On our last trip through California we wanted to make the route from Los Angeles to San Francisco by the Pacific Coast Highway and crossing the Big Sur.
This route borders the coast of California with very interesting stops, viewpoints that take away the speech, natural parks, marine elephants in freedom, whales…
It’s a very interesting route if you don’t have days to do the whole West Coast route (also the budget is much lower), you can add a few days in Las Vegas and you have a great trip left!
We rent the car at Auto Europe and spend two nights on the road, it can be done perfectly without spending the night but you will have to do without some stops.
Here we go with the planning and advice of our route along the coast of California!
From Los Angeles to San Francisco along the Pacific Coast Highway and the Big Sur
The Pacific Coast Highway, also known as Highway 1 or in some sections as Highway 101, is a road that runs from San Diego to the California-Oregon border in the north.
But we only did the stretch of road that runs from Los Angeles to San Francisco and through the Big Sur.
The Big Sur is one of the most beautiful stretches of the entire route, you enter into nature and cross some state parks, on the map is located from Morro Bay to Carmel by the Sea.
The name comes from the one that the Spaniards first gave it, calling it Gran país del Sur (because it is just south of Monterey), a very abrupt area to be “conquered” and in which surprisingly they did not build any of their missions.
This is why it is the greenest area and one of the least populated in all of California.
On the Pacific Coast Highway, Californians are proud to say it’s America’s most famous and picturesque road after our beloved Route 66, and they’re not short of reasons!
That said, here we go with the route from Los Angeles to San Francisco along the California coast!
Route from Los Angeles to San Francisco by the Pacific Coast Highway and the Big Sur
The first stop on our route was the coastal city of Malibu, known to be home to many Hollywood celebrities.
It has many miles of coastline and some very famous beaches such as Zuma Beach or Surfrider Beach, as in any American city that boasts also has a wooden dock very tidy.
We decided to make a stop in Matador Beach, has a piece of cliff and some incredible views, as the idea was not to bathe was the one we liked the most to stop and take some pictures.
Route from Los Angeles to San Francisco – Matador Beach, Malibu
Santa Barbara is one of the cities that we like the most of the route from Los Angeles to San Francisco, we had already visited it in other occasions but it is a place that we could visit a thousand times and we would not get tired.
The first one that we came gave us the sensation of being in any Mediterranean city, its past as a Spanish colony still lasts today and is very different from the rest of cities that you will see in the route.
A curious thing is that the streets still have the names of the Spanish surnames that gave him his day.
Some things to see and do in Santa Barbara:
Walk along State Street, the center of the city.
Have a glass of wine. It is one of the most popular places to taste California wine.
Santa Barbara Mission.
Stearns Wharf, with restaurants, cafes and shops
Route from Los Angeles to San Francisco – Santa BarbaraRoute from Los Angeles to San Francisco – Santa Barbara Pier
Denmark in the United States! When we thought of visiting this little village with a Danish past (and present), we didn’t expect it to be the whole village, but it is!
Mills, typical houses, Christmas shops, delicious Danish bakeries and you can even find a replica of the Little Mermaid from Copenhagen, this village surprised us a lot!
Forced stop on the road from Los Angeles to San Francisco!
Route from Los Angeles to San Francisco – Solvang
San Luis Obispo:
San Luis Obispo is said to be the happiest town in the United States, when it comes to such a large country this is an honor!
Here is the Moon Tree, a sequoia born from a seed that traveled aboard Apollo 14.
Some things to see and do in San Luis Obispo:
Bubblegum Alley, an alley full of gum in art mode, we didn’t have the honor to cross it, but if you’re going to leave a piece of gum for Viviendo de Viaje… hehehe!
San Luis Obispo was the place we chose to spend the night for two things: the prices of the accommodations (cheap for what you see in the area) and to meet a little before starting the Big Sur, the “strong” part of the route.
Although it seems to be relatively close to Santa Monica, we take it easy and arrive at night. We stayed at the Sunbeam Motel, pretty fair but spend a night not looking for much more.
