Highway 1 California: The Ultimate Road Trip

A stop along Highway 1 to view one of the many breathtaking views of California's coastline. 

A scenic stop-off along Highway 1 to take in the views of Big Sur from above.

Highway 1 Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Itinerary: 

Finally Mike and I are taking off on our long awaited and six month planned out trip along Highway 1 coast of California. Little did we know that we would explore 16 cities in 6 days while flying down Highway 1 AND still manage to enjoy each others constant company

We took off from Atlanta on a 6pm flight on American Airlines.  We watched Concussion to kill the 5 hour flight time. Upon arrival, we jumped in our convertible rental and made it to our own private beachfront, gated condo in San Clemente. ( this is all thanks to Mike being the ‘mayor’ and his friendly connections which led us to this gem of an accommodation for our first exhausted nights sleep.  We woke up to a patio view overlooking the cliff side of San Clemente, lined with palm trees and the blue Pacific in the horizon.. making the jet lag on our first morning much easier to handle.

Breathtaking views overlooking Big Sur along Highway 1 California

Highway 1 California Itinerary- Day One:

We spent our day cruising around the side streets of San Clemente and surrounding neighborhoods in this part of Southern California. Mike was fully enjoying our free upgrade to a Camaro convertible and the homes in this area are absolutely beautiful.
Our first stop was for breakfast at ‘Ellie’s Table Cafe’, a cute little cafe in the heart of San Clemente. I highly recommend this spot right on the corner near the public beach entrance. We loaded up with a strawberry cream cheese croissant, breakfast burritos, 4x shot lattes, and bacon quiche ( typical breakfast food coma for Mike & I ).. our appetites are too big for our own good.
Next Up:  We were jacked up on 4 shots of espresso, so we jumped back on the road and went to Manhattan Beach. I fell in LOVE with this city, although I’ve been before, I can’t get over the charm, along with all the health food finds, surf shops and outdoor restaurants lining the streets.
Stop # 3, 4, and 5:
Venice Beach: one place I had not been yet. We got to experience Venice and all of it’s ‘weirdness’. We rented beach cruisers and cruised right on through muscle beach, multiple street shows, passed out hippies, skaters and other unexplainable people watching moments. Finally we ended up at Santa Monica beach, but with two rental bikes and no locks, we couldn’t do too much exploring in this area.
By this time, we were hungry again and it only made sense to get some In-and-Out burger before stopping at the Griffith Observatory for views overlooking downtown Los Angeles for the sunset. From here you can get a good view of the Hollywood sign in the hills.
Full & Successfully packed first day, we stayed at a friends in the Huntington Beach area.

One of our first stops along Highway 1 was in the quirky yet charming town of Venice California Becoming California beach bums at one of our first beach stops along Highway 1 California road trip   Being touristy at the Los Angeles overlook along our Highway 1 road trip  Highway 1 PCH Views of the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles California Curvy roads, mountains, and crashing waves below make up a lot of the road trip along Highway 1

Highway 1 Day Two Itinerary- Huntington Beach to Monterrey

Our cozy AirBnb guesthouse in Monterrey California

Our little red guest house where we met our amazing hosts in the town of Monterrey California on our overnight stop along the Highway 1 road trip.

We woke up bright and early with little sleep before jumping back on the highway. Lots of stops and no time to sit around on our biggest road trip day yet.
We grabbed a big breakfast in Malibu  and made our way onto Highway 101.
Our first pitstop was in Santa Barbara. WOW. The downtown is adorable … once again, I just love the surf shops, small boutiques, acai bowls galore… Very true “Cali” vibes.
We made our way up to San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly campus) for lunch at a Mediterranean pizza shop and explored the nearby Morro Bay.
Morro Bay deserves some credit as it was one of the more unexpectedly cool spots along our way and we just decided to stop last minute. Here you will find a small fisherman town. Mike tried out the fried halibut and the famous garlic fries while I watched the big seals sunbathing on the rocks near the fisherman’s boats. It is quite the little quaint town.

Mid-afternoon and we made it to the ‘official’ start of the Big Sur portion of the highway!
We had been waiting for this moment when we would finally see the photographs of the stunning cliffs, winding roads, and hidden detours, come to life.  The twists and turns, flying in and out of mountain sides to cliff sides, and coming within a few hundred feet of crashing waves. It was way better than either of us could have imagined. We have a long list of recommended ‘must-sees” along the way but with limited hours of sunlight ( and no cell-phone service ) , we had to pick and choose.

Morro Bay and it's beautiful water views was one of our unexpected yet favorite stops along the Highway 1 PCH

Highway 1 Pit-Stop – Big Sur: 

Stopping multiple times along Highway 1 to take in the unbelievable views of Big Sur

Big Sur sunset stop along Highway 1. This was one of our very favorite stops and most spectacular beach rock formation views!

Beach rock formations with crashing waves at sunset along Big Sur coastline.

