid-January, ...
Day 7: Kayaking at Moss Landing, weather permitting, as part of DD11's ongoing quest to see baby sea otters. Our guide on this paddle in August said there are a lot of them in the relatively sheltered waters of the slough early in the year, so this is the most likely opportunity. Plan B is a pontoon boat tour in the same area, if the weather isn't looking suitable for kayaking. Either way, we'll be done in the area around lunchtime, giving us the whole afternoon for the PCH drive the rest of the way up to San Francisco.
You should see otters at Elkhorn Slough. Fun fact - over half of the otters currently in the Slough are either MBA SORAC rescue/releases or their descendants. https://baynature.org/article/sea-otter-adoptees-born-elkhorn-slough/
A January visit falls into the time frame that female otters in CA are pupping, so that ups your chances of seeing a mom and pup.
Consider scheduling an Ano Nuevo walking tour to see the elephant seals during your day 7 afternoon? https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=27613 Ano Nuevo is on Hwy. 1 about 1 hr. north of Moss Landing depending on traffic through Santa Cruz and you’ll definitely see elephant seal pups in Jan..
Temper your expectations of seeing the otters at the Monterrey Bay aquarium. The sea otter exhibit is not very good there. The one at the Long Beach Aquarium is MUCH better. Monterrey has a great, multi-level kelp forest tank and another giant tank where they had a whale at one point - not sure if the whale is still there - those are the highlights. The setting along cannery row is amazing. They try and sell it like it's a multi-day experience but I don't think so. If you are giving it 4-5 hours that's about right.
MBA has 3 very large multi species exhibit tanks, 2 in the original building which opened in 1984, and the open sea exhibit in the newer building which opened in 1996. But MBA has never had a captive whale or any captive cetaceans https://www.vancourier.com/news/monterey-bay-makes-splash-as-captive-free-model-1.974620
I’m not sure where that urban legend came from, but I blame Star Trek, the movie, which through the magic of film making filmed at the MBA and ‘put’ a whale in the tank in the movie and a lot of visitors seem to have confused film making fantasy with facts. But there’s never been any marine mammals other than otters on display at MBA.
If it were entirely up to me, I'd do Aquarium of the Pacific rather than a second visit to Monterey, but DH really wants to see the Monterey Aquarium because with his aunt living in the area he's heard a lot about it but never been out there himself. The Long Beach Aquarium has a behind-the-scenes otter experience that I tried to convince DH would make the perfect Christmas gift for DD11, but between the scheduling (weekends only) and DH's desire to go to MB Aquarium, I don't think I can manage to shoehorn it in.
There is a nice relatively short walking trail along the ocean starting at the aquarium and heading to Lovers point in Pacific Grove, you’ll almost always see Harbor seals hauled out on Hopkins Beach and I sometimes see otters and sea lions in the water along that walk. Or you can walk down Cannery Row and continue along the ocean in the other direction for the short stroll to Fisherman’s wharf - I’ve often seen otters along that walk as well and I also hear and usually see the sea lions that hang out around the wharf. There’s usually otters to be seen from the aquarium’s deck, the volunteers and staff stationed there will be happy to loan you binoculars and point out where the otters are.
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DIS Veteran
Mar 31, 2007
We're back! I'm not going to do a trip report, but I thought I'd hit on a couple of the highlights of our trip in case others are doing what I was and searching the board for particular experiences and advice.

We stopped at Randy's Donuts on our way out of L.A., on the recommendation of one of DD's friends, and had an absolutely delicious breakfast that didn't add much time to the drive because it is right there at the expressway.

The Murphy's Ranch hike was incredible! Well worth the 527 stairs up the hill at the end, and that's saying something... as a "pooh sized" women, the thing I hate most on hikes is stairs. I'll take slopes and even climbing all day long if it means not having to do the weird, uneven thing that passes for stairs on hiking trails. The graffiti on the main building that is still standing is wild, and you can get up onto the roof which makes for some cool photo ops of the other remaining foundations and the water tank.

Harbor House Inn in Morro Bay was an unexpected delight - really large room, view of Morro Rock from our patio, and right in the center of town. We did some star photography over the rock at night, then went back at sunrise to watch the otters and birds while DD18 slept in. We also went to the T-pier on the waterfront, where there were about two dozen mother and baby otters just hanging out, playing close to shore. Breakfast at Frankie & Lola's was a hit too - very nice people, excellent service, and delicious food.

