San Francisco to San Diego Road Trip | California Coastal Road Trip

SAN FRANCISCO TO SAN DIEGO CALIFORNIA ROAD TRIP

Looking to plan a San Francisco to San Diego road trip? I don’t blame you! It is deserving of a spot on every US bucket list due to the ridiculous beauty from start to finish! The coastal highway down the Pacific Ocean in California offers diverse views at each stop, but the common factor is the natural beauty from beginning to end!

If you are planning a road trip from San Francisco to San Diego, there are many options of places to stop that are well worth your time for a few hours or even a few days. From coastal hikes to historical highlights to museums and culture, you can drive this route in as little as one day (but I hope you won’t!). Consider taking several days to fully experience all that this California coastal road trip has to offer.

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California Coast Road trip down Highway 1 from San Francisco to San Diego. With kids or without, this itinerary deserves to be on all bucket lists. From Northern California to Southern California, we've got you covered with budget and luxury recommendations. #freetotravelmama #sanfrancisco #california #californiaroadtrip

Perfect Spots to Stop on a San Francisco to San Diego Road Trip

  • 1. San Francisco
  • 2. Santa Cruz
  • 3. Capitola
  • 4. Monterey
  • 5. Carmel
  • 6. Big Sur
  • 7. Cambria + Morro Bay
  • 8. San Luis Obispo
  • 9. Solvang
  • 10. Santa Monica
  • 11. Huntington Beach
  • 12. Carlsbad
  • 13. San Diego

Starting your California Coastal Road Trip

Unless you are a Bay Area local or are coming from a Northern California road trip in the redwoods or a wine tasting adventure in Sonoma, you are likely flying into San Francisco International Airport. Google flights is our absolute must-go-to when looking for the best flight deals. You can check out the calendar view to choose the best days for flights. Don’t forget to check out Oakland International Airport and San Jose International Airport too. They wouldn’t be as convenient, but if it would save you a ton of cash, it might be worth it.

When driving the California coast, you have two main options. You can plan a round trip drive, in which case we would highly recommend taking Highway 1 from San Francisco to San Diego, and then driving back north via I-5 on its speedy straight freeway (with very few redeeming views or road trip stops). Or you can book a one way flight to SFO and then a one way flight home from San Diego International airport. The latter would personally be my preference (otherwise you have to endure a pretty bland 8-9 hour drive back which is not a very fun way to end a trip!). Check out how this will affect your rental car price through as it often incurs a fee to drop off at a different location.

Los Osos, California is one stop on the California Coast Road trip down Highway 1 from San Francisco to San Diego. With kids or without, this itinerary deserves to be on all bucket lists. From Northern California to Southern California, we've got you covered with budget and luxury recommendations. #freetotravelmama #sanfrancisco #california #californiaroadtrip

How to Drive from San Francisco to San Diego

The most picturesque drive in California (and maybe even on the whole planet) is the coastal drive down Highway 1 aka Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). If you were to drive this in one straight shot, it would take you about 11-12 hours (sans traffic and zero amazing stops). But we would highly recommend taking as much time as you have as there is SO much to see down the coast! A few days would be a minimum amount of time to spend, but you could easily fill two weeks if you’ve got it.

As this is a drive along the coastline, the road is often windy and sometimes the ocean bluffs edges look a little too close for comfort. But just keep your eyes on the road, stop often for breaks so that the driver can enjoy the views too, and soak up every minute. Because it is truly STUNNING.

San Francisco is just one stop on the California Coast Road trip down Highway 1 from San Francisco to San Diego. With kids or without, this itinerary deserves to be on all bucket lists. From Northern California to Southern California, we've got you covered with budget and luxury recommendations. #freetotravelmama #sanfrancisco #california #californiaroadtrip

Best Time to take a California Coast Road Trip

California is stereotyped as having great weather all year round. And while the temperatures are moderate, winter does bring rain and sometimes mud slides to the coastline which is, of course, not conducive to a smooth road trip on a windy ocean road.

