California Coast Highway
California North America United States

Ultimate California Pacific Coast Highway 1 Road Trip: Itinerary with the Best Stops in 2024

 

From San Francisco to San Diego 1 – 2 weeks Itinerary

This post contains affiliate links. An affiliate link means I may earn advertising/referral fees if you make a purchase through my link, without any extra cost to you. It helps to keep this little blog afloat. Thanks for your support!

I love the California Coast and I am here to share the Ultimate California Pacific Coast Highway road trip and the stops I have done and are my favorite. This is the road trip we did when I came to the USA for the first time and I felt in love with it! The breathtaking vistas, charming towns, and iconic landmarks make you feel you are in a storytale.This route is incredible beautiful and great for couples or families.

Whether you’re planning a romantic getaway for two or an epic family vacation, this coastal road trip promises to captivate your senses and create lasting memories. The stunning California coast, will enchant you with every twist and turn that reveals extreme natural beauty. Get ready to be blown away by the scenery from the vibrant city scape of San Francisco down to the sun-drenched shores of San Diego, immersing yourself in the natural beauty and diverse culture that define the Golden State.

This is a 7-10 day itinerary depending on how long you stay in each spot, and takes you through the famous Highway:

Day 1 in California Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip: San Francisco to Pacifica and Half Moon Bay


Kick off your adventure by departing from San Francisco and heading south along the scenic Highway 1. In just 19-28 minutes, you’ll find yourself in the coastal town of Pacifica, where rugged cliffs and sandy beaches beckon. Continue your journey for another 29 minutes to reach Half Moon Bay, a picturesque enclave known for its quaint shops, seafood restaurants, and world-class surfing spots. Check where to stay and eat bellow.

Route and distance:

From San Francisco Drive to Pacifica 19-27 minutes via I-280 S and CA-1 S

Pacifica to Half Moon Bay 48 minutes via CA-1 S/Pacific Coast Hwy.

Where to stay In Half Moon Bay:

Where to stay In Half Moon Bay:

Things to do in

Things to do in Pacifica:

  1. Great spot for crabbing and fishing.
  2. Best weather here is September and October.
  3. Fitzgerald Marine Preserve has great tide Pools.Check the tide tables for a minus tide.
  4. San Pedro Park, McNee Ranch or short hike Milagra Ridge is great. We do all these frequently. But very favorite is just hiking the stairs up to top of Mori Point which is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Spectacular coastal view. Have a picnic lunch- wow, what a view!
  5. Drive south from Pacifica and you go through the small beach communities of Montara and Moss Beach, then Princeton and El Granada. Princeton has a harbor and a cluster of restaurants
  6. Also you can walk on a paved path over the hill to Linda Mar Beach in Pacifica State Beach.
  7. The Quarry Path and San Pedro Park
  8. Sweeney Ridge out of Shelldance Nursery which has great views once you huff and puff up that first set of steep grades.

Things to do in Half Moon Bay

  1. Coast side trials is great for walking and biking
  2. Seahorse Ranch Horseback ride on the beach Cypress Tunnel

Where to eat:

In Pacifica :

  • Check the most beautiful Taco Bell in the country located here
  • Nicks Roadway beach restaurant, try the famous crab sandwich.
  • Moonraker restaurant.

Half Moon Bay:

  • Ritz Carton outdoor bar snack
  • Farmer Markets on Saturday morning
  • Cameron’s Pub and restaurant
  • Sam’s Chowder House but locals thing is mediocre
  • San Benito Deli has great sandwiches
  • Mezzo Luna Italian food
  • For sushi Shiki
  • Dad’s Luncheorette for casual lunch from a caboose
  • Verrazzano Pizza in HMB has slice for kids
  • Half moon Bay brewery
  • kitchen joannes for breakfast
  • Barabara fish’ trap
  • Moss beach destileru
  • Lamas tPeruaco truck or costanera restaurnat
  • Pasta Moon

Day 2: Pescadero, Davenport, and Santa Cruz California Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip


Today, venture further south to explore the hidden gems along the coast. Make your way to Pescadero Año Nuevo State Park, home to pristine beaches, towering cliffs, and fascinating wildlife, including elephant seals. Afterward, take a leisurely drive to Davenport, a charming seaside village renowned for its rugged coastline and artisanal shops. Finally, cap off your day with a visit to Santa Cruz, where the iconic boardwalk, vibrant arts scene, and laid-back atmosphere await. Check where to stay, eat and things to do below.

