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One of the best car trips on the west coast of the United States is along the Pacific Coast Highway. Along the scenic California coast, you can drive from San Diego to Seattle and see many incredible places. Not everyone has time to drive the Pacific Coast Highway. If you have less time, you can drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles or vice versa. Wondering what you’ll see on the Pacific Coast Highway on the way from San Francisco to Los Angeles?

We have an excellent West Coast itinerary for those making the trip! But before you embark on this extraordinary journey to PCH, make sure you’re ready for a long one.

How far is San Francisco from Los Angeles?

If you drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles, you’ll cover almost 230 miles! Even if you think the trip will only take about 4 hours, it will be much longer due to the winding roads, rough terrain and stops you will make along the way.

stops in San Francisco to go to Los Angeles Road Trip

San Francisco

Be sure to set aside a few days during your trip to San Francisco to explore this amazing city by the sea.

There is so much to see and do before you leave, and depending on how much time you have to yourself, we have some great itineraries for San Francisco.

Santa Cruz

If you think of a beach town in California, it’s Santa Cruz!  Beach Boardwalk is a classic seaside amusement park located on a beautiful sandy beach in a friendly seaside town.

You’ll want to take all the time you need to visit the beach, see the natural stone bridge and, of course, take a ride on the giant Dipper roller coaster on the iconic boardwalk!

Natural Bridges State Beach

If there’s one beach you have to see, it’s Natural Bridges State Beach. You will see a beautiful natural bridge that is one of the most photographed natural wonders in California.

Apart from the bridge, the beach is full of life. You can watch whales, sea otters and birds, or explore the pools of seawater on the beach in search of starfish, crabs and shells.

Promenade

The famous Santa Cruz promenade is a place you should definitely visit when you go to Santa Cruz with your children. With over 40 different rides and attractions, there is something for everyone!

You can buy day passes, unlimited passes or just individual passes. Admission prices are the same for all age groups.

Monterrey

A trip to this peninsula gives you a glimpse of a different part of the California coast. One of the most beautiful coastal settlements, it was the center of John Steinbeck’s novel Cannery Row.

If you visit Cannery Row, where sardines used to be canned, you can still see signs of a once profitable industry (which eventually collapsed due to overfishing).

Today the area is protected as a national marine reserve. Stroll through the old buildings, have a bite to eat and enjoy the beautiful view of the water.

One of the most popular things to do in Monterey is go to the Coast Guard Pier to see the sea lions!  You can see them up close in a safe (closed) environment.

Pacific Grove

Just south of Monterey is the coastal town of Pacific Grove. You will definitely want to stop here to explore the beautiful views and beaches.

Pacific Grove is known for its Monarch Grove butterfly sanctuary and is nicknamed Butterfly City, USA. If you visit us in the fall, you will see them in groups in the sanctuary.

Stay in Pacific Grove

The Centrella Inn is a beautiful historic Victorian bed and breakfast and the perfect place to stay when traveling to Pacific Grove. Breakfast for the dog is included!

Carmel

Often referred to as Carmel-by-the-Sea, this seaside town has beautiful beaches that are perfect for sunset walks. If you spend some time in Carmel, take the time to explore Ocean Avenue with its quaint shops, cafes and beautiful architecture.

If you have time, you can take a FREE guided historical walk.

Basilica church

The main attraction (besides the beautiful beach) is the 300 year old Spanish mission of Carmel. The church of the basilica is classified as a national historic monument and can be visited.

There is an 18th-century stone basilica. There are several museums (Munras Family Heritage Museum, Convento Museum, Ho Mora Chapel Gallery) with exhibits ranging from colonial Spanish liturgical art to artifacts, mission restoration exhibits and a beautiful courtyard.

Open every day from 9.30 am to 5 pm.

Admission ticket to visit the mission site, the basilica and the museums.

  • 9,50 for adults
  • 7 for pensioners
  • 5 for children 7 years and older.
  • Free for children under 6 years old.

The funds will be used for the maintenance and restoration of the Carmel Mission.

Big Sur

Perhaps one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world can be found along this section of the Pacific Coast Highway. Big Sur is known for some of the most beautiful views on the Pacific coast.

