A California Roadtrip is a must-add item to your bucketlist! We drove the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) from San Francisco down to San Diego. Usually most people focus on the big cities, such as San Francisco, Los Angeles & San Diego, but forget all about the small stops you can make along the way. This post is mainly focusing on the 7 stops we made on our California Roadtrip. Most of them we spent a night or two before we continued with the drive, which took us approximately one week before we made it to San Diego.
Stop 1 – Monterey
Our first stop was in Monterey where we spent two nights. Reason that we spent two nights here is because it was right in the middle of San Francisco and Carmel-by-the-Sea & Big Sur. We saw it more as a hub to visit these places. The day we arrived we visited the Fisherman’s wharf and walked around until we reached the Monterey Aquarium. Both of these are recommended to visit.
Stop 2 – Carmel by the sea
On day 2 we continued to Carmel-by-the-Sea. The coastline is a site for eyes coming from Monterey. We started out quite early so that we have time to visit the Carmel Mission. California has many missions where they tell the story of how the state came to be. The best part is the drive from Carmel-by-the-sea to Big Sur. If you stay as much as possible on Highway 1 you can enjoy the scenic route and view.
Stop 3 – Big Sur
Right after we left the mission in Carmel, we continued to Big Sur. Because of mud slides earlier in the year the majority of the road to reach Big Sur was closed. We were only able to reach a mile or two after River Inn, before we head to turn around and head back. We did have lunch at River Inn and it’s one of the most beautiful places we’ve seen. Like the name says, it’s a river and they’ve placed benches in the river where you can sit with your feet in the water and enjoy a drink or a good book. Be aware that the water is quite cold the first 10 seconds, but once you get used to it, it’s fine.
Stop 4 – Morro Bay & San Luis Obispo
On the third day we drove from Monterey to Morro Bay to visit the Morro Rock, which is a volcanic plug. Many years ago it was used as a navigational aid for mariners because it was the most visible in a chain of 9 peaks, also called the Nine Sisters. The Morro Rock is the last peak of the Nine Sisters, which extend from San Luis Obispo to Morro Bay.
We didn’t stay in Morro Bay, but headed to San Luis Obispo on the same day. What we liked the most of San Luis Obispo was the drive-in theater. Just like you see in old movies like Grease, you get there with your car and find a sweet spot to park. Get yourself some popcorn & drinks and enjoy the movie while sitting in the comfort of your car.
Stop 5 – Solvang
The next day we drove to Solvang, which is a mini Danish town in the US: SO. MUCH. FUN. Everything was or looked Danish. Some websites online referred to it as a mini Dutch town, so we weren’t sure what we will find. But it was definitely Danish! And we felt right back at home in Europe with the feel of the town.
Stop 6 – Ventura & Santa Barbara
After Solvang we continued to Ventura and stayed for two nights, but didn’t really explore the town itself. Pity we know! It seems to be really nice. But again we used it as a hub so we can explore the area around it. We heard Ventura is the best for surfing!
Santa Barbara was one of the nearest towns to Ventura, which we really enjoyed. We got our first proper palm trees views here in Santa Barbara that got us in a real California beach vibe. Our first stop was the Stearns Wharf. The creaky sounds of the boards made it a bit freaky to drive on. Or maybe we were just being big babies, because we made it across without any issues. As many other cars and people did! We didn’t have lunch here, but we heard that they serve the best seafood on the Stearns Wharf. Next we visited the station where you can admire the Moreton Bay Fig Tree. Apparently a very popular landmark. All in all, Santa Barbara was a very nice stop.
Stop 7 – Santa Monica
Our last stop was in Santa Monica. Of course, the first place you should visit is the iconic Santa Monica Pier. It’s super busy, regardless of when you go during the day, but it’s worth the visit. Some people can spend hours here, but to be honest you’ll be done seeing it within an hour. Nevertheless, it’s one of those things that you have to see with your own eyes. We’ve seen one of the most beautiful sunsets from this pier. It made our visit even more special. From Santa Monica you can also walk, jog, skateboard, rollerblade or bike the 26-mile bike path to Venice Beach.
These were our 7 stops along the Pacific Coast Highway route we took from San Francisco to San Diego. There are of course many other options or stops that some day we hope to take.