Here you will also find one of the most famous hotels along the route, the Madonna Inn, I wouldn’t know how to describe it! Take a look at the pictures to find out what I’m talking about.
Morro Bay is a city founded very recently, specifically in 1964, it does not stop surprising us how “young” some populations of the United States are in comparison with Spain.
The highlight of the city is a huge rock that emerges from the sea a few meters away from the shore, Morro Rock, a volcanic peak that is part of the “nine sisters” a volcanic chain of 21 million years old.
From the pier (yes, here there is also a pier with restaurants and a lot of life…) you can see perfectly.
They call themselves “the Gibraltar of the Pacific” on their website, which made us laugh.
Route from Los Angeles to San Francisco – Morro Bay
It is a very small and coquettish town, it is good to make a stop and maybe eat something.
What we liked the most were the typical houses of the American West that can be seen through its streets. And of course, here we name the pier as one of the most outstanding places to visit.
Route from Los Angeles to San Francisco – Cayucos
In this small town we stopped to visit Monstone Beach, a beach that was said to be full of colored stones, so we did not hesitate to make a stop to see if that was true.
And it was! From afar it seemed a beautiful beach without more, but we went down to the sand (that was not sand, but stones) and we approached a little to the shore, and voila! A lot of precious stones of different colors.
I would have taken them all to fill a thousand glass vases at home, but remember not to take anything from anywhere and try to leave everything as we found it.
So we just enjoyed the beach (and taught it to you by stories, of courseee!) and left the stones back in place.
Cambria has a very nice promenade bordering the sea, it was quite early and you breathed a lot of tranquility, we saw some accommodations that just gave this beach and also would have been perfect for spending the night.
→ You can see Coimbra’s accommodation in Booking.
Moonstone Beach – Cambria
San Simeon is not too attractive, but it is also a good place to spend the night if you do the route along the Pacific Coast Highway and the Big Sur in two or three days like us.
It is almost in the middle of the route and accommodation prices are great.
→ See cheap accommodation in San Simeon in Booking
And on this picturesque route from Los Angeles to San Francisco, we came across something more common to find around Europe than along the California coast, a huge castle with as many eccentricities as possible, Hearts Castle.
We do not visit for lack of time because it takes several hours (minimum more than two) and can not be visited on its own. At the entrance you park your car and access the farm by bus, the tour is done in group.
It dates back to 1947 and was built by William Randolph Hearst, a media mogul who brought here famous actors, singers and influential people of the time. Today it belongs to the California State Park Service.
It has 165 rooms, gardens, terraces, swimming pools, Greek statues, a theatre, an airport… and once housed even one of the largest private zoos with exotic animals!
They say that zebras can still be seen in the nearby plains today, if you are going to tell us whether it is true or an urban legend!
You can find out more about this curious place and buy tickets on its website: Hearst Castle
And here we come to one of those points that make you sigh and remember how nice it is to travel!
Piedras Blancas is home to one of the largest colonies of elephant seals in the world in the wild, in its simply impressive habitat.
Whenever you go, you’ll see these huge animals batter in the sand and make their characteristic little noises, but from December to April they say there can be as many as 10,000!
It is very well signposted as Elephant Seal View Point, below on the map you can also see the exact location. It has a parking lot to leave the car right in the viewpoint.
Watch out! from this point the coverage disappears, even so it is not too much to carry internet on your mobile for the rest of the trip, in the post on how to have internet in the United States we tell you more about this subject.
Elephant Seals on the California Coastal RouteCalifornia Coastal Route – Elephant Seal View Point
That’s what it’s called, don’t give it any more thought or wonder why… 🙂
This mini town is one of the few points where you can put gasoline, but watch out! We advise you to take the full tank before starting the route because here they say to have the record of the most expensive gasoline in the U.S., was just double that in the city.
Here we stopped to eat a bit at Whales Watchers Cafe, we forgot to buy some food for the road and we were starving, it wasn’t bad but you pay as much as gasoline…!
Remember, that in addition in the United States the tips are obligatory, we tell you more in the post of advices to travel to the United States for the first time.
