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Ultimate West Coast Road Trip on the California Coast

Our family just wrapped up an epic west coast road trip to California. We’ve traveled part of the route before but decided to spend more time along the California coast on this trip. If you’re planning your own Hwy 1 road trip, here’s a look at our itinerary.

Where to Begin a West Coast Road Trip?

Since we live in Seattle, that’s where we started our trip. We only had a week for the journey, so focused on just the California portion of the west coast. We rented a one-way car rental and flew back home from LAX.

We traveled from home to Grant’s Pass, Oregon in one (long) day. Ideally, I’d recommend starting your road trip in Crescent City, CA. The stretch between Grants Pass and Crescent City is long and gives you your first taste of the redwood forest, so if you are traveling from Seattle or Portland, make sure you have plenty of daylight left for that section.

If you’re looking to fly in to begin your trip and want to include the redwoods, I’d recommend flying into Portland, Oregon, and driving from there to Crescent City. There is a small regional airport in Crescent City. You could also fly to Redding, CA but you’ll be backtracking if you plan to go up to the redwoods.

I do recommend driving SOUTH for your Hwy 1 / west coast road trip. That will give you the best views while driving and is the easiest direction to travel in for pull-outs.


Start/End Points: Crescent City, CA to Fort Bragg, CA
Total Miles: 217 miles
Driving Time: 5.5 hours (the stretch between Leggett and Hardy is extremely winding and slow; Google maps and GPS will not calculate this drive time properly)

redwood forest
The Redwoods in Northern California are a must visit on a west coast road trip!

Sites to See Along the Way

  • Prairie Creek Redwood State Park
  • Avenue of the Giants
  • Drive Thru Tree in Leggett

Read the full details here: Best Place to See Redwoods on the California Coast

Fort Bragg, CA

Our first overnight stop was in Fort Bragg. We stayed a the Beachcomber Motel, which was right on the beach, and enjoyed our first amazing west coast sunset. Fort Bragg is known for Glass Beach, a small cove beach with small polished glass pebbles making up much of its coastline.

Read the full details here: Things to Do in Fort Bragg Including the Famous Glass Beach

Wine Country

Start/End Points: Fort Bragg, CA to San Francisco, CA
Total Miles: 164 miles (Hwy 1 – Hwy 128 – Hwy 101); 178 miles (Hwy 1)
Driving Time: 3.5 hours (101 route); 5 hours (Hwy 1) – drive time could be longer getting into San Francisco because of traffic.

Pennyroyal Farm in Boonville CA
Pennyroyal Farm in Boonville is a great stop for wine and cheese tasting between Fort Bragg and San Francisco.

Sites to See Along the Way

  • Hwy 101 Route (wine country):
    • Pennyroyal Farm in Boonville, CA for wine and cheese tasting
    • Healdsburg
    • Santa Rosa
  • Hwy 1 Route (coast/beaches):
    • Point Arena Lighthouse
    • Stornetta Lands
    • Bowling Ball Beach
    • Point Reyes (famous tree-lined road)
    • Muir Woods (need reservation for parking or shuttle to enter)

You have two options along this stretch, head back inland to the 101 and go through wine country or stay on Hwy 1 and see more coastline and beaches. The 101 route is faster, the Hwy 1 route allows you to see a great lighthouse, Point Reyes, and Muir Woods (if you make reservations in advance).

We had a lot of driving the day prior and we knew that we’d be seeing great coastline after leaving San Francisco, so chose to go back to the 101 to save time and get into San Fran early. We did make a lunch stop at the Pennyroyal Farm and I highly recommend it as a stop on Hwy 128.

Related Post: Stunning Spots You Must See in Northern California

San Francisco

Our next overnight stop was in San Francisco, a must for any west coast road trip! We had dinner with friends and relaxed in the amazing Lodge at the Presidio. In the morning we walked across the Golden Gate Bridge.

There are plenty of things to do in San Francisco (including visiting Fisherman’s Wharf), one stop-over isn’t nearly enough time. If you have more time flexibility, consider staying two nights.

walking on the golden gate bridge
Visit San Francisco and walk across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Read About Our Time in SF: One Day in San Francisco at the Presidio Lodge near Golden Gate Bridge


Start/End Points: San Francisco, CA to Monterey, CA
Total Miles: 118 miles
Driving Time: 3 hours

lovers beach pacific grove ca
Lover’s Point Beach Park in Pacific Grove, CA

Sites to See Along the Way

We made a big mistake in our planning and didn’t allow enough time to enjoy sites on this part of the Central Coast. We planned (and drove) from San Francisco to Cambria. Since we took extra time in San Francisco, it made us run late and we missed having the chance to stop at some of the best sites along the coast.

Because of our mistake, I’m recommending you make Monterey, CA your next stop. This stretch of the coast shouldn’t be hurried.

