I’ve posted a lot about road trips in the last few weeks and that’s because driving the Pacific Coast Highway has really stuck with me. As we headed up the coast from LA to San Francisco, stopping to take in the sights, I really got a taste of why road trips are such a huge part of US culture. This journey took us along just some of the Pacific Coast Highway, the full route runs from San Diago to San Francisco and is world-renowned for having some of the most scenic views on the planet. It could take just 10 hours to drive this road without stops but with such natural beauty all the way along this route you really do need to take your time with it and take it all in. We took two days to do this route and still didn’t get chance to stop at half of the places we wanted to see and didn’t get to stop and explore for long, which is why some people take a full week or longer to drive this famous route. The views were phenomenal, you went from the inner city to the deep countryside in under half an hour and the landscape and wildlife were ever-changing. We spent a long time planning this road trip so I thought I’d share with you all our journey, our stops and our must-sees from our LA to San Francisco road trip.
We started at Disneyland, Anaheim where we jumped into our hire car and hit the road. LA is notorious for its awful traffic but from Anaheim we actually didn’t have any issues and were soon on the highway heading for the coast with no problems. Our first stop was planned to be Santa Monica to visit the famous pier and Pacific Park, however as this was our first time driving in the US we couldn’t figure out how to turn in from the other side of the road and missed it. There aren’t any obvious turn-ins on this straight oceanside road, instead just two arrows shown on the road at places where you can turn in. As we were unsure how this worked we were forced to drive straight passed and couldn’t work out a way of turning back. We continued onto our next stop where we could finally suss out how these US roads worked as we entered Malibu.
Parking at Malibu beach we were greeted by one of the most stunning ocean views I’ve ever seen. The sea and sky were both brilliantly blue and the sand perfectly white, I can see why this place is the setting for so many films and music videos. The place has a really relaxed vibe and everything is painted in brilliant pastels to add to the Instagram-perfection. We first headed into a perfectly pink shop which looked like something straight out of a photoshoot and sold only pink items before heading up the pier.
The pier is a gorgeous walk into the ocean which it frames perfectly. We walked around, taking in the views before heading to the cafe for a spot of lunch. I grabbed the vegan curry and Harry picked the chicken. It wasn’t the cheapest meal but everything was cooked fresh and was really delicious, it felt like a really relaxing way to spend an afternoon.
Soon it was time to head back to the car and set off again. Following the Pacific Coast Highway we drove through Santa Barbra and up into the mountains where we were treated to stunning views and amazing wildlife. We stopped briefly on the outskirts of the Cachuma Lake Recreational Park for a break and to swap drivers. This area of natural beauty is exactly that, I’d love to have spent a full day and night here on a longer trip.
Our next real stop was Pismo Beach where we pulled in and had a quick wander around this beach town before having dinner. It’s a typical surfers paradise, with colourful bars and shops up and down the high street leading to the stunning white sandy beach. It’s got a very relaxed Miami-esque vibe and after walking down the pier we stopped at Mr Rick’s for dinner. Sitting outside, eating typical American fair and overlooking the sandy beach, beautiful sea and sky surrounded by dogs, it was a little slice of heaven. This is another place I’d have loved to spend more time on a longer road trip, it would be a great place for an overnight stay and a spot of sunbathing.
As the evening set in we had just one more stop on our itinerary, Morrow Bay. This is the location of Morrow Rock, the 581-foot volcanic plug which has become something of an icon for the state of California. Morrow Bay is also a great place for whale watching but we got there just as the sun was going down, so we climbed up on the sandbanks to watch the sunset behind this beautiful natural formation. It was seriously romantic watching the colours of the sky change on this beautiful beach.
From here we headed to Cambria for our overnight stay where we had booked a beautiful Airbnb (affiliate link, use my link to get £25 off your first stay). I seriously recommend the Airbnb we stayed in if you’re looking for accommodation in the area, the hosts were lovely and full of useful information. It was dark when we got here so we didn’t get a chance to see much in the area, we just chilled out and got some rest.
The next day we jumped back on the Pacific Coast Highway and headed to San Simion to see the Elephant Seals before heading for the Big Sur. I’ve chronicled all of this in a separate post as it needed a whole post for itself but in short; this is an amazing journey with absolutely stunning senary so make sure you check out that post.
We spent most of the day driving the Big Sur but our next stop was Carmel by the Sea where we parked up and spend an hour taking in this beautiful little town. We wandered the streets before heading to the beach for a stroll along the sand before heading up Main Street. It looks like a storybook version of an American town and is chock full of Americana everywhere you look, with twee buildings and unusual stores selling everything from homemade candy, to Alice in Wonderland gifts, to hand-made jewellery. Every store is unique and there isn’t a chain in sight. We wound around the back roads to the car ready to hit the 17-mile drive.
The 17-mile drive is a private stretch of road just north of Carmel by the Sea which boasts some beautiful scenery. To enter this area you need to pay a fee of $10.50 and you will be given a map of the area. To be honest we found this map rather confusing and the road wasn’t liner as we did get a little lost but we managed to see most of the stops including the Lone Cypress, Point Joe and Seal Rock. If you’re lucky you might even spot a whale or two. There seems to be a lot of golf resorts in this area but in terms of view as much as they are pretty I think the views on the Big Sur are just as good if not better so I wouldn’t make this a must-stop if you were running short on time. We did see some wild deer in the road here though which was a highlight.
Our next stop not much further away was Monterey, where we once again parked up near the beach, this time at Lovers Point, in the hunt for food. We chose The Beach House Restaurant at Lovers Point which had hearty food and amazing views of the bay. The menu is full of American classics and seafood and it has a minimalistic classic vibe which was a nice way to end the journey. As we were leaving it was getting dark so it was time to drive the rest of the journey to Oakland Airport where we dropped off the car before catching an Uber into San Francisco.
I absolutely adored our mini road trip from La to San Francisco, it allows us to see so many sides of America I’d never seen before, even in such a few days. Two days was enough time to see the highlights of this drive without feeling too rushed, however I can see how some people spend a week or even longer doing this drive, taking in the sights, visiting the attractions and even doing some hikes. It certainly left me with a list of places I’d love to explore more of in the future, California is beautiful! Given more time there are other places I’d love to stop at that we simply didn’t have time for on this trip, like Santa Cruse, Santa Maria and Santa Monica just to name a few. The Pacific Coast highway is definitely worth a trip!
Are you planning a drive on the Pacific Coast Highway? What are your must-sees?