10 Days California Coast Road Trip Itinerary

By Kay S
Last Updated

Welcome to our California Coast Road Trip Planner! You will find this itinerary useful if you are planning 10 Days in California road trip. 

Planning a road trip along the Pacific Coast of California from Los Angeles to the redwoods in Northern California? This Highway 1 road trip planner will guide you in planning a spectacular road trip through the coastal attractions. 

California Coast Road Trip along Highway 1 or the Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most thrilling, memorable, and beautiful road trips in the world. 

The road trip has panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and the rocky cliffs of the central coast. Route 1 passes through some of the most gorgeous natural areas including Big Sur, Point Reyes, foggy redwood state and national parks, and charming laid-back towns. 

For the most part of the trip, you have the mountains on one side and the sparkling blue water of the Pacific Ocean on the other side. And if you are lucky to drive during the off-season, you will have the road all to yourself!

The Pacific Coast Highway is one of the reasons California is a top bucket list destination the world over. And there is no better way to experience the coast than on a road trip along the most scenic part of the coast. 

Highway 1 takes many forms in coastal California: near Malibu, you have sandy beaches and luxurious villas, in Big Sur, you have the rocky coastal cliffs and tidepools, in Monterey, you have multi-colored canning factories and sea lions, in San Francisco, you will find yourself driving amid skyscrapers! At the northern end, you will find the coastal redwoods – among the oldest trees in the world, these trees have been around since the times of the dinosaurs. 

A road trip along the California Coast is made for falling in love. With each other, with the road, with the journey, with the destination, with nature, with driving, and with life itself! This is truly the best road trip that California and the West Coast have to offer and it’s up for grabs for anyone who has a car! 

This California coast road trip itinerary will take you up the coast, exploring hidden gems and underrated attractions along the way. It will show you historic lighthouses and tell you bits of forgotten history such as Henry Miller’s eternal connection with Big Sur! 

While the itinerary follows the California Coast from south to the north, you can also use it to drive north to south. Here is a sample itinerary for a 10 Day California Coast drive. 

Day 1 – Los Angeles

Welcome to Los Angeles, one of our favorite cities to start a Pacific Coast Highway road trip. The city is everything you have heard of and much more! Here’s where Hollywood dreams come true. The city is truly the melting pot of the West and is the ultimate land of opportunity on the Pacific Coast. The city has many incredible attractions for everyone. 

The city makes the best of the famous SoCal sunshine by hosting a variety of outdoor events and celebrations. From sports and famous teams (Lakers, Angels, Trojans) to celebs walking down the road, you will have dozens of unique experiences in Los Angeles. Add in the beaches, boardwalks, and piers, and you are bound to have a mighty good time. LA’s beach lifestyle is certainly to be envied! 

Head to Downtown LA and Hollywood Blvd to enjoy the city’s most famous attractions including the Walk of Fame, Chinese Theater, movie studios, the Museum Row on Miracle Mile, and the Griffith Observatory. Read our post on the Best Things to do in Los Angeles to plan your day in the city. 

From finger-licking good Mexican food to a thriving nightlife scene, the list of attractions in Los Angeles never seems to end! Enjoy a California style burrito that reflects the city’s blended Hispanic heritage. Try vegan foods, fresh farm to table cuisines, and a bevy of health-conscious options. Sip on smoothies and cocktails. End the night at a dive bar or enjoy a world-class cultural event at the city’s famous venues on your California Coast Trip. 

Day 2 – Santa Barbara and Ventura

After having fun exploring Los Angeles, head up the coast to charming Ventura and sunny Santa Barbara. On the way north, you will pass through Malibu and Santa Monica. This is where Highway 1 starts getting really pretty. 

California Route 1 attractions in Santa Monica include the Pier. While you are here, see the canals of Venice. Then make your way past the celebrity beach homes in Malibu and maybe, make a surfing pit stop at Zuma Beach! Even if you don’t want to get into the water, you can just observe the surfers taking advantage of the excellent wave action. Drive past Santa Monica Mountains Recreational Area and Oxnard to reach Ventura. 

Ventura, California is a charming beach town that is both arty and expensive to live in! Most of the city attractions are centered around the Ventura Pier. From here you can take cruises to the Channel Islands National Park or just walk along the wooden pier to see more of the city. Visit Surfer’s Point to see surfers riding the waves. Visit the beaches or the Mission in downtown Ventura. 

After exploring the streets of Ventura, continue to Santa Barbara on your California road trip itinerary of 10 days. This city is popularly called the American Riviera and has a very relaxed vibe. 

