My California Road Trip Itinerary: San Diego, LA & the Pacific Coast Highway

The Perfect California Road Trip ItineraryA road trip through California and up the Pacific Coast Highway is quite possibly one of the greatest road trips you could ever take in your life

We started in San Diego, passed through LA (where I met a couple of super celebrities and got up close to Madonna’s shrubbery), then drove up the Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco which might just be the coolest city in the world! We then headed inland to Yosemite National Park and ended the trip in Las Vegas. It was amazing!

We had 15 days to explore, not long considering how much ground we covered, but I’m pretty good at packing a lot in to a short space of time. There’s so much stuff to do and so much to see and we went back and forth, researching, working out timings – it was confusing!

So, here’s where I come in. I love to plan road trips, and help other people plan – so just think of me as your personal road trip planner! Knowing what I know now, here’s my California road trip itinerary (with Las Vegas), with a bit of advice on what I might have done differently – hope you pick up some ideas of things to do and places to visit on your adventure. You can amend accordingly, depending on your priorities and the number of days you have!

We’d arrived in San Diego late the night before, having flown from Manchester via Philadelphia with US Airways. Our apartment was really close to the airport, in Little Italy, so after grabbing a little bit of pizza, I went straight to bed, heavily jet-lagged. Up at the crack of dawn, we headed out to explore…

San Diego Palm Trees

Day One: San Diego

Head to the USS Midway, an ex warship which is now a museum. It’s a great way to spend a few hours and having never been on a real war ship before, it was really interesting, with all kinds of military memorabilia, aircraft and lots of things to play with.

Continuing further down the Embarcadero, you will see the Unconditional Surrender (a giant sculpture of the sailor who kissed the nurse in Times Square at the end of World War 2) and A National Salute to Bob Hope and the Military, a group of wonderful bronze statues depicting Bob Hope entertaining the troops during the war.  A lovely tribute.

California Road Trip Itinerary

After lunch, get the ferry (right next to USS Midway) over to Coronado and head to Coronado Beach. It’s a good half hour walk, so if that’s not your thing in the midday sun (I managed to get burnt – oops), you can get the bus. The beach is huge – white sand, flecked with gold stretches as far as the eye can see. None of us had brought bathing suits, so we just chilled on the beach, watching dolphins swimming out in the water.

California Road Trip Itinerary

In the early evening, head back to the Unconditional Surrender in time for sunset, before having a delicious dinner at the Fish Market.

California Road Trip Itinerary

After dinner, head to the Kansas City Barbeque – the bar where Maverick and Goose sing Great Balls of Fire in Top Gun. The whole place is covered in Top Gun memorabilia and the Juke Box is filled with classic tunes, including the Top Gun soundtrack of course.

California Road Trip Itinerary

End the evening with a trip to the lively Gaslamp Quarter. There are tons of bars to choose from! Perhaps whilst you’re there, pick up some more food from Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop, it’s open til 11pm!

California Road Trip Itinerary

Day Two: San Diego

First stop in the morning, Old Town San Diego, the birthplace of California. A wonderfully touristic, Mexican influenced and utterly charming part of town. Here you can learn all about the history of California and San Diego in particular, buy tons of souvenirs, take an Old Town Trolley Tour, listen to live music and try some fantastic Mexican food. We stopped by the Baja Cantina for lunch, but there are plenty of plenty of places to choose from.

Spend the afternoon at Balboa Park, it looks amazing and is something we didn’t get to do and I really regret!

California Road Trip Itinerary

We stayed around Little Italy for dinner that evening and ate at a great little restaurant called Trattoria Fantastica which had a great menu and was pretty reasonable too! We topped off the night with cocktails at the rooftop bar at The W San Diego Hotel.

Top Tips:

  • Wear your bathing suit, you may want to swim at Coronnado Beach.
  • San Diego isn’t the biggest city I’ve been to, but wear comfortable shoes, you’ll do a lot of walking!
  • There is also the MTS Trolley, a modern tram that makes it easy to get around, so staying near a tram stop would make things easier!

Day Three: San Diego – Los Angeles

Pick up the hire car and make your way to La Jolla (pronounced La Hoya), around 25 minutes from San Diego. La Jolla is a nice place to spend a couple of hours or perhaps even a night if you have more time. Park up in town and walk down to Scripp’s Park and La Jolla Cove to spot the seals and sea lions out in the water (some people were snorkelling) and then walk to Casa Beach you can get right up close to them.

California Road Trip Itinerary - La Jolla

Back in the car, we drove another two and a half hours to Venice Beach, our base in Los Angeles for the next few days.

California Road Trip Itinerary - Venice Beach

We arrived in LA mid-afternoon. Knowing we only had a couple of days, we dropped our stuff off, changed and headed toward Venice Boardwalk.

California Road Trip Itinerary - Venice BeachCalifornia Road Trip Itinerary - Venice BeachCalifornia Road Trip Itinerary

I’d heard mixed reports about it, but there was something about Venice that I kind of loved. It’s got a sleazy side, for sure. But it’s also got a lot of character. A people watchers dream. Starting at the very famous Muscle Beach, you can walk the hour or so to Santa Monica Pier as the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean.

California Road Trip Itinerary - Venice Beach

After a quick look around the Pier (and perhaps take on a ride or two at Pacific Park – opening times vary), head inland for dinner and drinks!

California Road Trip Itinerary - Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica has lots of nice bars and eateries to choose from. We went to Barney’s Beanery for food. It has a great atmosphere and a large menu! We then headed to The Misfit for a drink, before calling it a night. For other great bars to try, see this article on LA Weekly.

Day Four: Los Angeles

Get up early and make your way to Hollywood Boulevard and head to the Chinese Theatre. Here you can book a tour of the stars homes. The tours take you through Downtown Hollywood, Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, Bel Air and up into the Hollywood Hills.

