McWay Falls On The Big Sur Coast Between L.A. and San Francisco

L.A. To San Francisco Road Trip: Best Stops, Itineraries, And Planning Tips

The best way to see and experience California’s beautiful central coast is to take a road trip from L.A. to San Francisco! This road trip is not only jam-packed with fun things to do, but will allow you to visit some of the Golden State’s top destinations like Santa Barbara, Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo, Big Sur, and Santa Cruz.

Tour the historic Hearst Castle, watch elephant seals sun themselves on the beach, hike through impressive redwood forests, sample delicious seafood, and so much more!

We’ve done this road trip many times over the last several years, from our first quick two day itinerary in 2012, to more in-depth, longer road trips in our campervan ever since. That’s not including the many weekends spent exploring Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo, and Paso Robles, three of our favorite California destinations!

Bes Stops Between L.A. And San Francisco

Having lived in the Calabasas / Malibu area for a few years has given us the opportunity to extensively explore this magnificent part of California. So, if you’re planning a road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco, you’ve come to the right place!

This article will cover the best stops between L.A. and San Francisco and provide some sample itineraries including planning tips at the end of the article.

L.A. To San Francisco Driving Itinerary

Here is a map of the route from Los Angeles to San Francisco including all of the best stops. Depending on how much time you have and what your interests are, you can adjust this itinerary accordingly.

  • Distance: 444 miles
  • Hours: 9 hours (without stops)

For the ultimate west coast adventure, continue driving onwards from San Francisco along the Northern California coastline. Here is a driving itinerary that covers all of the best stops along the Northern California Coast. For truly ambitious travelers, follow up your Northern California Coast road trip with an Oregon Coast road trip!

If you need to drive back to L.A. after completing the drive to San Francisco, consider returning along Highway 25 and Highway 101 to visit Pinnacles National Park and Paso Robles on the way back.

How Many Days Is Recommended For A Road Trip Between Los Angeles and San Francisco?

The drive between L.A. and San Francisco along the Pacific Coast Highway is approximately 445 miles and will take about nine hours to complete without stops. However, I do not recommend doing this road trip in one day.

At a minimum, you should complete this road trip as a two day / one night itinerary. This way you won’t feel rushed or be driving through the last portion of Big Sur in the dark, which is very likely to happen if you are stopping a lot along the way.

Ideally, plan for a three day / two night trip. Take your time driving up to the southern portion of Big Sur and stay overnight in Santa Barbara, Pismo Beach, Cambria or Ragged Point. Then get up early and complete driving the Big Sur coastline and end your second day in Carmel-By-The-Sea or Santa Cruz. Day three will take you to San Francisco.

For the ultimate L.A. to San Francisco road trip, plan a five night itinerary and take your time visiting all of the classic Central California cities along the way which include Santa Barbara, Solvang, Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay, Monterrey, and Santa Cruz. On this longer travel itinerary you would be able to see all of the best stops in Big Sur. Be sure to add a stay in Big Sur whether it’s at a hotel or at a campground for one or two nights.

Car & Campervan Rentals For Your Road Trip

Assuming you are flying into Los Angeles Airport (LAX), you will be needing a rental car for your road trip. Our preferred car rental company that we use for road trips is Enterprise who always seem to have the best rates. They have so far been very friendly, reliable, and trustworthy over the many years we have rented through them.

If you would prefer to use another car rental company and compare rates for your trip, check out where you can search all car rental companies to see which one is offering the best rates for your travel dates.

Some rental car companies will waive the one way drop off fee as long as you stay within California. For example, for our first Big Sur road trip we rented through Avis and we were allowed to pick up at LAX and drop off at SFO (this was before we moved to California) without incurring extra charges.

The last Big Sur trip we did, we rented a car through Enterprise in Washington state to drive down to L.A. and back. Enterprise gave us a practically brand new Mini Cooper Countryman (that we absolutely fell in love with) for a whole month and the fee was under $1000!

