California PCH Roadtrip
The Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most iconic road trips: from the winding roads through the Redwoods, down through the large cities, and out over the iconic Big Sur Bridges, zig-zagging along the cliffs 100s of feet above the ocean, and then back through the cities. The PCH Highway 1 is truly an iconic route with iconic views. This route is particularly special to me, as I went to school in Monterey, and often went up to San Francisco (where my mom lived for 20 years and my aunt still lived) and then down the road to my home, in Palm Desert via L.A. Highway 1 runs from Canada to the bottom of Baja California (Los Cabos) in Mexico. So, there are a million variations, but this would be my “top hits” one- week route. Since these cities are so close to my heart, I have a million ideas for each city, but I can only get so much on a schedule (as it is you’ll be exhausted). That said, if you have an extra day or change the trip a bit, I’ll include my other ideas at the bottom.
Fly into SFO
Golden Gate park tea at Japanese Tea Gardens
Stroll around iconic Haight and Ashbury
9:00 Walk Golden Gate bridge
10:30 Ferry from Sausalito to Pier 41
12:00 Lunch at Fog City
1:00 Rent a car and drive down Lombard Street
San Francisco to Monterey (2.5 hrs)
3:00 Stop at Elkhorn Slough right before Monterey to go kayaking with the densest population of sea otters in North America
10:00 Wake up and walk around Cannery Wharf (warning: major tourist trap); end at the Monterey Aquarium
12:00 Drive from Cannery Row to 17-mile road entrance exit Carmel- by-the-Sea exit
1:00 Have lunch in Carmel-by-the-Sea
3:00 Drive to Big Sur, stop for views, then down to San Luis Obispo
6:00 Stay at Madonna's Inn (2.5 hrs from Big Sur)
10:00 Go to Hearst Castle in the morning (50 minutes back up the coast)
1:00 See the Elephant Seals (October through March)
Drive Santa Barbara
2:30 Stop in Solvang
Stay in Santa Barbara (2.5 HRS)
5:00 Take a bike ride around Santa Barbra
10:00 Walk down the Stearns wharf
12:00 Santa Barbara to LA
Take a stop in Malibu to see the views, maybe walk the beach, prime surf spots
Hollywood walk of fame
Fly into SFO- San Francisco is a pretty easy airport and BART (Bay Area Regional Transport) is pretty good, and as the capital of Silicon Valley, they gave Uber a designated area in the airport, and figured it out to a science with its own loading section on top of the parking garage. Note: if prices to SFO aren't good you can try Oakland.
Golden Gate Park Tea at Japanese Tea Gardens - Golden Gate Park is the Central Park of San Francisco and has everything: horses, playgrounds, museums, botanical gardens, etc. But a particularly beautiful area is the Japanese Tea Garden where you can have a traditional tea and then go on a rowboat out on the lake.
Stroll around iconic Haight and Ashbury- When you think of San Francisco, if you don't think of hippies then I don't know what you’re thinking of- but San Francisco was home to the hippie movement in the 1960s and 70s and Haight and Ashbury is the home to this. It's near the park, so this is a great time to go stroll around the district.
Hotel in San Francisco
Loews, - the top end of hotels is the lowes which used to be Mandarin Oriental you can pay top of the line and get a bridge to bridge views (Golden Gate and Bay Bridge)
Fairmont- for a historic hotel stay at the Fairmont, still expensive but iconic. The Tiki Bar, Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar, in the basement is a must. The hotel sits atop the hill and is a short walk down to Union Square to the shops and the center of the city. (Parent Trap uses the façade for the hotel they stay at in San Francisco with all the nationality flags)
Marriott Fisherman's Wharf- for a cheaper and tourist-centric (nothing wrong with either) the Marriott at Fisherman Wharf is as the name says: right at Fisherman's Wharf (a tourist trap, but fun one.) Also of note, there's an In-N-Out at Fisherman's Wharf (which hopefully at some point on your trip you will stop for because it's not a California road trip without In-N-Out burger.) A fun thing nearby is breakfast with the Sea Lion’s Cafe which is fun -maybe a little smelly- but fun.
