December 6, 2019

LA to San Francisco drive in 5 fabulous days!

If you’re planning to do the LA to San Francisco drive on the iconic PCH, you’ll have one of coolest road trips in the world!

This post covers everything you need to know for a 5-day California road trip itinerary from Los Angeles to San Francisco including where we stopped to shop, take photos and where we stayed on this portion of the spectacular Pacific Coast Highway.

Driving the Pacific Coast Highway
Heading south from Santa Barbara to LA with the Pacific Ocean on the right. Doing the California road trip this way gives you better sea views!

The Pacific Coast Highway technically runs the entire length of the west coast of the United States and some people drive the whole thing from San Diego to Seattle.

But I only had five days, so we flew into Los Angeles and out of San Francisco. But with so many great places to stop along the way we could have taken 10 days on this California Coast road trip and still not been bored!

In fact with so many things to do on your Los Angeles Bucket List, you could spend a week here before you even get started on the PCH.

The drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco can be done in under six hours if you put your foot down, but why would you when there are so many gorgeous towns to stop at and things to do along the way?!

I’ve put this lengthy blog post into a downloadable pdf for you to print out and take with you, plus I’ve added some more content from some of the cities we stayed at, if you’d like it!

This California road trip starts in Santa Monica and includes stays in Santa Barbara, Big Sur, Santa Cruz and San Francisco

Plus visits along the way in San Luis Obispo, Hearst Castle, Carmel and Pebble Beach.

Driving the PCH from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 5 days
5 day road trip to San Francisco

See my picks for some great Air BnBs in San Francisco too! >

Firstly, if you are reading this from another country than the US, let’s allay all fears of driving in the Unites States. It’s a doddle!

But secondly, make sure you have a GPS or data roaming plan to use maps on your phone if you actually want to drive along the coastal road.

Tip: your GPS will try and take you on the shortest route from Los Angeles via the interior I-5 road rather than the scenic route. Hence my cousin Kate and I taking off the wrong way for the first mile inland to the Los Angeles freeway.

However, once onto it, we fooled the GPS by putting coastal destinations along our route and adding new towns as we went.

Click here for a free road trip packing list.

Start the Pacific Coast Highway road trip in Santa Monica
The view from the Fairmont Hotel over Santa Monica Beach

We started our epic road trip in LA’s stunning beach town of Santa Monica with two days of R&R after our flight from New Zealand – this is still my favourite part of Los Angeles.

I have stayed in Santa Monica at least a dozen times and wrote this post on my 7 favourite hotels in Santa Monica >>) we shopped till we dropped on the pedestrianised Third Street Promenade and enjoyed cocktails at sunset (see my top picks for Best Rooftop Bars in Santa Monica >>)

Let’s do a Pacific Coast Highway road trip!

LA to San Fran route on map
Pacific Coast Highway map from Los Angeles to San Francisco

Day 1 – Santa Monica to Santa Barbara

Driving distance: 120km (75 miles) along the 101 BUT that will take you on inland roads for at least half the drive, so allow a bit more time to wind around the coast. (Allow 2.5 hours)

Where to stay: Brisas del Mar

Don’t miss: Camarillo Shopping Outlets

From the beachside Los Angeles city of Santa Monica, start your road trip on the coastal Highway 1. This starts at beach level where views of the half-kilometre wide sandy beach stretches out to the ocean.

Santa Monica
The iconic Santa Monica Pier

Just 40 minutes north of Santa Monica are the Camarillo Shopping Outlets. Three clusters of shops and eating places with brands like Gap, Banana Republic, Forever 21, North Face, Nine West, Calvin Klein, all at ridiculously cheap prices, although all end of summer stock when we went.

Tip: put Malibu into your GPS if you are unsure of how to get to the coastal road. We just went back and stayed a night in Malibu and loved it. The dining scene is great, there is a super cute former 1950s motel, now boutique hotel to stay at and of course – the surf.