As its name indicates, the whole restaurant has a viewpoint to the sea from which they say the whales can be seen perfectly during the migration season, from November to April approximately, although it is not an exact science and it is possible to see them before and after this date.
We did the route in mid-September and were not lucky enough to see them.
From Los Angeles to San Francisco by Big Sur – Gorda From Los Angeles to San Francisco by Big Sur – Gorda
Sand Dollar Beach:
This is the biggest beach in the whole Big Sur and we couldn’t miss it.
The truth is that these enormous beaches and the waves that they have (the paradise for surfers) did not cease to impress us in all the route accustomed to our calm Mediterranean sea.
To get to Sand Dollar Beach you can leave your car in the official car park and pay the ticket for the time you consider or leave it on the road just before the car park, many people leave it and we believe there is no danger.
Big Sur Route – Sand Dollar Beach
Big Creek Bridge:
And we got to one of the Big Sur route’s movie bridges, Big Creek Bridge. Although it’s not as famous as the one you see a little further on we thought it was a pass.
Just before arriving there is a viewpoint where you can leave the car, see it with tranquility and take pictures.
In each of these viewpoints the views are amazing and you can spend hours contemplating the cliffs, the animals, the ocean … beware because there are many and without realizing or time flies by!
Big Sur Route from Los Angeles to San Francisco – Big Creek Bridge
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park:
Here we stop to visit the famous Mc Way falls. One of the most important stops on the Big Sur route from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
You can see it from above (from the road itself) or go down and take a small path (less than 500 metres) to see it up close.
We opted for the second option, we left the car on the road and walked down to the viewpoint of the waterfall.
You can also leave the car closer (just where the walk starts to see the waterfall) and pay $10. With this “entrance” you have car access to all of California’s parks for that day. If you walk, you don’t pay anything.
As we didn’t know if it would give us time to see any more parks, we decided not to pay the $10 for 30 minutes, but if you plan to visit other parks on your route is interesting because you leave the car in the same park.
Mc Way falls, a must-see stop in the Big Sur
The main feature of this waterfall, and what makes it special, is that it falls directly into the Pacific Ocean.
It depends on how high the tide is falling on the sand or on the water, and depends on the date of the year has more or less flow.
More info on her website: Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Big Sur Route – Mc Way Falls
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park:
This is the largest state park in the area, trekking lovers will enjoy some of the walks that can be done in the park. Some of them are very simple, such as the one that leads to the Pfeiffer waterfall, about 3km roundtrip.
We were already in a hurry and didn’t get into this park. But you have more information on their website: Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
Henry Miller Library:
Big Sur is said to have always been the inspiration for many artists, painters, writers, bohemians… and among them is the writer Henry Miller.
He spent part of his life in the Big Sur and they built this non-profit memorial that can be visited by anyone.
The truth is that it is a somewhat curious/weird/original place that reminded us very much of some stops on Route 66.
In their own web they indicate a quotation of the own Henry Miller to give explanation to the place “The chaos is the punctuation on which the reality is written”. so clearer water!
Route from Los Angeles to San Francisco by Big Sur – Henry Miller Library
For more info you can take a look at their website: Henry Miller Memorial Library
By the way, you can have a cup of coffee in exchange for the will, and of course you can buy books.
Route from Los Angeles to San Francisco by Big Sur – Henry Miller Library
Big Sur window:
It is one of the few lodgings where you can spend the night in the Big Sur, is within a forest of enormous sequoias simply perfect to disconnect.
We were taking a look at the prices to spend a night but we were completely out of our budget, but if it just happens that you spend later than 15:00 you can come in, eat or drink something in his airstream and enjoy the silence.
You have more info here: Big Sur Window
Big Sur Route – Ventana
We didn’t have time to make a stop at this beach either, but we did have it written down in our planning for the Big Sur.
It has the particularity of having a huge rock right in front of the beach with a hole in the shape of a cave in the center in which they break the waves with force. You can see in his web the images of what I try to describe with words and I don’t know if I can…
The entrance fee per vehicle is $12 and is not included in the entrance fee to California’s state parks discussed above.