Late Spring through early Fall is your best bet for sunny skies and warm temperatures. Spring and Fall bring a greater chance of rain and summer months have a tendency for foggy mornings and larger crowds. So travel when you can and layer up your clothing no matter when you go because the chilly ocean air in the northern coastal communities does not mess around!

California Coast Stops on a San Francisco to San Diego Road Trip

Trying to decide how to spend a day or three in San Francisco can be an overwhelming choice as the list of options is a mile long! Seeing the Golden Gate Bridge in all its glory is usually at the top of every tourist list for good reason. You can choose to walk or bike across or even just drive. Baker Beach is the perfect spot for that quintessential bridge photo but you’ll need to cross your fingers that the fog will be your friend and not your foe that day.

SAN FRANCISCO

San Francisco is just one stop on California's Highway 1,  San Francisco to San Diego 
road trip. With kids or without, this itinerary deserves to be on all bucket lists. From Northern California to Southern California, we've got you covered with budget and luxury recommendations. #freetotravelmama #sanfrancisco #california #californiaroadtrip
Photographed from the ferry between Sausalito and Pier 39

The Palace of Fine Arts, de Young Museum, and Legion of Honor, and are filled with a vast array of cultural and educational opportunities for those of all ages. Go up the tower at the de Young Museum for 360 degree views of the city.

Stinson Beach is a popular spot to dip your toes in the sand and just over the bridge is Muir Woods in all its coastal redwood splendor. If you are looking for some quirky options, drive down the crookedest street on Lombard or hop on the cable car and watch the city go by. A trip to Alcatraz is also both educational and ridiculously entertaining.

Golden Gate Park is a great choice for spending time outdoors. Stow Lake, Strawberry Hill, and Huntington Waterfall are all picturesque spots for a walk or a picnic. The Japanese Tea Garden is also here and is lovely especially in the spring. You’ll find Sam’s Chowder Mobile parked in front of the garden on Saturdays and Sundays – yum! The California Academy of Sciences is a must see especially if you are traveling with children.

Ghiradelli Square is a lovely spot for wine tasting, chocolate tasting (of course!), and gorgeous harbor views. No one comes to San Francisco without wanting to taste it’s culinary delights. Liholiho Yacht Club is a personal favorite with its creative and mouth watering family-style dining (make your reservations as soon as you plan your trip!). Take one of the historic trams down the E line to the Ferry Building too for cupcakes from Miette or waffles from Blue Bottle.

Where to Stay in San Francisco:

Recommended Activities in San Francisco:

SANTA CRUZ

Santa Cruz is just one stop on California's Highway 1,  San Francisco to San Diego 
road trip. With kids or without, this itinerary deserves to be on all bucket lists. From Northern California to Southern California, we've got you covered with budget and luxury recommendations. #freetotravelmama #sanfrancisco #california #californiaroadtrip

Santa Cruz is worth a few days stop on your Highway 1 road trip. Located about an hour and a half south of San Francisco on Highway 1, Santa Cruz is known for its great surf scene, quirky local culture, and acceptance of alternative lifestyles. As the locals say, keep Santa Cruz weird.

Most visitors will start their Santa Cruz experience by visiting the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, located next to the wharf, right on the water. Check out the vintage roller coaster, the Giant Dipper, and the carousel for their old school charm. Stay for the numerous other family friendly rides and attractions.

Make sure you leave time to enjoy Santa Cruz’s beautiful natural scenery. West Cliff Drive, located next to the boardwalk and wharf, wraps around as the Monterey Bay becomes the Pacific Ocean. Rent bikes or take a walk along West Cliff Drive. Check out the surfers as they sit in a lineup and take turns catching waves at Steamer Lane and visit the Surf Museum in the lighthouse to learn about Santa Cruz’s local surf culture. Continue to tour along West Cliff Drive to Natural Bridges State Park. From mid-October to January, Natural Bridges State Park becomes a winter refuge for monarch butterflies. Thousands of butterflies descend upon the park’s eucalyptus trees.

Just outside of Santa Cruz, there are also great spots to visit some California redwoods. Check out the redwoods at any of the local state parks: Big Basin State Park, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, Wilder Ranch State Park, or the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park.

