Your road trip LA to San Francisco will most likely astound you with views of the Pacific Ocean as far as the eye can reach and mountain ranges.
Here is my comprehensive guide on Highway 1 between Los Angeles and san fran the Fog City.
What exactly is Highway 1?
What exactly is this? The bitumen dream is the embodiment of the California Dream. Highway 1, often known as State Route 1 or the Pacific Coast Highway, is unmistakably Californian. It officially connects Leggett in Northern California to Dana Point/San Juan Capistrano, just south of Los Angeles. This “All-American Road” was built in 1934 and spans 882.87 kilometers.
This post will mostly focus on the section most frequently traversed by roadtrippers, the one between (suspense… or not) San Francisco and Los Angeles. To set things right, there is also a little pitch at the bottom of the page for the other two segments, namely San Diego-Los Angeles and San Francisco-Leggett.
The number 1 should not be confused with Highway 101. The 101 connects Olympia (Washington) to Los Angeles. It goes along the ocean from Olympia to Eureka. The 1 then follows along the Pacific coast from Leggett, while the 101 continues inland.
In which direction to do it?
The age-old question. We are still questioned about it on a frequent basis, and our response is as follows: it is preferable, in our opinion, to descend this stretch of coast, thus from SF to LA. It is just a matter of practicality and aesthetics. When riding on the ocean side, you will have much better views and it will be lot easier to stop when someone shouts “OHHHHHHH S**T… Have you seen the view!?” “Stop, I need to snap a photo.” It’s also a bit less risky.
But if you don’t have a choice and have to fly LA-SF, it’s not exactly dramatic, and this guide is for you.
How long should I plan?
We believe that the travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco should take at least three days and two nights. It is obviously preferable if you have more time to find and increase the activities. You could spend ten nights there without becoming bored.
It is possible to do this journey with only one overnight stop, but it will be incredibly quick and need many decisions.
Finally, if you just have one day, you may skip it and take the I-5 inland, which would take you approximately 6 hours but will be really unpleasant. It takes roughly 10 hours nonstop by the 1. And you’re not going to do that…
My Journey On The Pacific Coast Highway
As I mentioned before, there is not only one route available on Highway 1. Everyone can take the route that best suits their timing and desires. And, as with anything else, there will be times when you hit a snag on one of the steps…
It’s what I’ve done on this journey.
For calendar reasons and planned activities, I drove Highway 1 from Los Angeles to San Francisco in the south-north direction, despite the fact that some will tell you that it should be done in the opposite direction (for practical reasons, to be closer to the ocean and easier to stop)… The fact that I did things in this manner was not a handicap for me, and I was able to easily escape and benefit from viewpoints that one cannot have in the other side…
So, I’d say that the sense in which you’re doing it is unimportant, and you shouldn’t focus on it.
I completed the journey in nearly four days and three nights, allowing me to maintain a rather comfortable pace and fully enjoy the journey.
What should you know before you leave?
There are various ways to go from Los Angeles to San Francisco or vice versa.
Interstate 5 is the quickest trip, taking between 5:30 and 6 hours.
However, if you’re looking for the perfect California coast road trip, Highway 1 is the most scenic route between these two cities.
Despite the fact that it adds around 100 miles (160 km), it is one of the most stunning scenic journeys in the world.
So plan on spending four to five days there to really enjoy all of the attractions on offer.
The route is also well-served by Los Angeles motorhome rentals.
The Places You Should Not Miss On Your Road Trip LA To San Francisco!
The California coast offers everything that will make you wish.
Santa Monica, California
Santa Monica is the nearest Highway 1 site to downtown Los Angeles.
Begin your journey here, with a brief halt at this famed beach.
The Santa Monica Pier at the foot of Colorado Avenue is Santa Monica’s most popular plaza.
Restaurants, souvenir stores, street animators or painters, a Ferris wheel, and even a roller coaster may be found on this bustling wooden wharf.