California Road Trip Itinerary - Hollywood

Before or after your tour, take a bit of time to find your favourite stars on the Walk of Fame and put your hands in handprints of legends such as Gene Kelly and Judy Garland. Keep your eyes peeled for celebrities… we saw two!

California Road Trip Itinerary

After the tour, still on the search for celebrities, we picked up a ‘Map of the Stars Homes’ and went on our own trip around LA to find some more celebrities. First stop was the Holmby Hills, to see the Playboy Mansion.

California Road Trip Itinerary - Hollywood

Later in the afternoon, we perhaps did, what I would class as our most unusual activity of the trip. We visited the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery. This is the final resting place of stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon, Dean Martin and Farrah Fawcett. Marilyn’s was decorated with fresh flowers from fans and there was a space next to it, which I believe is reserved for Hugh Hefner. The cemetery is a quiet, reflective, peaceful and beautiful place, set amongst the craziness of Hollywood.

In the evening, head out to the bars in Venice Beach. We had an early start the next day, so we just went to The Other Room, a great bar for couples or friends. For other great bars to try, see this article on LA Weekly.

Top Tips:

  • We found the Venice Beach/Santa Monica area a great place to stay and I would recommend it!
  • I could easily have stayed an extra day (or two) in LA, to perhaps window shop on Rodeo Drive, take a trip to The Ivy or even just spend a day at the beach or go horseback riding in the mountains, followed by a night out in Hollywood, if that’s your thing. In the words of the former Governor of California – I’ll be back…

Day Five: LA – Cambria (the Pacific Coast Highway)

You’ll be sad to leave LA, however a trip to Venice High School on the way out will perk you up – well it did for me anyway. Why? I hear you ask! Because Venice High School is… Rydell High from Grease! And wouldn’t you know it, I was wearing my Grease t-shirt for the occasion.

California Road Trip Itinerary - Rydell High School Venice Beach

Drive to Malibu. We decided not to stop here, but if you have time… it looks gorgeous and I can see why so many celebrities call it home. Our first stop was Santa Barbara, which took just under 2 hours. Santa Barbara is a lovely town with great street art and tasty fish and chips on the pier.

California Road Trip Itinerary - Santa Barbara Street ArtCalifornia Road Trip Itinerary - Santa Barbara Pier

From Santa Barbara, head to Pismo Beach and San Luis Obispo to spend some time in the afternoon. We stayed the night in the small town of Cambria at a lovely little place called The Creekside Inn. It was just a short walk into town, where we had dinner at Linn’s Fruit Bin Restaurant. I can recommend the local Ollalaberry Pie! We finished off with a quick drink at Mozzi’s Saloon over the road.

California Road Trip Itinerary - Cambria Ollalaberry Pie

Top Tips:

  • Petrol (gas) is EXPENSIVE on PCH and gas stations are few and far between, so fill up before you head out of LA.
  • You can do the drive from LA to San Francisco in a day, however I strongly advise that you take it slow along the Pacific Coast Highway, one of the most scenic drives in the world – 3 days would be a nice amount of time.
  • With all the stops, it takes a lot longer than you’d think, so set off as early as you can.
  • I would have liked to have visited Solvang, a Danish village near to Santa Barbara.
  • And if you’re not on a tight budget, The Madonna Inn looks like a really fun place to stay!

Day Six : Cambria – San Francisco (via the Pacific Coast Highway)

Have hearty breakfast at the Cambria Cafe (or Linn’s again), pick up road trip supplies at Bob & Jan’s Bottle Shop and hit the road. You will be sad to leave, as Cambria might just be the friendliest place in the world. Seriously, you know when you want to cuddle everyone you meet. Yeah, it’s like that.

California Road Trip Itinerary - Pacific Coast Highway PCH

First stop, Hearst Castle in San Simeon, a beautiful castle set up on a hill which has now become a historial park. Keep your eyes peeled as you drive along… I thought I had Africa on the brain when I saw a herd of zebra running around in the distance. But no my eyes weren’t deceiving me, an actual herd of zebra live on the grounds. You need 2 – 3 hours to explore, so get up and out as early as you can. San Simeon is also the beginning of Big Sur, a ninety mile stretch of scenic beauty!

California Road Trip Itinerary - Pacific Coast Highway Seals

Back in the car, continue along Big Sur stopping at some of the viewpoints on the way, spotting California Condors circling overhead, or seals casually basking in the sun on the beaches below.

California Road Trip Itinerary - California Condor

Stop for an hour or so at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and take in a view of McWay Cove and waterfall (parking costs $10). It’s also a great place to hike if you have more time. My advice – don’t skip this. It’s one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been.

California Road Trip Itinerary - Julia Pfeiffer Burns State ParkCalifornia Road Trip Itinerary - Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Continuing north, you pass over the Bixby Creek Bridge. Next head to pretty Carmel-by-the-Sea, park up and take a look around. There are lots of pretty shops and eateries, plus it’s super dog-friendly if you have a pooch in tow! Just don’t wear your high heels, they’re not allowed in Carmel!

California Road Trip Itinerary - CarmelCalifornia Road Trip Itinerary - The Lone Cypress

Back in the car take the 17-Mile Drive and see things such as The Lone Cypress and the world famous Pebble Beach Golf Course ($10 entry – which can be off-set if you eat at a Pebble Beach restaurant). Warning: Serious envy alert. People actually live here!

California Road Trip Itinerary - 17-mile drive horse riding

Next head to Monterey to look around. If we’d had more time, I would have liked to have taken a hike or cycle along the Monterey Peninsula Recreational Trail, which stretches from Pacific Grove (near the 17-mile drive), all the way to Castroville, but c’est la vie!

