6-Day Road Trip on California's Pacific Coast Highway
The best way to experience California is on the road along highway 101. Starting in LA with stops along the way and completing north of SF, this road-trip itinerary includes where to stay, eat and visit. Luckily this trip is doable year-round but my recommendation is late spring or early fall to avoid summer heat and tourists. From wineries to oysters on the water to boutique hotels, I hope this day-to-day guide will be an inspiration for your next CA road trip.
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Where to stay
Palihouse Santa Barbara
In the historic Presidio neighborhood, this charming retreat has just 24 rooms set around a leafy courtyard.
Skyview Los Alamos
Iconic roadside motel-turned-boutique luxury with a pool and working vineyard.
Alila Ventana Big Sur
Just off the PCH, this newly all-inclusive and ever-romantic getaway is spread over 160 secluded acres.
$100 hotel / resort credit.
Full breakfast daily for two guests per bedroom, served in the hotel restaurant.
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Day 1: LA to Santa Barbara
Drive up the coast from LA and stop in Santa Barbara. Explore the Funk Zone's tasting rooms and breweries. A few favorites are Topa Topa and Pali Wine Co.
Spend the afternoon at Hendry's or Butterfly Beach. Rent bikes and ride along the boardwalk. Some of the best hiking trails are Inspiration Point, San Ysidro trailhead and Douglas Preserve.
Grab a picnic from Oat Bakery and head to the lawn at Old Mission Santa Barbara. Or spend the whole day relaxing poolside at Palihouse SB.
For dinner, we recommend Bettina, Loquita or Bibi Ji. Before hopping back in the car, grab a coffee at the Dart Coffee Coffee Shop & Garden.
Day 2: Santa Barbara to Los Alamos
At first glance, you’d drive right through Los Alamos thinking there’s not much besides some old Western buildings and antique stores. However, tucked away are some of the best unassuming food spots, including a bakery that will change your life.
After checking in at Skyview, spend the afternoon at Bodega Los Alamos sipping on natural wine surrounded by olive trees and fire pits. Grab dinner at Michelin-starred spot Bell's or seasonal pizza local's fave Full of Life Flatbread.
The next morning stop at Bell's Well Bread bakery for English muffins, scones and simply, a breakfast that can't be missed.
Day 3: Los Alamos to Big Sur
You'll cut over from highway 101 to PCH 1 to travel through the coastline of Big Sur. You can choose to stay on the property at Ventana or one of the glamping tents, both of which are luxurious experiences surrounded by redwoods, ocean air and beautiful landscape. For meals, visit Big Sur Bakery, The Coast or Nepenthe, particularly at sunset.
Day 4: Big Sur to San Francisco
Once you're in SF, we recommend stopping for lunch at Tartine Inner Sunset, or Souvla, check google maps for the nearest location in the city. Don't miss the frozen Greek yogurt at Souvla.
If you wish to sit on the water, stroll the SF Ferry Building and grab a table at Hog Island Oyster. Grab a trolley in front of the Buena Vista Cafe after enjoying Irish Coffees, walk the Presidio or explore the Pacific Heights neighborhood with its classic SF townhomes and streets that make it seem like you're on the edge of the world.
Once you're over the bridge, head to Cavallo Point and enjoy a cocktail on the porch. I recommend Hook Fish Co, The Junction Pizza Garden or Sol Food for dinner.
Day 5: San Francisco to Point Reyes
You'll drive along Point Reyes through the Marshall Shore north of the city. I recommend having lunch at either the OG Hog Island Oyster farm or The Marshall Store - both amazing waterfront oyster spots with a huge seasonal seafood menu.
Stop in Point Reyes downtown to try honey wine at the Heidrun Meadery. Once checked in at Nick's Cove, enjoy the restaurant on site and relax in their cottages on the water.
Day 6: Point Reyes to Sonoma
On the final day, drive up to Timber Cove Resort along the beautiful seashore of Northern California. After the frequent stops along the way, I recommend slowing down to enjoy the scenery of the Sonoma coast and the property including the Great Room filled with games, a fireplace and a cozy bar, plan your meals at the Coast Kitchen and spend your days on the guided hikes and wine tastings in this very unique area of California.
Need to Know
For more travel tips, check out Lindsay Rawitscher's guide to Big Sur: Camping Under the Stars in Big Sur.
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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to California and our continuing series on road trip travel.