You can read my post on 24 Hours in Malibu here >>

Brunch in Malibu
Our delicious breakfast on the rooftop at Surfrider Malibu

Santa Barbara is about an hour and a half north of Malibu and I maintain, is the prettiest city in the United States so we stayed two nights.

Thanks to strict building codes brought in after the devastating 1925 earthquake, buildings here are Spanish adobe style reflecting the roots of the town and are no more than two stories high (in some cases you’ll see an office block at six floors, but certainly no high-rises).

Update: I just spent another two nights in Santa Barbara and did a wine tasting tour and found some great places to eat. You might like to read more my post about what to do in Santa Barbara >>

Looking over the rooftops out to the beach in Santa Barbara
Climb up the bell tower for these views over downtown Santa Barbara

It’s just so cute here! Brightly coloured bougainvillea climb up walls and the tree-lined main street is edged with shops, behind which are piazzas with more shops, fountains and lovely open spaces. Oh and check out the cycle lanes – easy peasy. Parking is cheap here – free everywhere for first 75 mins then $1.50 per hour.

The weather is gorgeous pretty much year round due to the city being hugged by the Santa Ynez mountains which keep much of the hot desert wind at bay while the ocean breezes are largely quelled by the Channel Islands, just off the coast. Again, like Santa Monica, the west coast sand stretches for what seems like miles.

Brisas del Mar is a large hotel/motel located about three blocks from the ocean. It’s a 3-star hotel but perfectly fine (Tripadvisor reviews are very positive), but has a free wine and cheese hour at 5pm followed by hot cookies around 7pm!

Day 2 – Santa Barbara

Today you should definitely visit the Old Mission,Santa Barbara which stands majestically overlooking the city. Founded in 1786, this is still home to Franciscan friars (although we didn’t see any when we went. I think they cloister themselves away making beer and meditating).

Mission Santa Barbara
A visit to The Mission is must do in Santa Barbara

For $12 you can take a tour through the ancient hallows, the photogenic gardens and old cemeteries, gaze at the art and architecture and just generally take your time to marvel.

Another must-do in Santa Barbara is climb the steps (actually only two flights as there is a lift) to the rooftop of the courthouse and look down over the ‘American Riviera’. (The pic above is taken from here).

The courthouse itself is so beautiful you’d think it was a tourist attraction, except for the clip-clop of legal secretaries stilletos carrying piles of paperwork and signs above doors saying ‘In Session’.

Have dinner in the Funk Zone, a new area of former fishing warehouses now home to restaurants, bars and wine tasting rooms. We had a fabulous sharing plates dinner at The Lark.

Santa Barbara Funk Zone
Looking down to the beach from the Funk Zone

Wander down to the beach and out on the pier to check out the innovative beggars urging you to throw a coin into their lair. Clever. (See my pics here >>>)

Day 3 – Santa Barbara to Big Sur

Driving distance: 215 miles (345 km) Allow 4.5 hours.

Where to stay: Ventana Inn

Don’t miss: Hearst Castle

This is the longest driving day of the Pacific Coast road trip, but whatever you do, don’t miss Hearst Castle!

We started with our essential morning coffee in Santa Barbara (I’m not a Starbucks fan and am pleased to report that boutique cafes that make a decent flat white are springing up over here) and headed towards San Luis Obispo for our lunch stop.

Other places worthy of visiting are Solvang (the Danish capital of the US for boutique shopping and Danish pastries) and more shopping outlets at Pismo Beach.

San Luis Obispo is famous for its Thursday night street market and that was underway the one time I stayed here, but we found a Mexican restaurant where we sat in the sun munching on twice-cooked tortilla chips and eating crab cakes and Caesar salad washed down with a cheeky Corona. Alas a parking fine also ensued. They must have watch-dogs timed to pounce the nano-second your 30 minutes is up. US$33 dollars for the privilege.

Hearst Castle is a must-see even if you have hours of driving ahead of you! Part of the Hearst publishing empire and great grand-daddy to Patty Hearst (nudge, nudge. Google her!). But seriously this is such an amazing place.

