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You’re either for or against repeats and, when it comes to a Highway 1 California road trip, we’re very much for them.
The Most Popular California Road Trip
And we get why: there are many top-notch California road trips but this is one we do annually. That’s because there are different ways to go about this California Coast road trip. You could do it all along the coast or instead make time for inland stops at unique towns like Ojai or Los Alamos.
There are various speeds too. Some people drive it in one day while others take a week or more. And, there are myriad styles, from car camping to 5-star luxury, by which you can tackle this iconic California road trip.
If you’re looking to cross the state in minimal time, check out our San Francisco to Palm Springs road trip. But, if it’s postcard-perfect coastal California you’re after, a multi-day itinerary for this California coast drive is a must.
Highway 1 California FAQs
If you’ve already decided that a Highway 1 California road trip is in your future but have questions, we’ve got you. From “Where does California Highway 1 start and end?” to “Is California Highway 1 open?” you’ll want to check out our top Big Sur drive questions. But, for a specific California road trip planner for Highway 1 California, read on:
The Highway 1 California road trip is a popular itinerary among travelers to California. While this historic highway goes over 600 miles along the coast, most visitors drive the stretch from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The trip can be done in various ways, including along the coast or with inland stops at unique towns like Ojai or Los Alamos.
The duration of the Highway 1 California road trip can vary depending on your pace and the number of stops you make. Some people drive it in one day while others take a week or more. Most of our travel planning clients take at least 5 nights and stop in places such as the Monterey Peninsula, Big Sur, or on the coast in Santa Barbara.
It's essential you check road conditions, as wet weather can cause landslides and road closures, especially along the windiest parts that stretch from Big Sur to Ragged Point. Go to Caltrans for the latest road conditions.
The stops you'll want to make depend on your interest. While photographers will want to stop at the various turnouts and bridges, others stop at wineries, farms, beach towns, or landmarks. Some of the most popular stops along the Highway 1 California road trip include Bixby Bridge, McWay Falls, Hearst Castle, and the Santa Barbara Mission.
Some travelers simply drive and visit local towns as their main activity while others mix in farm visits, wine tastings, and adventure like surfing, hiking, kayaking, and horseback riding.
5 Day Highway 1 California Road Trip
Being based in California, a Big Sur drive becomes a long weekend trip that we tend to do every year or so. And, while there are all sorts of questions we get asked about this Highway 1 California Road trip, one thing is for sure: it should top your bucket list.
On a recent LA to Big Sur road trip, we drove around 80 miles a day, which allowed plenty of time to enjoy each town yet left us curious to explore every area even more.
Here is a five-day itinerary for a Highway 1 California road trip from Los Angeles to Big Sur:
DAY 1: Los Angeles to Ojai (~80 miles)
The hardest thing about driving from Los Angeles to Ojai is deciding when to leave—too early or late, and you hit commuter traffic. When there isn’t traffic, it’s a fast drive, and you have a few options to go about it.
There are two main ways to drive from Los Angeles to Ojai:
- Along The Coast: The most common way is to head north on the 101 freeway and hug the coast.
- Country Roads: The more rustic, country road route is to hop on Highway 126 to the 150, which ends in a dramatic, panoramic descent into the Ojai valley.
Ojai is first and foremost a farming community, and some of our best fruits and vegetables (especially oranges, mandarins, avocados, and olives) come from this part of California.
The downtown is just a couple of streets and easy to wrap your head around. Its reputation as a spiritual center means there are plenty of shops, stores, and restaurants devoted to the wellness set.
As for where to stay, you can get a pampered experience at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa. There’s so much to do on the property (solid cocktails, wellness classes, pool time, S’mores cookouts) that the only issue will be deciding how to do it all. Or, for something more retro, check into the locally-owned Ojai Rancho Inn.
Make sure to arrive in Ojai for sunset when there’s a phenomenon known as the “Pink Moment,” and the Eastern mountains light up to a bright fuchsia color.
DAY 2: Ojai to Santa Barbara (~40 miles)
Get up early the next day so you have time to enjoy a walk or hike in the morning in Ojai, and then get on the road to make it to Santa Barbara for lunch.
We suggest you drive Highway 150 to the coast so that you can drive through valley after valley of uninhabited, untouched California foothills. During the Spring, the golden poppies (the state flower) and other wildflowers blanket the hills.
