Our Ideal Highway 1 California Road Trip Itinerary

You're either for or against repeats.

When traveling in California, we're usually against it because there's simply so much to see here in our home state. But, every once in a while, there's a trip so spectacular that it's worth doing over and over. Like, say, the road trip up the coast from Los Angeles to Big Sur along the famed California Highway 1.

Among our concierge clients traveling to California, one of the most popular requests is for itinerary planning along this same stretch of road from LA to Big Sur.

And we get why: there are many different ways to go about this California Coast road trip. As in taking Route 1 of California and doing all coastal versus making time for some inland stops like Ojai or Los Alamos. There are various speeds as some people drive it in one full 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.

Malibu Pier From Pacific Coast Highway

Ojai Valley Inn Room

Drinking Sparkling Wine In Ojai

The Five Day Road Trip From Los Angeles To Monterey

As Californians, Big Sur becomes a long weekend trip that we tend to do about once every couple of years. 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.

The most recent time we did this 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 road trip on California Highway 1 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.

The most common way is to head north on the 101 freeway and hug the coast. 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.

If you want something easy and clean (with a touch of hippy kitsch), have a bite at the Hip Vegan Cafe. Or for bubbles and small bites with a side of cute home decor, head to Tipple & Ramble.

As for where to stay, you can get a pampered experience at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa. There's so much to do on 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 and more affordable, check into the locally-owned Ojai Rancho Inn

No matter what, make sure to arrive in Ojai for sunset. If you look at the Eastern mountains while the sun sets, there's a phenomenon known as the "Pink Moment," when the mountain range lights up to a bright fuchsia color. 

Santa Barbara Pier

Bakery Stop In Santa Barbara

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 old stagecoach inn to surfing and hiking and wine tasting in the local wine country.

If you haven't been to Santa Barbara, you must 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, tacos de 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)

Fuel up before departing town at one of the local coffee shops like Handlebar Coffee Roasters or Helena Avenue Bakery.

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, 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 this part of wine country.

We adore wines from all over California, but the creativity, variety, and independent spirit of the wines in 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 areas. 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 casual 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 the chic Hotel Cheval.

Elephant Seals In Cambria

Big Sur Panorama

DAY 4: Paso Robles to Big Sur (~140 miles)

Start your day by caffeinating at Spearhead coffee, and then, with a full tank of gas, it's time to hit the road. Of all the days of the trip, this is probably 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 a lunch and a 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 enjoying the view.

There are many exciting places to stay in Big Sur, from five-star to the local camping sites to the hippy retreat or even yurt rentals.

McWay Falls Big Sur

Garrapata State Park

DAY 5: Big Sur To Monterey Peninsula (~40 miles)

The following day, get some early 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 spa services in Carmel Valley, or taking in the waterfront and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We can, of course, help you with all those specifics. 

At this point, you can return south or head north to Santa Cruz and San Francisco, depending on how much time you have.


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Photo Credit: Aida Mollenkamp, Christopher Kalima, Robin Jolin

Updated July 2021