Plan a California Coast Road Trip with a Flexible Itinerary

The ideal way to experience the California coast is to hit the road. Following this legendary road trip will take you through California’s bustling cosmopolitan cities, small beach towns, redwood forests, and sandy beaches.

You can switch back and forth between the two routes depending on your pace and your interests. Highway 1 is generally more scenic; U.S. 101 is usually faster.For the most part, you’ll cover this stunning 850 miles by following the legendary Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) and U.S. 101. You can switch back and forth between the two routes depending on your pace and your interests. Highway 1 is generally more scenic; U.S. 101 is usually faster. A few diversions onto other routes are necessary to cover the entire coast (for example, you’ll be driving I-5 between San Diego and Los Angeles).

The day-by-day routes below begin in Southern California, but you can just as easily start in Central or Northern California, or reverse the route (from driving north to driving south) if that works better for you. Combine all three itineraries to make a 16-day tour of the coast. If you’re pressed for time, choose just one or two of the itineraries.

Five Days in Southern California

San Diego

Day 1

map of San Diego

San Diego

Easygoing San Diego is a great place to start any vacation. Upon arrival, orient yourself by driving to the top of Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial, a small mountain that has views of the entire city. After that, head down to La Jolla Cove to go kayaking or snorkeling; or just lie on the beach.

In the afternoon, visit Balboa Park, where you’ll spend most of your time at the San Diego Zoo. End your day with a craft beer at one of San Diego’s many breweries, like the giant Stone Brewing Co., followed by a meal in the Gaslamp Quarter. Try the historic Grant Grill or the nearby Café Chloe.

Day 2

The fastest way to reach the North County beach towns of Encinitas, Carlsbad, and Oceanside is to take I-5 north out of San Diego. Or, to cruise along the coast, opt for North Coast Highway 101 (also called Camino del Mar, San Elijo Boulevard, and Carlsbad Boulevard as it travels from Torrey Pines State Beach to Oceanside). Make sure to stop for a surf or a swim since the ocean temperatures cool as you head up the coast.

Continue north on I-5 to visit Huntington Beach before turning off towards Long Beach for a nighttime ghost tour on The Queen Mary, an ocean liner that is now home to restaurants, a hotel, shops, and a museum. If you are daring enough, book a room for the night in the haunted ship.

Los Angeles

Day 3

map of Los Angeles

Los Angeles

Jump on I-405 to save some time and drive about 30 miles north, exiting towards Venice Beach. Park your vehicle and take a stroll along the Venice Boardwalk to take in the local wildlife that includes bodybuilders, street performers, and alternative-culture types. Without getting back on the highway, take the local roads paralleling the beach 10 minutes north to Santa Monica. Enjoy the amusement park rides of the Santa Monica Pier or just take a break on Santa Monica Beach. For dinner, get a taste of the Caribbean at Santa Monica’s casual but popular Cha Cha Chicken or backtrack to Venice for a hearty Italian meal at C&O Trattoria.

Day 4

Consider heading inland for a day of culture (and pop culture). For aesthetic stimulation, visit the world-famous Getty Center or the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Less rigorous on the mind is a walk down the star-studded Hollywood Walk of Fame and a stop at the historic TCL Chinese Theatre, where you can find the handprints of your favorite movie stars. End the day with a cocktail at Sunset Boulevard’s Rainbow Bar & Grill. There might even be a grizzled, past-his-prime rocker sitting in the booth next to you.

Day 5

Take the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) out of Santa Monica west as it heads away from sprawling Los Angeles and into Malibu. Stop at Malibu’s Surfriders Beach to watch the surfers compete for its famously peeling waves (or catch one yourself). After a morning outdoors, feed your mind with ancient art at The Getty Villa in Malibu. (Admission is free, but you’ll need to reserve a ticket in advance.) Finish the day by watching the sun slide into the Pacific from the outdoor deck of Neptune’s Net, while enjoying fresh seafood.

If you want to spend more time in the Los Angeles area, you can easily fill a couple of days enjoying Disneyland Resort.

A yellow beach crossings sign depicting people carrying surfboards.

Beach crossings sign in Malibu. Photo © klotz/123rf.

Six Days in Central California

Santa Barbara and Ventura

Day 1

map of Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara

Wake up early and drive north on the scenic Pacific Coast Highway. Thirty-five miles from Malibu, at Oxnard, merge onto U.S. 101. Head north on U.S. 101 to Ventura and take the exit toward Ventura Harbor, where you can catch a boat out to Channel Islands National Park for a day of hiking, snorkeling, or kayaking on Santa Cruz Island or Anacapa Island. (Make boat reservations in advance.) Return to Ventura and eat dinner at one of its seafood restaurants, such as Lure Fish House or Spencer Makenzie’s Fish Company. Or have an Italian meal and cocktail at hip Café Fiore.

Day 2

Take U.S. 101 north just a half hour (28 miles) to Santa Barbara. Get a history fix at the Santa Barbara Mission, which might be the most beautiful of the 21 Spanish missions in California. Then taste some of Santa Barbara’s wines on the Urban Wine Trail, six tasting rooms on lower State Street, or head north for a day at palm-lined Refugio State Beach, 20 miles west of Santa Barbara on U.S. 101.

