A few weekends back, my sister, Kyleigh, & I got a few day glimpse of the Pacific coast. We decided the only fitting way to experience the best of the West Coast was a good old-fashioned California road trip. I used a lot of travel blogs to plan our trip because we wanted to find the hidden gems, local’s favorites, & off the beaten path tips of the things we HAD to do. Our 4 days were truly a blast, so I compiled all my findings in case you’re looking to plan your own adventure filled getaway.
DAY 1: Los Angeles to Santa Barbara
We flew into LAX in late afternoon, picked up our rental car & headed straight to In-N-Out Burger for a quick meal. It’s true, the East Coast is missing out on this fast food chain.
101 North to Santa Monica (~40 minutes from LAX)
Once arrived, we walked on the Santa Monica Pier & rode the ‘West Coaster.’ Yes, this pier is a tourist trap, but you need to do it. We accidentally caught the sunset from the beach. It was nothing short of amazing. A definite must see.
101 North to Santa Barbara (~1 hour drive)
DAY 2: Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo
Acai bowls for breakfast & walking around the Spanish influenced town of Santa Barbara was a great way to start the day. If you’re in Santa Barbara, check out Backyard Bowls.
101 North / 154 west to Solvang (~45 minute drive)
Solvang was our next stop & I highly recommend going! It’s a little off the beaten path, but it is such a gem! It was founded by Danish settlers in the 1900s & it’s the epitome of charming. There are lots of shops, bakeries & cafes to explore. We enjoyed cream cheese croissants & the most delicious & unhealthiest lunch on the planet. Bacon and Brine serves a fried chicken and glazed donut sandwich….I am still dreaming about it!
101 North to Pismo Beach (~1 hour drive)
Pismo Beach made me feel like I was in the middle of an old surfer movie. Make sure to grab a bowl of the clam chowder at Splash Cafe & stroll the streets. The beach doesn’t disappoint either.
Other areas nearby include: Avila Beach, Paso Robles, and Morro Bay. They each offer a different experience but may be worth checking out, depending on your interests!
101 North to San Luis Obispo (~20 minute drive)
For dinner we headed to downtown San Luis Obispo. What a trendy town. Downtown offers a great shopping & food scene. I spent the previous week & a half here so here’s where you need to eat: Eureka! for the atmosphere & burgers, Firestone Grill for the tri-tip sandwich, Natural Cafe for the freshest salads, Seeds for acai bowls, & High Street Deli for great sandwiches.
DAY 3: San Luis Obispo to Monterey
CA-1 North to San Simeon (~45 minute drive)
If there is one thing that you have to do while seeing the Pacific coast, it is this. Stop at Piedras and see the elephant seals in their natural habitat! This was Kyleigh’s favorite part of the entire trip. We could have watched these silly creatures lounge on the beach & play in the surf all day.
Hearst Castle is around this area too. We didn’t have the desire or time to stop by, but on the drive you can see it way up on the hillside off to your right. Everyone says the tours are amazing & totally worth it if you have the time.
CA-1 to Big Sur (~1 hour drive)
My friend told me that Big Sur is his favorite place in the entire country & it’s absolutely a nature lovers paradise. It’s full of great hiking, beautiful sights, redwoods & peace. I recommend eating at Big Sur River-Inn and Restaurant for lunch. Be prepared to spend decent money for a mediocre meal, but that’s okay, you’re paying for the unbeatable scenery. After finishing your meal, walk down to the river & sit in the perfectly rustic Adirondack chairs they’ve set up in the river. It’s the perfect spot to wind down from your trip’s excitement thus far. If you have the time & resources, Big Sur would be a wonderful place to spend a few days of pure relaxation.
Things to see in Big Sur:
- McWay Falls
- Partington Cove (About 3 minutes North of McWay – it isn’t well marked & most bloggers don’t write about it. You actually can hike down into the valley between the highway!)
- Pfeiffer Beach
- Camp & hike at one of the many state parks (Unfortunately we didn’t get to because of the forest fires in the area.)
- Bixby Bridge (Drive over it, & turn immediately right. It’s a dirt road and people are parked along it. Resist the urge to park & keep driving until the path parallels the bridge…the view is great! And a way better photo-op than what most people do.)
CA-1 North to Monterey (~30 minute drive)
Just because we had time, we decided to do the 17-mile drive. It’s very touristy & probably the most famous stretch of Highway 1. You have to pay an entrance fee, but if you have extra time & want to learn a little history, this isn’t a bad choice. A lot of famous photography spots too. We grabbed some very fresh & local seafood for dinner at Sea Harvest. I will always have a spot in my heart for hole in the wall restaurants & this one did not disappoint.
Day three consisted of the most driving & stopping of any day. We covered a lot of ground, but it’s absolutely doable in one day. Opt for the early start, though, in case you want to spend some more time hiking & exploring.
Day 4: Monterey to San Francisco
CA-1 North to Santa Cruz (~1 hour drive)
Driving north, we decided to stop at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk just to see it! It wasn’t open when we were there because it was early morning, but this would definitely be a fun & lively stop mid-afternoon.
CA-17 North and 101 North to San Francisco (~1.5 hour drive)
Next we had our sights on San Francisco. Drive the Golden Gate Bridge & take pictures at Crissy Field. Go to Pier 39 & check out the sea lions that gather toward the end. We checked out the painted ladies & Lombard Street. My favorite stop in San Francisco was Ghirardelli Square. I didn’t even blink an eye when I paid $13 for an ice cream sundae. Just bite the bullet and indulge. We did quite a bit of walking & most of the things we did were touristy, because we only had a few hours before catching flights home.
Happy road tripping!