As one of the most scenic drives in the United States, Pacific Coast Highway or Highway 1, is one road trip that is well worth the drive. After moving to California 3 years ago, I finally ticked this epic road trip off my bucket list. In this itinerary blog post, I will talk about all the scenic routes and places along Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to LA.
Of course this trip can also be done in reverse, leaving from LA and heading to San Francisco. Either way, this is one of the best road trips to have on your list. I did the sole drive from San Francisco to LA on a solo female trip to explore the coast.
I not only experienced a variety of coastal scenic landscapes but I also ventured and explored small towns, wine countries, amazing food and surfers paradise as I drove south on Pacific Coast Highway. I love this drive and frequently drive from LA to Malibu to take in the ocean views.
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How many days for Pacific Coast Highway road trip?
I started my journey early on a Thursday morning and ended my road trip Sunday afternoon. This 3.5 day trip was perfect to explore each area and break up the drive. You can start Friday as well but to avoid the rush hour traffic it is ideal to start early in the morning or in the evening after rush hour.
If you are planning to do this road trip, any time of the year is ideal as the weather is virtually always perfect.
Car Rentals in California
I rented a car from LAX airport and begin my journey the next morning. Since our own SUV is a lease, I did not want to run up our miles on my little excursion. You can find out more information on car rental resources here.
Must see places on Pacific Coast Highway (Between San Francisco to LA)
Whether you are stopping at a lot of places or just a few, make sure you plan accordingly. The springtime is one of the most beautiful times in my opinion to visit California. Not only do the wildflowers and poppy flowers blossom but everything is green and absolutely breathtaking. Your road trip is sure to be extraordinary if you come during the spring months to visit California.
Below are the 14 gorgeous stops I made during my Highway 1 road trip from San Francisco to LA.
1. SAN FRANCISCO
San Francisco is one of the most desirable places to visit in the world. I lived in the East Bay during my time in San Francisco and I can tell you that every bit of living the dream is true when it comes to this area. Revisiting brought back nostalgia as I ventured to some unexplored territory during my solo road trip to San Francisco.
2. HALF MOON BAY
Half Moon Bay is a dreamy place and also a beautiful, sleepy town. It’s surfers paradise and also perfect for campers as well. It has gorgeous views of the coast and the wildflowers that bloom by the ocean are breathtaking.
Monterey is such a beautiful place. With 17 miles of scenic views, driving through Pebble Beach is a must-do whenever you are in Monterey.
I can never get over how beautiful and otherworldly Monterey is. Waking up early is a treat when you get to experience the foggy mists that creep over the ocean and the landscape. Is truly is a sight worth waking up to.
I spent my first evening in Carmel-by-the-Sea, which is a small beach town I had not been to before. Carmel is such a cute, quaint town that has so many wonderful places to explore. The downtown area boasts restaurants (most of which require reservations) and amazing wine.
The 17-mile drive is an iconic drive that you must do when you’re venturing through Carmel-by-the-Sea. Nonresidents do have to pay a toll to access the road as it is one of the main roads used by residents of Pebble Beach.
Driving through is a dream as you pass through beautiful golf courses, mansions and the epic Lone Cypress trees.
I ended my time in Carmel-by-the-Sea with a walk along the coastline, taking in the beautiful wildflowers and the views. It was so peaceful and there were only a couple of people nearby. I loved Carmel so much that I will for sure bring my hubby with me on my next trip.
5. BIXBY BRIDGE & BIG SUR
My next stop was heading south on Highway 1 to Big Sur. I have always wanted to do a road trip to Big Sur and this was by far one of the most exciting stops along my solo trip. Driving through Bixby Bridge was something straight out of a luxury car commercial. I took in all the views and pulled over several times to take some epic photos.
As one of the most photographed bridges in the world, it sits 260 feet above the bottom of a steep canyon carved by Bixby Creek. It is simply a sight you must see in person. TIP: Make sure you check the road conditions before you go as mudslides are very common in this area.
If you are driving South, there is also another bridge that looks like Bixby Bridge and can be mistaken for it. Rocky Creek Bridge looks very similar. For reference, Rocky Creek Bride is about 1 mile north of Bixby Bridge so be on the look out for it!
6. MORRO BAY
Morro Bay is a quiet, sleepy coastal town that is home to the volcanic Morro Rock, which sits at the entrance to Morro Bay. It stands at over 580 feet tall and is about 23 million years old!
It was fun driving through Morro Bay, even in the cloudy weather, to get otherworldly photos of Morro Rock. If you are ever in the area, I would suggest stopping at The Rock Espresso Bar for a nice cup of coffee.
I highly recommend stopping here to get a glimpse of this volcanic Morro Rock that gives this town its name. TIP: Sunset is a beautiful time to photograph Morro Bay and Morro Rock.
Related Read: My Journey Living In California
7. SAN LUIS OBISPO
San Luis Obispo or SLO as the locals call it, is a coastal college town with an incredible night life. Head over to Higuera Street for dinner and drinks where you are sure to find plenty of restaurants to choose from. Only a couple hours north from LA, it can be the perfect day trip or weekend getaway.
There are plenty of things to do such as spending a day at the beach or going for a hike up at Bishop Peak. The trailhead to the summit of Bishop Peak is 3.5 miles round trip which would be perfect for a day trip.
Make sure you head to Mission San Luis Obispo, which is an 18th century Spanish Mission. The gardens at the mission are beautiful and are a must-see when you go. The mission has weekend mass at the church which takes place both inside and in the garden for a lovely experience.
8. PISMO BEACH
Accommodation (End of Day 1)
For my first night, I chose to stay in Pismo Beach after driving for a bit and exploring the many different areas. Since Day 2 involves exploring more of the central coast, Pismo Beach was the perfect overnight stay. Morro Bay is another alternative which is about 30 minutes north from Pismo Beach – just in case you don’t want to make the drive south to Pismo Beach.
