What do you think of when you think about California? Golden sunny beaches, picture-perfect Pacific Ocean views, enchanted Redwood forests, pleasant climate, friendly people, Silicon Valley, Hollywood maybe. I would love to give you a taste of this beautiful state and make you want to visit here now more than ever. The best way to experience the Golden coast is to drive from the North to the South, which will allow you to stop at any city, town, vista point, etc. you’d like. In this article, I will provide a detailed travel guide on planning a road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
For the most part of your road-trip, you will be driving over the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) also called Highway CA-1. PCH is a highway that runs along the California coast and offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. This is a longer route as compared to driving over Highway 101 inland, but it’s worth the extra time.
Best Time to Visit California
The best time to visit California is between early-June to late-October.
For all the activities, places, tours, etc. mentioned in this article, please confirm if the place is open/availability either online or by calling them. You will find all the info/websites/phone numbers on Google. Every place mentioned in this article has a website or online presence.
If you’re traveling during a long weekend (e.g. July 4th, Labor Day, etc.), expect long lines and crowds at popular places. Always make travel and accommodation bookings in advance since places tend to sell out quicker in summer and will also get more expensive as your travel date approaches.
A lot of places, tours, attractions, etc. offer child, student, military, and senior (ages 65+) discounts (proof needed). If you’re a student, make sure to carry along your valid student ID. Depending on the place and their student discount policy, age may or may not matter, and you can use your School/University student ID as well.
While traveling from San Francisco to Los Angeles by road, along with your general packing list, always carry a jacket/hoodie, sunscreen, sunglasses, scarf, beanie, water, snacks, flip flops, covered shoes, since CA weather fluctuates a lot, and when it gets windy, it feels chilly. It may be warm and sunny in San Jose, but San Francisco will be in the lower 60’s Fahrenheit, chilly, and windy.
Always carry a nationally-recognized ID with you – a USA driver’s license is sufficient. If you’re an international tourist, carry your passport/passport card and be very careful not to lose it.
If you’re planning on renting a car and don’t have a US driver’s license, please carry an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) and be sure to read a copy of the California DMV handbook for rules. It can be found on the CA DMV website.
Rental cars don’t come with drivers. In California, you can add additional drivers (someone from your group) to your rental car for no extra fees. Make sure to have the driver and their driver’s license present while picking up the rental car.
Drivers under 25 years of age may need to pay an extra fee. While picking-up your rental car, the driver must present a valid driver’s license and credit card in their name upon pick-up.
If you want to rent a car for traveling from from San Francisco to Los Angeles, you can do so at San Francisco International Airport (SFO). While renting a car, set the pick-up location as SFO and drop-off location as Los Angeles International airport (LAX) unless you plan to drive roundtrip or return the rental car to another airport/city/location.
Popular travel websites for air, hotel, rental car, tour bookings include Airbnb, Expedia Trivago, Kayak, Priceline, Orbitz, and Viator, etc.
A lot of restaurants en route from San Francisco to Los Angeles offer raw/undercooked seafood. Please be cautious. For some people, consuming raw/undercooked seafood and meats can cause serious illness or even death from Vibrio vulnificus.
Tipping is almost always expected. It ranges from 14%-20% of your bill’s pre-tax amount based on the service you received. Tipping is expected at any food place where a server brings food to your table. You may add a tip to your credit card or leave it in cash.
Tipping is not expected at (1) fast-food places, (2) other self-service restaurants/cafes where you pick-up your food from the counter, (3) if you are required to pay at the counter when you order your food, (4) restaurants that include a service charge in the bill. However, if you’d like to, you may leave a cash tip at the table or charge tip to your credit card while ordering.
The legal age for drinking alcohol is 21 years and above.
Other Travel Tips
Mentioned below are some other tips that can be of help while traveling from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
- The price you see is almost always excluding sales tax. The Sales tax % varies based on the city/county. The maximum sales tax in California is 10.50%.
- California (CA) is expensive. Way more expensive than almost any other place in the US (except for New York).
- You will hit traffic driving from San Francisco to San Jose and vice-versa while driving during rush hour.
- The USA uses the Imperial system for measurements, not Metric.
- The weather in CA varies from hot and warm to windy and cold. Always carry a jacket, scarf, and layer up; when it gets hot, simply lose the layers.
