I am planning to make a road trip passing through San Francisco, Monterey/Carmel, Santa Barbara, LA, and San Diego. Do you recommend any other place/city to visit? What is the condition of the highways on the coast of California? Is it dangerous?
Here are tips and suggestions by other Trippy users:
Drive from San Francisco to Monterey
Proceed to Highway 280 and go south towards Highway 1. Just 15 minutes south of San Francisco is the first beachfront town of Pacifica. There are several excellent beaches in Pacifica if you want to rest and take a walk on the beach, however, if you can wait, there are even better ones as you go further south along the coast.
Meredith from Oakland suggested a stop at Santa Cruz. She wrote:
I’d like to vote up my old home Santa Cruz. It’s the quintessential California beach town. The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a great day, and there are several beaches to choose from for chilling or watching surfers. It has a great little downtown for walking around in. And, bonus: it’s where the 80s classic The Lost Boys was filmed. You can walk across the railroad bridge all the guys hung from. (You’ll be surprised to see its location. I won’t spoil it for you.) Personally, I find driving the whole of Hwy 1 tedious after awhile. You might find it suits you to jump off the coast to 101 from time to time to give the driver a break from having to pay close attention to the road hour after hour.
Have lunch or breakfast at the pier, depending on the time you arrive in Santa Cruz before heading towards Castroville, an agricultural town located about an hour’s drive from Santa Cruz.
Castroville is called the “Artichoke Center of the World.” Look for the world’s largest artichoke statue, and Fritz from San Francisco said:
Approaching Monterey, you can make a short stop Castroville, the artichoke capital of the world. Nearby, on Route 1 at Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, is an amazing produce road stand with some of the world’s freshest fruits and vegetables. It is so old California, from the time when produce road stands were everywhere.
Take your time and enjoy the scenic drive from Castroville to Monterey, and we recommend an overnight stay in Monterey. The view on the right as you approach the dunes and Monterey Bay will take your breath away. Perhaps pull over at one of the viewpoints, capture the sights with your camera and enjoy the view.
Monterey is a perfect overnight stop or a more extended stay if you want to explore the area as it is close to Carmel-by-the-Sea, Pebble Beach, and Pacific Grove. Trippy user, Fritz suggested staying in Pebble Beach:
Monterey, Pacific Grove, and Carmel are charming small towns definitely worth a visit. Lodge at Pebble Beach and The Inn at Spanish Bay are both luxury properties, but very friendly to tourists.
For your first night, I recommend staying in Monterey, Pacific Grove, or Carmel. Regardless of which place you choose, there are tons to see and do nearby. In Monterey, I recommend seeing the downtown area (particularly if you’re a fan of John Steinbeck, Thomas Kinkade, or would like to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium). Pacific Grove is super cute and has a gorgeous walking path along the water, and Carmel is full of gorgeous shops and the beach. When in Carmel, be sure to grab an overpriced but delicious eggs benedict at Katy’s Place, visit Carmel Plaza, and the boutiques lining ocean avenue and see Scenic Rd. The famous Mission Ranch Hotel (owned by Clint Eastwood) is a fun place to have dinner and drinks and may present an opportunity to see the man himself.
When in Monterey, take the scenic 17-mile drive, a privately owned two-lane road on Monterey Peninsula. There’s a fee to drive on one of America’s most scenic routes. Pay at one of the five entry gates. Check out the Roy’s at Pebble Beach, a famous Hawaiian-fusion restaurant in the area. And get an evening drink while enjoying the sunset at the Inn at Spanish Bay Pebble Beach.
Download this map from Pebble Beach if you’re planning on taking this side trip.
This scenic drive was Leonard’s favorite, quoting him:
Take the 17 Mile Dr, the most beautiful route out of San Francisco. Carmel and Monterey are beautiful places to spend half a day. Cannery Row if you’re a Steinbeck buff, and Monterey Bay Aquarium is spectacular.
Drive to Big Sur and San Luis Obispo
After Monterey, Pebble Beach, and Carmel, it’s time to drive further south to Big Sur and San Luis Obispo, visit Point Lobos Reserve, and cross the Bixby Creek Bridge to Big Sur, and to Morro Bay before an overnight stay at San Luis Obispo.
Sherry from Long Beach suggested a stop at Point Lobos Reserve. She said:
If you are up for a little hiking (very moderate hiking) near Carmel, is Point Lobos State Reserve. I was just there Monday, and we had a great time. Seals and Sea Otters. If you get car sick, like myself, take something if you are going to do Highway 1 through Big Sur, beautiful, not to be missed scenery but very curvy.
Kelly from Los Angeles wrote:
I would definitely stop by the famous Bixby Creek Bridge in Big Sur for a photo op on your way down.
Sometimes known as the Golden Gate of Big Sur, Bixby Creek Bridge is a must-see iconic bridge along Highway 1. Alex added this note about Big Sur:
Make sure to take your time driving through Big Sur (the most beautiful coastline in California) and stop by Nepenthe for a great lunch with a view. The highways are all in great shape, nothing to worry about.