What started out as a humble bungalow to be built on the family ranch at the turn of last century, became a 130+ room ‘castle’ that took 28 years to complete and entertained Hollywood glitterati in the 1930s. Ohhh if these walls could talk…

Hearst castle outdoor pool
The astonishing outdoor swimming pool at Hearst Castle – you should see the gold leaf indoor pool!

We stayed at Ventana Inn, a lodge in Big Sur, which is worth the drive. Set in 243 acres of trees high above the ocean it’s a sanctuary/retreat and you’ll find people roaming around in their fluffy white bathrobes heading to the spa, or just sitting outside in the sun.

It has romantic open fire places in your rooms and a clothing optional pool (which took me by surprise as I was exploring the property next morning with my camera. Alas no pics, for fear of being arrested). There are also Japanese hot baths and a sauna, but I was a bit nervous to venture further around lest I see more portly middle-aged bottoms.

The restaurant served up a bison steak for me with a big red wine and hand-picked scallops from Maine for my travelling companion, cousin Kate (or we could have had Amish-raised pork) before we crashed in our room and threw an innovative sack filled with kindling and wood on the fire and all we needed to do was light the paper tag and voila – a camp fire in our room.

Ventana Inn hotel, Big Sur on the Pacific Coast Highway
Ventana Inn is a truly elegant yet rustic lodge in the woods of Big Sur.

Day 4 – Big Sur to Santa Cruz

Driving distance: 70 miles (112km). Allow 2 hours.

Where to stay: Dream Inn

Don’t miss: 17-Mile Drive from Pebble Beach

Setting off up the rugged Big Sur coastline, our final destination for the day was only two hours away so we made a few photo stops of bridges and kite surfers and tootled into Carmel to see if we could find Clint Eastwood – mayor in the 1980s. Sadly no.

Iconic Carmel sweet shop
The Carmel Sweet Shop with lichen on the roof is one of the most photographed buildings in town!

Carmel is a cute higgledy-piggledy town sloping down to the sea, studded with towering pine trees and shops and houses with wooden-tiled roofs decorated in growing lichen. The only thing we could afford here was a cupcake – although there was a sale on at Anthropologie (some of you will notice your hearts just skip a beat).

You could even stay here for a couple of nights, but Santa Cruz was already booked so we just stopped for a little snack and a browse of the cute shops.

Carmel Beach California
If you have time, hit Carmel Beach

Two hours in Carmel was plenty on this blustery day and parking was a nightmare, so the next stop was Monterey via the famous Pebble Beach golf course where more spectators than players are found in the souvenir shops and dining at one of the three bars/restaurants.

Take the road ‘17-Mile Drive’ which weaves around the coast from the golf club north towards Monterey and fantasize at the $20 million dollar houses hidden among the trees or with rocky gardens rolling down to the sea. There is a toll to pay to drive on this private road.

There are other golf courses here too, just not as famous and therefore not as crowded. (Peter Hay Golf Course, Spyglass Hill Golf Course, Poppy Hills Golf Course – but unless you’ve teed off from Pebble Beach, why bother, right?)

We arrived in the surf town of Santa Cruz (although Huntington Beach officially now holds the name of surf capital after years of battling it out) in time for sun set.

Dream Inn is beautifully decorated and is literally right on the beach. Its 165 rooms all have ocean views with private balconies and being lulled off to sleep by the crashing ocean is just magic.

It’s also at the foot of the pier that stretches out into Monterey Bay lined with souvenir shops and seafood and ‘burgers and fries’ kinda restaurants that proved ideal with a beer to watch the swell of the waves roll under us to the beach.

The Santa Cruz Boardwalk was built over 100 years ago as a bath house and now has all the old fashioned rides and side shows, plus a few more whizzy ones, to keep the kids in a daze for days.

This is a surf beach and the weekend we were there a competition was underway by the time we pulled back the curtains. The pedestrianised town has boutique shops, art galleries, spas and cafes.