If your schedule is flexible, you might consider another full day in Santa Barbara, another day of wine-tasting in nearby Santa Maria Valley, or a day on the Gaviota Coast. Whatever you do, stop at Santa Barbara’s State Street for a fine meal or cocktail at a restaurant like the local favorite Opal. Or head off State Street for superb Mexican food at La Super-Rica Taqueria.

Big Sur and the Central Coast

Day 3

Maps - Northern California 7e - Big Sur

Big Sur

Drive 1.75 hours (92 miles) north of Santa Barbara on U.S. 101 to San Luis Obispo’s Madonna Inn, where you can take in its kitschy decor during a restroom and stretch-the-legs break.

Outdoor enthusiasts will want to head off the highway and go west on Los Osos Valley Road just 20 minutes (12 miles) to Montana de Oro State Park, one of the state’s best coastal parks. Picnic at Spooner’s Cove or hike to the top of 1,347-foot-high Valencia Peak. Then head back to U.S. 101 North, but be sure to turn onto Highway 1 north to take in sunset over Morro Rock, known as the “Gibraltar of the Pacific.”

Another option is to drive an hour north (44 miles) to opulent Hearst Castle. Tours of this “ranch” built for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst offer insight into the lifestyle of the rich and infamous. However you spend your day, end it with a meal in one of the Central Coast’s unassuming beach towns: Morro Bay, Cayucos or Cambria.

Day 4

Head north on Highway 1 for what might be the most scenic day of driving on your whole trip. The two-lane highway here winds along the mountains of Big Sur with plentiful views of the ocean. From Cambria to the heart of Big Sur is 75 miles, but the scenery, winding roadway, and frequent road construction can make the drive last well over two hours.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur. Photo © Michael Bundscherer, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Be sure to make multiple stops to take in the scenery at places like Salmon Creek Falls, Sand Dollar Beach, and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Catch sunset at Pfeiffer Beach before spending the night camping in the redwoods of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park or in the meadow at Andrew Molera State Park. Or splurge with a once-in-a-lifetime stay at the Post Ranch Inn or Ventana Inn & Spa.

Monterey Bay

Day 5

Maps - Northern California 7e - Monterey Bay

Monterey Bay

Continue up Highway 1 for 45 minutes (less than 30 miles) through the northern section of Big Sur to the Monterey Peninsula. Take a walk in Carmel’s Point Lobos State Reserve or head to scenic Carmel Beach. Then drive a few miles north into Monterey to spend the afternoon at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Dine on fresh seafood at Pacific Grove’s Passionfish, Monterey’s Fish House in Monterey, or Phil’s Fish Market up Highway 1 in Moss Landing.

If you want to spend another day in this area, wander the galleries in Carmel-by-the-Sea, golf at Pebble Beach, or head inland to Carmel Valley for wine-tasting.

Day 6

Getting to Santa Cruz is an easy 50-minute drive (44 miles) up Highway 1 from the Monterey Peninsula. The eclectic beach city is an ideal place for recreation whether you are surfing, stand up paddleboarding, or hiking redwood-filled Forest of Nisene Marks State Park or the coastal bluffs of Wilder Ranch State Park. Refuel with a healthy snack at The Picnic Basket before ending the day with thrill rides at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

If your adrenaline is still racing from the Boardwalk rides, calm down with a drink at Red Restaurant & Bar or The Crepe Place.

Five Days in Northern California

San Francisco

Day 1

Maps - Northern California 7e - San Francisco Bay Area

San Francisco Bay Area

Wake up early for a drive on Highway 1 from Santa Cruz less than two hours (80 miles) to San Francisco. In the city, spend a few hours in the hands-on science museum The Exploratorium. As the sun goes down, make sure to head out for dinner, whether it’s seafood at the Tadich Grill, modern Vietnamese at The Slanted Door, or pizza at Tony’s Pizza Napoletena. If you still have energy, make sure to check out some of San Francisco’s vibrant nightlife or a concert at a venue like the Great American Music Hall.

Day 2

Head out on the San Francisco Bay to take a fascinating tour of the island prison Alcatraz. Or secure passage on a ferry to Angel Island, which has hiking trails that offer up some of the finest views of the city.

In the afternoon, shop the used clothing stores of Haight-Ashbury or the department stores of Union Square. Or browse the books at City Lights in North Beach.

You’ll quickly fall in love with San Francisco; you can easily extend your romance to three or four days if you have the time.

The North Coast

Day 3

Maps - Northern California 7e - Sonoma and Mendocino Coasts

Sonoma and Mendocino Coasts

Your journey north begins with a drive on U.S. 101 over San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge. Then after five miles turn off U.S. 101 to Highway 1 at Mill Valley. On the slow, over-four-hour drive up the coast (around 160 miles), make time to stop at places like the tiny but unique Sea Ranch Chapel, which is just feet off Highway 1, and take a hike on the stunning cliffside trails in the Point Arena-Stornetta Unit of the California Coastal National Monument.

End the day in the community of Mendocino with a view of the sunset at Mendocino Headlands State Park or a pint at the lively Patterson’s Pub or at the one-of-a-kind dive bar Dick’s Place.

Day 4

Drive Highway 1 north of Fort Bragg until the road turns inland to connect with U.S. 101 after about an hour of driving. Opt for the Avenue of the Giants, a 31-mile drive through redwoods by the Eel River. Even though it’s only 31 miles, the drive could take a few hours if you decide to get out of your car and ponder the trees.