Downtown Santa Cruz is the place to see some of the local culture. Stroll along Pacific Avenue to enjoy some local street musicians. Enjoy tacos at the Palomar’s taco bar and homemade ice cream at Penny’s Ice Creamery. Check out a great local bookshop, Bookshop Santa Cruz. Finish your Santa Cruz visit at a great locals’ breakfast hangout, Café Brasil, located on Mission St. just outside of downtown.  // by Rosie Julin from Popcuria

Where to Stay in Santa Cruz:

Recommended Activities in Santa Cruz:

CAPITOLA

Throughout our many California road trips, we’ve found some pretty amazing, random spots, including the small beachside town of Capitola. Capitola is a beautiful city in Santa Cruz County that is totally worth a stop along your trip. We recommend either stopping for the day or one night in this laid-back, coastal town. We visited as a day trip after sightseeing in Santa Cruz.

As one of California’s oldest resort towns, Capitola is so picturesque. A must-see is the brightly colored lowrise condos, the Capitola Venetians, that line the sandy beach. If you’re planning on staying the night, you can actually stay in one of the pastel homes if available, as most are vacation rentals! And even if you’re just passing through, the Venetians make the perfect photo opportunity.

While in town, you’ll also need to venture to the old wooden wharf, located just down the beach from the Venetians. Make sure to explore above and below the wharf – it’s quite a charming little area and also great for photos. You’ll get a great view of Monterey Bay from above that you won’t want to miss. And if you do have some time and like to surf, Capitola is known for its waves. Book a lesson at any of the local shops – there are plenty of them. 

While Capitola is a small town, it’s a bustling one nonetheless. For all shopping and dining needs, Capitola Village is the perfect place to explore. And if you have a sweet tooth, check out Gayle’s Bakery, an extensive bakery that offers tons of hot dishes and delicious coffee too. // by Hannah + Adam Lukaszewicz from GettingStamped

Where to Stay in Santa Capitola:

Recommended Activities in Santa Capitola:

California Coast Road Trip Itinerary: Central Coast Stops

MONTEREY

Monterey is just one stop on California's Highway 1,  San Francisco to San Diego 
road trip. With kids or without, this itinerary deserves to be on all bucket lists. From Northern California to Southern California, we've got you covered with budget and luxury recommendations. #freetotravelmama #sanfrancisco #california #californiaroadtrip

Monterey is a perfect stop for anyone traveling up the coast of California on a San Francisco to San Diego road trip. This coastal town is great because of the incredible views, the local food, and the unique things you can do here. 

Monterey is located just north of Big Sur, perhaps the most beautiful stretch of Highway 1, and is an incredibly beautiful place in its own right. The Monterey area is home to many beautiful beaches, including Pebble Beach, Carmel Beach, Asilomar Beach and Del Monte Beach. Each of these is a wonderful place to hang out and soak up the California sun. On top of the beaches, you can head up the Carmel Valley for a view of the mountains and some hikes to mountain overlooks.

While you are in Monterey, you’ll have to sample the local food. As a coastal city, Monterey is home to some of the most delicious seafood you can find. At Fisherman’s Wharf, you can peruse many tourist shops for souvenirs while you enjoy a free clam chowder sample from all of the restaurants on the pier. Choose your favorite clam chowder and have dinner at that restaurant, you won’t be disappointed!

Also on the pier at Fisherman’s Wharf you’ll be able to spot sea otters, harbor seals, and California sea lions. You’ll definitely be able to hear these guys and gals barking back and forth before you can see them! If you care to have a trip inland from Monterey, Pinnacles National Park is a detour that gives you the opportunity for some incredible mountain hikes and the opportunity to spot a rare California Condor! 

The wonderful landscape, delicious food, and unique activities you can have in Monterey make this a must-stop on your road trip along the California Coast. We recommend spending a day or two exploring the city, and a day or two hiking if you are interested in the outdoors. This will make for the perfect beginning (or end) to your time in Big Sur and will only add to the adventure you get to experience. // Jack & Julie Ruhl from Ruhls of the Road

Where to Stay in Monterey:

Recommended Activities in Monterey:

CARMEL

Sandwiched conveniently between California’s Big Sur coastline and its towering redwoods to the south and Monterey to the north, Carmel is a must-visit stop on any California road trip and makes a perfect base for a few days to soak in all the nearby treasures. 

