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Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip: 23 Stops San Francisco to San Diego

Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip: 23 Stops San Francisco to San Diego

Quaint towns and bucket list cities, epic sunsets and stunning coastlines make driving California’s Pacific Coast Highway 1 from San Francisco to San Diego one of the most famous and unforgettable US road trips.

Smell the fresh Ocean air as you drive along the coastal highway between pristine beaches, scenic state parks and upmarket California towns from San Francisco, through Los Angeles and down to San Diego.

California’s Pacific Coast Highway is one of the all time great American road trips but you need to be prepared. Here, you will find 23 of the best stops to make and an example itinerary to help you plan the right way.

So, start downloading your favorite road trip tunes and let’s get stuck into planning your dream drive from San Francisco to San Diego!

*Please note this post may contain affiliate links. If you click on one, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you!*

California Pacific Coast Highway Factfile

Road Trip: Pacific Coast Highway
States: Washington, Oregon and California
Road Numbers: US-101, CA-1 and I-5

Start: Olympic National Park / Seattle, WA
End: San Diego, CA
Total Distance: Approximately 1,650 miles coastal route

Focus Area: San Francisco to San Diego California Pacific Coast Highway
Distance: 580 – 600 miles
Drive Time: Roughly 12 hours

Things to do: Photography, Beaches, Small Towns, Major Cities

Where Does The Pacific Coast Highway Start and End?

Pacific Coast Highway 1 California headland with Pacific Ocean

America is blessed with an incredibly scenic coast-hugging highway running almost the entire length of its Pacific seaboard from Seattle to San Diego.

Beginning close to Seattle WA, US-101 begins (or ends) in a loop around Olympic National Park and extends as far South as Leggett in Northern California.

The road splits and forms CA-1 which runs as far South as Dana Point between LA and San Diego, before transitioning into I-5 for the last few miles while still sticking tightly to the coastline.

Although driving the entire length of the Pacific Highway Coast would be incredible, it is extremely time consuming and most people choose to drive the popular San Francisco to San Diego portion only.

Personally, we decided to visit Yosemite, Joshua Tree and Death Valley as part of a wider California road trip before hitting the Pacific Highway Coast from SF to SD.

From this point on, when we refer to the Pacific Coast Highway we are only including the California portion between San Francisco and San Diego.

If you plan to hire a car in San Francisco or San Diego to drive the stunning California coastline, compare prices with Rental Cars for best value and most options.

California Pacific Coast Highway FAQ’s

Our car parked on the side of California Pacific Coast highway 1 at sunset

How Long Does It Take To Drive The California Pacific Coast Highway From San Francisco to San Diego?

Technically, you could drive California highway 1 in 10-12 hours without stopping.

But don’t do that!

Spend a minimum of 7 days, compromise at 10 days or hit the nail on the head with 2 weeks cruising down the sunny Pacific coast.

Is your goal is to see SF, LA and SD, with the stops in between just a bonus? It is easy to grossly underestimate how many days you need to spend between the big cities to make the most of your road trip.

In truth, we fell foul to underestimating time needed between SF, LA and SD. We didn’t allow ourselves enough time to make every stop of note along the stunning Pacific coast highway 1 route.

With that being said, our advice is to allow at least 10 days for this amazing road trip from San Francisco to San Diego.

See our example 10 days and 2 weeks road trips at the end for full details.

Note: If you plan to drive right through SF, LA and SD – 7 days is more than enough time to make the best stops.

Is The California Pacific Coast Highway Dangerous?

We can only report what we experienced ourselves and we can confidently say we never had any issues with safety when driving the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to San Diego.

However, we drove this road in November and not in the middle of Summer. The major problem we could foresee is extreme congestion in July and August.

If you’ve road tripped around other parts of the US, it’s unlikely you will find this road dangerous. Yes, it can be winding and narrow but there are far more dangerous roads than this one.

Remember, this section of the California coastline is among the best places to visit in the USA so you should carefully consider exactly when you want to drive this amazing road trip route.

What Is The Best Time Of Year To Drive The California Pacific Coast Highway?

The best time depends entirely on your travel preferences.

Summer is of course going to provide more favorable weather conditions but the roads will also be jam packed every single day. In addition, you can expect hotel prices to be jacked and restaurants will fill on evenings in the popular towns.