Santa Cruz boardwalk
The oldest boardwalk and quintessential theme park in America is at Santa Cruz

Day 5 – Santa Cruz to San Francisco

Driving distance: 75 miles (120km) via San Jose. Allow 2 hours if you want to travel around the coast)

Where to stay: Handlery Hotel

Don’t Miss: a walk/cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge

The last stretch to San Francisco, along the California Coast, is only about an hour from Santa Cruz so we headed off late morning and put Sausalito into the GPS to take us over the famous Golden Gate Bridge (which is 3km long so a full walk might not be that enticing) while we still had the car.

This cute seaside town is more of a village with waterfront pubs, antiques, art and other boutiques. It’s also perfect for photographing the views, including “the rock” of Alcatraz.

After an hour here we had a bit of time to kill before returning the car so found out that the famous row of painted villas with the city in the background is called the Painted Ladies (now you won’t have to faff about asking cops and garage attendants like I did) and is located on the edge of Alamo Square.

These houses were in the opening credits of Full House and also starred in So I Married an Axe Murderer, so off we went for a photo.

Painted Ladies of San Francisco
The Painted Ladies of San Francisco, with the backdrop of the city skyscrapers

As luck would have it, the car was to be dropped at Hertz, literally one block from the Handlery Hotel on Union Square. Owner, Jon Handlery loves us Kiwis and in fact, donated US$10,000 to the Christchurch earthquake fund, so for that reason alone, stay here!

See my picks for the best Air BnBs in San Francisco >

But the Handlery Hotel is supremely located right on Union Square, it’s family owned, and there are two wings of accommodation. One is accessed by the main lift in the lobby and the other past the pool.

They also have a restaurant and sports bar attached and I was particularly honoured to receive a Jon Handlery bobble-head doll. Thanks Jon!

And that’s it. Phew! A brilliant 5 days and I’d thoroughly recommend it to anyone 🙂

For less than the price of a cup of coffee, you can download my 24-page LA to San Francisco ebooklet with all this info, plus a whole lot more to take with you on your trip!

If you have a limited time in San Francisco you might like my post on what do to in San Francisco in 36 hours >>

And if you want to go further, check out this post from Czech the World on 25 things to see in Yellowstone National Park!

Need a packing list to make sure you don’t forget anything? I wrote this post with a free printable packing list for you to mark what you need and cross out what you don’t. See my Printable Packing List here >>

The Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco
Chillaxin By the Golden Gate Bridge

About Megan Singleton

Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!

"LA to San Francisco drive in 5 fabulous days!" - What do you think?

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  1. mary on

    Hi Megan, Remarkably we have 5 days to do the exact same journey and you have basically done the leg work for us. I noticed you recommended stopping at Hearst Castle on day 3 Santa Barbara to Big Sur.. did that mean leaving your bags in the car for the few hours your at Hearst castle ? Did you think it was safe to do this ?
    Also we are travelling from Australia and will be flying into LA. Do you recommend we go straight to Santa Monica and stay here for a couple of nights and then hire a car from here to start the 5 day drive ?

    • Megan Singleton on

      Hi Mary, I’m glad this post has helped. We love Santa Monica for relaxing, shopping and eating out, so yes I’d suggest staying there for a couple of days first (I have some Santa Monica posts on the blog too, just type that in the search bar). I guess we did just leave our luggage in the car at Hearst. Make sure they’re in the boot and you’ll be fine. I’ve never had a car broken into in the US. Enjoy!

  2. Selena on

    SFO has always been my favorite place to travel. You just made me nostalgic and I can’t wait to visit it again!


  3. Rafael on

    Hello all,

    Please, please, don’t refer to San Francisco as “San Fran” or “Frisco”, the locals abhor this reference to The City.


    I will be driving from LA to San Fran. I want to drive the PCH but do not have that much time like a day and half then we will be in San Francisco. I want to spend one night along the way. What would be the best parts of the PCH to drive and how do you recommend this being done.