- Talks to strangers, people are generally very friendly and helpful. Be generous with using ‘thank you’ and ‘please’.
- When you encounter wildlife – land or marine, do not feed them and do not attempt to get close to the animal. This is dangerous and can also have fines imposed in some places.
- You should have cellular coverage in big cities, small cities, and smaller towns. However, while traveling on CA-1, you may lose coverage in certain remote locations that don’t have any small towns nearby. Thus, it is recommended to download offline Google maps when you’re in a free Wi-Fi zone for the area encompassing all the cities you plan to visit during this trip from Northern CA (NorCal) to Southern CA (SoCal). The area to map out for offline Google Maps is given below in the red section.
San Francisco to Los Angeles Map
San Francisco to Los Angeles
Let us now begin the journey, starting from San Francisco and ending at Los Angeles. I will run down the details in the form of an itinerary, providing information on where you can stay, budget, places to visit and things to do.
San Francisco (SF) is a big city on the West coast of the US. It is also one of the most expensive cities in the country, along with New York.
Since there’s so much to see and do in San Francisco, I have a different article for touring San Francisco. In this post, I will cover places that fall en route San Francisco to Los Angeles.
San Francisco to Muir woods
Drive-up North from SF to the Muir Woods National Monument. This is a recreation park with gigantic Redwood trees and hikes ranging from very easy to difficult.
Parking here is very limited, so I’d suggest you park at a park-n-ride location and ride the Muir Woods shuttle to the park or reserve parking at the park. In any case, you need to reserve the parking spot at Muir Woods or the shuttle to Muir Woods in advance. You can do so online by visiting their website.
Time to spend: Few hours to 1 day.
Muir Woods to Half Moon Bay
Half moon bay is a small and charming city on the California coastline located south of San Francisco. It has beaches, farms, tide pools, activities, and good seafood – something for everyone in your group of family/friends.
Time to spend: Few hours to 2 days.
Accommodation in Half Moon Bay
Hotels and bed-and-breakfasts range from $150-1000 per night depending on the season, location, amenities, quality, and luxury. Some of the hotels listed below offer exceptional amenities and views and others are modest economical inns or bed-and-breakfasts. You can pick something that matches your budget.
If you’re unable to find something matching your budget or have a large group traveling, be sure to check VRBO and Airbnb for vacation rental options. Vacation rentals are generally cheaper than hotels.
Listed below are a few recommended hotels.
- Ritz-Carlton by Marriott is a 5-star luxury and expensive hotel perched on top of a secluded bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean
- The Beach House Hotel
- Ocean View Inn
- Zaballa House
- Coastside Inn
- The Miramar Inn & Suites
- Harbor View Inn
- Cypress Inn on Miramar Beach
- Pacific Victorian Bed & Breakfast
- Seal Cove Inn
- Quality Inn
- Best Western Plus Cameron’s Inn
Places to Visit in Half Moon Bay & Things to Do
If you were wondering about what to see in Half Moon Bay, then mentioned below is a list.
Pillar Point Harbor
Visit this harbor to buy fresh fish from the fishermen directly and plan a meal of deliciousness. Fresh seafood is not a very common occurrence in California.
Fitzgerald Marine Reserve – Tide Pools
This beach has tidal pools during low tide where you can spot marine life, pull up a tidal pool marine life identification chart on your phone. Among other sea creatures, you will see crabs, anemones, sea stars, and tiny fish. This is also a good spot for watching harbor seals lounging on the beach and swimming in the Pacific Ocean.
Get closer to water! Rent a kayak/stand-up paddleboard (SUP) by the hour or join a guided tour and go paddling in the water in search of marine life. If you’re lucky, a curious (and generally friendly) seal may get very close to your kayak.
Join a guided horseback ride on an equestrian trail by the beach and onto the bluffs.
Eat at Sam’s Chowder House
Try a Lobster Roll and other fresh seafood at this restaurant.
Visit Lemos Farm
Get a chance to interact with farm animals, pony rides, hayrides, etc. at this farm. Their main attraction – GOAT YOGA and you must try it. Bring along a yoga mat or a thick towel and you’re good to go. This farm is open to visitors on weekends.