Road Trip On Pacific Coast Highway In California
The Pacific Coast Highway

For an alternative way to travel, consider renting an RV or campervan for your road trip! That way you can car camp along the way which will not only save you money on hotels, but also allow you to be more flexible with your itinerary because accommodations at some destinations on this road trip get booked out months in advance.

Are you interested in renting a campervan or RV? You can look for campervan and RV availability in Los Angeles on Outdoorsy or RV Share.

Best Stops Between L.A. and San Francisco

If you’re beginning your road trip the same day that you land at LAX you are in luck because Los Angeles Airport is located very close to the Pacific Coast Highway, which is the main road you will travel on all the way up to San Francisco.

If you’d like to explore Los Angeles in depth, then I recommend spending at least two days in L.A. There is too much to do in the city of angels to cover in this post. From hiking to the Hollywood Sign and exploring downtown Los Angeles, visiting world-class museums, and bar-hopping to some of the best roof top restaurants in L.A., you won’t be short of things to do here!

However, if you don’t have much time to explore L.A., you’ll still get to visit some of the best places along the Los Angeles coastline on this driving itinerary.

The first part of this road trip covers the best stops between LAX and Santa Barbara which covers a distance of 95 miles and will take about 2.5 hours without stops. You can choose to stop at all of the recommended destinations mentioned below or just enjoy the drive without stopping at any of them depending on what your goals are and where you need to end up the day.

If you are a SoCal local and already familiar with this stretch of coastline, you can skip highway 1 and the Malibu coastline and instead take highway 101 from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara which will be much quicker.

Anyway, let’s get to it! Here are the best stops between L.A. and San Francisco beginning with the first stop in Venice Beach followed by Santa Monica and Malibu.

Venice Beach

Venice Beach is the first stop on this L.A. to San Francisco road trip.

Venice Beach is one of the top destinations to visit in Los Angeles. The vibrant neighborhood is famous for its colorful and quirky characters, bohemian lifestyle, and of course the beach!

This world-famous location is a great place for people watching and soaking in L.A.’s unique culture. The top thing to do here is to take a stroll down Ocean Front Walk to experience all the things that make Venice Beach like no other place you’ve ever been.

You’ll see bodybuilders working out at Muscle Beach, street vendors selling interesting art and crafts, tacky souvenir shops, and skateboarders at Venice Beach Skatepark, one of the most impressive skateparks in the world!

If you have time, pick up a bike rental and cruise down the Venice Beach-Santa Monica Promenade. Bike rentals are available from several shops located on and near the beach.

A few blocks from the beach you can take a stroll around the famous Venice Canals neighborhood, or browse the shops, galleries, and restaurants along Abbot Kinney Boulevard.

Santa Monica Beach

Santa Monica is another iconic Los Angeles destination that is world-famous for its wide sandy beaches, swaying palm trees, and year-round perfect weather. This beachside city is the epitome of that classic Southern California image you likely have in your mind.

The top attraction in this picture-perfect California destination is the Santa Monica Pier, which is home to one of the oldest amusement parks in the country. At the amusement park are several different rides including a rollercoaster and the world’s first solar-powered Ferris wheel.

Santa Monica Pier, which marks the official end of Route 66, is also home to a classic carousel, carnival style games, souvenir shops, a nostalgic ice cream shop serving sodas and sundaes, and several fast food type restaurants.

If you have time, head over to Third Street Promenade where you can shop, watch buskers, or grab a cocktail from one of the many restaurants and bars.

Paid street parking is available throughout Santa Monica and at the beach parking lot or you can head over to the shopping center’s parking lot near Third Street Promenade where parking is free for the first 90 minutes. See more parking information for Santa Monica here.

Malibu Pier

Malibu Pier

Malibu Pier is another good stop on this L.A. to San Francisco road trip as it offers some great views of Malibu’s coastline! The pier, which dates back to 1905, is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Malibu. It sits adjacent to Surfrider Beach and Malibu Lagoon State Beach.

Surfrider Beach is one of the first places where modern surfing culture developed. Today, it is one of the most popular surfing beaches in Los Angeles and a great place to learn how to surf. If you’re interested in surfing here, there are surfboard rental shops nearby that offer lessons too.

