Broad beaches lined with high palm trees in front of a hilly landscape, the curvy roads of Highway 1 winding round steep mountains. Below just the roaring sea. Hollywood. Skaters and Surfers, Wine and Sun. Always sun in California.
Those are the images that most people summon when thinking about California and to be blunt: that’s exactly it. Road tripping on Highway 1 from Los Angeles to San Francisco – or the other way around – is certainly not one of those itineraries that got super hyped and when you are following the path you can’t help but thinking that it´s just not thaaat great after all .. The Pacific Coast Highway 1 IS that great, it even exceeded all our expectations we had for this California trip.
In opposite to my normal “I need to plan every step of that goddamn trip otherwise I just can’t deal with it, I did not book everything in advance. Well, except L.A., Ventura and San Francisco.. but we must walk before we run, right?
After all we ended up with the Itinerary below. We decided on locations and Motels over lunch and booked with booking.com. We traveled through California on Highway 1 during mid season (November) while the weather was still nice. In any case we we had no trouble at all finding motels under 60€/night, Breakfast included.
Day 1 -2 Los Angeles and Highway 1 kick off
Being less impressed by Hollywood and Downtown L.A, we spent most of our time strolling around Santa Monica and Venice Beach, driving around Silver Lake and Beverly Hills, enjoying beautiful sunsets and doing what we like most: wander, eat and drink.
Day 3 Ventura
We spend an outstanding morning at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. The view was amazing and hiking in the hills pretty enjoyable. But it was time to say good bye to L.A. We left direction north. We arrived at our Airbnb in Ventura in the late afternoon. I suffered horribly (no shit) from jet lag related Migrane, However, I got
forced convinced to leave the comfort of a bed and to my big surprise (and after an unreasonable amount of painkillers) we spent a nice evening in Ventura’s Anacapa Brewing Company with craft beer as local as it can be and decent food.
Day 4 Pismo Beach
After starting the day (very early) in Ventura, enjoying the early morning sun with a walk at the beach (jet lag ftw), we followed the advice of our Airbnb Host and set Pismo Beach as our day goal. The distance was long enough to get some road done on Highway 1. But close enough for not being in a rush. Thus we spent a fair amount of time in Santa Barbara. We had lunch in a Mexican Restaurant with an unfortunate balance of price and quality and visited the Mission. The afternoon was dedicated to driving. However, we stopped 2 or 3 times at random spots along Highway 1 that turned all out to be stunning. We even managed to make up for the poor lunch experience with dinner in bed: beef jerky, chips and (good) wine From paper cups, like you do.
Day 5 Monterey
Highway 1 from Pismo Beach to Monterey looked reasonable when seen on a map. It really did. And in fact, it’s only 240km, something you should be able to do easily within a day.
We had a cozy morning in Pismo. With quite some time photographing, a sandwich as a snack in Cambria and a slow hitting the road around noon. And then it became really long and the numbers on the green road signs got smaller very slowly, like REALLY slow. The idea “oh we’ll have lunch on the road” didn’t work out that well neither. The area of Big Sur is really not as populated as assumed.
We were presented stunning views, saw amazing Californian landscapes and it was indeed fun driving. However, we left with the feeling that we did not take enough time to get the most out of the Big Sur Region. We had time for picture stops but we missed out several occasions where a longer stop over and a hike was required. After all, it was doable and I still would recommend to take Highway 1 without stops than taking the shorter Highway 101. It’s just a little annoying to be in such a fucking awesome spot on earth and not having time to enjoy every inch of it.
Day 6 Berkeley
That choice seems odd, I know. I was very much stuck on the idea to enter San Francisco from North by crossing the Golden Gate Bride. This is generally complicated when approaching San Francisco from South. As workaround we drove around San Francisco and picked Berkeley as a good starting point for the next morning.
But first things first: We spent a slow morning in Monterey. We found a Parisian Bakery that had the most amazing selection of pastries and quiches, and that is more Parisian than Amelie Poulain possibly ever could be. We continued with having an extensive walk around the Port where nothing looked like L.A. or Santa Barbara anymore. It reminded us more the the foggy and humid shores of Bretagne or Normandie.
After a little detour to the Gilroy Premium Outlets (OMFG), we made it back to Highway 1. By chance came across the unbelievable stunning Shark Fin Cove (check out our blog post) and then, finally arrived in Berkeley.
Day 7 and 8 Leaving Highway 1 for San Francisco
It was the good call to stay over in Berkeley and not to cut down the idea of crossing that damn bridge. I am sure I would have regretted that forever. San Francisco was the final we hoped for. Freworks, sparks and a ton of glitter at the end of an amazing California trip. We had a blast, every minute of it and even the Mexican Food in Santa Barbara wasn’t that bad after all. To read in detail about our San Francisco experience and especially the extraordinary food discoveries, check out this post.
You’re having more time? Check out this guide and get detailed information for a 21 days roadtrip on highway 1!