Visit Harley Farm
This farm is 30 minutes South of Half Moon Bay. Get a chance to interact with farm animals at this farm. Sample and shop their delicious cheese, honey, jellies, etc. made at the farm. They allow you to bring your own snacks/lunch and picnic on their property.
Eat and drink at Half Moon Bay brewing company and Old Princeton Landing
Enjoy craft beers and delicious grub at these brewpubs. They also have bands playing live music on certain days of the month. Check their schedule of events online.
Drink at Half Moon Bay Distillery
This is a small crafts distillery. Book a spirit-tasting experience.
Main Street and a few blocks in each direction is considered as the cute and quaint downtown and sits on to of the list of tourist attractions in Half Moon Bay. It is lined with shops, restaurants, and cafes. Stroll around while sipping on coffee in search of cute souvenirs and/or enjoy some grub.
Half Moon Bay to San Jose (Silicon Valley / Bay Area)
All the cities starting from San Francisco going all the way South to San Jose make up the famous Silicon Valley or Bay Area. This region has a lot of tech company giants and a lot of start-ups as well.
Time to spend: 2-3 days, depending on how much you’d like to cover.
Hotels in the Bay Area are generally very expensive. Hotels and bed-and-breakfasts range from $150-1000+ per night depending on the season, location, amenities, quality, and luxury. Listed below are a few recommended hotels.
You can stay in also SF and drive down to the Bay Area daily or find a hotel in Santa Clara County.
- Residence Inn by Marriott Sunnyvale Silicon Valley II, Sunnyvale
- Saratoga Oaks Lodge, Saratoga
- The Plaza Suites Silicon Valley, Santa Clara
- Maple Tree Inn, Sunnyvale
- Holiday Inn Express Redwood City-Central, Redwood City
- HYATT house Belmont/Redwood Shores, Belmont
- The Clement Hotel – All-Inclusive, Palo Alto
- Enchanté Boutique Hotel, Los Altos
- Courtyard by Marriott Sunnyvale Mountain View, Sunnyvale
- San Jose Marriott, San Jose
- The Zen Hotel, Palo Alto
Places to Visit in Silicon Valley & Things to Do
Listed below are some of the places you can visit here.
Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Intel, etc.
If you have a friend or any family who can take you into any of these tech giant company campuses as a visitor, it’s worth a visit. If not, skip this.
The Facebook “like” sign is located just outside the Facebook headquarters at Menlo Park and is open to the public for taking pictures.
Stanford University campus
Take a self-guided or guide-led walking tour at Stanford University. Download a map on your phone if you prefer the self-guided walking tour option.
University of California at Berkeley (UC Berkeley) Campus
Take a self-guided or guide-led walking tour at UC Berkeley and explore the University. Download a map on your phone if you prefer the self-guided walking tour option.
Computer History Museum
The Computer History Museum is located in Mountain View. This museum was established in 1996. The museum preserves artifacts and the history and evolution of computers since the very beginning.
Fremont Older Regional Park and preserve hike
This hike provides views of the Bay Area.
Mission Peak Regional Park and preserve hike
It is a very popular but difficult hike. This hike is a 6-mile loop with 2200 feet of elevation gain. This hike can get pretty hot in summer since it has no shade. However, no shade also means more views. Don’t forget to bring snacks and lots of water.
This is a small city with a quaint downtown that has shops, restaurants, cafes. Check out Big Basin Café for some good coffee and baked goods before heading up the mountains to visit the wineries.
Eat and Drink at Castro Street, Mountain View
Google’s headquarters office is located in the city of Mountain View. Walk around on Castro Street. This street is lined with shops, cafes, restaurants, and dessert places – you will find something to suit everyone’s palette.
Wine Tasting in the Mountains
There are several wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains but these two are my favorite –Big Basin Vineyards (not tasting room), Mountain winery. These wineries offer beautiful views and Big Basin Vineyards also allow you to bring your own lunch and picnic on their patio while enjoying their wine and views. Be sure to check if they’re open before you plan on visiting.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Not too far from Big Basin Vineyards is Big Basin State Park. This park has beautiful Redwood trees and over 80 miles of hikes ranging from very easy to difficult. You can spend an hour to an entire day here.
Driving to Santa Cruz
Listed below are a few spots you should see while on the way to Santa Cruz.
