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The Ultimate Pacific Coast Highway California Road Trip | San Francisco to Los Angeles

The Pacific Coast Highway, AKA Highway 1, is one of the most stunning scenic drives in the U.S. The highway stretches 655.8 miles long. In this specific road trip itinerary, we will be covering the section of Highway 1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles, CA.

View of Bixby Bridge along the Pacific Coast Highway
View of Bixby Bridge along the Pacific Coast Highway

There are so many stunning views from the road and many highway pull-offs that will simply blow you away. And if you want to venture out of the car, there are even more incredible sights.

Jake and I spent a week traveling this beautiful section of coast to find all the most beautiful sights. There are TONS of stops along the Pacific Coast Highway, and many different State Parks to enjoy. But ultimately, you just need to decide what resonates with you and can fit in your itinerary.

This itinerary leaves from the San Francisco Bay Area. If you are looking explore SF and the Bay Area specifically, be sure to check out our Ultimate San Francisco Road Trip

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Mavericks Beach

After leaving San Francisco, the first stop on the Ultimate Pacific Coast Highway California Road Trip is Mavericks Beach. It is a legendary spot for surfers during the months of November to March.

After a strong winter storm in the Northern Pacific Ocean, waves in Mavericks Beach can be over 50 feet tall. This is not a beginner surfers area, and you have to be tracking the weather to know when the best waves will come. 

It is also a local spot for a nature walk. We parked at Tide Pools Parking Lot and walked the nature trail along the shore. If you get lucky you might be able to spot some great surfing following a winter storm. 


Davenport Pier:

Photo by Joseph Barrientos on Unsplash

The Davenport pier is the remains of a old pier. The pier (aka: wharf) was built back in 1867 as a way for ships to transport lumber from the hills to Santa Cruz. But the only thing that remains is the concrete pillars the pier once stood on.

Many people venture here to see the history and get a popular Instagram photo of someone swinging in the remains of the old pier (which often gets torn down). You can grab a view from the top of the bluffs or you can hike down to the water. But beware because it is a super steep trail down to the beach.

Shark Fin Cove:

Sunset at shark fin cove, CA
Shark Fin Cove

The next stop on the Ultimate Pacific Coast Highway California Road Trip is Shark Fin Cove. It got its name from a rock in this bay that replicates a shark fin. There is no parking lot for this short hike, rather a highway pull-off. 

You follow a dirt path to a steep stair-like path down to the ocean floor. Be careful, because it is a man-made path where it can be easy to lose your grip. This can be a great spot to see a beautiful West Coast sunset!


Santa Cruz Wharf:

Santa Cruz, a city on Monterey Bay, is most known for its wharf and surfer culture. The wharf is great for sightseeing, dining and shopping.

You can even see birds, dolphins, sea otters, sea lions and sometimes whales from the wharf.

Just a short walk from the wharf you will find the Santa Cruz Boardwalk with a ferris wheel, roller coasters, games, food, etc. Santa Cruz is a popular tourist stop along the Pacific Coast Highway California road trip to get the ultimate feel of West Coast California. 

Waterfront Walk:

Multiple surfers surfing the same wave in Santa Cruz

Walk along Santa Cruz’s many scenic walks along the coast. You will see many surfer’s out and people playing in the sand. Choose from these 5 scenic waterfront walks along the Pacific Coast Highway if you are looking for exercise surrounded by California’s beauty.

Santa Cruz Brewery:

Santa Cruz Brewery

If you know us, then you know we stopped at a few breweries along the road trip. Santa Cruz Brewery had a very cool vibe and great artwork. Plus they had an awesome taco truck out back that was very reasonably priced.

There was limited inside seating but plenty of outdoor seating with heaters for those colder months. We highly suggest taking a pit stop here!

Lovers Point Park:

Lover’s Point Park

Across Monterey Bay to the south is another stop is Lover’s Point Park. Lover’s Point Park is a marine reserve protected park in the cute seaside town of Pacific Grove.

There is a beautiful walk along the ocean to take in the views of aqua blue water with nature surrounding you. There is also a great beach off the shore where many people hang out during the hotter months. 


“Big Sur” is the largest portion of this road trip. It’s famous for massive cliff and mountains that rise out of the Pacific Ocean. The area of Big Sur is loosely used to refer to the coast between the towns of Carmel By The Sea (North) and San Simeon (South).

