Where to Stop on Your Road Trip Along Highway 1 From Los Angeles to San Francisco

America is an amazingly beautiful country. I’m trying to remind myself that just because it’s my backyard doesn’t mean it’s not worth exploring!

When I lived in New York, I spent almost all of my days off in bed with a hangover watching Netflix. So while I was in LA for a few months, a place I’ve never been before, I decided not to watch Netflix anymore. When I found out I had a long weekend for Martin Luther King Day, I jumped at the chance to explore “the best coast.”

I had always heard amazing things about driving Highway 1 along the California coast so I did a little bit of research and decided to spend my long weekend on a road trip. Since I was doing the drive from LA to San Francisco by myself, I wanted to try to do it in one day. Several reviews of the trip said that if you wanted to make some stops then it was best to do it in two or even three days. So I thought, “What the heck?!” I had never traveled alone before so why not try it now?

I decided to drive up to San Fran in a rental car and fly back. I picked up a rental car from LAX, booked my return flight for Monday afternoon and set out for a two day road trip, solo adventure.

The trip began in Los Angeles at about 7:30 a.m., with my first stop planned for Hearst Castle, built by newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst and architect Julia Morgan in 1947.

It took me a little under four hours to get to Hearst Castle. I’m not going to lie, the drive is a bit monotonous and not very exciting until you hit San Luis Obispo, about an hour from Hearst Castle. I only made one stop between LA and the Castle and that was just on the side of the road to take in the amazing view.

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San Simeon Beach
Fun fact about this photo…the number one question I had when I returned from this road trip was, “How’d you take that photo on the car if you were by yourself!?”

Well, an essential for any solo traveler, I hate to admit, is the selfie stick! My roommate got one for her birthday so I snagged it before I left and thanks to it, I was able to get shots like this (with an assist from the roof of my rental car). Also, when I made this stop, a van pulled up next to me and an elderly woman gave me a five minute pitch about Jehovah’s Witnesses.

In order to go up to Hearst Castle from the visitor center, you have to pay to do a tour. I booked the next tour which cost $25. My tour group was about 40 people and we all climbed in a van and began the five mile, winding journey up to Hearst Castle. The view alone from the top was well worth the money.

The view from Hearst Castle
The view from Hearst Castle
On the tour, we saw the living room which was larger than I think any Manhattan penthouse, the smoking room, dining room, billiards room, theater and indoor swimming pool which was amazing! Each room was grander than the last but my favorite was the living room as it had amazing detail and furniture.

Indoor swimming pool at Hearst Castle
Indoor swimming pool at Hearst Castle
Our tour guide also told us about all of the animals that Hearst collected including zebras, giraffes and deer. He said we could still see some of the animals roaming around the grounds today and we did on the drive back down. We saw a few deer on the side of the road and all the other tourists on the bus were ecstatic. Apparently they don’t have deer like we do in New York…

After the tour finished, we were free to roam around the garden area by ourselves. The whole tour from top to bottom took about an hour and a half. As a news junkie and history buff, I am very happy I took the time to take the tour!

My next stop was just a short ways up the road to see elephant seals! I am obsessed with seals/sea lions so I was extremely excited when I saw what looked like hundreds of them just sunbathing on the sand right next to the road.

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A small cluster of elephant seals
Fun fact: Elephant seals sound like Angry Birds (yes, the iPhone game). There were tons of little babies and they were all squawking at each other. It was amazing. I spent about 15 minutes just watching the seals and taking in the view.

My next stop was Big Sur, which I didn’t realize before I left is a town. I had seen photos on Pinterest and Instagram of a little ocean pool surrounded by rocks that I knew I wanted to stop and see/take some photos of my own. All I knew was that this was “Big Sur.” I also wanted to see Bixby Bridge but was unsure of how far this was exactly from Hearst Castle.

So as I was driving along this beautiful part of Highway 1, I kept stopping to a. check out the view and b. see if it was Big Sur. This part of the drive was my favorite part as I had no cell service. I was completely alone with my thoughts and my Taylor Swift CD. It was really the perfect getaway to recharge.

As I was driving, I spotted a bridge which I thought could be Bixby Bridge. So I pulled off (there are tons of parking lot pull offs alone the highway which makes stopping really easy) and started taking some photos. So grateful for that selfie stick!

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I continued my drive while freaking out that I had missed this Big Sur place I so desperately wanted to see. When I finally gave up on seeing it, I saw a sign for Big Sur in 40 miles. Success!

I drove and drove and drove, singing “Blank Space” at the top of my lungs with the windows down when I saw a ton of people pulled off on the side of the road. There were probably 50 cars lining the roads. I wasn’t going to stop but then remembered I wasn’t in a hurry so I pulled off. Thank god I did because this was that “Big Sur” place I had seen on social media which isn’t actually IN the town of Big Sur, it’s just before it. If I had waited until “Big Sur,” I would have missed it.

Here there is a small little path you can follow to get down closer to the water or you can stay up above like I did. The sun was just starting to set so it was the perfect backdrop for my photos!

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After about 10 minutes of enjoying this view, I jumped back in my car as I wanted to make it to my night spot, Monterey, before sundown.

