California Road Trip along the Pacific Coast Highway
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One of the most iconic road trips in the United States is a California Road Trip on the Pacific Coast Highway. You have everything you need for your road trip, your kids have enough to keep themselves entertained, and know you just need to plan a road trip with stops.
Here is a very detailed road trip itinerary along the PCH from San Francisco to Los Angeles. You can start your very own California Road Trip here!
Start your trip along the Pacific Coast Highway here. If you have a few days to spend in quirky and fun San Francisco I recommend these things.
Day 1: San Francisco
Start your adventure along the Pacific Coast Highway here. If you have a few days to spend in San Francisco I recommend these things. The Golden Gate Bridge & Pier 39 are musts, but if you’re up for it, leave the car at home because this city is perfect for walking and taking public transportation which includes cable cars.
Cable cars are worth the money because you can see so much of this fabulous city without worrying about parking and traffic. Spend your time in style.
During your stay here take time to explore Chinatown, Golden Gate Bridge, visit The Mission, and Fisherman’s Wharf which has Pier 39 filled with shops.
Day 2: Visit Alcatraz
Alcatraz will take a large part of your day but it is such a great tour that you don’t want to miss it. See the infamous prison that used to hold some of the most dangerous criminals in United States History. The tours are awesome. Buy tickets ahead of time to make sure you can actually go.
Combine your trip to Alcatraz with a bike ride to the Golden Gate Bridge for one discounted price here.
Day 3: Muir Woods National Monument
This redwood forested area about an hour north of San Francisco can be reached by car or you can take public transportation (it’s cheaper). They only allow so many people per day inside so it pays to go early before they sell out of parking passes. If you’re driving, leave at least an hour before opening time because there is always traffic getting there especially on weekends. You can also camp nearby if you have all of your gear. The trees here are some of the tallest in the world and some of them are thought to be over 1000 years old.
Santa Cruz is one of the best stops on a California Road Trip on the PCH for travelers who are looking for gorgeous views and fun things to do. Santa Cruz is under 2 hours from San Francisco, making it a great stop for people driving the entire length of the highway or who just want a quick taste of it on a day trip from San Francisco.
One of the top things to do in Santa Cruz is visiting the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Open since 1907, the boardwalk has amusement rides, tasty fair food, games, and other attractions that are fun for both kids and adults. The boardwalk is right along Santa Cruz Beach, which is the perfect spot to enjoy a day in the sun.
For gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean, plan a stop at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center. This museum is an excellent spot for those with an interest in marine science, but you don’t have to visit the museum to access the views from Terrace Point. The nearby Natural Bridges State Beach is another spot with great views.
There are several great restaurants in Santa Cruz. Hula’s Island Grill and Tiki Room is a great place for a casual lunch, and Vino by the Sea is perfect for a romantic seaside dinner.
By Sydney from A World in Reach
A 2 hour drive from San Francisco is one of my favorite towns in California. “Carmel” as locals call it or Carmel-by-the-sea as it’s officially known is old world charming and the town is filled with Hansel & Gretel esque cottages. It’s truly photogenic and to me is like walking through the pages of a fairytale.Besides cute cottages, Carmel is full of narrow passageways, sun-drenched courtyards and the town doesn’t use street numbers so be mindful of losing your bearings!
Ocean Avenue is the best shopping street in town and has clothing boutiques, art galleries, quirky stores and restaurants lining either side. Whilst here you must visit Cottage of Sweets which sells British candy and other goodies.
Walk just 10 minutes to the white-sand Carmel beach from town. For a beach so close to town it feels secluded, it is popular with locals but you can’t swim here due to strong currents. Another fantastic beach nearby is China Beach at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, a 10 minute drive away. Here you may spot sea lions and otters lazing on the rocks if you’re lucky.
Back in town, the stunning San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission is well worth spending a couple hours. This mission was founded way back in 1771. If you’re an adventurous traveler, them, why not consider renting a motorbike from town and driving the Pacific Coast Highway it’s truly a unique way to get a sense of this gorgeous area.
The Mission Ranch Restaurant, a drive from town is a great place for dinner and is owned by Clint Eastwood! For a more casual dining experience try La Bicyclette on Dolores Avenue for French-Italian inspired dishes.
Point Lobos State Reserve
The drive along Big Sur is one of the most scenic parts of the PCH. Here, the rugged cliffs get higher and higher above the indigo Pacific. As your car weaves around redwood forests and mountains, you’re rewarded with stunning views of the coastline.
Perhaps the most popular stop in Big Sur is Bixby Creek Bridge. Suspended between two cliffs overlooking the ocean, Bixby Creek Bridge is an architectural masterpiece.