Our recommendation is Spring or Fall for fewer crowds but still excellent weather, it is California after all! Hotels should be more affordable and you won’t struggle to find parking spaces every time you stop.

Road Trip Preparation: Before you leave on your epic California road trip, be sure to pack this list of road trip essentials and read our top 10 tips on how to plan a successful road trip.

23 Stops You Shouldn’t Miss On Your California Pacific Coast Highway 1 Road Trip Between San Francisco And San Diego

Driving the Pacific Coast Highway without stopping is like going to Paris and not going up the Eiffel Tower.

Depending on how many days you have for your road trip, consider including as many of these stops as possible.

Remember, there are many more places you can include on your road trip that we did not stop at and therefore did not include in this list.

You absolutely do not have to stop at all of the places on this list, but these options will give you an idea of some fantastic places you can include on your itinerary,

We’re including SF, LA and SD in this list because they are an integral part of the Pacific coast highway road trip and shouldn’t be bypassed.

Our route was North to South and that is how we will order this list. Flip it around if you plan to travel South to North (San Diego to San Francisco).

The map above shows each of the stops numbered 1-23 as red icons. You can click each icon to read more information about the stops.

Purple icons indicate each hotel recommendation so you can see how close they are to all stops along the coastal road.

Click into the map and move around to orientate yourself with the geography of this region, it always helps with planning.

1. San Francisco

San Francisco at dawn with Oakland Bridge and tram lines SF is one of the 3 big cities to stop at along California's Pacific Coast Highway road trip

San Francisco is one of the top US bucket list cities thanks to a world famous orange bridge, a notorious prison out in its bay and a fabled cable car system.

The walkable city is full of character and unmissable when visiting California.

SF is an amazing city filled with unique things to do and see, great food and a chilled vibe. Spend time simply walking around neighborhoods such as Embarcadero, Fisherman’s Wharf and Mission District.

2. Golden Gate Bridge

Photographing San Francisco's golden gate bridge is one of the best things to do on a pacific coast highway road trip driving from San Francisco to San Diego

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge is the most photographed bridge on the planet. Its international orange color is instantly recognizable and if you’re lucky you will see it piercing out of lingering fog in SF bay.

You can see the bridge from a number of areas around SF, but there are a handful with exceptional views. Battery Spencer and Marshall’s Beach offer 2 of the most iconic photography locations.

3. Alcatraz

Alcatraz Island from SF bay Pier 33 with telephoto lens the rock looks desolate

There are times when tours can do a disservice to historic monuments or landmarks. Thankfully, Alcatraz is not one of those times!

On the contrary, the tour of Alcatraz prison is filled with excellent information, plus special talks about escape attempts, locking systems and much more.

You will board an Alcatraz ferry at Pier 33 but be sure to book in advance to avoid disappointment on the day. Audio headsets play commentary in multiple languages and we can’t recommend the tour highly enough.

4. Half Moon Bay State Beach

Half Moon Bay state beach 4 miles of golden sand on the pacific coast near San Francisco

The first stop once you leave SF is Half Moon Bay beach. This 4 mile long beach belongs to the State of California and that means you have to pay US$ 10 to park your car.

Get used to this because it happens a lot on the Pacific Coast highway!

If you left SF in late afternoon or early evening, enjoy spending sunset on the beach. But if this is just the start of your day, don’t spend too long here as there’s plenty more sand to come.

  • Distance from last stop: 30 miles from San Francisco downtown.
  • Time required: 1 hour max if only passing through.
  • Top tip: There is limited parking on the roads leading up to the beach, arrive early to snag one.
  • Where to stay: Luxurious suite on the beach – Beach House Half Moon Bay

5. Pigeon Point Lighthouse

Pigeon Point Lighthouse tallest lighthouse on west coast of US fantastic stop on California highway 1 between SF and LA

Pigeon Point Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse on America’s West coast. Built in 1871, the towering 115 ft white lighthouse is incredibly picturesque as it sits atop a rocky coastline.

The lighthouse looks exactly like a New England lighthouse and still actively aids navigation.

Again, if you left SF later in the day, there are worse places to watch the sunset, particularly if you are into photography! You can even sleep inside the lighthouse as it is now also a hostel.

