One doesn’t go to California without doing a California coast road trip via the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). With its dramatic landscape, this place guarantees a lasting impression. I chose to drive up the coast from Los Angeles to San Francisco and I am so glad I did, because I experienced a gorgeous ocean sunset on my left and the cliffs on my right. But doing a California coast road trip is not just about the challenging drive or the mesmerizing landscape. It is also about the cities, the food and the great creatures (or people) that you meet along the way.
Los Angeles isn’t a city, but a lifestyle. As I recently learned “going to Los Angeles” can have multiple meanings including “touristing in Hollywood”, “shopping in Beverly Hills”, “beaching in Santa Monica” and so on. No matter the meaning, Los Angeles will make your stay quite memorable. In both good and bad ways. Having experienced LA without getting a car, I recommend one because it is not a walkable city. At all.
Days recommended: 3-5
On the “must” list: Santa Monica Pier, Beverly Hills, Urban Lights, beach and more beach.
Only 2 hours away from LA, Santa Barbara is a wonderful stop along the way. From romantic beach walks along the waterfront to adventurous hikes through the Santa Ynez Mountains, it seems that Santa Barbara has something for everyone.
Days recommended: 2-3
On the “must” list: wine tours, hikes, seafood, waterfront, whale watching
154 – San Marcos Pass Rd
An alternate route for going north from Santa Barbara, the 154 – San Marcos Pass Rd, crosses through the Santa Ynez Mountains. There are a few hikes to do in the area including the famous Camino Cielo.
Days recommended: 1
On the “must” list: Camino Cielo Hike
A town of around 7000 people, Pismo Beach is famous for being the site where thousands of Monarch Butterflies spend their winter (Nov-Feb). And I’m pretty sure they picked this area for its gorgeous sunsets and wide beaches.
Days recommended: 1/2 -2
On the “must” list: beach and sunsets
A small estuary, Morro Bay is home to hundreds of animals, plants, and birds. The Museum of Natural History is a nice stop if going outdoors is not too appealing. And it has a nice view of the Morro Rock that stands at the harbour’s entrance.
Days recommended: 1
On the “must” list: Morro Rock hike, bird watching
Elephant Seal Vista Point
Slightly north of Morro Bay, there is a vista point to check out the elephant seals. I’m making it its own item because I almost missed it.
Days recommended: 1/2 hour or more if camping with the seals is on the to do list
On the “must” list: Listen to their funny sounds
Big Sur Drive
The Big Sur is the rugged stretch between San Simeon and Carmel by the Sea and it is the definition of California Coast road trip. Camping or lodging in the area should be done as its own trip. For the purposes of driving by the ocean with only the road the cliffs to keep you company, Big Sur is an unforgettable experience.
Days recommended: 2-4
On the “must” list: Camping, off the beaten path hiking
Carmel by the Sea
I passed through this small beach city during the night and I’m still disappointed with myself for not returning to it the next day. The picture is from here. A charming place with fairytale like cottages, Carmel is one of the top destinations in the US. Famous for its arts and culture scene, the town is bound to inspire even the most “uninspired”.
Days recommended: 1-3
On the “must” list: Beaches, arts and culture, wine tasting
Santa Cruz is more than just a paradise for surfing. Main attractions also include beaches, whale watching, redwood hikes, and an amusement park on the waterfront.
Days recommended: 1-2
On the “must” list: Natural Bridges State Beach, Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Amusement Park
I ended my California coast road trip in San Francisco, a city that needs no introduction. Although famous for its crazy hills, it can still be explored by walking. No matter what the tourist wants, SF seems to have it: great nature hikes, gorgeous city view points, and of course, delicious food.
Days recommended: 3
On the “must” list: Muir Woods National Monument, Twin Peaks, Coit Tower, Fisherman’s Wharf, Palace of Fine Arts, Golden Gate Bridge, fog