An LA to San Francisco drive along the Pacific Coast Highway in California is undoubtedly one of the best road trips in the world. While you can drive between the two cities along the I-5 highway in just under 6 hours, taking your time and driving along the coast provides travellers with some amazing sites and stops to see.
Combining this section with a drive from LA to San Diego or even as part of a longer road trip to Portland or Seattle makes for the ultimate California itinerary for visitors who want to see the best of this state!
Wondering where to stop on a Los Angeles to San Francisco drive? These stops combine a fantastic mix of beautiful nature, relaxed beach towns, hip cities and quirky attractions!
Getting from LA to San Francisco
The distance on the drive from LA to San Francisco is about 382 miles (615 kilometres) and takes only around 6 hours non-stop if travelling on the I-5 Highway.
However, the stops outlined on this LA to San Francisco drive go primarily along Highway 1 and you should expect to spend at least 3 to 4 days to see all the highlights of the PCH.
If you need to rent a car prior to setting off on your Los Angeles to San Francisco road trip then I recommend searching on Rentalcars.com to find a great deal for car hire as they aggregate prices across many major providers.
Alternatively, if you prefer a campervan or RV, then I suggest browsing on Outdoorsy which offers a huge selection of choices.
Best stops on an LA to San Francisco Drive
Below are 13 amazing stops to enjoy on a road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco along Highway 1.
1. Santa Monica
Even though Santa Monica is still a part of Los Angeles, it makes for a fantastic first stop when driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Home to the iconic Santa Monica Pier, there are a number of great coffee shops and cafes that can provide a much-needed caffeine boost before hitting the road properly on your Los Angeles to San Francisco road trip.
I suggest first heading either to Main Street which has a local Farmer’s Market on weekends. If you want to indulge in Santa Monica’s world-famous shopping then venture over to the Third Street Promenade before ending your stop in Santa Monica with a walk along the Oceanfront and an obligatory photo at the Pier!
Next up on your Los Angeles to San Francisco drive and only about a twenty-minute drive from Santa Monica is Malibu. While Malibu was heavily affected by wildfires towards the end of 2018, it remains a popular spot for visitors due to the prestige that surrounds the town in Hollywood.
Due to the fires, a lot of the natural scenery here will take time to replenish and won’t be as spectacular as what you’ll see further up in Big Sur on your LA to San Francisco road trip.
However, if you fancy seeing over-the-top multi-million dollar homes or want to check out some of the beautiful beaches in the area such as Zuma Beach then a stop in Malibu for a couple of hours is worth it.
3. Santa Barbara
The city of Santa Barbara is a fantastic place to stop for a day and enjoy the laid back California lifestyle. Begin your one day in Santa Barbara by strolling along the Harbour and exploring the iconic Stearns Wharf.
You can then take advantage of the plethora of watersports offered in the area by going surfing, kayaking or paddleboarding. If you don’t feel like getting into the water then there are also a number of hiking opportunities in the area.
In the afternoon, make sure to take advantage of Santa Barbara’s Urban Wine Trails. There are 28 tasting rooms scattered across the city with some of the best wine you’ll find in all of California.
Most of the tasting rooms are within walking distance of each other meaning you can enjoy a couple of these wineries during your time in Santa Barbara. Tasting flights typically cost around $15 and you can share a tasting between two if you want to visit multiple wineries.
If you prefer a guided experience and want to visit several wineries, this guided food & photo tour includes visits to a number of tasting rooms along with food tastings and a guide to show you some hidden spots in the area.
Santa Barbara is a great place to stop for the night with the town having many great accommodation options such as this beachside cottage or this modern condo.
From Santa Barbara, the scenic LA to San Francisco drive goes along the 101 through picturesque mountains and wine country. About 45 minutes north of Santa Barbara, you have the option of detouring to Solvang – a town that will make you feel as if you’ve been transported to Copenhagen, Denmark!
Solvang was founded by Danish immigrants who wanted a feeling of familiarity after migrating to the USA.