Santa Barbara is a quintessentially Southern California city. Here you will find a gentle ocean breeze, pretty beaches, white Spanish colonial architecture, and lots of water activities. There are a lot of things to do in Santa Barbara. Take a beachside stroll on the famous East Beach. This lovely beach has fewer crowds and great views of the Pacific. It is also very clean and a favorite with families. 

Adjacent to East Beach, you will find Stearns Wharf. This is the best place in the city to enjoy the coastal atmosphere of the city. Here you will find an impossibly long boardwalk that extends deep into the Pacific Ocean. Along the wharf, there are several excellent seafood restaurants, ice cream shops, and souvenir stores. This is also the place to take boat rides around the harbor, go whale watching, or fishing. 

You must also visit the Historic downtown. The Old Mission Santa Barbara is located here. The historic buildings around the mission are built in a similar style of architecture and look very pretty. Another must-visit attraction is the courthouse and clock tower. The view from the top of the tower is just stunning. 

Spend the night in Santa Barbara and enjoy the charms of the Pacific Ocean by the night on your California Coast Road Trip Itinerary. 

Day 3 – Solvang and San Luis Obispo

Early the next morning, take the PCH north up to the exit for Solvang. This pretty Danish town is not on the Pacific Coast Highway but it is absolutely worth the detour. Solvang was founded in the late 19th century by Danish people who moved to California. They built in the traditional style of architecture and even raised monuments iconic to Denmark including windmills, chalet-style buildings, etc. Here, you will find lots of eclectic shopping and Danish restaurants. 

You can either spend the whole day in Solvang or take the time to explore the pretty coastal cities of Pismo Beach and Morro Bay. 

Pismo Beach is a great place to stop for an hour or so on California Coastal Road Trip. You can take a romantic stroll through the quaint downtown or go ATV riding on the Oceano Dunes. Munch on fish and chips by the beach or go surfboarding if the weather is good. 

Morro Bay might seem familiar to some of you! Its name was featured in the movie Finding Dory. This cute PCH pitstop is most famous for the volcanic Morro Rock that juts out from the ocean. The rock and surrounding coastal wilderness are part of the Morro Bay State Park. Here you will find hiking trails, a museum, tide pools, and excellent birding. 

Follow California Pacific Coast Highway 1 further inland and end your day in San Luis Obispo. This college town is trendy and has great nightlife. The city also has cultural attractions, you can read about them in our post Things to do in San Luis Obispo

Day 4 & 5 – Big Sur

The next day, head up to Big Sur from San Luis Obispo. This is where the road opens up to most iconic sights and attractions along the West Coast. The nature in Big Sur is unspoiled, dramatic, and spectacular. In fact, it is really amazing that this 90 mile stretch of the coast was saved from development and left undisturbed to be the paradise that it is. 

Big Sur is the best pit stop on a Pacific Coast Highway road trip. It is home to many natural attractions, hiking trails, wildlife encounters, campgrounds, state parks and federal lands, incredible photo ops, and amazing adventures. Trust us, the two days spent in Big Sur are going to be a pretty memorable part of your Coastal California road trip. 

Some of the essential stops in Big Sur include the San Simeon Elephant Seal Rookery, the McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Point Sur Lighthouse, Point Lobos, and Bixby Creek Bridge. To plan your time in Big Sur and decide where to stay, read our post on Best Things to do in Big Sur

While you can certainly spend both days exploring Big Sur, here are some options if you want to see other parts of the coast. Wine lovers can go wine tasting and tour the wineries in Paso Robles. Couples can spend a quiet evening enjoying the sunset in Cayucos. See the mission and bears statue in Los Osos. Visit Hearst Castle in San Simeon. Explore the fog-covered town of Cambria and hike among the coastal pines. 

Day 6 – Monterey and Half Moon Bay

After you say goodbye to Big Sur and promise to come again soon – no, really, because no one can visit Big Sur just once – drive along the Pacific Coast Highway to Monterey, Santa Cruz, and Half Moon Bay. That’s right, you are slowly inching closer to our favorite California city of San Francisco but you won’t arrive yet another day! 

Your first stop after Big Sur will be charming Carmel-by-the-Sea. It has beginnings as an art community and has a hipster vibe, but don’t be fooled! 

The fairytale-like cottages and wide open pristine coast may seem alluring, but Carmel is one of the most expensive places to live in California. Houses here average around 1.5 to 2 million and facilities like the world-famous Pebble Beach Golf Course can run you into thousands! 

But Carmel is absolutely beautiful to explore. Wander into the art galleries, dine in the cafes, visit Carmel Beach, and go birding along the Carmel River. It is fun to spend an hour or two in the town. 