In our opinion it is the most beautiful stretch along the Pacific Coast Highway. Also, don’t expect to have much cell service in the area.

Carmel by the sea:

Photo by Daniela Araya on Unsplash

Carmel by the sea is a unique beach town known for its village-like setting with old historic cottages aligned with history.

Therefore, one thing you must do while visiting Carmel-by-the-sea is walk downtown. There are many shops, restaurants and great photography opportunities.

Also, we suggest walking down to the beach afterword to take in the view of the coast. You also might catch some surfers or many people enjoying the ocean. 

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve:

One fun thing to do while in Carmel by the sea is to visit Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. There is an admission fee, but there are many beautiful hikes where you can catch some fresh air and enjoy the beautiful natural reserve along the Pacific Coast Highway.

There is great opportunities to see birds and marine wildlife.

Two of our favorite hikes in the area were: Cypress Grove Trail & China Cove

Cypress Grove Trail
China Cove

If you are up for a real adventure consider scuba diving the natural reserve. The offshore is known to be one of the richest underwater habitats in the world. 

Bixby, Rocky, And Big Creek Bridges:

Bixby Bridge

Next up on the Ultimate Pacific Coast Highway California Road Trip are three famous bridges: Bixby Creek, Rocky Creek, and Big Creek.

The most famous one is probably Bixby Creek Bridge. If you have ever seen a photo from the Pacific Coast Highway then you most likely saw this bridge. The bridge was established in 1932. 

There is a highway pull-offs near all of these bridges so you can snag one of the famous Bixby Bridge Photos.

Pfeiffer Beach:

Pfeiffer Beach has blown up in popularity over the years. It truly is a beautiful beach in the Big Sur area. Many surfers come to this location to catch some waves, while others come to enjoy the beauty. 

The beach is surrounded by bluffs and large rock formations that remain standing in the ocean today. You can sit and watch the waves crash into the rocks and take in the beauty of the ocean. 

Be sure to check this spot out early in the day, as it often fills up and they only allow a certain amount of people in per day (small daily fee required).

McWay Falls:

McWay Falls Right Off The Pacific Coast Highway
McWay Falls Right Off The Pacific Coast Highway

I think the coolest viewpoint along the whole Pacific Coast Highway is McWay Falls. There is a highway pull-off right along the highway where you can grab an awesome view of these falls. The water is bright aqua blue with a waterfall streaming down over a bluff. 

You can go into Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to walk to a viewpoint, but we think the better view is from the highway pull off (pictured above).

Salmon Creek Falls:

Jake and Emily perched on a rock looking out to the Salmon Creek Waterfall about .3 miles from the Pacific Coast Highway
Salmon Creek Waterfall

Salmon Creek Falls is a hidden gem along the Pacific Coast Highway California Road Trip. It’s a short hike right off the highway to a beautiful mossy waterfall.

Salmon Creek Falls is a rather easy hike that stretched .3 miles roundtrip. It’s a great way to get out of the car and stretch your legs. 

Though, the last little section to get right up to the falls itself required a little climbing over rocks.  Otherwise you can view the falls from a little farther downstream.

Elephant Seal Vista Point:

50+ Elephant seals lined up on the beach along Pacific Coast Highway
Elephant Vista Point

Another cool viewpoint is the Elephant Seal Vista Point. The whole beach is lined with elephant seals. It’s like a natural zoo for Elephant Seals. You will hear many of them barking, flipping sand onto themselves to stay cool and many fights for territory between a few seals. It’s really an entertaining sight!

Note: This is where you will finally get cell-phone service again after driving the Big Sur stretch. 


Morro Rock:

View of Morro Rock from the shore trail
Morro Rock in Morro Bay

Morro Bay is iconically known for Morro Rock, an ancient volcanic mound. Great leisure activities in the area consist of sailing, fishing, biking, hiking and bird watching. You can easily walk around the bay to grab a nice picture of Morro Rock. 

Montana de Oro State Park:

a viewpoint at Montana de Oro State Park along the Pacific Coast Highway
Montana de Oro State Park

This State Park took us by surprise. It’s most known for its rugged cliffs, sandy beaches, coastal plains, streams, canyons, and hills, and the stunning Valencia Peak.

