Day 1 and 2 – Los Angeles
Day 3 – Santa Barbara
Day 4 and 5 – San Luis Obisbo
Day 6 and 7 – Carmel by the Sea
Day 8 – Santa Cruz
Day 9 and 10 – San Francisco
The Pacific Coast Highway is arguably the most beautiful drive in the United States, and definitely a trip to put on your bucket list! There are a few things you need to know before starting your journey on highway one.
- You can drive the PCH both north and south. This itinerary is for going from southern California to northern California, but I actually prefer to go the other way since you have an unobstructed view of the ocean. When you drive north on the highway, you have a lane between you.
- Make sure you check the road conditions before you go. Highway 1 often has closures and the detours can really throw a fork in your plan, so make sure you check out the road conditions.
- Download offline maps. Believe it or not, there is not a lot of cell signal on highway 1, so you’ll want a map to reference for major checkpoints and any turns you’re planning to make.
- Be conservative on gas and bathroom stops. There are limited places to stop and sometimes your next option for gas or bathroom can be over an hour. Plan ahead so you don’t get stuck in a tricky situation.
Day 1 and 2: Los Angeles
I don’t have a full guide on Los Angeles yet, but here are a few of my favorite things to do in sunny L.A.:
- Stroll the Hollywood Walk of Fame
- Visit the magical Disneyland Park
- Hike up to see the Hollywood Sign
- Visit the California Science Center
- Museum of Modern Art
- Fashion District
- Explore Santa Monica Pier
- Venice Beach
Day 3: Santa Barbara
I have actually never been to Santa Barbara but I hear it is beautiful! If you have enough time, definitely take a stop here. Here are some top things to do in Santa Barbara, or check out this blog for more details:
- Old Mission Santa Barbara
- State Street – restaurants, old theater, bars, etc. (Wildcat Club for partying)
- Isla Vista – stretch of bars and restaurants (Woodstocks – GF pizza, loaded tots)
- The Landshark Sea and Land Tour
- Stearn’s Wharf and West Beach – you can rent a beach cruiser/surrey
- Santa Barbara Zoo
- Free Bird’s Burritos
Next swing up to Solvang and check out this cute little Danish-style town. You can feel like you’re making a mini-escape to Europe. Then stop by the Firestone Walker Brewery – the home of 805 beer.
Day 4 and 5: San Luis Obisbo
San Luis Obisbo is a great stop with so many things to do in town and around. It’s a good homebase to visit many nearby gems such as:
- Paso Robles Wine Country
- Pismo Beach
- Point San Luis Lighthouse
- Montana de Oro State Park
Within San Luis Obisbo, there are a ton of fun things to do and see. One of my absolute favorite activities is the Sycamore Springs private hot spring tubs. You can book a private hillside tub for $22.50 per person per hour. It’s a great value for a luxurious experience.
If you’re looking to get some exercise, try the Bishop Peak Hike. This is a moderate 3.4 mile hike with 1,300 ft incline. This is a popular hike for Cal Poly students and there is a wonderful view from the boulders you can climb at the top of the trail.
Make sure you swing by the iconic Madonna Inn to see this flamboyant and ornate hotel. They are famous for their bakery and all-pink decor. It’s definitely worth a stop while you’re in town.
The stretch from San Luis Obisbo to Carmel is my favorite part of the drive, so make sure to check out these stops! I recommend taking the whole day to do this drive because it is a long stretch and the lodging is very expensive in this area so I don’t suggest stopping to spend the night.
First, stop in Morro Bay. See the iconic Morro Rock. This is a great place to rent a kayak and get out on the water with the sea lions. Stroll along Embarcadero and grab breakfast on the patio at Blue Sky Bistro overlooking the bay.
Then take you time and stop wherever you see something interesting. I’ve stopped at the beach in Cambria, Hearst Castle, or Elephant Seal Vista Point.
Stop at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to see the picturesque McWay waterfall dropping into the ocean. There is an easy 1.2 mile hike that takes you under the road and out to the McWay Falls viewpoint.
Enjoy the view of this beautiful part of the drive (where there are very few services or turnoffs). Then stop at Nepenthe for lunch. This is a cliffside restaurant with an incredible view. The food is overpriced and just okay, but it’s worth it for the view.
Enjoy this next stretch of the drive by stopping at Andrew Molera State Park, enjoy the view of Bixby Bridge, and cross the Rock Creek Bridge.
Day 6 and 7: Carmel-by-the-Sea
One of my absolute favorite places on the coast, enjoy a couple days in Carmel since there is so much to see and do! For more details on what to do – check out my full guide on Monterey and Carmel, but here’s a short list:
- Point Lobos State Nature Reserve
- 17-mile Drive
- Monterey Bay Aquarium
- Old Fisherman’s Wharf
- Bike Scenic Road in Carmel
- Carmel River State Park
- Whale Watching trip
Day 8: Santa Cruz
Spend a day hanging out in the cute surf town of Santa Cruz – check out my full guide on Santa Cruz here, but here’s a short list:
- Cowell’s Beach and Boardwalk
- Lighthouse Point Park and Surfing Museum
- Wilder Ranch State Park
- Shark Fin Cove
- Take a surfing lesson
- Get tacos as Taqueria Los Pericos
Day 9 and 10: San Francisco
End your amazing Pacific Coast Highway trip in the colorful city of San Francisco. Again, I have a full guide on San Francisco here – but my top recommendations for just a couple days would be:
- Golden Gate Bridge Overlook
- Ferry Building
- Lombard Street
- See the Painted Ladies
- Fisherman’s Wharf (if you’ve never been before)
- Dolores Park