10 highway 1 california road trip Ideas

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Take a magical road trip on California's Highway 1
Highway 1 California Road Trip Itinerary — Salt & Wind Travel

You’re either for or against repeats and, when it comes to Highway 1 California, we’re very much for them.

Among our concierge clients traveling to California, one of the most popular requests for itinerary planning is for a Highway 1 California road trip.

The Top California Road Trips

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:

Malibu Pier From Pacific Coast HighwayOjai Valley Inn RoomDrinking Sparkling Wine In Ojai

Multi-Day Highway 1 California Road Trip 

As Californians, 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.

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 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.
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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, 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. 

Santa Barbara PierBakery 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 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)

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 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 the chic Hotel Cheval.

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Elephant Seals In CambriaBig Sur Panorama

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 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 enjoy 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 SurGarrapata State Park

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 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.

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.


Looking at CA ocean

Photo Credit: Aida Mollenkamp, Christopher Kalima, Robin Jolin

Updated December 2022

Extra Information About highway 1 california road trip That You May Find Interested

If the information we provide above is not enough, you may find more below here.

Our Best Highway 1 California Road Trip Itinerary

Our Best Highway 1 California Road Trip Itinerary

  • Author: saltandwind.com

  • Rating: 3⭐ (702722 rating)

  • Highest Rate: 5⭐

  • Lowest Rate: 1⭐

  • Sumary: One of the best road trips in California? A drive up California Highway 1 from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Here are tips for the trip:

  • Matching Result: Are you ready for a California coast road trip? Things to do along the Pacific Coast Highway and tips for driving on Highway 1 through Big …

  • Intro: Our Best Highway 1 California Road Trip Itinerary — Salt & Wind Travel You’re either for or against repeats and, when it comes to Highway 1 California, we’re very much for them.Among our concierge clients traveling to California, one of the most popular requests for itinerary planning is for a…
  • Source: https://saltandwind.com/highway-1-california-road-trip/

Highway One Classic – Visit California

Highway One Classic - Visit California

  • Author: visitcalifornia.com

  • Rating: 3⭐ (702722 rating)

  • Highest Rate: 5⭐

  • Lowest Rate: 1⭐

  • Sumary: Find things to do, places to visit, and experiences to explore at Visit California, the Golden State’s official tourism site. Learn about national parks, hotels, restaurants, beaches, mountains, cities, and more.

  • Matching Result: Crescent City to Mendocino ; Pelican State Beach. Overlooked beach with amazing views ; Howland Hill Road. A route designed around redwoods ; Grove …

  • Intro: Welcome to the Visit California HomepageDoug Steakley/Getty ImagesHighway One ClassicFollow this spectacular coast-hugging drive, making time for stops in places like Huntington Beach, Santa Barbara, and Monterey.Stop 1San Diego1600 Pacific Hwy, San DiegoSan Diego is one of California’s sunniest destinations. This waterfront city is overflowing with exceptional dining and craft…
  • Source: https://www.visitcalifornia.com/road-trips/highway-one-classic/

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Best Stops on Highway 1: California Road Trip Itinerary

Best Stops on Highway 1: California Road Trip Itinerary

  • Author: thepostcardtraveler.com

  • Rating: 3⭐ (702722 rating)

  • Highest Rate: 5⭐

  • Lowest Rate: 1⭐

  • Sumary: From Northern California to Santa Barbara and everything in between – here are the best stops on Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway.

  • Matching Result: Meet the San Luis Obispo County Highway 1 Road Trip, where rugged coastline, adventure, and the great wide open lie just minutes from wine country, …

  • Intro: Best Stops on Highway 1: California Road Trip Itinerary Post Topic: Best Stops on Highway 1 Our road trip down the coast on California’s Highway 1 was a bittersweet one. It was the start of a long road trip back to the Lone Star State. Randy and I had spent…
  • Source: http://www.thepostcardtraveler.com/2022/03/05/highway-1-california-road-trip/

Frequently Asked Questions About highway 1 california road trip

If you have questions that need to be answered about the topic highway 1 california road trip, then this section may help you solve it.

Highway 1: Is it worth the trip?

This is a particularly stunning drive, especially through Big Sur where the Santa Lucia mountains plunge into the sea, the surf and wind relentlessly batter the rocks and shore below, and the native cypress trees bend into otherworldly shapes

The length of Highway 1 when driven in its entirety

10-12 hours

What section of Highway 1 is the most beautiful?

Highway One’s Most Beautiful Stops

  • Santa Barbara Mission. …
  • Pismo Beach. …
  • Wildlife Watching In San Luis Obispo County. …
  • Hearst Castle. …
  • Cambria. …
  • Limekiln State Park. …
  • Nepenthe. …
  • Bixby Bridge.

Is Highway 1 difficult to navigate?

The drive is very intense in some places because there are no guard rails at the edge and there is little room for error if oncoming traffic swerves in your direction. The winding two-lane highway also traverses numerous bridges, including the Bixby Bridge, which soars 280 feet above the Bixby Creek Gorge in Big Sur.

What redwoods can be found on Highway 1?

With its redwood forests, towering cliffs, and unrivaled coastal views, Highway 1 ranks among the world’s most spectacular road stretches, and now that repairs are complete, you can drive it through Big Sur once more.

What section of the Pacific Coast Highway is the most beautiful?

The Pacific Coast Highway’s route from San Francisco to Big Sur is among its most beautiful sections.

Big Sur and Highway 1 are they the same?

Big Sur roughly spans the region along Highway 1 between San Simeon and the Carmel Highlands, though the exact boundaries are debatable. Many people believe Malpaso Creek to be Big Sur’s northernmost point and Ragged Point to be its southernmost entrance.

Does Big Sur merit the trip?

If you have the time and resources, I highly recommend incorporating your trip to Big Sur into a longer West Coast road trip. Take into account visiting Yosemite National Park and Redwood National Park while you’re on the west coast. Big Sur is a 90-mile scenic drive, so you’ll definitely want to rent a car.

Which month is ideal for driving along the Pacific Coast Highway?

California’s rainy season typically ends in early February, turning its golden hills bright green, and covering the coast with vibrant wildflowers that last through April and into early May. The best time of year to drive the Pacific Coast Highway is in mid-to-late February through April.

Does Apple Monterey surpass Big Sur in quality?

Performance. If you are looking to upgrade to a new update aiming for performance enhancement, updating may not be a preference. There is not much of a difference between the Big Sur and Monterey updates in terms of performance.

Big Sur or Mac Catalina: which is superior?

Sure, macOS Catalina and Big Sur are great iterations of macOS, but they’re not the newest. If you’re not sure which one to run on your Mac, we’d recommend running macOS Big Sur, primarily because it’s the newer version and has more added features than Catalina.

Do you prefer Mojave over Big Sur?

Apple’s web browser, Safari 14, is included in Big Sur, but you don’t need to update your operating system to access it. Another most recent version, macOS Mojave 10.14, adds a slew of useful features for handling documents and media files, among other things, making it safer than Big Sur.

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