I spent two weeks in January travelling the Pacific Coast Highway (just about), driving from South to North. I started planning this trip 2 months before my flight.
My boyfriend and I had just received the keys to our first home and we had some spare cash leftover, and what better way to spend it than booking flights to Los Angeles! I knew I wanted to go to America and do a road trip, I just hadn’t a clue how it would work, where we’d go or how much it would cost. Long story short – this trip took two weeks of planning and cost me and my boyfriend £1000 for hotel and travel, this didn’t include spending money.
I actually suffer from travel sickness so you may find it strange that somebody with travel sickness decides to go on a two week road trip BUT how can anyone turn down the Pacific Coast Highway?! Two weeks of coastal roads, beaches, mountains – yup count me in.
BOOKING THE ROAD TRIP
Use my ‘How I book my holidays – top tips’ to help you book your road trip to the Pacific Coast Highway. Using Skyscanner to search for your flights – I had found some really cheap ones flying from London Gatwick (I’m based around 3.5 hours away from Gatwick) – tbh I really don’t care where the airport is if the price is good. For return flights to Los Angeles it was £330 with luggage and meals included, with Norwegian Airlines. (I love Norwegian Airlines, I’d recommend them to anyone and everyone – extremely reliable and we’ve never had any problems – touch wood!)
BOOKING THE CAR
So, flights sorted – what next? (You WILL need a car to tour the Pacific Coast Highway!) I was able to find a car to rent, the only problem was I’m under 25 meaning I got stung with a young drivers fee. Luckily I found a really good deal on Rentalcars.com with a company called ALAMO – top tip, look in the terms and conditions before you purchase the car to see if your deal already includes insurance; I couldn’t see anything obvious to say I had this included so ended up spending another £81 on car insurance through the Rentalcars website (dammit). Most people would opt for a Mustang or a 4×4 for this type of trip however because of the young drivers fee I picked the cheapest car and thought screw it.
NORTH OR SOUTH START?
I travelled South to North, so from San Diego to San Francisco, but this is completely up to you dependent on your current location. You may have found cheaper flights if you start from San Francisco and that’s ok and wouldn’t really make a difference. I think if I was to do it again I would travel North to South so I can start in the colder places working my way down to the warmer destinations.
TRIP HIGHLIGHTS BASED ON TWO WEEKS TRAVEL
I have included my itinerary for the PCH tour below but remember you can pick and choose your destinations dependent on how long you’re there for. My trip included a drive inland to visit Yosemite National Park and remember – you haven’t seen traffic until you’ve been to California.
SAN DIEGO – TWO NIGHTS
Where to stay: I’d recommend staying close to the coast, anywhere in between Ocean Beach and Pacific Beach!
Things to do: San Diego Zoo, Belmont Park/Beach, Coronado Bridge, visit the seals at La Jolla and for anyone that loves history take a trip to the USS Midway (an aircraft carrier that was commissioned after the end of World War II). Want to shop? Check out The Grove – an outdoor shopping centre.
Tips: If you’re planning on visiting a lot of attractions consider buying a ‘Go City Card’ – I bought one before travelling to San Diego and found it so easy to use via an app on my phone, this meant that I skipped all the queues and paid less.
LOS ANGELES – TWO NIGHTS
Where to stay: Santa Monica is the place to be! I chose to stay in a cheap central hotel based in Hollywood.
Things to do: Hollywood Boulevard (personal opinion; overrated), Santa Monica Pier (my favourite), Venice/Muscle Beach. For places to shop and eat check out the Glendale Galleria.
Tips: Rush hour starts at 7am and finishes at 7pm. Be careful of people handing out CD’s, these people are harmless but they forcefully hand you their CD’s and then expect money for them.
*On the way to Santa Barbara check out Point Dume – a view point of Malibu*
SANTA BARBARA – ONE NIGHT
Where to stay: Santa Barbara is small so anywhere you stay will be central to attractions.
Things to do: Botanical Gardens, Stearn’s Wharf (the pier) and for somewhere to shop/eat try Paseo Nuevo.
*On the way to Monterey check out Solvang – a small danish town in the middle of California! Then Morro Bay for a quirky seaside stop.*
MONTEREY – TWO NIGHTS
Where to stay: Stay in Carmel-by-the-sea or close to the Fishermans Wharf.
Things to do: 17 Mile Drive (The famous scenic drive through Pebble Beach and the US Open Golf Course), Big Sur, Bixby Bridge, Pfeiffer Beach and Carmel Beach.
Tips: You will have to pay to enter the 17 mile drive and can enter via the North or South route.
SANTA CRUZ – ONE NIGHT
Where to stay: Stay close to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.
Things to do: Explore the Boardwalk, Fishermans Wharf and the Santa Cruz Beach.
Tips: In winter months there aren’t many restaurant options open at night so you will need to drive further out or consider an AirBNB with a kitchen included.
*On the way to Mariposa check out Davenport and Shark Fin Cove*
MARIPOSA – ONE NIGHT (This only applies if you’re interested in adding in the Yosemite National Park into your road trip)
Where to stay: Mariposa is a small town but head to the Best Western.
Things to do: There isn’t much to do in Mariposa itself so use this simply as a stop off before Yosemite. Check out the 1850 restaurant for an evening meal.
Tips: Stay in Mariposa the night before Yosemite National Park and book the YARTS (park and ride service) online from the Mariposa Park and Ride stop to the Yosemite Visitor Centre.
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK – ONE NIGHT
Where to stay: This depends on your budget but I stayed at the Yosemite Valley Lodge.
Things to do: HIKE! Take in the scenery! Watersports, Climbing, Walking, Relaxing. Yosemite Falls. Mirror Lake.
Tips: I was advised not to drive into Yosemite National Park in a rental car as the weather can sometimes be bad in Yosemite and you will need to put snow chains on your car (which voids your insurance on a rental car) so the YARTS is a great option.
SAN FRANCISCO – THREE NIGHTS
Where to stay: This depends on your budget, I decided to stay on Lombard Street as this was close to many restaurants, attractions and FREE parking.
Things to do: Westfield, Livermore Premium Outlets, Golden Tee Golf Land, Alcatraz Island (a must), Pier 39 the famous Sea Lion stop, Fishermans Wharf, Lombard Street (the most windy street in all of San Fran), Golden Gate Park, Fort Point (a view point for Golden Gate Bridge), Muir Beach and Union Square.
Tips: Book your Alcatraz tour online and in advance of your trip – it works out cheaper and the tours are often full. Book the earliest tour to be the first tour on the island! Uber is your friend in San Francisco, don’t attempt to take the car anywhere unless you want to get stung with $40 parking fees.
Two weeks in California spent road tripping across the Pacific Coast Highway with a trip to Yosemite National Park – couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate my birthday! I would 100% recommend anyone to do this! Got a question about your trip or found more stops along the way? Let me know in the comments.