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Where Should I Stop On A Road Trip From San Francisco To Los Angeles


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Brandise Escalante



Embarking on a road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles is a journey filled with excitement, beauty, and limitless possibilities. This iconic route along California’s stunning coastline offers an unforgettable experience for travelers seeking adventure, scenic landscapes, and vibrant cities.


Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a history buff, a beach lover, or just someone looking to explore the diverse offerings of the Golden State, this road trip is perfect for you. The drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles is approximately 380 miles long and can be done in a day, but to truly appreciate the beauty and charm of the region, it’s best to take your time and make some strategic stops along the way.


There are multiple route options to consider when planning your road trip. The most popular and picturesque route is along Highway 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway. This road winds along the cliffside, offering breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and rugged coastline. Alternatively, you can take a faster route along Highway 101, which offers a more direct path between the two cities.


Whichever route you choose, there are plenty of incredible destinations to explore along the way. From the bustling city of San Francisco to the glamorous beaches of Malibu, each stop on this road trip offers its own unique attractions and experiences.


In this guide, we’ll take you through the must-visit destinations between San Francisco and Los Angeles, highlighting the key attractions and activities that make each stop special. So fasten your seatbelt, roll down the windows, and get ready to embark on a road trip adventure you’ll never forget.


Route Options

When planning your road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles, you have a couple of route options to consider. Each route offers its own unique advantages and experiences, so you can choose the one that best suits your preferences and time constraints.


The most popular and scenic route is along Highway 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway. This route takes you along the breathtaking coastline, offering panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, rugged cliffs, and picturesque beaches. It’s a longer route compared to Highway 101, but it’s worth the extra time for the stunning scenery.


If you prefer a more direct route, you can take Highway 101, which offers a faster path between San Francisco and Los Angeles. While it may not have the same coastal views as Highway 1, it still allows you to explore some charming towns, vineyards, and scenic landscapes along the way.


Both routes have their own merits, so it ultimately depends on your priorities. If you’re a nature lover and want to take in the awe-inspiring beauty of the California coast, then Highway 1 is the way to go. On the other hand, if you’re short on time or prefer to focus on other attractions, Highway 101 might be a better choice.


It’s important to note that road conditions and closures can occur along Highway 1 due to landslides and other natural events. Before embarking on your journey, it’s advisable to check for any road closures or detours to ensure a smooth trip.


Regardless of which route you choose, make sure to plan your stops along the way to fully enjoy the journey. Each stop has its own unique offerings and attractions, allowing you to create a road trip experience tailored to your interests.


Now that we’ve discussed the route options, let’s dive into the destinations you can explore on your road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles.


San Francisco: The Starting Point

As the starting point of your road trip, San Francisco offers a wealth of attractions and experiences to kick off your journey. Known for its iconic landmarks, vibrant culture, and stunning views, this city has something for everyone.


A must-visit attraction in San Francisco is the Golden Gate Bridge, an iconic symbol of the city. Take a walk or bike ride across the bridge for breathtaking views of the city skyline, the bay, and the Pacific Ocean. Alternatively, you can visit the Golden Gate Park, a massive urban oasis that offers beautiful gardens, museums, and even bison roaming free.


Another popular destination is Alcatraz Island, home to the notorious former federal prison. Take a ferry to the island and explore the prison, learning about its fascinating history and infamous inmates. Don’t forget to admire the sweeping views of the city from the island.


To get a taste of San Francisco’s vibrant culture, head to the colorful neighborhood of Chinatown. Take a stroll through the bustling streets, browse the shops filled with unique trinkets and delicious food, and immerse yourself in the rich history and traditions of the Chinese community.


No visit to San Francisco is complete without a trip to Fisherman’s Wharf. This bustling waterfront area is lined with shops, restaurants, and attractions. Indulge in a bowl of clam chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl, visit the resident sea lions at Pier 39, and take a ride on the iconic cable cars.


If you’re a fan of art, make sure to visit the vibrant Mission District. This neighborhood is known for its colorful murals, local art galleries, and trendy boutiques. Don’t miss the chance to try some delicious Mexican cuisine at one of the many taquerias in the area.


For nature lovers, a visit to the beautiful Golden Gate Park is a must. This sprawling park offers a variety of activities, from boating on the lake to exploring the Japanese Tea Garden. You can also visit the California Academy of Sciences, which houses an aquarium, a planetarium, and a natural history museum.


