Do you enjoy long car rides? Me neither! Would I endure it for spectacular views of the California coastline and a road trip of a lifetime? You bet!
A California road trip down the coast is one of the most scenic and relaxing drives. It will require you to make multiple stops just to pull over and enjoy the view.
Highway 1 runs along the California coastline from Orange County all the way to Northern California cities like San Francisco. At a total of just over 655.8 miles (1,055.4 km), it is the longest state route in California. So, buckle up and get ready because with this itinerary and travel tips you’re on the path to the best Highway 1 road trip yet!
The California Road Trip Highway 1 Itinerary:
Although Highway 1 doesn’t begin until it reaches Capistrano Beach in Orange County, I recommend beginning your journey in San Diego. San Diego is home to many amazing attractions such as Balboa Park, sunny beaches and the San Diego Zoo, which is actually the largest zoo in the world with over 3,700+ animals. One of my favorite stops is the beautiful La Jolla area for delicious fish tacos and a sunset stroll along the ocean.
Driving time from San Diego: 1hr 15min
Famous for providing visitors with relaxing weekend getaway, Laguna Beach is great for those who enjoy surfing or lounging at the beach, hiking, or simply just enjoying a beautiful Southern California sunny day. This city has spectacular beaches including 1000 Steps Beach, Victoria Beach, and Crescent Bay.
Tip #1: Laguna Beach is known for being a more expensive destination in Southern California, so for those who want to stay more than a night on a budget we suggest searching through Airbnb for great deals without loosing the luxury -feel of the city.
Tip #2: Beach parking is often scarce and expensive, especially in the summer. I would suggest taking the Laguna Beach Trolley, which is a free weekend transportation system that begins at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in the city of Dana Point and ends on Cajon Street in North Laguna Beach.
Other Cities Worth Visiting: Newport Beach & San Clemente
Shop my beach favorites:
Santa Monica & Venice
Driving time from Laguna Beach: 1hr
Admire the beautiful views of the water from the Santa Monica boardwalk and enjoy rides from the famous Santa Monica pier. On the opposite side of the boardwalk is where you can reach Venice Beach. Come here to people-watch, shop the many unique vendors and stores, and of course, enjoy the views of the ocean. This is a place where you will truly discover in the flesh the large and wide range of people and personalities that Los Angeles has uncovered.
Also worth stopping for: Long Beach, Malibu or Los Angeles
Shop my Southern California style favorites:
Driving time from Santa Monica: 1hr 40min
Ocean views, enchanting Spanish style architecture at every turn, and trendy art-filled neighborhoods and museums help make up the beautiful town of Santa Barbara. There are museums and landmarks for every type of art and architecture lover including Old Mission, Casa del Herrero, and the Museum of Natural History. The bustling downtown area of this city is also full delicious meals and cuisines that will make you never want to leave.
Also worth stopping for: Solvang
San Luis Obispo
Driving time from Santa Barbara: 1hr 40min
This upbeat city is perfect for enjoying the many trendy Californian style shops and stopping for great dining options. Spend your day SLO style by walking through Bubblegum Alley and hiking to the Serenity Swing. Wake up early to watch the sunrise from Prefumo Canyon and catch the sunset from Avila Beach. Truly magical.
Also consider stopping by: Pismo Beach
Driving time from SLO: 2 hr
This is by far my favorite stop of the Highway 1 road trip. I promise driving along the Big Sur coast will be the first time you ever enjoyed the driving part of a road trip. Big Sur is full of amazing views, which is why we made the decision to camp rather than stay in a hotel or hostel. There are many outdoor activities that you can do in Big Sur, such as hiking through many of the state parks, visiting McWay Falls, or admiring the views of the ocean and the Bixby Bridge (pictured below).
Also worth stopping for: Monterey (amazing aquarium), Pfeiffer Beach, Carmel-By-The-Sea
Driving time from Big Sur: 1hr 20min
Famous for its surfing spots and Redwood trees, Santa Cruz is amazing change of scenery from Southern California. This city includes many options for hikes that lead to spectacular natural views, including our personal favorite Henry Cowell State Park, which was full of the huge California Redwood trees. One of our local friends told us that if we were lucky enough to find a yellow Banana Slug that the city is known for, to kiss it for good luck. When we were on the trail I saw our first and only Banana Slug so of course I had to kiss it!
Also worth stopping by: James Franco’s beautiful hometown, Palo Alto
Driving time from Santa Cruz: 1hr
San Francisco is a city full of vibrant colors and bustling streets. There is something for everyone in this city whether it is eating delicious Mexican food in the Mission District, admiring the views of the Golden Gate Bridge, or spending the day wandering the many museums. There is a reason many people flock to this largely populated city- it has a type of spirit that is hard to find and that you won’t be able to resist.
Also worth stopping for: Half Moon Bay
Although Highway 1 runs all the way up to around Fort Bragg, I would suggest ending your California road trip in San Francisco. For those who want to continue on, hop on Highway 101 which will take you all the way up to Oregon and is full of scenic views of giant Redwood trees.
What is your favorite stop on the California road trip along Highway 1? Let me know in the comments!
Thanks for reading,
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