If a road trip down California’s coast isn’t on your bucket list, you should probably drop whatever you’re doing and go ahead and plan a trip. Let me help you plan the perfect 8 day Pacific Coast Highway road trip itinerary down California’s coast from San Francisco to San Diego.
Day 1: San Francisco
You’ll spend your first full day of your magical California road trip in San Francisco. Note that you can start in either San Diego or Los Angeles in the south (I like San Diego…more on that later) or San Francisco in the north.
Make sure to cruise through the Bay, check out Alcatraz, drive over the Golden Gate Bridge, hit up Fisherman’s Wharf, and take a sunset cruise through San Francisco Bay. If you have an extra couple days, you can easily fill the time. Check out my guide to the top attractions in San Francisco!
Where to Stay: Luxurious: Hotel Omni. Mid-Range: Inn San Francisco. Budget: The Willows Inn (as much as San Francisco has budget hotels…just expect to pay a lot when staying in the city. Another option is to check out Airbnb and see what deals you can find there!
Day 2: Napa Valley
Okay, I know that Napa isn’t technically on the Pacific Coast Highway, but when the wine calls your name it’s SOOOO difficult to resist. It’s a fantastic day trip from San Francisco, or you could make an extended weekend of it, all depending on how much wine you’d like to consume! Learn everything you need to know before going to Napa Valley! Make sure to hit up Castello di Amorosa (winery + castle combo), Beringer Vineyards, and Robert Mondavi Winery. If you’d prefer not to drive through Napa, hop on this wine tour from San Francisco, and leave the planning (and driving!) to the experts!
Where to Stay: If you opt to stay in Napa for the night, The Napa River Inn is a charming boutique hotel that will definitely win you over. For a slightly cheaper (though definitely not cheap!) option, check out Embassy Suites, which has the reputation for comfort, cleanliness, and reliability. If you’re traveling with family or friends, definitely look into an Airbnb. (Use my link for savings on your first stay!) It’s also totally doable to go up and back to San Francisco in a day!
Day 3: Redwoods and Carmel-By-The-Sea
Wake up bright and early to say adios to San Francisco! It’s time to officially hop on the Pacific Coast Highway, put the top down, and cruise down the California coast in your convertible. (CarRentals.com and Sixt both have sweet rental deals.)
Make a pit stop at Henry Cowell State Redwoods State Park to feast your eyes on some beautiful redwoods. In Florida, it’s palm trees galore, but nothing quite like the majesty of redwoods! The Park comes right before Santa Cruz and is an excellent midway point before you get to Carmel-By-The-Sea.
If I had time, I’d recommend spending some additional time in Carmel. Enjoy the beautiful views along 17 Mile Drive, hang out in downtown Monterey (visit their first-class aquarium!) and visit the awesome beaches!
Day 4: Carmel-By-The-Sea through Big Sur to Morro Bay
This is my favorite day of the 8 day Pacific Coast Highway road trip itinerary. Despite all of the driving, the views are to die for. Check out my 8 foolproof tips for driving Big Sur to make sure you’re prepared! Wake up bright and early, because Big Sur if full of so much beauty that it will take you an entire day (especially if you make as many photo stops as me!) Must-see stops include Bixby Bridge, McWay Falls, and Pfeiffer State Park. Plus, build in plenty of time to stop at all of the gorgeous miscellaneous places you’ll see along the way.
You’ll arrive in Morro Bay in the early evening, so rest up to prepare for the next day!
Where to Stay: For Morro Bay, I strongly suggest finding an Airbnb. I snagged a cute little guest house with kayaks that was a quick walk to the bay. The town in super affordable, and everyone there was so welcoming!
Day 5: Morro Bay to Solvang to Venice Beach
Today is yet another (you guessed it…BUSY!) day filled with fun activities. Kick off your morning with a paddle around Morro Bay, and enjoy the unique views of the Morro Rock. After that lovely warm-up, pack up the car, you’re taking a detour off of the PCH! Note that you can continue down Highway 1 if you’d like, but I was pretty excited about this next stop…
Say hello to Solvang, a magical Dutch town of windmills and wine somehow located in the middle of California. My guide to Solvang has all the super important information, but if you’re a wine lover (or pastry lover!), this is the place to be! Plus, it’s a nice little stop between Morro Bay and Venice Beach to break up the day.
On the way into Venice Beach, swing through Los Angeles and hit up any of the big sites you desire; top picks are the Hollywood Walk of Fame, hiking Hollywood Hills for views of the famous sign, pedal through Tinseltown, or take a behind-the-scenes studio tour through actual Hollywood studios and soundstages.
After your whirlwind tour through Hollywood, head down to Venice Beach, and enjoy the boardwalk, beach, and unique little restaurants.
Day 6: Venice Beach
Congratulations, you don’t have to pack up the car and move today! You get a whole day to explore the area. My First-Timer’s Guide to Venice Beach will walk you through the highlights. The Venice Beach Boardwalk is like no other (picture weed doctors every other shop), and the skate park is home to some of the most talented skateboarders I’ve ever seen. Plus, make sure to check out all of the awesome street art– I loved the grittiness of the area. For a quick jaunt over to Santa Monica Pier, hop on an electric bike tour, and finish up your afternoon playing on the pier. Wherever you choose to spend the evening, make sure you have some pretty views!
Day 7: Venice Beach to La Jolla
Today is the day where you head down to La Jolla, right outside of San Diego. I chose to base myself in La Jolla instead of San Diego because of the awesome beach vibes (and yummy tacos), but it’s a super easy ride into the city. On your first day, familiarize yourself with San Diego on a Gaslamp and Downtown San Diego Segway tour. You’ll get to visit downtown, cruise along the waterfront, and check out the Gaslamp district, which is home to lots of bars and restaurants. After you’re done exploring by land, it’s time to explore by sea! The whale & dolphin watching cruise is a great bet—you’ll have the chance to see whales, sea lions, dolphins, and seals. If you’re looking for a shorter commitment, try the San Diego Harbor cruise, where you can see sea lions, maybe some seals, and other famous city icons.
Where to Stay: Luxurious:The Lodge at Torrey Pines. Mid-Range: Inn by the Sea, at La Jolla Budget: Travelodge by Wyndham at La Jolla Beach. Like San Francisco, none of these are cheap, so mentally prepare yourself…but it’s worth it for those sunsets!
Day 8: La Jolla, Coronado, and San Diego
For your last full day, it’s up to you where you’d like to spend your time. I’d recommend getting up bright and early to see a beautiful La Jolla morning…the quietness of the morning (aside from the seals) may have been the highlight of the trip. Save some time to wander through Sunset Cliffs Natural Park – the views are out of this world! After that, head over to Coronado Island for a walking tour, or you can rent your own bikes on the island and cruise around on your own. Finish up the day treating yourself to a delicious taco dinner in La Jolla, you won’t regret those fresh corn tacos.
And there you have it, an epic 8 day Pacific Coast Highway road trip itinerary. This is still one of my all-time favorite road trips, and it definitely makes the list for top road trips around the world. Have you been down the Pacific Coast Highway? What were some of your highlights?
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