Carmel itself is a jewel box of a village and playground for the uber wealthy. Picture quaint storefronts and restaurants with colorful facades and meticulously tended gardens. It’s a beautiful place to visit in California in spring, particularly, when summer crowds are fewer.

Shoppers and art lovers will want to spend serious time perusing the many local galleries and one-of-a-kind boutiques here on Ocean Avenue. Foodies will delight in the excellent restaurant scene. Try Sauce on the Side for casual vegetarian fare or Jamaican Reggae Grill for a little taste of the Caribbean in Carmel.

Be sure to drive the famous 17 mile drive just north of Carmel that connects to Monterey. Your $10.50 entrance feel includes a guide to particularly dramatic coastal viewpoints including where to see the iconic Lone Cypress tree that’s been featured on postcards for decades. You’ll pass the famous Pebble Beach golf course and wander through lovely forests on this drive, too.

With more time in Carmel, stop into the lovely Carmel Mission Basilica Museum. Then head just south of the village for a hike in the spectacularly scenic walk through Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. Look for sea lions, unique flora and fauna, and rare plants here. It won’t surprise you to learn that Los Lobos has been called the “crown jewel” of the American state park system. // by Chris Román from Explore Now or Never

Where to Stay in Carmel:

Recommended Activities in Carmel:

BIG SUR

The Greatest Meeting of Land and Sea” quote perhaps incorrectly attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson is appropriately claimed by nearly every place between Monterey and Big Sur.

Big Sur is one of the most phenomenal places on Earth and the Highway 1 drive through Big Sur is a transformative life highlight for anyone fortunate enough to have done it. Try to make time to visit Monterey and nearby Pebble Beach and Carmel but definitely devote time to driving the entire 100 mile stretch of Big Sur.

You can do the entire drive in the minimum few hours, with only a quick few stops, but your most memorable and soul-filling Big Sur experiences will include lengthy stops at countless overlooks, Rocky Point and Nepenthe restaurants (unforgettable and magnificent sunsets), the classic Big Sur photo spots at McWay Falls and Bixby Creek Bridge, Hearst Castle, and dozens of other side roads, art galleries, farms, hikes, campgrounds, and other worthwhile distractions.

The village of Big Sur (really just a handful of buildings) is 25 miles south of Carmel and 65 miles north of San Simeon; stop there for snacks, a fun saloon with decent burgers, or even an overnight stay in a fun Big Sur campground.

My two insider tips (shhhh, do not tell anyone) are to visit Pfeiffer Beach and explore the rugged Coast Road. Pfeiffer Beach (on Sycamore Canyon Road) is a gorgeous hidden beach that is the setting for many films. Take a perfect selfie with Keyhole Arch and then sit atop the rocks on Pfeiffer Point and watch whales in the ocean. The old school unpaved Coast Road can be accessed near Andrew Molera State Park, Great Sur Turnout, and Bixby Creek Bridge. Make sure you have a sturdy vehicle (and a lot of water and supplies) and allow several hours (or even days) to explore this area.  // by Charles McCool from McCool Travel

Where to Stay in Big Sur:

Recommended Activities in Big Sur:

CAMBRIA + MORRO BAY

Morro Bay is just one stop on California's Highway 1,  San Francisco to San Diego 
road trip. With kids or without, this itinerary deserves to be on all bucket lists. From Northern California to Couthern Salifornia, we've got you covered with budget and luxury recommendations. #freetotravelmama #sanfrancisco #california #californiaroadtrip

An awesome road trip between San Francisco and San Diego would not be complete without visiting the stretch of Highway 1 between Cambria and Morro Bay.  In this area, you have easy access to scenic ocean views, wildlife encounters, water activities/excursions and restaurants serving mouthwatering dishes.

Two or three days is a good amount of time for those who want to get to know the area well.  On a road trip limited by time, you can spend a day checking out the main two towns.