Malibu should be your second destination, located around thirty kilometers from Los Angeles, is well-known for two major reasons.
The first is its lengthy stretch of stunning virgin beach, complete with tidal pools, caves, and unusual rock formations.
The second factor is the presence of various Hollywood celebrities who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis.
Visit Point Dune, one of Southern California’s most stunning beaches, or tour the city to view magnificent residences and sample traditional California cuisine.
El Matador Beach
El Matador State Beach is one of Malibu’s most famous beaches.
For clothing, this is a permissive beach. Nothing beats natural tanning and aging.
This is a lovely location that adults may visit at any time of year.
This beach is so beautiful that we guarantee your images will be stunning no matter where you take them!
It is around 0.75km long, which is short.
It might be difficult to find a peaceful spot on the beach during the summer because it is such a popular destination.
The views are breathtaking, and the weather is warm all year.
The Ventura Pier will be immediately in front of you as you go down Highway 1.
If you enjoy surfing, this is a must-see location!
Otherwise, stroll around the old city center and shop in antique boutiques and second-hand stores.
Summerland’s ambiance is laid-back, from your footwear (flip-flops, preferably) to the meals. Drive up to Carpinteria for a salad or fish and chips at the Padaro Beach Grill, where you can eat outside and enjoy the view of the Pacific Coast. After that, stop by Summerland Winery for a nightcap, where you can sit on the terrace and sip wines like sauvignon blanc and chardonnay created directly on the Central California Coast. Dogs are welcome to join their owners inside the tasting room.
Before traveling across the street to the beach, have a huge Belgian waffle or huevos rancheros breakfast on the porch of the Summerland Beach Café, the Victorian mansion erected in 1893 that sits guard over the town and is the area’s most distinctive feature, as seen from the 101. Sunbathe at Summerland Beach, or paddle out beyond the waves on your blow-up stand-up paddleboard to enjoy the comparatively calm ocean water.
Santa Barbara, California
The lovely city of Santa Barbara, noted for its beaches, wine, red-tiled roofs, and exquisite gardens, is the next on your road trip.
There’s enough to see and do here to merit an extended break if you’re seeking for a location to spend the night on the road!
Take a walk along Stearns Wharf, the longest deep-water pier between Los Angeles and San Francisco, or head to East Beach.
If you enjoy architecture, pay a visit to the courthouse and its clock tower, as well as the Old Santa Barbara Mission.
If you want something more cultural, visit the Lobero Theater, the Arlington Theater, or the Santa Barbara Historical Museum.
Don’t miss the Santa Barbara Zoo, the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden, or Lotusland if you want to get some fresh air.
Santa Ynez Valley
The Santa Ynez Valley (SYV) is located in northern Santa Barbara County, California, and includes the cities of Ballard, Buellton, Los Alamos, Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, and Solvang. It is one of five unique winegrowing regions in the United States, located in the county of Santa Barbara. More than 50 cepages thrive in the region’s various microclimates. There are more than 120 wineries in the area, the majority of which are small, family-run businesses. Visitors come here to sample world-class wines in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
Aside from wine, the Santa Ynez Valley has a thriving craft beer scene. There are exceptional brasseries around the region, as well as speciality tasting rooms, pubs and restaurants offering worldwide beer tastings, and a boutique of specialty brasseries. There are also several art and history museums that highlight the culture of this region as well as the art of local communities. The valley is also an excellent location for outdoor activities. Visitors may learn about nature by exploring the hiking trails that go through the hills and wildflowers.
You don’t think of European architecture when you think of the pacific coast shore.
You will not integrate with Solvang; You have to see it to believe it.
Solvang was formed by Danish immigrants who want to live in the United States.
Tourists visit the Danish town to appreciate its European-style windmills, flower-lined lanes, and half-timbered houses.
It is considered one of the top five most beautiful communities in California.
You’ll spend your time here shopping in northern European stores and visiting several reproductions of classic Copenhagen places.
