My Highway 1 Road Trip Guide
Recently John and I took a little trip down the coast of California. It’s one of our favorite road trips that we do almost every year. I may have done a few guides in the past for Big Sur or Monterey area, but I wanted to do something slightly more in depth. We love starting in San Francisco and traveling down the 1 all the way to LA. This way you get the most scenic view and can stop along the whole way down. There are so many places to stop and visit, but I’m only going to share what we did this time. If you ever get a chance to do this trip here are a few things you could do and see.
First Stop: San Francisco
Starting the Roadtrip in San Francisco is perfect! There is so much to see and eat and amazing photo locations.
WHERE TO EAT:
There are SO MANY PLACES TO EAT that its hard to give only a few recommendations but I will go with what’s off the top of my head.
If you are in the MISSION, I heard Foreign Cinema is amazing, but it was booked solid so we had dinner at Burma Love instead in the same area (it was delicious). Also love big fan of Liholiho Yacht Club! It’s super unique as far as the tastes go! Very fresh and interesting- the owner touches on his Indian and Hawaiian heritage with the flavors and it’s such a winner. Embarcadero area has an amazing delicious Peruvian place called La Mar which has the freshest ceviche and great Pisco sours. Close by La Mar is Hard Water (great for whiskey lovers) where they serve good drinks and food. If you love a good French-style bakery/breakfast spot then check out Les Marais in Pacific Heights area. It’s adorable and delicious! The coffee is decent as well. Les Marais has three different locations so just google which is closest to you!
WHERE TO SHOP:
Union square is always great shopping because they have everything (all the known brands), but I always love going to Haight /Ashbury for the best thrifting and funky finds! Don’t forget to stop by Wasteland if you go here. They are have great high-end vintage finds along with lightly used and newer stuff. If you want a beautiful neighborhood to stroll through, Presidio Heights is super quaint.
WHERE TO SNAP A PHOTO:
Painted Ladies: The beautiful strip of victorian houses is known as “Painted Ladies” (A.K.A: ‘Full House‘ houses). You can have a cute picnic at Alamo Square park right infront of them and snap a photo!
The Golden Gate Bridge. If you drive across the bridge from the city there are two stopping spots right off the bridge where you can snap a cute photo with a view! I also love Baker Beach for a beach-side view.
China Town : China town is also a really cool spot to take a photo. There is a lot going on visually and there’s nothing else like it in SF.
Golden Gate Park: So many different spots here. Throw on your walking shoes and explore it all (it’s big), but my favorite is definitely the Flower Conservatory (it’s beautiful and so peaceful). Amazing for photos if you can go at a time that it’s not packed.
Pier 39. This is too touristy for me personally, but I bet you could get a really fun photo here. There’s a carousel, fun shops, sea lions to stalk and a pretty bay view. If you are ok with crowds, you may want to check it out.
Twin Peaks: the most beautiful spot to snap a sunset photo overlooking the whole city! Check out 501 twin peaks blvd.
Union Square: You can get major city vibes here with trolleys passing thru and typically SF city views. Go shopping, grab a coffee and snap a cute photo. Around Post street is a good spot!
Palace of Fine Arts: This is such a beautiful place. It’s peaceful, unique and has gorgeous architecture. It’s quite romantic actually. Perfect for a little date and a stroll and a pretty photo op.
Next Stop : Pescadero
You could easily pass through Pescadero but it’s a cute little stop as well! If you want to stay in San Francisco as long as you can before heading south (like we did), then you could leave SF later and sleep in Pescadero on the way down to Monterey. There isn’t a lot here except for beautiful hikes or biking which is nice and peaceful. There also isn’t service unless you are somewhere with wifi.
We stayed at COSTANOA for one night which has the cutest little glamping bungalow tents that lock up (super safe) and come complete with heated beds (necessary). They have two restaurants (one higher end and one casual) with fresh food and veggies straight from their on site garden. They also have horseback riding and a few fun activities. If glamping isn’t your thing they do have lodging and if you can’t afford the glamping tents, they also have an area where you can post your tent up! It’s nice because they have showers, a sauna and clean bathrooms which def beats camping out in the wilderness.
Next Stop: Monterey and Big Sur
There is so much to see in Monterey and Big Sur, but how long you stay is up to you. You can really see a lot in a day but you could also stay longer and enjoy the beautiful area while getting in some hiking, and relaxing. So many trails and also beautiful resorts.
WHAT TO SEE AND WHERE TO GET A PHOTO:
17 mile Drive : This a little drive that takes you along side the most beautiful drive in Monterey. It takes a while to get from point A to B and is best enjoyed when you actually have time to stop and explore and take photos. You often see deer grazing by the ocean, condors just chilling on the rocks and so much ocean wild life near the tide pools. It’s beautiful! I once got a chance to do it on an electric bike, which was also a nice experience although I definitely recommend that for warmer weather because it gets pretty cold in the winter.