    • Megan on

      Hi Nathan
      I would take the coastal PCH from LA via Santa Barbara and on to San Luis Obispo to visit Hearst castle and maybe stay there for the night, then for the sake of time you could take the 101 to San Fran in about 4 hours, but you’d miss the sweeping views of Big Sur. If you had a couple of extra hours, you could still take the coastal road all the way to Monterey and Carmel then duck inland from there and make your way to SF. Hope it works out! – Megan

  5. Marcelo on

    Dear Megan,
    I was on the look for a few tips, doing Los to SFO by car. Your description was soooo full of useful informations that I might risk it and doing this trip next november . ( 75 year old Brazilian)
    Thanks and receive a big abraço ( our version of a hug kk) Marcelo

  6. Martin O'Grady on

    Hi Megan, I’m so glad I found this article! My partner and I are planning on doing a bit of an epic road trip in 2020 and we’ve literally just started the planning now! We’re flying in from the UK to Chicago and doing Route 66 and obviously ending in LA. From there we’re looking to go to San Fran and we have 21-22 days to complete the entire trip. If we wanted to do the LA to San Fran leg using the Coastal Route, how long would you say it should take? We were actually planning on flying but after reading this article we really want to drive it instead now!

    • Megan on

      I did it in 5 days. Could take as long or as short as you like though, depending on how much time you wanted to spend visiting the small coastal towns 🙂

  7. Darcy on

    Hi Megan. I just stumbled on this article by accident. Well done. I enjoyed it and as we plan on doing the same trip in Feb, i found it quite useful. We travel with a wheelchair and were wondering if you have any suggestions on tours or accommodations that are accessible as well as which ones are not, so we can avoid them

  8. Eden on

    We are doing the LAX to SFO Pacific Coast Road this October – where would you suggest as a overnight stay. We only have time to do one night enroute.
    Many thanks

  9. Sherrilee on

    Thanks for a very informative blog! I’m planning on visiting SF and LA next year and contemplating driving between the two. I’m from the UK, and have never driven on the right hand side, Would you say it’s easy, I’m more worried about junctions haha!!

  10. Ray on

    Hi Megan,

    I’m so glad that i stumble upon this article. I will be following your itinerary (somewhat) when i visit US for the first time in my life this September! The only concern is that i tried the direction on Google map and does not takes me to the PCH. It leads me to a more inland route. I’m wondering if i ever take any wrong turn, would it be easy for me to get back on track?


    • Megan on

      Hi Ray
      Yes it could be hard to turn back depending on how far you go so that’s why I suggested putting the coastal towns into your GPS so it keeps you on the coastal road!

  11. Chandra Dixon on

    I am driving from LA to San Fran and will be stopping 2 different nights to stay over. Where would you recommend if only staying two nights? I am going June 29-July 1, then staying 5 days in San Fran (this is after I already spend a week in LA.) Any help with detours would be appreciated.

    • Megan on

      Hi Chandra
      I loved Santa Barbara, so would stay there again and then maybe Monterey or Santa Cruz. You’ll be best to click on the links in the post to the up to date info about the slips nearer the time as they will be more accurate than I am about when it opens again. – Megan

  12. Clare cairns on

    Hi am planing a trip from uk to newyork fly to Las Vegas drive to la then la up to San Francisco. We are a family of 5 2a 3c 15,12 &6. Am stuck on how to travel the coast. We want to see the Hollywood sign, the celeb homes rodaio drive, Malibu, beautiful beaches the open top bus tour and them am stuck where to stop over on the way to sf. When in sf we want to see the golden bridge and Alcatraz. Can you help please. Thank you. Clare.

