If you’re heading out to California, definitely give this a read! Road tripping along the Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most famous road trips in the United States. I have detailed a 7-day road trip itinerary to get you from San Francisco to Los Angeles, hitting all of the best spots along the way, including Big Sur and Monterey Bay. Check it out!
Welcome to California!
This is hands down one of my favorite road trips in the states. California is such a unique state, encompassing so many different ecosystems. You can have an array of different experiences while in California, and this road trip will give you all of them. Whether you want to explore one of the many vibrant California’s cities, visit one of the infamous national parks, hike in the beautiful mountains, or enjoy the breathtaking coastlines, this itinerary will scratch all of your travel itches!
Day 1: Arrive in San Francisco
I did this road trip with my best friend, which was a great week full of laughs, adventure, and some much-needed girl-time. We flew into San Francisco on the earliest flight possible to maximize the day. We landed around 11 am with plenty of time to explore. We knew we were going on a road trip, so we rented a car upon arrival. Bring on the Mustang convertible — red, please.
We got a room at An Elegant Hotel, Union Square San Francisco. It was classy, affordable, and centrally located. They also had free bike rentals which were an unplanned surprise. We spent the rest of the day biking around San Francisco, what a day!
We headed down to the Embarcadero, which is on the waterfront. It was cool to see the port and the daily happenings in the area. From there, we went to Pier 39 and wandered around the shops and got a bite to eat at a small seafood restaurant, locally caught everything. This is also where the sea lions hang out, so we spent some time watching them bark and waddle around.
We biked back up Columbus Avenue and stopped at Hops and Hominy for some beers and dinner. It’s a trendy little bar with some tasty southern food.
Day 2: Exploring the Golden Gate
We woke up early to get a full San Francisco day in. We decided to take advantage of the free bikes again and head over to Golden Gate Park. There are many activities at the park to check out, even segway tours, but we just biked through the paths and then made our way to the bridge. We did a 2-mile bike ride over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, but there weren’t any bike paths so we had to navigate through the pedestrian walkway, which was fine, we just had to be careful!.
It was about an hour, with stops, to Sausalito. Starving after our bike ride, we located a restaurant called the Lighthouse Bar and Grill, with a balcony overlooking the water. After lunch, we headed to Richardson Bay houseboat enclaves. This is a community of floating houseboats that was built by artists after WWII. It is a vibrant little neighborhood of an alternative lifestyle. We walked the docks and spoke to the locals. It was a very unique place to visit.
After our Sausalito afternoon, we biked back across the Golden Gate Bridge and through the park, taking our time and enjoying the journey. This trip was all about enjoying the journey.
Day 3: Heading South
The adventure south begins. We jumped in our red convertible after breakfast and hit the road. Our California road trip itinerary obviously included cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway. We made sure to take our time along the way and stop to admire the gorgeous coastline.
Our first stop wasn’t far. It was at Half Moon Bay which is a gorgeous beach at the base of steep cliffs. We didn’t go down to the beach, but it was an amazing photo opportunity from the top.
We carried on to Santa Cruz, another hour down the road. We ate lunch at Crow’s Nest, which is right on the water and has great views, and great food. (If you haven’t noticed I will always head straight for waterfront dining). We spent the afternoon strolling the 100-year-old boardwalk. Santa Cruz is such an iconic California coastal town.
Our final destination of the drive was Monterey, just another gorgeous hour down the highway. We got a room at Monterey Tides which was a great hotel to get a feel for the vibe of the town.
Day 4: Monterey Bay
In the morning we did the famous 17- mile drive around the coast of the peninsula, cruising past mansions, beaches, The Lone Cypress, Pebble Beach, and my favorite, Del Monte Forest of Monterey Cypress trees. These cypress trees just grow on cliffs and out of crevices — it’s crazy how they withstand the wind and weather that comes off of the Pacific Ocean.
For lunch, we ate at Schooners Coastal Kitchen and Bar which overlooks Monterey Bay. We ate some nice seafood that we were told was all caught locally.
After lunch, we went to the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. Monterey Bay is known for its sea life and the aquarium is full of local and exotic specimens of the ocean. The aquarium is very well put together and is extremely educational.
We ate dinner at The Sandbar and Grill, which was another stunning waterfront restaurant on The Wharf, with the best seafood. Hey, gotta eat the seafood while you’re by the ocean! We turned in after this to prepare for the next day’s adventures.
Day 5: Big Sur
When you think of California, Big Sur definitely comes to mind and there is a great reason for it. Big Sur is famous for the rugged coastline where the St. Lucia Mountains seem to jut directly out of the Pacific Ocean. The whole drive you are meandering through massive redwood trees, popping on and off the gorgeous coastlines and there are lots of opportunities for hiking.
We stopped countless times throughout the drive to take photos, stick our toes in the sand, and we even did an impromptu hike. You don’t really need a lot of advice around here because you really can’t go wrong. Every lookout is gorgeous, every hike is one-of-a-kind and the beaches speak for themselves.
We decided to immerse ourselves in the woods for our stay in Big Sur. We picked Glen Oaks, which was a log cabin type vibe that was slightly inland from the Pacific Coast Highway. It was pretty rustic, but also a peaceful oasis hidden in the trees. We ate at Big Sur Roadhouse, which is attached to the hotel.
Day 6: Heading to Los Angeles
We woke up early and enjoyed the silence of the forest a little longer before heading off for our longest leg of the trip, five and a half hours to Los Angeles. The city of angels here we come!
First, an hour and a half down the road, just a short drive off of the highway, is the Hearst Castle. It’s a 127-room castle with over 100-acres of gardens and fountains surrounding the elaborate building. It’s a perfect stop if you are breaking up a long drive since they have food and restrooms. You can also do a tour, but we didn’t plan ahead and tours were sold out. If this is a high priority for you, get tickets in advance! Even without the tour we still spent over an hour wandering the property.
Parts of the drive was still along the coast so the views continued to impress us. We stopped for a quick lunch and kept moving. When we arrived in L.A. we headed straight for the Hollywood sign (I’ve always wanted to go!). It was everything I thought it would be, even offering yet another hike up to the sign.
After lots of selfies, we headed to Venice Beach for sunset. The Venice boardwalk is a really eclectic and vibrant place. There are hundreds of unique shops, street performers, food vendors, and even an outdoor gym and skatepark, all of which were packed. The wide beach was full of tourists watching the sunset and snapping photos. The whole vibe was very alive.
We booked a hotel in Venice for our last night. It was a funky little boutique hotel that matched the beach town perfectly. We made friends while we were having cocktails at a little outdoor restaurant called The Venice Beach Bar which has a young, hip vibe right on the beach.
We figured since it was our last night we should do a little bar hopping with our new friends! We followed the sounds of music and crowds to some cool spots. My favorite place we ended up that night was called Downtown, which is a cool speakeasy with a pool table and great cocktails. Venice Beach was the perfect place for two single ladies to hit the town!
Day 7: Last Day in Los Angeles
We slept in a little on our last morning and found a brunch spot by the beach called Great White, which boasts giving you the “California treatment”. We had some mimosas and a great breakfast.
For our last hoorah we hit the beach in the glorious Southern California sun for a couple of hours before heading off to the airport. The beach in Venice is big, wide, and beautiful. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport since L.A. traffic can be crazy.
If you have more time you can easily head to San Diego with just a short 2-hour drive. There is also an easy and affordable train that runs along the coast if you don’t have a car. I would have loved to complete the whole coast, but hey, we can’t do it all! I am lucky I got to do this much. 🙂