8 Best Stops from L.A. to San Francisco Road Tripfull disclosure for further information.
Driving along the Pacific Coast from Los Angeles to San Francisco has been one of my favorite drives. The quickest way to get from L.A. to San Fran is via the Interstate 5 freeway. But there’s not much to see this route. For a more memorable West Coast road trip, I recommend driving the legendary Pacific Coast Highway 1. Although highway 1 is longer and more difficult, the Pacific Coast Highway road trip will always stay in your memory as this route offers one of the most scenic drives in the country.
On the road, there are very few restaurants. Make sure to pack some food as the beauty of this road trip consists of picnics with gorgeous panoramic views.
This post features my favorite places to see along the Pacific Coast from South to North. I’ll be sharing some things to see and do in these places.
Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica Pier is located at the westernmost point in Santa Monica. You’ll know you arrived at the Pier the moment you see the iconic Ferris Wheel. Since the Pier is set in a picturesque seaside community, the place has many family-friendly activities and places to eat. On top of that, the Pier offers stunning views and over a century worth of history.
To this day, fishing is still one of the most popular activities in this area. If you’re looking for the perfect place to take a selfie, there’s an iconic Santa Monica Yacht Harbor neon sign, which was unveiled in the 1940s.
If you’d like to explore more places in Santa Monica, here are some popular things to do:
1 – Tours & Sightseeing in Santa Monica
- Full-Day Iconic Sights of L.A., Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Beaches
- Perfect 5 1/2 Hour L.A. & Holywood Tour from Santa Monica
- The Best of L.A. Tour from Anaheim or L.A.: Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Beaches
- Small-Group Day Tour of Hollywood, L.A. and Beaches from Anaheim
- Santa Monica and Venice Beach Segway Tour
- Small-Group Los Angeles Sightseeing Day tour from Anaheim
- Private Half-Day Hollywood and Santa Monica Tour with Pickup
- Los Angeles Private Tour
- Private limo 5-Hour Tour of Los Angeles and Beach Cities
3 – Shopping in Santa Monica
- Third Street Promenade
- Santa Monica Place
- Santa Monica Farmers Market
- Santa Monica Outdoor Antique & Collectible Market
4 – Points of Interest & Landmarks in Santa Monica
The next amazing spot is the Malibu Pier. Same as Santa Monica, this place is full of history dating back to 1905. Also, this iconic place is famous for its landmarks such as dual white towers, rough-hewn planks and sweeping views of the coast.
When you visit this fantastic place, you will be amazed by its exceptional restaurants and shopping and enjoy the views of surfers and dolphins.
There are so many fun things to do at this place. To name a few, you can include the following in your bucket list:
- Malibu Farm Restaurant and Bar – A white washed dining room and oceanside patio bar featuring fresh juice cocktails and the FRESH – ORGANIC – LOCAL cuisine of Helene Henderson.
- Malibu Farm Café – The Malibu Farm Café serves breakfasts, including Swedish pancakes, quinoa oatmeal and an outrageous egg sandwich. Lunch is famous for healthy salads, cauliflower flatbread and grass-fed burgers. Freshly squeezed juices, sangria, California beers and wine, and coffee provided by Caffe Luxxe are available.
- Ranch at the Pier – An eclectic celebration of ranch life, surfing life and the healthy life that define Malibu.
- Alkemie Road – Come by to peruse their eclectic collection of jewelry, unique finds and vintage Louis Vuitton, all housed in a handcrafted trailer with the famous owl door and wishing swinging.
Visiting Santa Barbara allows you to embrace a scenic place full of natural beauties. The site has an exhilarating outdoor adventure, fascinating arts and culture, and most significantly, it has delicious food and wine.
One of the great things about Santa Barbara is that most of things to do there are FREE and be sure to have your camera or smartphone ready for this Instragrammable place.
