The Pacific Coast Highway road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles is among the most excellent world road trip. You get to experience the countless culture, attraction sites, and even make new friends. The journey may take several days, but it’s worth your time. What makes it intriguing is the diverse attraction venues that keep you mesmerized and never tired of the view along the way. Despite being a very long distance to cover on the road, the excitement that accompanies it, makes it feel like a few “hours” road trip.
When driving along the route, you will get an opportunity to pass through and even stop in coastal towns, massive metropolitan cities, the redwood forests, diverse beaches, the major wine regions, various lighthouses, encounter marine life, outdoor adventures, and view of the colonial sites, state parks and even cultural venues. In the process, you will get to experience the best scenic views and have a chance to take killer photos for remembrance.
Below you are provided with the various major place names you will encounter on a San Francisco to Los Angeles road trip. The order has arranged them from your departure to arrival. On each category or name of the place, you are also provided with activities you can take part within a short period of time of your arrival. It also includes other exciting events you could attend if you chose the places as a resting point for the night.
How long is the drive? The time duration depends on what your plans are during the trip. If you are planning to stop and venture every incredible place, you may need several days. If you need to go one way with few or no stops, it will cost you a whole day. So the choice depends on you. But it’s recommended that 4 to 5 days is better, this will give you enough time to venture into various attractions sites and have a more exceptional experience.
Also, you have to put into consideration other external factors that can interfere with your trip. This may include- weather, traffic, and speed limits on the highway. Ideally, a week or two might come in handy. It will give you enough time to move with no hurry. Also, this will allow you to spend more time in areas with more attractions sites.
Before heading out, ensure your mode of transport will be able to cope up with the long continuous drives. A break down on the way can be a buzz kill and enough to disorient the whole trip. This means having everything you will need during the journey within your reach.
1. Point Reyes
Don’t be in a hurry when heading to the south of San Francisco, to the north there is Point Reyes. It’s the right spot for a weekend getaway. It’s located along the highway, so there are no worries about getting lost. It is a National Seashore, which is very large and protected.
Why is it a great place not to miss? It’s a place where you get to explore nature; most of the people residing in San Francisco Bay love spending the weekend in there. Moreover, you also get to be close to the elephant seals basking on the Drakes beach.
Moreover, there are other exciting places to explore, such as the beaches, trails, historic sites, and Coves. You can pass by the Bear Valley visitor center which is just close to the entrance of the vicinity to have an orientation. You will get to learn about all the activities you can get engaged in for fun during your visit.
If your time is restricted during the visit, you should pay a visit to Alamere falls. It’s a fantastic place to go for a hike. It’s among the scenic areas that attract people to Point Reyes. The fall drains directly on the beach. You can also try out the Lighthouse, which is just a walk away along the beach.
2. San Francisco
It’s the most diverse and iconic city in the world; it has an endless venture to explore when you visit. What might limit your venture is the time you have set for the visit. The touring sites include the city and the scenic locations it has.
If it’s your first visit, you may need to look at the following exciting parts:
- The cable cars- I am sure you’ve heard of this before, even if you have never been to San Francisco, maybe in a movie or a picture. It’s among the iconic landmark of the city. It’s one place that you will have a beautiful view from above while riding in style.
- The golden park- this is an inexpensive but beautiful place to view. It offers a serene surrounding to relax a classic way. It’s also big enough to allow you to wander around. And if that’s not enough, you can have a drive at the stow lake while enjoying the view of the turtles and ducks in the pond.
- Golden Gate Bridge- despite the cold wind blowing over it, the site is breathless as you walk across the gigantic bridge. It’s quite an exciting place worth your time.
- Dolores Park- do you need to bond while having some fun. Well, Dolores Park is just the right place for you. It’s beautiful and full of life with excitement. The park is known for people dancing, drinking, relaxing, playing music and other fun activities.
- Twin peaks- It is just the right location for you. It’s located at the Grand view park. At this point, you will have a beautiful view of the city. You can also decide to spice it up by visiting the place in the evening, enjoy both the sunset and the fantastic view of the town.
- Telegraph hills- have you ever seen a flock of parrots before? The telegraph hills are the home of these adorable creatures. You may spot one or two in town when they have gone foraging. At the same place, you can also have a view of the city from the ‘Coit tower’.