  • Distance from last stop: 21 miles from Half Moon Bay.
  • Time required: 30 mins to 1 hour max if only passing through.
  • Top tip: The best time to photograph Pigeon point lighthouse is sunset.
  • Where to stay: Inside the Lighthouse! – Pigeon Point Lighthouse

6. Shark Fin Cove

Shark fin cove is a small secluded cove with cave and huge rock shaped like a shark fin close to San Francisco California

Shark Fin Cove is one of many outstanding rock formations you will drive past on the Pacific Coast highway. The huge and intriguing shark fin shaped rock is a great place to visit when traveling with kids.

After explaining that the biggest shark in the world lives here, take them down to the beach to see the shark’s fin framed through a small cave.

A calm day and low tide will help frame the enormous fin shaped rock for sunset photographers shooting long exposures.

  • Distance from last stop: 18 miles from Pigeon Point Lighthouse.
  • Time required: 30 mins to 1 hour max if only passing through.
  • Top tip: The sea cave is another fantastic location for stunning California sunset photography.
  • Where to stay: Nearby Santa Cruz – Budget: Mission Inn / Luxury: Inn at Depot Hill.

7. Natural Bridges State Beach

Natural bridges state park near Santa Cruz is the perfect place to watch sunset over California's pacific coast not far from highway 1

Natural Bridges state beach is another you have to pay to park but is worth it if you’re arriving just before sunset. At low tide, you can explore rock pools to discover sea stars and crabs. Just off shore you might see otters and seals playing, maybe even migrating whales if you’re lucky.

The beach is small but clean and neat. Natural bridges’ focal point is a stand alone rock formation with arched doorway-like cave just a few meters out into the Ocean.

Dozens of shore birds will wade along the beach as the Ocean flows and ebbs gently with a stunning orange sky at dusk.

  • Distance from last stop: 9 miles from Shark Fin Cove.
  • Time required: 30 mins to 1 hour max if only passing through, longer for sunset.
  • Top tip: End your first day on Pacific Coast highway 1 here or in Monterey up next.
  • Where to stay: Santa Cruz – Budget: Mission Inn / Luxury: Inn at Depot Hill.

8. Monterrey

Kristen looking through a telescope near Monterey Bay California when driving San Francisco to San Diego pacific coast highway 1

Monterey is the first town to spend a good amount of time in after leaving SF. The charming town is perfect for a morning stroll. Don’t miss Cannery Row which was once the center of Sardine packing factories, now converted into restaurants, galleries and shops.

The major highlight of Monterey Bay is its aquarium, which is widely regarded as one of the best in the United States. It was the first to care for and display a great white shark and house a kelp forest.

Further around the headland you will find lovers point park and point pinos lighthouse. Walk around both quickly before moving on to the next stop.

  • Distance from last stop: 45 miles from Natural Bridges state beach.
  • Time required: 2-3 hours total, more if eating breakfast in town.
  • Top tip: Those with more time and budget, stick around Monterey area an extra night.
  • Where to stay: Monterey – Budget: Wave Street Inn / Luxury: Monterey Plaza.

9. 17 Mile Drive

Lone Cypress Tree on 17 mile drive in Monterey Bay near pebble beach golf club

17 mile drive is a wonderful coastal road filled with beaches, rocky headlands and super-sized mansions – all owned by Pebble Beach Corporation. Pebble beach is a gated community and 17 mile drive is part of the community so you do have to pay US$ 10.50 to drive the road.

Is it worth it? Yes.

You will find a dozen or so highlights to stop off along the road to admire scenery, sea life and golf courses.

The most famous attraction is called Lone Cypress Tree, a tree standing guard alone on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Pacific.

The final stops on 17 mile drive? Cypress Point and Pebble beach golf clubs.

Both considered among the best courses in America and Pebble Beach of course is steeped in US Open tour history.

  • Distance from last stop: 2 miles from Monterey Bay aquarium.
  • Time required: 2-4 hours total, depending on how much you like golf!
  • Top tip: Near Pebble beach you’ll see some of the biggest houses you’re likely to see in person!
  • Where to stay: Carmel-by-the-Sea – Candle Light Inn or Carriage House Inn

10. Pebble Beach Golf Club

Mark at Pebble Beach golf club next to golf cart in Monterey California

Pebble Beach has hosted the US Open on 6 occasions, the last being in 2019 when Gary Woodland won his first major. With a backdrop of the Pacific Ocean, it’s easy to see why this place is so popular.