Get back on U.S. 101 North and head an hour north (60 miles) to Eureka. Stop to wander the city’s Old Town and Waterfront. Taste some of the delicious oysters at the Humboldt Bay Tourism Center.

Continue on U.S. 101 another 10 minutes or so to charming Arcata. Wander through the redwoods of the Arcata Community Forest before sundown. Dine at one of the restaurants surrounding the lively Arcata Plaza.

Avenue of the Giants. Photo © Suppavut Varutbangkul/123rf.

Avenue of the Giants. Photo © 
Suppavut Varutbangkul/123rf.

Day 5

Start your morning with a tasty crepe from Arcata’s Renata’s Creperie and Espresso before hitting U.S. 101 North on your final day. About 20 minutes north (15 miles), exit to the scenic coastal city of Trinidad. Have your camera handy for photos of Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse, Trinidad Head and Trinidad State Beach.

Another half hour up U.S. 101 (26 miles), turn onto Newton B. Drury Scenic Drive to explore Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. If you have the energy, drive out Davison Road to Gold Bluffs Beach, where Roosevelt elk roam the sands, and continue on the dirt drive to hike the one-mile round-trip Fern Canyon Trail, which passes through a steep canyon draped in bright green ferns.

Head back out to U.S. 101 to drive the 45 minutes (38 miles) to Crescent City, where you can get a hotel room and a full night’s sleep.

Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Coastal California.

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  1. bev says:

    well driving from place to place we need to stay overnight . how can I find hotels in those areas ?

  2. ethel says:

    Bringing my granddaughter to California; she’s 19 Here is her wish list of stops–San Francisco, Yosemite national Park, Santa Barbara (only things she list there is Oxnard-don’t know if this is out of the way), Pfeiffer big sur statepark, Highway One, santa cruz, san Diego, Hollywood. Los angeles, and labeled Misc—–napa valley, winchester mansion, pomponio beach, pacific coast highway, alfred coffe and in and out.
    I am lost before I even think about packing–worried I cannot figure this out–at this point I have no idea how to check plane fare, BECAUSE I COULDN’T BEGIN to guess where to arrive or leave from. Any help would be most appreciated.

    • Stuart says:

      Ethel, I’d suggest flying into either Los Angeles Airport (LAX) or San Francisco Airport (SFO). Most of the places your granddaughter wants to visit are on the California coast though Yosemite is three hours inland from San Francisco. You could fly into one and fly out the other so you don’t have to backtrack. Your granddaughter’s list is a mix of towns, specific places, and specific restaurants. FYI: In-N-Out is a fast food burger chain located throughout the state. It’s great. For more information, you could pick up my Moon California Road Trip Guidebook. Here’s the info: Also Victoriah Arsenian’s Moon Pacific Coast Highway Roadtrip could be helpful. Info is at

    • Shay says:

      There is nothing in Oxnard; it’s a bedroom community largely for the nearby military and commuters to LA/Ventura/Santa Barbara, and it’s over 45 minutes south of Santa Barbara. I would absolutely skip it. Stick to Santa Barbara; classic tourist destinations are the mission, the courthouse, various beaches, Stearns’ Wharf, State Street. Find an airbnb if you’re in a car.

  3. Hannah says:

    My husband and I are planning a road trip from LA to Seattle for his 40th birthday in May 2017. We want to be able to stop over and experience places, not just drive through, but we have just 17 days and return flights to LA (from Hong Kong), so we will need to fly back to LA from the north. We are keen to go to Yosemite for a night and take in the sites of Oregon as well as California. Is this too ambitious?

  4. Anders says:

    Great post. But I’m almost 100% sure the surf sign is in San Diego and not in Malibu.

  5. Ivor Clyde says:

    I am due to retire shortly and am considering a trip from SEATTLE to Las Vegas, means of preferred travel, an RV. I reckon the trip would last 2-3 weeks with a few days in LV before flying back to UK. Thoughts please?

    • Hey there Ivor, I would definitely suggest a stop in San Francisco on your journey. From there, you can either head towards the mountains or keep continuing down the coast towards Los Angeles. Yosemite National Park is three hours east of San Francisco and definitely worth your time. If you stay on the coast, you’d be able to visit Santa Cruz, Monterey, Big Sur, the Hearst Castle, and Santa Barbara. You may consider picking up Moon California Road Trip, which highlights a similar journey. Here’s the link:

  6. Gourav Bhansali says:

    My friends and I are planning a trip to the west coast. Our Budget is $1000 and travel period 19 DEC to 4 Jan (flexible). could you suggest an Itinerary for us. We are planning to be in Vegas for Christmas and la for new year’s.

    Please suggest places to visit and stay.

    • Kimi Owens (admin) says:

      Hi Gourav,

      This is exactly what Stuart’s book can help you do! He’s got suggestions of where to go for different budgets and several itineraries to start with. You can order a copy of Moon California Road Trip from your favorite bookseller.

  7. Judy says:

    My husband and I are planning a 7-10 day trip to California, flying into SFO and driving to Napa Valley to enjoy the wineries…then driving back to SFO to fly out of SFO airport. We would like a scenic drive that includes as many sights such as Avenue of the Giants as possible, staying at historic sights along the way. We would like to include a natural spa in one of our overnight stays. What would you suggest?