Santa Barbara is a place worthy of its long weekend during which you can do everything from visiting the downtown Santa Barbara Farmers market to surfing and hiking and wine tasting in the local wine country.
If you haven’t been to Santa Barbara, stop by the taqueria that’s coined as Julia Child’s favorite taco shop, La Super Rica Taqueria. The lines are always long, and they only take cash, but the comforting Mexican food is worth it—especially the rajas, the tacos adobado, and the Super Rica Especial. Just make sure to leave time for some ice cream at the classic local shop, McConnell’s.
If you need specific advice about where to go and where to stay, don’t hesitate to reach out!
Day 3: Santa Barbara to Paso Robles (~120 miles)
Then take your time heading to Paso Robles and plan on a stop a few times along the way. If you take the coast, consider stopping in Pismo Beach or San Luis Obispo. Or, if you go along Highway 154, stop in Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, Solvang, or Los Alamos.
Before we get into wine, you might be wondering why we went to Paso Robles and not San Luis Obispo. Both towns are great stops, but San Luis Obispo is a bit more college town while Paso is more akin to Napa in that it’s the main town in wine country.
We adore wines from all over California, but the creativity, variety, and independent spirit of the wines on the Central Coast have a piece of our hearts. And, though the Central Coast extends up to Santa Cruz, we find ourselves constantly drinking wines from the Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez, and Paso Robles wine regions. If you need suggestions on where to sip, drop us a line, and we’ll help out!
The town of Paso Robles wins us over more and more every time we visit. The city center is punctuated by a historic plaza, which gives it an old-school California feel. A solid farm-to-table, local food scene has evolved to complement the incredible wine, and there is a mix of quaint boutique hotels and stores.
But, what we like most is that, at its core, it’s still laidback and chill, like the rest of Central Coast. In other words, it gives you the quality of Napa without the crowds or craziness. For farm-fresh flavors, check out Thomas Hill Organics, or for a peek into the high-end dining scene, grab a spot at Six Test Kitchen.
There are some adorable b&bs and inns in this area, but for luxury and a great location, it’s hard to beat a chic stay at The Piccolo.
DAY 4: Paso Robles to Big Sur (~140 miles)
Start your day by caffeinating at Spearhead coffee and fueling up your car. Of all the days of the trip, this is the most driving and the most exciting. Mind you, it’s possible to break this trip up over two days, and is something we recommend for our concierge clients who want to clock in day hikes or other longer stopovers at Hearst Castle.
A must for first-time visitors is a stop in San Simeon. This spot along the Pacific Coast Highway is home to Hearst Castle and is where you can visit the elephant seals. to Hearst Castle – aka only “castle” in the United States – where you’ll want to give yourself ample time (say 3 hours) to explore.
From there, you’ll head toward Ragged Point, where you can get gas, check out views up the coast, and, depending on the day, check out the live entertainment. Give yourself plenty of time to cruise the beach and check out the numerous Big Sur parks like the famed McWay Falls.
Try to get to Big Sur by midday so that you can do both lunch and dinner there. For fine dining with an incredible view, you can beat Sierra Mar at the Post Ranch Inn.
For an equally incredible view and a great wine list, snag a seat on the deck at Nepenthe and just enjoy the view.
There are many exciting places to stay in Big Sur, from five-star to local Big Sur camping sites to the hippy retreat or even yurt rentals.
DAY 5: Big Sur To Monterey Peninsula (~40 miles)
The following day, get some breakfast at Big Sur Bakery before heading north into Monterey. Though this is the less talked about part of the coastline, it is equally noteworthy as it has a mix of dramatic cliffs, oceanfront wildflowers, waterfalls, and a few tunnels of trees.
If you only stop in one place, have it be at Calla Lily Valley and walk the trails along Garrapata State Park. Make sure to drive carefully along the famous Bixby Bridge as many an Instagrammer will haphazardly stop on the shoulder to capture the bridge that’s in the opening of Big Little Lies.
You can then spend an evening exploring Carmel-By-The-Sea, treating yourself to wine tasting and spa services in Carmel Valley, or taking in the waterfront and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We can, of course, help you with all those travel planning specifics.
At this point, you can return south or head north to Santa Cruz and San Francisco, depending on how much time you have.
California Road Trip Planner
Did you know we’re also a boutique travel agency that specializes in California vacation planning? If you’re looking to plan a trip to California, our California trip planner services are here to help you plan your perfect itinerary.