Widely regarded as one of the best golf courses in the world, Pebble beach can in fact be played by non guests or members … as long as you have US$ 525 plus US$ 92.50 for a caddie going spare.

More realistically, go to the museum and walk around the club grounds. Definitely worth visiting.

  • Distance from last stop: At the end of 17 mile drive.
  • Time required: 1 hour to look around museum and grounds.
  • Top tip: You can go inside Pebble Beach club house and to 18th hole viewing area.
  • Where to stay: Carmel-by-the-Sea – Candle Light Inn or Carriage House Inn

11. Carmel-by-the-Sea

Shopping in stunning buildings in Carmel-by-the-sea village beautifully kept and one of the nicer stops on California's pacific coast highway

Carmel-by-the-Sea is simply stunning. There’s not a whole lot to do except walk around the lovely shops, boutiques, art galleries and restaurants before walking down Ocean avenue to Carmel beach.

Stop in a cafe or grab an ice cream to accompany you as you take in the scenery of this idyllic town.

Note: If traveling North to South, there are very few hotel options between Carmel and San Simeon / Cambria / Morro Bay. Plan to leave no later than lunch otherwise you’ll be driving 30-40 miles in the dark!

  • Distance from last stop: 2.5 miles from Pebble Beach golf club.
  • Time required: 2 hours to look around beautiful tiny town, 3 with beach visit.
  • Top tip: Town center is less than half a mile to Carmel beach, easily walkable.
  • Where to stay: Carmel-by-the-Sea – Candle Light Inn or Carriage House Inn

12. Bixby Creek Bridge

Bixby bridge curving over headlands close to Big Sur in California on the Pacific Coast highway 1

Bixby bridge is one of the most popular stop offs along California’s Pacific coast highway and offers awesome photography opportunities. This is selfie central prepare for crowds here!

There is one small paved parking area but it will fill quickly and it’s likely you will have to use the dirt path parking lot. Maneuvering in and out can be challenging and requires patience.

It’s worth the effort once you can relax with amazing views of Bixby bridge and a Pacific Ocean backdrop.

  • Distance from last stop: 15 miles from Carmel-by-the-Sea.
  • Time required: 1 hour max to soak up views and get some bucket list selfies.
  • Top tip: When reading map or GPS, prepare to stop at Castle Rock Viewpoint.
  • Where to stay: Big Sur – Budget: Big Sur River Inn / Luxury (5*): Ventana

13. Point Sur

Point Sur lighthouse and naval facility sits on an island like headland jutting out into the Pacific Ocean

Point Sur is a California State Park and Naval facility located at the heart of Big Sur’s stretch of coastline along the Pacific Coast highway road trip route.

Erosion over time has formed a beach between the mainland and Point Sur, which can be walked on with guided tour on Wednesdays and weekends throughout the year for US$ 15 per person.

The gigantic volcanic rock stands alone at the end of Point Sur and is home to Point Sur Lighthouse, which was completed in 1889 after multiple shipwrecks.

The lighthouse plays a crucial role today in preventing more sea floor wrecks.

  • Distance from last stop: 6.6 miles from Bixby bridge creek.
  • Time required: 30 mins – 1 hour, unless taking guided tour.
  • Top tip: Best seen early in day, afternoon sun is strong directly behind Point Sur.
  • Where to stay: Big Sur – Budget: Big Sur River Inn / Luxury (5*): Ventana

14. Partington Cove

Partington Cove is an unusual short hiking trail from California's pacific coast highway leading to a rough sea cove with rocks to climb

Pfeiffer Beach is one of the most serene beaches to stop at between San Francisco and San Diego, but it’s popular and comes with another entrance fee. Either spend an hour relaxing at one of the best beaches in California for families or continue on to the next stop, Partington Cove.

Partington Cove offers one of the only popular hiking opportunities along the California Pacific Coast highway. Park up on a curved part of the road and find a metal gated entrance half way around the bend.

A short but fairly steep trail in good condition leads you down into the canyon.