3. Half Moon Bay
It’s a coastal town which is very small and is famous for its pumpkin festival which occurs annually every October. But that’s not all about it. Have you heard about the Mavericks competition? Yes, you heard me right, ‘The Mavericks Competition’ an international competition of big wave surfing. If you are lucky enough to be there at the time of games, you will have a great view which is both horrifying and at the same time exciting.
Apart from that, there are other fun activities you could engage in, such as biking, sun-basking at the beach, or go shopping at the local market. Most of the shopping areas, including restaurants, are based, on and off the main historic street around downtown. This is also a great place to stroll around.
Some other exciting day time activities that you can find pleasing include horse riding along the trail of the beach. Or visit the pillar point harbor. It’s located close to where the Mavericks competition takes place. Also, if you will be in a hurry, avoid the town during the Mavericks wave surfing competition or the pumpkin festive. The site is usually filled with crowds and heavy traffic.
4. Santa Cruz
It’s an Oceanside city which is very popular for exciting outdoor activities such as social activism, surfing, beach boardwalk and a visit to the University of California. If you will be a day trip, the west cliff drive is the best route for a scenic view. To make the visit enjoyable, you can pay a visit to the Boardwalk at the Santa Cruz beach.
Other fun and exciting activities you can add in your schedule for great experience include a stroll around downtown, the arcade, amusement park and also family-oriented attractions. Also, don’t forget to appreciate the view of the Natural Bridges State Beach.
If you have a hobby or fun of surfing, you will be at the right place to express your geekiness on surfing. You can either pick the surfing board and find a wave or pay a visit to the Surfing Monument which honors surfing and also the surfing museum. The museum is situated along the West Cliff Drive.
If you have enough time to spare at the Santa Cruz, you can go hiking, visit local Wineries or have an adventure of riding in a steam train while enjoying the scenic view through its window.
It’s prevalent for the history of the cannery and rich in marine wildlife, which is very diverse. It is also situated close to Pebble Beach golf course and for hosting among the best aquariums in the country.
If you are interested in a day trip around the place, the best spots are Fisherman Wharf and Cannery Row areas. Pay a visit to the great aquarium and also get to enjoy the local delicacies, which include seafood. Or perhaps, if you are a nature person, a drive along the 17mile great scenic view can be a thrilling experience. You will be able to view marine animals along the coast. They include harbor seals, sea birds, sea otters, and if you are lucky the whales. The animals are often viewed when they are along the beach waterfront, so you have to be watchful to spot them.
For the fans of John Steinbeck, you can honor the guy by visiting National Steinbeck Center which is situated 17 miles from Monterey in Salinas. Alternatively, you can decide to burn your energy at Lake El Estero City Park, also the home to comic strip artist, Dennis the Menace Park which was created by him.
After a long day of touring the whole place, you will definitely need to refresh your energy. You can have the area delicacies in restaurants which are based near the Pacific Grove. Afterward, you can complete your day with a venture at Point Pinos. A lighthouse that is oldest along the west coast region and it’s still working. It also offers sanctuary during the months of autumn and winter to the Monarch Butterfly.
6. Carmel by the sea
With the fancy name, you will definitely expect to find excellent staff. This includes a little town on the seaside, with amazing looking beaches, cute shops, and candy stores and maybe bed & breakfast, which is very cozy. Well, you are right. This place has all those things and more. Thus it forms one of the great places to spend a night in during your road trip.
When you think of intriguing attractions, there are no major ones which are located in the area. But it is filled with exciting outdoor activities, such as going shopping. Also, restaurants, spas, and art galleries are great places to explore while strolling around the city.
Have you ever been to a mission or any missions which are Spanish in California? While in Carmel, you can visit “Mission San Carlos Del Rio Carmelo” which was founded in 1771. You can also engage in hiking near State Natural Reserve at Point Lobos.
7. Big Sur
Despite the strength that accompanies its name, ‘Big Sur’ it’s not even big enough to be a town. In fact, it’s a region with a sparse population of people. It covers about 87 miles with a coastline which is very rugged. In the past, the past the area seldom received visitors. It even didn’t have electricity. This was in the 1950s.
Construction of the Highway-one road is what made it accessible more. And this later drew visitors to the place. Despite the accessibility into the region, the area still holds beaches, wilderness, coastline, and forests which remain unaffected by human explorations.
The best way to tackle this place is riding through the Highway-one while appreciating the scenic beauty along the road. Also, there are several viewpoints you could take advantage of and have some pictures taken. There is more fun for those who are there to stay for a while. Some of these exciting activities you could take part in include- hiking, camping, kayaking, mountain climbing, hiking, and other fun activities.