You should include the following on your bucket list:
1. Arts and Culture
- Chromatic Gate
- El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park
- Stearns Wharf
- Santa Barbara Museum of Art
- Playful world of Architect Jeff Shelton on a colorful walking tour (Ablitt Tower, El Zapato, Vera Cruz, El Andaluz and The Pistachio House)
- Red Tile Walking Tour
- Santa Barbara County Courthouse
- Dream Plaza at Hotel Californian
- Moreton Bay Fig Tree
- Southern Pacific Santa Barbara SP142 Train
Big Sur is filled with breathtaking views, be prepared to stop many times!
Here are top things to do in Big Sur:
- State Parks Campfire Program – Composes a series of family activities: Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park has active guided hikes, Junior Rangers and Ranger Cubs programs through the summer months; Memorial Day through Labor Day
- Calendar of Events – Page for local music, whale watching, festivals, marathons, lighthouse tours and many other events.
- Local Hiking – Hike along the rivers in the cool, tree-lined valleys. View the coastline from the high ridges on the western slope and the three million acres of forest in the Los Padres National Forest on the eastern slope.
- Big Sur Hiking, Tours and Activities Guides – There are tour guides available to help you focus on the specific goals of your trip. You have a choice of a customized hiking tour, a vehicle tour and a van tour that concentrates on condor sightings if you’d like professional guidance while in Big Sur.
- Just Relax – One of the favorite past-times of Big Sur is to relax! Enjoy rustic or luxurious accommodations. Or you may camp out in the many well-equipped campgrounds.
Big Sur has many popular gorgeous campgrounds. We didn’t camp at any of the campsites, but we’ve heard the Pfeiffer State Park Campsite is the best one. Their reservations fill up 6 months in advance, even in the winter!
Experience the world’s finest scenery, historical sites, art galleries, restaurants and boutique shops when you visit Carmel by the Sea. This is a fantastic place full of inspiration.
The following are the top things to do in Carmel:
- Famous Carmel Beach and Scenic Road – This beach should definitely be one on your bucket list. There is soft white sand on the beach, and you can enjoy the sunsets and soak up the rays. It is also dog-friendly, so dogs and their owners jump in joy at this California treasure every day.
- Carmel Casual Wine Tasting – With almost 20 wine tasting rooms located within one square mile of Carmel-by-the-Sea, you have the perfect opportunity to stroll and sip your way through your afternoon.
- Lively Food Destination – More than 50 restaurants are located here and are within walking distance of one another. Their foods are from fresh ingredients sourced from the fertile Monterey County farms and abundant Monterey Bay. The restaurants provide personal and intimate experience to guests thanks to its nearly all locally owned and operated restaurants.
- Historic Carmel Mission – The Historic Carmel Mission is a favorite for public events. Two of them are particularly special: the Taste of Carmel in October and the Mission Classic and Blessing of the Cars, which occur during Car Week in August.
- World-class Live Theater – The Center’s auditorium is among the best live music venues on the peninsula. There are 718 seats in this intimate theater, which holds the Monterey County Symphony and Carmel Bach Festival. The stage has been graced by national touring acts like Willie Nelson, Jackson Browne, the Smuin Ballet, and others.
- Top-Rated Art Town – Visit the Sunset Center’s Marjorie Evans Gallery to see ever-changing exhibitions of local artists’ work.
- One-of-a-Kind Boutique Shopping – Carmel’s shopping scene includes hundreds of unique shops along Ocean Avenue.
- Eclectic Carmel Nightlife – The longest bar in Carmel, Il Fornaio, offers excellent deals on cocktails and wines, along with an array of gourmet snacks. In addition, Terry’s Lounge at the Cypress Inn is a beautiful place for canine lovers to bring their pup and enjoy tasty treats and exceptional beverages.
- Walkable Carmel – The best way to experience Carmel is by walking its beautifully maintained streets and avenues. You will find shopping delights of boutiques and a gourmet’s dream of restaurants and cafes along the oceanfront.