If you have time, visit the Hans Christian Anderson Museum and look for the Little Mermaid statue!
Santa Maria, California
Visit all of the complexes dedicated to the spread of Christian religion and Spanish culture during your road trip to Santa Maria: Santa Inès, La Purisima, and San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. Aviation enthusiasts, take a trip to Vandenberg Air Force Base (reservations recommended). You’ve arrived in paradise, gourmands. Visit the Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Maria Valley vineyards, as well as Cambria Estate.
Santa Maria is the ideal place for those who enjoy spending their evenings on a terrace with a glass of wine in hand, trying out new culinary creations and distinct flavors. When the sun goes down, the revelers retire to the city’s numerous taverns and clubs. The Extravaganza Festival is in full swing this holiday season.
The beaches and sand dunes of Pismo Beach are well-known.
It is also a popular place to spend the night when on a road trip.
If this is the case, and you have a little more time to spend in the area, take an ATV ride across the sand dunes at Oceano Dunes State Recreation Area.
Otherwise, concentrate on its downtown center, where you may eat well in one of the many restaurants.
The sunsets over the Pismo Beach pier are stunning at the end of the day!
San Luis Obispo
San Luis Obispo, located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, is a charming town, bathed in California sunshine and brimming with one-of-a-kind experiences. Students from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo breathe new life into the city, while the Santa Lucia Mountains to the east and the Pacific coast to the west offer breathtaking scenery and a variety of outdoor activities. A historic architecture, a city center brimming with shops, nearby secluded beaches, vineyards, and excellent cuisine are just a few of the attractions that distinguish this multifaceted resort.
Morro Bay, California
A little fishing town is the next stop on your road trip between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Morro Bay is home to a lovely state park as well as various bird and animal sanctuaries.
The main attraction here is at the further end of Morro Beach.
Morro Rock is a 175-meter-high ancient volcanic mound.
In addition to its size, it is surrounded by a gorgeous lagoon, which is home to sea otters and seals throughout the day.
You will be able to kayak to the edge of the rock if you so choose, but I recommend that you make a brief halt here to have a picnic on the beach.
Cambria (pronounced cam bree euh) is a lovely little town with interesting shops, restaurants, and streets lined with beautiful gardens. It’s a fun place to explore on its own, but it’s also an excellent starting point for seeing Hearst Castle and the coast that surrounds it, from Morro Bay to Ragged Point.
If you enjoy staying at bed and breakfasts, Cambria is a great place to visit. You may find hotels almost on the beach at Moonstone Beach, which is just off Highway One in Cambria’s downtown. The city center, like the nearby beaches, is ideal for a stroll down memory lane.
Moonstone Beach is the best place in town for natural beauty: breaking waves, surfers, marae basins, and driftwood. With a flat boardwalk just above the shore and a route that extends down to the beach, it is easily accessible to virtually everyone. Purchase pique-nique supplies in town and enjoy them while watching the waves break, or sit on the Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill’s terrace on the other side of the street and watch the sun set.
Don’t forget about the sea elephants: the sea elephant colony along Highway One, about 4.5 miles north of Hearst Castle, is most interesting during the breeding season, from December to February, when about 4,000 puppies are born in only a few weeks.
If you like to go shopping, make the city center your first stop.
San Simeon, California
The lavish residence of William Randolph Hearst, a tycoon who gained his fortune in the print industry, is the most well-known feature of San Simeon.
While crowds and enormous homes are nothing new in San Simeon or California in general, Hearst Castle is in a class of its own.
Marble sculptures, tapestries and oil paintings, Tiffany lamps, exotic carpets, and all the artifacts gathered by William over his rather marginal life are scattered atop The Enchanted Hill.
Aside from the million tourists it receives each year, Lady Gaga featured the castle in her music video for GUY.
On the latter, there is a large colony of elephant seals.