This place is a gravitational anomaly located in the redwood forests just outside of Santa Cruz. Ask the gift shop cashier about where to find their banana slug exhibit.
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
This is a Redwood trees State park. In case you missed visiting Muir Woods, stop by here for a view of the Redwoods. You can find easy, moderate, and difficult hikes at this park ranging from an hour to a full day. This park is smaller than Muir Woods and can be skipped if you visited Muir Woods. Be vigilant while hiking and you may just find a banana slug wandering around in the ground.
Santa Cruz is a city along California’s coastline. People tend to skip this while traveling from San Francisco to Los Angeles but I will highly recommend visiting here. The University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) is a part of this city. Their mascot is a banana slug!
Banana slugs are common in this area and you may come across one while hiking in parks in and around Santa Cruz.
Time to spend: 1-2 days, depending on how much you’d like to cover.
Accommodation in Santa Cruz
Hotels and bed-and-breakfasts range from $140-500 per night depending on the season, location, amenities, quality, and luxury. Listed below are a few recommended hotels.
- Hotel Paradox, Autograph Collection by Marriott
- Chaminade Resort and Spa
- West Cliff Inn
- Seaway Inn
- Dream Inn Santa Cruz
- Ocean Echo Inn and Beach Cottages
- Casablanca on The Beach
- Howard Johnson by Wyndham Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Places to Visit in Santa Cruz & Things to Do
Listed below are some of the tourist attractions in Santa Cruz.
The Santa Cruz beach boardwalk is right by the main beach of Santa Cruz. The boardwalk is a place to bring out the kid in you. It has amusement park rides for kids and grown-up kids (adults). The boardwalk also has food places and is lined with shops for your souvenir needs. This is a very lively place and should not be skipped.
Find the direction signs and walk towards the wharf. The wharf has restaurants and more souvenir shops. The wharf offers good views of the ocean. You can sit here listening to the sounds of the waves crashing by. However, there are some other sounds that dominate the sounds of the crashing waves at the wharf – the very entertaining sea lions.
The Sea Lions
Peek below the wharf and you will find a colony of sea lions chilling on the planks or yelling at each other. There’s a flight of stairs you can climb down to take a closer look. Beware – the sea lions can get pretty loud and entertaining when they’re woken-up by another sea lion that just decided to end a swim and is trying to climb up on them.
Natural Bridges State Beach
This beach offers views to some cool arch-like rock formations in the water.
Secret beaches – Wilder Ranch State Park, Laguna Creek Beach
The main beach of Santa Cruz is great for people-watching or even enjoying a game of beach volleyball but if you’d prefer a more secluded beach almost all to yourself, head to some of the secret and hard-to-find beaches of Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz offers a lot of secret beaches to escape the crowds and have a picture-perfect beach all to yourself.
Wilder ranch state park offers beautiful cliff overlooks for views of the Pacific Ocean.
Laguna Creek Beach, which is my favorite secret and secluded sandy beach, is great for sunbathing and beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean. Pack a beach blanket, beach towel, sunscreen, snacks, a camera, and a book (maybe), and a good jacket for when it’s windy it gets very cold. The water here is cold and not suitable for swimming.
Find an off-roading parking lot at these coordinates on Google maps (36.987325, -122.155583). Cross the road across CA-1 carefully and find a hidden hiking trail through the dense vegetation. Walk this narrow trail and you will cross railroad tracks. Keep walking, the trail widens and goes uphill for a short distance, then downhill, and you get your first magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean, the golden sand, and lush green bushes. There’s a lagoon that runs behind this beach and depending on the amount of water, cuts through the beach sometimes to join the ocean.
If you’re feeling adventurous, catch a wave and go surfing or take a surfing lesson. The water is cold, so you will need to wear a wet suit. Some of the most popular surf schools that offer equipment rentals as well as lessons for every skill level are:
- Surf School Santa Cruz
- Santa Cruz Surf Academy
- Richard Schmidt
Santa Cruz to Monterey
Monterey is a beautiful city on the Pacific coast, en route San Francisco to Los Angeles. It houses the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium and a chance to spot sea otters. Depending on the season, there is a good chance you may spot whales while on a whale-watching tour from Monterey.
Time to spend: 2 to 3 days, depending on how much you’d like to cover.