Malibu Lagoon State Beach offers 22 acres of wetlands and is a good place to go for bird watching.

Malibu Farm is where all the locals love to brunch or enjoy a healthy breakfast. This oceanside cafe located at the end of Malibu Pier serves a variety of farm to table dishes. The cafe is open for outdoor dining and to go. See hours and their menu here.

Malibu Seafood Shack

If you love seafood, instead of having lunch on Malibu Pier, save your appetite for Malibu Seafood Market! Malibu Seafood is a favorite among locals, and a weekly ritual for many Angelinos. When we lived not too far from here, we would stop in for lunch or dinner almost every weekend!

They serve a variety of fried seafood sandwiches, clams, Dungeness crab, and fresh grilled fish that includes mahi mahi, halibut, sea scallops, swordfish, ahi tuna, snapper, and more!

Our favorite meals from Malibu Seafood Shack include the fried scallop sandwich and the fried oyster sandwich. The fish and chips is also very good!

El Matador Beach

El Matador Beach In Malibu

Malibu offers twenty-seven miles of scenic coastline and there are plenty of beaches that will beckon as you make your way up the Pacific Coast Highway.

Some of the beaches worth stopping at between Los Angeles and Ventura include Latigo Beach, Zuma Beach, El Pescador State Beach, and Leo Carillo State Beach. However, the most impressive in my opinion is El Matador Beach pictured above.

El Matador Beach features rugged sandstone cliffs that plunge dramatically into the ocean as well as huge sea stacks that line the narrow and secluded beach.

This beach is accessed via a short hike down a steep staircase. There is a small carpark and limited parking on the Pacific Coast Highway.

Mugu Sand Dunes

Mugu Sand Dunes are impressively tall and a fun roadside stop while taking a road trip on the Pacific Coast Highway. The best way to enjoy the sand dunes is to make the slow-going climb up to the top of them to take in the magnificent views from high above the ocean.

If you’re lucky, you may see dolphins, sea lions or sea otters while taking in the ocean views. Once you’re done enjoying the views, do what the locals do and run down the sand dunes REALLY FAST. It might seem like a childish thing to do, and maybe it is, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is a lot of fun to run full speed down the sand hill.

Keep an eye out for the dunes as you drive north on the PCH, after passing Sycamore Cove Beach but before reaching the entrance to Thornhill Broom Campground.

Santa Barbara

After leaving Malibu behind, you’ll head to Ventura and then follow the coastline until you reach Santa Barbara, your next stop! There are quite a few things to do in Santa Barbara, so you could opt to spend the night here.

One of the best things to do in Santa Barbara is to take a stroll to the end of Stearns Wharf. Once you’re at the end, look back and enjoy the views of Santa Barbara’s stunning coastline and the mountains that loom in the background.

There are several seafood restaurants on the wharf and you can’t go wrong with any of them but my favorite is Santa Barbara Shellfish Company which is located at the very end of the wharf. I recommend ordering the clam chowder and a lobster roll. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed!

Santa Barbara To Pismo Beach: 100 miles (1.5hrs)

Highway 154 In Santa Barbara Through Los Padres National Forest
Highway 154 through Los Padres National Forest

Continuing on from Santa Barbara, you’ll need to decide whether you want to take the coastal route on highway 1 to Pismo Beach or drive inland on highway 154 as you head north. Both are beautiful drives. Highway 1 offers more beautiful beach scenery while highway 154 travels though the Los Padres National Forest.

If you decide to take highway 154, be sure to stop at Goleta San Marcos Vista Point, a viewpoint with beautiful views of the Los Padres National Forest. This viewpoint will be on your righthand side driving northbound.

Looking for a place to camp along highway 154? I recommend Cachuma Lake Campground, a large campground that sits on the shores of Lake Cachuma. Here you’ll find canoe, paddleboard, and boat rentals to enjoy lake activities during your stay.