Solvang is fairly compact and you could spend an hour or so walking around here and enjoying the Northern European architecture and shops. If you’ve visited Copenhagen before you might also notice a replica of a lot of the city’s famous sites such as the Little Mermaid Statue and Hans Christian Anderson Museum.
Solvang is an unusual stop and not something you would expect to find on a Los Angeles to San Francisco road trip however it makes for a good detour if you are longing for a taste of Europe!
5. Pismo Beach
After Solvang, your next opportunity to stop on the California Coast will be at Pismo Beach – a quintessential California surf town!
The main attraction of Pismo Beach is the stunning coastline that you find here along with the old school California feel. On a nice day, you can walk along the pier and spend an hour or two watching surfers hitting the waves. Alternatively, if you’re a surfer yourself, then you can rent a board and enjoy the great conditions which are suitable for beginners and advanced surfers.
Pismo Beach makes a good stop for lunch if you have spent the night in Santa Barbara as there are a number of great independent cafes and restaurants to enjoy. We stopped at Shin’s Poke which is an excellent place to eat if you’re after a fresh poke bowl!
6. Hearst Castle
Another unique stop on the Los Angeles to San Francisco drive is Hearst Castle, located a short detour outside of San Simeon. The castle was built by newspaper mogul William Hearst and will once again make you feel as if you’ve been transported to Europe!
Visiting the castle costs $30 and takes a couple of hours making this a fairly expensive detour if you’re trying to minimise your California trip cost, however, you can get a view of the castle from Highway 1 if you prefer to stick to the coast.
Make sure to also keep an eye out for zebras and other animals when driving past Hearst Castle which are remnants of what was once the world’s largest private zoo.
7. Elephant Seal Vista Point
Located only a few kilometres from the detour to Hearst Castle, Elephant Seal Vista Point gives you the opportunity to see elephant seals relaxing on the beach and waddling in the ocean.
The seals spend the majority of the year living deep in the ocean however they come onto the beach throughout the year with peak season being in December to March when they are breeding.
The seals are absolutely fascinating to watch and you can easily spend an hour or so walking along the viewing platforms and seeing them from unique vantage points.
The viewing platforms here are wheelchair accessible, free to visit and maintained by Friends of the Elephant Seal who are a non-profit organisation working hard to conserve these magnificent animals.
8. Big Sur
Arguably the highlight of the LA to San Francisco drive, Big Sur is an area of California that will undoubtedly blow you away! There are several state parks and coastal walks in the area which means there is plenty of spectacular natural scenery to enjoy and you should plan to spend at least one day in Big Sur.
From the dramatic coastline to beautiful waterfalls to lush redwoods there is something for everybody at Big Sur. Make sure to stop at iconic sites such as Bixby Creek Bridge & McWay Waterfall which are located on Highway 1.
Spend a couple of hours hiking in Pfieffer Big Sur State Park and make sure to take advantage of the plethora of short coastal walks that you can access by pulling off Highway 1. The coastal walks were the highlight of our time in Big Sur as watching the waves crash against the cliffs is infatuating!
Located just north of Big Sur, Carmel is a town that deserves to be stopped at in its own right when driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The town of Carmel is quite charming to walk through and there are a number of artisan shops to check out. Similarly to Santa Barbara, Carmel is also a great town to stop at a wine tasting room to enjoy a glass or flight!
It should also come as no surprise given its proximity to Big Sur but there is plenty of beautiful scenery to enjoy close to the town of Carmel. Nearby Point Lobos State Reserve makes for a fantastic sunset stop as well as a great place to enjoy a scenic drive as there are typically fewer visitors here compared to Big Sur.
From Carmel, take the famous 17-mile drive towards Monterey. The 17-mile drive is a beautiful coastal road that has a number of lookout points to stop at. The drive gets extremely busy so I highly recommend doing the drive first thing in the morning before the tour buses arrive!