  8. Thomais says:

    Hi, my family (2 adults and 2 teenagers) are travelling to the US from Australia and we are hoping to drive from San Fran to LA from around 19 Dec and spend a few days along the coast – up to 5-7 days. Is it ok weather wise to do this drive over a few days? Also, where would be a special spot to stay/recommend to stay over Christmas?
    Thanks and loving all the info on your website.

    • John Tropin says:

      First of all never call it San Fran it is either San Francisco or “The City”. The weather is ever changing so dress in layers and be ready for a nice sunny day or a cold rainy one with anything in between from one hour to the next. Get to downtown San Francisco and enjoy the beautiful Christmas decorations that time of the year. Macy’s in Union square has hundreds of trees decorated from various countries around the world. (it was many years ago when I saw this if anyone has update please advise). Also your teenagers would have fun hanging out at the Wharf any night of the week more so on weekends. They will have to try some clam chowder and or crab cakes form street venders around Pier 39. As you drive south the weather will improve and enjoy US 1 for a great coastal drive.

  9. Paula Marticorena says:

    Hi there! I’m going on a road trip from Newport to San Francisco.
    We’d need to rent a car, but the normal companies are amazingly expensive. For the 2 months on the road I’d need 2000, which is a lot. Any ideas?

  10. Stuart says:

    I’d start in Bodega Bay and head up Highway 1! The Sonoma, Mendocino, and Humboldt coasts are amazing. I’d suggest the Sea Ranch Chapel, Point Arena area, the village of Mendicino, and the town of Trinidad as must sees!

  11. ricardo arcega says:

    live in sacramento, would like to drive on the coast up north any idea where i can start from here to get to the coastal views, thanks….any suggestions will be appreciated

  12. Brenda says:

    We are planning an 8 day trip the beginning of September, flying into San Fran and departing from John Wayne International airport. We would like to spend 2 days in San Fran, 2 days in Monterey/Carmel, drive through the Pfeiffer Beach and McWay Falls area, on our way to stay 3 days in Newport Beach. What route would you suggest from Monterey to Newport as this would be only one day on the road, and at the same time seeing some coastline.

    • hector says:

      Hi brenda,
      I just took a trip from san diego to eureka. if you’re coming down from monterey bay to newport beach, i would enjoy Pacific coast HWY 1 starting at monterey to San Luis Obisbo..there just get 101 which will connect to the 405 in the LA area by Calabasas.
      You’ll enjoy BIG Sur ,Cambria and Morro Bay (best part of drive) south of Monterey .
      City of Solvang is a little dutch town of hwy 246 (45 min off) by Lompoc… just in case you have the time. then get back on 246 to connect to 154 then connects again to 101. but you may get back to newport at evening with all the LA traffic!
      Coast HWY from Lompoc to LA is ok, but going Solvang makes you see mountain side.

  13. Etta says:

    We are planning a trip from San Diego to Vancouver in our 36′ class A motorhome pulling a mini van. We really want to travel Highway 1 but a few people have said that there are places on that highway that are not really safe for a motorhome that large. Is that true? Do you know of areas we should avoid?
    We are hoping to make the trip this fall.

    • Kimi Owens (admin) says:

      Hi Etta,

      If you’re experienced, I know folks who have done San Diego to San Francisco with a similar size rig and towing a vehicle. North of there and Oregon might be a different story! We’re reaching out to our PCH Road Trip author to see if she might have some insight, but otherwise we’d recommend asking on an RV-focused forum and possibly mentioning other difficult sections of road you toured comfortably on so people have a sense of whether or not Highway 1 would be safe or stressful.

      Hopping off and on the PCH is also an option for anyone, RV or car, as while the views are amazing, it’s definitely a very long stretch of coast!

    • Hello there Etta, I’m the author! There are stretches of Highway 1 that are narrow and challenging for large RVs. The Big Sur drive from Cambria to Carmel (90 miles of coast) can be tough for new RV drivers. My advice is if you decide to drive this section be sure to pull over into the turnouts to prevent traffic backups and to catch your breath! Above San Francisco, Highway 1 is also quite twisty. Consider skipping a section of the road and traveling back to the coast via Highway 128 or another connector highway between 101 and 1. Also consider using this RV forum to ask questions to other RVers: Hope that helps!

  14. Dylan says:

    Great article. A good base for anyone looking to road trip the California coast.

  15. Jason W. says:

    My family is going to be visiting CA next October. We have 9 and 6 year old girls. We will be flying into San Diego, where we have friends, on a Saturday and traveling up to the Anaheim area where I will begin a work meeting the following Saturday. So, we basically have 5-6 days of fun. I know there’s tons of stuff to do in San Diego (we could spend the whole week there), but I want the girls to experience the Cali coast and some other fun things while we’re there. Since I know we’ll be dropping some big $ at Lego Land, Disneyland, SD Zoo and SD Safari, I was wondering of some fun things we could do, maybe a little less expensive as we head up the coast. Basically looking for a family-friendly itinerary for 5 days or so. Thanks!!

