The California coast is one of the most popular road trip destinations in the country and one of the most beautiful places to take a road trip in the world. It’s no wonder it attracts tourists from around the globe every year! To ensure you have the most amazing road trip along California’s coastline, be sure to check out this Ultimate Guide to a California Coast Road Trip before setting off. It has everything you need to know about visiting the best areas along California’s coast, including Santa Barbara, Monterey, San Francisco, and more!
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California Coast Road Trip Itinerary
Stop 1: Starting from Los Angeles, California
There’s no better place to start your California road trip than in sunny Los Angeles. The “City of Angels” is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in the country, such as the Hollywood Sign and Santa Monica Pier. Spend a few days exploring all that LA has to offer before hitting the road.
One of the most popular places to visit in Los Angeles is the Hollywood Sign. The best way to see it is by taking a hike up to the top of Mount Lee, where you’ll get an incredible view of the city.
The Venice Canals are a must-see if you’re in Venice. These canals were once used to transport goods throughout the city, but now they’re a popular tourist destination for people who want to experience a bit of European charm in California.
Santa Monica Pier:
The Santa Monica Pier is one of the most iconic places in Los Angeles and is a must-visit for anyone who wants to experience the city’s beach culture. There are plenty of restaurants, shops, and attractions located on the pier, so be sure to spend a few hours exploring everything it has to offer!
Stop 2: Santa Barbara, California
After you’ve had your fill of Los Angeles, it’s time to hit the road and head north to Santa Barbara. This city is known for its Mediterranean-style architecture, beautiful beaches, and be sure to visit the lively Funk Zone neighborhood for wine tasting and delicious restaurants.
Read More: 28 of the Best Things to Do in Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara Mission:
The Santa Barbara Mission is a historical landmark built in the 18th century. Today, it’s a popular tourist destination for people who want to learn about the area’s history.
The Funk Zone is a must-visit for anyone who wants to experience Santa Barbara’s unique offerings. This area is home to numerous tasting rooms, restaurants, and shops so there’s something for everyone here.
Lotusland is a beautiful garden located just outside of Santa Barbara. It’s home to a variety of different plants and flowers, making it the perfect place to take a stroll and relax. Reservations in advance are required – book early!
McConnell’s Ice Cream:
No visit to Santa Barbara would be complete without a stop at McConnell’s Ice Cream. This ice cream shop has been serving up delicious desserts for over 50 years, it’s a local favorite, so you know it’s good! So if you’re in the mood for something sweet, be sure to stop by McConnell’s Ice Cream.
Stop 3: Solvang, California
Solvang is a small town located in Santa Barbara County known for its Danish-style architecture and the many surrounding wineries. Furthermore, it’s the perfect place to stop and rest for a day or two if you’re road-tripping up the coast.
Read More: 30 Charming Things to Do in Solvang
Solvang is a cute little town that’s full of charm. Be sure to walk around and explore all it offers, including its Danish-style architecture and many bakeries, shops, and restaurants.
Ostrichland is a unique attraction that’s located just outside of Solvang. Here, you can feed and pet ostriches and emus. It’s a great place to visit if you have kids! If you’ve never had the chance to see an ostrich up close, this is the perfect place to do it!
Read More: Feeding an Ostrich at Ostrichland
There are over 100 wineries located in and around Solvang, so this is the perfect place to go if you’re a fan of wine. Be sure to visit some of the local wineries during your stay and sample some of the delicious wines they offer.
Stop 4: Los Alamos, California
After Solvang, it’s time to continue up the coast to Los Alamos. This small town is located in the heart of California wine country and is home to some of the best wineries in the state.
Read More: 24 Things to Do in Los Alamos, CA
Bodega Wine Bar:
If you’re looking for a great place to drink wine in Los Alamos, look no further than the Bodega wine bar. This wine bar has an impressive selection of wines and an adorable courtyard and greenhouse in which to enjoy that wine with friends!
Los Alamos is home to several antique shops, so it’s the perfect place to go if you’re looking for unique finds and one-of-a-kind items. Be sure to stroll through the town and pop into some local shops during your visit.
The Skyview Motel is a great place to stay if you’re looking for affordable accommodations in Los Alamos. This motel is clean and comfortable, and it’s located in a quiet neighborhood. It’s also just a short walk from the town center, so you can easily walk to all the local restaurants and shops.
Read More: Checking In – Skyview Motel Review
Stop 5: Pismo Beach
Pismo Beach is one of the most popular beach towns in California. This town is known for its stunning beaches, delicious restaurants, and lively nightlife.
Read More: 14 Fun Things to Do in Pismo Beach
Look no further than the Splash Cafe if you’re looking for a great place to eat in Pismo Beach. This cafe offers a wide variety of breakfast and lunch items, all of which are made with fresh, local ingredients.
Read More: California Foods Every Visitor Must Try
The Pier is a must-visit for anyone who wants to experience the best that Pismo Beach has to offer. This pier is over 1,000 feet long, and it offers beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean and the coastline. It’s also a great place to go fishing, as many fish can be caught off the pier.
Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove:
The Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove is located just outside of Pismo Beach, and it’s a must-see for nature lovers. Every winter, thousands of monarch butterflies congregate in this grove, making it a truly magical place to visit.
Stop 6: San Luis Obispo
After Pismo Beach, it’s time to continue up the coast to San Luis Obispo. This charming town is located in the heart of California’s Central Coast, and it offers a wide variety of things to see and do.
Downtown San Louis Obispo boasts tree-lined streets, fantastic local businesses, trendy cafes, and intriguing attractions. The 1772 Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa is most notable, boasting an ornate interior, a small museum, and a beautiful garden. You can also check out Phoenix Books, a charming used bookstore where you might accidentally spend the entire afternoon. And right next door is Boo Boo Records for some vinyl. After a day of shopping and sightseeing, grab dinner at Woodstock Pizza, offering pizza, salads, and beer, or the Splash Cafe for some award winning clam chowder, or Granada Hotel & Bistro for dinner.
If you’re looking for a unique place to stay in San Luis Obispo, look no further than the Madonna Inn. This inn is famous for its over-the-top decor, which features pink walls, crystal chandeliers, and more. It’s definitely worth a visit if you want to experience something truly unique! Be sure to grab a slice of pink champagne cake!
Read More: Checking In: Madonna Inn Review
Bubble Gum Wall:
The Bubble Gum Wall is a must-see for anyone who visits San Luis Obispo. This wall is located in the city’s downtown area, and it’s covered in used gum that has been stuck to the wall over the years. It’s a strange but interesting sight, and it’s definitely worth a visit if you want to get a good photo.
Stop 7: Morro Bay
Morro Bay is a small town located on the Central Coast of California. This town is known for its beautiful setting, friendly residents, and abundance of outdoor activities.
Read More: 14 of the Best Things to Do in Morro Bay
One of the best things to do in Morro Bay is go otter-watching. These cute creatures can often be seen playing in the water or sunning themselves on the rocks, and they’re a sight to behold.
This iconic rock formation is located just offshore from Morro Bay, and it’s one of the town’s most popular tourist destinations. The views from Morro Rock are simply stunning, and it’s a great place to watch the sunset.
If you love seafood, you need to eat at Tognazzini’s Dockside Restaurant. This restaurant is located right on the water, so you can enjoy fresh, delicious seafood while taking in the beautiful views of Morro Bay.
Stop 8: Cayucos
Cayucos is a small town located on the Central Coast of California. This town is known for its laid-back atmosphere, beautiful beaches, and great surfing.
Brown Butter Cookie Co.:
If you’re looking for a delicious treat in Cayucos, look no further than the Brown Butter Cookie Co. This cookie company specializes in fresh, handmade brown butter cookies, and they’re absolutely amazing.
The Pier is one of Cayucos’ most popular tourist destinations. This pier offers stunning views of the ocean and the coastline, and it’s a great place to go fishing or simply take a walk and enjoy the fresh sea air.
Stop 9: Hearst Castle
Hearst Castle is a must-see for anyone who visits the Central Coast of California. This castle is located on a hilltop overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and it’s truly a sight to behold. Newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst built Hearst Castle, and it’s filled with opulent furnishings and artwork. A tour of Hearst Castle is an experience you won’t soon forget.
Stop 10: Big Sur
Big Sur is a beautiful stretch of coastline located on the Central Coast of California. This area is known for its rugged cliffs, redwood forests, and stunning ocean views.
Deetjan’s Big Sur Inn:
If you’re looking for a place to stay in Big Sur, look no further than Deetjan’s. This charming bed and breakfast is located right on the coast, and it offers amazing views of the Pacific Ocean.
McWay Falls is one of the most beautiful sights in Big Sur. This waterfall flows directly into the Pacific Ocean, and it’s a sight to behold.
Big Sur Bakery:
Look no further than the Big Sur Bakery if you’re looking for a great place to eat in Big Sur. This bakery is known for its delicious pastries and sandwiches, and it’s a great place to stop for a quick bite.
Stop 11: Monterey
Monterey is a beautiful city located on the Central Coast of California. This city is known for its rich history, abundant activities, and stunning views of Monterey Bay.
Cannery Row is a must-see for anyone who visits Monterey. This street was once home to a number of canneries, but it has since been transformed into a bustling tourist destination. Cannery Row is filled with shops, restaurants, and galleries, and it’s a great place to spend an afternoon.
Monterey Bay Aquarium:
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the most popular attractions in Monterey. This world-renowned aquarium is home to a wide variety of marine life, and it offers amazing exhibits and displays.
Monterey is a great place to go whale watching. This area is home to a large population of whales, and you’re likely to see them during your trip.
Salvidor Dali Museum:
If you’re a fan of Salvador Dali, you won’t want to miss the Salvidor Dali Museum in Monterey. This museum is home to some of Dali’s most famous works, and it’s a must-see for any art lover.
Stop 12: Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz is located on the southern extent of California’s Monterey Bay in Silicon Valley. The city has an eclectic downtown area with art galleries galore, great restaurants, and coffee shops to explore at your leisure, or hit up some local breweries if you’re interested!
