I’ve driven several times between Los Angeles and western Washington, sometimes taking the coastal route the entire trip. This trip I drove to San Francisco via the interstates, breaking up the trip in Ashland, Oregon (check out their Shakespeare Festival), continuing on to San Francisco and Pacifica, California.
I stayed in Pacifica as it’s right on the ocean, nice restaurant at the Best Western and only a short drive to San Francisco. Pacifica, California ~ Photos
I used Pacifica as a base to explore the area, including Sausalito (take the ferry), Tiburon, Muir Woods, The Presidio, Ghirardelli Square, the cable cars and driving on Lombard Street (the crooked street with eight hair pin curves). Have fun exploring and dining.
From Pacifica start your drive south on Highway 1. Stop at Half Moon Bay for lunch (there are several terrific seafood places), walk about the Marina area. Explore the many state beaches along the highway.
Along the way, discover Santa Cruz with its boardwalk and vintage rides including a carousel and roller coaster. Continue to Monterey and Carmel. Both are terrific destinations to stay or stop for a long leisurely lunch and browse shops. Be warned that there will be heavy traffic during the summer or week-ends.
Heading south, check out Ragged Point Inn (great restaurant and gift shop), Nepenthe Restaurant (very good) and Ventana Restaurant (terrific play to eat). Wherever you decide to stay, take time to explore the incredible Big Sur area. Before I visited California, I was captivated by “Not Man Apart: Photographs of the Big Sur Coast” by Robinson Jeffers and knew that I had to explore the area.
PHOTOS: Ragged Point Inn and Ventana
Hearst Castle and Morro Bay area
About 7 miles north of San Simeon, stop to see the Elephant Seals. The area is easily accessible, plenty of parking and a free viewing area. The Hearst Castle is a must-see in this area. Check on the web as you can purchase tickets prior to your arrival and there is a wealth of information on-line (about the various tours and times). Allow several hours to explore.
A few miles south of the Castle stop and view the zebras (on your left), there is space to park; have your camera ready.
Morro Bay is a cute town to break up the drive down the coast; nice bakeries and restaurants. Explore the nearby beaches and state parks.
As you continue south, take a detour and go inland to Solvang, in the Santa Ynez Valley. The town is known for its Danish theme, including some very good restaurants (check out “The Little Mermaid”) and bakeries and marvelous shops to browse. There are local wineries to explore plus the Vintage Motorcycle Museum and the Old Mission Santa Ines.
Los Angeles Area
Heading south, get back on Highway 101 to explore Santa Barbara and Ventura. Take Highway 1 to arrive at the LA area via Malibu. There is so much to see and do, ranging from beautiful beaches to Disneyland to touring movie studios to shopping at Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills to eating at Farmer’s Market to exploring Santa Monica’s 3rd Street to the Getty Museum and Villa to the Queen Mary (in Long Beach) to driving along Sunset Boulevard to tour Descanso Gardens in the Glendale area to … well, you get the idea. Southern California is a fabulous place to explore.
Plan your trip to avoid traffic congestion (yes, I know, that is almost impossible!) as you do not want to spend hours on the freeway stuck in traffic.
Hermosa Beach area
If staying in this area, check out the terrific restaurants on Pier Ave, including Fritto Misto (great Italian food), Hennessey’s Tavern (sit outside and watch the beach crowd), and Crème de la Crepe (fabulous French dining, from breakfast to Happy Hour to dinner).
Take time to go to the beach and enjoy your swim in the Pacific Ocean and maybe play some beach volleyball.
Take a drive to nearby Palos Verdes Peninsula; lunch at the Palos Verdes Golf Club is very good ( you do not have to be a member for lunch) or drive further on the peninsula and visit the Trump National Golf Club Los Angles for tea (incredible!) or lunch or dinner.
It’s a short drive to the South Coast Botanic Gardens where you can easily spend several hours. Then drive to the Queen Mary where you can dine or stay a night. Plan to take the boat to Catalina.
When I visited this last time, I was planning to drive back inland on Interstate 5, but thought no, I LOVE the scenic route and that is what I did. If you have the time, it is one of the most gorgeous routes in the US.
- Check road conditions (particularly Highway 1, which can have closures)
- Expect traffic if traveling in summer or on week-ends on Highway 1
- Stop at the numerous places along Highway 1 to take photos or simply to admire the view
- Have alternate routes or activities planned
- Take your time and enjoy your glorious journey