When you reach the first junction, turn right and shortly after turn left before crossing a wooden bridge. In a matter of seconds you will reach the entrance to a 60 foot wooden tunnel.

Partington Cove opens up once you reach the end of the tunnel. If you feel confident and safe, climb across boulders to find the perfect place for watching waves crashing into the cove.

Note: If traveling North to South, you’ll need to continue to at least San Simeon for accommodation options. Cambria and Morro Bay offer more hotel options after San Simeon.

  • Distance from last stop: 18 miles from Point Sur.
  • Time required: 2 hours to hike down, explore and return to car.
  • Top tip: Wear shoes with good grips to climb around boulders.
  • Where to stay: Budget – San Simeon / Luxury – Cambria (55 miles South)

15. McWay Falls

McWay falls is the single most stunning natural feature along California Pacific coast highway 1 thin waterfall plunging onto a sandy beach and joining the ocean as the tide gently washes in

McWay Falls was our favorite natural feature of the entire California Pacific Coast highway road trip. It’s not every day you get to see a perfectly streamlined waterfall plunge off a rock and land on a beach!

As the Pacific Ocean tide gently washes up the tiny McWay sandy beach, McWay Falls lands in sand then water, sand then water. It’s a lovely scene.

The walk to a viewing point does not begin on the main road, you need to walk inside the Parking lot and on a path passing under highway 1. This then leads you to a viewing terrace which will be crammed full of tourists.

We visited around 5pm, just before sunset and it was packed in November.

  • Distance from last stop: 2 miles from Partington Cove.
  • Time required: 1 hour to soak up the waterfall scene.
  • Top tip: If visiting in daylight, take your ND filter to get silky water photographs.
  • Where to stay: Budget – San Simeon / Luxury – Cambria (55 miles South)

16. Morro Bay

Morro Bay is an intriguing town between San Francisco and Los Angeles huge random rock at sea with colors in sky

Morro Bay is a small waterfront city named after a 580 ft tall volcanic rock named Morro Rock. A quaint harbor is protected by the huge rock, making for calm waters and paddling opportunities.

Otters are regular visitors to the marinas and often play in the shallow water. Morro rock is a pretty awesome sight, particularly when it draws in swirling and colorful clouds at dawn or dusk.

  • Distance from last stop: 81 miles from McWay Falls.
  • Time required: 1 hour Morro Bay harbor front, more if go to nearby state parks.
  • Top tip: Don’t miss the epic hand carved beef sandwiches at Hofbrau der Albatross.
  • Where to stay: Masterpiece Hotel – Awesome Roman spa hot tub in basement!

17. San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo chewing gum alleyway is weird but a fun stop off on the way to LA

San Luis Obispo – or SLO CAL for short – is one of California’s oldest European founded cities. 

Oddly, the quirky main attraction in San Luis Obispo is an alleyway that has been completely covered in bubble gum. Yep, you read that right!

We were intrigued, so we parked up on the Main Street right next to the alley and true to its word. there is not a single bit of concrete showing.

SLO Cal is home of California Polytechnic University, a popular farmers market and Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa – a Spanish mission.

  • Distance from last stop: 14 miles from Morro Bay.
  • Time required: 1 hours to look around town.
  • Top tip: Scout Coffee near Bubblegum Alley serves up excellent coffee.
  • Where to stay: Garden Street Inn – Boutique French country decor.

18. Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach pier big beach with blue lifeguard hut

Pismo Beach is a laid back beach town offering the classic Californian wooden pier extending across golden sand and out over 1,000 ft into the Pacific Ocean.

As with most stops along the Pacific Coast highway, Pismo Beach pier is best seen at sunset. If only we could stop time at sunset to do this entire road trip!

Nearby is Dinosaur caves park which provides elevated views over the pier and beach, plus a Eucalyptus tree grove created for Monarch Butterflies, who fill the grove between November and February.

  • Distance from last stop: 12 miles from San Luis Obispo.
  • Time required: 1 hour walk around the beach and pier.
  • Top tip: Oyster Loft is a cracking sea food restaurant.
  • Where to stay: Inn at the Pier – Pool and fitness center, meters from the beach.

