An Iconic California Coast Road Trip Itinerary (45 Epic Stops!)

Post Summary: 45 Epic California Coast Road Trip Stops (Northbound!)

Did you know that California’s Highway 1 is one of the most popular west coast road trips in the United States?

It makes perfect sense. California’s rugged coastline, gorgeous sunsets, and nostalgic adventure feel have drawn us in more times than we can count!

If you’re hoping to plan your own road trip down the famous Highway 1, you’ve come to the right place. From the Redwoods all the way down to the sunny beaches of San Diego, there are so many amazing stops to see!

In this post, we’re sharing our favorite stops along Highway 1 for the ultimate California coast road trip. We hope this post encourages you to create your own adventure in California and explore this beautiful coast! 

After reading this guide on how to plan a trip to the California coast, you’ll be ready to have another epic western US adventure.

California Coast road trip

The Ultimate California Coast Road Trip (All The Best Stops)

Where Do I Begin? Northbound or Southbound?

Where to start your California Coast road trip is completely up to you!

Starting south and driving northbound is probably the most common way to travel Highway 1 because of the easy access to airports and rental cars to begin your journey.

There are easy southern starting points like San Diego or Los Angeles. Northern California starting points are a little more difficult – you’ll have to begin in Medford, Oregon, or Redding, California and drive a few hours to the coast to begin.

However, if you’re driving from Portland or Seattle and following our Pacific Coast Highway road trip or our Oregon Coast Road Trip, you’ll find that going southbound isn’t much of a problem!

For the sake of this post, we’re sharing stops in the order of someone going northbound!

Want To Take On The Entire Pacific Coast Highway?

We’ve got lots of information about the ultimate Pacific Coast Road Trip and tons of advice for your journey. Here are some posts to get you started on planning your next road trip on Highway 1!

The California Coast Road Trip – Northbound (Beginning in San Diego!) 

San Diego Area Stops

To get a taste of SoCal, visit San Diego! San Diego is one of the most beautiful places in California, and it offers visitors gorgeous views, lots of fun attractions, and a diverse array of activities and experiences.

Here are some of the most popular (for good reason!)–and our favorite–places to go in San Diego:

La Jolla

La Jolla is one of the most popular attractions in San Diego! This is because of its cute and high-end shops, delicious restaurants, and tons of amazing places to stay.

If you love animals and long walks, you’ll want to visit the La Jolla Cove and the La Jolla Coast Walking Trail to see all kinds of coastal creatures!

The beaches in La Jolla are also top-notch for ocean kayaking (where you can go into sea caves!)! There are also tons of opportunities to go snorkeling/swimming, and relaxing.

Torrey Pines Natural Reserve - California Coast Road Trip Stops

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Looking to be close to town while still having adventures in nature? Check out Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve!

In the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, you’ll find tons of hiking trails (both popular and more secluded), unique foliage specific to this area, lots of wildlife, gorgeous Pacific Ocean views, and lovely corners to find solitude and relaxation.

Some of our favorite things about Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve are the beautiful cliffs, blooming wildflowers native to Southern California, and the Torrey Pines State Beach.

A day use fee to the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve costs between $10-25, depending on what vehicle you drive. The gates open at 7:15AM, though the park is busiest from 10AM-1PM everyday!

Highway 1 California Coast Road Trip Stops - Encinitas


Just north of San Diego, Encinitas is another perfect stop on your California coast road trip.

Here, you’ll find lots of great beaches to relax or play, including Cardiff State Beach, Swami’s Beach, and Moonlight State Beach!

For a full stay in Encinitas, take a day at LEGOLAND California (just 15 minutes north of Encinitas in Carlsbad, CA)! You can also stroll through the San Diego Botanic Garden, and grab a bite to eat at the famous restaurant, The Taco Stand.

San Clemente

For cute California vibes, you must stop in San Clemente, California!

San Clemente boasts top-notch relaxation and picnicking at the San Clemente State Beach. There is also fun hiking/strolling along the 2.3-mile San Clemente Beach Trail, great surfing, epic sunset views on the San Clemente Pier, and tons of cute shops and restaurants.

California Coast Road Trip Route - Surfing in Orange County

Orange County Stops

Orange County is the place to go if you’re looking for epic outdoor adventures. From surfing their iconic waves to exploring the gorgeous bluffs and canyon trails, there’s so many amazing places to go in Orange County!