The Aquarium: The Monterey Aquarium is famous for a reason. My favorite thing ever here is the HUGE jelly fish tank and watching the sardine feeding (so mesmerizing).
Bixby Bridge in Big Sur: If you drive through Big Sur you won’t miss this because you drive right over it, but make sure to keep your eyes peeled so you don’t miss where to park! This is a cute spot to snap a photo and a classic.
McWay Falls in Big Sur: There’s a beautiful, untouched beach with a cascading waterfall dropping into the ocean. It’s breathtaking and definitely the pride of Big Sur. You definitely want to go here to check it out. It’s just a short walk from the parking to the view where you can see the waterfall. Also a great photo op. DON’T GO DOWN ON THE BEACH, just enjoy this serene and unspoiled beach from above.
Hearst Castle: This is a MUST SEE if you have never been to this area. A perfect place to stop after driving through Big Sur. It’s a large mansion on the top of the hill that overlooks the ocean. Make sure to go on their website here and schedule your private tour of the property ahead of time. I normally hate guided tours or anything you need to do with strangers in a group but it’s worth it if you like house snooping, architecture and historical things.
Elephant seals in San Simeon: This is a quick stop! Just a cute thing to witness and take some videos of. Make sure to check out the seals at San Piedras Beach in San Simeon.
WHERE TO EAT:
Nepenthe Cafe – I always recommend this spot! Good food, good service and the most stunning views!! Right underneath it is also a cute little cafe to grab a coffee or tea and look at the view. With Covid, I would definitely call and check ahead to see if you need a reservation or what the deal is right now.
Carmel by the Sea: Carmel has a lot of cute little restaurants! John and I walked into a random Italian one and it was delicious (can’t remember the name though) but its a small town so just walk around and scope it out. I’ve also eaten at 7th and Dolores which is a delicious steakhouse if you are looking for a more upscale dinner. Definitely recommend this.
Paluca Trattoria : This spot is in Monterey. It’s a cute little restaurant sitting right on the wharf. I would recommend to go to the Aquarium and then stop here to eat! Super small, quaint and delish.
WHERE TO STAY:
Big Sur can get super expensive and there isn’t a lot of options. The most budget friendly would definitely be to camp if you are planning on sleeping around here. There are super safe campsites all over Big Sur but you have to reserve ahead of time or brave the first-come first-served sites. It’s a very popular location and things get booked solid months in advance. My absolute favorite campsite is the Julia Pfeiffer Burns campsize that is tucked away right on top of McWay Falls. It’s incredible. You wake up to the sound of the waterfall. Unfortunately this one is always booked as there are only two campsites on the cliff top. We happened to just catch it when there was a cancellation one year.
If you have a large budget to work with some famous and gorgeous places to stay are Ventana Big Sur and Tree Bones.
Next Stop: Santa Barbara
Love Santa Barbara! It’s so quaint and a nice place to stop along the way. After driving through Big Sur, we stopped by Santa Barbara for a quick bite. This time around we didn’t stay long but it’s always nice to stay the night in this pretty place.
WHERE TO EAT:
Green Table: For a healthy quick bite check this spot out! I didn’t love the coffee, but the salads and bowls were delicious and filling. John and I stopped here for a quick healthy snack.
Mesa Verde: Haven’t been here personally, but I’ve heard good things. The food looks good and is beautiful as well! All plant based and locally sourced food.
Scarlett Begonia: Another spot I’ve never been but have been recommended by many for brunch. It also looks delish!!!
Boathouse Hendrys Beach: If you are looking for a gorgeous view this is your spot. Just a pretty ocean view, the place sits right on the sand and has a good variety of food.
WHERE TO TAKE A PHOTO:
Santa Barbara Mission: Missions are always so pretty! It’s a beautiful walk through if you want to just walk somewhere pretty, but also great for the gram! Theres a few different locations at the mission that would work for a gorge backdrop.
Paseo Nuevo Stairs: If you want the classic mission style tiles these stairs are so pretty! Very Santa Barbara. Plus you can go wander through the mall after.
Chromatic gate: You may have already come across the Chromatic Gate on Instagram as it’s an IG photo hot spot. It’s a large rainbow arch right in front of the beach. If you go for a bike ride along the beach this spot is a great little pit stop.
Next Stop : Los Angeles
How deep you go into Los Angeles is up to you. We typically just stop a few places before coming home. My personal favorites are The Santa Monica Pier, Venice or a stop by the Getty Museum and Getty Villas in Malibu. If you are a roller skater (like me) then DO NOT miss the Venice beach rollerskating rink if you haven’t been yet. It’s located right next to the skate park. You will find some amazing roller skaters here just dancing the day away.
I could do a whole post on LA, but it’s too big!! I would just say definitely stop by here (Venice) if you aren’t from California and spend a few days or a night in the area. Don’t forget to check out Disneyland!
Happy Travels! If you need more guides don’t forget to check out my Travel section here on the blog.