Surprisingly, this colony had just 24 elephant seals in 1990, but by 1991, there were almost 400 on the beach immediately south of the Piedras Blancas lighthouse.
Nobody understands why!
The Big Sur coast
Expect many stops along Highway 1 near Big Sur.
Our road trip snakes its way between towering cliffs with both thrilling and terrible descent.
The Bixby Bridge, a symbol of the picturesque road trip, is located nearby.
It is one of the world’s highest single-span concrete bridges and one of the most photographed bridges on the Pacific Coast – immediately behind the Golden Gate, which you will soon arrive at!
In the area, don’t miss Point Sur State Historic Park, Ragged Point, and, of course, Julia Pfeiffer State Park.
Mc Way Falls
The McWay Falls, which cascade from a steep cliff directly into the Pacific Coast, are the park’s major attraction.
It is one of California’s most gorgeous beaches.
The park’s access route to the falls is properly marked.
You must also pay the $10 admission charge.
If you have time, explore the rest of the park, which is home to over 2,500-year-old redwood trees.
We’d want to go to Pfeiffer Beach next. We take the winding path down and… come to a stop at a sign: this is a State Park, and admission is $12!! Again!!
Now that it is done, one has the sense of being taken for milk cows. It appears that the route is touristic… As a result, most people will not pay only to enjoy a little stretch of beach.
Point Lobos Natural Reserve, California
One of California’s most gorgeous state parks is Point Lobos Natural Reserve.
Point Lobos will be on your left shortly before Carmel if you are driving from Los Angeles.
The park’s entrance is not visible from the road, therefore look for signs confirming its presence.
Point Lobos is a genuine haven for environment and animal enthusiasts.
Hike the park’s wonderful paths or stroll along the waterways.
You may see seals, sea lions, sea otters, and killer whales along its coastlines.
Keep a watch out for gray foxes, raccoons, opossums, deer, rabbits, bobcats, and coyotes on the woodland pathways.
Carmel-by-the-Sea is a lovely community that exudes coastal and European charm.
Many singers, poets, and artists have made Carmel their home for many years.
Clint Eastwood, a well-known Hollywood actor, was one of the mayors.
Main Street is unquestionably the epicenter of activity.
Art galleries, boutiques, stores, and exquisite restaurants fill the strip.
The architecture of the town is a combination of quaint tiny beach houses, rustic cottages, log cabins, and stunning modern glass mansions.
The Carmel mission, with its inner courtyard and gardens, is a lovely location to contemplate or rest not far away.
A museum also commemorates the history of the Monterey Peninsula and all of California’s missions.
One of the most stunning stops on Highway 1 is undoubtedly around Monterey Bay.
The 17-Mile Drive is often regarded as the most picturesque length of coastline on the Monterey Peninsula.
The trail runs from the gorgeous Pacific Coast to the Del Monte woodland.
You’ll be driving via Pacific Grove to get to Pebble Beach.
There is a fee to use this private road, but hundreds of visitors visit each year to see the spectacular Lone Cypress, one of California’s most well-known natural wonders, as well as Bird Rock and Spanish Bay.
The coastline is densely inhabited with sea lions, and you may observe newborn seals and their moms on the beaches for many kilometers.
You will reach the city of Monterey at the end of the route.
Its well-known Cannery Row was originally the epicenter of the sardine packing business.
These factories have now been converted into souvenir stores, seafood restaurants, and pubs.
Don’t miss the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the world’s sixth largest aquarium.
Sea otters, penguins, sharks, stingrays, jellyfish, and many more local marine animals call it home.
Santa Cruz, California
Prepare to be nostalgic in Santa Cruz!
The ’60s remain alive and well in Santa Cruz, particularly along the Americana-inspired Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
Visit the beach and stroll down the boardwalk to see the beautiful lighthouse and the Big Dipper.
The Santa Cruz wharf is a great place to start exploring the local region.
If you have the time, you may also embark on a whale watching safari or a fishing adventure.
