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California, San Francisco, Los Angeles

Where to stay half way between S.F. and L.A.?

My wife and I are driving along the coast from San Francisco and Los Angeles in late April.  We would like to break the trip into two parts and spend one night roughly half way between the cities.  We are from New Zealand and know nothing about the region, so any suggestions of good places to stay would be appreciated :)


Thanks for all the amazing suggestions! We ended up stopping by Big Sur and a few other spots on the way down the coast. We spent the night at Morro Bay because they had a kite festival on and it was a nice relaxing spot to break up the driving. Hiring a convertible is also a great idea, it made the drive very luxurious!

15 Answers

top answer by
Debbie from San Francisco

San Luis Obispo!  It's pretty much the largest and most well-known city that's half way in between San Francisco and Los Angeles.  Look into The Madonna Inn there.  It's a world famous hotel and a trip to visit because all of the rooms have different themes and the garden is very whimsical.  For food, you'll pretty much have to go to  Firestone Grill.  Don't be alarmed by the line, it moves fast.  For coffee, Bello Mundo is where you want to be.  Their little downtown area is really cute to walk around.

While looking into San Luis Obispo, there are other really cute beach towns around it, too, that you can look into --  Avila BeachMorro BayArroyo Grande and  Los Osos.  When I was in SLO in June for my brother's graduation (it's a bit of a college town, so you'll see a lot of young folks around), all the hotels in SLO were sold out, so I ended up staying at the Baywood inn in Los Osos and loved it!  Very cute and quaint B&B in a small beach town. If you like wine, check out the city of  Paso Robles, which is more inland and full of wineries.

Hope you have fun and let us know if you want any other recommendations for your road trip! :)

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. San Luis Obispo (city)
  2. The Madonna Inn (hotel)
  3. Firestone Grill (restaurant)
  4. Bello Mundo (restaurant)
  5. Avila Beach (city)
  6. Morro Bay (city)
  7. Arroyo Grande (city)
  8. Los Osos (city)
  9. Baywood inn (attraction)
  10. Paso Robles (city)
20 thanks

answered by
Kristin from New York City

I have to mirror Debbie L. in her recommendation to hit San Luis Obispo. The town is super charming and has some nice restaurants and locales to hit (including an awesome little ice cream spot called  Batch). Personally, we typically camp while we're driving up (or down) the coast, but I realize that'll be tough for you traveling from NZ... Though you might want to visit some awesome hiking areas and views at  Morro Bay or  Montana de Oro State Park both of which are nearby to SLO. 

Another very cool spot to visit and stay would be  Esalen in Big Sur. I've heard the views are beyond amazing and the lodging is pricey but worth it for a romantic splurge. Plus, they've got natural hot springs! What could be better...

Finally, right by Cambria, but just a little south is  Cayucos an awesome little surf town where everyone is laid back, happy and beach-blonde. They have an awesome looking bed and breakfast (though I have never stayed) and it's called On the Beach Bed & Breakfast. Also in Cayucos is  Brown Butter Cookie Co...can you tell where my priorities lie?

Have a great trip!

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Batch (attraction)
  2. Morro Bay (attraction)
  3. Montana de Oro State Park (attraction)
  4. Esalen (attraction)
  5. Cayucos (city)
  6. Brown Butter Cookie Co (restaurant)
  7. On the Beach Bed & Breakfast (hotel)
14 thanks

answered by
JR from Manhattan Beach

Hey Andrew! Sounds like a lovely trip. There are some beautiful parts of our state along that drive. You'll really enjoy it. 

You'll want to stay along the coast for most of the drive because it's so much more scenic even though the drive is much longer. You can make it from SF to LA in about 6 hours if you drive down Interstate 5 (but this is a very non-scenic route for sure) vrs the scenic coastal route which is about 10 hour of driving (not counting the many stops you'll want to make). 

If you're stopping along the coast half way down you'll want to stop in Cambria or somewhere nearby. That's close to Hearst Castle and my personal favorite is seeing the elephant seals at Piedras Blancas Elephant Seals...definitely worth the 10 min stop to see this wildlife up close!!
If you want to go inland a bit and you're into wine, you should check out Paso Robles which is knows in the central valley for making some great wine and there are a lot tasting rooms. You could try staying at the recently remodeled Summerwood Winery and Inn and if you do, drop my name. The general manager, Shayne is an old buddy of mine and you'll find some of his tips here on Trippy

Enjoy it!

