There’s a lot of coastline between San Francisco and San Diego—about 805 kilometers to be exact. This stretch includes some of the most beautiful parts of California. Here’s an itinerary for an epic California road trip, stopping at some of the highlights. Of course, once you’re on the road, don’t hold back from taking detours if you see something along the way that captures your interest.
1. San Francisco
Get your calves ready to explore this fabulous city built on more than 50 hills.
Alcatraz: This is a federal prison located on Alcatraz Island, in the waters of the San Francisco Bay. It was home to some of America’s most dangerous criminals. Tours range from 2 ½ to 5 hrs.
Hayes Valley: This eclectic neighborhood is a great spot for boutique shopping, sipping coffee at an outdoor cafe or grabbing a bite to eat at one of the neighborhood’s trendy restaurants. The neighborhood also has a community garden and a park with art installations.
Cable Cars: When you’re too tired to walk up and down any more hills, catch one of San Francisco’s famous cable cars. These cable cars are the only National Historic Landmark that can move!
2. Big Sur
This will be the most breathtaking part of your drive down the coast of California.
Pfeiffer Beach: Make a picnic basket and head to Pfeiffer Beach to watch a beautiful sunset. This beach also has unusual purple sand, created from manganese garnet particles that have washed down the hillside.
McWay Falls: It takes a mini hike to get to a breathtaking view of this 24 meter waterfall.
Nepenthe: This restaurant is nestled in a cliffside and offers spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean.
3. Los Angeles
There is never a dull moment in Los Angeles. I recommend you spend extra days here because the city is very spread out and there are endless amounts of activities.
Santa Monica Pier: The Santa Monica Pier is an iconic spot to visit while in Los Angeles. A mini amusement park is actually on the pier, which makes it a great place to watch the sunset while riding a Ferris wheel.
Abbott Kinney: This is the most ideal street to find trendy cafes, restaurants, shops and street art! Dress your best, bring a camera and get ready to shop!
Griffith Observatory: This attraction is arguably one of the most spectacular places in LA. It’s best to go in the evening to watch the sunset but stay into the night to see planets through the gigantic telescope (yes, you can even see Saturn’s rings)! The observatory also has a wonderful museum dedicated to astronomy.
4. Catalina Island
Santa Catalina Island is truly a tropical getaway just 35 km off the coast of Southern California. Back in the day, Catalina was the ultimate getaway for A-list celebrities.
East Island Adventure Tour: Buckle up! But really please do… this two-hour expedition takes you in an open-air Hummer around Catalina’s ridge tops and rugged canyons. You’ll learn a lot about the flora and fauna of the island. You may even spot bison, which were brought to the island for a movie scene but were never actually used!
Catalina Aerial Adventure: Wear workout clothes because this activity will be a challenging (but worthwhile) one. You’ll climb, swing and crawl from tree to tree on a series of ropes, ladders, log bridges, balance beams and zip lines. But don’t worry- you’re harnessed. Beginner, intermediate and advanced courses are available.
Island Water Charters Parasailing: I hope you’re not afraid of heights because Catalina Island is an amazing place to parasail! See amazing views of the island 300 meters in the air (there are lower options if you prefer). You can fly without ever getting wet, unless you ask to have your feet dipped in the water, of course. The captains kindly take photos of you mid-air.
5. San Diego
Get ready for some chill vibes and laid back attitudes in this beach town.
La Jolla: If you like water and underwater wildlife, then La Jolla Cove is the perfect place to go. Here you can kayak, snorkel and go diving. The water in this area is very calm and ecologically protected.
San Diego Zoo: This is one of the most famous zoos in the entire country. Visitors can see everything from polar bears in the arctic to leopards in the rainforest.