Bixby Creek Bridge:
And we reach the most famous bridge in all of California! A state icon and the most famous stop on this route by the Big Sur from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
This is one of the largest single-arch bridges in the world, dating back to 1932, and when you see it in front of you, the 79 metres separating it from the ground are very impressive!
You can see from both sides of the road, in my opinion from the right side (the one in the photo) is more beautiful the panoramic.
It appears in the Big Little Lies series and we received about 99999 messages in Instagram informing us! Jejeje, the truth is that we have not seen the series, but after so much excitement we want to see!
Fun fact: Some prisoners helped to build the bridge in exchange for a reduction in their sentences.
California Coastal Route – Sunset at Bixby Creek Bridge
Point Lobos Natural Reserve:
Californians say it’s one of their best natural parks, with lots of marine life and plant diversity.
Here you can enjoy pure nature and do some of the trekking proposed at the entrance. We arrived five minutes before the park closed and we didn’t have time to visit it, they say we always have to leave something for the next one…
If you have paid the entrance fee at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park you will also use it for this natural reserve that is part of the state parks of California.
You have much more info on their website: Point Lobos Natural Reserve
From this point it was night and we went to sleep at our accommodation in Monterrey the Seaside Inn Monterey, a typical road hotel like those that come in the American movies very good price, the next day we resumed the route.
Carmel by the Sea:
This is one of the most beautiful towns on this route from Los Angeles to San Francisco, many of you wrote to us through Instagram to tell us that it was the most beautiful town you had visited in the United States.
Route from Los Angeles to San Francisco – Carmel by the Sea
The truth is that it is a very charming town, also with a very recent past, as it has just over a hundred years since it was founded.
It is a small town, less than 4000 people live and we could say that today its main source of income almost 100% is tourism coming from San Francisco, as are popular day trips from this city.
Fun fact: Clint Eastwood was mayor of the city and they say he still lives there.
Route from Los Angeles to San Francisco – Carmel by the SeaRoute from Los Angeles to San Francisco – Carmel by the Sea
17 Mile Drive:
The 17 Mile Drive is a private scenic road, at the entrance you pay $10.5 per vehicle and we were given a map where you can see all the viewpoints and points of interest.
We stopped at each viewpoint with the car and reading on the map the information of each point, the truth is that it is very well organized.
We read in some places that this place was dispensable but to us it seemed a pretty cool route and we don’t waste too much time.
One of the lookouts on 17 Mile Drive where you could see sea lions
Point Pinos Lighthouse:
If you like lighthouses and have passed 17 Mile Drive you can make a stop at this lighthouse.
It is said to be the oldest functioning lighthouse on the entire West Coast and you can visit the interior converted into a museum, as well as hear some stories about the guardians of the lighthouse who lived there.
The bad thing is that it has a somewhat strange schedule, only opens from 13:00 to 16:00 and is closed some days of the week.
You can consult their website for more info: Point Pinos Lighthouse
Point Pinos Lighthouse
Monterrey became famous all over the world as a result of the June 1967 music festival that marked the beginning of the mythical “Summer of Love” in full hippy movement.
The most remarkable thing about Monterrey to see and do:
Cannery Row, former sardine factories converted into a promenade.
Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey’s historic dock. Years ago it was used as a wholesale fish market, but today it is the tourist attraction of the city par excellence.
As I told you before, we spend the night here at the Seaside Inn Monterey.
LA to San Francisco – Monterey Route
And we got to San Francisco! An indispensable stop for anyone doing the route along the West Coast of the United States.
Here I won’t get involved much because we already did a post with 40 things to see and do in San Francisco, one of the most important cities in the country well deserves to devote a day to see everything it has to offer, it is not difficult to end up conquering you!
Before arriving in San Francisco you can make a small route through Silicon Valley and visit some of the most important companies of today, such as Google or Apple.
This last time we stayed in an Airbnb apartment, in this one concretely (very recommendable!), remember that you have 25€ discount for your first reservation in Airbnb.
Other times we have stayed at the Belford Hotel, fair enough but the prices of accommodation in San Francisco are from another planet.