Solvang, known as the ‘Danish Capital of America’, is a small village in Central California that is full of old-world European architecture and charm that will have you feeling like you’ve been transported to Denmark.

Take a stroll down the aptly named Copenhagen Drive and admire the Danish architecture. Stop in at one of the many bakeries that line the streets and indulge in authentic Danish pastries. Sample some of the local wine that is produced right here in the Santa Ynez Valley at a wine tasting room in the downtown area.

Although Solvang is an extremely touristy place, it is still impressive how the architects and builders were able to recreate Denmark right here in the Golden State.

If you think you’d like to spend more time in this town where California wine cellars mix with European bakeries and boutiques, see this guide to the best things to do in Solvang and look for hotels in Solvang.

Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach is a classic California beach town complete with fishing pier, arcade center, and a plethora of seafood restaurants selling some of the best clam chowder you will ever have! Speaking of clam chowder, Pismo considers itself the ‘Clam Capital of the World’, and if you’re super lucky you may get to visit during their annual clam festival.

Some of the top things to do here include surfing, fishing off the pier, and dune buggy riding at Oceano Beach. During certain times of the year, you can also enjoy whale watching and visit the Monarch Butterfly Grove to see thousands of hibernating butterflies.

If you don’t have a lot of time in Pismo, I recommend taking a short hike along the Meadow Creek Beach Trail, then going for a quick stroll out on the pier, and stopping to pick up the best cinnamon rolls you will ever have from Old West Cinnamon Rolls.

If you are thinking you might like to camp in Pismo Beach, I highly recommend the North Beach Campground, a campground located only two miles south of downtown right on Pismo Beach!

Monarch Butterfly Grove In Pismo Beach

Each year thousands of vibrantly colored Monarch Butterflies flock to Pismo Beach to escape the cold northern winters. These wintering butterflies cluster on the limbs of Eucalyptus trees. Are you interested in seeing these wintering butterflies? Read this guide to find out where to see hibernating Monarch Butterflies at Pismo Beach.

Morro Rock

Morro Bay is a small coastal community named after the large volcanic rock found near the city’s port entrance. Known as Morro Rock, the distinctive landmark that stands 576 feet tall is the main attraction in Morro Bay.

The rock was formed 23 million years ago from the plug of an extinct volcano and is actually part of a chain of nine volcanic peaks that extend from San Luis Obispo to Morro Bay known as the Nine Sisters.

Morro Rock can be reached via a causeway that connects the rock with the beach shoreline. You can drive to the base of Morro Rock by taking Embarcadero Road heading north. The rock is a state historic landmark and protected as the Morro Rock State Preserve.

Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle is an opulent mansion that was once the home of wealthy newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. Back in the roaring twenties, Hollywood royalty such as Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo and Clark Gable as well as Franklin D. Roosevelt and even Winston Churchill were all regular guests of Hearst.

During the days, guests of Hearst played tennis, golf, enjoyed the decadent pool, and gathered for drinks before retiring to their luxurious accommodations.

The incredible home is now a National Historic Landmark run by California State Parks. Visitors can tour the property which consists of 165 rooms, 123 acres of garden, several terraces, and two ostentatious swimming pools.

The buildings and grounds feature thousands of works of art including Egyptian, Greek, and Roman antiquities along with Old Master European paintings, sculptures, and decorative art. Guided tours of the residence are held daily and admission tickets may be purchased online and in advance.

>>Read: How To Visit The Opulent Hearst Castle In San Simeon

Elephant Seal Vista Point

Elephant Seal Vista Point Is One Of The Best Stops On A Los Angeles To San Francisco Road Trip

No California coast road trip is complete without stopping to see the Elephant seals on the PCH! I remember how delighted we were the first time we stumbled upon the noisy colony on our first road trip from L.A. to San Francisco back in 2013, and I’m pretty sure you will be delighted to see the rambunctious marine mammals too!

Piedras Blancas Beach, which is also known as Elephant Seal Beach, is one of the very best stops on the Pacific Coast Highway. We make sure to stop and see the elephant seals whenever we get a chance, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Although be warned, the seals are highly entertaining to watch so you might want to allow for a thirty minute stop!