The Monterey Bay area is a paradise for water lovers. Visitors love the place for the family-friendly activities, the scenic views and the fun water activities. You can take boat tours, see wildlife, rent kayaks, go surfing and so much more when you visit the site.
The following are some of the activities that can explore on the site:
- Craft breweries and surf shops in Santa Cruz
- Window shopping in Capitola
- Picnic on the white sand of Carmel Beach
- Monterey Bay Aquarium
- Old Fisherman’s Wharf
- Cannery Row
Monterey Bay offers many things to do and family-friendly tours and activities for a memorable trip.
At Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, you’ll find thrill rides, restaurants, mini-golf and arcades within a mile of sandy beach. It features 2 National Historic Landmarks: the 1911 Looff Carousel and the 1924 Giant Dipper.
The following are some of the best Boardwalk Attractions:
- The Boardwalk Bowl – The best family bowling facility around. You will find it in the Casino Arcade, at the corner of Beach and Cliff streets.
- Buccaneer Bay Mini Golf – The best mini-golf course in the area! There is also a blacklight cave at the 18-hole course. The palace is located in Neptune’s Kingdom. It costs $7 per person.
- Neptune’s Kingdom – Mini Golf, Arcade, Pool, Ping Pong, Food and so much more.
- Casino Arcade – Over 300 Video Games, Laser Tag, Shooting Gallery, Air Hockey and more!
- Cali Caricature – Visit Cali Caricature to find a fun, customized souvenir from an amusement park!
- Laser Tag – Bring your friends or jump in the 3,500 square foot arena. A high score is recorded by tagging opponents and dodging obstacles in the glowing black lights. It costs $7 per person.
- Fright Walk – Famous walkthrough attraction Fright Walk is now located “under the Boardwalk.”
- THE VAULT Laser Maze Challenge – An actual test of balance and agility. Your friends can track your progress and then try to beat your score as you make your way under, over and through the tricky maze. It costs $6 per person, $12 for three plays.
- Smiley Orca Face Painting and Henna – Enjoy fast, high-quality face painting and henna designs from award-winning artists.
- Santa Cruz Magic Shop – Located at Neptune’s Kingdom. Learn magic tricks and illusions for beginners as well as professionals. There are magic tricks, books, toys, pranks and gags, special effects technology, instructional videos and much more to choose from!
Half Moon Bay
Half Moon Bay, a 45-minute drive from San Francisco, offers a comfortable getaway for those looking to escape the stress of the city. Take a stroll along a beautiful beach, play golf on a spectacular course overlooking the ocean, or browse the many shops and galleries in the historic district. If you’d like to stay, enjoy a delicious dinner at one of the town’s fine restaurants.
The following are top attractions in Half Moon Bay:
1 – Half Moon Bay Coastside Trail – A six-mile round trip hiking trail along the Pacific coastline.
2 – Half Moon Bay State Beach – There are four miles of sandy beaches and hiking and horseback riding trails.
3 – Pillar Point Harbor – Things you can do in the Illar Point Harbor are:
- Enjoy a nature walk
- Buy fish and crabs
- Bird watching
- Watch sea lions
- Walk the Labyrinth
- Enjoy low tide
- Holiday boat lighting
4 – Mavericks – This is a famous surfing beach in Half Moon Bay.
5 – Pescadero State Beach – A great beach to visit for its beauty and character.
6 – Gray Whale Cove State Beach – You can sometimes see grey whales on this picturesque beach. A high cliff surrounds the beach as well. In the spring, there is an optional clothing section.
7 – Half Moon Bay Distillery – Hand-crafted distilled spirits open for tastings for their crafted distilled vodka and gin.
8 – Miramar Beach – Set up a chair on Miramar Beach and watch the coastal beauty. On this beach, you can see sea lions, sea terns, pelicans and dolphins.
These 8 spots are amazing places that will for sure provide comfort and fun to you and your family. So, if you’re planning a road trip from L.A. to San Fran, don’t forget to stop by these places, embrace natural beauties, be delighted with historical spots and have fun!