19. Solvang

Solvang Danish town in California is unique strange but awesome definitely stop here when driving pacific highway 1 from San Francisco to San Diego along the coast

Solvang is a tiny picturesque town offering a taste of Denmark in sunny California. This is one of the best stops along the Pacific Coast highway and should not be missed.

Traditional Danish architecture, a windmill and rows of boutique stores will keep you busy for a few hours. Don’t miss Mortensen’s bakery, Copenhagen sausage garden and any of many coffee shops or chocolatiers.

The entire town is stunning so be sure to explore each and every street.

  • Distance from last stop: 64 miles from Pismo Beach.
  • Time required: 2 hours to explore the awesome and unique town.
  • Top tip: Turn up a side street for free parking.
  • Where to stay: Mirabelle Inn – Beautiful boutique hotel.

20. Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Pier near sunset long shadows casting and usa flags waving in wind

Santa Barbara has been dubbed ‘the American Riviera’ and when you see the Spanish colonial influence combined with basking in the Mediterranean climate you will know why!

Upmarket, classy and a very popular tourist destination, Santa Barbara is the perfect place to park the car and unwind for a day or two if you have the spare time.

Walk down State street, sampling world famous wines and fantastic restaurants, until you reach Santa Barbara Pier and the beachfront.

When planning your itinerary, strongly consider a day trip to Channel Islands national park – just 20 miles off the coast of Santa Barbara.

If traveling with kids, Santa Barbara zoo is very highly rated and just a few miles outside of town.

  • Distance from last stop: 46 miles on US-101 (or 33 miles on CA-154) from Solvang.
  • Time required: Half a day to two full days depending on your timeframe.
  • Top tip: Drive CA-154 into Santa Barbara for amazing views over the city on approach.
  • Where to stay: Santa Barbara – Harbor House Inn or Harbor View Inn

21. Los Angeles

Los Angeles is the biggest of the 3 cities along California Pacific Coast highway 1 from San Francisco to San Diego Hollywood sign from Mt Lee overlooking LA city amazing view

Los Angeles needs no introduction!

The city of angels is world famous for Hollywood and movies but there’s so much more going on in LA and you need a minimum of 2 full days to explore.

Hollywood, Santa Monica, Downtown LA, movie studio tours, live screening of game show or talk show, the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory are just some of things you can’t miss in Los Angeles.

After driving for a few days it will be nice to park the car and leave it for a few days as you discover the glitz and glamour of Tinseltown.

22. Warner Bros Movie Studio Tour

Warner Bros studio tour is worth checking out when visiting Los Angeles and Hollywood friends sofa with mark and kristen

Movie studio tours are quintessential tourist trail attractions for first time visitors to LA and the perfect way to break up driving along the Pacific Coast highway.

We can only vouch for the quality of Warner Bros but you can also choose between Sony, Paramount and Universal studio tours.

Typically you will see familiar looking external sets, studio lot sets for currently running tv shows, costumes, sound stages, exhibits and props.

Warner Bros top exhibits are DC, Batman, Friends, Big Bang Theory and Harry Potter. 

23. San Diego

San Diego night skyline from Coronado island looking amazing and still San Diego is the end of California's Pacific Coast Highway and the perfect place to complete the epic road trip from San Francisco

America’s finest city. What better place to end the epic Pacific Coast highway road trip?!

Easily one of our favorite US cities, we suggest you allow at least 2 full days for exploring San Diego and its surrounding areas.

San Diego’s laid back vibe and perfect climate will leave you wishing you had more days to spend here. The vacation you will need after your Pacific coast highway vacation!

Balboa Park, Gaslamp, Coronado, La Jolla, Old Town and every beach from Torrey Pines back into town should not be missed when ending at San Diego.

Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip San Francisco to San Diego Example Itinerary

Phew, that’s a lot of stops!

And there are dozens more you could stop at that we didn’t include. It comes down to prioritizing the stops you like the look of most for your timeframe.

The problem with so many potential places to visit is how do you fit them all into a specific timeframe?

Let’s take a look at some examples of how you can plan your Pacific Coast highway road trip itinerary. 

We’re driving North to South (San Francisco to San Diego) for these itineraries but you can follow them oppositely if traveling South to North.