Accommodation in Monterey
Hotels and bed-and-breakfasts range from $100-700 per night depending on the season, location, amenities, quality, and luxury. Listed below are a few recommended hotels.
- InterContinental the Clement Monterey
- Wave Street Inn
- Monterey Bay Inn
- Hotel Pacific
- Green Gables Inn, A Four Sisters Inn, Pacific Grove
- Sunset Inn
- Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa
Places to Visit in Monterey & Things to Do
Below is a list of tourist attractions in Monterey that you should visit.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Monterey Bay Aquarium is a nonprofit public aquarium in Monterey. This aquarium is a must-visit attraction. The exhibits include sea otters, lots of fishes, sharks, jellyfish, penguins, octopus, turtles, kelp forests, and a lot more. Plan to spend between 3-5 hours here, or even more if you’re like me, mesmerized by marine life. Try to be around for feeding activity and daily shows. Check the schedules online ahead of time. You may skip other aquariums in California if you visit this one.
Walk from Cannery Row to Fisherman’s Wharf
Park at Cannery row and walk from Cannery row to Fisherman’s Wharf and back. Cannery Row is a street that runs by the water in Monterey. This street is lined with shops, cafes, and restaurants for all your souvenirs and food needs. You will also find whale watching tour companies here.
Fisherman’s Wharf is another place to walk around and find food and shops. You will also find whale watching tour companies here.
Whale watching tour
Depending on the time of the year you may spot gray whales, orcas, humpback whales, blue whales, dolphins, seals, etc. Be sure to carry a camera, sunscreen, sunglasses, jacket, hat/beanie, scarf or something to protect your neck, and if possible, binoculars. It can get warm and sunny or cold and windy while on the boat so check the weather and dress in layers.
If you’re prone to seasickness, make sure to take preventative medicine and drink lots of water. The last thing you want is to be stuck on a boat for a couple of hours while throwing-up and missing out on all the fun. The most popular medication in the USA is Dramamine.
During peak season, these cruises sell out and walk-in tickets may not be available. Check for tours and book online. Some of the tours offer free cancellation for a certain period after booking. The four most popular tour operators:
- Chris’ whale watching
- Discovery whale watching
- Princess whale watching
- Monterey Bay whale watching
Walk to the seaside of Monterey Bay Aquarium and try to spot sea otters floating in the waters around beds of kelp (large brown algae seaweeds). If you spot a bed of kelp floating in the water, be sure to look carefully as you may spot sea otters lounging around. Depending on the season, you may also spot sea otter pups latched-on and relaxing on their mother’s tummy.
Get closer to water! Rent a kayak by the hour or join a guided tour and go paddling in the water in search of marine life. If you’re lucky, a curious (and generally friendly) seal or an otter may approach your kayak. Here are some providers:
- Adventures by the sea
- Kayak connection
- Monterey bay kayaks
The 17-mile drive is a scenic road in the gated community of Pebble Beach passing through 17 vista points. Most of the road runs parallel to the Pacific Ocean providing excellent views including cliffs, beaches, rocks in the sea, and a chance to view wildlife like seals, deer, birds, etc.17-mile drive also houses the world-famous Pebble Beach Golf Links golf course. This golf course has some of the best views a golf course can offer. That also implies getting tee-time is expensive and difficult at times.
Once you enter the 17-mile drive and pay the entrance fee of $10.50 per vehicle for touring, you will be given a map and every stop is marked by a number. This fee does not include golf tee time.
The gate fee is reimbursed with a purchase of $35 or more at all Pebble Beach Resorts restaurants, excluding Pebble Beach Market. Admission is complimentary for overnight guests of The Lodge at Pebble Beach, The Inn at Spanish Bay and Casa Palmero.
Monterey to Carmel By The Sea
Carmel-By-The-Sea (Carmel) is a small city on the Pacific coast in California’s Monterey Peninsula, en route San Francisco to Los Angeles. It’s about a 20minute drive from Monterey.
Time to spend: Few hours to 1 day, depending on how much you’d like to cover.
Accommodation in Carmel By The Sea
Hotels and bed-and-breakfasts range from $200-700 per night depending on the season, location, amenities, quality, and luxury. Listed below are a few recommended hotels.