In Monterey, enjoy a walk down Cannery Row while spotting tributes to some of the literary greats that have come from this part of the world. You can also visit Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is considered one of the best aquariums in the world and has a number of great exhibits to explore or go on a whale watching tour to see sea life in the wild.
It’s worth also driving to the nearby town of Pacific Grove, both to enjoy more local and affordable places for lunch (I highly recommend a clam chowder bread bowl from Vivolo’s Chowder House!) and to stop at the Pacific Grove Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary.
From the months of October to February, thousands of monarch butterflies migrate here and you can walk through the sanctuary and see them flying around between trees and colourful plants. Entrance to the sanctuary is free.
Staying in Monterey or Carmel for a night or two is a great option for travellers taking their time on the Los Angeles to San Francisco drive. There are also unique accommodation options such as this peaceful cottage in Carmel.
11. Santa Cruz
Driving from Monterey to Santa Cruz will take approximately one hour and have you arriving in another quintessential California surf town!
The most popular place to visit in Santa Cruz is the Beach Boardwalk which is home to one of the oldest roller coasters in the USA. It has been significantly upgraded over the years and is now a great mix of old-school charm and modern attractions. Entrance to the Beach Boardwalk is free and you pay per ride.
After exploring central Santa Cruz, take a drive or walk along West Cliff Drive for another dose of spectacular views and watching surfers go about their day!
12. Half Moon Bay
Located only 30 miles south of San Francisco, Half Moon Bay makes an excellent lunch stop before heading towards the big city! Half Moon Bay is a relatively small town and has a number of great little cafes and boutique shops to explore if you want to stretch your legs.
I recommend heading to San Benito House Deli for lunch where you can get enormous and delicious homemade sandwiches with a range of toppings for very reasonable prices. Lunch here will ensure you’re fuelled up for the final part of your Los Angeles to San Francisco road trip!
13. Marin Headlands
When ending your LA to San Francisco drive, I suggest marking your final stop as Marin Headlands in San Francisco. This will direct you to drive across the famous Golden Gate Bridge and towards Marin Headlands where you can enjoy several viewpoints of the bridge and the city of San Francisco!
There is absolutely no better first impression of this amazing city than seeing its most iconic site from the spectacular viewpoints of Marin Headlands!
Is it better to do a San Francisco to Los Angeles Drive?
While we explored all of the stops in this article by driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco, it is arguably better to do this trip in reverse.
A San Francisco to Los Angeles road trip will see you driving next to the coast which has several advantages. The main benefit is that you can easily pull off Highway 1 when you want to stop and enjoy a viewpoint or take a photo.
This is particularly beneficial when driving in Big Sur as the roads are narrow and it can be more challenging to pull into a car park from the other side of the road. The other advantage is that the views are obviously better for the passengers if driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles!
At the end of the day though, you should drive along Highway 1 whichever way makes the most sense to you! Regardless of whether you travel from San Francisco to LA or the other way around, the stops will be the same and you will still get to see all of the magnificent attractions in this beautiful part of California!
There are plenty of car hire options in both Los Angeles and San Francisco if you need to rent a car – browse on Rentalcars.com for great deals.
Where to Stay on an LA to San Francisco Drive
While you can find accommodation anywhere along the Los Angeles to San Francisco drive, I recommend basing yourself in Santa Barbara and Carmel or Monterey out of all these stops along Highway 1.
Both these areas have a number of attractions that can be explored over a couple of days while the other stops work better as pitstops when driving. That being said, if you want to spend a couple of days surfing or breaking up your journey further than both Pismo Beach or Santa Cruz are also logical places to spend a couple of nights.
These are some accommodation recommendations on an LA to San Francisco drive, along with places to stay in both Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Aside from hostels or hotels, it is also worth considering private rentals as there are a number of rooms available in the area such as this beachside cottage in Santa Barbara. You can click here to see the best private rentals in California.
Hollywood Inn Suites Hotel — Located in the heart of Hollywood, this hotel has a range of rooms to choose from and is centrally located making it an excellent base for exploring. Click here to see their latest prices
Freehand Los Angeles — A modern hostel located downtown, it is a great place to stay for solo travellers or people trying to cut down costs. There are private rooms as well as dorms available. Click here to see their latest prices
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Los Angeles!