Here are some of our favorite things to do:

Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach is full of amazing opportunities to hit the beach, explore the coast, and stroll around downtown. With their weekly summer art walks, this is a perfect stop for people who love locally-made goods.

Looking to stay on a budget during your California Coast road trip? Here are some free things to do in Orange County to have fun and save money at the same time!

California Coastal Road Trip Newport

Newport Beach

Newport Beach is the perfect destination for boutique shops, paddle boarders, and sailboat lovers! 

Looking for a bit more adventure? Head over to “The Wave” which is located at the end of the jetty. This is where giant waves come and challenge even the best surfers – you’re sure to get a show here!

Huntington Beach

Huntington Beach is the place to go if you’re seeking that iconic California coast culture. There won’t be a shortage of surfers here! Some of the best waves on the entire California Coast are found on Huntington Beach.

Want to experience the waves for yourself? Consider taking a lesson with Toes on The Nose surf school to try out a new skill!

Pacific Coast Road Trip Stops - Los Angeles

Los Angeles Stops

Los Angeles is another big city stop along your California Coast road trip. Known for its fame and glamor, Los Angeles features the world-famous Hollywood Walk of Fame, top-tier restaurants, and hundreds of unique shops, hotels, and attractions.

Santa Monica

Santa Monica is the place to go for iconic California fun. Popular for its amazing public pier, this area is full of activities to do on your California Coast road trip. Stop a while and play in the waves, check out the amusement park right on the pier, or grab an ice cream cone and watch the sunset.

There isn’t a bad way to experience Santa Monica Pier!

Venice Beach

When planning your California coast road trip itinerary, be sure to include visiting Venice Beach. This is a classic SoCal beach with tons of popular attractions.

Known for its bohemian vibe, the walkable Venice Beach highlights street performers, a fun pier to walk on and watch the sunset, and unique beachside activities.

The Getty

The Getty Museum is a FREE museum located in West Hollywood in Los Angeles.

Being one of the largest art organizations in the world, you must visit the Getty Museum! Here, you’ll find both American and European Art, lots of unique architecture, and gardens to spend hours in.

Other Famous L.A. Destinations

Want more to do while in Los Angeles? We gotchu! While in this popular SoCal city, be sure to check out The Broad, Griffith Observatory, Hollywood Bowl, Watts Towers Arts Center, Los Angeles Theater, Los Angeles Conservancy, and Huntington Beach Pier.

Topanga State Park

Topanga State Park is known as the largest state park within a city limit in the US. It is one of the easiest natural attractions to access while in the greater Los Angeles area!

With over 76 miles of trails, Topanga State Park is the perfect place to escape after exploring the big city.

The most popular trails in Topanga State Park include the Eagle Rock/Eagle Spring Loop Trail, Musch Ranch Trail, and Will Rogers Trail.

Not up for hiking? Try biking or horseback riding!


Malibu, California is one of the most well-known cities along the California coastline. It’s known for its big estates and the grand homes of celebrities!

In Malibu, you can also expect a relaxed surf culture in places like Zuma Beach and Point Dume State Beach.


For jaw-dropping harbor scenes and vintage town vibes, be sure to stop in Ventura, CA!

What makes Ventura unique is their popular Surfers Point at Seaside Park. This is a paved beach pathway lined with palm trees–and easy access to Santa Cruz Island. This is an island located in Channel Islands National Park that has tons of hiking, kayaking, diving, and camping.

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is one of the most picturesque areas along the west coast with cool attractions. It’s often called the American Riviera!

Some of the most popular destinations in Santa Barbara include the Old Santa Barbara Mission and botanical gardens, hiking at Figueroa Mountain or Arroyo Burro Beach County Park, and stopping for a margarita, Mexican food, and epic sunsets at the end of the day.

San Lius Obispo Stops

San Luis Obispo, or SLO, is one of the cutest stops on the California coast with many fun attractions!

Here are some of our favorite activities in San Luis Obispo:

Lompoc Flower Fields

The Lompoc Flower Fields is a stunning area filled with larkspur, stock, and sweet peas.

The best times to see the blooms at the Lompoc Flower Fields are between May and June!

While the fields are privately owned (AKA no trespassing!), you can take pictures from the side of the road. Even better, stop to buy some locally owned fruit stands along the way and enjoy a treat!

