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It wasn’t until after I moved to New York City that I started to appreciate the beauty of the Pacific Coast. From picturesque cliff-sides to palm-tree lined highways, there is no shortage of views along highway-1. A road trip along the Pacific Coast is one of the best road trips you can take, and I’m here to give you some tips on how to make the most of it!
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Planning your Pacific Coast Road Trip itinerary
The beauty of a road trip is that it’s totally customizable to your preferences. To plan the perfect Pacific Coast road trip itinerary, first answer a few questions:
- How many days do you want to travel for?
- What’s your budget?
- Are there 2-3 spots that you definitely want to stop at?
After answering these questions, you’ll be better equipped to plan the perfect getaway.
Packing for your Trip
Packing for a road trip is a bit different from packing for a vacation to, say, Cancun. When Alan and I traveled across the U.S. during the pandemic, there were several things we kept with us on the road that made our car ride much more comfortable.
Now that you know what you want to prioritize for this road trip and have packing essentials squared away, let’s talk through a sample Pacific Coast Road Trip itinerary, beginning in San Francisco.
Pacific Coast 10-Day Road Trip Itinerary
- Day 1-2: San Francisco
- Day 3: Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz
- Day 3-4: Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea
- Day 5: Big Sur, San Luis Obispo
- Day 5-6: Santa Barbara
- Day 6-8: Los Angeles
- Day 8-10: Malibu, San Diego, or Joshua Tree
Day 1-2: San Francisco
The home of famous tech companies Google and Facebook, a city surrounded by water, and hills upon hills with hidden treasures, San Francisco is worth 24-48 hours out of your Pacific Coast Road Trip Itinerary.
Some guides to help you get started on planning your San Francisco stay:
Day 3: Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz
After San Francisco, begin journeying your way South. Drive for about 40 minutes, and you’ll hit Half Moon Bay. Stop by the Half Moon Bay State Beach to catch a glimpse of the blue waters. Then drive another 15 minutes to the Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve trailhead and take this opportunity to stretch your legs.
Once you’re satisfied with your hike, get back on Highway-1 and head toward Santa Cruz. If you’re using Google Maps to navigate, it might suggest a few different ways for you to get from Half Moon Bay to Santa Cruz. Make sure you stick to Highway-1 to stay along the coastline and get the best views along the way.
Once in Santa Cruz, you can choose to spend an hour or two on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. But I’d say this is an optional stop. Keep in mind that the more time you spend here the less time you’ll have for other places I’ll talk about later.
This is where answering the question Are there 2-3 spots that I definitely want to stop at? early on will come in handy!
Day 3-4: Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea
Wrap up Day 3 of your 10-day Pacific Coast Road Trip itinerary by spending the night at Monterey or Carmel-by-the-Sea, a 45-minute drive south of Santa Cruz.
Once there, you can set foot in the town’s quaint streets and revel in the fairytale cottages and art galleries. Monterey is exactly what you would expect an artist or writer’s hideout to look like.
I also highly recommend booking a restaurant with a view during sunset. You won’t regret it!
Day 5: Big Sur, San Luis Obispo
You’ll start Day 5 with just a short drive down Highway-1 to Big Sur. Big Sur is rated among the top 35 tourist destinations in the world, and you’ll see why once you get your eyes on the picturesque views.
While you’re enjoying the natural phenomenon, also take advantage of this time to stretch your legs. Your next opportunity to do so won’t be for a while.
After Big Sur, I recommend a straight drive to San Luis Obispo. This segment of the Pacific Coast road trip will take about 3 hours.
San Luis Obispo reminds me of a college town. They have one of the best acai bowls I have ever had in my life! And yes, the flavor comes close to what you’d get in Hawaii. If you started your drive in the morning, this would be a good spot to stop for lunch as well.
Day 5-6: Santa Barbara
After your lunch break, get back on Highway-1 and drive another 2 hours till you get to Santa Barbara.
Filled with white, Spanish-style architecture, palm trees, and an impressive food scene, you’ll want to hang out in Santa Barbara for at least a night before you continue on with your Pacific Coast Road Trip.
Some of my favorite spots to eat in Santa Barbara:
Day 6-8: Los Angeles
It’s day 6 and you’ve made it to Los Angeles! Woohoo!
Los Angeles is one of my favorite cities in the world and there is so much to explore. From urban hikes to rooftop bars and authentic Korean BBQ, there is something for everyone in this cosmopolis. You might also spot a celebrity or two, so keep your eyes peeled.
Day 8-10: Malibu, San Diego, or Joshua Tree
For the last stretch of your Pacific Coast Road Trip, I’m going to give you a few different options.
You can either bougie-it-up and spend it in the hills of Malibu, venture further south to San Diego and have the most amazing fish tacos you’ll ever eat, or have a trippy good time in Joshua Tree National Park.
No matter what you decide, remember to take it easy during these final days of your road trip. You’ve been driving a lot and seeing a lot of places. Use these final moments to really take in all that the west coast has to offer (without the stress of planning too many activities).
So that’s it! There’s your 10-day Pacific Coast Road Trip Itinerary. Take all of this, parts of it, or none of it with you when planning your very own unique travel itinerary. And if you do follow this itinerary let me know how it goes!