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Cambria (city)
  2. Hearst Castle (attraction)
  3. Piedras Blancas Elephant Seals (attraction)
  4. Paso Robles (city)
  5. Summerwood Winery and Inn (hotel)
11 thanks

answered by
Jason from Santa Cruz

Hello, I'd highly recommend driving down the coast on Highway 1. I live about an hour south of San Francisco in Santa Cruz-great place! I would also recommend stopping in Monterey, and be sure to go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. From there for a most incredible 11/2 hour hike, Point Reyes National Seashore-breathtaking! Then you will drive through Big Sur and stop off Nepenthe for a drink and great view. All in all the above is a good few hours, and I hesitate saying you could fit any more in as this isn't even the half way point. You could continue on highway one and ultimately stay Morro Bay. From there, continue on and stop off Hearst Castle then Southern California-Santa Barbara, Los Angeles. One place that is off track but to me one of California's best places to see and experience is Yosemite National Park Have a wonderful trip! Jason 

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. San Francisco (city)
  2. Santa Cruz (city)
  3. Monterey (city)
  4. Monterey Bay Aquarium (attraction)
  5. Point Reyes National Seashore (attraction)
  6. Big Sur (city)
  7. Nepenthe (restaurant)
  8. Morro Bay (attraction)
  9. Hearst Castle (attraction)
  10. Santa Barbara (city)
  11. Los Angeles (city)
  12. Yosemite National Park (park)
9 thankscomments (1)

answered by
Courtney from Los Angeles

Debbie is right about the  The Madonna Inn. It's one of the craziest things you'll ever see and great for a laugh. 

One of my favorite little towns along the coast is  Cambria. It's just a sleepy, quirky little town that you can pretty much see in a day and there are some great local characters. The last time I was there I stayed at  Burton Inn and thought it was great. Not super-snazzy, but a very good value.  Redwood Cafe is great for breakfast or lunch--it's a cute little hometown kind of place with delicious food and a lovely outdoor patio. Also ate at a place called  Lombardi's Pasta Familia that was pretty good as well (not incredible, but good). There's actually a knitting store there called  Ball & Skein & More that you should go see even if you don't knit because the man who owns it is such a character. 

My other most favorite place on the planet is  Carmel By the Sea which might be a little too far north for you but if you can make it it's really extraordinary. I've never liked any of the hotels I've stayed in there so you'll have to get a recommendation from someone else, but I'm sure you can. Some of my favorite restaurants there are  Flaherty's Seafood Grill & Oyster Bar and  Katy's Place which is only open until 2 so go early! I also love  Patisserie Boissiere Restaurant & Patisserie which is a French restaurant that serves really, really good food. I've actually found that it's pretty hard to go wrong in Carmel food-wise so just try anything. Be sure, though to catch the sunset at the beach. It's absolutely incredible. 

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. The Madonna Inn (hotel)
  2. Cambria (city)
  3. Carmel By the Sea (city)
  4. Burton Inn (attraction)
  5. Redwood Cafe (restaurant)
  6. Lombardi's Pasta Familia (restaurant)
  7. Ball & Skein & More (attraction)
  8. Flaherty's Seafood Grill & Oyster Bar (restaurant)
  9. Katy's Place (restaurant)
  10. Patisserie Boissiere Restaurant & Patisserie (restaurant)
7 thanks

answered by
Anh from San Francisco

Most of the great places to stay between San Francisco and Los Angeles aren't exactly near the halfway point. Closer to San Francisco, you have  Monterey, which is famous for its Monterey Bay Aquarium and shops and restaurants on Cannery Row. About two hours north of Los Angeles, you have beautiful  Santa Barbara. The best place I think think of that's somewhat halfway is  Morro Bay. It's a very naturalist town filled with natural wonders. You can stay at one of the bed-and-breakfast, hike in the Morro Bay State Park and relax at the State Beach. Being close to the shores and with its own bay, there are lots of sailing options. If being on the water is not your thing, you can also just relax by playing golf and sampling the local wine.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Monterey (city)
  2. Monterey Bay Aquarium (attraction)
  3. Cannery Row (attraction)
  4. Santa Barbara (city)
  5. Morro Bay (city)
  6. Morro Bay State Park (attraction)
5 thanks

answered by
Debby from California

Cambria is a great place to stop. It is a very quaint town with cute shops and nice places to eat. Look for a hotel on Moonstone Beach Dr. Try to get an ocean front room. You can also visit Hearst Castle just a few miles from town. It is a don't miss. 

