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7-Day Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Guide (San Francisco to San Diego, California)


Summer means road trips, and California’s coast is one of the best in the country. Check out this awesome seven-day Pacific Coast Highway road trip guide.

The Pacific Coast Highway on the west coast of the United States is known for being an absolutely stunning scenic drive—perfect for road trips. This guide will provide you with the perfect route for a seven-day road trip through California—so pack your bags, fill the car, and get driving!

girl on a road trip
Taken by A. Woodard via unsplash.com. [Public Domain].

First, we’d like to offer you a few road trip tips:

  • Figure out your car situation first. Do you mind putting the miles on your personal car? Or would you prefer to rent a car? If you decide to rent, opt for companies that allow one-way rentals.
  • Think about where you want to stay along the way. If you don’t mind camping, there are plenty of campsites along the way. Maybe even think about getting an RV for the trip. Hotels aren’t your only other option—Airbnb and other vacation rental home sites are great, too.
  • Practice safe driving. Becoming distracted while driving is easy, especially over long distances. Distracted driving encompasses more than just using your cellphone, so read up on the different forms of distracted driving before you start your trip.

Our Pacific Coast Highway road trip guide has you starting in San Francisco and heading south to San Diego, but it’s easy enough to change it up and climb your way up the coast instead. We recommend making a few extra stops along the way to really enjoy these different locations.

Here’s our 7-day Pacific Coast Highway road trip itinerary:

Day 1: Drive to Santa Cruz from San Francisco

San Francisco is the perfect place to start your trip, so we’ve left you time to explore the beautiful city once you get there. Don’t miss the Golden Gate Bridge or the coastline; head to Pier 39 for quaint souvenirs, scrumptious local eats, and stunning views.

When you reach Santa Cruz, take a break from the car with a walk along West Cliff Drive, or try surfing at one of the local beaches.

Walton Lighthouse Santa Cruz, California
Walton Lighthouse, Santa Cruz, CA. Taken by R. Soares via unsplash.com. [Public Domain].

Day 2: Drive to Big Sur

You could very easily spend a whole week vacationing in Big Sur. Make sure to explore Pebble Beach and the famous 17-Mile Drive to take in some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the country. If you have time, take a little detour to Carmel-by-the-Sea or Monterey—there’s a lot to experience in these areas, too.

Lone Cypress, Pebble Beach, CA
Lone Cypress in Pebble Beach, CA, seen from 17-Mile Drive. Taken by R. Soares via unsplash.com. [Public Domain].

Day 3: Drive to San Simeon

Another prime beach destination, San Simeon features gorgeous ocean views—but these aren’t the only thing the beautiful town is known for. It’s also home to the magnificent Hearst Castle, the concept-to-creation mansion from the mind of William Randolph Hearst. After you visit Hearst’s glorious home, check out the remarkable Hearst Ranch Winery.

Hearst Castle San Simeon California
Inside Hearst Castle in San Simeon, CA. Taken by V. Nordli-Mathisen via unsplash.com. [Public Domain].

Day 4: Drive to San Luis Obispo

Ever heard of Bubblegum Alley? If you haven’t, you should check it out—it’s just one of the many unique attractions in San Luis Obispo (SLO). The Madonna Inn is a popular place to stay, but the area has plenty of nature-filled spots to pop up your tent. Before you leave for Santa Barbara, stock up on some fresh flowers and produce at the Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market.

Related read: Check out our top travel tips to ensure your road trip is a success!

Girls Picnic Overlooking San Luis Obispo
Girls picnic overlooking San Luis Obispo. Taken by L. Bender via unsplash.com. [Public Domain].

Day 5: Drive to Santa Barbara

Keeping to the coastline, you’ll get to see Stearns Wharf and East Beach—stick to this route and you’ll have the perfect picturesque views. Once you reach Santa Barbara, you’ll find plenty of activities and attractions for everyone’s enjoyment, such as the Santa Barbara Zoo, historical museums, Lobero Theatre, delicious restaurants, and a vibrant nightlife.

Overlooking Anacapa St in Santa Barbara
Overlooking Anacapa St in Santa Barbara. Taken by Y. Ma via unsplash.com. [Public Domain].

Day 6: Drive to Los Angeles

Of course, we had to include LA on the list. If seeing the Hollywood sign is on your bucket list, check it off before you head down to Melrose Street for a beautiful afternoon stroll and scrumptious food. There’s so much to do and see in Los Angeles—decide what you’d most like to see and spend a few days exploring the city, if you wish.

Los Angeles at sunrise
Los Angeles at sunrise. Taken by M. Adams via unsplash.com. [Public Domain].

Day 7: Drive to San Diego

Finish off your road trip in San Diego—the best place for spellbinding beaches, bountiful botanic gardens, and mind-blowing food. Check out Balboa Park, Downtown, and Old Town to get some incredible views of the area. Since this is the last stop on your road trip, take some extra time to discover all that San Diego has to offer.

San Diego Bay Cali
San Diego Bay. Taken by D. Guerra via unsplash.com. [Public Domain].

Well, how about it? Ready to plan your own Pacific Coast Highway road trip? If you do, or if you just want to weigh in, let’s chat below in the comments. Thanks for reading!

Becca Polk
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Becca Polk
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