If the supernatural piques your interest, pay a visit to The Mystery Spot, a compilation of unusual occurrences over the last 70 years.
All types of antique goodies may be found on the legendary Pacific Avenue.
If you still need to stretch your legs, head to Wilder Ranch State Park for some trekking.
If you’re staying the night, check out a local music event at the Rio Theater.
Año Nuevo State Park
The state park of Año Nuevo (“New Year”, as it was named by the explorer-navigator Don Sebastian Vizcaino in 1603) had been occupied by the Quiroste tribe. It was then used by farmers before being reclaimed by the state of California in the 1950s to protect this magnificent and spectacular place. On the Pacific coast, the park (which spans a thousand kilometers) is home to one of the most numerous and well-known colonies of sea elephants (10 000 individuals), a majestic and protected species to which no one has access “however” throughout the year.
Different paths can be taken. The location is home to several plant and animal species. Aside from sea elephants, the beach and waters are frequented by many species of seals, as well as sea lions and otters. During their annual migration, grey seals travel along the coast. Natural pools include a variety of uncommon invertebrates (like abalones). The location is a paradise for bird lovers. On the ground, cerfs live alongside lynx, mountain lions, coyotes, and foxes.
And two really unusual species: the California red frogs and the San Fran garter snake, a magnificent red, orange and turquoise snake (don’t worry, we didn’t miss it!).
Finally, remember that it is obviously prohibited to collect anything (vegetables, shellfish, etc.) and to harass sea elephants (remember the mandatory distance of 25 feet, or little more than 7 meters).
Pigeon Point Lighthouse
The Pigeon Point Lighthouse near Pescadero is one of the most photographed landmarks on California’s famed Route 1. At the top of a rocky escarpment overlooking the Pacific, and it’s next on your road trip.
Nothing to do with pigeons: the location (now designated as a historic state park) has taken the name of a ship (the “Carrier Pigeon”) that has sunk on its way to its destination. The lighthouse was built in 1871. His historical lamps were designed in France. He is always active and steers the boats from his 35-meter height. However, the tour has been closed since 2001 (for safety reasons, renovations have been completed).
Half Moon Bay
Half Moon Bay is located on a beautiful but short piece of shoreline halfway between the famed towns of San Fran and San Jose. Although people frequently pass by or through it on their way down the Pacific Coast Highway, it is well worth stopping here for a few days to thoroughly explore the region.
The city highlights some of the greatest California scenery, such as its stretch of stunning beaches, the Rancho Corral de Tierra protected area and mountains, and the state’s towering redwood trees. Here are some of the top Half Moon Bay activities.
The State Beach, Half Moon Bay’s biggest and most popular beach, is a terrific site to start exploring.
Because of the chilly weather and strong tides, it’s not much of a bathing beach, but many people come to walk along the shore, go fishing, or have a picnic.
Because it’s one of the few beaches in the region that allows camping, you’ll often see residents and road-trippers putting up tent here, making it a beautiful site to spend the night.
San Francisco, California
And there you have it!
Your road trip ultimate destination is San Fran, the most European and open of the American West Coast.
Do not miss the city’s key attractions, such as Fisherman’s Wharf for a supper with sea lions, Telegraph Hill, or the Painted Ladies, these iconic multicolored mansions.
I recommend that you plan an Alcatraz tour if you have enough time.
If you don’t get goosebumps, go at night and explore the ghostly remnants of the ancient jail from which no one could ever escape.
Don’t forget to take a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge.
After all, if you don’t bring one back, did you truly did the San Francisco road trip?
From San Diego To Los Angeles
After leaving San Diego, we recommend stopping at Encinitas (especially the Meditation Gardens, 215 W K St, Encinitas) and La Jolla, a beautiful coastal town.
Laguna Beach: our favorite stop along the way, with beautiful beaches and lush vegetation: Victoria Beach, Crescent Bay Beach, and Thousand Steps Beach.
