San Fran to LA: exploring California’s epic coast

written by Doug Whyte December 4, 2017
Bixby Bridge on Highway 1

I’d been in the US for two weeks. My partner and I were gallivanting around New York shoveling bagels, drinking at dive bars, and sightseeing our way through Manhattan and Brooklyn. We were living it up and having a great time. But deep down, I felt like I was forever waiting for that next phase in our America trip to begin.

I’d seen the photos. That spectacular, curling coastline. The untouched forests. Those weird and wonderful seaside towns along the way. Cali was calling me, and as much as I loved New York, it was time to scoot over there and do it for real.

Whilst the Californian coast stretches from its northern border with Oregon all the way down to San Diego, many travellers (like me) start their odyssey in San Fran and end it in LA. If this sounds like you, here’s a rundown on some of the classic stops along the way…

San Francisco

Views of the Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach

Image via Shutterstock

Where do you even begin with San Francisco? Whether you’re staying for two days or two months, there’s no way you’ll get bored in The Golden City. To be painfully brief, some of the highlights include: walking the Golden Gate Bridge (obviously), feeling minuscule in Muir Woods, eating delicious food in the Mission District, getting crooked on Lombard Street, going to First Fridays in Oakland, and rummaging the bookshelves at City Lights.



The harbour seals in Monterey Bay

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The pride and joy of this seaside town is definitely the Monterey Bay Aquarium. But unlike most aquariums, this one literally sits in the bay, playing host to a number of sea otters, turtles, jellyfish, rays and other exotic creatures. After spending a few hours here, take a stroll through Cannery Row, before eating a lobster roll at the Old Fisherman’s Wharf.

The other main attraction here is the 17-Mile Drive along Monterey Peninsula. This must-do scenic road takes you past craggy cliffs, iconic golf courses (Pebble Beach), wind-sculpted Cypress trees, and through to the quaint, storybook village of Carmel by the Sea.

Big Sur

McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Image by Julie Lamond

You’ll pull over more times than you can count on Big Sur. But who can blame you? This raw and rugged patch is the jewel in the crown of California’s coastline. The scenery is mythic and intense, and it’s simply impossible not to fall for its pop cultural romance.

While chasing views will sustain you for hours on end, make sure you visit McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, take a snap in front of Bixby Bridge (open, even after May’s landslide), and drop into Henry Miller Memorial Library. If you’ve got an extra day up your sleeve, do yourself a massive favour and spend the night glamping at Fernwood Resort.

Morro Bay

Sunset over Morro Rock in Morro Bay

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Morro Bay wouldn’t be the top pick for an overnight stay. However, it’s still worth a passing visit – the main reason being Morro Rock. Looming just off shore, this volcanic plug juts from the ocean at nearly 600 feet. The dome is one of the Nine Sisters, a 21-million-year-old family of rocks stretching south all the way to San Luis Obispo. To make the most of it, simply perch yourself on the beach, dig your feet into the sand, and gaze at it for a while. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara's stunning coastline

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Sure, you could always stroll through the Botanic Garden, or take a dip at East Beach. But if you’re looking for reasons to stay a little longer in this coastal city, head out to the Funk Zone. Located on the outskirts of Santa Barbara, it’s where you’ll find converted warehouses, graffiti murals, and some the trendiest cafes, restaurants and galleries in California. Make sure you drop into Helena Avenue Bakery for a coffee, grab dinner at The Lark, and down a tasty IPA at Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co.


Beautiful drone shots of Ventura

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There’s more than meets the eye in Ventura. Of course, walking along the pier is a must – particularly at sunset when the fishermen are lined up like dominoes, lovers are strolling hand in hand, and the whole atmosphere is pretty magical. But if you’ve got more time, head to Ventura’s historic downtown to grab a bite and peruse the collection of boutique and second hand stores.

Los Angeles

Venice Beach in Los Angeles, California

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Welcome to La La Land. Just like San Fran, LA has so much to see and do it’s not funny. You can always tick off the classics like the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Venice Beach, Griffith Observatory, and Getty Centre. But if you’re hankering to eat delicious grub, soak in some culture, and live like a local, consider staying a few days in the trendy suburbs of Silver Lake, Echo Park or Los Feliz.

Ready to explore California’s amazing coast for yourself? See it all on our 4-day tour.

Feature image C/O of Shutterstock

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