Route and distance:

Half Moon to Pescadero

🦭Pescadero to Año Nuevo  State park 19 minutes via CA-1 S/Cabrillo Hwy S

🌊Año Nuevo to Davenport 14 minutes via CA-1 S 

🎢Davenport to Santa Cruz 19 minutes via CA-1 S

Where to Stay

Here is the list of bestpaces to stay in Santa cruz

Things to Do

Things to do In Año Nuevo:

Things to do in Davenport:

  • Check 4 mile beach
  • Explore Wilder Ranch State Park
  • Check out Shark Cove

Things to do in Pescadero:

  • Explore Pigeon Point Lighthouse
  • Take a walk Pescadero State Beach
  • Visit Harley Goat Farm

Things to do in Santa Cruz

Where to Eat

Where to eat in Pescadero

  • Duarte Tavern try the famous artichoke soup
  • Pie Ranch
  • Collie Berry Pie

where to eat in Davenport

  • Swanton Berry Farm
  • Davenport Roadhouse
  • Whale City Cafe

Where to eat in Santa Cruz

  • Shadowbrook
  • Gayle’s Bakery
  • Bruno’s BBq in Santa Cruz
  • Mariannes
  • Companion bakery
  • Buttery Bakery
  • Abbot Square outdoors area

Day 3: Watsonville and Monterey California Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

Continue your journey southward to Watsonville, a charming agricultural town nestled amidst rolling hills and fertile farmland. From there, make your way to Monterey, a historic seaside city famous for its stunning coastline, world-class aquarium, and rich maritime heritage.

Route and distance:

🌱Santa Cruz to Watsonville 24 minutes via CA-1 S

🐟Watsonville to Monterey 33 minutes via CA-1 S

Where to Stay In Monterey

Things to do

Things to do in Watsonville

  • Visit Catro Adobe state Historical Park
  • Explore the Watsonville Plaza
  • stroll at Sunset state Beach
  • Check out Palm Beach State Park
  • Walk at Pinto lake County park
  • Try a pie at Gizdich Ranch

Things to do in Monterey

  • Visit the Moneterey Aquarium
  • Explore Canery Row area
  • Stroll at Pacific Grove shoreline (south MOnterey)
  • Check out Asilomar beach low tide
  • Enjoy the Elkhor Slough Tour
  • Play at Dennis Menece Park
  • Get amazed by Lovers Point
  • Rent bikes Monreet and ride through 17 miles druive
  • Go whale watching
  • Get amazed by Monterey zoo called wild things.

Where to Eat

Where to eat In watsonville

  • Phil’s Fish market and Eatery House
  • Ellas at Aiport Restaurant
  • Miyuki
  • Cowboy Corner
  • Red Apple Cafe

In Monterey:

  • Old Fisherman Grotto
  • Loui Linguini
  • Fish Hopper
  • Fandango

Day 4: Carmel and Point Lobos in California Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip


Spend the day exploring the idyllic town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, known for its fairytale cottages, art galleries, and pristine beaches. Then, venture to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, a haven for outdoor enthusiasts with its rugged cliffs, hidden coves, and diverse marine life.

Route and distance:

🌳Monterey to Carmel 12 minutes via Pacific St

🐺carmel to Point Lobos 11 minutes via CA-1 S

Where to Stay in Carmel

Things to do

In Carmel

In Point Lobos

Here are all the differente hikes you can do in Point Lobos

Where to Eat

Day 5: Big Sur in California Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip


Prepare to be awestruck as you traverse the iconic stretch of coastline known as Big Sur. Marvel at towering redwood forests, dramatic cliffs plunging into the Pacific Ocean, and secluded beaches that seem straight out of a dream.

Route and distance:

⛰Point Lobos to Big Sur. 31 minutes via CA-1 S

Where to Stay in Big Sur

Things to do

  • Garrapata State Park
  • Julia Pfeiffer beach State Park
  • Andrew Molera State Park
  • Point Lobos

Where to Eat

  • Nepenthe is my favorite of all the time the views from here are incredible.
  • River In restaurant, just a restaurant out of a faritale. You can eat seating by a river. It is popular so go early!

Day 6: San Simeon and Hearst Castle in California Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip


Continue your journey south to San Simeon, home to the legendary Hearst Castle. Explore this opulent mansion, built by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, and stroll through its lavish gardens overlooking the Pacific.

Route and distance:

☀️Big Sur to San Simeon and Heart castle 3 hr 6 minutes via CA-1 S

Where to Stay in San Simeon

Things to do

  • Visit the Elephant Seal Vista Point
  • explore William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach
  • Check out Piedras Blancas Light Station
  • Stroll by San Simeon Pier and San Simeon State Park
  • Visit Limekiln State Park
  • Get Amazed by Sensorio

Where to Eat

  • Hearst Ranch Winery
  • San Simeon Beach and Grill
  • Big Sur Restaurant
  • Cavalier Coastal Kitchen

Day 7: Cayucos and Morro Bay


Discover the charming seaside town of Cayucos, known for its laid-back vibe, pristine beaches, and historic pier. Then, head to nearby Morro Bay, where the iconic Morro Rock towers over the harbor and a vibrant waterfront scene awaits.

