California Coast Road Trip in 11 Days
Updated: Jan 24, 2022
From San Francisco to Los Angeles
My (then) boyfriend (now husband), Nick and I flew in to San Francisco from Ohio back in 2017 for our Spring Break Trip to visit his older sister and her family in San Fran. and his parents in Los Angeles and sightseeing along the way. We rented a convertible Mustang and made our way from the airport to Oakland to find his sister's place. I would not highly recommend staying in Oakland for a vacation, however.
Our itinerary was jam-packed and highly detailed in an Excel sheet for reference! I suggest looking ahead at drive times and things to do to better estimate time needed. We explored San Fran. for 3 days with Nick's sister, brother-in-law and infant daughter. We were slow to walk around but hit the top 'things to do', some of which included:
Golden Gate Bridge, obviously
Pier 39 - full with shops, restaurants, video arcade, street performances, the Aquarium of the Bay, virtual 3D rides, and views of California sea lions hauled out on the docks
Muir State Park (where Nick's sister was running an ultra marathon)
We then drove to Napa Valley where we saw endless wineries and booked a tour at Castello di Amorosa, a13th-century–style winery offering guided tours of the castle & tastings of Italian-inspired wines. This might be the coolest winery in Napa.
We continued to Big Basin Redwoods State Park, where we met with Nick's sister and her daughter to walk around the trails and set up camp for the night. The next day we drove through Santa Cruz and got out to explore the boardwalk. Besides this, there wasn't anything else to do.
We continued to Carmel-by-the-Sea and walked around the area to grab lunch. A few hours here is sufficient. There is a great park nearby, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, where we hiked to some amazing cliffside views (6.7-mile moderate hike, took about 4 hours roundtrip)!
Morro Bay was next on our drive to camp on the beach, as there was nothing really to see but the big rock. I definitely don’t recommend camping along the beach, it was cold, wet and windy!
The next morning we headed to San Simeon, home to Hearst Castle (reserve your tour in advance, takes about an hour) - a must-see! This was the most lavish grandious castle I've ever seen!
Hearst Castle, known formally as La Cuesta Encantada (Spanish for "The Enchanted Hill"), is a historic estate in San Simeon, located on the Central Coast of California. Conceived by William Randolph Hearst, the publishing tycoon, and his architect Julia Morgan, the castle was built between 1919-47. While in San Simeon, Elephant Seal Beach is a fun spot to see tons of elephant seals piled along the beach.
We then drove to Pismo Beach and quite honestly, there was not much to do, but the Splash Cafe had great seafood for lunch! We continued to Solvang, known for its Danish-style architecture and many wineries - another must-see destination! We walked around the town and grabbed lunch.
About 20 minutes from Solvang is a natural and hidden hot spring, Gaviota Hot Springs - information about the hike can be found here, as it is difficult to figure out!
After drying off from the hot springs, we drove to Los Padres National Forest to our reserved campsite. We hiked around following morning. After a short hike, we drove to Santa Barbara and finally spent time at the beach! We also visited Stearns Wharf pier and stopped in a few beachy shops.
After Santa Barbara, we made it to our final destination, Los Angeles to visit Nick's parents and younger sister! We stayed with them for the next 4 days (we technically stayed in Long Beach, which is a great, less-congested area. One fun thing to do is rollerblade the Long Beach Shoreline paved trail - I highly recommend it!) We explored a bit of downtown LA, seeing LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) and the Urban Light exhibit outside and found a few Colette Miller wing murals (find all of them here).
Top beaches in LA: Santa Monica & the Pier, Huntington Beach (go surfing!), Newport Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Venice City Beach