We had beautiful weather for most of the drive, better than we had in August even because there was no fog. We hiked up to Salmon Creek Falls, which is easy-to-moderate trail with a bit of rock climbing at the end if you want a clear view of the falls, and walked what's left of the McWay Falls overlook trail from Julia Pfiffer Burns State Park which is an easy enough trail that I wouldn't even call it hiking. We also stopped to see the elephant seals, who were way more active than they were in the summer and had a number of babies among their group.

Next time we're out there, I want to spend more time in Pacific Grove. We stayed in a wonderful little cabin-style motel (Rosedale Inn) there, had a nice dinner at a little Mexican place, but woke up to pouring rain and didn't end up doing the rest of what I wanted to do there before moving on to Monterey. I'd planned to start the day with the monarch sanctuary and the walking path from Lover's Point, but not in torrential rain! So we got a little slower start to the day and headed straight for the less weather-dependent part of the plan.

It was supposed to rain all day, so we scrapped the idea of kayaking at Moss Landing and spent most of the day in Monterey. The aquarium is a nice place to pass a rainy day, except for the distance from the parking to the building! The otters were really active in the rain, both in the exhibit and in the bay, and we saw more mother-baby pairs through the aquarium's telecopes (the indoor ones near the penguin habitat - it was too wet to use the ones out on the deck). The rain had let up a bit by the time we were done with the aquarium, so we walked down Cannery Row a couple blocks, grabbed lunch at an Italian place in one of those touristy little malls, and loaded up on sweets at one of the candy shops before hitting the road.

We did make a stop at Moss Landing to watch the otters in the harbor, who were mostly/all males, and to get a picture of the otter crossing sign there because DD11 wanted it for a report she's doing for school, but we didn't stay long. The viewing from shore at Morro Bay was better, and the weather was still just breaks between rain squalls so we didn't want to venture too far from the car.

For our first night in the SF area, we stayed across the bridge in Mill Valley to get an early start at Muir Woods. Breakfast was at a local supermarket that had really good pastries and a coffee bar, and we were at Muir Woods by about 8:15 for our 8 to 8:30 parking window. I was glad we did, because despite the fact that it was chilly and still a bit drizzly, the place was pretty crowded by the time we were leaving. We started out planning to do the longest iteration of the redwood loop, which is mostly paved trail but would have been real hiking on the way back, but that unpaved return trail is currently closed so we went out to the last bridge and then doubled back to follow the easier loop. I'm not sure this is a place I'd go back to. The redwoods are amazing, but it is just so busy and the trails so heavily travelled that you never really get that peaceful nature feeling. The best part was the drive up - the rental company we used upgraded us from the Focus I'd reserved to a Jeep Renegade and that was a fun car to have for the winding roads through the mountains!

From there, it was back into the city for the rest of the trip. We hit Golden Gate Park and Lands End/Sutro Baths before returning the rental, then checked into our city hotel (where parking would have cost us $70/night if we'd had the car!) for a couple of days of following DD18 around the city. We kept this part of the trip pretty low-key - I didn't want DD18 going back to school exhausted and DH didn't have a lot of interest in the museums or tourist hot spots - so we mostly walked around the city and she showed us the places she spends her time: the public library, the plaza outside of city hall, Ghiradelli Square where she stops on her way home from work, her favorite bookshop and Thai restaurant in Haight-Ashbury, where she works at Fisherman's Wharf, etc. I did insist on hitting the farmer's market at the Ferry Terminal on Saturday to stock up on snacks for the room, and DD decided she's going there for her weekly shopping from now on - it really is a nice market, larger than I'd expected and with a really good selection of vendors.

All in all it was a really nice trip. There were a few things we didn't have time for - we saw some whales in the distance, through our binoculars, but didn't have time to go on a cruise or even hit the major whale-watching spots, and the weather got in the way at Pacific Grove - but we hit a good balance between seeing the sights and keeping a reasonably relaxed pace, which was the goal this time around. I'll probably be heading back, just me and DD11, for DD18's fall break in October, so maybe we'll get a chance to do some of what we missed then.