California Road Trip Itinerary - Santa Cruz

From Monterey continue down the coast to colourful Santa Cruz where you can park up and take a walk on the beach, have a ride on the fair and grab and ice cream.

Next stop, San Francisco. As we drove in, it seemed the world and his wife were heading there too, but it was Friday night and everyone was coming in to party!

Top Tips:

  • Sat Nav is your friend on this trip. We may still have been driving round the maze that is the 17-mile drive to this day if it hadn’t been for our Sat Nav.
  • You can’t do the 17-mile drive on a motorbike.
  • You could easily spread this day over two days as there’s so much to see! If I could do it again, I would have stayed in either Carmel or Monterey and taken a trip whale watching in the morning and spent more time in Santa Cruz!
  • Try not to arrive in San Francisco at rush hour on a Friday – it ain’t fun!

One thing I will stress is this – be responsible when drinking. There are loads of great bars to try, but remember you have to do a lot of driving the next day and I want you, your passengers and other drivers on the road to be safe (lecture over)!

READ NEXT: My California Road Trip Itinerary: San Francisco

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  • Reply
    March 24, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    Awesome. Can’t wait to get on this in 2 1/2 weeks! I wasn’t going to get a sat nav – is that a big mistake? Also, that Madonna Inn looks cool, cheers for that.
    Vicky recently posted…What Can You Do With £25 on Khao San Road?My Profile

    • Reply
      March 24, 2014 at 2:52 pm

      You’ll have so much fun! Are you doing the exact same places? Like I said on FB, Matt is a Vegas aficionado so gve me a shout if you want any info!

      Unless you LOVE maps (which I actually do – but with 5 of us in the car, it could have got messy), I’d get a sat nav. You can usually wangle one for free from the hire car company… plus, they’re good for stalking celebrity houses! We just found it useful, especially driving into the cities, and navigating the 17-mile drive! The rest of the way is really well signposted. Just head up or down Highway 1 and you’re done!

      I first saw the Madonna Inn on Girls of the Playboy Mansion. The rooms are themed and really wacky! Really wish we could have stayed there but we went for the budget Creekside Inn which wa cute. A proper motel like in the movies! There are so many lovely places to stop on the drive, we didn’t even stop at half of them because of time, which is why I wish we’ spent 3 days driving it rather than two… but either way, it’s still amazing!

      Hope you have a wonderful time! xxx

      • Reply
        July 13, 2016 at 5:22 am

        Love love your tips……I’ve never been in San Diego, km going in a month….if you don’t mind can we be friends on FB? Thanks for all your tips!!!!

    • Reply
      suzie campbell
      October 7, 2015 at 12:32 am

      thank you very helpful!

      • Reply
        October 12, 2015 at 10:56 pm

        No worries, thanks Suzie, glad you liked it!

    • Reply
      January 16, 2016 at 11:06 pm

      I did the same thing fifty years ago. I took pictures too.

  • Reply
    Gran Canaria Local
    March 24, 2014 at 5:34 pm

    We spent some time working in San Francisco. Unfortunately, we really didn’t have the time to travel around much. Which makes a return inevitable. And this itinerary will come in handy. The palm trees remind us of where we live now, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.
    Gran Canaria Local recently posted…Canary Motorcycle ToursMy Profile

    • Reply
      March 24, 2014 at 8:04 pm

      Glad you found it useful! Hope you get back soon!

      Never been to Gran Canaria, but I’m sure I’d like it! 🙂

  • Reply
    March 24, 2014 at 7:47 pm

    Now that I have a car, I’m so excited to start embarking on road trips here in the US. I’ll definitely be taking your advice when I hit that area of the country (which hopefully will be sometime this year!)
    Kay recently posted…Snapshots of Turkey’s Food SceneMy Profile

    • Reply
      March 24, 2014 at 8:09 pm

      Whoop whoop! Road trip! And you’re in one of the best countries in the world for road trips! Hope you find it useful when you go! I’ll be posting the second installment too. This was such a fun trip! You’ll love it!

      And great nws on your new writing gig at Twenty-Something Travel! 🙂 Looking forward to more posts! And… if we meet… please show me how to do a headstand… looks very cool, although I might not try it on a cliff edge just yet!:)

  • Reply
    Mike Hayes
    March 24, 2014 at 9:34 pm

    Olallielalliebelly pie… mmmm

    • Reply
      March 24, 2014 at 9:46 pm

      Oh yeah… when you work out how to say it!

      What was the best thing about your American road trip Michael? Sitting next to me in the car? 🙂

      Our drive into San Francisco could have been rubbish… but you and your American accent kept me entertained. ‘get out of the way you jyuoik off’! 🙂

      • Reply
        Mike Hayes
        March 24, 2014 at 9:52 pm

        My favorite time was everyone else’s least favorite time.. when I was allowed to drive the car!!

        • Reply
          March 24, 2014 at 11:05 pm

          Yeah… that was a scary half hour… 🙂 Aw you were good. You can drive me around the bend any day! x

  • Reply
    March 24, 2014 at 10:50 pm

    I have seen way too many American road trip blogs recently and now I can’t get the idea out of my head! The photos, the places, the food all looks so incredible and with great company you can’t go wrong! I can’t get over the colours in San Diego the sunset photo, it’s looks unreal!
    Naomi recently posted…La BoqueriaMy Profile

    • Reply
      March 24, 2014 at 11:07 pm

      Go! Go! Go!!!!!!!!

      It was a great trip! I just wish it could have been longer! The sunsets were incredible! I think we had a good one every single night! I may have to move there!

      Hope you are doing well lovely!!!