The Town of San Luis Obispo

The charming town and greater area of San Luis Obispo has lots of things to do for families, couples, individuals, and friends. It’s almost halfway between San Francisco and L.A.!

While in the area, you can relax at Pismo Beach, go wine tasting in SLO’s wine country, or explore the Montaña de Oro Bluff Trail (easy, 4.1-mile trek with 229’ elevation gain) in Montaña de Oro State Park.

Hiking the Bluff Trail and tide pooling near Spooners Cove is another fun stop in SLO. It offers visitors epic views of the California coast!

Big Sur Stops

For a complete road trip up the California coast, you must travel along the world-famous Big Sur Scenic Byway.

Big Sur is a 90-mile stretch of coast with some of the most scenic curves and bends along the coast. It’s truly a must-see attraction!

Sunrise at Coastal Pullouts

Along these winding, twisting roads are endless opportunities to pull the car over and capture the roaring waves crashing into the cliffs! Foggy hills, jagged rocks, and dramatic coastlines are around every corner here in Big Sur.

Read More: The Ultimate Pacific Coast Road Trip

McWay Falls

If any view can sum up your time on the California Coast, the view of this 80ft tall McWay Falls would be it! 

It’s the shortest recorded trail in the Big Sur area. That makes it a perfect option for families and people who want to quickly stop by on their drive.

Park at the parking lot labeled “Overlook/Waterfall Trail/Pelton Wheel” and head back toward the coast. You cross through a tunnel that goes under the highway, and then have access to the boardwalk view of McWay Falls. Viewing platforms, short walk.

There is no beach access at McWay Falls!

Read More: How To Pull Off A Day Trip To Big Sur, California

Pfeiffer Beach

Pfeiffer Beach is a wonderful place to explore, that’s marbled with purple sand! However, be caution of the route! The way to the beach is through a winding 2-mile narrow road, so be prepared to squeeze right next to another car to get by one another!

Another popular attraction for visitors in Keyhole Rock. Keyhole Rock which is a natural bridge worn through by the crashing waves.

Read More: California’s Black Sand Beach

Bixby Creek Bridge

Did you know this is one of the most photographed bridges in California?

Built in 1932, this bridge was important to the people of Big Sur because it finally connected communities on either side of the canyon. Before the bridge, people had to drive on an 11-mile old and dangerous coastal road to reach the other side!

There are pullouts available on either side of the bridge and an overflow parking lot on the north/inland side.

Carmel-by-the-Sea Stops

One of the cutest and most charming spots along the California coast is Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey!

There are tons of little shops, art galleries, and cafés in these towns. Here are some of our favorite attractions in Carmel-by-the-Sea:

Photo courtesy of

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Point Lobos Natural Reserve is located just south of Monterey, California. This area is widely referred to as the “crown jewel” of California state parks. This is because of its focus on natural preservation, miles of trails, and gorgeous coastline. Because of its proximity to larger cities and right off Highway 1, this place is an easy getaway for visitors to be immersed in nature.

You can explore See Monterey’s website for things to do at Point Lobos like as hiking, bird watching, diving and other activities!

Natural Bridges State Beach

For excellent bird watching and places to explore marine life, check out Natural Bridges State Beach!

At Natural Bridges State Beach, you’ll see grand sea stacks along the compact, sandy beach, tide pools that are perfect for curious kids, and lots of wildlife.


Just 10 minutes north of Carmel-by-the-Sea, Monterey, CA is another charming town in Central California.

In Monterey, the most popular attractions include visiting Cannery Row. It actually inspired John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

For a romantic date with your beau or fun day with the family, visit the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk–an amusement park set right along the sandy beaches of Central California!

Admission to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk starts at $40 (though you can often find deals!), and hours are typically 10AM-10PM in the peak summer season.

Shark Fin Cove

Be on the lookout for this spot before the small town Davenport, California because it can be easily missed! There is no sign indicating the cove’s location, just a large pull out on the coastal side of Highway 1! You can park your car free of charge right off the road on a cleared dirt area.

After a brief walk across old train tracks from the “parking lot”, you can stand on the cliffs above to get a dramatic view. There are walking paths to see the “shark fin” from many perspective, and all are unique and beautiful, in our opinion.

You can also choose to climb down to to the bottom to explore on the beach. The beach access is a steep but manageable trail, and we enjoyed an empty beach with the early sunset. Be careful not to enter the natural arch on the far left side of the beach. Loose rocks often fall from the top (we saw it happen!) and standing under when that happens could be extremely dangerous.

