This Is Where to Stop on Your California Road Trip
Hit Highway One and prepare for mouthwatering pit stops in this foodie's guide to the ultimate California road trip.
Highway One delivers over 600 miles of gorgeous, ocean-hugging road that stretches across many of California’s most famous sights. This route is the mother of Golden State road trips! That’s why we’ve mapped out this Pacific road trip with short driving days and plenty of hotel stays—your passengers won’t want to doze off for even a minute. We’ve also loaded the itinerary with foodie destinations like cafes, wineries, restaurants and a taco stand so that you can taste as much of California as you see.
This plan travels from south to north, San Diego to Sonoma County, so that you finish with the most jaw-dropping views. However, there’s enough to dazzle in either direction, so feel free to head north to south, if you prefer.
San Diego: Rest up at a Legendary Hotel
Charles Lindbergh, Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe have all graced the grounds of the historic Hotel Del Coronado. (It’s technically in Coronado, just across the bay from San Diego.) What better place to get some shuteye before hitting the road?
For fuel, grab a plate at the property’s restaurant Sheerwater for a breakfast buffet as showstopping as its guest list. You’ll be dreaming of the chilaquiles and French toast popovers for the next 100 miles or so.
Dana Point: Chow Down on Chowder
Just over an hour up I-5 from San Diego, you’ll hit Orange County’s Dana Point. This is the official start of Highway One. Hooray!
FYI: Highway One is also called the Pacific Coast Highway—or more commonly the PHC. Celebrate all the coastal driving you’ll be doing with a coastal lunch at The Harbor Grill, where a cup of clam chowder is sure to hit the spot.
Santa Monica: Ride the Ferris Wheel
Sure, it’s touristy, but the Santa Monica Pier is an iconic spot on the Southern California coast and it’s worth a stop at least once. Ride that famous Ferris wheel, stop in at the arcade and treat yourself to cotton candy or a churro. Then, escape the masses by ducking into Big Dean’s Ocean Front Cafe, just off the pier, for a refreshing afternoon beer.
Malibu: Sleep Like a Surfer
Malibu is an ideal place to call it a day (driving-wise, at least) and The Surfrider is the place to stay. This reimagined 1950s motel is right on the PCH, so you can check in and then stroll across the street to Surfrider Beach to catch a wave. You also won’t have to go far for dinner, which is served on the hotel’s roof deck. Peruse the menu as you sip a hot toddy by the fire and watch the sunset.
Santa Barbara: Visit Julia Child’s Favorite Taco Joint
Now that you’ve been on the road for a day you may be wondering, where are the best places to eat on the Pacific Coast Highway? You’ll come upon one of them, an unassuming taco joint called La Super-Rica Taqueria, once you hit Santa Barbara. There’s often a line, but don’t worry—the grilled steak tacos and chorizo quesadillas here are worth the wait. If you’re still not convinced, keep in mind that Julia Child herself named La Super-Rica Taqueria her favorite restaurant in town! (See what else you don’t know about Julia.)
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San Luis Obispo: Marvel at the Madonna Inn
Take your pick from a room modeled after cowboys and cattle or an abode that feels like you’re sleeping on a golf green. These are just two of the picks at California’s quirkiest hotel, Madonna Inn. Stay the night and you can go horseback riding, hit the pool, play on pink tennis courts and feast on filet mignon and pink-speckled champagne cake in an all-pink steakhouse.
San Simeon: Get an Eyeful at Hearst Castle
When William Randolph Hearst initially reached out to his architect, Julia Morgan, in 1919, he told her he’d like to “build a little something.” That little something became the 165-room Hearst Castle. Take a tour through the grand rooms, guest houses, gardens and pools, then finish the day with a wine tasting. Hearst Ranch Winery is just across Highway One and was co-founded by William Randolph Hearst’s great-grandson.
Big Sur: Live Like a Beatnik
In Jack Kerouac’s 1962 novel Big Sur, a fictional version of the author seeks peace and quiet in a seaside cabin. You can do the same (minus many of Kerouac’s hangups, of course) by renting one of the many cozy Big Sur cabins and cottages on Airbnb. While you’re in town, be sure to grab a meal at Nepenthe, a cliffside restaurant known for its steak sandwiches and was once a preferred spot among Kerouac and his friends.
Salinas: Dine in Steinbeck’s Home
The coastline between Big Sur and Monterey has the most stunning geography. By this point, you’ll see why the area has inspired so many musicians, poets and writers. Speaking of writers, John Steinbeck grew up in Salinas, just 25 minutes inland from Monterey, and his childhood home is now a restaurant. Swing by The Steinbeck House, a 19th-century Queen Anne-style Victorian house, for a Reuben sandwich and a spin through the gift shop.
Santa Cruz: Take in 250-Foot Redwoods
You can’t drive the California coast without admiring some redwoods, so while you’re in Santa Cruz County, head to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. There, you can gawk at the stupendous sequoias, plus picnic, hike, bike and swim at a spot called the Garden of Eden. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, wander over to Abbott Square Market, an indoor/outdoor food hall in downtown Santa Cruz. Neapolitan pizza, lobster rolls and apple bear claws will all be within reach.
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San Francisco: Stay in Boutique Barracks With Bridge Views
Follow Highway One into San Francisco and spend the night at Inn at the Presidio, an upscale boutique hotel that was once used as officer quarters for the US Army. The inn sits on 300 acres of protected forest, so it’s a peaceful retreat in the midst of a major city. Plus, it’s the closest hotel to the Golden Gate Bridge, which means many of the rooms have prime bridge views. For dinner, go for comfort food (deviled eggs, meatloaf and dark chocolate molten cake) just a few blocks away at The Presidio Social Club, another former Army space with a storied past.
Jenner: Sip Wine on the Sea
You’ve traveled some 700 miles, so now it’s time to kick back and enjoy some R&R&R (rest and relaxation and red wine) in Sonoma County’s Jenner. To sample Pinot Noir with hilltop views, make a reservation at Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery. Then, round out your road trip with a stay at Timber Cove Resort, where the restaurant, Coast Kitchen, serves grilled salmon wings and pan-seared halibut, and many of the rooms have both a fireplace and ocean views.
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