The Boardwalk is Santa Cruz’s most famous attraction. This amusement park features a wide variety of rides and attractions, and it’s a great place to spend a day with the family.
The Mystery Spot is a must-see for anyone who visits Santa Cruz. This odd tourist attraction is home to some inexplicable phenomena, and it’s sure to leave you scratching your head. Don’t forget to grab a bumper sticker when you leave!
Natural Bridges State Beach:
Natural Bridges State Beach is one of Santa Cruz’s most beautiful destinations. This beach is known for its dramatic cliffs, crystal-clear water, and abundance of wildlife.
Stop 13: San Francisco
San Francisco is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States. This vibrant city is known for its incredible landmarks, diverse culture, and amazing food. Don’t forget to pack a sweater or light coat if you’re planning to stop in San Francisco!
Golden Gate Bridge:
The Golden Gate Bridge is San Francisco’s most iconic landmark. This bridge is known for its stunning architecture and amazing views!
Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco’s most famous attraction. This wharf is home to a number of shops, restaurants, and attractions, and it’s a great place to spend an afternoon.
If you’re looking for a unique San Francisco experience, be sure to check out the Musee Mechanique. This museum is home to a wide variety of vintage arcade games and photo booths. It’s a lot of fun for gamers of all ages. Located at Fisherman’s Wharf!
Alcatraz is one of the most popular tourist destinations in San Francisco. This former prison is now a museum, and it offers a fascinating look at American incarceration history.
Walt Disney Family Museum:
If you’re a fan of Walt Disney, then be sure to check out the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. This museum is home to a wide variety of Disney memorabilia, and it’s a must-see for any Disneyland lover.
The Cliff House is a historic San Francisco landmark that offers stunning views of the city and the bay. Unfortunately, the restaurant is closed, but it served up delicious seafood for over 150 years and it was a great place to enjoy a meal with a view. An art gallery has taken over the space temporarily and the building itself is amazing, so definitely check it out!
The Camera Obscura is a unique San Francisco landmark that offers visitors a one-of-a-kind experience. This building is home to a large cylindrical chamber that projects live images of the ocean onto its walls. It’s right next to the Cliff House and Sutro Baths ruins.
The Sutro Baths were a series of public baths that were once a popular tourist destination in San Francisco. These ruins offer stunning views of the city, and they’re a great place to explore on a sunny day. Located right next to the Cliff House and Camera Obscura. Wear sensible shoes.
Useful Tips For Planning A Road Trip Up The California Coast
Now that you know all the best places to stop on your road trip up the California coast, it’s time to start planning your trip! Here are a few useful tips to keep in mind as you plan your journey:
- Decide when you want to go. The peak tourist season along the California coast is from June to August. However, if you don’t mind crowds, this is a great time to enjoy all the attractions and activities that the region has to offer. If you’d prefer to avoid the crowds, consider planning your trip for May or September.
- Choose your mode of transportation. If you have your own car, then you’re in luck – the California coast is a great place to drive. However, if you’d prefer to take public transportation, there are a number of options available. For example, Amtrak runs several passenger trains up and down the coast and you can then Uber or Lyft around the bigger towns.
- Plan your route. There are a number of scenic routes that you can take along the California coast, so be sure to do some research before you start driving. You may also want to consider downloading a map or GPS app to help you find your way.
- Make reservations ahead of time. If you’re planning on staying in hotels or motels, it’s a good idea to make your reservations ahead of time. This will help you avoid being stranded in a city with no vacancies.
- Pack wisely. Be sure to pack for all weather conditions, as the weather can vary greatly from one region to another. You should also bring along a map and some snacks for the road.
- Have fun! Above all else, remember to relax and enjoy your trip. The California coast is a beautiful place, so take your time and soak it all in.
What To Pack For A Road Trip Up The California Coast
When you’re packing for a road trip, it’s important to bring along the essentials. Here are a few items that you won’t want to leave home without:
- Sunscreen: The California coast is famous for its sunny weather, so be sure to pack sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun’s rays.
- Bug spray: There are a lot of bugs in California, so be sure to bring along some bug spray to keep them at bay.
- Medication: If you’re traveling with prescription medication, be sure to pack enough for the entire trip.
- Maps: A good map can come in handy when you’re navigating your way through unfamiliar territory.
- Snacks: Road trips can be long and tiring, so be sure to pack some snacks to keep you going.
- Entertainment: If you’re traveling with children, be sure to bring along some games or toys to keep them occupied.
- A first-aid kit: It’s always a good idea to carry a first-aid kit with you in case of an emergency.
- A camera: Be sure to capture all the beauty of the California coast on camera!
Are you excited yet? It’s time to hit the road and explore all that California offers. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned pro, we hope this guide will help make your trip unforgettable. So what are you waiting for? Pack your bags and get ready for an adventure!
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I wanted to personally acknowledge these Indigenous people and nations and both their commitment and current contributions to the land with a donation to the American Indian College Fund because acknowledgment without action does not begin to address the systemic issues facing Indigenous people. If you feel as though you benefit from the land you’re living on or traveling to and you have the means, I kindly ask that you donate at least $1 to a Native-led organization such as the Native American Rights Fund or the American Indian College Fund.