Not long after the Big Sur stop, I saw even more cars than before pulled over on the side of the road. I looked around and realized I had just gone over the actual Bixby Bridge. Since I saw it and drove over it, I figured I didn’t really need to stop. But at the last minute before the next curve, I quickly pulled to the right and hopped out. There were TONS of people in the area taking photos of the bridge so it was a little overwhelming. And I was a little embarrassed to whip out the selfie stick in front of this many people!

Bixby Bridge
Bixby Bridge
The drive is really amazing because you’re blocked in by rolling hills on one side of the highway and endless ocean on the other. All while winding down a cell phone service-less road. I couldn’t have had a better Saturday.

I got to Monterey at about 5 p.m., just before sunset. I checked into my hotel which was slightly more expensive than I wanted to pay but the room was fabulous and a great place to relax after a full day in the car.

After dropping my stuff in the room, I rushed out to catch the last bit of sunset and walk along Fisherman’s Wharf.

Monterey
Monterey
Fisherman’s Wharf is very touristy much like the Santa Monica Pier or San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, but much smaller. There were a bunch of restaurants and shops AND more seals, which I was very excited about.

After walking through the Wharf, I decided to venture out into the town to see if I could find some dinner. Since this was my first time traveling alone, I wasn’t quite ready yet to eat dinner by myself. So I just picked up some takeout and headed back to my room. Maybe next solo trip I’ll be able to sit down by myself!

The one thing to see in Monterey is the aquarium. It’s apparently one of the best in U.S. and a must see when you’re in the area.

Well, I didn’t actually get to the aquarium. I really wanted to get on the road as I knew I had a few stops I wanted to do before getting to San Fran. I’ll definitely get back to Monterey at SOME point in my life so I wasn’t too concerned on missing the aquarium this time.

In the morning I had an amazing banana and Nutella crepe from Crepes of Brittany at Fisherman’s Wharf. This place is extremely popular in the morning and it took about 30 minutes to get my crepe. There aren’t many tables. About three inside and only a handful more outside so I just took the crepe back to my room and ate it while I packed up my stuff.

I was on the road at about 10:30 a.m. My first stop of the day was Santa Cruz, which was a last minute addition. Even though I’ve seen tons of surfers in Los Angeles, I read that Santa Cruz was a good place to see people surfing as well.

The most amazing part of the drive from Monterey to Santa Cruz were the avocado farms! I saw a sign on the side of the road that said 5 Avocados for $1!! Have you ever seen ONE avocado for a dollar!? I couldn’t believe it. I love avocados and if I had had a way to keep them from getting crushed in my bag over the next two days, I would have stopped.

When I got to Santa Cruz, I parked my rental and walked along the pier. There is an amazing amusement park there right on the beach much like in Santa Monica.

A little further along the coast, there is a lighthouse where tons of surfers go. There were probably 50 or so surfers all sharing the water! I had never seen so many in one place. Some were great, some were OK and some were beginners in a surf lesson. All of them were really fun to watch and it was almost 45 minutes later that I remembered I had to get back on the road to my next stop.

Santa Cruz, CA
Santa Cruz, CA

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Santa Cruz, CA

Santa Cruz, CA
Santa Cruz, CA
My last stop before San Francisco was Big Basin Redwoods State Park, a little more than an hour and a half outside SF.

You know that ride at Epcot at Disney World called Soarin’ Over California? You are in a makeshift hang glider and you go over Orange County, Napa, San Jose and more before ending at Disneyland. The redwood trees are also part of the ride. So I was determined to see redwood trees in California.

According to Google, the best place to see the redwoods is actually a park north of San Francisco. But for my little road trip, Big Basin was going to have to do. And it definitely didn’t disappoint.

It cost me $10 to park my car for the day and I was able to roam around the trails for as long as I wanted. I decided to take the shortest trail so I could make it to SF before sunset. This trail took about 45 minutes. I also walked through some of the picnic areas along the side of the road as well. The redwoods truly are massive. Some of the trunks are as wide as trucks and you can barely see the top of a lot of them. I’m very glad I made a stop here, even if only for an hour or so.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Big Basin Redwoods State Park

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Big Basin Redwoods State Park

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Big Basin Redwoods State Park
After Big Basin State Park, I drove up over a hill and had a fabulous view of all the trees and the entire park. Unfortunately there wasn’t anywhere to pull off so I wasn’t able to get a photo but trust me, it is a sight to be seen!

I arrived in San Francisco at about 4:30 p.m. and I couldn’t have been happier I did the drive. It definitely can’t be done in one day if you want to really enjoy yourself and see some stuff. If I were to do it all again, I would have done a little more research and prep beforehand so I could have fit in some more sights/activities. But with the places I chose, I stopped about every 2-3 hours or less so it broke up the drive which was great. If you’re going to do a long road trip like this, you definitely want to make sure you’re taking frequent stops to stretch those hammies! And have a good Taylor Swift CD to sing along to!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Siobhan says:

    Great photos, looks like a dream trip! I love that you just took off and did the road trip by yourself. 🙂 Glad to see that you’re still updating and I look forward to reading about your future adventures!

  2. Thanks Siobhan! You’ve inspired me to keep writing.

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