  • Reply
    March 25, 2014 at 2:36 am

    I did the same trip or almost, but in reverse, in October 2012! Such a great experience 🙂
    Beatrice recently posted…Photos of the week #36My Profile

    • Reply
      March 25, 2014 at 10:53 am

      Couldn’t agree more! So much fun. Road trips are the best. Especially with that view!

      Hope you are well my dear! When you coming to England to visit me? x

    • Reply
      April 28, 2015 at 10:39 am

      How did it work in reverse? Myself and fiancé are thinking about it for our honeymoon at the end of October – thoughts are to start in SF and then drive south along the Big Sur (over about 3 days) towards LA (arriving in time for Halloween!! Spend a few days in LA and then head on to San Diego for a couple of days… before flying back to SF and then home to Dublin, Ireland! – can anyone advise how many days would be ideal to spend in LA and San Diego??

      • Reply
        April 29, 2015 at 6:21 pm

        Hi Evelyn, I only did it that way, but it would make no difference. I’d say that 2 – 3 nights in San Diego is enough, i would have liked another night in LA, so I’d say 3?

        Have fun!

  • Reply
    Kristin Addis
    March 25, 2014 at 9:59 am

    I’ve wanted to do this trip for so long! I’m from LA and went to uni in Santa Barbara but I’ve never even been to Big Sur! When I (eventually, a loong time from now) move back home it’ll be to Santa Monica for sure.
    Kristin Addis recently posted…Tiger Leaping Gorge: A Beautiful Trek in ChinaMy Profile

    • Reply
      March 25, 2014 at 10:56 am

      Ha ha, it’s funny how we don’t do the stuff that’s kind of on our doorstep but then travel all over the world! 🙂 I’m the same! This year I need to explore more of England.

      Lucky you being from California. 🙂 A very beautiful part of the world to call home. I heard mixed reports about LA, but I really loved it. Could have stayed for much longer!

      Hope to see you soon! x

  • Reply
    Anna @ The Blonde Banana
    March 25, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    So jealous – I’ve always wanted to do a California road trip. I have family in La Jolla and it’s so beautiful there  – I love seeing the sea lions. But I’ve never done much in actual San Diego so I think I need to go back!
    Anna @ The Blonde Banana recently posted…Tips for Taking the Train in MoroccoMy Profile

    • Reply
      March 25, 2014 at 4:13 pm

      Hey Anna! It wasn’t on my bucket list really (I’ve no idea why) until a friend said her and her hubby were going, so the rest of us went along too! I always choose to go somewhere a bit more rough and ready – but I LOVED it. If you have family in La Jolla, that’s the perfect excuse to go back. I didn’t know there was so much to do until I went! But there was loads, and I loved the Top Gun side of things! I love that film! Let me know if you go!!!

      ps. Love your blog name!

  • Reply
    March 26, 2014 at 11:58 am

    Oh my God I loved this post!
    Such a great inspiration and good tips on where to go!!
    I came back from SW US in January, altough my itinerary was much shorter, we did Las Vegas, L.A. and the Grand Canyon! I loved it!
    I just finished posting about it on my blog 🙂
    Looking forward to read about part 2!!!
    Pam recently posted…GOLDEN HOUR IN VENICEMy Profile

    • Reply
      March 26, 2014 at 8:51 pm

      Ha ha, thanks, glad you liked it!!! There’s things I know know, I wish I’d known before, but c’est la vie! 🙂

      Cool, ill have a look on your blog about your trip!!! xx

  • Reply
    Sachin Agrawal
    March 29, 2014 at 10:28 am

    Such a nice road trip Helen. I was in those places before but I only had so little time 🙂

    A nice read.

    My blog:
    Sachin Agrawal recently posted…Coorg: Treks, Waterfalls, Rivers and panoramas!My Profile

    • Reply
      March 29, 2014 at 11:04 am

      Thank you Sachin! I know, always not enough time. I would love to spend a month in every place I go to get to know it better!

  • Reply
    NZ Muse
    April 1, 2014 at 12:12 am

    That sunset sky behind the statue – unbelievable.

    I looove California. We went from SF to SD and it was one of my favourite parts of our entire US road trip. Stumbling across the elephant seals especially!
    NZ Muse recently posted…Four of the best travel apps for your RTW tripMy Profile

    • Reply
      April 1, 2014 at 9:28 am

      Thanks! It was one of my favourite trips and the sunsets were amazing! 🙂 Aw, and the seals! I love how funny they move on land and then are so elegant in the water!

  • Reply
    April 10, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    Love your post. I just left San Diego to travel full-time with my husband and I have to admit your post left me a little homesick. That said, maybe I just need to add a trip back to my plans.

    Happy travels!

    • Reply
      April 10, 2014 at 7:33 pm

      Aw, thanks Jen! Sorry for making you home sick! San Diego is lovely, what a great place to grow up! But, it will still be there when you get back, so enjoy your travels! But I’m the same, I do miss home if I’m away too long! 🙂

  • Reply
    June 3, 2014 at 9:13 am

    Great trip, great pics! I did this trip two months ago from Santa Barbara to sfo and from LA to San Diego! The best roadtrip of my life!!
    I just discovered and I love your blog!! Greetings from Greece xx

    • Reply
      June 3, 2014 at 7:33 pm

      Thank you Debbie! Glad you’ve enjoyed reading! I need to go check out your blog too!

      I loved this road trip too! So pretty and scenic and great to share with friends!!

  • Reply
    March 4, 2015 at 9:24 pm

    This looks so wonderful! I’m definitely going to incorporate this itinerary into my own when I embark on my California road trip!

    My one obstacle seems to be the car, however. What rental car company did you use?

    • Reply
      March 11, 2015 at 12:47 pm

      Yes love this – I’m also interested in which car company you used?

