Skip to main content

11 Places to Stop By on Your Los Angeles To San Francisco Road Trip
Travel

11 Places to Stop By on Your Los Angeles To San Francisco Road Trip

Take the scenic route, make several stops, and check off all the items on your bucket list.

Share

6 min read

September 25, 2021

Driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco is the ultimate California road trip; no ifs and buts about it. Entirely customizable and completely up to your own liking, the L.A. to S.F. road trip can be as long or as short as you make it. While you can get from point A to point B in six hours on Interstate 5, why would you? Take the scenic route, make several stops, and check off all the items on your bucket list. For a mix of nature, history, quirky attractions, and charming downtowns, check out our must-see stops along your Los Angeles to San Francisco road trip.

When Los Angeles became a city, its full name was "El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles de Porciúncula."

Los Angeles

There’s so much to be seen and done on a one-day trip in Los Angeles. So, before you hit the road to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco by car, spend a day exploring the city on foot. Have a hearty brunch, walk around the D.T.L.A. districts, and check out an art gallery or a museum to get your culture fix. Stay overnight at a hotel if you feel like treating yourself, or get on Highway 1 straight away to get a head start on your Los Angeles to San Francisco road trip.

Recomended businesses

Show me California.com
Recommended Businesses near

Discover the best of California. Our recommended businesses are top-quality and are committed to their communities.

Santa Monica

Santa Monica is still technically a part of Los Angeles, but it’s good enough to warrant a separate stop along the L.A. to San Francisco drive. All you need is a couple of hours at this coastal spot and you’ll be riding high on pure nostalgia. Stroll along the pier, grab a bite by Santa Monica State Beach, and you’ll get a taste of the town that’ll make you come back again. Perhaps you’ll spend more than a few hours here on your way back from San Francisco?

Malibu offers 27 miles of beachfront, so whether you prefer to sit on the sand or get in the water, you’ll definitely enjoy spending time here.

Malibu

The next and final SoCal stop on your Los Angeles to San Francisco drive is none other than sunny Malibu. Head over to the iconic Malibu Surfrider Beach and catch a wave or two, enjoy fresh California fare at one of the many tasty restaurants in town, and grab a prime sandy seat to watch the sunset over the coast to wrap up your short stay. Malibu definitely deserves to be fully cherished on a full weekend getaway, but a few hours on your drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco is still a worthy escape.

Santa Barbara

A bit further up north but no less luxurious, Santa Barbara marks the fourth stop on your L.A. to San Francisco road trip. There are so many reasons to visit Santa Barbarabeautiful beaches, historical landmarks, and the super cool downtown are but a few. Stretch your legs on a self-guided red tile walking tour and you’ll get a crash course into the history of the area by checking out 17 stops and 22 structures. The tour begins and ends in Downtown Santa Barbara, so you’ll easily be able to grab a quick bite before continuing your Los Angeles to San Francisco drive. 

Pismo Beach is one of the all-time favorite beach cities for many. A wide beach, beautiful pier, and fun attractions explain some of the appeal.

Pismo Beach

Drive about 90 minutes north of Santa Barbara on the Pacific Coast Highway and you’ll arrive at the old-school seaside town of Pismo Beach. An underrated Central Coast getaway spot, Pismo Beach is where you should take a breather and probably crash for the night before getting back on the road. Stroll along the Pismo Beach Pier as it lights up at night and enjoy a quick surf sesh or evening dip. As you wake up the next day in your oceanfront hotel room, you’ll realize that you’re almost halfway done with your Los Angeles to San Francisco drive time.

Big Sur

You can’t help but let out a “wow” as you see Big Sur for the first time. You can easily spend a long weekend in Big Sur and still leave with many items on your bucket list left unchecked. However, with only a few hours to spare on your L.A. to S.F. road trip, you should narrow that list down even more. Check out Morro Rock, Bixby Bridge, and Pfeiffer Beach for starters, and if you end up coming back to book a cabin, you’ll complete the rest of your itinerary at a more comfortable pace.

Carmel is a place straight out of a storybook, bursting with vibrancy, world-class scenic views, art, history, boutique shopping, and much more.

Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel-by-the-Sea is one of the most charming small towns in all of California. Shop ‘til you drop, check out world-class art galleries, stroll along Carmel Beach, and explore Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. If you don’t feel like leaving just yet, stay overnight at one of the boutique hotels in town and treat yourself to a gourmet dinner while you’re at it—the L.A. to San Francisco road trip warrants a layover here.

Monterey

From Carmel, cruise the famous 17-Mile Drive down to Monterey. We can tell you there’s over a dozen things to do at this gorgeous retreat on the Central Coast, but since you’re on a time crunch, we recommend sticking to two or three stops. Say hi to the fishies at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and check out the iconic Point Sur Lighthouse. If you’d like to squeeze in a hike, these are the very best ones to trek year-round. But, before you get too tired, let’s get back to the Los Angeles to San Francisco road trip, shall we?

Santa Cruz has one of the deepest ocean trenches in the world. This means there are lots of creatures in the water we don’t know about.

Santa Cruz

The last official Central Coast stop on the drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco is Santa Cruz. Known for its surf culture, pretty beaches, and laid-back lifestyle, Santa Cruz is a great place to be. Don’t miss out on visiting the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and get on a ride or two while you’re there. It also goes without saying that if you’re an avid surfer, catching a swell at Santa Cruz is simply a must.

Half Moon Bay

Half Moon Bay is one of the best places to live in Northern California, but it’s also quite a decent destination for a quick stop on your way to S.F. Stunning beaches, sunset views, sightseeing, and golfing at the local courses are all things you can enjoy here within a day. Grab a bite at one of the local restaurants before bidding adieu to this beautiful town and you’ll be on your way to the final destination on your L.A. to S.F. road trip.

Known for being the center of the hippie movement in the late 1960s, San Francisco prides itself on being an open-minded city with a bohemian soul.

San Francisco

And just like that, you’re in San Francisco! Soon enough, you’ll be surrounded by beauty on every turn as the skyscrapers stand tall and the majestic Golden Gate Bridge peers over the clouds. Be shamelessly touristy, and if you have already done that, then enjoy the lesser-known activities available in S.F. 

You’ve successfully completed the road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco by car, and do you know what’s the coolest part? You can do it again with different stops and have just as much of an awesome experience on your way back!

California voices

JOIN OUR COMMUNITY OF CONTRIBUTORS

Have a great story to tell? A unique experience to write about? We’d love to hear it.

Learn more

RELATED Articles

Discover More

fueled by the power of California love
We’re committed to helping you discover the places, people and businesses that make our state Golden. Our online publication, updated daily, brings you all the content you need to live your California dreams. And that’s just the beginning…
LEARN MORE ABOUT US
Purpose section
Purpose section