San Francisco to San Diego – 10 Days Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

  • D1 – San Francisco > Tram, Fisherman’s Wharf, Golden Gate Bridge, Lombard Street – Sleep SF
  • D2 – San Francisco > Embarcadero, Alcatraz, Chinatown, Union Square, Coit Tower – Sleep SF
  • D3 – Twin Peaks, Half Moon Bay, Pigeon Point, Shark Fin Cove, Natural Bridges – Sleep Monterey
  • D4 – Monterey Bay, 17 mile drive, Pebble Beach, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Bixby Bridge, Point Sur, Partington Cove, McWay Falls – Sleep San Simeon / Cambria / Morro Bay
  • D5 – Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo, Pismo Beach, Solvang, Santa Barbara – Sleep Santa Barbara
  • D6 – Los Angeles > Malibu, Beverly Hills, Hollywood – Sleep LA
  • D7 – Los Angeles > Downtown, Santa Monica, Venice – Sleep LA
  • D8 – Los Angeles > Movie studio tour, game show, Griffith Observatory, Hollywood sign – Sleep LA
  • D9 – San Diego > Beaches, La Jolla, Old Town – Sleep SD
  • D10 – San Diego > Coronado, Embarcadero, Balboa Park, Gaslamp – Sleep SD

This itinerary is action packed with little time for resting in between. Pardon the pun but you wouldn’t be able to take your foot off the gas until after the road trip!

You could potentially sacrifice a night in LA to add a night between Day 4 and Day 5 if you can find accommodation in Big Sur stretch of Pacific Coast highway.

Otherwise Day 4 is long with a lot of driving and stops.

Our example: We ended up driving 81 miles from McWay Falls to Morro Bay in the dark, which meant we missed a big portion of the coastal highway. But there has to be some give at one stage or another, right?!

San Francisco to San Diego – 2 Weeks Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

  • D1 – San Francisco > Tram, Fisherman’s Wharf, Golden Gate Bridge, Lombard Street – Sleep SF
  • D2 – San Francisco > Embarcadero, Alcatraz, Chinatown, Union Square, Coit Tower – Sleep SF
  • D3 – Twin Peaks, Half Moon Bay, Pigeon Point, Shark Fin Cove, Natural Bridges – Sleep Santa Cruz
  • D4 –  Monterey > Aquarium, Lovers Point, Beach, Cannery Row, Relax – Sleep Monterey
  • D5 – Monterey Bay, 17 mile drive, Pebble Beach, Carmel-by-the-Sea – Sleep Carmel
  • D6 – Bixby Bridge, Point Sur, Partington Cove, McWay Falls – Sleep San Simeon / Cambria / Morro Bay
  • D7 – Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo, Pismo Beach, Solvang, Santa Barbara – Sleep Santa Barbara
  • D8 – Santa Barbara > State Street, Pier, Beach, Malibu – Sleep LA
  • D9 – Los Angeles > Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Mulholland Drive – Sleep LA
  • D10 – Los Angeles > Downtown, Santa Monica, Venice – Sleep LA
  • D11 – Los Angeles > Movie studio tour, game show, Griffith Observatory, Hollywood sign – Sleep LA
  • D12 – San Diego > Newport Beach, Torrey Pines, SD Beaches, La Jolla – Sleep SD
  • D13 – San Diego > Balboa Park, Old Town, Little Italy, Embarcadero – Sleep SD
  • D14 – San Diego > Coronado, Gaslamp, Relax – Sleep SD

The extra days on this itinerary allow a much slower pace, including more time spent in some of the smaller cities along the Pacific Coast highway.

It all boils down to personal preference.

You might prefer to spend less time in LA to allow more time in Santa Barbara, for example. Monterey is a lovely place but there’s much less to do than in SF or SD.

Tailor your itinerary to suit exactly how you prefer to spend you time.

If you would like any help with planning your Pacific Coast highway road trip, please don’t hesitate to leave us a comment or send us an email.

More Amazing US Road Trips

We hope this helped you plan your stops along the California Pacific Coast Highway 1 Road Trip between San Francisco and San Diego!

Please let us know if you have any questions or need any help with planning your itinerary.

Happy Road Tripping,

Mark and Kristen

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gary notley

Wednesday 21st of September 2022

Thank you planned our trip and some really useful suggestions

Mark and Kristen Morgan

Wednesday 21st of September 2022

Thanks for letting us know, Gary. We hope you have a fantastic trip driving the PCH!

