The Ultimate Guide to a 12 Day West Coast USA Road Trip – Part 1

The Californian Coast: Los Angeles to San Francisco on Highway 1

California’s Highway 1 also known as the Pacific Coast Highway, was high on our list of things to see once we had locked in our post-season in Canada plans to spend almost 3 weeks travelling around the West Coast of USA and Hawaii. If you’re a lover of endless ocean views, and days filled with sunshine and sunny vibes – California is definitely the place for you. Over the next three blog posts, I’ll share our short, but beautiful time in the US, covering off on the highlights, and lowlights of our road trip. 

After a  long, cold winter in Big White, we spent 12 days road tripping the West Coast of America, taking the classic Los Angeles to Las Vegas, via San Francisco and Yosemite route. After almost a year of back-to-back winter, we were in  desperate need of some sun, warm weather and endless ocean views. With this in mind, California was the perfect place to start.

I’ve broken our trip into a three-part blog series, mainly so that you don’t fall asleep by the end (and my fingers don’t fall off from so much typing!). We fit a lot into our trip and want to cover all bases for you guys! So stick with me, and keep an eye out for my helpful hot tips – I hope you guys learn a thing or two ?.

Here’s How our Trip Went:

  1.  Los Angeles – San Luis Obispo ??
  2. San Luis Obispo – San Francisco ?
  3. San Francisco – Yosemite ?
  4. Yosemite – Death Valley ?
  5. Death Valley – Las Vegas ?
  6. Las Vegas – Los Angeles ?

In this post, I’ll cover Los Angeles to San Francisco and all the bits in between. Enjoy! ??

Los Angeles

We arrived in Los Angeles in the late afternoon, right in time for peak hour traffic (perfect!?), and spent almost 2 hours getting to our accommodation in Hollywood via the airport bus.

The LAX FlyAway buses are a cheap and easy way to get you in the right vicinity of your accommodation. They are super convenient as no reservation is required and they run every half hour or so to the main areas of L.A such as Hollywood, Long Beach, Union Station (Downtown) and Westwood.  

We had originally organised our car hire to start after our first two days in L.A., in time for the start of our road trip up the coast. However upon arrival, we realised how spread out all the main attractions are. While public transport is easily accessible, it seemed it would take us a lifetime to get anywhere. With only two whole days to get the most out of L.A., we decided to pick the car up early.

If you’re not keen on driving in the crazy L.A. traffic, Uber is also super popular and relatively cost-effective to get you around sufficiently too.

Hot Tip Try and avoid peak hour traffic as much as possible! In L.A., traffic is inevitable, however you can significantly reduce the amount of time spent battling traffic if you avoid the usual peak hour rushes.

In two days, we walked Hollywood Boulevard, ate In-N-Out burger (an ABSOLUTE must-do! ??), visited the Observatory and saw the Hollywood sign, we drove out to Santa Monica, through Beverly Hills, and we also visited Six Flags Magic Mountain Theme Park ?.

Santa Monica

The highlight of Los Angeles for me was 100% Santa Monica. Maybe it was the fact that our home town is a coastal area, and the vibe of Venice Beach made me think of home (but wayyyy cooler), but it was the part of L.A. I was most excited to see, and I was not disappointed.

The Pier was awesome – it was exactly as I had imagined. You could hear the rides going from afar, people screaming and laughing on the rides, you could hear the music playing from various games and just the general sound of people having fun ?.

One of my favourite things about this afternoon at Santa Monica was hiring push-bikes to ride The Strand. You can ride through Venice Beach and Muscles Beach, past Marina del Rey and all the way out to Manhattan Beach. It’s a decent ride, but the path is flat and beautiful, so if you’ve got the time – give it a shot!

It was quite late in the afternoon by the time we got out here, so we only rode as far as Muscle Beach  – but it was beautiful nonetheless. The weather was  absolutely perfect – it was warm, the sun was shining on our faces, we were in shorts and t-shirts for the first time in 6 months – absolute bliss ??.

The lowlight of Los Angeles for me was definitely Hollywood. I know, I know, you’re probably shocked or disappointed, but I feel I need to be completely honest. I hated how dirty it was and felt it is completely over-hyped. There was also a lot of homeless people around, and before you think I’m being insensitive, these weren’t the harmless kind of homeless that kept to themselves – I honestly felt that they were ready to mug you at any moment. I found it hard to relax walking around after dark – even with my boyfriend around.

My biggest regret about our short time in L.A. is that we didn’t make time (or fit into the budget) Universal Studios. We opted for Six Flags due to our extremely strict budget, but in hindsight, I would happily trade our (almost vomit filled ?) day at Six Flags, for a morning at Universal Studios.

L.A. Specifics
  • Where we Stayed: Banana Bungalow Hostel Hollywood $270 USD total for 3 Nights 
  • Spend Per Day: $70 USD each per day (including accommodation)*

*Including the ticket to Six Flags where we got a deal of 2 entries for $60 (yay!).

San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo (SLO) lies about 3.5 hours down the highway from Los Angeles. The scenic route takes about 4 hours, winding through seaside towns Malibu and Santa Barbara. Why shouldn’t the coastal drive start now? ??‍♀️?

Morro Bay is a small, seaside town about 20 minutes down the road of SLO. It’s home to the famous Morro Rock – a volcanic plug formed 23 million years ago. It’s also home to some cute little shops, restaurants and the cutest little Otters who live in the bay. Morro Rock was actually pretty cool to see, and quite astonishing in size. 

Hot Tip – If you can time your visit to Morro Rock, don’t be like us and come smack bang in the middle of the afternoon, so that the sun completely ruins any potential of you getting a photo to capture the beauty of the Rock ??‍♀️. I would recommend aiming for sunrise, so that the light coming from the East can show off the details of the rock.