San Francisco, last stop on our route along the Pacific Coast Highway and the Big Sur
Route map from Los Angeles to San Francisco along the Big Sur and the Pacific Coast Highway:
On the map are all the stops, are marked with a star which we consider indispensable stop.
Other stops on the route:
These are some stops that there are on the route and do not appear in the post, we leave them here for you if you have many days or some of them you find interesting:
The Camarillo Premium Outlet
Point Sur State Historic Park
Andrew Molera State Park
We didn’t make these stops, so we can’t give you much information about them.
Tips for the route from Los Angeles to San Francisco along the Pacific Coast Highway and the Big Sur
Fill up the tank before you leave, there are few petrol stations and the ones there are are very expensive!
To buy in the Supermarket Albertsons of San Luis Obispo provisions for the trip, during the route they will cost you more than the account.
We did the route from Los Angeles to San Francisco because we got better the combination of flights, but it is better to do it in the opposite direction to have the sea right next to the road and better access to the viewpoints, although we did not have any problem in this aspect.
WARNING! There is no coverage in almost all the route, try to take your guide or notes offline because you will not be able to connect to consult anything.
The sunsets all along the Californian coast are amazing, try to be close to the coast when the sun goes down and you will enjoy some sunsets worthy of any wallpaper.
Remember that if you pay the entrance fee to one of the state parks, it is valid for all parks in California on that day.
You have many more tips on:
Sunset in Pismo Beach
Rent a car from Los Angeles to San Francisco:
We have recently booked our rental car at Auto Europe, the coverages are very well specified and at a glance you can see the prices of all the rental companies.
Be careful if you plan to return the car in a different office than the airport (both Los Angeles and San Francisco), in some downtown offices you may be charged for one way.
If so, try returning it to another office or airport.
→ In this post you have many more tips for renting and driving a car in the United States.
And as we have told you before, fill the deposit to avoid paying the double during the route, especially for the Big Sur.
Our rental car to go from Los Angeles to San Francisco
Travel insurance for the United States:
We do not recommend that you travel to the United States without travel insurance, health is very expensive and if anything happens you will have to face a good bill.
And I’m not talking about open-heart surgery, I’m talking about appendicitis, a fracture from a bad fall… it can ruin your trip in every way.
The truth is that it takes a bit of understanding for those of us who were born in Spain with a Social Security, which will have its drawbacks, but it is free for everyone.
In addition with the travel insurance you will have covered many other aspects of the trip and always comes well, and it does not suppose an excessive extra expense.
We also give you our 5% discount on Iati Seguros so that you can travel in peace!
Cards to travel in the U.S. without commissions for currency exchange:
For years we have always traveled with three cards to the United States that do not charge us for currency exchange and are free, so we do not have scares with our bank.
The one we use the most is the N26 card, great for paying everywhere, it is very reliable and the one that gives us less problems.
And then we take the Revolut and Bnext cards, in case we need to withdraw some cash from the ATM, also without commissions and free of charge.
Watch out! In this last trip to the USA no card worked for us in the petrol pumps, you always have to go to the cash register so that the employee passes the card through the TPV, and here no problem.
We asked about it in two of them and they told us that for some time now they do not admit foreign cards in the dispensers. But come on, it wasn’t much trouble either. I comment it so you don’t think it doesn’t work, you just have to go to the box.
I leave you our post on the cards to travel without commissions with more info on this subject.
California Coastal Route
Other items that can help you plan your trip:
ROUTE BY THE WEST COAST OF USA IN 15 DAYS THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN ANGELS THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN SAN FRANCISCO THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN SANTA MONICA TIPS TO RENT A CAR IN USA THE BEST TRAVEL INSURANCE FOR UNITED STATES
See all posts from the WEST COAST OF THE UNITED STATES
And here’s our route along the California coast from Los Angeles to San Francisco!
The route through the Pacific Coast Highway and the Big Sur is a must in the list of any lover of road trips because it has all the ingredients to be an amazing trip!
Scenic roads, viewpoints, movie bridges, amazing landscapes, animals in freedom, nature, when do we leave again? 😉
And remember, on this route the important thing is not the destination, it is the road!