    • Megan on

      Hi Clare, I would suggest you by a Hop On Hop Off bus pass for 48 hours in LA as the Red Line will take you past the Hollywood sign and down Rodeo Drive and get you around instead of a car (which will be a pain to park) and cheaper than Ubering everywhere. They also have a Celeb Homes tour. Then on the way to SF I loved Santa Barbara but you are still quite far from SF out of LA. It’s only a 2 hour drive from LA. With the main coastal still being closed north of there you will need to Google somewhere en route or go through to Monterey or San Jose. In San Fran book one of the Hop On Hop Off bus tours to go over the bridge and your Alcatraz tour should be booked online too so you don’t miss out the time you want. Hope that helps!

  13. Sanya on

    Hi Megan

    Thank you for the very helpful post! Some friends and I are planning to land in LA on 25th May around noon and do the drive from LA to SFO over 27th-28th. While Santa Barbara seems like a clear winner to spend 27th night, we wanted to reach SFO by 28th afternoon (to get around 2.5 days in SFO) – So didn’t want such a significant portion of the drive left ahead of us on the 28th. Any suggestions for where to spend 27th night based on the above?

    • Megan on

      Well it’s 5 hours if you could take the 101 coastal road, but you can’t due to the slips at the moment. It’s 6 hours 40 up the 5 so I would look at something near Fresno? I don’t know what’s there, but Santa Barbara is so cool you won’t want to leave too early I would think 🙂

  14. Doug on

    Hi Megan, great article, we are looking at doing a similar trip on a slightly tighter time frame in September 2018. Who do you normally rent your car through, do you use for this also ?

    • Megan on

      Hi Doug, I usually just search for the best price! However right now House of Travel have a deal running (bookings until August) for Hertz rental for 12 days plus accommodation between SF, Las Vegas and San Diego. Just click on the link in the post and it’ll take you there to check it out 🙂

  15. Neil and Anne on

    We are planning to drive PCH from SAN Francisco to LA in June 2018, doing your itinerary in reverse, and really looking forward to it.
    Are you aware if the detour you needed to take is well sign posted?, or do you need to plan each step so that you get back on the PCH?
    Don’t have your budget, based upon the nightly rates of your recommendation of accomodation ?.
    Thanks for posting your itinerary – it has certainly made things easier to plan

    • Megan on

      Hi there, I’m not sure how well it’s sign posted right now, but I would go as far as Hearst Castle, then plan to double back a little and detour from there. There is a link in the post for SLO-CAL info and that will have contact details for up to the minute queries. Have fun!

  16. Shantanu on

    Hi Megan

    Thanks for sharing such a detailed account of your trip. We are planning to drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles towards the end of June with stops at Big Sur among others. This is our first so wanted to check if the PCH is open.

    Thanks again

    • Megan on

      I believe it’s due to open in July, but that depends on lots of things so make sure you check before you set off – Megan

  17. Lisa on

    Hi Megan,
    We are flying into LA and driving to Napa hoping to drive along the coast in1 day. We are spending 4days in Napa and then 2 days in San Fran before flying back to Michigan… we’ve never been to California and hoping this goes as smooth as we plan it. Any tips

    • Megan on

      Hi Lisa, that’s a big drive in one day! My advice would be to take the interior 101, especially through the Big Sur where the coastal road is closed anyway. Napa is still 20-30 minutes from SF and the drive between LA and SF can be done at a good clip in about 8 hours. Good luck!

  18. Catherine on

    Hi Megan,

    Myself and my friend are looking at doing this trip in September 2018. Can you advise which is the best way to go, as in LA to San Fran or San Fran to LA?

    I’m also a little nervous of the driving as it will be the opposite side of the road from home. I’ve read some comments that the drive involves cliff type driving which I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing. Is this true?


    • Megan on

      Hi Catherine,
      I didn’t find driving too hard at all and in fact once you’re on the highway it’s mush easier than driving around little side roads as cars are in front to show the way! There’s no cliff driving per se, but the views from the coastal road in places are breathtaking and there are places to pull over to take photos.

      On saying that, due to the slips still keeping the road closed at Big Sur, you may miss much of it unless you choose to do a big inland loop and come back down a wee way.