Start the day by completing a short walk in Cambria.  Places such as Moonstone Beach, Leffingwell Landing and the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve have easy trails next to the Pacific Ocean.

The Cambria Village houses unique stores owned by locals, artist studios, a historical museum and a good variety of restaurants.  I love to get a Caprese sandwich at the French Bakery and a slice of fresh apple pie at Linn’s. In addition, Cambria is an excellent place to indulge in wine tasting.  Cutruzzola is one of the most acclaimed tasting rooms in town.

A few miles down the road, you will find Morro Bay, a true gem of the California Coast.  This town is famous because of the huge rock (a volcanic plug) standing along the beach. You will see the rock from a considerable distance! In this town, I recommend walking the Embarcadero, getting to the base of the rock (end of Coleman Drive), taking a bay cruise or visiting the Museum of Natural History at the Morro Bay State Park.  This is otter central. The probability of seeing at least a dozen is high.

End the day by having a seafood feast at Dutchman’s, The Galley or Tognazzini’s.  Or, you can watch the sunset from one of the piers at the Embarcadero or from the top of Black Hill. // Ruth Rieckehoff from Tanama Tales

Where to Stay in Cambria:

Recommended Activities in Cambria:

SAN LUIS OBISPO

San Luis Obispo is just one stop on California's Highway 1,  San Francisco to San Diego 
road trip. With kids or without, this itinerary deserves to be on all bucket lists. From Northern California to Southern California, we've got you covered with budget and luxury recommendations. #freetotravelmama #sanfrancisco #california #californiaroadtrip

San Luis Obispo (SLO) is an adorable city on the Central California coast, at almost the halfway point between San Francisco and San Diego. And it’s an essential stop on any road trip between these two cities! You can stop for a short while just to enjoy the afternoon, but to fully enjoy what SLO has to offer I recommend staying at least 1-2 days while on your road trip.

There are tons of things to see and do in San Luis Obispo, but some of the highlights include shopping in the cute downtown shops, enjoying the famous weekly Farmers’ Market on Thursday nights, and exploring the local Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (which gives San Luis Obispo its name). If you love charming little cities, then this is a perfect place to stop on your road trip!

However, SLO is also one of my favorite places along this route because of all the amazing outdoor scenery to enjoy. There are plenty of beaches you can go to in nearby cities like Avila Beach or Pismo Beach, but there are also lots of gorgeous mountains in SLO that you can enjoy hiking.  One hike you won’t want to miss is Bishop Peak, which gives you excellent views over the city and the surrounding areas!

Plus, there’s lots of good food to be found here. From the local favorite BBQ place called Firestone Grill, to delicious donuts at SloDoCo, to clam chowder at Splash Café, to amazing sandwiches at High Street Deli…you will certainly be spoiled for choice while you’re here!

Overall, if you’re looking for a laid-back and relaxed place to stop on your road trip, this is the place to be. Those of us who live in SLO often like to pun about its name, saying that we live the “SLOw” life and enjoy life to the fullest. So come and visit and learn what it’s like to slow down and enjoy the beauty of the California coast! // Abi Johnson from Happy Go Abi

Where to Stay in San Luis Obispo:

Recommended Activities in San Luis Obispo:

PISMO BEACH

Pismo Beach is just one stop on California's Highway 1,  San Francisco to San Diego 
road trip. With kids or without, this itinerary deserves to be on all bucket lists. From Northern California to Southern California, we've got you covered with budget and luxury recommendations. #freetotravelmama #sanfrancisco #california #californiaroadtrip

Located on California’s Central Coast, Pismo Beach is a welcome stop to slow down, relax, and recharge after a long day of exploring Highway 1 on on a California road trip!

Set along beautiful beaches and atop cliffs and bluffs, this pretty town is well worth at least a two night stop to properly explore all it has to offer. Kids will love playing at the Dinosaur Caves Park overlooking the ocean, spotting wild otters swimming in the waves below the cliffs, exploring the tide pools at Eldwayen Ocean Park, walking along the beach and Pismo Beach Pier, and watching the sunset over the ocean. However, the highlight of your time here may be visiting the Monarch Butterfly Grove to view the thousands of Monarch butterflies that migrate here each year during winter.