The Presidio Hotel — A boutique hotel in the heart of Santa Barbara. They have a range of clean and comfortable rooms available and a friendly staff that will go above and beyond to ensure you have a great stay. Click here to see their latest prices
Cheshire Cat Inn — This quaint bed and breakfast is perfect for couples who want a romantic place to stay. A fantastic breakfast is included in the room rate. Click here to see their latest prices
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Santa Barbara!
Carmel Green Lantern Inn — Located next to Carmel Beach, this cosy bed and breakfast is a lovely place to stay in Carmel. Their guest rooms have private entrances making this a great option for people looking for more privacy. Click here to see their latest prices
The Stevenson Monterey – If you want to stay in Monterey, then this motel is a great budget option and is located just off Highway 1. They have a range of rooms available and their location is ideal for people that are only staying in the area for one night. Click here to see their latest prices
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels close to Carmel or Monterey!
Axiom Hotel — If you’re looking for a luxurious stay in San Francisco, then this chic hotel is a great option. Located right off Union Square, this hotel has is ideally located and offers a range of modern rooms. Click here to see their latest prices
Orchard Hotel — A boutique hotel, located in downtown San Francisco, they have several different types of rooms available and breakfast included in the rate. Click here to see their latest prices
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in San Francisco!
An LA to San Francisco drive along Highway 1 is undoubtedly one of the best road trips that we have ever been on! With so many different attractions to see, you will definitely be able to find something of interest for all types of travellers!
Are you planning on driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco? Have you driven this route before? Let us know in the comments below!
I wish I had seen your blog before I booked my flight and went in the opposite direction from San Francisco to la instead of the north drive, wonderful ideas here and will probably investigate many. Not a hiker or surfer but I am sure we will discover lots
Glad you liked the article – hope you enjoy it! 🙂
Hello my name is josiane i am planning road trip from LA to san fransisco
We are a family my husband and i and two girls 23 and 21
We ll leave santa monica on the 22-23 of july and we must travel from san francisco to las vegas on the 27-28th of july .what do u suggest us to do and Where to sleep in how many in how many cities we may spend the night and for how many nights?
Can tou give me an idea please?!
Hi Josiane, you can see all the stops listed in this article over 3-4 nights, staying in Santa Barbara and Monterey or Carmel. If you want to allocate nights to San Francisco as well then you’ll probably need to cut out some of the stops as it will be rushed!
Are there any ‘must see’ locations for children aged 8/11 that spring to mind and do you have any recommendations for family friendly accomodation along the way. We have the Boardwalk at Santa Cruz, Monterey Aquarium, Hearst Castle, Tinker Toys and Sweet Shop at Carmel and Pismo Beach listed but was just interested if you had any other suggestions. We live in Australia but stay in LA for 4-6 weeks every June/July so Malibu/Santa Monica have already been covered on previous trips. This year after visiting family in San Fran we are driving back to LA on the scenic route on the July 4 long weekend period.
Hi Jen! Maybe check out the Exploratorium in San Francisco as well? It’s a great interactive science museum! I would also recommend spending some time at Big Sur as there are plenty of great hikes and things to see and do! Check out this article for some specific Big Sur suggestions: https://www.theworldwasherefirst.com/big-sur-day-trip-itinerary/
A number of the accommodation recs listed in this article have options for rooms that can accommodate up to 4 people so worth checking out some of them! Hope you have a great trip!
Exciting! How long would this whole road trip take? Make it a comfortable one with no rush.
Also, is August a good time to do this road trip?
Hi Salah! I think a minimum of 3 to 4 days to enjoy this stretch of the PCH. However, you could easily spend a week or more if you like hiking, surfing or want to make additional detours. August will be peak season but the weather will be hot so you’ll be able to enjoy the beaches to their full extent! Hope you have a great trip!