Read More About Monterey: The Best of Cannery Row


Start/End Points: Monterey, CA to Cambria, CA
Total Miles: 104 miles
Driving Time: 2.75 hours (make sure you have gas and water, there are limited stops on this route)

big creek bridge hwy 1 road trip
Big Creek Bridge on Highway 1 between Monterey and Cambria

Sites to See Along the Way

  • Bixby Creek Bridge (pull-up for famous bridge shot)
  • Pfeiffer Beach
  • McWay Falls / Beach
  • Big Creek Bridge / Big Creek Cove Vista Point
  • Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Vista Point
  • Hearst Castle
  • Moonstone Beach

As you can see from above, there is a lot to see along this stretch of Highway 1. Again, driving south will give you the best opportunity for pulling-out at the popular spots, like Bixby Bridge.

view from elephant seal vista point near san simeon ca
View from the Elephant Seal Vista Point near Cambria, CA

Definitely, plan on overnight in Cambria. We stayed at the Oceanpoint Ranch, which is on the north end of the famous Moonstone Beach. Allow yourself time to walk along the boardwalk and beach and search for pretty rocks and sea glass along the coast. The Ranch also has fun yard games and fire pits, great for families!

In Cambria, I recommend making a reservation for dinner at Robin’s. We all enjoyed our dishes, and the cute patio dining was the perfect spot to unwind after our day of driving.

For breakfast, head to Linn’s Restaurant in Cambria. They started as a fruit stand and bakery and now are a full restaurant. Especially be sure to try their signature Olallieberry jam!

Santa Barbara / Ventura

Start/End Points: Cambria, CA to Santa Barbara, CA (or Ventura)
Total Miles: 127 miles (154 miles to Ventura)
Driving Time: 2.5 hours (3 hours to Ventura)

otters at morro bay ca
Otters at Morro Bay, CA

Sites to See Along the Way

  • San Luis Obispo
  • Morro Rock
  • Otters at Morro Bay
  • Pismo Beach
  • Solvang

We visited friends in Ojai so overnighted in Ventura at the Crowne Plaza. It’s located on the beach, next to the Ventura Pier. It also has a nice outdoor pool.

If you do travel to Ojai, which is a charming small town with lots of orange groves, check out these great Ojai restaurants!

Last year I had the chance to stay in Santa Barbara and think it would also be a fabulous stop along the way. I stayed at the Hotel Indigo, which is located just a couple of blocks from the pier. It’s up to you which you’d like better for your stop, Santa Barbara or Ventura.

Anaheim / Los Angeles

Start/End Points: Santa Barbara, CA  to Anaheim, CA (LA)
Total Miles: 123 miles (95 miles to LA)
Driving Time: 2.5 hours (2 hours to Ventura)

This was where our road trip ended. We decided to spend some time at Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood.

Continue on your road trip and check out some of these fabulous things to do in Southern California.

San Diego

If you do continue your west coast road trip to San Diego, there are plenty of great places to stay along the way. The Hyatt Regency at Huntington Beach is one of my favorite spots. Of course, you’ll need longer than a week to be able to visit these places as well as the ones listed above.

Great Stops Along the Way

  • Malibu
  • Santa Monica
  • Long Beach
  • Huntington Beach
  • Newport Beach
  • Costa Mesa
  • Dana Point
  • Carlsbad (Legoland)

Tips for a West Coast USA Road Trip

Wear Slip-On Shoes

With a family of four, I was amazed at how long I felt it took my girls to tie their shoes. I highly recommend everyone travel in slip-on shoes so that getting in and out of the car is quick.

Fill Up Often

During a few of the stretches, there aren’t a lot of services available. Make sure you keep your gas tank filled. Also recognize that California gas prices are some of the highest in the country, so be prepared. On our trip, we were paying over $4 a gallon, when it was only about $3.70 here in Washington.

One Way Rentals

For our trip, we chose to rent a car one-way and fly home from LAX. This is the best way to optimize a one-week vacation. Unfortunately, one-way rentals often come with an added fee.

Allow More Time

We learned that we didn’t allow enough time each day to see sights along the way. That’s one of the reasons I added the extra stop in Monterey into this itinerary plan. I also recommend getting started early in the morning if you can.

Use a Map

My final note is to bring a map. Your GPS/Google Maps will want to route you the quickest route, which often isn’t via Highway 1. You’ll have to rely on some good old fashion map and sign reading to make sure you stay on the coast.

Hopefully, this itinerary and guide will help you with planning your own west coast road trip. It’s one of the most popular in the nation, and for good reason! It’s also a great destination graduation trip idea!

And if you want to see more of the Pacific coast, check out this great Oregon Coast road trip!

best stops on a highway 1 road trip in california
west coast road trip itinerary

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Thursday 12th of March 2020

This post has me excited for our upcoming West Coast Adventure next year. We still are working the details and you have given me some great cities to add into our itinerary!

Kalyan Panja

Sunday 8th of September 2019

Hi there, really loving the blog. I’m planning a 3 week trip to the west coast of USA in January and it’s been really useful. I am planning to split my time up between the towns and the beaches.


Sunday 19th of May 2019

I love this post! My family loves road trips and I can't wait to take one down Hwy 1! Thank you for the practical tips such as driving south to make things easier. I also appreciate the tips on where to stop each day to make the most of the trip. Can't wait to take this road trip!


Tuesday 21st of May 2019

Glad you found it helpful Christy! It's a great trip!