When I woke up the next morning, I stopped for breakfast and then headed to the beach and the sand dunes. Never had I expect to see sand dunes in Pismo Beach! Driving through Pismo Beach is a very different vibe from the other coastal towns. It is laid-back and the locals are friendly and the food is good. TIP: Next to the beach are the sand dunes in Pismo Beach. You can rent an ATV and go for a ride as the rental shops are right next to the beach. Enjoy!
Solvang was one of my favorite stops on my solo road trip. It was definitely unplanned but well worth the stop as I ventured off the Pacific Coast Highway and onto Highway 101 to visit the Danish town. Getting to Solvang was an easy detour just driving south on Highway 1. TIP: It is highly recommended to check out Solvang on your Pacific Coast Highway road trip itinerary.
The quaint town of Solvang is located in Santa Ynez Valley in Southern California which is famous for wine, just after Sonoma Valley and Napa Valley in Northern California. The Danish heritage runs deep in Solvang which can explain the Danish food and drinks which can be found at nearly every restaurant. The downtown area boasts many restaurants and bars to choose from. I had lunch at Solvang Restaurant, which has Danish eats that you can try. They are vegetarian and vegan-friendly as well. The Dutch jam-filled donuts are a must try!
10. SANTA YNEZ VALLEY VINEYARD
The town of Solvang may have several breweries and wine tasting rooms but I wanted to experience a vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley. Sunstone vineyard came up closest in distance on my Google search and did not disappoint me.
If I thought Solvang was charming, then the Santa Ynez Valley Vineyards is a dream. Wine country in the central coast of California is a place to indulge in wine tasting, good food and plenty of breathtaking views. If you are looking for an upscale wine experience without having to drive to Napa Valley, Santa Ynez Valley is the perfect destination.
11. SANTA BARBARA
Accommodation (End of Day 2)
I decided to end my evening in the beautiful riviera city of Santa Barbara. As my absolute favorite place in California, I decided to splurge and spoil myself by staying at the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort. I took Highway 1 to get to Santa Barbara to catch the sunset.
Though I’ve been to Santa Barbara many times before, this would be my first time venturing on a solo female road trip, spending time with just myself. I headed to my hotel room, overlooking the ocean and just spent the evening relaxing with a good book.
12. SANDY DUNE, PCH
The drive between Santa Barbara and LA is more commonly called PCH among the locals referring to Pacific Coast Highway. Driving down PCH is absolutely magical. Especially in the spring as the barren and brown landscape turns to a lush green as the colors come alive again. The drive from Northern California to Southern California is one of the most beautiful and among my top favorite drives in the country. It is extremely beautiful as you venture on this epic road trip.
Along the drive from Santa Barbara is the epic Sandy Dune. If you want to stretch your legs after a long drive, this is the perfect opportunity to work your muscles and build up a sweat. The climb up Sandy Dune is a challenge but it is so much fun. I took a break in the middle of the climb to sit and take a front row seat to view the Pacific Ocean. What a lovely view!
Did I mention that Southern California has some of the best sunsets in the world? I’ve travelled throughout the world and none of the sunsets I’ve seen can compete with SoCal. TIP: Sandy Dune is one of the most perfect spots to see the sunset on Pacific Coast Highway. When you climb all the way to the top, you can even see the Channel Islands.
Accommodation (End of Day 3)
Making my way down from Sandy Dune, I ventured to Malibu, one of the most beautiful places along PCH. I stayed at the Malibu Beach Inn, which is one of the most beautiful beachfront hotels which gives you a front row seat overlooking the Pacific ocean. For dinner, I headed to Nicolas Eatery to grab a bite to eat. The food is amazing and they have plenty of vegetarian and vegan options.
After my dinner, I went for a stroll along the beach and then called it a night as I relaxed and curled up with a good book. I highly recommend staying at the Malibu Beach Inn as it is rated as the #1 hotel in Southern California and lives up to the rating. It definitely is an upscale hotel and is located along Billionaire’s Beach. It is such a lovely hotel and I thoroughly enjoyed myself – I can’t wait to go back!
After a good night’s sleep, I awoke and headed to Zuma Beach to snap some photos as I caught the sunrise. It was nice to be awake with having the beach all to myself – and the few surfers who also catch the waves quite early!
14. LOS ANGELES
This ultimate San Francisco to LA road trip ended at Santa Monica Pier as I explored the area, took some more photos and then went to the beach. It is always nice to go early to Santa Monica to the beach as it usually gets crowded pretty quickly.
A good portion of my day was spent unwinding from a long drive as I headed home to relax and reminisce on my solo road trip and all that I had done in just a few days. I was a bit nervous to travel alone on a road trip but I never felt better, safer and more relaxed. If you are thinking of doing a solo female road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles, don’t hesitate! It was totally worth it and so much fun.
As I settled in at home and unpacked, I could not help but begin to plan my next adventure. If you’re interested in exploring more of Los Angeles, I suggest you check out the Los Angeles weekend getaway itinerary below for more ideas.
Where to stay on Pacific Coast Highway Drive?
If you are doing this drive between LA and San Francisco over a long weekend i.e. 3 days then here is what I recommend –
- Day 1: Pismo Beach or Morro Bay
- Day 2: Santa Barbara or Santa Ynez Valley
- Day 3: Malibu or Santa Monica
These were some of my favorite pit-stops on my Pacific Coast Highway solo road trip in California. Don’t forget to pack some basic road trip essentials for your next trip!
Have you driven from SF to LA before? I would love to hear where you stopped along the way. If you haven’t, then this should give you inspiration for the next adventure. Where are you off to next?
Read Next: My Journey Living In California
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