San Francisco is a city that captures the imagination with its diverse attractions and vibrant energy. Spend a few days exploring the city before hitting the road and be sure to soak up the unique atmosphere that makes San Francisco so special.


Santa Cruz: Beaches and Boardwalks

Located along the coast, just south of San Francisco, Santa Cruz is a vibrant beach town that offers a perfect blend of natural beauty and nostalgic charm. It’s an ideal stop to relax, have fun, and soak up the sun as you continue your road trip to Los Angeles.


One of the highlights of Santa Cruz is its beautiful beaches. Whether you’re looking to sunbathe, surf, or simply take a leisurely stroll along the shore, you’ll find a beach that suits your preferences. Main Beach and Cowell Beach are popular choices, with their soft sandy shores and crystal-clear waters. For a more tranquil atmosphere, head to Natural Bridges State Beach, famous for its rock formations and tidal pools.


Adjacent to the beaches, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a must-visit attraction. This vintage seaside amusement park offers thrilling rides, classic arcade games, and mouthwatering food options. Take a spin on the Giant Dipper, one of the oldest wooden roller coasters in the country, and enjoy panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.


If you’re a nature enthusiast, don’t miss a visit to the iconic Santa Cruz Wharf. Take a leisurely walk along the pier and soak in the panoramic views of the coastline. The Wharf is also a popular spot for fishing and offers opportunities to spot marine life, such as sea lions and dolphins.


For those interested in marine life, the Seymour Marine Discovery Center is a must-see attraction. Located on the scenic bluffs overlooking Monterey Bay, this marine research and education center offers fascinating exhibits where you can learn about the diverse marine ecosystems and their inhabitants.


If you’re looking for a taste of local culture, explore the lively downtown area of Santa Cruz. Here you’ll find an array of eclectic shops, art galleries, and restaurants. Don’t forget to try some of the local specialties, such as clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl or delicious seafood tacos.


Before leaving Santa Cruz, take a scenic drive along West Cliff Drive. This stunning coastal route offers breathtaking ocean views and is perfect for a leisurely stroll or bike ride. Marvel at the waves crashing against the rocky cliffs and relish in the beauty of the California coastline.


Santa Cruz is a delightful stop on your road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles, offering a perfect combination of sun, sand, and nostalgia. Enjoy the beaches, the boardwalk, and the laid-back atmosphere before continuing your adventure southward.


Monterey: Exploring the Coastal Beauty

Continuing south along Highway 1, the next stop on your road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles is the charming coastal town of Monterey. Known for its natural beauty, historic attractions, and thriving marine life, Monterey offers a memorable experience for visitors of all ages.


One of the top attractions in Monterey is the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Located on the iconic Cannery Row, this world-renowned aquarium showcases a diverse array of marine life, including playful sea otters, mesmerizing jellyfish, and majestic sharks. Explore the various exhibits, attend feeding shows, and even participate in hands-on interactive experiences.


The coastal scenery in Monterey is breathtaking, and one of the best ways to appreciate it is by visiting the 17-Mile Drive. This scenic route winds through the iconic Pebble Beach area, offering stunning views of rugged coastline, majestic cypress trees, and famous golf courses. Be sure to stop at iconic viewpoints such as the Lone Cypress and Bird Rock to capture memorable photos.


For those interested in history, a visit to the historic Monterey Old Town is a must. This area, known as Monterey State Historic Park, offers a glimpse into California’s past with its well-preserved adobe buildings, including the beautiful Custom House and the historic Old Whaling Station. Take a guided tour or explore the area on your own to learn about the rich history and heritage of Monterey.


Monterey is also a great place to indulge in delicious seafood. Head to the Fisherman’s Wharf, where you can feast on freshly caught seafood while enjoying views of the bay. Sample local specialties like clam chowder, Dungeness crab, and grilled fish tacos, and immerse yourself in the vibrant maritime atmosphere.


If you’re interested in outdoor activities, consider taking a kayaking tour along the stunning Monterey Bay. Paddle through the calm waters and explore the kelp forests while keeping an eye out for marine wildlife, such as sea otters, seals, and dolphins. It’s a unique and memorable way to experience the beauty of Monterey’s coastline.


Before leaving Monterey, take some time to relax on one of its beautiful beaches. Del Monte Beach and Asilomar State Beach are popular choices, offering sandy shores, picturesque views, and opportunities for sunbathing, picnicking, or simply enjoying a peaceful walk along the shoreline.