What kind of weather should one expect between Christmas and New Years? Also, is this a busy time of year for travelers in these locations?
We were there in the early-mid December last year and the weather was quite pleasant during the day though slightly chilly at night. San Francisco is a bit cooler but still quite mild particularly compared to the European winters we’ve had the last few years!
I’m looking forward to this drive in September, leaving from San Diego to San Francisco. I’m so glad that I came across this blog that recommends what cities to consider for overnight accommodations. We rented a convertible for the drive and gave ourselves from Sep 25 to Sep 29 to complete the route. We are so looking forward to this…thanks again!
Glad you found this article helpful Donna – hope you have a great time in California!
Planning a LA to San Fran drive and was wondering if you have recommendations for stops with handcrafted cocktails also ? thanks!
Hi Andrea, I don’t have any specific recommendations however I’m sure you’ll be able to find one in the major towns along the route such as Santa Barbara, Monterey or Carmel.
Dear Michael, appreciate your help in planning a trip to California [we did leave it late…]. We are flying into LV from UK in mid August [was the only route available from London using miles] and immediately to SF. excluding arrival and departure we will have 11 days. We would like to spend a min time to see SF attractions and then drive along the cost to LA and presumably tale a flight to LV at the end of the trip. There is a desire to include a detour into Yosemite into the trip. We are happy to fly it it allows us to see more and saves time. Does it make sense to go fly to Yosemite from SF [Fresno?] and then spend there a night and then rent a car there and drive to Monterey and then onwards to LA? Would we miss anything on the coast like from SF to Monterey? How many days is then optimal for between Monterey and LA? Is it all managable or should we drop smth out of it?
you advice is much appreciate as I am already in a panic state…
Hi Natalia! I wouldn’t recommend flying as it will likely take more time than driving and you’ll have a lot more options for car rental in SF. The highlights of the LA to SF drive are from Monterey to LA so you wouldn’t necessarily miss much if you speed through the SF to Monterey drive. I’d suggest 2-3 days for Monterey to LA to see the highlights though you could obviously spend more time if you enjoy hiking and surfing! Hope this helps and you have a great trip!
Hello, we are planning on doing this drive early december.
We would be leaving from Anaheim to San Fran Could this drive be done in one day? We understand we wouldn’t have the chance to stop at all the stops but wonder if it could be done? xx
love the blog very excited!
Hi Jayde! You can drive between the two cities in one day along the i5 Highway though there isn’t much to see along that route compared to going along the coast.
Hello! your 13 stops article was very inspiring for us… I know you’ve had similar questions so I’ll be short and sweet, but we land in LA and take the road at 9 am and have that day and the next to reach San Fran…
Which is a good mid way stop for the night so we can split attractions in half? and also get a good sunset? Is Monterey a good place to stop half way if we do a quick tour of LA and the stops before Monterey on day 1 and continue the rest of the stops and do a quick tour of San Fran on day 2? or is somewhere else a better mid-way stop? Thanks!
Hi Jen! I would suggest spending the night in Santa Barbara or Pismo Beach if you’re going to spend the morning in LA. Then driving from there to SF on day 2, taking in Big Sur and Monterey/Carmel. I don’t think you’ll have time to drive through Big Sur on day 1 if you’re spending time in LA as well. Hope you have a great trip!
Hello! Road trip, my 2 brothers and my 3 teenagers and I , we have Dec 26-30.. how much time to spend in LA, what to see, we fly into LA late on 25th and fly out of San Fran late on Dec 30th. Thanks
Hi Tamara, I’d personally rather spend the time driving along the PCH and spending a couple of days in San Francisco rather than time in LA.
Hello. I’m taking my mother for her 72nd bday and my 3.5 yo daughter
Is it a good idea to leave from riverside county on a Friday at 5 am
Visit at Hearst castle
Hike big sur and spend night in a cabin.