If you have a fancy-schmancy DSLR with dynamic range, sunset would also be a good option – for the rest of us, we’ll be looking a silhouette along the sunset.

Back in San Luis Obispo, the main street is so cute and trendy, lined with beautiful big trees – you could wander here all day. There are plenty of places to eat or grab a coffee, as well as lots of creative artisan shops to peruse. The vibe here is relaxed, happy and friendly – really a whole other world away from L.A. If we had the time, we could have easily spent a day relaxing here, but it also makes a great pit stop for the onward drive up Highway 1.

San Luis Obispo Specifics
  • Where we Stayed: Hostel Obispo $70 USD – Highly Recommend ????
  • Spend Per Day: $50 USD each (including accommodation).

Highway 1 – Big Sur to San Francisco

From SLO, we set off towards San Francisco via the beautiful Pacific Coast Highway, or Highway 1. We took the whole day to make the drive, stopping along the way at the beautiful sites and attractions. This was one of the parts of the trip we’d been most excited for, and it really was as beautiful as I was hoping.

            The Portal to Big Sur

After 2 hours of driving along the beautiful (and very windy ?) coastal road, we come across the Portal to Big Sur – basically the first chance for an uninterrupted view of the rugged coastline. Being an ocean lover, I could have sat here all day – it was really peaceful.

Hot Tip – Make sure you fill up with gas before you hit the Highway. Unsurprisingly, gas was twice the price here as in bigger towns ?.

            Pfieffer State Beach

Another hour down the road you’ll come across Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park. This is one of the major highlights of the Highway 1, with beautiful Pfieffer State Beach and McWay Falls.

Once you’ve found a park along the road, you’ll find a clearly marked pathway which runs across the top of the cliff to get to this viewing point. It really was stunning! ? I wish we had the opportunity to visit this spot a little later in the day, so that the sun had a chance to hit McWay Falls and show off its beauty even more! (Hint Hint guys! ?).

Hot Tip – Start to slow down as you see the signs for this stop coming up – they are impossible to miss. There are so many people trying to park and jump out to see this spot, that it can create a bit of a hazard. Keep your eyes peeled to snatch someone else’s park on the side of the road, as they’re pulling out (and pedestrians obviously! ?).

            Bixby Bridge

You’ll find your next gob-smacking stop-worthy spot about 40 minutes down the road. I’ve got to say, I was not expecting to be so impressed by a bridge, but the architecture of Bixby Bridge is incredibly graceful and impressive – especially against such a beautiful backdrop. 

I’m also told that this bridge features commonly in a popular PlayStation game called Grand Theft Auto for those gamers out there (ie. my boyfriend ?).

Hot Tip – Coming from the direction of Big Sur, immediately after you’ve crossed the bridge, you will need to turn right into the lookout parking for this view. You can also easily cross the road from here to explore the other side, and walk across the bridge.

           Monterey

After a long morning of driving, and seeing the beautiful highlights of Highway 1, we made our last stop of the day at the beautiful seaside town of Monterey. Had we not been so restricted by our time and our budget, we would have loved to have spent a romantic night by the seaside here in Monterey – however, this town is not particularly budget friendly, and we had a lot to squeeze in. 

We opted for a beautiful seaside lunch down by Fisherman’s Wharf, with a beautiful view (and a background lullaby by the resident seals ?).

While we definitely covered everything we wanted to see on the Pacific Coast Highway, if time and money were on our side, we would have loved to have taken a few days to explore the drive. I would have loved the opportunity to visit the different sites at different times of the day, spent some time hiking in Julie Pfieffer Burns State Park and really exploring what was on offer.   

But at the end of the day, if time is of the essence, you can still see the highlights like we did, in one day. 

San Francisco

Oh my – what a city! ? 

There are songs that sing about how magical San Francisco is, but I never imagined that I could possibly fall in love with San Francisco ?.

I must point out that I am in no way a ‘city girl’ and I generally want to get out after 1 day. San Francisco felt different though – like a city, but on a much slower pace.. one that I could certainly handle. With only 2 days in San Fran, we had no time to waste.

We discovered SOMA StrEat Food Park, hired bikes and rode the ENTIRE way around San Fran ?, biked (and fell in love with) the Golden Gate Bridge, pushed our bikes up the steepest hill in the world to see Lombard Street ?, ate lunch in bustling Fisherman’s Wharf, visited the Painted Ladies and made our way to the beautiful Point Bonita Lighthouse. 

It is safe to say San Francisco stole my heart. I loved all the sites. I loved the quiet yet buzzing energy of San Francisco. I wished we had more time to spend in the city, just hanging out! 

 

Hot Tip – If you want to see San Francisco on push-bikes, be prepared to do a lottttttt of uphill pedalling. It’s not a flat city – at all. ?

My only regret about our time in San Francisco, was not having the time to visit Sausalito and Alcatraz. My Dad had absolutely raved about Sausalito for ever leading up to this trip, but we just didn’t quite get there. I know I would’ve loved exploring the streets and feeling a ‘taste of Italy’. Alcatraz is definitely something that needs to be planned in advance, so make sure you book ahead if it’s on the agenda!

San Fran Specifics
  • Where we Stayed: City Center Inn and Suites $200 USD total for 2 nights – highly not recommended ????
  • Spend per Day: $70 USD each per day (including accommodation and pushbike hire).

There you have it – Los Angeles to San Francisco and all the little bits in between. I hope you’ve found some useful tips if it’s your first time! Have you been to any of these destinations? If so, tell me your favourite parts in the comments below! 

If you’re still with me, and you’d like to continue reading my Ultimate Guide to a 12 Day Road Trip, you can carry on to part 2 by clicking here.

 

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