Our favorite trail was Montana Del Oro Bluff Trail which followed along the coastal bluffs, with many spur trails to the ocean floor. There are many beautiful hikes in the area, you could easily spend multiple days exploring. 



Emily staring out at the Pacific Ocean with a beer at sunset at Wooly's in Pismo Beach
Wooly’s Pismo Beach, california

If you are looking for great food at a great price, check into Wooly’s. We were looking for a seafood place that had a good environment, location on the beach and a great alcohol selection without breaking the bank.

And for all my Wisconsin lovers out there, they have CHEESECURDS!! Plus I got a delicious seafood roll with lobster, crab, shrimp and bacon which I highly recommend. Jake got the fish and chips which were splendid too! 

Emily holding a seafood roll in hand from Wooly's Pismo Beach
Seafood Roll @ Wooly’s Pismo Beach

They also have a great Happy Hour, so if you are around on the weekdays, be sure to check it out.


Santa Barbara is the city with those beautiful spanish colonial heritage houses and the stunning view of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

Photo by Clayton Cardinalli on Unsplash

Explore Downtown:

One fun thing to do is explore the town of Santa Barbara. But if you are on a budget, this might be a scenic shopping trip rather than a purchasing shopping trip. The town is lined with upscale shops and restaurants. 

Wine Tour:

Another super fun activity to do in the area is go on a wine tour. Santa Barabara has an assortment of vineyards in the area, where you can taste some of the finest wines. You can book a guided wine tour where they will drive you around to different vineyards or you can self guide yourself to different vineyards in the area, but make sure you have a DD. 


Scenic Drive:

Photo by Parker Amstutz on Unsplash

Malibu is an upscale suburb of LA where you can see the beautiful million dollar dream mansions that line the coast. If you are following the Pacific Coast Highway then you will automatically see some of these famous houses along the route.

And if you are feeling adventurous, drive around some of the surrounding neighborhoods and you will see some massive mansions. 

Zuma and El Matador Beaches:

El Matador State Beach
El Matador State Beach – Photo by Gerson Repreza on Unsplash

Malibu is also known for its beautiful white sandy Zuma Beach, and rocky El Matador Beach.

Zuma Beach can be accessed right from the highway. You will find many surfers and people swimming around the shore.

El Matador State Beach has cliffs, arches, and caves that are a photographers dream. It does require a steep staircase to get down to the beach from the parking lot.

Solstice Canyon Hike:

If you are up for an adventure, then you could hike the short 3.2 mile hike to Solstice Canyon. You will encounter stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and end at a waterfall.


Jake has family in Santa Monica so we explore this beautiful city a little extra. Santa Monica has many of the most famous oceanfront attractions in Los Angeles.

Topanga State Park:

Viewpoint to the pacific ocean at Eagle Rock via Musch Trail in Topanga State Park
Musch Trail To Eagle Rock | Topanga State Park Along The Pacific Coast Highway

Jake’s Uncle volunteers as a docent at Topanga State Park, so we went on a guided tour and got to learn all about the different plant life and animals that live within this State Park.

There are a variety of beautiful hikes within the park, but we would suggest Musch Trail To Eagle Rock. It’s a 4.4 mile hike with 921 feet elevation gain. It leads you up a beautiful luscious path to a stunning view of the ocean. 

Santa Monica Pier:

A picture of Santa Monica Boardwalk from the Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica Pier, california

Santa Monica is known for its boardwalk. Which is also the endpoint of the famous Route 66. It has many different shops, restaurants, entertainment and an amusement park. It’s both great during the day or nighttime with the beautiful lights. 

Marvin Braude Bike Trail:

One of our favorite things we did in the area was ride on the Marvin Braude bike path that parallels the Venice Beach Boardwalk and the pacific ocean. Many people ride bikes, rent scooters or walk on the path parallel. 

The Venice Beach Boardwalk is a famous location that has many different cultures that line the beach. Be sure to check out Muscle Beach and the Venice Skate Park

Stout Burger & Beers:

Emily enjoying a brownie sunday from Stout Burger & Beers in Santa Monica
Brownie Sundae Stout Burger & Beers, california

This place might have the best burgers in town! We had a friend working here, so we decided to stop by and it definitely has some tasty food and had a great selection of beers!

Plus they have a cool patio outside with a view of the ocean in the distance.

And be sure to leave room for desert, because there is a brownie sundae on the menu, and it is HUGE! More than enough to share! 