Saturday am go to Monterey aquarium stop by at
Head to Marin headlands
And spend 2 nights in Sf
Drive back to riverside Monday 5 am
Any suggestions on itenerary I have in mind
Hi Claudia! It sounds like a busy first day but if you are willing to leave at 5 am then it might be doable. Hope you have a good time!
This may be a strange question but we are considering this road trip next February and I have read that the PCH can be dangerous, if not lethal, in places due to the absence of guard rails. As I’m terrified of heights this is a real concern. Can you put my mind at rest or suggest an alternative route for the more white knuckle parts?
Hi Julie, I didn’t notice any absence of guard rails. Unfortunately, there isn’t an alternative route if you want to see the majority of these sites!
Love your advise?. Traveling oct 24-november 3 and driving the coast. Your ideas are great❣️ Any other recommendations? Can’t wait❣️?
Hi Terri! Hope you have a great trip! Check out our other related articles for ideas on where to go south of LA or north of SF! https://www.theworldwasherefirst.com/san-francisco-to-seattle-drive/ & https://www.theworldwasherefirst.com/la-to-san-diego-drive/
Wow! What a helpful article – thank you! I am travelling to LA in August 2020 with my husband and two young children for the first time. We have 11 nights/days to drive LA – San Fran. I don’t want too many stops in different locations due to all the packing and unpacking! Do you think 6 nights in Santa Monica and 5 nights in Monterey would work? Are these locations good bases for exploring everything/day trips? I’m not sure if Santa Monica to Monterey is too far to drive in one day? If so, can you recommend a stop in between?
Thank you so much!
Hi JD! Glad you found the article helpful! I think spending that long in those places should give you plenty of time to enjoy all the attractions of the area. I think you can easily drive between Santa Monica & Monterey in one day, particularly as you can go back to Big Sur on one of the days when you are in Monterey. If you want to stop somewhere, I suggest Santa Barbara.
My family and I are planning a road trip from SF to LA to LV in End December/Early January.
We are planning to use the PCH to drive to LA.
Is there any advice we need to take note for driving along the PCH during this period?
What will be the weather like?
Hi Daniel! We were in California at that time of year and the weather is quite mild, particularly as you get further south. Hope you have a great trip!
Any special precaution when driving along PCH during this period. Any chance of snowing or land slide etc?
just to make sure especially when family is traveling along.
You won’t get any snow on the PCH. There have been landslides in the past but they’re rare so I wouldn’t worry too much about it or let it impact your trip.
Hello, Michael. Thank you so very much for all of your information. It was very helpful. My husband and I are traveling from LAX-San Francisco-Bob Hope Airport (he surprised me with trip) in a little more than a week. My husband was hoping to add the Sequoia Nat. Forest, but we are only going for 5 days/4 nights. Any suggestions on how to do this? Is it even possible to include? Thank you.
Hi Lily! I personally think it might be too rushed to include it if you only have 5 days as there’s a lot to see along the PCH. If you want to go there, it’s about a 4-hour drive from LAX so you can potentially go there first and then drive back onto the PCH towards Pismo Beach. You can also see Redwoods in Muir Woods or Redwood Regional Park in Oakland which might be a more logical stop if flying from SF. Hope you have a great trip!
Awesome! Just the kind of guide we were looking for. We plan to do this in June 2020 with our 4 year old daughter. This is going to help us immensely in fulfilling our Californian road trip dream. Thank you from the bottom of my heart??
Glad you found the article helpful Abhijeet – hope you have a great time in California!
Thanks for writing this blog. Really helpful for people like me.
May I ask in case I would like to spend more time from San Francisco to LA. Can you please guide if travelling from San Francisco to LA, where would be the best place to stop and stay?
Hi Gourav, personally I think Monterey/Carmel & Santa Barbara are the best places to spend the night when driving from San Francisco to LA. You could spend 2-3 nights in Monterey/Carmel as it makes for a good base for exploring Big Sur and other nearby attractions. If you want an additional place to stay the night, I suggest Pismo Beach. Hope you have a great trip!
we have 13 nights flying in and out from San Fran.
