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Newark (Delaware)

San Francisco, California, Los Angeles

2 day road trip: San Francisco to LA Pacific Coast Hwy - must see places?

Hi all,

First post here, going to San Francisco at the end of June and will be doing the PCH road trip to LA. It will be my wife, myself and our 8 month old baby.

We want to break it into 2 days, so what are the must see places to stop and which town should we spend the night?

15 Answers

top answer by
Fritzi from San Francisco

This is such a beautiful trip. Approaching  Monterey, you can make a short stop Castroville, the artichoke capital of the world. Nearby, on Route 1 at Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, is an amazing produce road stand with some of the world's freshest fruits and vegetables. It is so old California, from the time when produce road stands were everywhere. 

 Monterey, Pacific Grove and Carmel are charming small towns definitely worth a visit. Lodge at Pebble Beach  and The Inn at Spanish Bay are both luxury properties, but very friendly to tourists. 

 In Big Sur you have the choice to go Old School, at Nepenthe, or upscale at Post Ranch Inn. The area is spectacular, so I hope you have a sunny day. 

 Coming out of Big Sur, after Paso Robles, you have Morro Bay. It is a charming small town with beaches, yacht harbor and many low cost motels and dining choices. I personally think Santa Barbara is overpriced. So I suggest Morro Bay is a great place to break the trip. 

 If you stay on Route 1 all the way to LA you will go past Carpinteria, Oxnard, and the most beautiful stretch of unspoiled coastline coming into Malibu Beach. The road there is close to the Pacific and the ocean is full of kelp. 


Have a great trip.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Monterey (city)
  2. Castroville (attraction)
  3. Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve (attraction)
  4. Pacific Grove (city)
  5. Carmel (attraction)
  6. Lodge at Pebble Beach (hotel)
  7. The Inn at Spanish Bay (hotel)
  8. Big Sur (city)
  9. Nepenthe (restaurant)
  10. Post Ranch Inn (restaurant)
  11. Morro Bay (attraction)
  12. Santa Barbara (city)
  13. Carpinteria (attraction)
  14. Oxnard (city)
  15. Malibu Beach (attraction)
4 thanks

answered first by
Andy from San Francisco

If I were to do the trip I would definitely stop for lunch at the club at Pebble Beach Golf Links . The view from the outdoor deck is amazing and it feels like eating at a very exclusive country club. 

Another spot is Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur. It's a small beach with some cool rock formations that you can climb on. It's a great place to enjoy the sun, have a picnic, and watch the waves. 

A good town to spend the night is probably San Luis Obispo . It's about halfway between SF and LA, and the town has a fun beach boardwalk area and a cute downtown. 

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Pebble Beach Golf Links (attraction)
  2. Pfeiffer Beach (attraction)
  3. San Luis Obispo (city)
3 thankscomments (2)

answered by
Pamela from Los Gatos

Big Sur is a hands-down must. There are numerous pull offs and'll have your pick. I would say it rivals the Amalfi Coast.Someone else already mentioned Nepenthe for a meal...and that's a great choice. The food is ok, but the view and location is spectacular. I would recommend the Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant as the best meal. You don't get the view, but you get an incredible meal. Carmel is also a great stop once you've gone through Big Sur.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Big Sur (city)
  2. Nepenthe (restaurant)
  3. Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant (restaurant)
  4. Carmel (attraction)
2 thankscomments (2)

answered by
Krista from San Francisco

So many great responses here! Feel compelled to chime in as this is my favorite drive in the US, and I've done it a number of times.

Beginning in SF, I recommend taking Highway 1 through Pacifica (stop for a great shot of the pier!), through Davenport (California)Santa Cruz and Capitola. Santa Cruz and Capitola both have cute little downtown areas, and I'd recommend stopping for a snack or picnic. If you find yourself in Santa Cruz, The Penny Ice Creamery has amazing ice cream!

From there, continue past Moss Landing (if you're hungry at this point, I recommend The Whole Enchilada and the market next door for fresh fruit & bulk snacks). Keep following Highway 1 to arrive in Monterey.

For your first night, I recommend staying in Monterey, Pacific Grove or Carmel. Regardless of which place you choose, there is tons to see and do nearby. In Monterey, I recommend seeing the downtown area (particularly if you're a fan of John Steinbeck, Thomas Kinkade or would like to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium). Pacific Grove is super cute and has a gorgeous walking path along the water, and Carmel is full of gorgeous shops and the beach. When in Carmel, be sure to grab an overpriced but delicious eggs benedict at Katy's Place, visit Carmel Plaza and the boutiques lining ocean avenue and see Scenic Rd. The famous Mission Ranch Hotel (owned by Clint Eastwood) is a fun place to have dinner and drinks, and may present an opportunity to see the man himself. :)

After leaving the Monterey Bay Peninsula, hop back on Highway 1 to cruise past Point Lobos State Reserve and make your way into Big Sur. An idyllic retreat, Big Sur presents the opportunity to dine on cliffs over looking the ocean (Nepenthe), witness a picturesque sunset (Pfeiffer State Beach) and witness some amazing crafts (Coast Gallery & Cafe). Be sure to stop by Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to see the natural waterfall! If you don't sleep in Carmel and want to try a neat experience, I love the yurts at Treebones Resort - and their phenomenal sushi bar is available to everyone, guests or not. 