      If you wanted to drive up from LA you will be on the right hand side – away from the sea side, which you might prefer to get the hang of it. That’s the way I did it, but it really depends which cities you might want to fly into and out of.
      I hope this helps!

      Have a great trip,

  19. Abel on

    Hi there .
    We have limited time -only have a week and plan to spend 3 days in LA and at least 1,5 days in SF .
    Is it possible to do the scenic road trip from MA to SF in a day ? If not and we spread it over two days where is the best place to overnight ?

    • Megan on

      Hi there
      You can do it in a day, although I’d probably just take the train if you wanted to whip through that quickly as you won’t have time to stop.
      If you are going to overnight, I’d suggest Santa Barbara. A fabulous little town and beautiful beach and plenty of interesting adobe architecture, wineries, and a cute shopping precinct.
      Have fun!

  20. Mark Harris on

    My wife and i are plannig a US trip.
    We plan to fly to Las vegas have some days there. Then fly to san diego and drive up to San Fransisco. Fly to Salt Lake city and drive up to yellowstone park. (planning a 4 week trip.)

    How long would you plan for the PCH trip (including time in los angeles and san fransisco?) We have a 8 month old kid with us. so we dont want to make very long driving days.

    • Megan on

      Hi Mark, what a great trip. I started my “5 days” in this post having already spent 3 days in LA, and then we had another 3 days in SF. I’d suggest you look at 8-10 days for this and break your journey for a couple of nights in Santa Barbara and if you didn’t want a big drive to SF from there, maybe in Monterey or San Jose. Although you are quite close to SF, so maybe stop there for lunch and have that extra day in SF. Hope that helps!

  21. Veronica Cavanaugh on

    My boyfriend and I did this in one day, and it took us 9 hours! I had to stop at every beach. However, I would like to go back and follow an itinerary close to yours. Thank you for the awesome photos!

  22. Jessica on

    Thank you for the fantastic and helpful advice. I am planning a road trip for 5 days from San Fran to LA at the end of November is there still a detour through the big sur as I heard they had reopened another bridge? Thanks!

  23. Brian on

    Thanks for the information. Looking to do the drive LA to San Fran in March 2018 with the family. The game plan was to spend a few days up the (driving) coast…but now thinking up to four days. Total stay in California is three weeks.

    The two cities we are looking at is LA and San Fran. We land in LA (from Toronto) and have to leave from there. So was thinking spend more time up the coast…take the time off San Fran or LA. Last three days looking to just hang out at a beach in LA.


  24. Skye Ogilvie on

    Hi Megan!
    My boyfriend and i will be driving from LA to San Francisco very similar to your itinerary but then going on to San Diego so we will have to keep the car.
    We were just wondering how you found driving in San Francisco? We’ve been told it can be really difficult and confusing to drive and park. We will also be staying in Union Square. Any tips?
    Many thanks Skye

    • Megan on

      Hi Skye
      Yes parking is hard to find and valet parking is expensive in SF, so I would drop the car off and get around via bus or tram. You realise San Diego is in the opposite direction to San Francisco? You’d be better to start in one and drive via LA to the other. Union Square is a great spot. Try the Handlery Hotel or one of the Joie de Vivre Hotels. Right now I have a deal with to give you NZ$40 off any room night. Have a look here

  25. Marianne on

    Hi Megan. We are going to LA at the end of October and want to drive from LA to San Fran. Your blog looks great but when I clicked on the hotels they were very expensive almost the cost of one of us to fly to the US. Can you recommend any better value hotels/motels. Also I want to do some shopping for the kids what places do you recommend? We are only in the USA for 9 days so thought the best way to make the most of it is go from LA to San Fransisco.

  26. Paul B on

    I will be driving from LA to San Fran. I want to drive the PCH but do not have that much time. I want to spend one night along the way. What would be the best parts of the PCH to drive and how do you recommend this being done.