Welcome to Surf City, Huntington Beach. Huntington Beach is a legend in the surfing world since it hosts the World Surfing Championships every year. To see, the 14 kilometer long beach and its Newport Beach pier: an opulent seaside resort, the whole of Arrested Development and Newport Beach (although now in Redondo Beach), and a very “yacht club” atmosphere. The Balboa Peninsula and its piers are worth seeing (Newport et Balboa).
Our Los Angeles road trip gets away from the ocean. From Huntington Beach to Los Angeles. A less wild but heavily built-up coast between San Diego and Los Angeles, where the 1 merges with the I-5 at San Diego. To be seen nonetheless.
From San Francisco To Leggett
As previously stated, the 1 begins in Leggett in northern California, separating it from the 101. Here are our picks for the best sites between San Francisco and Leggett.
- Golden Gate Bridge: Here’s a view of San Francisco from the Marin eadlands of the Golden Gate Bridge.
- Muir Beach is a new beach with gray sand and rocks. This time, you’ll leave the coast and go for San Francisco.
- Muir Woods National Monument is the name of a state park located two miles from San Francisco.
- Mount Tamalpais: the road rises after leaving Highway 1 and the scenery becomes spectacular on the Panoramic Highway. San Francisco can even be seen.
- Stinson State Beach: a large, easily accessible beach.
- Bolinas is a charming little town with a distinct personality. Over the years, its residents have built signalization panels to live in hiding.
- The Point Reyes National Seashore is a beautiful, peaceful national park located between California and Normandy. Vast beaches, hiking trails, wildlife, animals (tule wapitis, bobcats, coyotes, sea lions…), farms, a cypress tunnel…
- Inverness: As the Point Reyes National Seashore is left behinde, visitors will pass through Inverness, a little town on Tomales Bay. The main attraction is the extremely photogenic SS Point Reyes (12783 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Inverness)
- Bodega Bay and Bodega: Bodega Bay, as the name suggests, is a wide bay with good restaurants (we highly recommend Fishetarian, a fish market/restaurant at 599 CA-1 in Bodega Bay) and a beautiful site for sundowners (Westshore Rd). Bodega (not to be confused with Bodega Bay), a little further into the countryside, is the setting for Alfred Hitchcock’s film “The Birds.” You will find the film’s school and church (17110 Bodega Ln, Bodega)
- Jenner is a settlement built on the Russian River. Notable is the state park of Goat Rock Beach, with its seal colony.
- Gualala is a little town with a beautiful view. Even if the “Gualala Hotel” has closed its doors in 2020.
- Bowling Ball Beach is a beach with rocks shaped like bowling balls. It was a little difficult to get there the last time we went (the trailhead is in Schooner Gulch).
- Point Arena Lighthouse: a lovely structure (45500 Lighthouse Rd, Point Arena, $5/person)
- Elk: view from Cuffey’s Cove (4782 CA-1, Elk)
- Mendocino: Point Cabrillo Lighthouse (45300 Lighthouse Rd, Mendocino) and the lovely town of Mendocino
- Fort Bragg: Glass Beach (Noyo Point Rd), on the site of an old discharge, a beach with polis glass cristals. Also worth a visit is the port (N Harbord Dr) along the Noyo River. Restaurants to die for.
Leggett: We’ve arrived to the Redwood National and State Parks, a haven for these massive trees, equivalent to sequoias. To see is the Chandelier Tree (67402 Drive Thru Tree Rd, Leggett), a Redwood that can be traversed (10$/car).
You are now ready to discover the beauties of this well-known California picturesque journey.
Do you have any additional recommendations for rest breaks along this route? Please feel free to share it with us in the comments section below!
To be honest, I prefer a national park with red cliffs, sand, and dizzying walks in the center of nature to “water.” Despite everything, this California region captured me and I can only suggest it to everyone!!! The scenery are spectacular, the cities are unique and hospitable, and there are several activities available.
So now, here are some things to consider when planning your road trip.