There are also some popular sites to visit which are along the H1 road. These are, McWay falls- this enables you to appreciate nature and also experience the cool sensation from the falling water breeze. ‘Point Sur lighthouse’ which is located in and even part of the historic park Point ‘Sur State’.
8. San Simeon
This place hosts one of the most famous attractions of tourists which are located along the California Central Coast, the “Hearst Castle.” This hilltop mansion was built by Randolph Hearst, the late newspaper magnet, with the help of Julia Morgan, a San Francisco architect. The castle construction started in 1919, and the process continued for the next 30 years.
Therefore, this is an exciting place to visit while in San Simeon. It usually receives a lot of visitors daily. The site has been well kept by the California state. At the site, you get to adore the building architect, the well-cured garden, and the history that makes the place to be famous.
San Simeon also has other interesting places to visit apart from the castle; these are Elephant seal rookery- where there is a gathering of elephant seals in thousands at one given point on the beach the Piedras Blancas Light Station and the memorial beach of William Hearst.
It is situated almost half away of your Pacific coast highway road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles. This place is featured with beaches for relaxation during the long flight, shopping stores to restock your supplies in the car, scenery to admire, and outdoor ventures to get you occupied with fun. Also, it contains excellent restaurants where you can fist after your experiments.
Cambria, together with San Simeon, forms the efficient stopover during the road trip. The distance between them is 10 miles. That means you can actually visit either of them while deciding to settle on one temporarily.
The best site for a day trip include- A stroll in the historic downtown and also give a try of the local delicacy, such as Olallieberry pie. Others include a visit to Moonstone Beach, and completing your day with a delicious meal at one of the Cambria restaurant.
Additional adventures may include, Fiscalini Ranch Preserve hiking, Nitt Witt ridge tour or you may decide to taste the local beer or wine.
10. Morro Bay
When you talk about charming, this place surely fits the definition of the word. It’s an old bustling seaside town with a beautiful waterfront and a significant landmark which is Moro Rock. The monument is situated in the harbor, and also many antique stores that you can explore. The limitation of the rock is that you are not allowed to hike on it. It is just there for viewing and taking photographs.
From miles away, the rock is visible; this is because it’s a 481 ft plug of a volcano that is among the famous chain of plugs. Nine of these rocks in a chain also referred to as nine sisters.
If you are visiting during the day, a stroll around the waterfront is one way to start the exploration of the town harbor, followed by the wharf, and then go shopping in the many antique stores. You will not miss to-get something that interests you. Other exciting ventures include the natural estuary of the town and enjoy the adventure of kayaking.
While in town, get to explore what it means to be a vegan. Go and have lunch in one of the town vegan restaurants. And complete the day by buying an antique souvenir to remember the town with.
11. Los Osos
Close to Morro Bay, is a small town, this is an excellent place for nature explorations. Some of which includes, bird watching, going for a hike, adventures in the water, and other fun nature exploration activities.
While on a day trip, hiking at the Montana de Oro State Park trails is one way to ensure your day is well spent in Los Osos. Other exciting spots are Spooner’s Cove and oceanside park which is stunningly beautiful. Then go for an adventure along the natural estuary at Morro Bay. Complete your excursion with a burger and a cup of coffee from the burger joint in town. If you have disposable time, the bay stroll is an excellent way to freshen up with a cool breeze from the ocean.
12. Pismo Beach
For a classic beach town, there is no other place like the Pismo Beach in California. The best activity in this place is to go for a ride in the dune, and also relax while enjoying yourself at the beach. Other events are shopping, wine tasting, and dining.
Among the successful ventures to take part in, there is nothing thrilling like a walk on the pier of Pismo Beach. You can also have great fun while Kayaking, Boating, swimming, surfing, kiteboarding and other popular activities which are related to water.
If you are lucky enough to be traveling in a four-wheel drive, then it’s time to taste the power of your engine. At “Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Zone” this is the only state park where vehicles are permitted in. Therefore this creates uniqueness among all the region beaches. Four-wheel types of cars are best commended due to the high chances of not getting stuck in the sand.
When you are through with your excursions, you can get in a local restaurant and try out their delicacies. Among the memorable meals are the Pismo clams, also referred to as clam chowder. Get to have a taste before they are no longer available. This is due to overharvesting, which makes the clams, scarce with time. In the past, it was famously known as “the world Clam Capital,” but the title and the culture are fading away with the decreasing Clam numbers.
