California: Road Trip The Pacific Coast Highway


For those in a rush, it would merely take a day and a half to run down the 485 miles of the Highway 1 between San Francisco and Los Angeles. But then, one would completely miss on the beauty of the California coast; the surf towns, the sandy beaches, and the breathtaking ocean scenery along the way.

Don’t rush! Instead take 7 days or more and experience the California love with your best friends on the best road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway. This road trip links San Francisco to L.A., throughout the most essential pit stops along the way.

California Road Trip - Highway 1

1. San Francisco

Nature lovers should wander the Golden Gate Park, relax in the Japanese Tea Garden, or visit the Conservatory of Flowers. History and culture buffs should take the historic trolley to the Castro Theatre for the vintage film screenings.

For the rest, the Coit Memorial Tower offers panoramic views of the city. The Fishermans Wharf might be a little touristy but remains a quintessential place to see in S.F.

Before you hit the road, you will want to discover the great features of the Golden Gate City. Start with these top ten free things, so that you save money for the road trip.

California Road Trip - Golden Gate Bridge

2. Mavericks

Mavericks is a world-class surfing location just outside of a small town called Half Moon Bay. The killer waves here can reach up to 50 feet, which makes it an insane spot for skilled surfers.

Otherwise, if you are not the surfer type, stop by the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve to soak in tidepools. They are at their best during low tides, when visitors can enjoy the spectacular display of the colorful reef laying right at their feet.

California road trip - surf the waves

3. Santa Cruz

You must spend some time people watching and soaking in the ambiance on the Santa Cruz boardwalk. This seaside park overlooks a surf beach and hosts free concerts, performances, and attractions. You will definitely want to ride the rollercoasters.

The Santa Cruz pier is the longest and one of the oldest in the Sunshine State. Stroll this pier and take in stunning views of the Bay. With a little chance, you might catch a glimpse of sea lions sunbathing, not to mention that the sunset is magical for here.

California Road Trip - Santa Cruz
photo credit: wikipedia

4. Monterey

For a long time, Monterey was the capital of California. Today, you can — and should — visit the Royal Presidio Chapel, the Custom House, and other surviving sites of that prestigious past.

Otherwise, spend the day exploring Monterey. The State Historic Park and the Monterey Bay Aquarium are celebrated attractions that can’t be missed. Walk down the Cannery Row — the local shopping street — before ending your visit biking or kayaking alongside the Monterey Bay Recreational Trail. Check out even more top attractions of Monterey.

Whale-watching in Monterey

5. Big Sur

The Big Sur coastal road is bounded with state parks, vantage points, and even hot springs. Be ready to make plenty of stops, especially in the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park  and to check out the McWay Falls and the Point Lobos.

The highlight of your California road trip along the Big Sur coast will be the Esalen Hot Springs. The thermal baths are on the cliff-side of Highway 1, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It is a fantastic romantic spot where you can reserve for a night bathing ( from 1am to 3am). More details here.

California Road Trip - Big Sur Bridge

6. Santa Barbara

More than a top-class beach destination, Santa Barbara attracts the most glamorous and art-savvy crowds. State Street is the most famous avenue in town; a local shopping district where you can try on the latest fashions, and have a feel of Santa Barbara’s Art Walks.

While in town, be sure to relax at the East Beach and tour one of the hundred Santa Barbara wineries.

California Road Trip - Santa Barbara
photo credit: itsjpei

7. Los Angeles

La-La Land is glamorous, chic, down-to-earth, and artsy. In fact, there is something for everyone to love and enjoy in the City of Angels. From the Griffith Observatory and the Griffith Park to the Santa Monica Pier and Beach to everything Hollywood, take a day or two to explore Los Angeles’s iconic attractions.

Only downside is that L.A. is often congested so you will have to abandon your wheels if you want to truly enjoy your discovery of the city. But it will be worth it for sure.

Hollywood Sign - Los Angeles

State Parks, wine countries, marine reserves, and old Spanish towns, there is much to see and do on a California road trip along Highway 1. Be sure to adapt this itinerary to include under-the-radar stops such as San Luis Obispo, Carmel-by-the-Sea, and Point Lobos.

Did we forget your favorite California road trip spot? Tell us all about it in the comments.