  16. Jackie Bunker says:

    Hi. My name is Jackie and I will be traveling from Seattle to at least San Francisco starting the end of July. I have almost 3 weeks and want to see as much as I can but at a relaxed pace. I love the beach and have done this trip before but with only a few days to do it. Needless to say, I didn’t experience it like I want to this time. I would like to camp along the way and stay at hotels as well. We love good food and wine. We were just going to wing it but i need a plan. Would like to spend most of our time in Oregon and California. Suggestions please.

    • Kimi Owens (admin) says:

      Hi Jackie,

      My husband and I did a similar road trip last year, and camped our way down Oregon and California’s coast using Stuart’s Moon Coastal California and a second guide, Moon Coastal Oregon. They were amazing to use together, and also had great suggestions for places to stay when we didn’t feel up to pitching our tent. I’ve found that the best way to start planning is to pick the key things I want to see along the route I plan to travel (which is what makes guidebooks helpful) and then balancing that with how much distance I’d like to cover. If you’re looking for something which really breaks down drive times between points of interest or places to stay, we also publish Moon Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip which covers the whole west coast.

  17. Jenifer says:

    Hi there, my husband and I are planning a trip to start in Napa Valley stay a couple days then drive the coast and end in San Diego staying a couple days! Starting Sept 19 through 28/29th!
    This is first time and need suggestions on attractions along the way, unique spots n hotels along the way,
    Thanks, Jen n Tom

    • Kimi Owens (admin) says:

      Hi Jen and Tom,

      Sounds like a great trip, and this article is the perfect starting point for you. If you’re looking for more details (rates, hours, background) on the sights and stops above, they’re all in Stuart’s book Moon Coastal California. Personally, I start my travel planning by looking at the guidebook and deciding what is of the most interest to me, and then considering budget (both time and money) to see if it’s feasible to see all the things I want without overdoing it. As I mentioned to Brandom and Sara below, Stuart has also written an article for us on his top picks for places to stay between San Diego and SF, which might give you an even better idea of the sorts of useful information included in his book.

  18. Brandon Martinez says:

    Hello, I am planning a trip and we were wondering what are some things we should look out for to save money one night stays. We are planning on leaving Los Angeles heading north maybe to Seattle. I really want to got to Sequoia pass by Santa Cruz and enjoy the wilderness don’t really care for the big cities like San Fran.

    • Kimi Owens (admin) says:

      Hi Brandon,

      I mentioned it in my reply to Sara below, but Stuart has written an article about the best places to stay from San Diego to San Francisco, including some great budget options that start at $31 a night. You can read it here:

      If you’re looking for more off-the-beaten path types of sights, his book Moon Coastal California can help you find a lot of great smaller cities and towns to enjoy as you travel north. I’m also more of a wilderness fan and I’ve personally used his and the Moon Coastal Oregon book to travel from the SF Bay Area to Seattle. We also have a new Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip book by a different author which covers that whole trip, though I’d say that Stuart and the Moon Coastal Oregon authors cover hiking/outdoors a little more in-depth.

      Hope that helps in your planning!

  19. Sara Suchy says:

    I have decided to bring my 14 year old daughter on a trip down the coast. I figure i should do it now before she says no. We are from MA so wondering where to start and where to end. I will be renting car and we have about 12 days. Are there fairly inexpensive nice places to stay. Also, wondering if we should bring our little terrier who we love. (Dog) Any suggestions appreciated

    Departure hope is around June 18th, 2016

    • Kimi Owens (admin) says:

      Hi Sara,

      Sounds like a great plan! I’m sure your daughter will appreciate the memories. 🙂 In addition to all the specifics in Stuart’s books (Moon California Road Trip and Moon Coastal California) which cover a range of budgets and all the sights and eats along the way, he also put together a post for us on the Best Places to Stay in key cities along the PCH route. You can read it here: and it includes nice yet thrifty options like the best hostels starting at $31 a night, midrange accommodations at around $100-130 a night, as well as a luxury or high-end stay in each city should you care to splurge!

      As far as your dog goes, Stuart’s Coastal California book also has info on accommodations, beaches, and parks that are specifically pet friendly.

  20. Amitabh Sinha says:

    Dear Stuart, Planning a Road trip on Highway one , starting in San Francisco on the 10th of June 2016 and reaching San Diego on the 15th Of June. Spend a couple of days in San Diego and then hit LA on the 17th. Our Flight back to India is on the 21st from San Francisco. Could you suggest a plan where we start on the 10th in San Francisco and come back on the 21st to the same city for our Flight back to India.

    • Kimi Owens (admin) says:

      Hi Amitabh,

      You can easily reverse or adjust this itinerary to suit your travel needs. Cutting out a day or two or skipping certain cities will definitely allow you to do a coastal drive there and back again. To get a better idea of what sights in each recommended stop is of interest to you, pick up Stuart’s book on Coastal California ( or check out his California Road Trip book ( which is especially helpful for international travelers, and those who might also want to see some inland California highlights like Yosemite National Park.

  21. Karen says:

    Hello, my friends from Europe are asking for help.
    They are arriving to LA in August to celebrate their 30 years anniversary.
    They want to drive and tour LA, SD(coastal drive) ,SF (coastal drive), Vegas strip and Grand Canyon.

    Could you suggest where the itinerary should start from and what are the must do and see.
    They have approximately 3 weeks.


