Something I’ve always wanted to do is drive the Pacific Coast Highway from LA up to San Francisco. After years of wanting to do this drive, my husband and I after spending a few days in LA with friends rented a car and made the trip. I have read other guides about where to stop and what to see and most of these guides spend days making the drive. However, we planned on making the drive from LA to Monterey in one day. Spending a day or two in Monterey and then driving to San Francisco. With a little bit of planning it was definitely doable and I feel like I got to see and do almost everything I wanted.
A guide to the Pacific Coast Highway, LA to San Francisco
Stop #1 Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara is a place I’ve always wanted to see. We stopped in Santa Barbara for an early lunch at a place called Brophy Bros. It was highly recommended and it was the perfect place to stop and see the views of Santa Barbara, the boat docks, and the water. We each had a cup of their famous clam chowder and a side salad. It was delicious! Santa Barbara is beautiful and we spend about an hour here. It was the perfect amount of time to eat, walk around to stretch our legs, and take a few photos.
Stop #2 Pismo Beach
Pismo Beach is the perfect little beach town to make a stop at. We walked around the beach and the little downtown. We got some laffy taffy and shared a cinnamon roll at this cute little coffee shop called Old West Cinnamon Rolls.
Stop #3 Ragged Point (14522 Highway 1)
One of the things on the drive I really wanted to do was see the seals. We drove from Pismo Beach on Pacific Coast Highway all the way to Ragged Point. The drive was gorgeous and I was so happy to see all the beautiful scenery and also take a few minutes to stop and see the seals.
*We did not take PCH all the way to Monterey. It would have added a few more hours onto our drive. The roads along that route are very narrow and close to the edge. I don’t recommend that drive unless you really plan and map it out. Currently, a part of the road is closed so I don’t know if you can even get through. Check Google maps before you go. I would recommend driving in an hours or so from Monterey going South and then drive back.
Stop #4 Monterey
Our last stop for the day was Monterey. We got in later in the evening so we didn’t have time to do much that night but we planned on spending the whole next day and night exploring Monterey. We stayed at the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa and we loved it. Such a beautiful, historic hotel in a great area. The next morning we got up and even though it was misting with rain most of the day we still got to see and do most of the things we wanted to see. I wanted to visit some of the places where Big Little Lies filmed so here’s everything we saw and did.
- W enjoyed coffee (vanilla latte for me) at Cafè Lumiere and even saw a movie there that evening. (Yes! The cafè is also an old movie theater)
- Paluca Trattoria which is on Fisherman’s Wharf, we also walked around the pier and looked in a few shops. Paluca Trattoria is made famous by Reese Witherspoon saying “bring me something chocolate that won’t make my ass look fat.” (Did you know it’s actually an Italian restaurant?)
- We ate lunch at Sea Harvest Fish Market & Restaurant (amazing fish and chips!)
- Had fun wine tasting at A Taste of Monterey overlooking the water
- Drove the scenic 17 Mile Drive through Pebble Beach Golf Course and enjoyed a cocktail at the lodge. (cost $10.25 to do the drive and it’s cash only)
*If we had more time I would have loved to drive an hour or so into Big Sur and the forest and cross the Bixby Bridge.
Stop #5 Kirigin Cellars
After leaving Monterey we drove through Mount Madonna which is full of winding roads through a beautiful forest. Once we were down the mountain we saw tons of wineries and decided to stop at one and do a wine tasting. We randomly stopped at Kirigin Cellars which happened to be one of the oldest wineries in California. They offer a free wine tasting and we ended up buying a few bottles of their wine. Next, we headed to San Francisco.
Stops #6 San Francisco
We had one day in San Franciso. So we saw and did as much as we could. We didn’t know but there was a conference in San Fran and so every hotel was almost booked and it was really expensive to spend the night. We were lucky to get a hotel in Union Square at the Kensington Park Hotel. San Franciso is actually a very driveable city especially if you are familiar with driving in a city like Chicago. So, we ended up driving to most spots. Here’s what we did.
- Of course, we had to take a photo of The Painted Ladies (Full House fan!)
- Took photos at the crazy Lombard Street and watched the cars come down
- Had a drink and people watched on Fisherman’s Wharf
- The Golden Gate Bridge (we drove over to Crissy Field to get a great view)
- Walked around and shopped in Union Square
- Ate at John’s Grill (famous historic restaurant)
So that’s our PCH trip! Let me know if you have questions about our trip. I’m happy to help you plan out your route or give you any tips or suggestions.
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