For the more adventurous, you can hike the Pismo Preserve by foot, bike or horseback, tackle the Oceano Dunes on an ATV, or discover the secrets of the sea caves carved into the cliffs of Pismo Beach. There are many wineries located in the area surrounding Pismo Beach for wine-lovers to visit.

For the best places to eat, highly recommended options are both Ventana Grill and the Flagship. Both restaurants offer unbeatable views over the Pacific Ocean, super friendly staff who will make you feel welcome, and delicious meals to suit all ages and appetites. Otherwise, this is the perfect place to wander the streets and discover one of the many wine bars and clam chowder joints tucked away in this beachside town. // Stacey Shailer from Adventure by 3

Where to Stay in Pismo Beach:

Recommended Activities in Pismo Beach:

SOLVANG

Solvang is just one stop on California's Highway 1,  San Francisco to San Diego 
road trip. With kids or without, this itinerary deserves to be on all bucket lists. From Northern California to Southern California, we've got you covered with budget and luxury recommendations. #freetotravelmama #sanfrancisco #california #californiaroadtrip

Solvang is a small town in the Santa Ynez Valley just off route 101, about half way between Santa Maria and Santa Barbara.  Stepping into Solvang is like stepping into an altered version of Denmark.  There are five Danish windmills, a Little Mermaid fountain, a round tower, a giant red clog and countless half-timbered buildings in Danish style of dark wooden beams on white walls.  In addition to the architecture, there is Danish food everywhere.  There are not one but five Danish bakeries selling Danish goodies, and even a Danish outdoor beer garden. 

The town was founded in 1911 by Danish Americans wanting to keep their Danish culture alive, and the town has continued this tradition to the present day.   It is possible to make a quick stop here to pick up a snack at one of the bakeries or a Danish souvenir. However, it is also possible to stay overnight or even a couple of days. 

There are several museums including the Hans Christian Anderson Museum, the Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum and the Elverhøj Museum of History & Art, which shows the town’s Danish history.  There is also a great place to see two of California’s 21 missions.  The Old Mission Santa Inés is right in town and the fascinating La Purisima Mission State Historic Park is in Lompoc about half an hour away. 

This is also the heart of wine country, and there are countless vineyards and wineries in the region to visit, taste some samplings and perhaps buy a bottle or two.  There are several restaurants in town including the Copenhagen Sausage Garden, a Danish restaurant, the out-of-place Belgian Café and several American restaurants too.  Solvang is a totally unique town in the United States and well worth a visit! // James Ian of Travel Collecting

Where to Stay in Solvang:

Recommended Tours in Solvang:

Southern California Highlights on the Road Trip from San Francisco to San Diego

SANTA MONICA

Located just west of Los Angeles, Santa Monica is the perfect place to stop for a few hours or even a day, especially if you’re driving up the coast along the Pacific Coast Highway. Santa Monica has so much to offer all types of visitors from families to couples, and even solo travelers. 

For amusement park lovers, Santa Monica Pier is the best place to be! The pier is known for its lengthy boardwalk which serves as the end (or beginning) of the Route 66 freeway and is home to a few food trucks and carnival food stands. The pier is also host to a trapeze school and theme park rides such as a ferris wheel and even a small roller coaster. 

Closer to shore are Santa Monica State Beach and Palisades Park. Santa Monica State Beach is a 3.5 mile long expanse of a beach which includes public spaces such as parks, picnic areas, playgrounds, restrooms, lifeguard stations, and even the original Muscle Beach. The first Hot Dog on a Stick location was located just south of the Santa Monica Pier on the original Muscle Beach. 

Palisades Park is also a great place for a stroll. This park lies on the bluffs above the beach overlooking the Pacific Coast Highway. Palisades Park is lined with palm trees and green grass. There are also a few sights to see here, including the Santa Monica Pier arch, Camera Obscura Art Lab, and Santa Monica Veterans Memorial. 