Elephant Seal At Elephant Seal Vista Point In Central California

At the rookery you’ll see elephant seals grunting, snorting, squeaking, and more than likely aggressively fighting with each other too. If you’re lucky, you might even get to see a pup or two!

Although there are other elephant seal rookeries along the west coast of the USA, most of them are on offshore islands, so this is one of the only places you can see them up close.

Learn more about the 18,000 elephant seals that arrive annually to Piedras Blancas Beach, how to find the elephant seal rookery on highway 1, when pupping season happens, plus more here.

Elephant Seals Seen On Pacific Coast Highway
An elephant seal rookery on the Pacific Coast Highway

Salmon Creek Falls

If you want to add adventurous activities to your trip driving between Los Angeles and San Francisco, plan a hike to Salmon Creek Falls!

Salmon Creek Falls is a beautiful waterfall in the southern portion of Big Sur that can be reached along a short unmaintained trail. The trail is not too difficult but does involve some rock climbing and creek crossing.

We discovered this waterfall in 2017 when highway 1 was closed for several months due to a massive landslide. The trailhead was located right near the start of where the road was closed so we decided to go on a little adventure to find this place.

It was the middle of summer and we were hot so we took our bathing suits, towels, and margarita mix to enjoy the day. Even if you don’t go for a swim, the hike is still worth going to see the one hundred foot waterfall.

The Hike To Salmon Creek Falls In Big Sur, California

Would you like to hike to Salmon Creek Falls? Read this article that cover directions to the trailhead and what to expect on the hike here: How To Hike To Salmon Creek Falls In Big Sur

McWay Falls

McWay Falls On Pacific Coast Highway In Central California

McWay Falls is a beautiful waterfall that drops into an untouched cove. This waterfall is iconic to the Central California Coast and one of the most recognizable features of Big Sur.

It is also one of the most beautiful waterfalls in California! Needless to say then that it is a must see on your road trip!!!

McWay Falls is located inside the enchanting Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park but the waterfall can easily be seen from the Pacific Coast Highway. If you are in a rush, you can look for a place to park along the highway and take a quick look at the falls however, if there are no places to park you will need to drive into Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to find a spot (there will be a fee to enter the park).

From inside the state park you can hike down the McWay Waterfall Trail to get a better and unobstructed view of the falls. See this post on how to get to McWay Falls that covers tips on where to park and other necessary information about visiting.

Bixby Creek Bridge

Bixby Bridge In California

The Bixby Creek Bridge is one of the most photographed places in California! The famed bridge that spans scenic highway 1 has been featured in countless films, postcards, and advertising material.

It is indeed one of the most popular stops for travelers driving between Los Angeles and San Francisco so be sure not to skip this world-famous destination! Although you will be driving across the bridge, I highly recommend pulling over to see the bridge from the official lookout point.

This concrete bridge marks the near end of the official Big Sur section of the drive, and from here it won’t be long before you drive back into civilization. Bixby Creek Bridge is about fifteen miles south of Carmel-By-The-Sea.

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz Boardwalk

Santa Cruz is another classic California beach town that is all about the sand, waves, and surf culture. Except this coastal community is surrounded by mountains covered in redwood forests!

The first place to start your discovery of laidback Santa Cruz should be the century-old Santa Cruz Wharf which is the longest wooden structure of its kind on the west coast. Walk to the end of the wharf and admire the beautiful coastline, cast a line for perch or lingcod, or enjoy delicious seafood from one of the several fresh fish restaurants.

Next, go for a cruise down Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, a nostalgic promenade lined with arcade games, amusement rides, corn dogs, and other family-fun style attractions.

Steamer Lane In Santa Cruz, California
Steamer Lane

Then head over to Steamer Lane to watch local surfers ride waves at one of the most famous surfing beaches in California. Santa Cruz’s surfing history dates back to 1885 when three visiting Hawaiian princes rode the local waves here on redwood planks.