You can pull over at numerous viewpoints for different views of the bridge, which happens to be one of the most photographed in the state. There’s a parking lot on either side of the road at the north end of the bridge. From there you can get a close-up look at the arch and capture your own stunning photos.
If you are looking for a relaxing stop on your PCH road trip, consider Cambria! The tiny California Central Coast village is considered the southern gateway to Big Sur, but that’s not its only claim to fame.
Moonstone Beach is a pretty beach for strolling and beachcombing. Look for little polished stones here, and look for sea birds and marine life. It’s also a great place to watch the sun go down: bring a bottle of wine and a blanket, and enjoy the views.
Just above the beach, the Moonstone Beach Boardwalk Trail is a great walk if you want the water views but don’t want to venture onto the sandy beach. Another fabulous place to hike in Cambria is the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, where the bluff trail is a must.
Cambria’s charming little downtown is a great place to shop for gifts or antiques, whether you are looking for beautiful glass pieces, wood sculptures, or art. You will also find lots of wine tasting rooms if you would like to sample local wine.
There are many great places to eat in Cambria. Robin’s has an international-inspired menu that features fresh local ingredients. For a quintessentially Cambria dessert, head to Linn’s Restaurant for their famous olallieberry pie.
Dhara from Roadtripping California
Morro Bay is a beautiful and intimate coastal town that’s famous for its inspiring landmark — Morro Rock. This rock is ginormous, as locals and tourist flock to this off-the-beaten path destination to admire its natural beauty. While admiring this gorgeous rock is at the top of the list of the best things to do in Morro Bay, that’s not all this charming city has to offer.
This quant beach town is a great stop for anyone traveling along the Pacific Coast Highway, and is approximately 14 miles away from San Louis Obispo. Upon arriving, park in the downtown area to make the most of this short visit. Wander the main street, called Embarcadero, to find quirky and cute shops, restaurants and more. Embarcadero is hands-down the best place to grab food, a snack, or a tasty ice cream cone while basking in a scenic view of the city.
For nature enthusiasts, there’s stand-up paddle boarding and kayaking. Try out either of these water activities, or if preferred, relax by the water and watch the wild sea life. There’s also various hiking trails to explore in the area, which are great for stretching those legs after a long drive. Visit Morro Bay State Park that expands over thousands of acres for a leisurely stroll, and admire its gorgeous views. From kayaking, to shopping, and witnessing the gigantic Morro Rock, Morro Bay is an excellent pit stop to add to a road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Just be sure to pack hiking shoes, bathing suits and sun screen for exploring the great outdoors.
Pismo Beach is one of the best stops along the Pacific Coast Highway, California Road Trip. It is located along the California Central Coast, which is a fun reason to explore in itself. You could easily spend a few hours exploring Pismo Beach to a few days. The area is known for its gorgeous beach and abundance of wineries that surround the area.
The main area of Pismo Beach contains a super cute downtown area. It is here you can find some of the best cinnamon rolls at Old West Cinnamon Rolls. These delicious cinnamon rolls will melt in your mouth and have you craving more. Also in the downtown area you can find Splash Cafe which is a great spot for clam chowder lovers.
Another fun thing to do in Pismo Beach is to hike in the Pismo Preserve. The preserve takes up 880 acres and has 10 miles of hiking trails. Some of the trails offer fabulous views of the ocean and surrounding area.
Right next to Pismo Beach lies Avila Beach and Pirates Cove. Pirates Cove is a great spot to watch a sunset or have a picnic lunch. Avila Beach has many cute beachfront shops to browse in and a small pier that offers great views of the ocean. No matter what, you get a ton of awesome views in this area.
A great place to stop along the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Los Angeles is the beautiful town of Los Alamos in the Santa Ynez Valley.
Overall, Los Alamos, California is filled with great history, renowned wineries, a vibrant culinary scene, and awesome hiking! A cool place to stop at for a few hours on a road trip is Skyview Los Alamos. It is a luxury, roadside motel and whether you need accommodation or not, there are a plethora of things to enjoy around the motel itself!
Located on the property of Skyview is Norman, which is a trendy American restaurant and bar that offers delicious food and drinks for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and happy hour! You can either sit inside or outside by the pool and enjoy all the stunning panoramic views while savoring everything from avocado toast to meat and pasta dishes!
Another reason why Skyview Los Alamos is the perfect stop along a Pacific Coast Highway trip is because there is a rosè vineyard situated right on the property! Both tasty and refreshing, Skyview’s rosè is perfect to enjoy poolside, in front of one of the motel’s firepits, right within the vineyards itself and at lunch or dinner!
