California’s Pacific Coastal Highway 1 is one of the most famous drives in the world. The road runs for 450 miles along most of the beach-state’s coast, and takes in most of California’s most iconic cities and beaches. Taking an LA to San Francisco drive is the ultimate way to experience the most of California.
Along the way you will discover small beach towns, exciting cities, and beautiful natural sites that will really make you put on the brakes.
Take the highway from LA to San Francisco in this memorable California Road Trip Itinerary:
Don’t be fooled by this city, it’s enormous, and you will need a car rental in LA to traverse it. Drive to the many nooks of the city, including some of its most iconic spots, such as Venice Beach, the Hollywood sign and observatory, and Hollywood Boulevard. The city is always on the cutting-edge of fashion, culture, and media, so expect to be amazed by its latest inventions as well as its prolific history. Take a trip to fitness-obsessed “muscle beach” and enjoy the white-sandy Californian beaches of Malibu and Santa Monica – all in one city!
The city of Santa Barbara is a must-stop kind of place for any California road trip itinerary. Known as the “American Riviera” the central coastal city has an array of beaches along its picture-perfect coastline. What’s more, this place has history. The city was once European, and still has that Spanish feel about it. Santa Barbara is also known for being a holiday destination for famous people in the US, and was once a favorite of Charlie Chaplin’s. Make sure you visit the old Spanish Mission Santa Barbara and the Santa Ynez wineries nearby for some California wine tasting.
If you are keen to see California’s underdeveloped side, then visit the simple Californian seaside town of Pismo Beach. While the town is pretty enough, with its great beaches, bars and restaurants, the real highlight of this area, which is half way between Los Angeles and San Francisco, is the proximity to wine country. Explore Santa Maria Valley wine country from the beach town for your first sample of world-class Californian wine.
A visit to Big Sur is all about getting back to basics and really appreciating California’s natural beauty. Plan to hike in the beautiful mountains in Big Sur or take a walk along the beach here, before looking for whales. The area is full of state parks, which are the primary highlight in the region. Head to Limekiln State Park, the home of the redwood tree and a rugged coastline, and enjoy the underdeveloped scenery in Andrew Molera State Park, which also has beaches. But don’t worry, if the outdoors get to be too much and you miss that Californian hospitality, then it’s only a short drive to plenty of boutique restaurants and shops. You are still in California!
Monterey is known for its world-famous aquarium, which is well worth a visit. The aquarium actually overlooks a real National Marine Sanctuary in Monterey, which works to keep its large population of seals, sea lions, dolphins and whales, as well as its kelp forests, safe. Monterey’s sealife is one of its major draws, but you can also find an interesting history here in its downtown district, with some well-preserved remnants of Spanish and Mexican rule.
This one may not be so clearly stated on the tourist trail, but you have to head to the beautiful enclave of Mill Valley for a taste of small-town sophistication and some incredible nature walks. The area is extremely close to the wine regions of the Sonoma Valley (just a 40 minute drive) and within Mill Valley itself you can find the famous Dipsea Trail. The second oldest foot race in America, the Dipsea Race, is held here every year, which takes hundreds of steps over the valley and across to Stinson Beach. The over 13-mile-long walk starts in downtown Mill Valley, which has a number of quirky restaurants and cafes for you to enjoy before you take on this feat. Just be aware, it’s very strenuous!
If you can, it’s worth heading around 40 minutes outside of Mill Valley and San Francisco to reach to the beautiful sibling of Napa Valley; Sonoma Valley. As soon as you drive out into the valley you will notice the landscape completely changes. From wet, coastal climates, you will start to feel the weather become drier and see hues of yellow and orange. This valley is, in fact, the birthplace of Californian wine, and there are so many wineries to choose from. You can book ahead for tastings and tours or for most of them you can simply turn up – they are always happy to have visitors!
San Francisco’s beautiful vista, lined by the great engineering feat of the Golden Gate Bridge, represents a city filled with culture, history and some impressive food. The city is one of the most diverse in California, and has a wealth of culture and cuisine for you to try. Head to Chinatown for some freshly made fortune cookies or to the many farmer’s markets, which show off some of the city’s best gourmet street foods. Another site you cannot miss is taking a boat trip to the infamous Alcatraz island, the famously inescapable state penitentiary. It’s always best to book your trip in advance and try to get on the night boat tour – they offer additional trips to some of the hidden parts of the prison and tell you some chilling real-life ghost stories.
A California Road Trip Itinerary from Auto Europe
When you’re ready to embark on the best LA to San Francisco drive and explore California’s top destinations on a California road trip intinerary, give Auto Europe a call, available 24/7, at 1-888-223-5555, and get started with your travel reservations today! Auto Europe guarantees the best rates and services on all car rentals, and also offers a variety of luxury and discount hotel accommodations.