Have a great trip. 

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Cambria (city)
  2. Moonstone Beach Dr (attraction)
  3. Hearst Castle (attraction)
4 thanks

answered by
Ken from Durham (North Carolina)

Took 2 days to drive from San Jose to Los Angeles. Stopped in Carmel for lunch and also near San Simeon to see the elephant seals (just look for a crowded pull off area filled with tourists)! Stayed in Paso Robles at the Summerwood Winery and Inn. First rate place. Great wine, great breakfast. Great drive but it would be better if you take 3 or 4 days, lots to stop and take in.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. San Jose (city)
  2. Los Angeles (city)
  3. Carmel (city)
  4. San Simeon (city)
  5. Paso Robles (city)
  6. Summerwood Winery and Inn (hotel)
3 thanks

answered by
Jessica from Calabasas

Check out Treebones Resort in Big Sur - such an experience.  You get to sleep in yurts right out on the Peninsula with 180 degree + views of the Pacific.  There's even a small pool to take a dip and dinner & breakfast is served in the beautiful wood clubhouse.  It's the closest I'll get to camping - the unobstructed ocean views, dazzling stars with no light pollution, silent evenings... but with the luxury of a plush queen bed, linens and hot & cold sink in the yurt.  Yay!  :)

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Treebones Resort (hotel)
  2. Big Sur (city)
3 thanks

answered by
Amelia from Carmel (California)

Carmel By the Sea, Big Sur, San Luis Obispo are some suggestions.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Carmel By the Sea (city)
  2. Big Sur (city)
  3. San Luis Obispo (city)
2 thanks

answered by
Gary from Thousand Oaks

Avila Beach, San Simeon (where the Hearst Castle is located -- a MUST SEE, and you must make a reservation - this is California's most visited State Park attraction, Cambria by the Pines (just south of San Simeon), and San Luis Obispo.  You can take Route 1 from San Francisco down the coast to see our magnificent coastline. Don't forget to stop in Monterey and see the aquarium!

It's a two-lane road between the mountains and the oceans south of Monterey.  Very safe if you don't mind driving mountain roads, but there are some sheer drops of hundreds of feet in some places.  As long as it hasn't rained (which, at this point, we pray for) you won't have to worry about mud slides or road blockages.

Have a great time!

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Avila Beach (city)
  2. San Simeon (city)
  3. Hearst Castle (attraction)
  4. Cambria (city)
  5. San Luis Obispo (city)
  6. San Francisco (city)
  7. Monterey (city)
2 thanks

answered by
Sandra from Santa Cruz

Pismo Beach- Seacrest Beach Resort--great spot overlooking the ocean -1950s type of town-wonderful beach to walk on for miles! Lots of comfort food type restaurants.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Seacrest Beach Resort (hotel)
  2. Pismo Beach (city)
2 thanks

answered by

Shell Beach's Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa

Great Italian Deli next door.

All rooms have big kitchens - reheat food from deli.

Go Kayak, wineries, get a massage, check out slo.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Shell Beach (city)
  2. Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa (hotel)
2 thanks

answered by
Breanna from Los Angeles

Because I recently went and now I'm obsessed - Santa Barbara! It's closer to LA than SF (if you stop there you'll only have 2 hours to drive until you hit LA), but it has everything - awesome wine tasting rooms, a lively nightlife (locals refer to it as The Funk Zone) and a GORGEOUS GORGEOUS GORGEOUS beach. It's the best of everything California has to offer so you couldn't stop in a better place. Happy travels!

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Santa Barbara (city)
1 thanks

answered by
Julia from Los Angeles

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. The Madonna Inn (hotel)
1 thanks

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