If you have more time, or if you plan to spend a day or two in Santa Cruz, you can explore the downtown area where you’ll find craft breweries and eateries that offer healthy meals made with local organic ingredients.

Spring Bloom In Half Moon Bay
Half Moon Bay

San Francisco

San Francisco is the last stop on this L.A. to San Francisco road trip. This small city packs a big punch! Yes, I say small because San Francisco is only fifty square miles, tiny in comparison to sprawling Los Angeles.

Vista Point In San Francisco
Vista Point in San Francisco

This city can be an unforgettable experience for the first time tourist and there are many iconic attractions here that you can’t miss! Obviously the most unmissable attraction in San Francisco is the Golden Gate Bridge. Seeing the Golden Gate Bridge never gets old no matter how many times you visit San Francisco!

There are several great locations to view the Golden Gate Bridge but the viewpoint with the most magnificent view would have to be Vista Point! Vista Point offers a birds-eye view of the iconic bridge and also of San Francisco’s famous skyline. Here are some details on how to get to Vista Point.

Some other places you can’t miss on a first-time trip to San Francisco include Fort Point, Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, the Mission District, and the Chinatown neighborhood.

You’ll need at least one full day to see the highlights in San Francisco. If you plan to stay longer, consider purchasing a San Francisco City Pass which will get you into many of San Francisco’s top attractions for a discounted rate. The tour of San Francisco Bay by boat is another highly recommended thing to do.

Where To Stay On Your Road Trip Between Los Angeles And San Francisco

There is no shortage of motels and hotels between Los Angeles and San Simeon but once you hit Big Sur, accommodations are few and far between. Rooms fill up very quickly and are rather expensive in Big Sur. If possible try to book your accommodation in advance if you plan to stay in Big Sur.

A Hotel In Big Sur, California
Fernwood Campground & Resort In Big Sur

As for campgrounds, they are plentiful along the Central California coast but believe it or not, they get booked out quite quickly too, especially during the summer holidays. Many of the campgrounds along the Big Sur stretch of coastline have incredible ocean views or are situated amongst beautiful redwood forests.


Recommended campgrounds between Santa Monica and Ventura include Malibu Campground, Leo Carillo State Beach Campground and Thornhill Broome Beach Campground.

For campgrounds near Santa Barbara, take a look at Refugio State Beach Campground or Gaviota State Park Beach & Campground if you will be taking highway 1 to Pismo Beach. For those of you considering taking highway 154 to Pismo, Cachuma Lake Campground at Cachua Lake Recreation Area is really nice.

The best campground in Pismo Beach is North Beach Campground, but if the campground is full (this campground is very popular), try Oceano Campground.

Along Big Sur, there are quite a few campgrounds to choose from, however keep in mind during the summer holidays campgrounds fill up quickly! The best campgrounds here include Kirk Creek Campground, Plaskett Creek Campground and Ventana Campground but there are several others. See this guide to the best campgrounds in Big Sur.


If you’re looking for budget hotels in Santa Barbara try Best Western Plus or Hotel Milo and for luxury accommodations take a look at the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort or Ritz-Carlton Bacara.

In Pismo, take a look at SeaVenture Inn, the Sandcastle Hotel, and Vespera Resort. All of these hotels are located in downtown and have rooms with ocean views. The latter is a four-star hotel.

In Big Sur, Ragged Point Inn (located on the southern end of Big Sur) is lovely and your best bet. The northern end of Big Sur has more options. Big Sur Lodge is situated adjacent to Pffeifer Big Sur State Park and walking distance to a trail through a grove of towering redwoods. A mile north is Fernwood Campground & Resort, a cute place with motel style rooms and tent cabins. Also nearby is Big Sur River Inn who offer simple motel style rooms that are walking distance to Big Sur River. But if you really want to spoil yourself, book a stay at Alila Ventana.

If you’re planning on staying overnight in Santa Cruz, the Comfort Inn which is within walking distance of the beach and wharf, has rooms under $150. For something nicer, consider Beach Street Inn or Dream Inn.