Route and distance:

⛱San Simeon to Cayucos 28 minutes via CA-1 S

✅cayucos to Morro Bay 21 minutes via CA-1 S

Where to Stay in Morro Bay

Things to do

  • Explore The shipwreck at low tide
  • Visit the downtown and Morro Bay State park and walk the boardwalk.
  • Walked to Morro Rock.
  • Have whale watching experience
  • kayak in the Bay
  • Hiked Montana de Oro, as well as to the rock.
  • Go to Canzelle Alcapas

Where to Eat

  • Breakfast at Dorn’s
  • Frankies and Lola’s
  • Lunch at Teddy’s By the Sea,
  • Giovanni
  • Alex Madonna’s Gold Rush Steak House

Day 8: Pismo Beach, Santa Barbara, and Malibu


Indulge in sun, surf, and relaxation as you explore the coastal gems of Pismo Beach, Santa Barbara, and Malibu. Whether you’re soaking up the sun on the sandy shores or exploring the vibrant downtown districts, each destination offers its own unique blend of culture and charm. Santa Barbara is enriched with history & art. It’s a very beautiful city. The architecture is one of a kind. The homes & businesses are so beautiful.

Route and distance:

🏝Morro Bay to Pismo Beach 28 minutes via CA-1 S and US-101 S

🎢Santa Barbara 1 hr 27 minutes via CA-154 E/San Marcos Pass Rd and US-101 

🏝Malibu 1 hr 14 minutes via US-101 S and CA-1 S LA

Where to Stay in Santa Barbara and Malibu

  • The Harbor View Inn The location of the hotel is excellent, situated near Stearn’s Wharf, but it’s important to choose your room type wisely as some are located in distant buildings, requiring you to cross a public road to access the pool. It’s a family-owned establishment just a block away from the beach, offering complimentary bikes, chairs, and beach amenities.
  • West Beach Inn For a budget-friendly option, consider West Beach Inn, which provides comparable quality at a lower price point.
  • Hotel Milo: is another solid choice with a fantastic location. They offer ocean-view rooms for those willing to splurge a bit more. Positioned across from the beach, it’s also within easy walking distance of State Street shopping, restaurants, and the lively funk zone.
  • The Cabrillo Inn

Things to do

Things to do in Santa Barbara:

  • Visit Mission Santa Barbara
  • Stroll the Santa Barbara Pier/Stearns Wharf.
  • Bike along Cabrillo bike path
  • Check out the Andree Clark Bird Refuge
  • Visit the Santa Barbara County Courthouse
  • Explore the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and the Sea Center
  • Kayak the sea caves
  • Have fun at the Santa Barbara Zoo
  • Visit any of the beautiful beaches: Arroyo Burro Beach (great dog beach),East & West Beach,Thousand Steps. You can rent bikes or surrey to ride along beach.
  • Butterfly Beach – a few mile drive from Lotusland. Small beach, but pretty.
  • Enjoy the Santa Barbara Museum of Art
  • Get inmerse in the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum & Santa Barbara Harbor
  • Enjoy the Funk Zone with boutiques, cafes, galleries, shopping, and restaurants
  • Visit the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
  • Book a visit to Lotusland has beautiful gardens. You’ll need a reservation to get in. I also recommend exploring the area with a docent.
  • Check out El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Site
  • Stroll around El Paseo and enjoy its adobes Spanish village
  • Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park
  • Hike to Seven Falls. About 2.5mi
  • Drive East Camino Celio in Santa Barbara.
  • Montana De Oro

Other options:

  • Wine tasting in the Santa Ynez Valley and the Santa Barbara trolley tour are additional options.
  • Solvang (Danish tourist town) is cute for a stop through is 33 miles away. Here you find Ostrich farm nearby. Cute shops, danish treats/breakfast (Paula’s Pancake House)

Where to Eat

Pismo beach

  • Eat at Merseas.
  • Old west cinnamon rolls: stop and get cinnamon rolls.

