How to Road Trip The California Coast

How to take a road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco in twelve hours and where to stop along the way.

I just took an incredible road trip along the California Coast…solo! Yes, I went on a road trip solo. You might think, why on earth would that be considered fun but it was actually a pretty cool experience. As a solo female traveler, there are pros and cons. Sometimes it is nice to have company and other times, I revel in the opportunity to go at my own pace and be on my own agenda. That is exactly what happened on this road trip.

I stopped wherever and whenever I wanted. If something along the side of the road looked cool, a sudden swerve to the shoulder or a completely illegal U-turn was how I reacted. For a drive that can be accomplished in roughly  six hours from Los Angeles to San Francisco, I took double that. Yes, it took me twelve hours. I left at 4:30am and arrived San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge at approximately 4:30pm.

1st Stop: Morro Bay

Located in San Luis Obispo County, Morro Bay is a small seaside city often referred to as the Gibraltar of the Pacific. I arrived just as the sun was rising and it glistening off the water and onto the giant Morro Rock while otters played in Morro Bay Harbor.

Drive time from Los Angeles: 3 hours

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2nd Stop: San Simeon

Here I stopped at the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery where you can view thousands of elephant seals. These are northern elephant seals which are the largest seal in the northern hemisphere and the second largest seal in the world (after the southern elephant seal). Adult males are 14 to 16 feet in length and can weight up to 5,000 pounds! Also located in San Simeon is Hearst Castle, the famous estate of the late William Randolph Hearst that spans over 100 acres.

Drive time from Morro Bay: 35 minutes

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3rd Stop: McWay Falls, Big Sur

My next stop was McWay Falls in Big Sur. McWay Falls is an 80-foot waterfall located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park that flows year-round. This waterfall is one of only two in the region that are close enough to the ocean to be referred to as “tidefalls”, the other being Alamere Falls in Bolinas, north of San Francisco.

Drive time from San Simeon: 1 1/2 hours

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4th Stop: Carmel by the Sea

After spending the next hour winding up the coast through Big Sur, I finally arrived in Carmel. This is one of the quaintest towns along the California coast.  Located on California’s Monterey Peninsula, it is known for the museums and library of the historic Carmel Mission, and the fairytale cottages and galleries of the village-like center.

Drive time from McWay Falls: 1 hour

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5th Stop: Santa Cruz

I didn’t actually stop in Santa Cruz, but rather drove through it. Once place I did stop though was this kitesurfing beach along Highway 1. It was a crazy windy day so there were countless kitesurfers in the water taking advantage of the strong winds.

Drive time from Carmel by the Sea: 1 hour

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6th Stop: Half Moon Bay

After whizzing through Santa Cruz, I stopped in Half Moon Bay. I pulled over to take a picture of a lighthouse and then finally made my way to the giant cliffs along the water’s edge that surround the famous Ritz Carlton hotel.

Drive time from Santa Cruz: 1 hour

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Final Stop: San Francisco!

I finally made it to San Francisco after twelve hours of driving. Of course, I made many stops and took my time snapping countless pictures.

Drive time from Half Moon Bay: 45 minutes

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Total drive time approximately nine hours. Yes, there are faster ways to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco but this is the most scenic route by far!

How would you get to San Francisco? The scenic route or the fast route?

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