    Thanks so much Paul B

    • Megan on

      Hi Paul, you’ll be on the inland 101 for a good chunk of it because of the broken bridge at Big Sur. I guess it depends on how long you wish to drive each day. You can actually do the whole drive in a day if you had to, but maybe St Luis Obispo? I like Santa Barbara, but that’s only a couple hours out of LA. Have fun!

  27. JJ on

    Hello Megan,
    Thank you for the update information since the 2017 detours.

    First time visitors, flying into LAX mid-end of Sept 2017, starting with 2 full days/nights in Santa Barbara (Venice Beach, Santa Monica Pier, fisherman’s warf, sunset cruise (read whale watching is not optimal this time of year), Solvang, San Luis Obispo, 1 night Pismo Beach, drive up to Ragged Point, Elephant Seal Vista point, Cambria, then 1 night Carmel by the sea, (Monterey, 17 mile drive, Bixbay Bridge, cannery row)
    Questions: 1. How far south can we go from Carmel By the Sea – any must sees along hwy 1 south of Carmel By the Sea? Little upset Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is closed. Any suggestions to make the most out of hwy 1 south of Carmel By the Sea?
    After Carmel By the Sea we are travelling up hwy 1 Santa Cruz, staying one night around Half Moon Bay, then off to San Fran for 2 nights staying along fishermans warf (golden gate, alcatraz night tour, cable car, Lombard street, Union Street area) maybe Sausalito? Then off to Yosemite, hopefully Tioga Pass, staying in 1 night Mammoth Lakes. Next day, death valley into Vegas.
    I was hoping to do Jade Beach or see McWay Falls, little disappointed however, trying to make the most of our trip.

    Any suggestions or must sees I have not listed? Any help is appreciated.

    • Megan on

      Hi there
      Gosh you are going to be doing a lot in a short space of time! I would definitely add a tour of Hearst Castle when you’re at San Luis Obispo. It’s about $25 if I recall but well worth it.
      As far as the latest road works and closures are concerned you’d be best to check out some Big Sur blogs and info sites directly that update daily. I see Pfieffer State Park is open. Try this blog
      Also for San Fran, I have written this post on how to spend 36 hours which you might enjoy
      Have fun!

  28. Adam on

    Hello Megan- I’m planing on taking off with my 13 year old son this weekend tackle this tour. I’m from the east coast and never have done this trek. I have so many questions for you please. should I fly to san fran and drive to LA or the other way around?

    we travel quit a bit around the were accustomed to question is it worth hitting all the below points?

    San fransico
    santa cruz
    big sur
    Santa barbara

    which places should we spend more time (days) at?

    Please please inform.

    Thank you in advance!!!!

    • Megan on

      Hi there
      What a great trip! To be honest with Hwy 1 closed through Big Sur, I would head up to St Luis Obispo and come out at Monterey. SF to LA or vice versa I don’t have a preference – whatever flight deals you can get perhaps! Some say drive south so the coast is on your right, but with the huge detour this is a bit moot now. I loved Santa Barbara. Monterey and Santa Cruz we just passed through, but I also love Santa Monica in LA, so maybe a couple nights there too. And of course a couple nights in San Fran before or after is great to see and do as much as you can there too. You’ll find more posts on here about all these cities!
      Hope that helps.

  29. Mirani on

    Great information. I will be driving from LA to SFO next week with a nights stop in Monterey. Your write up will assist me to map out a route. Trying to see as much beauty as possible.

  30. Sophie Tamagna on

    Hi – Thanks for the guide!

    I’m looking for some reassurance this driving up the coast (vs down) will still be worthwhile and beautiful…. I have heard mixed views that driving up is not as good becaue you’re on the wrong size or the views aren’t as good (and our flights are
    Already booked!) did you have any problems?


  31. Ethan on


    This is a fantastic guide, thanks so much for sharing.

    Just a quickl question for you. What you recommend as an itinerary for a coastal California trip if you have 10 days?

    • Megan on

      Hi Ethan, depending on where you are starting I would either continue up to Portland then Seattle or go south to San Diego!


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