- L Auberge Carmel, Carmel
- Normandy Inn
- La Playa Carmel
- Colonial Terrace Inn by the Sea
- Svendsgaard’s Inn
Places to Visit in Carmel By The Sea & Things to Do
Listed below are tourist attractions in Carmel by the sea and other fun things to be a part of.
This is a beautiful dog-friendly beach with white sands, great for people and dog-watching, and the views. There is a scenic bluff gravel pathway that runs parallel to Scenic Road. You can walk this path and find a flight of stairs to access the beach below. There are multiple fleets of stairs that provide beach access.
Point Lobos state natural reserve
This place has dramatic coastal features. There are hiking trails that pass-through bluffs, forests, blooming wildflowers (in springtime and extending into summer), tide pools.
The Sea Lion Point Trail travels to a staircase that leads downstairs to a cove. The rocks nearby are a great place to view seals lounging on them.
Find lots of shops, cafes, restaurants, wine tasting rooms, and art galleries on Ocean Avenue and in its by-lanes.
Fairytale Cottages of Hugh Comstock
There are a handful of splendid fairytale cottages in Carmel. They were designed by someone named Hugh Comstock. Some of them are now commercial cafes, shops, and restaurants; others are still residential.
Carmel By The Sea to Big Sur
Big Sur is a coastal city in the rough and mountainous stretch of the California coastline. The rugged cliffs offer spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. Big Sur is famous for McWay Falls and the purple sand beach. Watch out for fog while driving around Big Sur.
Time to spend:1 to 2 days, depending on how much you’d like to cover.
Accommodation in Big Sur
Hotels and bed-and-breakfasts range from $200-1000+ per night depending on the season, location, amenities, quality, and luxury. Listed below are a few recommended hotels.
- Post Ranch Inn
- Big Sur Lodge
- Ventana Big Sur, an Alila Resort – Adults Only
Places to visit in Big Sur & Things to Do
Provided below is a list of tourist attractions in Big Sur.
The Bixby Canyon Bridge is a very popular and one of the most photographed features on the West Coast. This bridge sits as high as 260 feet above a steep canyon below formed by Bixby Creek. Drive over the Bixby Bridge and enjoy the views of the Pacific Ocean in the backdrop.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Explore the hiking trails at this park. McWay waterfall overlook trail is a heavy foot traffic trail and provides an easy walk to view McWay falls. You cannot go down to the falls, but the view of the waterfall and the Pacific from the cliff is something you will never forget.
Limekiln State Park
Find hiking trails at this park to spend a few hours to a day.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
This heavily wooded State park offers hiking trails to spend a few hours to an entire day. This park does not offer any beach or coast access.
Pfeiffer Beach is best known for purple sand and tidal pools. It is a very pretty beach with beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean. Drive a narrow, paved road to Pfeiffer beach parking lot. It’s a short walk down to the beach from the parking lot.
This beach has tide pools during low tide where you can spot marine life, pull-up a tide pool marine life identification chart on your phone. This beach has sand with purple hues on the north side of the beach. This is caused due to the manganese garnet rocks washing down from the cliffs to the sand.
Eat at Nepenthe Restaurant
It is a restaurant with breathtaking views. However, the views come at a price, food and drinks are a bit expensive here. Check online for availability.
Big Sur to San Simeon
Next town in your journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles is San Simeon. It is a small town on the Pacific coast of California. It’s most famous for the Hearst Castle and the Elephant seal viewpoint.
Time to spend: 1 day, depending on how much you’d like to cover.
Accommodation in San Simeon
Hotels and bed-and-breakfasts range from $80-350 per night depending on the season, location, amenities, quality, and luxury. Listed below are a few recommended hotels.
- Castle Inn
- Cavalier Oceanfront Resort
- Fireside Inn on Moonstone Beach
- Sand Pebbles Inn
- Sea Otter Inn
- Blue Dolphin Inn
- Days Inn by Wyndham San Simeon
- Cambria Pines Lodge
- Olallieberry Inn B&B
- The Rigdon House
Places to Visit in San Simeon & Things to Do
Below is a list of tourist attractions in San Simeon.
Hearst Castle, sitting on top of a mountain, is a National Historic Landmark and California Historical Landmark. It was built by William Randolph Hearst to entertain the very rich and famous. It also houses his amazing art collection. There is a variety of tours at this place depending on the amount of time you would like to spend here. Make sure to check for the availability of tickets online.