You made it to the end point! Now time to explore to massive city of Los Angeles! Some popular activities are:

Hollywood Sign:

A picture of the hollywood sign in the distance

Of course, if you’re in Los Angeles, you gotta check out the famous Hollywood Sign. There are a few different hiking trails you can take to get a great view. But because of the smog in the area, the view of Hollywood itself is sometimes too foggy to see.

We took the trail to the Griffith Observatory where you could see the Hollywood sign in the distance! Expect most of the trails in the area to be busy.

Universal Studios:

Be the audience on one of your favorite shows. Jake and I are fans of the show “The Voice”, so we signed up to get tickets on 1iota and actually got tickets!

If you are planning this trip in advance, you can apply to all sorts of shows! A dream of mine is still to be on “The Price is Right”!

Honorable Mention:

Garrapata State Park:

At this point of the trip, we felt like we had seen so much beauty of the ocean, we had to start picking and choosing where to spend our money. But Garrapata State Park is a stunning area with many coastal hikes into the dense Redwood Forest. 

You can catch some of the most stunning views in the area of the Pacific Coast. If you want to visit Garrapata State Park add this right after Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. One very popular hike in the area is Soberanes Canyon

Arroyo Seco: 

A cool cliff jumping spot South of San Francisco is the Arroyo Seco. But beware, it’s difficult to get to. For more details check out the Outbound Collective

Slates Hot Springs: 

One stop along the road trip we wanted to hit up were the Slates Hot Springs, but you need reservations before you go. You can make reservations here. These hot springs are in a retreat center and clothing is optional. 

Andrew Molera State Park: 

This is a relatively undeveloped State Park in California. It offers hiking trails, bluffs, beaches and hilltops. It one of the less popular State Parks in the area, so if you are trying to escape the crowds, this might be a great stop for you. 

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park: 

Near Pfeiffer Beach, you will find Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and has the nickname of “mini Yosemite”. It has many trails that wind through beautiful redwood groves. It’s also a great spot to camp if you snag reservations for the campground in advance. 

Limekiln State Park:

Another beautiful spot along the Pacific Coast Highway is Limekiln State Park. It’s a great spot to camp if you are lucky to grab a reservation. A popular hike in the area is Cascade on Hare Creek which is through a redwood grove and follows a beautiful creek to a waterfall. 

The Two Roaming Souls Campervan on the ridge above the Pacific Coast Highway
The Road Up To A Campsite With A View Of The Ocean On Pacific Coast Highway

Camping/Accomodation Along The Ultimate Pacific Coast Highway California Road Trip From San Francisco to Los Angeles: 

We used the app iOverlander to find spots to camp along Hwy 1. Many of the spots were either highway pull-offs or public land spots that were well off the highway. Some of the spots we stayed at, may or may not still be viable choices, that’s why we left them out. But we did this whole road trip from our campervan so we could take it at a leisurely pace.

The picture from above is from Plaskett Ridge.  It was one of the craziest drives we have ever done.  But if you have a capable 4×4 high-clearance vehicle, it has some of the coolest campsites in the whole country, perched thousands of feet up in the mountains looking over the Pacific Ocean.  We didn’t make it all the way because the road got too gnarly for our RWD campervan.

If you want to ensure you have a campsite, then there are many campgrounds around the area, but do note you will need to book them well in advance. There are also many luxurious hotels along the route if budget isn’t an issue! 

Hotels or VRBO’s:

If camping isn’t your thing, there are tons of great hotels and vacation rental homes in many of the coastal towns. You can find great deals on Kayak to book hotels along the route. Or browse VRBO for more home-like rentals.

View of the ocean and the shore Along The Pacific Coast Highway

Takeaway For The Ultimate Pacific Coast Highway California Road Trip | San Francisco to Los Angeles

This truly is one of the most scenic drives in the U.S. and definitely should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Prepare to see epic mountains and cliffs dramatically rising from the ocean, beautifully remote coastal forests, and laid-back seaside towns. You can make the road trip as long or as short as you would like.

From San Francisco to Los Angeles, Highway 1 is only 442 miles, so you could easily drive this in 1 or 2 days. But in order to enjoy its true beauty, we suggest taking 5-7days.

We hope you enjoy this guide to the Pacific Coast Highway California Road Trip!

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