Other great things to do during your time in Los Alamos, California is to savor a lovely farm-to-table dinner at Pico; have fun at Bodega, which is an awesome open wine and beer garden; enjoy some great boutique shopping; stroll around the charming downtown area and also go on a hike at a local Santa Ynez trail.
By Taylor Deer of Brown Eyed Flower Child
Just 20 minutes off the Pacific Coast Highway between Pismo Beach and Santa Barbara sits a charming little Danish village called Solvang. California might be the last place you’d expect such a town, but it was founded in 1911 by Danish immigrants looking to escape the harsh mid-Western winters. There are actually a lot of places in California that feel like Europe and Solvang is quite authentic and rich in history. Many of the shops, restaurants, and boutique hotels are built with that distinct Danish style.
The best time to visit is during the month of December. You might be surprised to learn that despite the lack of snow, Time Magazine actually dubbed Solvang one of the “most Christmassy towns in America” thanks to its month-long Christmas celebration called Julefest. The Solvang Christmas Market happens every Thursday-Sunday in December and is a great place to get your holiday shopping done. Throughout the month, you can see the Christmas Market light show choreographed to music, hunt for gnomes hidden throughout town, visit Santa’s Village, listen to carolers, ride in a horse-drawn trolley, and take a candlelight tour of the town led by a costumed guide.
But even if your road trip doesn’t coincide with the Christmas season, Solvang is a delightful place to visit year-round because of the traditional Danish architecture and delicious food. If nothing else, it’s worth a quick 20-minute detour off the PCS to grab some pastries from the Solvang Bakery and snap a photo in front of the famous windmill.
Plus it is a great day trip from Los Angeles!
On your road trip down the Californian coast, you will want to make time to visit Santa Barbara, a vibrant city on the American Riviera known for its palm-tree lined beaches, Spanish Colonial Revival architecture and burgeoning food and wine scene. It’s worth spending a day in Santa Barbara to discover its unique spots.
First explore the hip Funk Zone, a former warehouse district that has historically been a base for artists. You will find plenty of trendy boutiques, restaurants, wine tasting rooms and breweries in the area. If you are a wine lover you may want to consider spending a night in this lively city so you can visit multiple wine tasting rooms. A must visit tasting room is Riverbench for its wine bottles bedazzled with sparkles. If you buy a bottle you can get it sparkled in silver, rainbow or gold colours.
Stop in at Goat Tree for an alfresco brunch or at Margerum for a delicious charcuterie snack. For dinner, make a reservation at the excellent farm-to-fork restaurant, The Lark.
If time permits, walk the beautiful paved pathway along the ocean to Santa Barbara pier and pick up some candies at the vintage candy store. The historic wharf is the oldest working wooden wharf in California.
By Denise of Chef Denise
You’ve made it to Los Angeles on your great California road trip and now you need at least 3 days to see LA well. The city is littered with showbiz landmarks and awesome cultural attractions.
LA has enough attractions in it itself to take up several days of time, but for this itinerary we suggest planning 3 full LA activities and 1 day trip or two. If you want to visit LA only we have a fabulous week long LA itinerary!
Day One: Hollywood & Beverly Hills
The most famous part of Los Angeles is home to Hollywood Blvd., Grauman’s Chinese Theater, Kodak Theater, Walk of Fame, Rodeo Drive shopping district in Beverly Hills. Your plan for this day should allow for time spent in Grauman’s Chinese Theater and the Hollywood Walk of Fame along with stargazing in front of the Dolby Theatre where the Academy Awards are held. Parking can be tough in this area, but it’s easier if you go to Hollywood & Highland where there’s a large parking garage or just pay one of the street metered spots on Hollywood Blvd.
While you are there you can visit the La Brea tar pits, go shopping on Melrose, and eat at some fabulous places in West Hollywood.
Day Two: Beverly Hills and Beverly Grove
This wealthy part of Los Angeles is home to many movie stars who live behind gated communities, so don’t bother trying to find them. There are more stores on Rodeo Drive than you can count, so window shop to your heart’s content. Beverly Hills is about 6 miles from downtown Los Angeles. I suggest getting lunch in Little Tokyo nearby before going into The Grove, another mall in LA that is always bustling with people and is next door to the open air Farmer’s Market.
Visit the Peterson Museum and see some really awesome cars!
Day Three: Universal Studios
Universal Studios Hollywood is a fabulous place to visit. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is one of the main attractions and is definitely worth seeing if you’re into that series. There are also studio tours that take you to Universal’s backlot. If you love movies and amusement parks this is something you will want to do for sure.
Note: Make sure you buy tickets in advance online. It costs less and you’ll avoid long lines when you get there.
When choosing where to stay in Los Angeles with your family you want to make sure you are in a great location. I wrote a post called “The best family-friendly hotels in Los Angeles.” I hope you love it!
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