Hearst Castle had its own private zoo located on the Enchanted Hill. This zoo doesn’t exist anymore except for the zebras. You can find zebras grazing around in the Castle’s pasture land along Highway CA-1 in summer.
Elephant Seal viewpoint
Friends Of The Elephant Seal Visitor Center and Gift Shop. They are a non-profit organization. They educate people about elephant seals and other marine life. This place has a boardwalk from where you can observe hundreds of Elephant Seals basking on the beach.
San Simeon to Morro Bay / San Luis Obispo
About a half an hour drive south of San Simeon is another coastal city called Morro Bay. The most popular sight is the gigantic Morro Rock at the end of Morro Rock Beach. About a half an hour drive south-east of Morro Bay is an inland city called San Luis Obispo (SLO). Go hiking in SLO and enjoy some California wine.
Time to spend: 1 -2 days, depending on how much you’d like to cover.
Accommodation in Morro Bay
Hotels and bed-and-breakfasts range from $80-300 per night depending on the season, location, amenities, quality, and luxury. Listed below are a few recommended hotels.
- Estero Inn
- Masterpiece Hotel
- Back Bay Inn
- On The Beach Bed & Breakfast, Cayucos
- The Landing at Morro Bay
- Beach Bungalow Inn and Suites
- Rockview Inn and Suites
- Harbor House Inn Morro Bay
Places to Visit in Morro Bay & Things to Do
Below is a list of tourist attractions in Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo.
Get closer to water! Rent a kayak/stand-up paddleboard (SUP) by the hour or join a guided tour and go paddling in the water in search of marine life. If you’re lucky, a curious (and generally friendly) seal or an otter may approach your kayak. Here are some providers:
- Morro Bay Landing
- Central Coast Outdoors
- Kayak Horizons
This is a 581-foot gigantic volcanic rock in the sand at Morro Rock beach. Take a walk at Morro beach to view this behemoth and spot sea otters lounging in kelp (large brown algae seaweeds). If you spot a bed of kelp floating in the water, be sure to look carefully as you may spot sea otters lounging around. Depending on the season, you may also spot sea otter pups latched-on and relaxing on their mother’s tummy.
Visit the North Point Nature Area for tide pools. The base of a small bluff there has several rock formations that make up tide pools during low tide. This area is completely covered with water at high tide so plan to visit these tide pools at very low tides to spot marine life.
Pull-up a tide pool marine life identification chart on your phone. Among other sea creatures, you will see hermit crabs, anemones, sea stars, and tiny fish.
Boat tour with Subsea tours
This company has boats that are semi-submersible and have underwater windows. You can view marine life from the surface of the water and underwater.
Walk along the Embarcadero and find cool shops, restaurants, and activities. The T pier at the Embarcadero is a great place to spot sea otters.
Hike to Bishop Peak
Bishop Peak is a 1546-foot volcanic peak in San Luis Obispo. The demanding and difficult hike up to the summit rewards you with beautiful panoramic views.
Eat Fresh seafood
Try clam chowder, fish-n-chips, oysters at local seafood restaurants. Also check out Dutchman’s seafood house
Drink Craft Beer
Try some craft beer at The Libertine Pub, Central Coast Brewing. Try their craft beers and food.
Wine Tasting at Kelsey See Canyon Vineyards
Stop by for a wine tasting. They let you bring your own picnic basket while you sip their wine. Check out the beautiful peacocks roaming their grounds.
Wine tasting at Edna Valley Vineyard
Taste their wines while enjoying stunning views from this winery.
Morro Bay to Pismo Beach
Just south of Morro Bay is this coastal city called Pismo Beach on California’s central coast. It is very popular for its sand dunes and monarch butterflies. The Monarch Butterfly Grove shelters monarch butterflies that migrate to Pismo State Beach in the cooler months.
Time to spend: Few hours to 1 day, depending on how much you’d like to cover.
Accommodation in Pismo Beach
Hotels and bed-and-breakfasts range from $80-300 per night depending on the season, location, amenities, quality, and luxury. Listed below are a few recommended hotels.