  22. Ahorne says:

    Hello, looking to do PCH 1 in May 2016, want to travel from San Fran to AZ. I have 10 to 12 days for the trip. Any suggestions?
    We are driving from Phoenix by the way. Which route has the best view North to South or South to North?

  23. Erin says:

    Hi guys,
    Wow! I found this article to be so helpful!
    I am planning a solo 5-7 day drive from San Fran down to San Diego. However, I wanted to immediately travel 3.5 hrs north to Glass Beach after arriving to San Fran. Fort Bragg is as far north I was planning to go, as I plan to turn around and head south for the rest of the trip. Any suggestions to really make the (out of the way) 7 hr round-trip more worthwhile? I feel like it’s wasting an entire day. Thank you.

    • Stuart Thornton says:

      Erin, There’s no doubt Fort Bragg is out of the way, but a few stops would make the trip worthwhile. If you have time, take a hike at Point Arena’s new section of the California Coastal National Monument ( Also be sure to wander around the scenic village of Mendocino, which is just 10 miles south of Fort Bragg. You might want to contact the Sea Glass Store at (707) 962-0910 to see how much glass is on the beach at this time.

  24. Miriam says:

    Hi Stuart,
    I’m attempting to plan a 7 day trip in California. Beginning in San Francisco and leaving from Los Angeles. We’re traveling with two 21 year olds who are requesting that the trip involve snowboarding, Venice Beach, and Beverly Hills. How can I make them happy? Please help! Miriam

  25. Heather says:

    Hello I’m planning a trip Iin November over Thanksgiving starting in San Francisco one night, one day and night in Yosemite and the rest of our 4 days traveling up the coast to the Redwoods. What is the best route and locations to visit and good places to sleep?
    Thank you

    • Stuart Thornton says:

      Heather, I just spent a few weeks driving up the North Coast! It just really depends on how far up the coast you plan on traveling. There are many campgrounds located along the way (Mendocino’s Van Damme State Park, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, Trinidad’s Patrick’s Point State Park). On the Mendocino Coast, there are many accommodation options from upscale (Elk Cove Inn, Heritage House Resort, Brewery Gulch Inn) to less expensive but worthy options like The Andiron. If you get up to Eureka, there’s real unique lodging to be found at Oyster Beach ( Check those out. Hope it helps!

    • Sarah Juckniess says:

      Hi Heather,

      Definitely check out Moon California Road Trip for the San Francisco—Yosemite leg. For the coast and redwoods, the entire North Coast section of Moon Coastal California will be relevant to your interests. No matter what route you choose, November is a beautiful time of year to travel in California, so we think you’ll have a great trip!

  26. Tom says:

    Can you plan a trip for us? this week?

    • Kimi Owens (admin) says:

      Hi Tom,

      We’re a travel guide publisher not a tour company, and Stuart is a travel writer. However, if you want his personal recommendations on what to see and where to stay, he does lay out everything you need to plan your own trip in his guidebooks: Moon Coastal California and Moon California Road Trip. So, while we can’t plan your trip for you, we can certainly make sure you have the tools to create your own perfect California vacation! Good luck and happy travels.

  27. Shelyn says:

    Wish I had spent longer on the road, PCH is such a beautiful scenic drive. I managed to complete the route from LA to San Francisco in just 2 days, although I would recommend 3 days as the absolute minimum if you’re not pressed for time.

    My photo journal of the road trip –

  28. Abhishek says:

    Hey, could you suggest a scenic drive from San Diego to San Francisco – I will touch San Diego on 13th and have a flight to catch on 21st from San Francisco. I would love to stop as per your suggestion (we are vegetarians though for the food recommendation). Thank you

    • Kimi Owens (admin) says:

      Hi Abhishek,

      Just use the above itinerary to plan based on your interests. The actual drive time up the coast if you don’t stop at all is about 8 hours, so merely pick the locations you’re interested in spending time at.

      In addition to Moon Coastal California you might also check out Stuart’s new book Moon California Road Trip which offers a bit more information on drive times and some shorter itineraries that are quicker “best of” stops along the coast.

      As far as food options, both books offer information on restaurants in each location that are for a variety of budgets. I took a quick glance and found several vegetarian places or dishes mentioned, so I’m sure you’ll have no problem finding great meals with Stuart’s guidance.

  29. Lizzie says:

    Wow! This sounds like the road trip of a lifetime. I was searching for something exactly like this, so thank you so much for the post! I am planning to travel to california for a road trip this summer, but I wanted to start in San Francisco and then fly back home from San Diego. Would there be a difference in the experience and where would you recommend to start? Or does it not really matter? Thank you so much!

    • Kimi Owens (admin) says:

      Hi Lizzie,

      The benefit of starting in SF and heading down the coast is you’ll be on the side of the road flanking the ocean, so you’ll have easier opportunities to pull over and take in the views, particularly through Big Sur!

  30. Jane Silverman says:

    Hi – we are planning a trip to San Francisco to see our son for a weekend- we have toured the city quite extensively. We have Monday to Friday to head north of SF – would like to do the coast and up into Oregon (coast as well) as far as we could/should go before we turn back to arrive SF by Friday afternoon. Any thoughts on “don’t miss” spots or places to stay, or what would be a reasonable trip…not driving the entire time. Thank you so much.