What would be the best use of our time, travelling with kids? We want to do the coast down to LA… but what would be a good loop route, to keep things interesting and maximise time?
Hi Bob, you could possibly go down to the coast to LA and then travel inland, stopping at places like Sequoia National Forest, Yosemite National Park and Death Valley before returning to SF. Hope you have a great trip!
Thanks for the tips, going to Cali this month cant wait. I already booked my flight BNE to LAX then SFO back to brisbane so will be doing the trip la to san fran. Thanks for all the tips as I have never visited California before.
Hope you have a great trip Maree!
Hi Michael, I have a hotel booked in Las vegas from 9th-16th April next year. I havent booked any flights yet and am contemplating flying into San Fran, driving down to La and then driving across to Las vegas on the 9th. Ill then fly out of vegas on the 16th. Potentially the earliest i can fly into San Fran is on the 5th April. I understand i wouldn’t be able to make all the stops that you say in your blog but would that give me enough time to see the Golden gate bridge and main attractions in San Fran and then drive down and see the Hollywood sign and the stars on hollywood boulevard before making the trip to Vegas or would it be too rushed. Any advise would be greatfully appreciated i only wish i had more time.
Hi John, that sounds do-able if you don’t plan on making any of these stops. You could spend 2 days in SF, drive down to LA and then spend one day in LA before heading to Las Vegas. Hope you have a great trip!
Thanks for the reply Michael, really appreciate your insight. I don’t mind stopping on the way down just not for trekking or surfing more for just the views. Is there anywhere you can recommend for a shopping stop or a food stop between San Francisco and LA as it seems to be about a 6 hour drive. Also the same between LA and Vegas would be great. I think that’s a shorter drive through.
If going down the coastal route in one day I would suggest stopping somewhere like Pismo Beach which is about halfway. I haven’t driven from LA to Vegas so can’t offer any advice there.
Really appreciate your response. Thanks Michael. Really enjoyed your blog and all the insights. Looking forward to going now.
My husband and I have just looked our tickets to LA from Australia in November
We were wanting to do the coastal road to san Fransisco but are not confident driving over there, is there any other way to visit these places if you dont have a car ?
Buses, trains, tours . ?
Hi Gemma, you can see and stop at some but not all of these stops by taking the Amtrack Coastal Train and there are also some shuttle buses but it’s going to add a lot of travel time compared to driving. You can also take day trips to some places from LA or SF – have a look at these articles for more information. https://www.theworldwasherefirst.com/big-sur-day-trip-itinerary/ & https://www.theworldwasherefirst.com/santa-barbara-day-trip/. Hope you have a great trip!
Hi! My friends and I are planning on doing this trip in reverse because we have to end on Los Angeles. How RV friendly would you say it is? Beyond the road part, which I assume won´t be an issue, I mean where would you recommend we stop along the way (we have four nights to spare and four alone). Thanks!
Hi Sanitago, While we didn’t have an RV there are campsites along the PCH so finding somewhere to stay shouldn’t be an issue. I suggest basing yourself near Monterey/Carmel & Santa Barbara if you have 4 nights.
We are planning this drive in December and have loved reading your advice. We are a family of 4, 2 teenagers capable of long stints in the car and quick stops if needed. We’re planning to stop for 2 nights on the way from Santa Monica to San Fran, being Cambria and somewhere around Monterey. We were heading straight to San Fran but have now decided to have a few nights at Lake Tahoe, so we’re thinking of going from Monterey to Lake Tahoe. Is this advisable and will we miss anything between Monterey and San Fran if we do this? We’ll spend a few nights at Lake Tahoe then head back to San Fran for a few nights before flying out to NY. Does this sound like a good plan? Can you give us any tips. First timers coming from Australia. Thanks kindly.
Hi Dani, that sounds like a good plan! In our opinion, the best section of the PCH is from Santa Barbara to Monterey so if you prefer to visit Lake Tahoe after that sounds fine. Hope you have a great trip!