      • Reply
        March 15, 2015 at 10:36 am

        Hi Sharon,

        We used US Car Hire!



    • Reply
      March 15, 2015 at 10:46 am

      Thanks Samar! When do you go on your trip? I’m jealous, I’d love to do it again!

      We used US Car Hire.

      Have a great trip!

  • Reply
    Claire Stewart
    March 16, 2015 at 2:15 pm

    Great trip report and really helpful. I’m hoping to drive from San Francisco to LA over three days / two nights next year and have got my head completely pickled reading up on what to see in which little town. I’m thinking of stopping overnight at Carmel, then again at Morro Bay or Santa Maria to give us time to visit Monterey, do the 17 mile drive and visit Hearst Castle with sufficient time to be able to appreciate them fully. I had planned to stay up near Burbank but might take a look at Venice Beach now and will certainly be looking into a tour of the stars homes.

    Thanks for sharing your experience!

    • Reply
      March 16, 2015 at 9:01 pm

      Thanks Claire! Three days is a good time to drive PCH! Don’t worry too much about seeing every little thing! Have a list but try and go with the flow! My advice is to get up early so you have time to take it easy and stop where you want! Nothing worse than rushing to get there before dark!

      I didn’t go to Burbank, but loved Venice Beach, although it’s not for everyone. It’s a little rough round the edges, a little quirky, but I didn’t feel unsafe. I thought it was brill!

      Have a wonderful time!

  • Reply
    Jacquie Joy
    March 28, 2015 at 10:45 am

    Hi Helen, really glad I came across your blogs. My hubby and I are planning a road trip in Sept from LA, up Highway 1, then out to Yosemite and then San Francisco. We will have about 2 1/2 weeks, will that allow sufficient time for an road trip that’s not rushed? Also apart from our arrival into LA and departure from SFO, we were not planning to book accommodation in advance, just along the way. Is that a good idea or not?

    Thanks in advance,
    Jac & Rod

    • Reply
      March 28, 2015 at 4:37 pm

      Hi Jac and Rod,

      We did this trip over 17 days, and we included Vegas and San Diego too, so 2 and a half weeks should be a good amount of time. There’ll always be more things to do and see that you can fit in, but I think this is a good amount of time!

      We booked accommodation in advance, as there was 5 of us and we wanted apartments and didn’t want to have to try and find places on the road. But if you want to keep it really flexible, sites like and Expedia make it really easy to book on the road so you should be fine! Maybe just book your Yosemite accommodation (I think it gets really busy).

      Have a GREAT trip – I am jealous. Would love to go back!


  • Reply
    May 6, 2015 at 6:20 pm

    Hi Helen,

    I’ve searched the internet high and low for blog posts about the PCH and yours has been the best by far! It’s so informative and easy to read. We are planning to do a similar route the end of the month and we haven’t had much time to plan. We are starting in Vegas driving up to Yosemite then across to SF and down the PCH to LA. We only have 15 days so we’ve had to cut out San Diego 🙁
    Just wondering if you can answer a few questions, would you recommend driving from SF and stopping over in Carmel for a night, then driving from Carmel to Cambria in one day? It’s hard to know where to stop to give sufficient time to see everything along the coast! We just know we have two nights to stop and we’re trying to come up with the best location points to take in the break. I think you’ve sold Cambria to me definitely!

    Thanks for your time,

    • Reply
      May 17, 2015 at 12:03 pm

      Thanks Jools! It makes my day when people find my blog posts helpful! That’s why I do it! And it’s fun to capture the memories!

      We only stayed in Cambria on PCH, so you can do the drive between Cambria and Carmel easily in a day! I would have stopped 2 places on PCH if I did it again! I think I’d probably stay in those two places. There’s not much going on in Cambria, but we loved it. If you’re driving, it’s nice just to get a good sleep!

      Have a wonderful time! Sorry for the late reply! I’ve been travelling around Morocco and neglecting the blog!


  • Reply
    June 8, 2015 at 4:46 pm

    Hi. Loved reading your blog, found it entertaining and very informative! My boyfriend and I are spending 1 week in LA (with my family), and then thinking of driving from San Diego – San Francisco ( bypassing LA as we would have already been there) over another 7 days in July this year. Do you think that allows us enough time, and approx how much did you spend on a rental car and petrol? Thanks! 🙂

    Jayde & Marc
    Perth, Western Australia

    • Reply
      June 11, 2015 at 11:14 pm

      Hi Jayde,

      Yes I think that will give you enough time! I never feel like I have enough time anywhere though. I could spend a month in most places and never feel done! 🙂

      Let me have a look at what we spent on the car! I wrote it in the comments on one of the posts – but I can’t remember which one! Will come back to you!!

  • Reply
    June 30, 2015 at 8:06 pm

    Great article and so informative! I’m looking at doing a similar trip next year but was just wondering about budget? x

    • Reply
      July 2, 2015 at 9:11 pm

      Hey Claire, I didn’t keep a tab of my budget I’m afraid. I can probs work it out, but it will take a while to go through old emails. 🙂

      There were 5 of us also, so we saved loads on accommodation and petrol. How many of you are going?


  • Reply
    August 19, 2015 at 3:10 pm

    California is a gorgeous place! And I believe that hiring a car while traveling is a very good choice.

    • Reply
      August 25, 2015 at 6:56 pm

      I agree! 🙂 Self-drive road trips are for winners!

  • Reply
    August 30, 2015 at 7:04 pm

    Hi Helen!

    My husband and I are planning this road trip from SF to SD for next month. Your blog has been very helpful in trying to time everything and build in as much as we can in the 10 days that we have! We are trying to figure out what we want to do when we’re in LA. We have 2.5 days there and are trying to fit in the best things. We read your blog on the tours in Hollywood. I found a site and there is a tour for $250 that sounds similar. We are trying to stay on a budget and that’s a little steep for each person. Do you have a good tour you did that you recommend?