    • Stuart Thornton says:

      Here are a few must-see places on the North Coast. Mendocino is a really quaint and scenic town on some headlands jutting into the sea. You definitely want to spend some time in Mendocino. Just north of Arcata, Trinidad is one of California’s most stunning coastal communities. Check out Trinidad Head and the nearby beaches. The redwood parks are worth a visit. My favorite is Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park with its roaming elk, towering trees, wild coastline, and one-of-a-kind Fern Canyon. For more information, pick up Moon Coastal California. Have a great trip!

  31. Lynnette says:

    We want to go from Coalinga to Kings city drive on 101 and 1 all the way to Seattle, Wa. We are in to old towns and I love light house can you help us?

    • Kimi Owens (admin) says:

      Hi Lynnette,

      Stuart’s Coastal California book does cover the north coast as well, but you might check out these books: Moon Oregon, and Moon Pacific Northwest Road Trip

      I’ve made the drive along 1 from San Francisco to Seattle a couple times; in fact just last year I used our Oregon guide to take that same trip along the 1. There are plenty of smaller, older towns along the way–though perhaps not as many old towns that retain their feel as you’ll find in Gold Country or in the eastern parts of Oregon and Washington.

      Bandon, OR along the southern coast in particular was a nice stop with a really great local historical museum.

      Good luck planning your trip!

  32. Kate Souster says:

    Hi, I’m planning to go to the west coast this summer & would like to do 2 weeks traveling starting from San Francisco & ending up in San Diego (or that area) where I would like to spend a week on the beach. I know you said your itinerary could be inverted but it would be so much help if you could invert it for me ie day 1 San Francisco to …. Take the x road etc. Also could you suggest a great, not too touristy place for my week’s beach holiday. What did you do about booking hotels, did you do it before hand or ad hoc when you arrived at each place?


    • Kimi Owens (admin) says:

      Hi Kate,

      Good luck planning your trip! Since this itinerary mainly follows the Pacific Coast Highway (Hwy 1) which hugs the coastline, it’s pretty easy to pop open google maps and just get familiar with which towns the highway passes through. As someone who road trips a lot, that’s always where I start so I can get a rough idea of how far it is between places that interest me and a general estimate of drive times.

      I personally recommend booking ahead of time, particularly during the summer. It’s always comforting to know you have a place to rest your head even if you’re running a few hours late and it’s far better for budgeting than showing up somewhere and finding out that the only rooms available are hundreds of dollars more than you would’ve otherwise paid.

  33. Katharina says:


    I am planning on driving from SF to LA and staying a night somewhere in between. Where would you recommend?

    Thanks 🙂

    • KP says:

      Was just about to ask this same question – could I also please have a recommendation – travelling with five people from San Francisco to LA in April but it will only be overnight, would love a recommendation for somewhere to stay somewhere in the middle – Thanks

      • Kimi Owens (admin) says:

        Hi KP,

        This is what I told Katharina: Read the sections from Santa Barbara to Monterey and make the choice based on what you’re interested in! Factor in that doing a straight drive from SF to LA is roughly 10 hours along the PCH. So where you decide to overnight may depend on how long you’d like to be in the car.

        If you’d like specific recommendations of accommodations along the coast, Stuart’s book Moon Coastal Californiagives in-depth coverage of each of the main towns/cities along the way.

    • Kimi Owens (admin) says:

      Read the sections from Santa Barbara to Monterey and make the choice based on what you’re interested in! Factor in that doing a straight drive from SF to LA is roughly 10 hours along the PCH. So where you decide to overnight may depend on how long you’d like to be in the car.

  34. Jessie says:

    Hi Stuart,

    I feel lucky I came across your guide as me, my wife, and teenager son are planning on a trip to LA on April 18 to May 1. We would really appreciate your help in coming up with a sensible itinerary for the trip. First off we’ll be flying to and from LAX; and we’re planning on doing a road trip from LA to San Francisco and back to LA. We are interested in seeing the Grand Canyon, BigSur, Monterey, Bay Aquarium, Yosemite Park, Hollywood, Golden Gate, Alcatraz, San Diego Zoo and some vineyard. I know the places I’ve mentioned are quite out of sequence in terms of maybe distance from each other and I am not sure if our 13 day trip will be enough to cover those places. Please note that this will our first trip in the US and we just want to make it more relaxed. I hope you’ll find time to read my post and help us in our trip.

    Thank you,

    • ivan says:

      Jump on the 405 to save time! What are they on crack?

      • Kimi Owens (admin) says:

        Hi Ivan,

        I’m from Northern California, so I can’t speak with any authority on that portion of the article, but if you have better information or a suggestion that will really save people time, please chime in! We’d love to hear it from a local.

  35. Marisa Rando says:

    Need a bit of help here. I have never been to California before but really want to make the most of my trip seeing this beautiful state. I’m flying into LA in March, plan on doing some traveling, then flying back out of LA 10 days later… Want to hit Santa Barbara, San Fran, Napa, Big Sur, and hopefully San Diego all within that time.. Do I have enough time you think? What are the must sees in each location?

    • Claire says:

      Hi Marisa,

      My name is Claire from Ottawa, Canada. I’m planning on doing the exact same thing end of September meaning flying to LA and back out of LA 10 days later. I would like to do San Diego – San Francisco by using highway 01 one way and 101 for the other for different scenery and different cities. Will I have enough time do you think ???