Monterey’s coastal beauty, rich history, and abundant marine life make it a must-stop destination on your road trip. Immerse yourself in the charm and tranquility of the town before continuing your journey to the next breathtaking destination.


Big Sur: Majestic Cliffs and Breathtaking Views

Driving south from Monterey along the iconic Highway 1, you’ll encounter one of the most breathtaking stretches of coastline in California – Big Sur. Known for its rugged cliffs, dramatic ocean views, and untouched natural beauty, Big Sur is a destination that will leave you in awe.


One of the highlights of Big Sur is the stunning Bixby Creek Bridge. This iconic architectural marvel spans the majestic cliffs, offering panoramic views of the coastline and the crashing waves below. Take a moment to stop and marvel at the beauty of this engineering masterpiece.


For nature lovers, exploring the various state parks in Big Sur is a must. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is a popular choice, offering hiking trails that wind through ancient redwood trees, picturesque waterfalls, and stunning vistas. Take a hike to McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, where you’ll be rewarded with the sight of a picturesque waterfall cascading onto a white sand beach.


Another must-see attraction in Big Sur is Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. Known as the “crown jewel” of the California State Park system, this protected area is home to a diverse array of wildlife, including sea lions, seals, and sea otters. Explore the scenic trails along the coast and marvel at the vibrant marine life and the beauty of the rugged coastline.


Big Sur is also a haven for artists and writers, offering inspiration and a sense of tranquility. Throughout the area, you’ll find numerous galleries showcasing the works of local artists, as well as quaint cafes and bookstores that invite you to relax and indulge in a peaceful atmosphere.


If you’re in search of a secluded beach, make your way to Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur. Known for its purple-hued sands and iconic Keyhole Rock, this hidden gem offers a picturesque spot to relax, take a stroll, or witness a stunning sunset.


Driving through Big Sur itself is an experience in itself. The winding road hugs the cliffs, offering breathtaking views at every turn. Plan for extra time to pull over at viewpoints and soak in the majestic scenery. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife sightings, including whales during their migration season.


Big Sur’s natural beauty is truly awe-inspiring, and it’s a place that deserves exploration and appreciation. Take your time to immerse yourself in the majestic cliffs and breathtaking views before continuing your road trip southward.


San Luis Obispo: Historic Town and Outdoor Activities

As you continue your road trip south from Big Sur, the next stop on your journey is the charming town of San Luis Obispo. Known for its rich history, vibrant downtown, and outdoor activities, San Luis Obispo offers a perfect mix of cultural exploration and adventure.


One of the highlights of San Luis Obispo is its historic Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. Founded in 1772, this beautiful Spanish mission is a testament to the town’s colonial past. Take a guided tour to learn about the mission’s history, explore the stunning architecture and gardens, and gain insight into the area’s cultural heritage.


The downtown area of San Luis Obispo is a vibrant hub of activity. Stroll along Higuera Street, the main thoroughfare, and discover a variety of shops, restaurants, and art galleries. Explore the bustling Farmers’ Market, held every Thursday evening, where you can sample local produce, indulge in delicious street food, and enjoy live entertainment.


If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, San Luis Obispo has plenty to offer. Hike up Bishop Peak, one of the iconic Nine Sisters volcanic peaks that dot the landscape. The summit rewards you with panoramic views of the town and surrounding countryside. For a more leisurely outdoor experience, visit the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden, where you can stroll through beautiful gardens and learn about local plant life.


For beach lovers, a visit to Avila Beach is a must. Located just a short drive from San Luis Obispo, this picturesque beach town offers sandy shores, calm waters, and a pleasant promenade lined with shops and restaurants. Rent a kayak or paddleboard, soak up the sun, or simply take a relaxing walk along the pier.


San Luis Obispo is also a hub for wine enthusiasts, with several notable wineries in the area. Take a scenic drive to Edna Valley or Paso Robles wine region and indulge in wine tasting, tour the vineyards, and learn about the winemaking process. Enjoy the exquisite flavors of the Central Coast’s renowned wines.


To delve further into the local history and culture, visit the San Luis Obispo County Historical Museum. Housed in a beautiful historic building, the museum showcases exhibits on the area’s pioneer heritage, Native American history, and agricultural roots.


Whether you’re exploring the historic sites, enjoying outdoor activities, or immersing yourself in the local culture, San Luis Obispo offers a charming and diverse experience. Take your time to discover all that this town has to offer before continuing your road trip to the next exciting stop.


