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An old friend, a new friend, four days, and nowhere to be. My west coast adventure began like most great spontaneous friend road trips do. Out of the blue, someone says, “Hey, I have a crazy idea.”

Thirty minutes later, backpacks are stuffed with whatever clothes were at the top of the clean laundry basket, PB&J sandwiches are made, sleeping bags and tents, forgotten from childhood, are unearthed from their basement resting place, everything is haphazardly thrown in the back of the car with the biggest trunk, and the story begins.

Several friends have asked me to share the details of my Pacific Coast Highway road trip, so I am so excited to bring you my Ultimate Pacific Coast Highway Itinerary!

Day 1

Arrive in LA in the morning. Depending on when you get in, you could do some of the following (I only spent a few hours in LA and most of it I was sitting in traffic, so I actually didn’t do any of these. But I was born in Santa Monica so you know it must be a great place)

  • Santa Monica Boardwalk
  • Venice Beach
  • Hollywood Sign
  • Beverly Hills
  • The Bachelor Mansion (hehe, just kidding… don’t know if this is actually in LA or how one would go about finding it, but a girl can dream)


In the afternoon, start driving north on Highway 1. Stay the night in Santa Barbra. Find a beach-front camping site and post up for a quiet night under the stars, or opt for a place in town and explore some of the nightlife.

Or, if you’re feeling really adventurous, take this whole trip in a motorhome or campervan!

Day 2

Wake up in Santa Barbra, take an early morning dip in the ocean (note the pacific ocean is rocky and chilly!), grab a nice breakfast, and continue driving north on the Pacific Coast Highway.


Stop at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. This park has a gorgeous waterfall that I had actually pinned a few times on my pinterest dream travel board without even knowing what it was! And then there it was in front of me. So cool! There are some beachside trails and stunning overlooks, so this is the perfect place to stretch your legs and take in some natural beauty.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. This picture does not do the waterfall justice.

Stop in Big Sur. Specifically, go to Nepenthe, it is a wonderful Bohemian inspired outpost perched high in the cliffs where you can enjoy a cup of tea while overlooking the Pacific.

Spend the night camping in Big Sur.

Day 3

Continue North on the Pacific coast Highway toward Santa Cruz. Be sure to stop at the Bixby Bridge (very famous, very great selfie spot).

Bixby Bridge

Stop for lunch in Carmel or Monterey. I didn’t have time to do it on this trip, but I hear the Monterey Aquarium is amazing. Continue to Santa Cruz. In Santa Cruz, go to the beach boardwalk. It is everything you want a beach-front boardwalk to be, with amusement park rides, funnel cake, the works.

Santa Cruz Boardwalk

Go to The Mystery Spot. It is an optical illusion house in the redwood forest and it may or may not be magical. Spend the night in Santa Cruz.

Day 4

Continue driving to San Francisco. You will want to spend as much time in San Francisco as possible, at least a full day. Here is the short list of must-see places:

  • Fisherman’s Wharf – the heartbeat of SF, you can take a ferry ride around Alcatraz and under the golden gate bridge, eat killer sourdough at Boudin, and all kinds of other touristy things.
  • Ghirardelli Square – because chocolate.
  • The golden gate bridge – because if you don’t get a selfie in front of the golden gate bridge, were you ever really there?
  • California Academy of Science – coolest science museum ever.
  • Late night donut shops – because donuts.


My journey began in LA and ended in San Francisco, but if you have more time, additional stops could easily be added to the North and South ends. With an extra day, you could start in San Diego instead of LA. Or you could add on an extra day in Napa in addition to San Francisco. The best part about road trips is there really aren’t any rules about where and when you have to be places, so don’t try to plan things too far in advance. I know that goes against everything I believe in because I LOVE PLANNING, but not having anywhere to be was actually one of the best parts of the trip.

I never had problems finding places to camp, even with short notice, and the flexibility allowed me to truly do whatever I wanted to do in the moment. So follow those interesting looking road signs, spend extra time getting to know new friends, stop at every cool overlook and nerdy tourist attraction, and do what makes you happy!


About the Author

Hi! I'm Nic. Let's chat about remote work and ways to incorporate more travel into your life. Whether you're here to find an online job or need some tips for planning your next trip, I've got you covered! More about me

14 thoughts on “The Ultimate California Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip”

  1. Those are the best adventures. Look like you had a lot of fun and the places you visited look great. San Francisco is in my list and i must get there some day. I’m just a little bit far then you 😉

  2. Driving on PCH can be rough, the traffic is a pain and it’s hard to pay attention when you want to pay attention! I’m a SoCal Native and it’s still rough for me sometimes!

    • Thanks for the native perspective! There were definitely points when traffic was annoying, usually around the look out points and when trying to get through LA. It helped that I didn’t have a set timeline I needed to follow. If I had places I needed to be, it would have been stressful for sure.

  3. You know your auntie Bevin and I invented driving the PCH. We also stopped at Nepenthe and spent the whole day hanging over the rocks and crashing ocean. Drinking I think. We slept in Big Sur at cabins made for the early Norwegian loggers?? If I remember correctly. We laughed so hard at our tiny space – we even had to leave the bags in the car and dress outside. Sure but no one was interested in 2 fabulous older women. We visited your uncle Dave Draper in Santa Cruz – loved the shops and on to San Fran where our cousins lived. The first of many Sisters Trips.
    Next time we do it with the granddaughters!!


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