Santa Monica is a beautiful and relaxing coastal city with so much to offer that you can easily spend a day or two here if you have the time. // by Constance Panda from The Adventures of Panda Bear

Where to Stay in Santa Monica:

Recommended Activities in Santa Monica:

HUNTINGTON BEACH

Huntington Beach is just one stop on California's Highway 1,  San Francisco to San Diego 
road trip. With kids or without, this itinerary deserves to be on all bucket lists. From Northern California to Southern California, we've got you covered with budget and luxury recommendations. #freetotravelmama #sanfrancisco #california #californiaroadtrip

Huntington Beach, California really grabs you on your San Francisco to San Diego road trip. You can just feel the laid back vibe as you step out of the car. Located southeast of Los Angeles, the world famous 8.5 mile long Huntington Beach is known as Surf City USA. The beach here is definitely at the heart of Huntington Beach and stretches from the surf to the wide cement pathway that runs along its entire length.

Along with world class shopping at the Pacific City Mall and beautiful hotels right across from the beach, there are also boutique shops, surf shops, and cafes and restaurants for any budget. Rent bikes and ride the beach path stopping at one of several beach concessions for a snack and a cold drink.

Not far from the beach is the World’s Largest Surfboard outside the International Surfing Museum. The 42-foot long surfboard holds two Guinness World Records, and makes a great photo op. Certainly world class surfing is the big draw here, but it’s only one of the many things to do in Huntington Beach. Take a stroll along Main Street to see the Surfing Walk of Fame with the names of legendary surfers. The Huntington Beach Pier is the longest pier on the west coast, so be sure to walk to the end and eat at Ruby’s or take in the incredible panoramic view at sunset. 

Whether you just want to put your toes in the sand or wax up a board and hit the surf, we guarantee you’re in for some fun. Huntington Beach is a home run for any day trip and even better if you can stay longer. // Lori Sorrentino from Travlinmad

Where to Stay in Huntington Beach:

Recommended Tours in Huntington Beach:

CARLSBAD

Carlsbad is just one stop on California's Highway 1,  San Francisco to San Diego 
road trip. With kids or without, this itinerary deserves to be on all bucket lists. From Northern California to Southern California, we've got you covered with budget and luxury recommendations. #freetotravelmama #sanfrancisco #california #californiaroadtrip

Carlsbad is located about 30 to 40 minutes north of downtown San Diego (though that time strongly depends on traffic) and is a great addition to your California travel itinerary. It’s one of the larger cities along the coast in San Diego County, so pull off the Carlsbad Village Drive exit to experience the best parts of Carlsbad. Head west after you exit and you’ll be taken right into the heart of Carlsbad Village, where you’ll find plenty of free parking and streets perfect for exploring on foot.

Carlsbad Village has a number of shops and restaurants, and if you keep walking west you’ll find steps leading right down to the beach. Give yourself a couple hours to get the full Carlsbad Village experience. Stop at Vinaka Cafe, a favorite with locals, on the top level of the Village Faire shopping complex to get a latte for your exploring, or continue to Carlsbad Boulevard, which runs parallel to the beach to grab a craft beer at Park 101 to enjoy on the fun patio. If smoothies are more your thing, get a fresh fruit one at the permanent food truck right in the middle of Carlsbad Village, which is also adjacent to a unique outdoor bar.

For shopping, you’ll find boutiques lining both Carlsbad Village Drive and Grand Avenue plus the cross roads in between. Head north of Grand Street along Carlsbad Boulevard to discover more trendy clothing shops.

If you’re in the mood for some food, get some local Mexican cuisine at Norte or Las Olas, both located off of Carlsbad Boulevard. Lastly, make your way down those steps to enjoy one of San Diego’s best beaches; if you’re in Carlsbad at sunset, the city’s beach is an incredible place from which to see it.  // by Gina Tarnacki from Evergreen & Salt

Where to Stay in Carlsbad:

Recommended Tours in Carlsbad:

SAN DIEGO

San Diego is just one stop on California's Highway 1,  San Francisco to San Diego 
road trip. With kids or without, this itinerary deserves to be on all bucket lists. From Northern California to Southern California, we've got you covered with budget and luxury recommendations. #freetotravelmama #sanfrancisco #california #californiaroadtrip

Though you may have reached your destination, the journey is not yet over! San Diego is a destination in itself and a pretty amazing one at that. From tasty restaurants to picturesque parks to family adventures to romantic walks on the beach, San Diego has so much to offer everyone from solo travelers to families.