    • Reply
      August 30, 2015 at 8:10 pm

      Hi Sara,

      What is included in the $250, that sounds like a lot??? Is it for the full 2.5 days? Will you have your own car??

      The tour I did was just of the stars homes and was approx $50, with Starline Tours, you just book it at the Chinese Theatre!

      LA is pretty easy to get around if you have a car, so you can do it all independently! If you’re on a really strict budget, you could just buy a map of the stars homes and follow it! We did that once our tour ended as I wanted to go and see the Playboy Mansion and we also visited Marilyn Monroe’s grave.

      If you have just a couple of days, I would spend one around Santa Monica and Venice, one in Hollywood/Beverley Hills/Bel Air/downtown area and then maybe try and spend some time up near Malibu or Santa Barbara.

      Here’s the post I just did on my budget!

      Hope that helps!!


  • Reply
    October 2, 2015 at 11:41 am

    Thanks for the absolutely fantastic blog – I have now planned the reverse trip (Las Vegas to San Diego) for next summer for our family of 5 and your blog has been the major help for the planning! The trip is still far away but planning is half the pleasure!! The Vegas part might be a bit different with 3 kids, but much of the rest is great for all ages. This will be our first roadtrip with the family, we have done New York in the US before but our long trips has mostly been in Asia – islands, boats, snorkeling and remote beaches. We’ll see how the kids like the driving though and all the things to see – they loved the great wall and summer palace in Beijing, however at Angkor Wat and the other surrounding temples in Cambodia they were mostly concerned about the non-existent wifi.. I keep my fingers crossed that they will appreciate California and the other parts of this trip!!

    • Reply
      October 2, 2015 at 5:12 pm

      Thanks Jessica, lovely of you to say! 🙂

      I love the planning part too! I am a real planner! Yeah, I’m sure Vegas will be a bit different, but there’s so much there for kids!!

      How much of a cool parent are you taking your 3 kids on all these super duper road trips around the world???

      I’m sure they’ll love this trip, plus the wifi is pretty good!

  • Reply
    October 7, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    Hi Helen
    My wife and I are travelling from LA to SF and will be following your places of interest carefully.
    We will take three or four days staying at various motels etc. on route.
    Santa B, Pismo, Cambria, Big Sur, Hearrst Castle ,Julia Pfeiffer State Pk.Carmel, Monterey Peninsula., 17 mile drive, S. Crux and SF.
    How many days SF. ? We are travelling Feb. 2016 are all roads closed in Yosemite or I are there any valley routes open ? We will then travel to LV returning via Palm Springs
    Total time in California / Nevada twenty days.
    We will pack coats, cords and pullovers !
    How long in LVegas .
    Sorry about so many questions but you are the expert !

    • Reply
      October 12, 2015 at 10:58 pm

      Hi Roger,

      Great, glad the post helped.

      I had 4 days in San Francisco, I think this was a good amount!

      The routes in and out of Yosemite are usually be fine, but I would check on local websites nearer the time. It depends of various factors like forest fires.

      Las Vegas, I’d say at least 4 days!


  • Reply
    October 23, 2015 at 3:07 am

    I have just completed a very similar trip from Vegas to Sandiego up to San Francisco in a drop top mustang! Think Monterey is a must for the whale watching, amazing wildlife and aquarium- if the budget can stretch stay at the Monterey Bay Hotel- they bring breakfast to your room where you can watch the birds seals and otters from the balcony- they even provide binoculars ! Just south of Carmel if you drive the highway from south to north is Nepenthe with an amazing restaurant . I could go on but it’s the best road trip I have ever done and I have driven all over the world.
    Top tip- don’t drive in LA- park up and take the Rasta bus tour LA in a day- it’s worth it

    • Reply
      October 26, 2015 at 12:28 am

      Hi Helen
      I would agree- Vegas needs 4 days as does LA- there is so much to see in both places- Grand Canyon , Alcatraz ,both cities sight seeing – not to mention shopping and the shows!

  • Reply
    Jenny @ Till the Money Runs Out
    November 19, 2015 at 5:15 pm

    I love the drive from Southern to Northern California. Tom and I have family in San Diego and in Oakland and so we do this drive at least once a year when we are back in the US visiting family!
    Jenny @ Till the Money Runs Out recently posted…Soaring Over San Diego – Flight Lessons in My HometownMy Profile

    • Reply
      November 19, 2015 at 7:32 pm

      Me too, so beautiful! So great that you get to do it so often. I bet ou know all the cool spots! 🙂

  • Reply
    November 28, 2015 at 12:22 pm

    Hey Helen,
    This looks amazing.I am travelling from India to San Francisco in February next year.Planning a road trip from SFO to LA.
    Though i dont have any experienced driver in the group,any references you have where we can hire a Regular SUV with a driver to have this road trip along the pacific coast?
    We will be staying in SFO for two days and the next night in San Simeon and then LA another 36 hrs before i take my flight to Las Vegas.

    Looking forward to your reply!!!

    • Reply
      November 28, 2015 at 1:33 pm

      Hi Deeyah,

      You will have a fantastic trip, this is a great road trip! We hired ours from US Car Hire. Are you looking for someone to drive you? Does anyone in your group have a licence? If so, you should be ok to drive. Hiring a driver will be really expensive I think. You could ask the car hire company!

      If you don’t have a driver in your group, I’d say that either taking the bus or taking a group tour might be the most economical option, but it depends on your budget!


  • Reply
    November 28, 2015 at 2:24 pm

    Your blog is being really usefull to plan my roadtrip, wich is exactly the same as you!

