San Francisco to LA Coastal Road Trip – Route 1 Travel Guide

I recently ticked a really big trip off my bucket list, a California coastal road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles. This trip has been high on my bucket list for years so I was really excited to finally get the chance to do it. We had such an amazing trip. Scroll down to see pictures from our trip and all of my travel tips for the road trip, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Planning Your Trip

So what’s really important to know when planning your trip is that there are two routes, California Route 1 (CA-1) and Highway 101. Route 1 is the coastal drive and Highway 101 is the direct highway to LA which is along the coast in some parts when it overlaps with Route 1 but it is not the coastal route so if you take this you’ll miss all of the amazing views and stops. If you use Google Maps it’ll bring you to Highway 101 so avoid Google Maps. If you’re travelling from San Francisco you just follow route 1 southbound the entire way (and Northbound if you’re coming from LA). I would highly recommend doing the southbound route as you’re on the coastal side of the road. Route 1 will take you two days to drive whereas Highway 101 will take approximately 6-7 hours (perfect for the return journey).

Road Closures

At the moment there is a small portion of the route which is closed due to a mudslide. You have two options here, you can drive as far as you can and then drive back the same way to meet Highway 101 or drive up through a mountain. This is not recommended unless you are driving an SUV and only if the weather is dry. This is the option we took and we loved it but it’s very much a route for experienced drivers only. My advice would be to visit the tourist office in Monterey at the beginning of the drive and they’ll provide you with advice on the detour and maps.

Where to stop and stay on California Route 1 

It’s recommended you do the trip with two overnight stays however it’s totally doable with just one overnight stay. If you’re making two overnight stops on the way, Carmel-By-The-Sea and St Louis Obispo are both very popular stops. If you want to complete the drive in two days, Cambria is the recommended stop as it’s half way along the route. We hadn’t booked in advance but stayed in the Bluebird hostel in Cambria and absolutely loved it.

The Best Stops on Route 1 California Coastal Road trip

San Francisco

Monterey

Carmel-by-the-sea

Big Sur

(- Be sure to stop at the Bixy Canyon Bridge and have lunch in the The Big Sur Inn)

Cambria

Santa Barbara

Malibu

Santa Monica

Venice Beach

Los Angeles

There are so many lookout spots along the way. I would highly recommend stopping at as many as you can as the views are all amazing.

Things to do in San Francisco

Cycle the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito 

This was most definitely the biggest highlight of San Francisco. Be sure to continue cycling once you cross the bridge to Sausalito which is across the bay from San Francisco and you can get the ferry back to the city from here. Sausalito is beautiful and you’ll have great views of the city and Alcatraz from the ferry.

Visit Alcatraz Prison

Trips to Alcatraz book out months in advance so I would recommend booking these once you book your flights!

Visit Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39

This is the main tourist area and where you’ll find souvenir shops and loads of nice restaurant. You can also see sea lions at Pier 39 and the place is quite bustling in the evening so it’s a nice spot for dinner and drinks

Union Square 

This is a really pretty area of the city and home to the best shopping. The Cheesecake Factory which is located on the top floor in Macy has an roof terrace which overlooks the square and it’s the perfect spot for lunch.

Take Cable Car

Take a ride on one of San Francisco’s iconic cable cars. There are ones located close to Union Square, beside Westfield Shopping Mall.

Visit the Painted Ladies

We took a hop-onhop-off bus tour (which I’d really recommended and hopped off at Alamo Square to see the iconic Painted Ladies houses. Alamo square itself it really nice so it’s a nice spot to chill for awhile before getting back on the bus.

Things to do in Los Angeles

Venice Beach

We stayed in Venice Beach for two nights and Hollywood for one night and I much preferred Venice Beach. It’s absolutely beautiful and just so laid back and fun. There are electric scooters everywhere which you can use by downloading an app on your phone. We had so much fun on these and scooted the promenade into Santa Monica Pier for the afternoon.

We stayed in an AirBnB which was ideal. Accommodation in Los Angeles is quite pricey so AirBnB is a great option. We stayed in Mama’s Shelter when in Hollywood which is the ideal location if you’re looking for good nightlife. The lobby bar and rooftop bar were so busy the entire time we were there, even during the day. It’s also right off Hollywood Boulevard.

Hollywood Hike 

If you’d like to drive up quite close to the sign and have a short hike by road you can do so from Deronda Drive. We actually took an alternative route whereby we hiked from Wonderview Drive and hiked up by the ‘Wisdom Tree’, up to the highest peak in the hills so that we had 360′ view of LA, and then across to the back of the Hollywood sign. The views from here are amazing. We then walked down in front of the sign towards Deronda Drive. I loved the hike but it’s not an easy one in the July heat so I would recommend starting from Deronda Drive if you want a good view of the sign but don’t want to hike.

Beverly Hills

Take a drive through Beverly and Rodeo Drive. Beverly Hills is so beautiful and it’s of course home to many amazing houses.

Visit a Theme Tark and / or Take a Production Tour 

If you’re into Theme Parks you are spoilt for choice. Six Flags Magic Mountain and Disneyland are both outside of Los Angeles and Universal Studios is located in Beverly Hills. Warner Brothers Studios which is not a theme park but a studio tour is also located in Beverly Hills.

I hope you found this helpful and if you have any questions you can contact me on Instagram @nualagorham.

Until next time,

N

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