Next, pull yourself away from the ridiculously beautiful and charming coastal town and drive north on Route 1 towards Monterey. The city is most popular for the Monterey Aquarium located on Cannery Row. This is quite popular with the kids and a great place to see West Coast marine life at close quarters. Monterey also has great restaurants, museums, and is great to stop by for lunch. You can also visit the nearby city of Pacific Grove or take the highly scenic 17 Mile Drive. Read our post on Things to do in Monterey to plan your trip. 

Next, follow Highway 1 north. You can either continue all the way to Monterey and make a short pit stop in Santa Cruz. Take a stroll along the wharf, explore the eateries and shops, and ride the vintage carousel and coaster at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. 

Then it’s time to visit Half Moon Bay. Here also you will find a historic downtown that is perfect for antiquing. If you have the time, explore the tide pools at Scott Fitzgerald Marine Reserve and see the sunset by Pigeon Point Lighthouse in Pescadero. Visit Half Moon Bay State Beach and admire the Pacific Ocean. Read our post on Things to do in Half Moon Bay for more information. 

Day 7 – San Francisco

And finally, it’s time to explore this big and beautiful city of San Francisco. The city has felt like home since I lived in the Bay area a couple of years ago. 

The most iconic attraction of San Francisco is of course the Golden Gate Bridge. You would be surprised to know that the bridge is right on Highway 1! Walk, bike, or drive the bridge and admire the view of San Francisco from the Marin Headlands. See the city’s other popular attractions including the Palace of Fine Arts, Chinatown, Lombard Street, and Fisherman’s Wharf. There are so many amazing things to do in San Francisco, that spending just one day here is not enough! 

If you have the time, we suggest keeping a couple of days to explore San Francisco after you end your California Coast Drive along the Pacific Coast Highway. 

Day 8 – Point Reyes

Follow the Pacific Coast Highway over the Golden Gate Bridge and across the Golden Gate Strait to the Marin Headlands. On the way, you can stop at Muir Woods, the largest coastal redwood forest near San Francisco. 

Then head north towards Point Reyes National Seashore. This is the windiest place on the continent! Hike to the beach or the lighthouse, go through the Cypress tunnel and admire the wildlife at Point Reyes. You might spot migrating whales, sea otters, seals, nesting seabirds, land birds, and more in Point Reyes. 

For seafood lovers, your next perfect PCH pitstop is Tomales Bay. This area is known for its oyster farms and oyster companies. Here you can eat freshly shucked oysters to your heart’s content. Spend the night in the vicinity of Point Reyes or reach Mendocino and call it a day. 

Day 9 – Mendocino and Fort Bragg

While southern California is sunny and warm, Central California is beautiful and charming. But none of them can quite compare to the fog covered mystery and allure of northern California. Here you will find beautiful coastal cities like Mendocino and Fort Bragg. 

Mendocino is one of the best places to stop on a Pacific Coast Highway road trip. The pretty whitewashed architecture reminds visitors more of New England than California! It is really pretty to take a stroll but Mendocino’s main attractions are all found outside the city limits. Here you will find three state parks with miles and miles of hiking trails. Read our post on the Best Things to do in Mendocino to plan your trip here. 

After seeing Mendocino, visit Fort Bragg. The main attraction of Fort Bragg is its world-famous Glass Beach. The sea glass here is really pretty and makes the beaches one of the unique attractions in California. Visit Mackerricher State Park to see Glass Beach. 

Day 10 – Avenue of the Giants

From Fort Bragg, make your way north up to the northern end of California’s Pacific Coast Highway 1 in Leggett. Here you will find the Chandelier Drive-Through Tree, an iconic PCH attraction. 

While Highway 1 ends here, the Pacific Coast Highway doesn’t! It simply becomes Highway 101 and meanders all the way north up to Seattle along the Pacific Coast. But don’t worry, you will be following it only as far as the Avenue of the Giants. 

Avenue of the Giants is this gorgeous, dark, dreamy, foggy scenic drive through some of the tallest coastal redwoods on the West Coast. The trees here are quite tall and craning your neck that far up is tricky! The road parallels Highway 101 and is worth the exciting trip. 

The Avenue of the Giants is 31 miles long but takes about two to three hours to drive because of scenic spots and hiking trails. You can park and walk to see the redwood groves up close. We recommend keeping your camera ready as there are incredible views at every turn of the road.

That’s it! You have completed an amazing California Coast Road Trip all the way from Los Angeles to the north of Mendocino.

Other useful posts to plan your Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Planner
Pacific Coast Highway 4 day Itinerary
Pacific Coast Highway 5 day itinerary
Pacific Coast Highway 7 day itinerary
Pacific Coast Highway 10 Day itinerary
All PCH Itineraries
Best Places to Stay along the Pacific Coast Highway
Best Pacific Coast Highway Stops

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