Read More: What To Expect At Shark Fin Cove – Davenport, California

Davenport Pier

This is located not even a mile away from Shark Fin Cove. The Davenport Pier was once used for the village of Davenport, but only the concrete base remains intact. Park at the Davenport Beach parking lot to view it from the cliffs about.

The route down to the actual beach is dangerous, so use your best judgement when deciding to make the descent. Here is a helpful article that explains the area and what you might expect here!

San Francisco Area Stops

San Francisco–like many big cities–is a bustling area full of unique places, diverse people, and lots to do!

We’ve narrowed down some of the best stops in San Francisco for you to add to your California Coast road trip itinerary:

Golden Gate Bridge

Who doesn’t love a classic? While traveling along the California coast, you must stop at the iconic Golden Gate Bridge for pictures and to enjoy the view of the bay and Alcatraz.

Just 30 minutes from the city center, this stop is one of the most convenient along your entire road trip!

Fisherman’s Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf is another one of those iconic San Francisco stops you must take while traveling along the California coast.

Here, you can explore the wharf, rent a bike, go shopping, eat at any of the amazing restaurants, visit local galleries and museums, and more!

Want more activities like this? Check out Pier 39–a popular pier on the ocean that offers visitors tons of fun activities, shops, restaurants, and experiences!

Best Stops on a California Coast Road Trip - Muir Woods

Muir Woods

About 40 minutes from San Francisco, Muir Woods was named a national monument in 1908 after the well-known naturalist, John Muir.

Within Muir Woods, you can hike the Canopy View Trail, which is a great hike that takes you right under big redwoods!

IMPORTANT: Muir Woods has very specific parking requirements, and you must reserve a spot in advance, so be sure to plan ahead before you go as walk-ins are prohibited.

Bolinas Ridge

Bolinas Ridge–a mountain in Mt. Tamalpais State Park–is one of the most popular hiking destinations for visitors and locals alike!

You can summit Bolinas Ridge for yourself on the Bolinas Ridge Trail, which is a 21.9-mile trek with 2,470 feet of elevation gain.

One of the best things about this area is that you can hike it or bike it, take as much or as little time as you’d like, and enjoy the scenery of Central California all the while!

Stinson Beach

Found on Bolinas Bay, Stinson Beach is a great way to stop and have a picnic while driving along the California coastline.

Here, you can look for critters in tide pools with the kids, relax with a book and drink on the beach, or explore the nearby town.

Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore is one of the most unique stops along the Pacific Coast Highway, as it’s known as being one of the “foggiest places in North America,” has lots of hiking, is perfect for camping overnight, and has tons of epic hiking trails.

Some of our favorite hikes (among many more!) in Point Reyes National Seashore include the Laguna Trail Coast Trail Loop (6 miles), Tule Elk Road Tomales Point Trail (9 miles), and Elephant Seal Overlook Trail (0.5 miles).

Northern California Stops

While making your way up to Northern California, you’ll want to make sure to visit these popular attractions:

Bodega Bay

Just north of San Francisco, Bodega Bay is a must-see stop on your California coast road trip.

Known for its hiking around Bodega Head–which also has epic whale watching–and easy access to the beachside Doran Regional Park, this area is perfect for nature-lovers and outdoor adventurers.

Near Bodega Bay, you can also take a spa day at the OSMOSIS Day Spa Sanctuary, stay at The Lodge at Bodega Bay, or hike around the bay on the Shorttail Gulch Trailhead.

Sonoma Coast State Park

North of Bodega Bay, you’ll find the stunning Sonoma Coast State Park–a natural area full of great hikes, epic Pacific Ocean views, and fun beaches to explore. It’s the perfect place for families or solo trips!

Within Sonoma Coast State Park, you can go horseback riding on the Bodega Dunes trail system, hike the Kortum Trail (easy, 9.3 miles with 912 feet elevation gain), and go beachcombing on the rugged, sandy beaches.

Shelter Cove – Black Sands Beach

With a coastline of over 20 miles and unique black sand, the Black Sands Beach near Shelter Cove is one of the coolest beaches in Northern California!

One of the best ways to experience Black Sands Beach is on the Lost Coast Trail–a 24.6-mile trek that offers visitors a unique coastal wilderness hiking adventure and sightings of classic coastal wildlife.