Cayucos

  • Sea Shanty

Santa Barbara

  • Bree’osh has the most amazing Croissants.
  • Bouchon
  • Stonehouse at San Ysidro Ranch – this was by far our favorite place to visit there. Yummy 3-course brunch with live music in the background at their awesome restaurant overlooking the ocean and mountains. And a stroll around their beautiful garden after brunch.
  • Scarlett Begonia is a great place for brunch in Santa Barbara with Lovely patio & terrific food.
  • Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach – enjoy the restaurant overlooking the beach. Amazing view from the restaurant.
  • Tons of really good restaurants on State Street & Paseo Nuevo.
  • Cold Spring Tavern for lunch, it has great tri tip sandwiches.
  • If looking for nicer sit-down restaurants, check out Loquita, Jane, Blackbird, The Lark, Opal, The Black Sheep, The Stonehouse, Zaytoon, Brophy Bros. (seafood), Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach (oceanfront seafood/brunch).
  • La Super-Rica Taqueria for yummy casual Mexican.
  • Jalama Beach: for Amazing burgers.
  • Santa Barbara Shellfish Company. Yes it’s pricey but apparently can only get in Santa Barbara and you can get uni if that’s your thing.
  • Famous Joe’s restaurant

Day 9: Newport Beach, Crystal Cove, and San Clemente


Experience the epitome of Southern California coastal living as you visit Newport Beach, Crystal Cove, and San Clemente. From upscale boutiques and trendy eateries to pristine beaches and scenic hiking trails, these coastal communities embody the laid-back luxury of the region.

Route and distance:

🏝Newport Beach and Crystal Cove 1 hr 24 minutes via I-405 S

☀️San Clemente 32 minutes via CA-73 S and I-5 S

Where to Stay in San Clemente

San Clemente

Things to do

New Port

  • Stroll at Balboa Pier and fun zone in Newport Beach
  • Explore Crystal Cove
  • Visit Los Trancos Beach
  • Go to Laguna Beach right next to Newport

San Clemente

  • Enjoy San Clemente Beach Trail for short or long walks.
  • Watch Gray whales migrating from Captain Dave’s in Dana Point.

Where to Eat

Newport Beach

  • Crab cooker for dinner in Newport Beach.
  • Beachcomber Cafe right on the beach- make reservations or prepare to wait at least 1 hr.

San Clemente

  • Fisherman’s has a great location on the pier but mediocre food. You can see Catalina Island from there on a clear day. And hang out. Which means sit there all day if you want and have a drink or a glass of iced tea and watch the surfers next to the pier. So relaxing. It’s definitely tourist food but I like the clam chowder and wedge salad.
  • Le Crepere and Bear Coast across the street for breakfast and coffee.
  • Village Mediterranean, Vine, and Fig 313 have good food
  • Don’t miss the Chart House top of hill. Beautiful views, excellent food and service.
  • Harbour House Cafe
  • Chart House in Dana Point – there’s a little rotunda upstairs with incredible views
  • Nick’s
  • El Torito, and Peeking Dragon are good restaurants in Dana Point.
  • Fratellos Italian and Fisherman’s Restaurant are great places to eat.

Day 10: San Diego


Finish your epic road trip in San Diego, where endless sunshine, world-class attractions, and a vibrant culinary scene await. Explore the historic Gaslamp Quarter, soak up the sun on the beaches of La Jolla, or immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage of Balboa Park.

Route and distance:

🎉San Diego 1 hr 33 minutes via I-5 S

Where to Stay in San Diego

Things to do

There is so much to do here and many things are free

Here are all things to do in San Diego

  • Visit Point Loma Tide Pools
  • Kayak at La Jolla Cove and Tide pools
  • Get lost exploring Balboa Park there is so much to see here!
  • Exlpore Annie’s Canyon slot canyons
  • Visit Old Town and Little Italy for dinner
  • Check out Belmont Park
  • Leisure Lagoon at Mission Bay
  • Go watch a Los Padres Game

Where to Eat

  • LAfilippis pizza grotto. Get lasagna with a meatball (they are the size of a baseball) and their pizzas are the best. Their pesto cream sauce is to die for! It’s not a fancy place, but the food is amazing.
  • Mimmo’s
  • Hotel del Coronado for tacos / margaritas / sunset beach time
  • Davanti’s has an amazing happy hour 3-6 pm seven days a week!
  • Not in Little Italy but Old Venice in Point Loma
  • Kettner Exchange
  • Filippi’s, Landini’s for the best pizza by the slice
  • Cafe Zucchera
  • Monello, Bencotto or Civico if you want fresh pasta made daily.
  • Monet lisa. Very casual. You cant miss it. Even has parking!!

Now you are all set up for the best road trip of you life!I hope you enjoy every moment of your adventure!

Enjoy

Rocio

You may be interested on:

How to Plan a Road Trip to Northern California

How to Plan a California Coast Road trip

Driving from LA to San Francisco

Newsletter Signup

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter below and never miss the latest trips and favorite product and exclusive offer.

Comments are closed.