L.A. To San Francisco Road Trip Itineraries

2 Day Driving Itinerary

Day 1: See recommended stops in Los Angeles and Malibu, have lunch at Malibu Farm Cafe or Malibu Seafood Market. Drive to Santa Barbara and visit the wharf or go for a bike ride along the promenade. Then head to Solvang to sample Danish pastries and chocolate followed by wine tasting at the downtown wine bars. End the day in Pismo Beach and don’t forget to try clam chowder for at one of the local restaurants.

Day 2: Walk the Pismo Beach Pier with a coffee in hand before heading to Old West Cinnamon Rolls for breakfast. Then begin your drive up the California Coast. Stop to see Morro Rock and Elephant Seal Vista Point before driving the Big Sur Coast. End the day in Santa Cruz. On the third day you’ll need to head straight to San Francisco via highway 101 which will take about 1.5 hours.

3 Day Driving Itinerary

Day 1: See recommended stops in Los Angeles and Malibu, have lunch at Malibu Farm Cafe or Malibu Seafood Market. Drive to Santa Barbara and visit the wharf or go for a bike ride along the promenade. Then head to Solvang to sample Danish pastries and chocolate followed by wine tasting at the downtown wine bars. Stay overnight in Pismo Beach. For your evening itinerary you could go out for a seafood dinner, go for a night walk along Pismo Wharf, or catch a movie at San Luis Obispo Drive Inn (if you’re not too tired).

Day 2: Go for a morning stroll along Pismo Beach Pier with a coffee in hand. Then head to Old West Cinnamon Rolls for breakfast. If you’re visiting between October and February, go and see the hibernating butterflies at the Monarch Butterfly Garden and then begin driving north. Stop to see Morro Rock and then head to San Simeon and take a tour of Hearst Castle. Make your way up the Big Sur coastline and spend the night at Ragged Point Inn or at a campground such as Plaskett Creek Campground or Kirk Creek Campground.

Day 3: Continue along the Pacific Coast Highway stopping at some of the turnouts along the way to enjoy the ocean views. If you have time you could also enjoy a soak at Slates Hot Spring and visit Pfeiffer Beach, then head to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and take a stroll to see the redwoods. Spend the afternoon in Santa Cruz before driving to Half Moon Bay where you’ll stay overnight. In the morning you can head north to San Francisco.

4 Day Driving Itinerary

Day 1: See recommended stops in Los Angeles and Malibu, have lunch at Malibu Farm Cafe or Malibu Seafood Market. Drive to Santa Barbara and visit the wharf or go for a bike ride along the promenade. Then head to Solvang to sample Danish pastries and chocolate followed by wine tasting at the downtown wine bars. Continue to Pismo Beach and take a stroll along the pier before stopping by Old West Cinnamon Rolls for an afternoon snack. Spend the night in Pismo Beach, Cambria, or San Simeon Creek Campground.

Day 2: Take a morning tour of Hearst Castle then stop to see the zebras at the Zebra Viewing Area followed by a stop at Elephant Seal Vista Point. Then begin your drive north through Big Sur where your next stop will be to see the views from Ragged Point Inn. If you’re up for adventure, take a hike to Salmon Creek Falls. Next stop is Sand Dollar Beach. Then spend two nights camping at Plaskett Creek, Kirk Creek or Limekiln State Park Campgrounds. If you’d prefer a hotel room stay at Big Sur Lodge, Fernwood Resort or Alila Ventana. Enjoy dinner at Fernwood Tavern, Sur House, or Big Sur Smokehouse.

Day 3: Go for a morning hike to see a large grove of redwoods at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park then visit Pfeiffer Beach. Spend your second night in Big Sur.

Day 4: Head to Carmel-By-The-Sea for breakfast, then detour via scenic 17 mile drive to Monterrey. Go for a short stroll around Cannery Row before heading to Santa Cruz. In Santa Cruz visit Santa Cruz Boardwalk and the Wharf. Continue to Half Moon Bay to stay overnight.

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