Samer Hanna

Tuesday 30th of August 2022

Hello, Thank you so much for this helpful article. My wife and I are planning a trip from SD to SF for 10 days as part of our honeymoon and we would really appreciate any help and recommendations for places to stay and/or explore! Thank you!

Mark and Kristen Morgan

Wednesday 31st of August 2022

Hi Samer, congrats on your wedding and the drive from SD to SF will be a fantastic part of your honeymoon! At the bottom of every stop in our guide we included the best available places to stay based on guest rating and location to that particular stop. The best places for a couple to visit on the drive are Santa Barbara, Solvang, Big Sur coastline, Carmel-by-the-Sea, 17 mile drive and Half Moon Bay. Have an amazing time guys!


Sunday 10th of April 2022

This post has helped me so much to organize ideas for our trip. We are doing San Fran to San Diego begining dec. 24 and ending on Jan. 6 with two kids. We wanted to squeeze disney land and maybe the sandiego zoo in there or even any other park for them to enjoy. Any suggestions on how to plan for this in order and where to stay when we go to the parks? Thank you!

Mark and Kristen Morgan

Monday 11th of April 2022

Hi MG, thanks for getting in touch and we're happy to hear your family will be driving San Francisco to San Diego over Christmas and New Year, that will be some trip! Adding in San Diego Zoo will be easy, it is right in Balboa Park near the main touristy areas. Just give yourself the final day of your itinerary for exploring San Diego, there's loads to do (it's one of our favorite cities in the US!). You won't need to stay in another hotel, just use the same one for your entire stay in San Diego. Disneyland is located right off I-5 in Anaheim heading South from LA toward San Diego. After you're done in LA, take I-5 and allow a full day for Disneyland, there are dozens of hotels pretty much on site around the complex or you can drive 30 minutes to Newport Beach / Laguna Beach to stay there before driving on to San Diego the next morning. Let us know if you need any more help and we hope you all have the best trip!


Friday 25th of March 2022

Looking for itinerary for trip down the west coast months from now. @ 12 days

Seattle to Santa Barbara. Any ideas ? Thanks

Mark and Kristen Morgan

Saturday 2nd of April 2022

Hi JB, without knowing if you're interested in cities, photography, beaches, hiking etc we'd suggest picking 5 or 6 stops along the route you definitely want to include on your drive down. If you stick to the PCH, you're looking at almost 1,300 miles in 12 days and it will be slower going, so you might want to consider jumping on I-5 for a few stretches to eat up some miles. You could try: Cannon Beach is a great place to stay night 1 if you stick to the coastline. Yachats night 2, Bandon night 3, Brookings night 4, visit Redwoods and night 5 nearby, Mendocino night 6, night 7 and 8 in SF, Monterey night 9, San Simeon or Cambria night 10, Solvang night 11, arrive Santa Barbara day 12. But there's plenty of room for you to adjust those days around your preferences. Have a great drive down the coast!

Grace Palasz

Tuesday 17th of August 2021

Great article!!! We are planning a trip through the costaline from san francisco to san diego as well but with 3 children. We only have 10 days but would like to go with the kids to certain specific things like san diego zoo, sea world, disney, on our trip. How would you plan a trip with all the deiving time and length in eac city. We were thinking San Francisco- monterrey sleep there and then go to santa barbara sledp there and then go to LA (sleep in OC) amd then san diego. How would you guys order the trip?

Mark and Kristen Morgan

Thursday 19th of August 2021

Hi Grace, sounds like a great trip for the kids! There's always a compromise on a 10 day trip like this one, either cut time in the cities or cut time stopping in between. If you want to do disney, sea world and the SD zoo, you will need to put in a few longer driving days as you have suggested above. The part between Monterey and Santa Barbara is beautiful and there's a lot to see, so doing this in one day would be a shame but your priorities are for the kids so stick to your plan as above. We would do something along these lines: SF 2 days - Monterey & Carmel 1 day - Cambria 1 day - Santa Barbara 1 day - OC 2 days - San Diego 2 days. That will keep drive time down and should be enough time to hit the kids attractions. Let us know if you need any more help or tips, otherwise have a fantastic trip!