    • Reply
      November 28, 2015 at 3:14 pm

      Great! Glad it’s been of use! 🙂

  • Reply
    December 14, 2015 at 7:12 am

    2.5weeks till my roadtrip Helen!! Just came back to your blog (still the best I’ve found on this trip so far) to see if I’d missed anything and get me excited all over again :D. Are all the pictures you use in the blog your own by the way? And do you shoot raw and edit yourself? If so, which programme do you use They are really beautiful, you have a great eye. I just bought a great new camera to document all my trips too.

    • Reply
      December 14, 2015 at 8:56 pm

      Hey Sharon – oooohhh how exciting!!! Wish I was going away in a couple of weeks! 🙂 You will have an amazing time!!

      Aw thanks for saying lovely things about my photos! I am very self critical!

      Almost all pictures on the blog are taken by me, unless there’s a little credit underneath – but I hate using stock photos so rarely do it. All the photos in this post on my old Sony bridge camera so they’re not in raw or anything like that. I don’t usually edit my photos (for time reasons more than anything), but occasionally if I do, I email them to myself and then edit them on the Snapseed app on my phone and email them back, but that is a really long winded way to do it! 🙂 Loads of bloggers use Lightroom and/or Photoshop! I’ve never used those though. The photos that are edited in this post are: the San Diego skyline, the sunset one and the one of the coastline (above the seals) – all edited on Snapseed.

      My newer posts – so the latest Africa ones, the colourful Welsh towns post and the Morocco posts were taken on my newer camera which is an Olympus OMD-10. I do shoot that in raw, but those photos aren’t edited.

      Have fun with your new camera!!!!!!! Please tell me how your trip goes, where you went, what you did! 🙂 Enjoy enjoy enjoy!!!


      • Reply
        December 16, 2015 at 5:20 am

        Hi Helen,

        Funnily enough the camera I just bought is the Olympus omd-em10!! It’s such a great little camera, I was going to go full dslr but after much much research it seemed the perfect choice. So excited to document my trips a little bit better :). Your photos have definitely inspired me some more! I’ll check out the Welsh and Morocco blogs to see what it can do!

        Accommodation was all sorted, until just last week I got an email from the landlord of the north beach flat saying the city of SF is cracking down on vacation rentals so they can’t do short term rents anymore so I had to hunt for yet somewhere else today and ended up getting a little hotel, also in north beach as Id researched that location quite extensively and had my heart set on staying there. That’s the risk with flats I guess but the new place will do ok 👍🏾 😄

    • Reply
      December 14, 2015 at 8:57 pm

      ps. Did you get all your accommodation sorted?

  • Reply
    December 31, 2015 at 10:04 pm

    After reading this it’s opened up california me and my partner are heading there in June for 14 days starting in San Francisco ending in san diego reading your stops has given me great tips to take along with me.

    • Reply
      January 1, 2016 at 4:42 pm

      Aw, thanks Ryan! lad it’s helped!! Hope you have a wonderful time, I’m sure you will! 🙂

  • Reply
    Zoe Monk
    January 18, 2016 at 12:56 pm

    Hey – this is so helpful, thank you! Can I just ask how many nights you stayed in each place? Thanks!

    • Reply
      January 18, 2016 at 7:35 pm

      Hey Zoe,

      We stayed the following number of nights in each place:

      3 x San Diego
      3 x LA
      1 X Cambria
      4 x San Francisco
      2 x Yosemite
      4 x Las Vegas

      Hope that helps,


  • Reply
    January 23, 2016 at 8:15 am

    Just found this great blog as off to California in March to visit son at UCSB and looking for travel tips.
    Hubby & I have a week travelling from San Fran to Santa Barbara first. But any tips on the Napa Valley?
    Then other 2 sons & girlfriends meeting for second week: LA, San Diego, Las Vegas!
    Ouch🤑🤑🤑! Any less expensive, but still nice accommodation ideas?

  • Reply
    claire wilson
    February 7, 2016 at 10:23 pm

    Hi.. thanks for this post of your itenary. I am planning this trip next year family of 5 with Mum and dad in tow. Will definitely follow this!!.. Would you advise to prebook motels or to stay apartments. I’ll be on a budget but still want a little comfort. What r the costs of motels. Thanks Claire

    • Reply
      February 13, 2016 at 8:31 pm

      Hi Claire,

      Our motel cost £34 per person per night. But I only stayed in the one. Apartments worked out well for us as there were 5 so I would recommend that in the cities. In the smaller towns it might not be possible. I’d suggest pre-booking! Especially if there’s 7 of you!


  • Reply
    Michelle King
    March 27, 2016 at 12:01 pm

    Great post! I’ll definitely use some of your recommendations ! Thumbs up! I’m planning my parents’ trip in a few months, but I have to ask, why only 2 nights in Yosemite???

    • Reply
      March 27, 2016 at 3:40 pm

      Thanks Michelle! Why 2 nights – lack of time and there were 5 of us, so compromise was essential. I’d like to go back for longer next time. 🙂

  • Reply
    April Yap
    April 5, 2016 at 11:43 am

    Beaches are so lovely! I want to experience it again and again. Just California! haha.. Planning to visit that beautiful place soon.

    • Reply
      April 7, 2016 at 8:44 pm

      Yes for sure! I would love to go back!!

  • Reply
    June 19, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    Hey hellen. Any clubbing near by all the areas you mention?

    • Reply
      June 19, 2016 at 7:03 pm

      Hi Mo,

      There are lots of clubs in LA and San Francisco especially.

