Pacific Coast Highway road trip: San Francisco to San Diego

Hey there! Hope you all had a wonderful time celebrating July 4th!!

I just got back from my week-long Pacific Coast Highway road trip with my best friend Michelle. The PCH (or “Highway 1”) is known as one of the most beautiful road trips in the world, and it definitely didn’t disappoint! Most of our days were spent spontaneously pulling over on the road to “ooo” and “ahh” at whatever we found. And so, I’m going to write this post bullet style to highlight our stops along the way. Get ready for LOTS of pictures…

Day 1-2: Weekend in SF! Friends visiting SF = an excuse to do all my favorite things in the city.

  • Exploring North Beach, the Mission, and downtown SF: These are some of my favorite neighborhoods, and the best way to see them was on foot. I think we walked over 10 miles the first day!

  • Picnic in Dolores Park: We popped open a bottle of wine and soaked in the sun – my favorite SF activity on a warm day 🙂

  • Treasure Island wineries: We took a short uber ride to Treasure Island and hit up two wineries while enjoying the water-side views of SF. Whitney and Sarah also joined the fun! It was so nice to have some of my favorite girlfriends finally all meet Michelle.

  • Lands End: Our last big activity during our weekend in SF was hiking through Lands End, my favorite city hike. FYI, this picture is unfiltered…can you believe how yellow the air was!? We found out later the weird yellow tint was from wildfires in Northern CA…

Day 3: San Francisco to San Luis Obispo. On day 3, it was finally time to hit the road and begin our PCH road trip! This was the longest driving day of our whole trip…we hit the road around 8am and didn’t get to our motel until midnight! Nevertheless, it was packed with seeing so many beautiful things, listening to playlists and podcasts, and the perfect sprinkle of spontaneity here and there. This was probably my favorite day of the whole trip.

  • Half Moon Bay. First stop – a beautiful beach/bay 45 minutes south of SF. It was a cloudy/foggy day, but didn’t stop us from taking a stroll on the beach and watching the surfers and birds.

  • Bean Hollow State Beach. This was an unplanned stop. I pulled over the side of Highway 1 after seeing some people walking around, and so we decided to check it out. We took a beautiful stroll along the coast and enjoyed more of the awesome views.

  • Pigeon Point Lighthouse. Along the PCH are tons of historic lighthouse. This was our first and only one; we figured you see one you see them all. There was a cool museum inside too that we explored for a bit.

  • Swanton Berry Farm. As we were driving on the highway, we passed by TONS of farmers markets and stands selling berries, peaches, and other fruits in season. We decided to spontaneously pull over an organic farm and pick up some strawberries ourselves! I’m so glad we found this adorable, family-friendly farm and I 100% recommend stopping by!! You can pick and taste fresh strawberries and jams, and also buy baked goods from their bakery. Michelle and I each got blackberry cheesecake and it was to DIE for!

  • Shark Fin Cove. This was a really neat beach filled with interesting rock formations to explore, almost reminded me of beaches in Southern Portugal. The ocean felt so fresh here and it was a nice break from our drive.

  • Santa Cruz boardwalk. I had been to Santa Cruz a few times already, and so we breezed through this town. There wasn’t much to see except the boardwalk, and so we walked along it briefly and the hit the road.

  • Asilomer Beach / drive through Carmel and Monterey. The Carmel and Monterey towns were next. We stayed in the car through most of it and got a feel of the cute beach towns from our drive. We did pull over Asilomer Beach for a few minutes. Michelle and I felt like the cloudiness of the day was making all the beaches start to blend together, and so we decided to skip Carmel beach/Pebble beach/other beaches in the area and just drive through them.

  • Point Lobos State Reserve. This was a really cool stop. Point Lobos is filled with tons of coastal trails of varying lengths and difficulties. We chose an easy one filled with more amazing views of the shore. It was nice to stretch our legs and a good lead up to the main sight of the day…Big Sur.

  • Big Sur!!! Hands down my favorite few hours of the entire trip. Big Sur is levels beyond the rest of the PCH. Driving through the wind-y mountain and taking in the views was pretty surreal. My only complaint was that it was so foggy! I had already been to Big Sur a few years ago on a sunny day and felt bad that Michelle was missing out on Big Sur’s beauty on a clear day, but nonetheless we were both in complete bliss taking in one of nature’s most amazing sights.

We found natural spring water on the side of the road!

  • McWay Falls. Continuing along the general Big Sur area and we found McWay Falls. We did a short hike to see an aerial view of the waterfall. Pretty breathtaking.

  • Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. After a healthy serving of the awesome coastal drive, we approached the more shaded, woods-y part of Big Sur by entering the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. The sun was setting and so we twisted and turned through it briefly before making our way out of the Big Sur area. What an amazing way to end our first day on the road.

Day 4: San Luis Obispo to LA. Due to some road closures on Highway 1, we had to take a detour on Highway 101 and bypass a good amount of central California. We ended up spending the previous night in San Luis Obispo, and so that was our starting point the next day.

  • San Luis Obispo. San Luis Obispo is a actually a cool little college town with hippie-dippie cafes and a walkable downtown called Mission Plaza which we explored. We had breakfast at The 4 Cats Cafe and Gallery which doubled as a coffee shop and art gallery, highly recommend! Another interesting and weird sight we found was Bubblegum Alley, an entire alleyway filled with peopel’s chewed up bubble gum 😛

  • Pismo Beach. A short drive from San Luis Obispo and we were at Pismo Beach. Checking off our first beach of the day.