Not up for hiking? This area is perfect for tide pooling and enjoying the natural wildflowers!

Fort Ross

Fort Ross and the Fort Ross State Historic Park is a great place to experience the wide variety of stories, cultures, and natural history of the area. The primary people group that inhabits the land have been the Kashia Pomo Indian Tribe. Russian colonizers (1812-1842) and the Ranch era (1842-1972) changed the primary inhabitants, then the area became a protected resource as a State Historic Park.

You can learn more about this area’s rich history at the park’s Visitor Center!


Mendocino is another unique coastal area in Northern California that has lots of things to do on the California coast.

While in the area, you should explore the Mendocino Headlands State Park, peruse the Water Gallery, and walk through the Cypress Grove park.


Eureka! While the name might have a silly history, it also means “I have found it!” with a connotation of discovery. Eureka, California is no exception, as there’s lots to discover in this California coastal town!

While in Eureka, be sure to check out the town’s local stores, explore the Victorian-era Carson Mansion, stop at Stinky Beach (which, unlike the name, is not stinky…anymore), and follow the city’s mural map to see unique art from local artists.

Abalone Point in Northern California

Sue-Meg State Park

Directly 30 miles north of Eureka, Sue-Meg State Park is the perfect stop for those who want to camp overnight, hike, or learn more about the culture and history of the area.

One of the easiest ways to experience Sue-Meg State park is by hiking the 3.1-mile-long Patrick’s Point Rim Trail, which starts at Palmer’s Point and ends at Agate Beach.

If you’re staying here for longer, make it a full day and drive along Wedding Rock Road to make the short, steep climb up to Wedding Rock. Here, you can explore North Coast Native American history at Sumêg Village.


Trinidad is one of the best places in California to explore cool beaches, because of the many sea stacks and unique geological features!

While in Trinidad, you’ll want to check out Agate Beach, Trinidad State Beach (where you can also hike the Trinidad Head Trail Loop), and Old Home Beach!

Whether you want to go on a morning walk on the beach or love seaside sunsets, Trinidad’s beaches are the way to go.

Redwood National Park Stops

Redwood National Park is one of the coolest national parks in the west–and for good reason! 

If you’re not sure what to do while in Redwood National Park, make sure to add these to your list:

Humboldt Redwoods State Park

To travel the 32-mile-long Avenue of the Giants–a scenic drive through some of the largest redwood trees in the area–you’ll want to visit Humboldt Redwoods State Park!

Open year-round, Humboldt Redwoods State Park is the perfect place to vacation and get a taste of Northern California magic.

We suggest stopping by the visitor center, admire the 300-foot-tall trees on the Gould Grove Nature Trail, walk along the fallen Dyerville Giant, and take a dip in the South Fork of the Eel River.

Fern Canyon

The Fern Canyon Trail is one of our favorites in Redwoods National Park and is a Northern California gem. With tons of plants, cool lighting, and enchanting vibes, you’ll feel like you’re in a fairytale when hiking along the Fern Canyon Trail!

The Fern Canyon Trail is a short 1-mile loop that’s perfect for all levels.

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

The expansive Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is one of the best state parks in the redwoods area, as it has over 75 miles of hiking trails, great camping spots, and epic views of Northern California’s world-famous redwood trees.

There’s also tons of resources for kids, making it a perfect stop on your family road trip!

While visiting Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, you might even catch sight of a herd of Roosevelt Elk.

NOTE: Permits/day-use fees are required in some locations in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, such as Gold Bluffs Beach.

Best Stops on a California Coast Road Trip - Redwood National Park

Tall Trees Grove

One of the best hiking areas in the greater Redwoods National Park is the Tall Trees Grove.

You can park at the trailhead parking lot and reach the Tall Trees Grove on a 4.5-mile round trip backcountry hike with a total 1,600 feet of elevation gain.

Permits are required to visit the Tall Trees Grove, but they’re easy to get online and FREE! You must reserve your permit 24 hours in advance of visiting the Tall Trees Grove.

California Coast Road Trip Conclusion

Alright, you’ve made it all the way across Highway 1 and 101 on a California Coast road trip! Want to keep driving? Read our guide on the best Oregon Coast road trip route, and even continue to Washington with our Olympic Peninsula road trip route!

We hope you enjoyed our post and happy travels!


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