Santa Barbara: The American Riviera

Nestled between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the shimmering Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara beckons as the next stop on your road trip. Often referred to as the “American Riviera,” this coastal gem offers a blend of Mediterranean-style architecture, stunning beaches, and a vibrant cultural scene.


One of the iconic landmarks of Santa Barbara is the Old Mission Santa Barbara. This Spanish mission, known as the “Queen of the Missions,” dates back to the late 18th century. Explore the beautiful grounds, admire the stunning architecture, and learn about the mission’s role in the region’s history.


If you’re a fan of art and culture, Santa Barbara won’t disappoint. Explore the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, which houses an impressive collection of European, Asian, and American art. Stroll along the vibrant State Street, filled with galleries, boutiques, and outdoor cafes, and perhaps catch a performance at the historic Granada Theatre.


The beaches of Santa Barbara are not to be missed. Head to East Beach for a day of sunbathing, volleyball, and picnicking. Butterfly Beach, with its tranquil atmosphere and stunning views, is perfect for a romantic sunset stroll. If you’re up for a more adventurous experience, visit Leadbetter Beach for opportunities to surf or paddleboard.


Santa Barbara is also renowned for its wine regions. Take a short drive to the Santa Ynez Valley, where you can explore world-class wineries and enjoy tastings of the region’s exceptional wines. Whether you prefer Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or Syrah, the Santa Barbara wine country has something to satisfy every palate.


The Santa Barbara Harbor is a bustling waterfront area that offers a host of activities. Take a leisurely walk along the marina, watch the sailboats bobbing in the water, or even take a boat excursion to spot dolphins or whales. Indulge in fresh seafood at one of the harbor’s restaurants, or grab a quick snack from one of the local seafood vendors.


To immerse yourself in the beauty of Santa Barbara’s natural surroundings, visit the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. This serene oasis showcases a variety of California native plants, including colorful wildflowers, majestic trees, and peaceful walking trails.


Santa Barbara’s pleasant Mediterranean climate makes it a year-round destination. With its charming architecture, beautiful beaches, cultural offerings, and stunning natural landscapes, Santa Barbara truly lives up to its reputation as the American Riviera.


Malibu: Stunning Beaches and Celebrity Sightings

As you continue your journey south from Santa Barbara, the next stop on your road trip is the glamorous beach town of Malibu. Known for its pristine beaches, luxurious homes, and celebrity sightings, Malibu offers a taste of the good life along the stunning California coastline.


Malibu is synonymous with beautiful beaches, and there are plenty to choose from. Zuma Beach is a popular choice, with its wide sandy shore, clear waters, and excellent surfing conditions. For a more secluded experience, head to El Matador State Beach, where dramatic cliffs, sea caves, and tide pools provide a picturesque backdrop for a day of relaxation.


An iconic symbol of Malibu is the Malibu Pier. Take a leisurely stroll along the pier, enjoy panoramic views of the coastline, and perhaps grab a bite to eat at the Malibu Farm Restaurant & Cafe. The pier is also a popular spot for fishing, so you might even try your luck casting a line.


Malibu is known for its luxurious homes and celebrity residents, so keep your eyes open for potential celebrity sightings as you explore the town. The Malibu Country Mart is a popular shopping destination frequented by the rich and famous, where you can browse high-end boutiques, art galleries, and enjoy a meal at one of the trendy cafes or restaurants.


To immerse yourself in Malibu’s natural beauty, a visit to the scenic Santa Monica Mountains is a must. Explore hiking trails that offer breathtaking views of the coastline and surrounding canyons, such as the Solstice Canyon Trail or the Backbone Trail. Keep an eye out for indigenous wildlife and soak in the serenity of the mountains.


No trip to Malibu would be complete without sampling some of the local cuisine. Indulge in fresh seafood dishes at one of Malibu’s renowned seafood restaurants, where you can savor dishes made with locally caught fish and shellfish. The Malibu Farm Restaurant and Nobu Malibu are popular choices for a memorable dining experience.


If you’re interested in immersing yourself in the world of surfing, Malibu is a great place to give it a try. Rent a surfboard and take a lesson from one of the experienced instructors at Zuma Beach or Surfrider Beach, where you can ride the iconic Malibu waves.


Malibu’s stunning beaches, luxurious ambiance, and potential celebrity sightings make it a captivating stop on your road trip. Embrace the laid-back coastal lifestyle, soak up the sun on the beautiful beaches, and enjoy the allure of this glamorous beach town.


