6 day California road trip itinerary
An overland trip from San Francisco to Santa Barbara via Santa Cruz and Big Sur along the Pacific Coast Highway.
6 days, 5 nights
Start / End
713mi, 14hrs 15min
What you will do
"The Greatest Meeting of Land and Sea"- Big Sur is known as one of the most stunning places in the world. This itinerary combines off-roading in Big Sur with urban exploration in Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. Camping right on the Pacific Ocean on Pismo Beach is a unique California experience not to be missed.
Pacific Coast Highway 1 is possibly the most iconic road trip, and a "bucket-list" item for many. This is the road trip of choice for first-time visitors to California. Give yourself plenty of time to cover the distance. You will find yourself wanting to pull over many times along this scenic drive to soak it all in.
Santa Cruz - Boardwalk
Santa Cruz needs little introduction - known as the mecca for its chill vibe, an expansive surfer community and friendly people. Mile-long Santa Cruz Main Beach is probably area's main attraction for getting a tan, swimming and people-watching. Check out the Santa Cruz Boardwalk - founded in 1907, it's California's oldest surviving amusement park. Stop by Humble Sea Brewing for a drink or Hula's Grill for a meal.
Pacific Grove & 17 Mile Drive
17 Mile Drive is one of the most stunning drives in the world - pay $10.50 to enter and get a helpful brochure listing all the 17 stops. It's a place to take your time and enjoy the magnificent views.
Pacific Coast Highway
The Pacific Coast Highway that connects Monterrey and San Louis Obispo is possibly the most iconic and recognizable drives in the world.
Overnight stay above clouds in Big Sur
Take a gravel road and climb to Prewitt Ridge Campground for some of the most breathtaking views of the California Pacific Coast. The sunset from this spot is worth the drive up here.
San Luis Obispo
SLO lucked out with the scenery - set among rolling hills and ancient volcanic overtoppings, those lush green hills will take your breath away. Many of cities' houses and commercial buildings were erected in the 1800s and have been carefully preserved by the locals. One of the most prominent sites is Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. Try to visit SLO on a Thursday night - the town comes alive with Thursday Night activities and Farmers' Market. Proximity to the Los Padres National Forest allows for dispersed camping - overlander's dream.
Santa Barbara is known as one of the most beautiful communities on the Pacific Coast - and rightfully so. If you're into the Spanish Colonial style, you're going to love it here - the city has ensured that all buildings are built in one style. Santa Barbara hosts Old Spanish Days Fiesta - an annual celebration and a historic parade. Stop by Handlebar Coffee Roasters.
Carmel is famous for a couple of things: Clint Eastwood is an esteemed former mayor, there are no parking meters and streetlights, most houses have names instead of addresses and all the trees are registered. Stop by the Carmel Mission, founded in 1770 by Father Junipero Serra.
California entered history long before it was 'discovered' by the Spanish. It first appears as a myth, as a best-selling story of a Spanish writer who describes California as "an island on the right of the Indies" and Californians as black amazons commanded by Queen Calafia. Californians rode griffins into battle and fought with golden weapons.
Perhaps looking to find this gold and the amazons in 1533, a party of explorers sailing west from the coast of Mexico under the command of Hernando Cortes, conqueror of Mexico, landed on what they thought was an island. Half believing in the romance, Cortes started calling this island after the mythic California. Only 6 years later did they discover their mistake and California was really a peninsula.
Cortes landed in what we now call Baja California. It took over 230 years to settle in Alta California.