Walk the Golden Gate Bridge - Nothing is more iconic in San Francisco than the Golden Gate Bridge before loading up in the car. Go over to the entrance of the bridge. Walk the bridge down into Sausalito (5 miles total), then take the ferry back to the city. Sausalito is beautiful and looks right at San Francisco (depending on the fog). Many wealthy San Franciscans live there you may want to explore the cute shops, before heading over on the ferry back (depending on the ferry schedule).
The entrance is near the presidio (old army barracks on the bay), depending on time, you may want to explore the presidio. There's a Disney museum owned by Walt's daughter and there's Lucas Group Headquarters (Star Wars). You can go see the Yoda fountain and walk in the entrance and see some costumes.
Lunch at Fog City- the ferry drops you off right near one of San Francisco's most iconic dinners Fog City grab lunch here before heading out.
Rent a car and drive down Lombard Street - once you have your car rental, take it down the famous Lombard Street (world's most crooked road) before heading out
San Francisco to Monterey (2 hours)
- If you have time, depending on which route you take down, you can either stop by Santa Cruz (1 hr 20) with their relaxed hippie and surf culture town or San Jose (1hr) the home to Silicon Valley I love Santana row for shopping and restaurants.
Stop at Elkhorn Slough (right before Monterey) to go kayaking with the largest population of Otters in North America. If you’re not up for kayaking (or don't have time) you can drive out to strip next to the mouth and you can get some great views of them there.
Monterey Hotel Suggestions
Intercontinental on Cannery Row - Cannery Row is the center of tourism in Monterey and the intercontinental is smack above it next to -none other than- Bubba Gump’s building. It’s a nice hotel nonetheless. For dinner try Sardine Factory even though it's just off Cannery row and looks pretty campHey
Rosines cake - oh the times we ordered a slices to be delivered and 5 of us sharing it at school!
Marriott - the Monterey Marriott is above the main street for locals called Alverado. If you want to be central but not tourist central this is the best hotel for that. Also, my favorite restaurants are all on Alverado (Rosine's Restaurant and Old Monterey Café and the Old Monterey Café.)
Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel and Spa- the Hyatt is next store to my school, it sits on the edge of the city and is on the opposite side of the freeway from most of Monterey (not that Monterey is very large to get around.) The hotel is nice because it's a whole resort tucked into the hillside and is very green and lush.
- Also a random note you’ll see signs for the fairgrounds and if your a music buff this is the site of the famed Monterey International Pop Music Festival 1967 which is considered the predecessor of Woodstock and regarded as one of the beginnings of the "Summer of Love" in 1967.
The Lodge at Pebble Beach- If you want to play golf this is your resort. It's impossible to get a Pebble Beach tee time but staying at the lodge means you're guaranteed a tee time. The lodge is also incredibly beautiful looking out at the famous cypress tree on the 18th hole and the ocean afar. This is top of line pricing in the 17-mile road gates.
Mission Ranch- if you're a Clint Eastwood fan, you may want to stay at his hotel or at least grab dinner (The garlic bread before dinner is yummy.) The hotel is a little out of the way towards on the way to carmel valley just past 17 mile drive and carmel by the sea. The hotel is made up of little bungalows and is set in from the water a bit looking at a nature preserve to the water, and Yes I have seen clint there before while at dinner playing the piano.
Carmel boutique hotel- Carmel by the sea is an accumulation of storybook homes, shops, and hotels if you love boutique hotels and B&Bs you may want to check one out one of these cuties.
Wake up and walk around Cannery Wharf (warning: major tourist trap) end at the Monterey Aquarium - Cannery Wharf famously inspired John Steinbeck's novel Cannery Row (most Steinbeck books are inspired by the Monterey and the Salinas area; you can visit the Steinbeck museum or his home if you love him) while the Monterey Aquarium is a modern-day icon it was opened by the starter of HP’s daughter with her trust fund and was the first aquarium that targeted conservationism and exhibit were based on the local ecosystem in the area as to not disturb the ecosystem. This inspired Finding Dory's aquarium and many actual aquariums.
