Driving Up from LA to SF along California Route 1: The Pacific Coast Highway

Our itinerary for the trip had us flying into LAX, spending the night in LA, and getting an early start on our drive up the coast the following morning. I scheduled three days for us to drive up from LA to SF, so we wouldn't be able to do it all, but we fit in some major highlights. Our first box to tick off after landing was to pick up the rental car, which Joe decided to upgrade for a few extra dollars per day to the new Mustang.

When we arrived in LA, we had plans to spend the day in the city. We arrived at our hotel around noon after picking up our rental car and an obligatory stop at In-N-Out Burger. We cleaned ourselves up a bit and then walked towards the Walk of Fame. We spent hours walking around in the pouring rain, eventually having to buy new shoes because ours were soaked through and would never dry by the morning, and collapsing into bed around 8:30 PM. Sorry, LA. We'll try harder next time. 

We had only a tentative itinerary for our day in LA. We had grand ideas of visiting Griffith's observatory, maybe seeing a comedy event at UCB Theater, losing our mood rings in the La Brea Tar Pits, having dinner in Santa Monica, and shopping in Venice Beach. But, we were miserable, exhausted, and I was still a bit sick, so we made it to literally none of those destinations. We just stayed in Hollywood near the hotel and saw the Chinese Theatre and Walk of Fame and went into Madame Tussauds to get out of the rain.  So, LA/Day 1 was kind of a wash.

Things brightened up both literally and figuratively the next day for our drive, though! 

Joe had the great idea of bringing along the GoPro to film the scenic drive, and I've put together a timelapse video of the adventure. It was hard to edit it down because almost every single second was gorgeous. But, Joe told me no one wants hours of video of us stuck behind some slow people. So, we chose a few clips of the best views and the best roads and the best driving. Check out some landmark timestamps in the itinerary below to navigate the video!

Day 1

0:08: The video begins on Mulholland Hwy, a wrong turn that brought us through some awesome canyon roads on our way from LA to Malibu

1:30: We start driving through Malibu, which was so beautiful. So many of the houses are snuggled in between the beach and the road and one another with just inches to spare. The Malibu Pier is seen at 1:42

2:30: After our lovely lunch and walk around the wharf in Santa Barbara, we headed to Old Mission Santa Barbara. Founded in 1786, the Mission is still an active parish with a community of Franciscan Friars. This was one of my favorite stops! I wish we could've stopped at all the California Old Missions.

Los Padres Vista Point - Well, we tried!

2:50: Driving through the Los Padres National Forest, we pulled over to take some mediocre photos of an incredible view at a vista point. 

2:55: We veered off Pacific Coast Hwy to head inland on the way to the Santa Ynez Wine Country. The mountainous drive was breathtaking. 

3:00: Solvang was Joe's favorite part of the trip (after Laguna Seca!!). It's a Danish-themed town with windmills and thatched roofs. We ate dinner at a restaurant called Bit O' Denmark where Joe had a sandwich he's still dreaming about. He ordered their "famous" Monte Cristo, which was cut into quarters before being fried and served with housemade raspberry jam. Unusual, but super good!

Day 2

3:37: We spent the night in a wonderful bed and breakfast called On The Beach in Cayucos - a small beach town in San Luis Obispo County. This night was the peak of my illness. I suppose the rainy walk from the night before exacerbated things, and by the time we tucked in, my uvula was so swollen I couldn't speak or laugh without pain. But, it was much improved from this morning on! In the video, you can see us departing Cayucos in the morning. 

3:55: More coastal roads on the way to our first stop: Hearst Castle. Hearst Castle earned it's own post a few days ago. It's hard for me to pick favorites from this trip because we really had the most amazing time, but Hearst Castle is probably it. 

4:05: After Hearst Castle, basically across the street, was the Elephant Seal Rookery at Piedras Blancas. This was a quick, easy, and interesting stop - totally worth it. The seals were mostly weaning while we were there in late Feb, so we saw some pups and heard a lot of crying. 

4:26: The most beautiful, most fun to drive part of the trip is in Big Sur. Big Sur encompasses the coastal region from San Simeon to Carmel. Full of parks, redwoods, jagged coastline, and the Santa Lucia Mountains, Big Sur is a treasure. This is the longest stretch of video because it was WAY TOO HARD to trim down - the roads are so windy and the cliffs are so treacherous and Joe kept passing so many people (like at 7:40).

8:20: Our late lunch stop in Big Sur: Nepenthe Restaurant. I had heard that the food was so-so, but this restaurant was worth it for the views, where they have cliff-side bar seating. I think the food was quite good and the views were well-appraised. Plus, my favorite gift shop of the whole trip!

8:25: Some woodsy Big Sur footage followed by more coastal cliff footage...I couldn't help myself. 

10:11: The Bixby Bridge! The most photographed bridge on the west coast? Well, one of them, I'm sure. Our last stop before arriving in Monterey, where we stayed at the Merritt House Inn bed and breakfast. We spent some time walking around Monterey - visiting the wharf, having dinner on Cannery Row, etc. Unfortunately, we arrived too late in the day to visit the aquarium about which I've heard great things.

Day 3

10:25: We were up with the sun to head to my first track day at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. You can see some pretty sunrise footage of Monterey as we departed. I was a little disappointed with Monterey, I had also heard wonderful things about Carmel, and I kind of wish we had visited that instead. 

11:35: We arrive at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca! You can see footage from our track day & my account of the corkscrew here

From the raceway, we drove to San Francisco Airport and dropped off the rental. So, no more footage from there. This was one of my favorite vacations. I can't say enough about how beautiful California is and how much fun Joe and I had on our drive. 

When we arrived in San Francisco, we stayed with my family (you can see the recap of our days in SF here). In that part of the trip, we visited Alcatraz, Napa Valley, Ghirardelli Square, the Golden Gate Bridge, and more. 

Caitlin's Top 3 Highlights from Driving California Route 1:

  1. Hearst Castle
  2. Santa Barbara & Old Mission SB
  3. Laguna Seca Track Day

Joe's Top 3 Highlights from Driving California Route 1:

  1. Laguna Seca Track Day
  2. Solvang Monte Cristo
  3. Hearst Castle

What we'd do differently if we could:

  • Not have any illness nor any rain (Amen...)
  • Do the drive South rather than North - easier to pull off onto vista points
  • Make more of an effort to see what LA has to offer
  • More time! We barely got to appreciate the towns we slept in because we would arrive late and get back on the road early
  • On that note, maybe pick cheaper, less desirable hotels since we spent next to no time at the adorable bed and breakfasts we chose
  • Make time to stop at one of Big Sur's many parks - we visited the redwoods in Muir Woods when we were in SF, but I would have loved to see the waterfall at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Have you ever made the trip on Highway 1 Classic?