Just so you're aware.... SF to Cambria would be my recommendation, as well. But.... this is a 6 hour drive WITHOUT stops!! Your stops en route will need to be timed according to what time you leave SF and time of year. You do NOT want to end up driving through Big Sur after dark. The road sits hundreds of feet above the ocean with sheer drop offs in several places and lots of tight hairpin turns.... especially the further south you get. It's not a fun drive in the dark. And kind of pointless, since you'll be making it for the views.
So.... for the drive down I suggest the following:
Leave SF by 8am. Take Highway 1 down to Monterey/Carmel and stop at Point Lobos State Reserve for an hour or two. It's about a 3 hour drive from SF. Several easy to walk trails along scenic stretches of coastline, wildlife viewing (Otters, seals, deer, birds) and a surreal orange moss dripping from the trees.
Continue south toward Big Sur
Bixby Bridge (Famous arch bridge spanning a deep gorge. Good for a 10-15 minute photo op)
Pfeiffer Beach (Purple sand, rock arches standing in the ocean)
Nepenthe/Phoenix Shop (Lunch with a great view of the Big Sur coast/souvenir shopping)
McWay Falls @ Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (Famous ribbon waterfall that drops on to an inaccessible beach)
Ragged Point (Commercial property with the last great views of Big Sur coastline from the back of the property before the highway descends)
Elephant seal rookery just south of the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse
Overnight stay in Cambria: Best Western Fireside Inn, Fog Catcher Inn, Pelican Inn, Castle Inn, Sand Pebbles Inn.
IF you reach Cambria before sunset.... Leffingwell Landing on Moonstone Beach Drive is a great place to watch the sunset.
Dinner: Robin's, Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill, Main Street Grill, Las Cambritas
Edited: 5:20 pm, March 30, 2013