Bixby Bridge

Stop and enjoy the beautiful natural rock formations that flow into the Pacific Ocean, and the view of the famous Bixby Bridge.

McVeigh Falls Viewpoint

Don’t forget to hike the McWay Falls Watch Trail. The trail passes under the highway and then heads north around McVay Bay, overlooking a waterfall and a beach created by a landslide in 1983.

Piedra Blancas

If you want to see seals while sailing from San Francisco to Los Angeles, the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Lodge is the perfect place to find them.

This area is a protected beach, which means that people are not allowed to go there. Here you will find many observation platforms to spot seals.

Free parking

Santa Barbara

When a major earthquake destroyed the city in 1925, it was rebuilt in the Spanish neo-colonial style. Walking through the city, you will be able to appreciate most of the beautiful architecture and historical sites.

Use this red tile Santa Barbara tour to get you started.

Mission of the Franciscans Santa Barbara

Don’t forget to visit the Franciscan mission in Santa Barbara. It was founded in 1786, collapsed in 1812 and was rebuilt in its present form. Be sure to visit this active parish church and admire its façade and sculptures from the colonial era.

Outside, take a walk through La Huerta’s historic garden and cemetery, where many former Spaniards and Chumash Indians are buried.

Malibu

This Los Angeles resort is where celebrities go to escape from it all. Driving along the Pacific Coast Highway, you can see the 21 miles of Malibu coastline.

If you’re looking for some beach time to break up the road along the PCH from San Francisco to Los Angeles, this is the place to be.

You will find that Malibu has a little bit of everything when it comes to beaches. There are sandy beaches, rocky beaches, small intimate beaches and large (crowded) beaches.

Whatever you decide, you will find that you will miss the sunlight and the waves of the ocean. The sunsets are also very spectacular!

All beaches in California are publicly owned. This means you have access to it no matter which beach you visit (even though some beaches are easier to visit than others).

Zuma is the most popular spot for sunbathers, but West is less crowded and offers convenient free parking. It’s easy to walk to Zuma if you still want to go.

If you head to the mountains, you’ll be able to see for yourself how the Woolsey Fire, which burned nearly 100,000 acres, changed the landscape.

What were once mansions and sprawling vegetation are now nothing more than alleys leading to nowhere and scorched earth.

Santa Monica

Santa Monica marks the end of Route 66. You will find beautiful beaches, all kinds of shops and of course the Santa Monica Pier.

Santa Monica Pier

You can’t go to Santa Monica and you can’t go to Santa Monica Marina and Pacific Park!

The Pacific Park amusement park is a child’s dream! There is a roller coaster, a carousel, a miniature golf course and a solar powered Ferris wheel, as well as many street performers and food vendors.

Everyone should take a drive down the Pacific Coast Highway at least once in their life, if they get the chance. You will see a side of the country that is beautiful and different from all the others.

Are you considering setting up the PCH in San Diego? Check out this list of 101 things to do in San Diego!

While the journey from California to Washington DC is an extraordinary one, we understand that not everyone can make the entire trip. Driving along the San Francisco – Los Angeles Drive, you can still see some of the most beautiful parts of the state.

Looking for other places to visit during your trip to California? Discover this 2-week journey through California!

Did you ride the PCH? What’s your favorite part?

Share your advice!

Fill under : California, day trips in North America, day trips in the United States, tag C: overnight stay, theme parks, architecture, church, national park, Pacific Coast Highway

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frequently asked questions

How long does it take to travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles?

It takes approximately 6h 16m to get from San Francisco to Los Angeles. (383.1 miles) via I-5 S, the most direct route. If you want to take the scenic route described here from SF to Los Angeles, it will take you approximately 9 hours and 19 minutes (454 miles) to do so on Highway 1.

What is the distance between San Francisco and Los Angeles?

The total distance between Los Angeles and San Francisco is 101 km, or approximately 420 miles. You can spend a week on the road if you make all the stops and follow all the interesting detours, but you can also do it in much less time.

How long does it take to travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco by Route 1?

The route is about 230 miles long and can be done in a day with a minimum of stops, although we recommend stopping frequently to enjoy the ride.

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