WHERE
Itinerary map here

Itinerary:
Driving Along the Pacific Coast

2 nights: San Francisco for Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown, and more.
1 night: Monterey for Carmel Beach, the world-class aquarium and downtown’s historic quarter.
0 night: Big Sur for stunning views of the Pacific shore along Highway 1.
1 night: Santa Barbara the “American Riviera”.
2 nights: Los Angeles for Malibu Beach, Venice Beach, Hollywood and more.
2 nights: San Diego for a Spanish and laid-back atmosphere, the Balboa park, its world-famous zoo and more.



" This itinerary takes you along the Pacific coast on the famous Highway 1 in California, from North to South. "


Some general information:

Their is no best time of the year to travel in California as it is has year-round sunny weather. As you will be traveling by car (don’t count on public transport here for such itinerary!), don’t forget your GPS.

1

San Francisco

2 nights

Introduction:

Start in San Francisco, the centerpiece of Nothern California, well-known for its steep rolling hills, Victorian architecture, summer fog, liberal community, scenic beauty, and great ethnic and cultural persity. It is no wonder many visitors have left their heart in San Francisco. I recommend staying here 2 to 3 days at least.

What to do:

Within the city limit, don't miss the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. There are many ways to admire it including riding a bike on it but the best spot definitely is Marin Headlands located on the Northwest side of the bridge (not to be confused with the Vista Point on the Nothern side). You’ll get an amazing view with the city skyline in the background, best with the afternoon light. Check out the Fisherman’s Wharf and its sea lions on Pier 39. Fisherman’s Wharf is a broad area by the waterfront where you can wander and get you share of touristy shops. One of the best ice-cream spot is there in the Girhadelli Square. From there, you can embark a boat toward the world’s most legendary prison Alcatraz (official website), once host to America’s most notorious criminals such as Al Capone. Note that you usually need to reserve your combined boat/entrance ticket to Alcatraz several days or weeks in advance. Visit China Town that has the largest Chinese community outside Asia and become immersed in a microcosmic Asian world, filled with herbal shops, temples, pagoda roofs and dragon parades. China Town is best visited by walking on Grant Avenue. San Francisco has a rich collection of top restaurants, whether it be in a chilled-out bar, at a gig or on a pulsating dance floor.

Other places in San Francisco to strongly consider in no particular order: the renowned gay district Castro featuring a giant rainbow flag and many shops and restaurants, the Coit tower from which you'll have an impressive view of the city, the beautiful Palace of Fine Arts reminiscent of Roman and Greek architecture, Alamo Square Park home to the Pink Ladies (a row of Victorian houses with the city skyline in the background), the crooked, curvy Lombard Street on Russian hill, the free Cable Car museum on Nob Hill, the Ferry Building market near the Financial district (especially on Sunday morning when it is surrounded by a huge farmer’s market), Union Square the center of shopping and theater in the city, the Golden Gate Park where you’ll find the acclaimed M.H. de Young Memorial Museum and California Academy of Sciences as well as the Japanese Tea Garden, and the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park.

Just outside San Francisco, the Napa and Sonoma valleys are famous for their wine, and you should definitely go check out the giant redwood trees at Muir Woods just North of the Golden Gate bridge.

Next:

Start your drive South on the beautiful Highway 1 to Monterey. It will take you 2h30 for this leg (and 30 minutes faster if you start by taking the I-280 road). As explained in the conclusion, if you have extra time, check out Santa Cruz that is on your way.

Find more info: San Francisco on Wikivoyage

2

Monterey

1 night

Introduction:

Monterey is all about the sea with its world famous aquarium, its abundant marine wildlife and the magnificent natural beauty of its shores. It also possesses some of the best preserved historic buildings from the Spanish and Mexican eras in California.

What to do:

In the Monterey Bay, don’t miss the world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium located at the northern end of the Cannery Row. Check out the nearby town of Carmel-By-The-Sea (simply called Carmel) known for its white sand beach, its friendly local and its great food. I also highly suggest spending about 1.5 hour at the scenic coastal area Point Lobos State Natural Reserve South of Carmel that features a variety of sea animals & wildlife, great hiking and diving. Note that Point Lobos is part of the Northern end of Big Sur and it could also be visited while you drive through Big Sur.

Next:

Continue South on Highway 1 to drive through Big Sur where mountains rise abruptly from the Pacific Ocean. It will be one of your most memorable drive ever. Big Sur has no specific boundaries, but we say it starts just South of Carmel.

3

Big Sur

0 nights

Introduction:

Big Sur is a region on the Central Coast of California and contains vast wildernesses and breathtaking views as it stretches 90 miles (140 km) along the rugged Pacific Ocean.

What to do:

Along the stretch, there are plenty of spots where you can take spectacular photography shots or/and walk short trails. The most famous spots from North to South are Pfeiffer Beach, Bixby Bridge and McWay Falls, but really, there are so many more amazing places in Big Sur.

Eat & drink:

For a break, I definitely recommend stopping at Nepenthe that offers amazing views for both its bar with cheaper food and its fully-fledged restaurant.

Next:

Driving through Big Sur and enjoying the scenery should take you about 4 hours. It will be one of your most memorable drive! Drive 2 more hours toward South to arrive in Santa Barbara.

Find more info: Big Sur on Wikivoyage

4

Santa Barbara

2 nights

Introduction:

Santa Barbara is the Saint Tropez of California. Enjoy the pier, the beach and the wine trail! Santa Barbara is famous for its Mediterean feeling and in addition to beautiful beaches, has an excellent urban wine trail in downtown.

What to do:

Walk through State Street, its most famous avenue. Visit the County Courthouse that epitomizes the Spanish-Moorish architecture that is found across the city. Check out the Old Mission to glimpse at the city’s Spanish origin. There are three beaches in Santa Barbara, the East Beach is the best stretch to get some sunshine without being mobbed by crowds. Santa Barbara is home to many excellent wineries and has its own urban wine trail in downtown.

Next:

Drive 2 hours South to Los Angeles.

Find more info: Santa Barbara on Wikivoyage

5

Los Angeles

2 nights

Introduction:

Los Angeles, the legendary city known for its celebrity culture, warm weather and its initial L.A. I recommend staying here 2 days.

What to do:

Plan the first day to visit the acclaimed Getty Center, chill at the Santa Monica Pier and walk or bike along the famous Venice Beach where you will experience the Southern California vibe. In the evening, go to the Griffith Observatory to admire the sunset over L.A. and learn about space at the public and historic observatory. The second day you can check the iconic Walt Disney Concert Hall, walk on the Hollywood Walk of Fame before heading out to Las Vegas! If you have one more day available: enjoy the Universal Studios Hollywood (everyone should go at least once in his life in a Universal Studios!).

Next:

Drive to San Diego via Highway 1 and Interstate 5. It will take you in between 2.5 and 3 hours. You can optionally stop by Laguna Beach, a resort city known for its scenic beaches and its artist community or, just before getting to the center of San Diego, at La Jolla, the upscale beach community of San Diego with many shop-lined streets.

Find more info: Los Angeles on Wikivoyage

Conclusion

That’s it for a roadtrip along the coastline! If you have more time, I would definitely suggest to stop in Santa Cruz which is known for its youthful vibe and a certain bohemian feel. Santa Cruz has many great beaches too.