  • Reply
    August 11, 2016 at 1:19 pm

    Hi Helen, Your posts on your road trip were really helpful and informative! A lot of other blogs habe just written about places to see and I have appreciated your personal insights as to how you would do things differently etc and tips. We are planning a similar trip for our honeymoon next year! I have been looking into car hire and found that many companies charge a fee for picking up and dropping off the car at different locations/states. Were you charged for this?

    • Reply
      August 14, 2016 at 7:05 pm

      Hi Ruth!!

      Thank you!!! Glad you liked the post! I loved writing it!!

      We weren’t charged for that. We picked up in San Diego and dropped off in Nevada. We used US Car Hire and found them to be really good. Car was great and they threw in a free Sat Nav (we upgraded so we haggled for a Sat Nav).

      Have a wonderful wedding and honeymoon.

  • Reply
    October 3, 2016 at 10:08 am

    Hi Helen,

    Thanks alot for posting this information up. We did a road trip last year that started in Vegas and went right across to NYC but this year we are planning coast to coast – LA, PCH, San Fran, Yosemite, Death Valley, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon (south and north rim), Utah – Zion, Bryce, Arches and Canyonlands then down to the rio grande in Colorado, and up through Aspen and Estes Park. Then a flight from Denver to Chicago, Detroit, Niagra Falls and finally NYC. Having alot of fun planning it but also a little worried about timings ! How long would you say the drive from LA to San Luis Obispo took ? Thanks 🙂

    • Reply
      October 3, 2016 at 10:07 pm

      Hi Annie,

      The drive from Santa Monica to San Luis Obispo will take around 5 hours, however with stops along the PCH, it will take most of the day. It would take 2 days minimum to drive the PCH, 3 if you can.


  • Reply
    October 31, 2016 at 12:12 am

    Hi Helen
    I am just back from a similar trip. Love your blog and I have start one of my own too, I am just a novice though.

    2 days minimum to drive PCH is spot on, that is what we done and we did struggle with time, I would recommend 3 days too, you would enjoy it more. We stopped in Morro Bay overnight.

    I loved the whole experience. You write about it so good.

    • Reply
      November 16, 2016 at 9:56 pm

      Thank you Joan! 🙂

  • Reply
    December 5, 2016 at 5:13 pm

    Hi Helen,

    Trying to plan a first time driving holiday to the West Coast. Cam across your brill trip and will probably plan it all around yours!

    May I just ask – how many miles did you cover each day over your 17 day trip please?

  • Reply
    January 12, 2017 at 1:38 pm

    Hi Helen,

    Fab blog and has massively helped with planning. However, if you where to do the trip again would you say that driving from San Fran South to San Diego would be better for views? We where going to fly to San Diego from London and travel North but researching the route, a few people do say travelling down the coast is better.
    Any advice??

    • Reply
      January 12, 2017 at 8:38 pm

      Hi Rebecca,

      I don’t think it matters so much. The only thing with going the other way is that the sea is on your side rather than the far side. It won’t ruin your trip if you go the way I did! 🙂

  • Reply
    January 18, 2017 at 11:25 am

    Hi Helen,

    Great blog! We’re a family of four going on a similar road trip this summer. it has definitely helped with our planning.

    • Reply
      January 18, 2017 at 8:12 pm

      Glad it helped Donna! Have a great trip! 🙂

  • Reply
    Lara Jack
    February 25, 2017 at 7:50 am

    This is awesome! I love California, and I can’t wait to check out some of these cool spots when I go back in April! Thanks so much for all the info!

  • Reply
    Stuart gore
    March 17, 2017 at 8:52 am

    Hello Helen, any chance of some advice please? I have took the planning off our honeymoon on my shoulders. May 22nd where flying Into Las Vegas for 2days renting a car and leaving Vegas at 0600 on the last day to drive to San Francisco it’s a 9 hour drive happily make it take 11 hours with afew stops along the way. We have 2 days in San Francisco before leaving early again to drive down to San Diego, i know there is a lot of ways to go and I understand the coast route is 10 hour drive which doesn’t bother me, want to stop at afew of the best places for a coffee. We have 4 days in San Diego before flying to Mexico. Been doing a lot of research and people seem to think it’s madness to do these drives in aday. With 2 weeks in Mexico and a week in Vegas and California we didn’t have anymore time. I really enjoyed reading your trip and would love some friendly advise. I’m ex forces and my planning tends to be point a to point b. Cheers Stuart

    • Reply
      March 17, 2017 at 8:58 am

      Hi Stuart,

      I agree that driving Vegas to San Francisco is a bit too much in one day if it’s a 9 hour drive. You won’t really get much chance to get out of the car. With stops it will be more like 13+ hours, rather than 11 (I’ve done somany of these types of road trips and they are always much longer). Even driving the PCH in a day is a lot, there is a quicker in road I think but you’d miss all the best bits. If I were you, I’d take time off San Diego (sorry San Diego) and/or Mexico if you can so you can enjoy a more leisurely trip.

      Hope that helps!


  • Reply
    Monica Puccetti
    March 20, 2017 at 11:52 pm

    As a born and raised Californian, I’d say you hit places that most visitors seems to skip over, but are wonderful. Seriously, great choice of Montery, Santa Cruz, Big Sur, and Santa Barbara (you probably passed through my sleepy hometown, Ventura, right before Santa Barbara). I’m glad to see people realizing California is more than just LA (a city most non-LA Californians kind of hate) and thank you for show casing my home state! The one tip I have for anyone traveling through California, especially Southern California, is eat at all the tiny Mexican joints you can find! Californian Mexican food is wonderful and there is no better beach meal than margaritas and fish tacos.

    • Reply
      March 24, 2017 at 4:20 pm

      Thanks Monica! Glad I did the good stuff! 🙂

      And I agree, the California does great Mexican food! I didn’t try fish tacos, but I did have some margaritas!

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