Balboa Park is a spot that never fails to add joy to your itinerary with its perfect picnic spots, theaters for date nights, small museums for browsing, and fountains for making wishes. Or you can consider taking a Balboa Park walking tour. Head to Old Town for some tasty tacos and to browse the old historic buildings telling stories of days long ago. If it is nightlife you are after, the Gaslamp District is your best bet for live music and late night hours.

The number of beautiful beaches in San Diego are endless, but Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is especially known for it sunset views. Mission Beach or Coronado Beach are perfect for afternoon beach time and swimming. Head to La Jolla Coves for a quieter experience or for hiking at Torrey Pines.

Families will especially love the incredible San Diego Zoo, San Diego Safari Park and nearby Legoland. Legoland is more inland and will take you away from the beach for a bit, but this could be a good thing if you encounter chilly weather. Keep in mind though, that chilly in San Diego usually just requires a sweatshirt!

The USS Midway is a historic museum that is located on an aircraft carrier. It has numerous exhibits and educational tours that will keep the attention of those of all ages. Seaport Village is a sweet shopping and dining area on the waterfront. It is the perfect place for dinner with a sunset view or for picking up a few last souvenirs (we are fans of travel themed ornaments ourselves!).

If you are looking for a bit of luxury to end your long, but ridiculously beautiful drive from San Francisco to San Diego, head to Coronado Island. You can stay for just the afternoon or splurge for a room and book yourself a spa treatment while you are at it!

Where to Stay in San Diego:

Recommended Tours in San Diego:

What to Pack for a California Road Trip

Like any good toad trip, making many amazing stops means changing accommodations several times. The lighter you pack, the easier that will be! We love these carry-on sized suitcases and literally never leave home without them. They are available in a larger size too.

Another thing that always makes it into our suitcases are these packing cubes. They come with adorable and handy labels to keep things well organized. Consider packing each 2-3 days worth of clothes in each cube and then you only have to open one at each hotel! Does it get any easier than that?

What goes better with a road trip than snacks and picnics at each stunning vista? These cooler bags collapse so that you can fit them in your luggage during air travel, and then easily keep your food cold with just a little added ice from your hotel. We love these wine glasses for sunset date nights on the beach and these are our tried and true way for having cold water to stay hydrated on the road.

Depending on your time of year for traveling down the California coast, you may or may not need much beach gear. However, sunscreen is always a must, and these towels fold up sooo small that there is no excuse for not having one to sit on the sand!

Of course, don’t forget your sunglasses and hat, good walking shoes, beach sandals, swim suit, and light jacket for chilly mornings and evenings!

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, is your tech gear. With all of these incredible views, this is not the time to run out of battery! This power bank will keep you charged on the road. Whether or not you are bringing your fancy camera to capture the epic views, or will rely on your trusty cell phone, don’t forget a charging cord and another one for backup. We love this case too for holding all of our cords and accessories.

Ready to Take a San Francisco to San Diego Road Trip?

Now that you have completed your road trip down the California coast from San Francisco to San Diego, you are sure to have found some new tfavorite places and some hidden gems. We encourage you to return to our beautiful home state to explore more of its treasures like Lake Tahoe! About 600 miles and 12 hours of driving later and we hope that you have created a lifetime of memories and have a full memory card of postcard perfect images to share!

Free to Travel Mama | Travel Inspiration for Families

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California's Highway 1,  San Francisco to San Diego 
road trip is amazing! With kids or without, this itinerary deserves to be on all bucket lists. From Northern California to Southern California, we've got you covered with budget and luxury recommendations. #freetotravelmama #sanfrancisco #california #californiaroadtrip
California's Highway 1,  San Francisco to San Diego 
road trip is amazing! With kids or without, this itinerary deserves to be on all bucket lists. From Northern California to Southern California, we've got you covered with budget and luxury recommendations. #freetotravelmama #sanfrancisco #california #californiaroadtrip
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Author: Sierra

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