California's coast is the road trip destination of dreams. Picture yourself winding along the coastal road with the Pacific to one side of you and mountains to the other, stopping to take in the epic landscapes which surround you. This suggested self-drive itinerary takes you 630 odd miles from San Francisco in northern California to San Diego which is located less than 20 miles from the border with Mexico.
Suggested route & duration
11 nights San Francisco to San Diego
• San Francisco: 2 nights
• Monterey: 1 night
• Morro Bay: 2 nights
• Santa Barbara: 2 nights
• Los Angeles: 2 nights
• San Diego: 2 nights
About this independent tour
SELF-DRIVE California Coastal Adventure self-drive is a recommended itinerary including car hire, accommodation in 3 and 4 star hotels and a personalised documentation pack.
SAN FRANCISCO Due to its charming architecture, bohemian vibe and narrow streets, the ‘City by the Bay’ often feels more like a European city than an American one; however, the laid-back vibe and focus on the outdoors and healthy living is pure California. You’ll need to plan your days carefully if you’re going to experience all the city has to offer. There are the major sights such as Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman’s Wharf, the eclectic neighbourhoods that are a joy to explore on foot, and of course, the parks and waterfront where you can spend hours just watching the world go by.
MONTEREY Depart San Francisco in the morning and start your journey south along the Pacific Highway en route to the coastal city of Monterey. On arrival you could wander through the well-preserved Cannery Row which is now home to shops, restaurants and entertainment venues, dine on clam chowder at Old Fisherman's Wharf, visit the iconic aquarium or even head out on the water to search for sea otters, whales and other marine species in their natural habitat.
MORRO BAY Continue along the coastal road as you make your way to Morro Bay in the famously laid-back San Luis Obispo Country. On your way you will travel through Big Sur, probably the most iconic stretch of California's Route 1. The scenery is awe inspiring so you'll be forgiven for taking your time, stopping multiple times just to take in the incredible ocean views. The entire route is pretty spectacular, however particular highlights include the McWay Falls which tumble down onto an inaccessible cove, and the Bixby Bridge, one of the state's most photographed scene. During your time in Morro Bay you'll have time to experience the unique way of life in 'SLOCal'. We recommend visiting Hearst castle, heading inland to visit the vineyards of the county's three wine regions – Paso Robles, Edna Valley and Arroyo Grande – teeing off at one of the eight golf courses or just relaxing on one of the many beaches and playing in the surf somewhere along the 80-mile coastline.
SANTA BARBARA The 'American Riviera' city of Santa Barbara is one of California's most effortlessly charming cities. Terracotta-roofed buildings stretch out see across the hillside as far as you can see and relics of a the region's Spanish and Mexican roots are scattered throughout the city. Head to the late 18th-Century Old Mission, drive along palm-shaded streets straight out of the 'California for Beginners' book and admire the incredible mansions or spend some time at Stearns Wharf, a historic pier jutting out into the Pacific Ocean.
LOS ANGELES Land of the rich and the famous, Los Angeles is full of wide palm-lined boulevards, boutiques and restaurants. You can pack a lot into your time here – perhaps spend the morning in Hollywood, seeking your favourite stars of the stage and screen on the Walk of Fame and then head to the coast in the afternoon to soak up the typical Californian lifestyle.
SAN DIEGO A year-round warm climate, Pacific Coast beaches and SoCal lifestyle come together in the city of San Diego. Highlights here include the 70 miles of beautiful coastline, the expansive Balboa Park and the USS Midway Museum.
Tailor your tour
This itinerary is completely flexible, so you can choose your own itinerary, duration and accommodation, add excursions, and extend your holiday.