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How to plan a California Coast Road Trip – Ultimate 10 days Itinerary

With its breathtaking shoreline, a golden landscape dotted with brilliantly colored natural flora and fauna, the coastal road trip along the California coastline is definitely one of our favorite ideas of a vacation. However, you might ask yourself: how to plan a California coast road trip?

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It’s an experience of a lifetime, and if you haven’t been a part of this life-changing trip, then we’d suggest that you do yourself a favor and book yourself a flight the minute you get time. You’ll thank us later!

Now, we understand how daunting planning can be. But don’t worry, we’ve researched for you. Read on to learn how to go about this trip, and have the best time ever!

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How to plan a California Coast road trip: the best time

When trying to figure out how to plan a California coast road trip, the first step is deciding the most suitable time to go.

If you want to have a more scenic and pleasant trip, we will definitely recommend going during spring, from mid-February to late April. It’s just THAT time of the year. 

The hills start turning green again, with a multitude of flowers popping out. Not to mention that the little waterfalls start flowing in rock formations as well. You also get to see seal pups! 

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Few Tips on how to plan a California Coast Road Trip

  • Direction: Go South to North. It has more breathtaking views!
  • Packing:  Make sure you’ve packed every single thing you may need. 
  • Full tank Fuel:  Keep filling up. You don’t want any unwanted stops along the way!
  • Time management: Try to stick to the schedule, or you’re going to get stressed out.
  • Be Careful! Try to avoid dangerous angles for photography.
  • Protect the Environment: The ecosystem is fragile, so don’t litter and don’t disturb the animals.
  • Renting cars: Make sure the car is working fine and is on budget. 

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In 2021 California approved  the California State Park Adventure Pass provides free entry for fourth graders and their families at 19 amazing state parks throughout the state. A pilot program per 3 years. Get your pass here

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10 Day Guide on how to plan a California Coast Road Trip

Once you’ve got the basics down for how to plan a California Coast road trip, you can move on to the list of places that we’ve set out for you and start your vacation!

itinerary map
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How to plan a California Coast road trip: Day 1

San Francisco

Drive time: none 

Explore! The city is full of monuments and beautiful spots. You can even rent a bike, or if you’re feeling like it, you can book an Uber as well. Check here what can you do in San Francisco and choose what best fit your schedule.

To Santa Rosa

Drive time: 90 minutes

To kick start your trip immediately, Santa Rosa is just the stop. It has excellent wine yards with restaurants that have great food. Enjoy these yards and end the day with some wine.

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How to plan a California Coast road trip:Day 2

On to Half-moon Bay

Drive time: 40 minutes

To get away from all the hubbubs of the city, this tiny, quiet village will help you best in winding down. You can take a walk along its beach while munching on seafood from the small restaurants jotted along with the place. 

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Santa Cruz

Drive time: 60 minutes

Over here, you need to try out the beach and go for a stroll on the beach boardwalk. You can even treat yourself to some churros to sweeten up your day while visiting the ancient Lighthouse here! Check here what can you do in Santa Cruz and choose what best fit your schedule.

Also, keep an eye out for the sea animals like otters and sea lions!

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How to plan a California Coast road trip:Day 3

Carmel by the Sea/ Monterey

Drive time: 75 minutes

Stop here for a fairytale-like experience, with its tiny villages and cottages. You can also stop by Monterey for its infamous Aquarium!

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How to plan a California Coast road trip:Day 4

Big Sur

Drive Time: 60 minutes

There are some pretty cool campsites in Big Sur with some other fancy accommodations as well.  The best part about this place? No civilization! You can contemplate in peace with the waves and coastline as your company. Check here what can you do in Big Sur and choose what best fit your schedule.

Do make sure to get to the Mcway Waterfall. It is the best spot for pictures!

How to plan a California Coast road trip:Day 5

San Luis Obispo

Drive time: 2-4 Hours

This is one of the lengthier stretches but excellent all the same. Stop at quiet little San Simeon for a lunch break and try a bit of wine tasting at Paso Robles. These places give off their own antiquely vibe, which can be pretty tricky to find anywhere else.


How to plan a California Coast road trip:Day 6


Drive time: 60 minutes

Want to feel like you’re in a little Danish village? If so, then Solvang, with its hidden little village, is just the right spot for you.

It is full of cool places like the ancient windmills, iconic fountains towers, etc. The unique architecture is full of history and knowledge, so if you are an avid fan of history and heritage, then you will love this place!

How to plan a California Coast road trip:Day 7

Santa Barbara

Drive time: 45 minutes

Ah! A place brimming with culture, heritage, and food! Santa Barbara is nicknamed the American Riviera due to its many beaches.

Full of history, you can see traces of Spanish colonial history with the brightly painted buildings, and the food is just out of this world! 

How to plan a California Coast road trip:Day 8

Los Angeles

Drive Time: 2 hours

A quick stop to Malibu will add to your already fantastic trip. Full of beaches and secluded spots, you will enjoy the exotic locality. You can even get a surf lesson if you didn’t get one earlier!

Once in LA, take a tour of the city! LA is a world on its own, and you should enjoy and experience it just like that as well!

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Almost done with California Coast road trip:Day 9

San Diego

Drive time:  3 Hours

The drive has its fair share of scenic spots and excellent food outlets. If you have the time, then do visit some of the quaint little shops. Get dinner in either these or chow down in San Diego directly. It’s your call!Check here what can you do in San Diego and choose what best fit your schedule.

And with that, your road trip comes to an end!

Last Day: Day 10


On your final day, you can enjoy the city as it is. With its Mexican food, memorable botanical gardens, and glimmering beaches, San Diego will add the final touch to your trip and will make sure that you end the trip the right way.

After that, drop off your rentals and head back home.

We know that you may stump a little when trying to figure out how to plan a California Coast trip but remember that road trips aren’t an everyday thing. Therefore, make sure to plan it out earlier so that you can enjoy it to the fullest!

If you ever happen to visit Northern California, make sure to read this blog!

We hope our guide has helped you, and if you want to learn more about road trips in different parts of the country, do check out this link for more information. You can even check out this blog to help you out.

Happy Travelling!

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I am Rocio

Hello there! Thank you for stopping by. My name is Rocio, and I’m a Latina mother with a wanderlust. I believe that family trips are important in forming well-rounded kids. Even when you have kids, you can still travel, so I help busy parents figure out how. Through my blog, Real world Mami, I want to give you tips that will help you plan epic trips to both well-known and less-known places around the world. Happy Travels!

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