Continuing further down Highway 1 will bring you into Cambria, where you can see elephant seals at Ano Nuevo State Reserve and visit the Hearst Castle. The castle really shouldn't be missed - it's spectacular! Keep going to arrive in Santa Barbara, a great spot for second night. I like Hotel Milo as it has a European feel, superb location and is reasonably priced. 

When you've finished up in SB, make the last leg of the journey to LA! As Fritzi mentioned, remaining on Highway 1 will give you amazing, coastal views coming into Malibu.

Hope this helps! :)

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Davenport (California) (city)
  2. Santa Cruz (city)
  3. Capitola (attraction)
  4. The Penny Ice Creamery (attraction)
  5. Moss Landing (city)
  6. The Whole Enchilada (restaurant)
  7. Monterey (city)
  8. Monterey Bay Aquarium (attraction)
  9. Katy's Place (restaurant)
  10. Carmel Plaza (attraction)
  11. Scenic Rd (attraction)
  12. Mission Ranch Hotel (hotel)
  13. Point Lobos State Reserve (attraction)
  14. Nepenthe (restaurant)
  15. Pfeiffer State Beach (attraction)
  16. Coast Gallery & Cafe (restaurant)
  17. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (attraction)
  18. Treebones Resort (hotel)
  19. Ano Nuevo State Reserve (attraction)
  20. Hearst Castle (attraction)
  21. Hotel Milo (hotel)
1 thanks

answered by
Nidhi from Ghaziabad, India

Hi Sid,

Must stop places include CarmelHearst Castle, Pismo Beach, Paso Robles and Santa Barbara. Spend the night in an area close to Big Sur. That will give you a chance to linger around in Big Sur which is amazingly beautiful.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Carmel (attraction)
  2. Hearst Castle (attraction)
  3. Pismo Beach (city)
  4. Paso Robles (city)
  5. Santa Barbara (city)
  6. Big Sur (city)
1 thankscomments (1)

answered by
Kelly from Los Angeles

This is such a fun road trip! I would definitely stop by the famous Bixby Creek Bridge in Big Sur for a photo op on your way down, and maybe Hearst Castle. An overnight in Santa Barbara would be great, since it's just two hours from L.A. and is small enough to see the highlights in a few hours. And at least one of you can enjoy a glass of wine! 

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Bixby Creek Bridge (attraction)
  2. Big Sur (city)
  3. Hearst Castle (attraction)
  4. Santa Barbara (city)
1 thanks

answered by
Rashel from Brooklyn, New York

Definitely Carmel & Big Sur.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Carmel (attraction)
  2. Big Sur (city)

answered by
Leonard from Minneapolis

Take the 17 Mile Dr , the most beautiful route out of San Francisco.  Carmel and Monterrey are beautiful places to spend half a day.  Cannery Row if you're a Steinbeck buff, and Monterey Bay Aquarium is spectacular.

As others have mentioned, Big Sur is a must.  Have your cameras ready. 

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. 17 Mile Dr (attraction)
  2. Cannery Row (attraction)
  3. Monterey Bay Aquarium (attraction)
  4. Big Sur (city)

answered by
Sid from Newark (Delaware)

So it looks like San Francisco to Carmel is about 2.5hrs so that would not be halfway, so what do you guys think of San Luis Obispo as a midpoint to stay the night and then next day go to Santa Barbara and Malibu Beach.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. San Francisco (city)
  2. Carmel (attraction)
  3. San Luis Obispo (city)
  4. Santa Barbara (city)
  5. Malibu Beach (attraction)

answered by
Phil from Liverpool

Rather than repeat everyone else's excellent suggestions, I'm going to show some love to San Gregorio State Beach and Isla Vista, which are both worth a look. 

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. San Gregorio State Beach (attraction)
  2. Isla Vista (hotel)

answered by
Scott from San Francisco

Stop in Cambria and dine at Sow's Ear where they have the best chicken and dumplings ever.  At some point you need to try something with Olallieberries, like pie if you can get it, or even toast with jam.  They have it in Carmel too.  

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Cambria (city)
  2. Sow's Ear (restaurant)
  3. Carmel (attraction)

answered by

I would also add CarmelSan Luis Obispo or Pismo Beach are good for the overnight stay.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Carmel (attraction)
  2. San Luis Obispo (city)
  3. Pismo Beach (city)

answered by

I agree that San Luis Obispo would be a good place to spend the night. If you are going to stop in Big Sur don't miss the Big Sur Bakery. 

answered by

Be sure to check out Hearst Castle in San Simeon and Big Sur. Santa Barbara is also great to visit if you have time.

answered by
Ryan from San Francisco

I did this trip a year or so ago. 17 mile drive through Pebble Beach is a MUST, also Hearst Castle in San Simeon was worth the trip. 

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Pebble Beach (attraction)
  2. Hearst Castle (attraction)

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