This forms a piece of Denmark situated in California. Also, it’s located away from the seaside, making it unique from the other places mentioned earlier. The site was discovered by a group of immigrants who were Danish in 1911. After their establishment in the locality, they even set up Danish schools and also a Lutheran church. All the structures of the area were built from Danish architecture.
A tour of this place enables us to know and appreciate how Danish culture looks and feels like without heading to Denmark. To strengthen the bond between the local community and their ancestral origin Denmark, they received in 2011 a royal visit.
Due to their unique houses designs such as windmills, rooftop storks, the houses which are half-timbered and a European Unique atmosphere has turned Solvang into a famous destination for tourists.
During a day trip, you can stroll around the town appreciating different architectural styles of the Danish. Also get to explore eateries, shops, wine tasting, and a park. To have a full experience of the Danish culture, you can try out their famous Pancake (asæbleskiver). If strolling on foot is quite tricky for you, you can enjoy the 19th-century rides (the wooden horse-driven streetcars).
A stop at the “Hans Christian Andersen Park” gives you a fantastic nature break. The environment is kid-friendly, and also you get to explore Nojoqui Falls Park, which is just some distance away. At this place, you can try hiking at the 80 ft drop waterfall.
With plenty of time, you can get engaged in horse racing, cycling in some nearby horse ranches (Alisal Guest Ranch) or maybe you can go to view and feed the giant birds at “Ostrich-land USA”.
Last but not least, take a look at miniature horses and also admire lavender in the fields later on at Quicksilver Ranch and Clairmont Farms respectively.
14. Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara forms a great place where you can rock in your shorts. It is characterized by warm weather, the stretch of beaches, and colonial building structures. Unique from other towns listed, it has numerous cultural and historical attractions, also includes many performing venues and dining spots with best regards. This gives you a wide range of activities you can choose to engage in during your arrival.
For a quick stop, visit the famous ‘Stearns Wharf’ inclusive of waterfront. To avoid a large crowd, visit the place early in the morning or late in the evening. After that, you can check out the best historic sites: County courthouse, Santa Barbara, Presidio of Santa Barbara and Mission Santa Barbara.
When you have extra time, you can utilize the opportunity and visit the museums of the town. They include- “Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History” and Santa Barbara Museum of Natural Art. And if you love structural designs of the building, you can visit Mesa Area; it contains colonial architecture and a beautiful beach to relax if you intend to spend the night in town. At night, the city is lively, with several events taking place at the same time. They include- concert performance, art performances, and diverse classical music concerts.
Get tipsy a bit while tasting various wines in the town. There is no better place to do that than wine tasting rooms. In these venues, you are given different types of wine you can taste and appreciate their diversity.
15. Los Angeles
It’s a sprawling city which is very famous for the television and film industries of the country. If there is one place that you can’t explore in a single day, in Los Angeles. It’s filled with very many attractions sites and entertainment zones. The best part is they are all exceptional and intriguing. That means you will be left excited all day long and still have some more place to visit the next day.
The places to visit, including- world-class museums, beaches, cultural attractions, performance art venue, sports teams, shopping spots, and many more. The world’s class museums are several which include- cultural attraction at the Petersen Automotive Museum, Getty museum; art museum which provides for- LA county museum of art, Hammer Museum, the Hollywood museum including others.
If you are a fan or have an interest in television and film sector, you can visit several well-known studios such as- Warner Brothers, Universal Studios, Marvel, TCL Chinese Theatre, Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood museum, Hollywood sign, and many other film-related attraction sites. It is also a major destination for shopping visited by a countless number of visitors. It offers a wide range of shopping options, which includes the luxurious high-end boutique or retro vintage options.
For relaxation away from the city, you can take a stroll on the various beaches and boardwalks. They are all located along the coast, and they run from Venice Beach to the Boardwalk of Santa Monica and also to the El Matador scenic beach found in Malibu.
The sports lovers and fans are also not left behind. If you plan to stay for a few days to relax after a long road trip, you could book some few tickets to games available. Los Angeles hosts several sports teams which are prominent. They include Kings, LA Dodgers, Lakers, LA Angeles Clippers and Galaxy. This also consists of the college teams such as the USC Trojans and UCLA Bruins.
Therefore, as mentioned earlier, there are countless things to do. To explore and experience the place to the fullest, you will need several days. For a short time visit, you can visit the main attractions, which include: Art, Hollywood, Food, Luxury, Museums, Beaches, shopping, etc.