Drive from Cannery Wharf to 17-mile road entrance and exit Carmel-by- the- Sea exit. The 17-mile drive is a nice drive by all the famous golf courses (home of pebble beach) and the ocean views. It is of course just a famous route which is now a gated area. You can exit out and end up by Carmel- by- the Sea again a beautiful fairytale city.
Have lunch in Carmel- by- the- Sea- grab some lunch on ocean street and stroll around before hitting the road
Drive to Big Sur stop for views and see the then down to San Luis Obispo
Stay at Madonna's Inn- Madonna’s inn is a once in a lifetime hotel painted pink with every room themed differently you can choose what theme you want. The hotel is just quirky and fun even the deserts are over the top, literally.
Go to Hearst Castle in the morning- Hearst Castle was built in the 1920s by the owner of Hearst publications and is truly crazy place. You can take guided tours and see this magnificent place and learn the history and stories.
See the sea lions - there's a famous beach in San Luis Obispo which is closed off as sean lions mate there but you can look down from the cliffs and see hundreds of them.
Drive Santa Barbara (1hr 40 min)
Stop in Solvang (40 minutes from Santa Barbara ) - this unique city tucked into the California countryside is completely Dutch from the people’s clothes to the style of architecture in order to honor the settlers of the town
Take a bike ride around Santa Barbara- Santa Barbara is a picturesque Southern California beach town largely dominated by the Mission style. What its most known for is as an escape for LAers. The city includes residents like Oprah, Tim Allen, Kevin Costner, Tom Cruise, Julia-Louise Dreyfus, Steven Spielberg and many more. A bike ride is a perfect way to take in these sites people pay through the nose to live by from the beaches to the shops through the eucalyptus forests.
Stay in Santa barbara
Four season-the Santa Barbara Four Seasons is one of the iconic and best hotels in the city. It is also a popular wedding venue. If you can’t stay there make sure to stop by for lunch or a drink or dinner.
Morning walk down the Stearns Wharf- see the iconic Wharf and take in the sea breeze before heading to the last city.
Santa Barbara to LA - For all driving in LA download Waze as the time of the day can change the drive time drastically as in 15 minutes to 2 hrs to 6 hrs.
There’s so much to do in LA and it’s hard to get them all in since L.A. is hard to get around to all the many areas. I will say this is the hardest city for me as I’ve been to LA hundreds of time but it’s always getting in get out of or doing family things (my sisters grew up there). My mom swears I’ve done all the tourist stuff, but I was like 3, so I don’t remember a lot of it!
Take a stop in Malibu to see the views
Hollywood Sign- there’s iconic and then there’s the Hollywood Sign! You hike up to it (or near it) or you can go to a viewpoint to get your famous photo.
Hollywood Walk of Fame- in the dictionary for tourist trap either Hollywood or big Ben shows up. That says it’s a must-see.
The Beverly Wilshire- Iconic, luxurious, and Location location location. If you've have ever seen Pretty Woman this is the hotel it's focused on (yes, there is room for two in the elevator!). The hotel is located at the end of Rodeo Drive, one of the most iconic shopping streets in the world.
The Beverly Hills Hotel- again Iconic and Luxurious- it’s really the center of all of Beverly Hills. Also the home of the iconic Banana Leaf print. It’s also central to a favorite movie, Troop Beverly Hills.
Shutters- For a more beach centric hotel Shutters is located in Santa Monica on the beach. This is a truly luxurious and peaceful place.
West Hollywood boutique- For something more fun and out there West Hollywood is the gay district and has a lot of fun things going on and because of that has some cool funky hotels.
Santa Monica muscle beach- Don't judge the photo is from 2007
Griffith observatory- if you’ve seen Lala Land you know Griffith park and observatory as the cover and most iconic scene is of a bench atop the park. The park is also a great place to take a breath and get above all that is LA .
Getty museum- the Getty sits above the west side and is an amazing place to get above the city see some art and look out onto the beach and ocean
Flyout of LAX- Lax is a bit confusing depending on time getting to the airport can be a completely different thing.