Highway 1 through Big Sur needs no introduction. Besides the breathtaking views, travelers can hike and camp at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, visit the McWay Waterfall, Pfeiffer Falls, and Limekiln Falls. And of course, as suggested by Alex, you must stop at Nepenthe, a restaurant perched on a cliff, for lunch and the best views of the coast. For souvenirs, go to The Phoenix, located at the lower level of the restaurant.
Trippy user Krista suggested:
Witness a picturesque sunset (Pfeiffer State Beach) and witness some fantastic crafts (Coast Gallery & Cafe). Be sure to stop by Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to see the natural waterfall! If you don’t sleep in Carmel and want to try a neat experience, I love the yurts at Treebones Resort – and their phenomenal sushi bar is available to everyone, guests, or not.
Krista also added Hearst Castle on the way south:
Continuing further down Highway 1 will bring you into Cambria, where you can see elephant seals at Ano Nuevo State Reserve and visit the Hearst Castle. The castle really shouldn’t be missed – it’s spectacular!
Trippy user Jeff shared:
The highway along the coast is safe and, in many parts, a beautiful drive. If you love natural wonders, as you drive south from Monterey, be sure to pull off the highway and visit Morro Rock in Morro Bay.
After Morro Bay, head south to San Luis Obispo. Debbie from San Francisco said:
You should look into San Luis Obispo! It’s pretty much the largest and most well-known city that’s halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Look into The Madonna Inn there. It’s a world-famous hotel and a trip to visit because all of the rooms have different themes and the garden is very whimsical. For food, you’ll pretty much have to go to Firestone Grill. Don’t be alarmed by the line, and it moves fast. For coffee, Bello Mundo is where you want to be. Their little downtown area is charming to walk around. While looking into San Luis Obispo, there are other really cute beach towns around it, too, that you can look into — Avila Beach, Morro Bay, and Los Osos.
Wine lovers should visit Paso Robles wineries located at one of California’s premier wine regions.
Enroute Solvang, Santa Barbara, and Malibu to Santa Monica
After an overnight stay at San Luis Obispo, it’s time to visit Solvang, a town that offers a little slice of Denmark. This historic Danish town serves amazing Danish pastries, and there’s a Little Mermaid Fountain, five windmills, a statue of Hans Christian Andersen – all located in the middle of the pedestrian-friendly village.
When in Santa Barbara Julie wrote:
Check out the beaches, the pier, state street, hiking trails, urban wine trail (tasting rooms galore), take a sunset cruise on the Double Dolphin.
Mike from Hermosa Beach and Alex from LA added:
A stop in Santa Barbara is a must for some fantastic wines, scenery, and food.
Also, check out some wineries while you’re in Santa Barbara. It has a good list, and it’s hard to beat the Deep Sea Tasting Room on location.
The highway from Santa Barbara south becomes a three-lane highway, no longer winding and narrow, but the ocean will come into view in less than an hour drive, and you’re back on the beautiful scenic route of Highway 1 again around Point Mugu State Park. Enjoy the beautiful Southern California coastline towards Malibu and Santa Monica.
If you stay on Route 1 all the way to LA, you will go past Carpinteria, Oxnard, and the most beautiful stretch of unspoiled coastline coming into Malibu Beach. The road there is close to the Pacific, and the ocean is full of kelp.
Teresa from San Jose recommended Venice Beach and Santa Monica pier. She wrote:
Make sure you visit the beach bum’s homes: Venice Beach and Santa Monica Pier. Venice is great for culture and art, although some argue that art is not so much art anymore. Make sure you get a Groupon (sometimes available) for Curious Bike Rentals and ride to the Venice Canals. You could even rent the bike in Venice and ride it to the Santa Monica Pier and back if you rent early enough. Two of the parts of the ocean are entirely different, but both worth seeing. If you like shopping, the Third Street Promenade is a trendy shopping destination for tourists visiting.
Stay in Santa Monica and enjoy the beaches and LA’s city attractions, and when you’re ready, head south to your final destination – San Diego.
It takes about two hours to drive from Santa Monica to San Diego, and it could be more depending on the traffic. According to the San Diego Tourism Board:
In San Diego County, Oceanside marks the beginning of the 101 in the north. From I-5, take the Coast Highway exit and begin traveling south along Historic Highway 101.
The towns you’ll be passing through are Oceanside, Carlsbad, Encinitas, Solana Beach, Del Mar, and La Jolla. One of the things you must do to end your California coastal road trip is to drive to La Jolla Cove to watch the sunset and the seals.
For places to stay in San Diego, Julie from Santa Barbara suggested:
Where to stay? If you want to see the city, I’d recommend somewhere in the gas lamp district. If you care more about the coast/beach towns, you could go just North of San Diego and stay in La Jolla or Del Mar.