The United States was one of the last stages of my round the world trip, I immediately jumped at the opportunity to do a road trip in California, along the coast between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Famous for its breathtaking scenery, the Pacific Coast Highway is a fantastic alternative to the simple flight you can take between the two cities. With its steep coastline, beautiful beaches scattered along the coast and charming small seaside towns, I had always dreamed of doing a road trip along this road and I knew that this trip would be a unique and unforgettable adventure.
So we started with a few days in San Francisco and what a start! This city is great and I strongly advise you to stop there. We were staying in the heart of San Francisco, in Union Square. Accommodation can be very expensive so I advise you to book well in advance. There is a lot to do, the Golden Gate Bridge, taking a tram along the steep streets, Chinatown, the hippie district of Haight and Ashbury, Golden Gate Park, the famous Alcatraz prison, shopping and so much more. It is very easy to travel by bus, tram or even by bike but beware of steep streets!
The Pacific Coast
After 3 days in San Francisco we got the rental car back, and the road trip starts! We have chosen to follow the coast, which is beautiful. Here are the stops I recommend.
First stop, Monterey and Carmel-By-The-Sea. In terms of accommodation, Monterey is much cheaper but Carmel is a small art deco town much more charming by the sea.
Then between Carmel and San Luis Obispo, you will follow the coast on the famous road with bridges and breathtaking landscapes. Take your time and keep an eye on the sea, we have seen whales off shore and many dolphins! Stop near San Simeon, there is a beach covered with elephant seals. They are there all year round and there are hundreds of them, it’s very impressive, noisy and smells great! Not far from there is Hearst Castle, which is apparently interesting to visit. San Luis Obispo is a student city and if, like us, you have the chance to be there on a Thursday, you can visit the night market with concerts and shows, food of all kinds and a good atmosphere.
The next stop is Santa Barbara, the first typical Californian beach with its palm trees, pier and shops for shopping. Housing can be very expensive so stay a few kilometres away if you want to save.
And finally Los Angeles. There’s a lot to do here. We started with the not-to-be-missed Hollywood looking for Walk of Fame Stars and celebrities. Take a walk in the hills, in Beverly Hills, Bel Air to see the extraordinary mansions and villas. I recommend Santa Monica with its well-known pier. Then park in Venice Beach, rent bicycles and walk along the beach. You will meet bodybuilders, very talented skaters, small shops of all kinds. There is also an alternative hippie side. Newport Beach is also a very nice beach where you can also rent bicycles.
Further south of Los Angeles, where we stayed for a short week, Laguna Beach is a beautiful beach with surfers, basketball and volleyball players, many small cafes and friendly restaurants on the beach and in town. You will see many dolphins also not far from the surfers, taste the best fish tacos in San Clemente. Here you can rent paddle boards and kayaks, as well as in Dana Point. Not far from there, discover the San Juan Capistrano Mission, a quite interesting historical site.
And finally, don’t forget to eat a burger and milkshake in a “Diner” as you’ve seen hundreds of them in your favourite series, a pile of pancakes covered with maple syrup for breakfast, enjoy unlimited drinks/coffee in restaurants and many other American clichés! Be careful, at first sight the prices do not seem very expensive but it is always necessary to add taxes of about 10-15% and also the tip of about 10-15% also…
As for hotels, it’s really not cheap either. I booked my hotel in Los Angeles about two weeks in advance, so I probably didn’t get the best rates. So a little advice, book your hotel as soon as possible.
Interested in a road trip to California?
For this itinerary, I recommend a minimum of 10 days. Renting a car gives you a lot of freedom. If you are a surfer or want to learn, there is no shortage of beaches for that. The landscapes are beautiful, the roads wide and they drive to the right too, which makes the task easier. If you have more time, I also advise you to make a detour via the large parks such as Yosemite, Death Valley and the Grand Canyon. For my part, it will be for another time!