  • Drive through Central Coast. One of my favorite parts was just driving through the central coast of California. There was a lot of diversity in the scenery – large stretches of hilly dried grass (which surprisingly looked super beautiful) on the left; beautiful coastal beaches to the right.

  • Solvang. We stopped by an ADORABLE and unique town called Solvang. The entire town looked like it was straight out of Denmark – the cobblestone roads, the architecture…so cute! As Michelle and I took a stroll it brought us back to the days of our Europe adventure 🙂
  • Santa Barbara. Lunch time! We made it to Santa Barbara which had a very laid-back feel…I think it was safe to say we made it to SoCal ;). We enjoyed our light lunch outside and took a stroll through the Spanish-inspired streets filled with small white houses with red roofs as well as along the beach side, very relaxing.

  • Malibu. For the record, we love, love, LOVED Malibu! The sun FINALLY came up for the first time in two days, and as we were driving down the highway, the water looked the crystal blue color we had seen in postcards – it finally felt like the PCH road trip vibe we were anticipating. We spent a good amount of time taking in the sunshine and fresh air on the Malibu beach.

  • Venice + coffee with Ed. We finally made it to Los Angeles!! First things first was parking our car in Venice and grabbing coffee with a co-worker from my firm, Ed. Ed and I are really good friends from my days in the New York office, and I hadn’t seen him since transferring to SF! It was beyond heart-warming to catch up with Ed and his girlfriend while enjoying the beautiful evening on the Venice boardwalk.
  • Santa Monica. After checking into our Airbnb in Marina del Ray (right next to Venice), Michelle and I drove over to Santa Monica to explore LA’s most touristy neighborhood. It was both of our first times in LA and so we wanted to check off a few touristy things on our list. We bought some crepes and ate them as we walked on the boardwalk and caught the tail-end of the glowing sunset. It was pretty crowded in Santa Monica and we were exhausted from two straight days of driving, and so we didn’t stay too long.

Day 5: July 4th in LA! Finally a day with no driving! We left our car in the garage of our Airbnb and opted for ubers for the day. LA is such a fun spot to ring in July 4th since the entire city goes bananas partying outside on the beaches. We were so glad to finally have a day to just hang out with no logistics to worry about.

  • Hiking the Hollywood Sign. Before heading to the beach for the day, we wanted to do at least one active thing. So first in in the morning, we laced up our sneakers and headed to Griffith Park to hike the Hollywood sign. The trail itself was exposed and HOT but 3 miles later we ended up getting a solid side-angle view of the sign and killer view of downtown LA. You can see the Hollywood sign in this photo if you squint 😉

  • Venice Beach. Finally beach time! Michelle and I both LOVE the beach and we make an effort to plan our trips around beach days. We grabbed some yummy Mexican food, laid out our towels, cracked open our sour beers, and sun-bathed away. Venice beach was definitely poppin’ with the whole city out and about. FINALLY time to turn off our minds and relax.

The evening was also spent on the Venice boardwalk since it was walking distance from our Airbnb. We grabbed some poke bowls and watched the sunset and then some fireworks. Perfection.

Day 6: LA to San Diego

  • LA County Museum of Art. This was top of our list of things to see in LA solely because it’s where Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman break up in No Strings Attached…#basic. It turned out to exceed our expectations as the museum had lots of free sculptures/art outside of it. We took a stroll with our iced coffees and had a little photo shoot by the famous LACMA lights 😉

  • Drive through Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, and Laguna Beach. We originally allotted the entire afternoon to explore LA, but to be honest, we were inching to just make it to San Diego. LA really was a collection of suburbs, and nothing really jumped out at us that was worth the 30-40 minute drive around the city. And so we hit the road early to San Diego, which ended up being a huge blessing in disguise since it gave us time to take the scenic route on Highway 1 and pass through the series of SoCal beach towns along the way: Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach and more!

  • Chill evening in San Diego. We finally made it to San Diego!! Our final stop of the entire road trip. I was actually super impressed that we made it in one piece with no damage to the car or anything…I think my driving really got better after the trip :P. Our Airbnb was super bomb with a pool and hot tub, and so we spent most of the evening just chilling there, along with grabbing dinner in the Gaslamp district.

Day 7: San Diego. Our final full day of the trip. Michelle and I wanted nothing more than to put the car away and relax.

  • Balboa Park. In the morning, Michelle and I ubered to the massive park in San Diego that houses tons of museums as well as the San Diego zoo. It was a HOT day and so we walked under the shade and checked out some art galleries as well as an indoor garden.

  • Pacific Beach. Our final beach day! It completely hit the spot. We had mini beach “sessions” along different spots of Pacific Beach, and broke them up with grabbing tacos and ice cream, just to return on the beach to swim and lay around again. The San Diego beaches are really stunning…they stretch for miles and miles and the waves are big enough for surfing. I couldn’t ask for a better way to end the trip.

And that wraps up our week on the Pacific Coast Highway!! This road trip has been a bucket list item of mine for ages, and it was so amazing to finally take this trip with my best friend in the whole world. We saw so many beautiful things, and above all it was beyond refreshing to spend lots of quality time with Michelle (we have taken a trip together every year for the past 5 years – she is my favorite travel buddy!). ❤

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