Stop 1:  Treebones Glamping Resort: worth swinging through just to stretch your legs and witness this unique glamping site. If you want to book here- we recommend book EARLY… they sell-out fast and the closer to the date you get, the prices skyrocket. The Yurts and tents are spotted along the site overlooking the blue waters below.
Stop 2: Julia Pfeiffer State Park- ** This is a must in my opinion**  You run down a flight of stairs, through a tunnel, and pop out at an overlook to one of the most extraordinary views. This is known as “McWay Falls” rock formation. There are crashing waves, purple hued sand and a cascading waterfall right onto the sand. I could have stayed for hours and been completely content with this magical view.

Another favorite Highway 1 stop at Julia Pfeiffer state park in Big Sur

Our black convertible ride that we drove all the way up Highway 1 from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

3rd & Final (major) Stop:

We were rushing to beat the sunset to make it to our final detour. Pfeiffer State Park. 
It is extremely easy to miss the turnoff from the highway but luckily a park ranger pointed us in the right direction. There are no real signs, but you will drive down a mile of winding, bumpy roads, go barefoot through more purple-hued sand, and arrive at an unbelievable rock formation that has an eroded hole in the center where the waves come crashing through. * Another must-see which I would very highly recommend coming to for sunset *

Two glasses of wine and a fire pit at our stop at Pebble Beach Golf Course along our Highway 1 road trip

17-mile drive views on our detour from our Highway 1 road trip

From Los Angeles to San Francisco, we stayed patient and happy all the way up Highway 1

Climbing rocks along the coastline on a sunny day in Monterey California

Highway 1 – Days 3 & 4:
Monterey to Carmel-by-the-Sea to San Francisco 

Downtown Monterey California. One of our mid-way stops along Highway 1

The road trip continued, from our airbnb in the outskirts of downtown Monterey, to Carmel.
We took a detour and drove along the picturesque 17-mile-drive of Pebble Beach. Even with the cooler temperatures, we cruised with our top down and stopped at various outlooks. Cliff sides, crashing waves and the ‘ Lone Cypress ‘ were all a part of the scenic views.
At the end of this route, we stopped in at the “19th Hole” where we were welcomed to seats on the patio, a cozy fire pit, a few glasses of red wine and a delicious specialty s’mores dessert to finish it all off. If you have time to stop by the Pebble Beach ‘ Tap Room ‘ , do it…. even if you don’t want to spend the bigger bucks on a full dinner.. the experience and the views along are worth it.. and a glass of wine never hurts either.

On to our last and final destination …  San Francisco here we come!
We were fortunate to stay at our cousins place conveniently located right near Union Square in the city.  With less than 48 hours to explore the city, we made do with the time we had but of coarse there was not enough time to explore everywhere we wanted.

Sunny day views overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

Beautiful and sunny San Francisco California> views from the city from above.

Here are a few of our favorite things we did during our time in San Francisco (Finishing off Highway 1 Road Trip):

  • North Beach –   Eat a Golden Boy Pizza: cheap and delicious, you can walk right up to the window to order. Nothing like a good slice of pizza before walking up and down the hilly streets of SF.
  • Hike the Lands End hike to views of the Golden Gate Bridge
  • Sushi date night in Union Square at Umami: enjoy Japanese whiskey, cucumber-infused Moscow mules, and dessert of “sushi rolls” made of cookie dough vanilla gelato, covered in caramel drizzle.. mmm mm good stuff.
  • Wake up early and wander around Fisherman’s Wharf: check out Pier 39 with the loud crowd of seals
  • Walk up Lombard Street: Appreciate the zig-zagging and beautifully unique street
  • Take a deep breath and breathe in the chocolate aromas at Ghiradelli Square ( and get a sample or two )
  • Alcatrez Island: sign up for a tour.. we weren’t able to so highly recommend signing up WAY in advance to guarantee your way to the island. Have heard great things about this experience, especially at the early morning tours where the island is surrounding by a eerie cloud of fog.
  • Breakfast at Jane: healthy juice and avocado mash
  • Drive  ( or bike ) across the Golden Gate Bridge: explore Sausalito City and get new views of SF and the bridge from the other side
  • Dipsea Ravine Trail: steep ravine hike up near Muir Woods ( less touristy and still get to hike through the GIANT redwoods, greenery and mini waterfalls ). Your drive to this hike will bring you above the clouds.
  • Go past Hippie Hill and Haight Ashbury: eat at Taco Truck on Haight street for super burritos California style
  • Take a picture of the “Painted Ladies” and let it take you back to your childhood watching Full House on repeat

For more road-trip focused travel inspiration, check out my 5-Day Iceland Road-Trip Itinerary! 

Hanging out before our garlic shrimp at Morro Bay

Big Sur selfie along our Highway 1 Road Trip

Golden Gate Bridge and all of it's beautiful glory in San Francisco, CA.