Thanks for these awesome tips
I’m hiring an RV (relocation) from LA and dropping off in San Fran.
I have 3 days to do the drive so I’m planning to stop and stay the nights in Sanaa Barbara, Pismo and Monterey
Are these areas generally ok with RV’s parking up for the night?
Hi Albert, I believe you need to find a campsite to park your RV for the night, however, I’m not sure about the specific rules for RVs in California.
We already covered Santa Monica and Malibu. And we are planning to stay only one night at one of the other destination, where do you recommend we stay ? And is it possible to cover all destinations?
Hi Abdul, I don’t think you can make all the stops in one night. I would suggest spending the night in Monterey/Carmel and seeing Big Sur and the surrounding area.
Hope the travels will be open in fall as we are planning a trip to California. Based on your article we will do the SFO to LA and if you can give us an ideal stops along the way. We are open to do this in 3-4 days so that we don’t need to rush. Our hobby is Photography and would like to be in places to take some amazing shots during the right times early mornings and evening during golden hours. Also if you have any other spots that are not in the article please let us know too.
This is a great article and site that I use frequently. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us.
Hi Reuben, With 3-4 days, I think you have enough time to visit all these stops if you want! I would suggest spending at least a couple of nights near Big Sur in places like Monterey or Carmel so you can get the most of out this beautiful area and be able to take your photos. Hope you have a great trip soon!
going from8/15 21 san fran to la catching a game in both towns i am looking for big sur tour love nature and wine for wife going in august suggestions welcome will rent a car fo trip
Hi Don, We have some more tips on Big Sur here: https://www.theworldwasherefirst.com/big-sur-day-trip-itinerary/. Hope you have a great trip!
Hi Michael! Thank you for this excellent information. My husband and I are strongly considering to follow your recommendations but from SF to LA. I just want to know how many days approx you recommend for this road trip with no rush. Thank you
Hi Mariel, I suggest at least 3 to 4 days for ths trip.
Hi, loved reading your article. I am travelling from UK to San Francisco in April and looking to do a 3 night / 4 day drive along Pacific Coast whilst there. So leaving SF and then back up again. How far down towards Santa Barbara is reasonable to get to and where would you recommend the 3 night sleepovers? Thank you so much.
Hi Caroline, With only 3 nights I would suggest spending your time primarily in and around Big Sur and staying in Monterey/Carmel.
Hi, I and my family will plan to be with our friends families in San Francisco from irvine, and I believe that your trip road is an amazing one, so thank you so much for your effort 🌹🌹
Thanks Jamal! Glad you found the article helpful! 🙂
Excellent and very helpful ideas for the trip LA to San Francisco . Thank so much👍👍👍👍👍
I am planning to fly to LA with my wife on 8 Dec for the drive from LA to Francisco and then drive back LA. We are going to spend 3 nights for this journey.
As you mentioned that the scenery is better from SF to LA direction, I would like to seek your view if it is better for me to drive directly from LA to SF (stay overnight at SF on day 1) and then drive back from SF and then stay over at Carmel and Santa Barbara for 2 nights respectively. In this way, I will be able to stay and view the scenery from the other direction.
Does my plan make sense? Thanks in advance for your advice.
Hi Charles, That makes sense to me – it will make it easier to pull off at the viewpoints if you’re driving in both directions regardless.
Great blog – thanks. We are planning to fly in and out of LA from London in February. I’m the only driver, my husband doesn’t drive and I don’t want to do long stints, so thinking of flying up to SF spending two nights then taking a slow drive back to LA using your recommendations. I don’t want to drive for more than two hours at a time and we are happy to stop over of 2/3 nights each stop to get the best of PCH and maybe finish with 3 nights in LA. We have 10/14 nights to use for this holiday. Can you help with an itinerary please? Huge thanks
Quick logistics question. I love to do loosely planned road trips, staying longer where ever I like, and finding accommodation along the way. Is it necessary to book accommodation in advance for a week long road trip between LA and San Fran in late September / early Oct?
Regards from Australia