      • Kimi Owens (admin) says:

        Hi Claire,

        You might check out Stuart’s newest book, Moon California Road Trip, as that has detailed driving directions and road trip maps including how long it takes to get from one city to the next. It might be a bit easier for you to plan knowing roughly how long it’ll take to get from Point A to Point B along the various route options (including the 1 and the 101).

        Keep in mind that if you’re flying in to LA, and then depending on traffic, after driving the 2.5-3.5 hours south to San Diego you’ll need to backtrack with another 4.5-5.5 hours to go back through LA to San Luis Obispo where the 1 and 101 split. If you only plan to spend a day in San Diego, personally I’d consider skipping it and opting for spending that extra time in Santa Barbara instead.

        • Claire says:

          Thanks for the info…..I’m now thinking of skipping San Diego for this trip to avoid backtracking and spend more time on the other cities between LA to San Francisco.

          Thanks again

  36. Leslie says:

    I plan using your guide this summer; however nervous about driving through Big Sur rt 1.

    • Kimi Owens (admin) says:

      Hi Leslie,

      What makes you nervous about HWY 1 through Big Sur? As a central coast native, I’ve made the drive plenty of times, including at night. It’s definitely a winding curving stretch of road, but it’s well-maintained with plenty of wide pull-outs to allow for slower traffic to pass or to take in the scenery.

  37. Shannon says:

    Planning a 7-10 day trip to Cali in September, 2015. No clue where to start, but would like to start near L.A., drive north on Hwy. 1 for the scenery and eventually, time allowing, wind up in Oregon. Is this doable in a week to ten days’ time? This is a 25th wedding anniversary trip. Also might be interested in hiking a bit of the PCT.

    • Kimi Owens (admin) says:

      Hi Shannon,

      Averaging for traffic, LA to San Luis Obispo is about 3.5 hours, and then on to San Francisco is about 4 hours of drive time. If you head inland after San Francisco to take the I-5 up to Ashland at the southern end of Oregon, that’s about another 6.5 hours.

      It’s certainly doable, but you’ll want to cherry pick where you stop to make the most of your time. Take a look at Stuart’s itinerary and see what areas call to you the most, and of course, his guidebook has more information about every area and attraction mentioned on this page.

  38. Kelly says:

    10 days in March = 2 families (16, 15, 12, 9, 7 kids ages) pacific coast= adventure, minus kids menus : ) what’s the best to see from San Francisco to San Diego (last 2 days relaxing)

    • Kimi Owens (admin) says:

      Hi Kelly,

      Stuart listed a bunch of great options that are family-friendly on this itinerary. Some stand-outs are The Exploratorium in San Francisco, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Santa Barbara Mission, the Santa Monica Pier, and of course the many beautiful State Parks along the way.

  39. Diann Oliver says:

    Can you help me plan a 8-10 day trip starting in Santa Barbara up thru Monterey San Francisco and Sonoma. Our plans are open at this time, but planning to travel in the month of July 2015.

    • Kimi Owens (admin) says:

      Hi Diann,

      If you pick up Stuart’s guide book Moon Coastal California, he does also cover Northern California’s Wine Country.

      All of the locations in this itinerary are listed in full in the book and the chunk of trip outlined above going from Santa Barbara to San Francisco is 8 days. You can always cut time or skip a chunk of days depending on your preferred type of travel.

      If you’re hoping to spend a couple days in Sonoma, here’s a related three-day itinerary from our Moon Northern California author: Plan a Romantic Weekend in Napa & Sonoma. This might give you some ideas of places to stay or see, if you’re hoping for a mix of outdoors and luxury.

      Happy planning!

  40. Trixie says:

    Wish I had the time for a lengthy trip. I’m a stranger to California and have one week to see as much as possible. Want to see San Diego, San Francisco, redwood trees, seals, beaches, a winery or two, eat seafood, drive the Big Red Bridge, and enjoy local spots as well. I’d like to fly into LAX and out of San Francisco. Originating from DCA, RDU o RIC. Thanks for your help. Loved the article! Trip begin date is 2/12/15.

    • Carrie Hirsch says:

      Hi Trixie,

      There’s so much to do in California, but you can definitely see a lot in one week! Stuart’s book Moon Coastal California is a great resource for ideas on maximizing your time and can help you plan how to split up your days between San Diego, the Central Coast, and San Francisco.

  41. MICHELLE says:

    Can you help me plan a small road trip from San Diego to San Francisco? Departing San Diego on 2/2/15. Need to arrive in San Francisco by 2/5/15

    We would like to drive the coast – we are looking to stop at Seal Beach for a night to visit some friends.

    From there, who knows ??? Santa Barbara, Santa Eniz??? I am not familiar with Cali., but I know my husband and I would like to see some wineries and stay at clean quiet towns before arriving at our son’s in San Francisco. Would recommend Carmel ?

    Any suggestions and wisdom you can send my way would be very much appreciated 🙂

    Michelle M.

    • Carrie Hirsch says:

      Hi Michelle,

      Carmel is a lovely town, quieter than Monterey, and the nearby Carmel Valley is known for its wineries. Moon Coastal California is a great guide for planning your road trip and has more information on what to do and where to stay in the Monterey Bay and Central Coast regions.