Los Angeles: The Final Destination

After an incredible journey along the California coastline, you have arrived at your final destination: the vibrant and diverse city of Los Angeles. Known as the entertainment capital of the world, Los Angeles offers a multitude of attractions, cultural experiences, and iconic landmarks that will captivate your senses.


Start your exploration of Los Angeles by visiting Hollywood, the epicenter of the entertainment industry. Take a stroll along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, where you can see the famous stars embedded in the sidewalk honoring Hollywood’s biggest names. Don’t forget to snap a photo of the iconic Hollywood Sign, which overlooks the city from the Hollywood Hills.


To experience the glamour of the silver screen, visit Universal Studios Hollywood. Explore the backlot on a studio tour, embark on thrilling rides inspired by popular films, and immerse yourself in the world of movie magic. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and The Simpsons Ride are must-visit attractions for fans of these beloved franchises.


For art enthusiasts, the Getty Center is a must-see. Located high above the city, this world-class museum showcases an impressive collection of European paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts. The museum’s stunning architecture and panoramic views of Los Angeles make it a truly memorable experience.


No visit to Los Angeles would be complete without spending time at the iconic beaches. Head to Santa Monica Pier to enjoy carnival games, ride the Ferris wheel, and take in breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. Venice Beach is known for its vibrant boardwalk, street performers, and eclectic atmosphere. Take a stroll along the Venice Canals to admire the charming Italian-inspired architecture.


To learn about the city’s rich history and cultural diversity, visit the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). This renowned museum features an extensive collection that spans the globe and encompasses various art forms, from ancient to contemporary. The outdoor installation known as the Urban Light, featuring vintage street lamps, is also a popular spot for photos.


Los Angeles is a food lover’s paradise, offering a diverse culinary scene. From trendy food trucks to world-class restaurants, you can find a wide variety of cuisines to satisfy your cravings. Don’t miss the opportunity to indulge in delicious Mexican food in the vibrant neighborhood of Boyle Heights or taste gourmet cuisine at one of the many celebrity chef-owned eateries.


For nature enthusiasts, a visit to Griffith Park is a must. With its vast open space, hiking trails, and stunning views of the city, Griffith Park is a perfect escape from the urban bustle. Take a hike to the Griffith Observatory, where you can explore fascinating exhibits and gaze at the stars through the telescopes.


Los Angeles offers endless possibilities for entertainment, shopping, dining, and cultural experiences. Make the most of your time in this vibrant city, immerse yourself in its diverse neighborhoods, and create unforgettable memories before concluding your epic road trip.



As your road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles comes to an end, you have undoubtedly experienced the best that California has to offer. From the iconic landmarks of San Francisco to the stunning beaches of Malibu, this journey has taken you through a diverse range of landscapes, attractions, and cultural experiences.


Along the way, you have witnessed the breathtaking beauty of the California coastline, with its rugged cliffs, pristine beaches, and panoramic ocean views. You have explored charming towns like Santa Cruz and Monterey, immersing yourself in their unique atmospheres and rich histories. The majestic cliffs of Big Sur have left you in awe, while the warm sands of Santa Barbara and Malibu have provided moments of relaxation and luxury.


Throughout your road trip, you have had the opportunity to indulge in the vibrant cultures and entertainment scenes of San Luis Obispo and Los Angeles. The historical sites, art galleries, and museums have provided insights into the rich heritage and creative spirit of these cities. Whether strolling along the Hollywood Walk of Fame or visiting world-class museums, you have experienced the captivating allure of Los Angeles.


From the natural wonders to the cultural attractions, and from the outdoor adventures to the culinary delights, this road trip has been a journey of discovery. You have encountered breathtaking landscapes, encountered wildlife, tasted local cuisine, and even had the chance to spot a celebrity or two along the way.


As you reflect on your road trip, the memories of picturesque coastal drives, sunsets over the Pacific Ocean, and the warmth of California’s hospitality will stay with you. The diversity and beauty of the destinations you explored truly showcase the wonders of the Golden State.


Whether you embarked on this journey for its natural splendor, the rich history and culture, or simply to experience the quintessential California lifestyle, one thing is certain: this road trip has provided you with a remarkable adventure filled with unforgettable moments.


As you end your road trip in Los Angeles, you can look back with a sense of fulfillment, knowing that you have witnessed the best of what California has to offer. Keep the memories close as you depart from the “City of Angels,” and carry the spirit of this incredible road trip with you wherever your future travels may take you.