- Hilton Garden Inn San Luis Obispo-Pismo Beach
- Inn at the Cove
- SeaCrest OceanFront Hotel
- Edgewater Inn and Suites
- Pacific Plaza Hotel
- Shore Cliff Hotel
- SeaVenture Beach Hotel
Places to Visit in Pismo Beach & Things to Do
Below is a list of tourist attractions in Pismo Beach.
Check out the sand dunes and enjoy dune buggy rides at Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA). Be sure to make reservations in advance. Here are some providers:
- BJ’s ATV rentals
- Steve’s ATV rentals
- Pismo ATV rentals
- Sun Buggy Fun rentals
Monarch Butterfly Grove
Visit this place only from late October to February. Thousands of Monarch butterflies visit the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove seeking shelter from the cold winter and to feed on the Eucalyptus trees at Pismo State Beach.
Pismo Beach to Malibu / Santa Monica
Malibu is a coastal city en route San Francisco to Los Angeles that is popular for its celebrity homes, spectacular views, and beaches. About a half an hour drive to the east of Malibu is another coastal city called Santa Monica. It is located to the West of Los Angeles. Santa Monica is a beach and surf city offering beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean from the mountains.
Time to spend: 2 to 3 days, depending on how much you’d like to cover.
Accommodation in Malibu
Hotels and bed-and-breakfasts range from $200-800+ per night depending on the season, location, amenities, quality, and luxury. Listed below are a few recommended hotels.
- JW Marriott Santa Monica Le Merigot
- Shore Hotel
- Viceroy Santa Monica
- The Inn at Venice Beach
- Channel Road Inn, a Four Sisters Inn
- Venice Breeze Suites
- Bayside Hotel
Places to Visit in Malibu & Things to Do
Below is a list of tourist attractions in Malibu.
Hike to Escondido Falls
This is a moderate 4-mile roundtrip trail to a 150-foot waterfall. The strength of the waterfall depends on the season and levels of precipitation. Spend 2-3 hours here if you’d like to hike.
Leo Carrillo State beach
This beach has tide pools and cave-like formations. This is also a dog-friendly beach.
This is a very popular beach, great for chilling, picnicking, and people-watching. The beach has lifeguards on duty. It also has volleyball nets in place.
This pier is lined with shops, café, and restaurants. Stroll-by and enjoy a bite.
Horseback Riding – Provider: Malibu Riders
Enjoy a scenic horseback ride through Zuma Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains or Paramount Ranch. Find them online to make advance reservations and find more information.
Eat Fresh Seafood
- Neptune’s NET – casual dining
- Malibu Seafood – casual dining
- The Sunset – upscale dining by Zuma beach
- Geoffrey’s Malibu – upscale dining by the Pacific Ocean
- Nobu – beachfront upscale Japanese restaurant
Santa Monica Beach and Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica beach is a very lively beach and a great place to hang out or take a walk. Pacific Park at Santa Monica Pier is a fun place. It’s a mini amusement park that features a Ferris wheel, rides, games, shops, and food. It’s a great place to have a lot of fun with family, friends, and kids. Parking can fill up quickly on weekends and you may need to circle around for a while or park further away. This is very similar to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
If you’re feeling adventurous, catch a wave and go surfing or take a surfing lesson. The water is cold, so you will need to wear a wet suit. Santa Monica Surf School and other providers offer equipment rentals as well as lessons for every skill level.
3rd Street Promenade
This four-block, no-traffic Street is popular among locals and tourists. The promenade is lined with shops, restaurants, and cafes for all your shopping and food needs. A lot of talented street musicians keep you entertained making this a great place to people-watch.
Santa Monica Mountains
This coastal mountain range runs parallel to the Pacific Ocean. The park offers hundreds of miles of hiking trails for every difficulty level. You can spend a few hours to a day here.
Malibu to Los Angeles
Finally your trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles will end here. LA is a very big city in Southern California. LA is famous for Hollywood and the film and TV industry of the US.
Since there’s so much to see and do in Los Angeles, I have a different article for touring Los Angeles.
San Francisco to Los Angeles – Conclusion
I hope the information I provided on traveling from San Francisco to Los Angeles was of help. Please note that I do not get any incentives for any of my suggestions, these are my personal recommendations. If you have any questions or need any other details, please feel free to ask in the comments section below and I will be happy to answer.