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While many folks opt for the route between Los Angeles to the San Francisco Bay Area through Central California, the route South to San Diego from the Los Angeles Area also has some amazing views and a lot of great beach communities to visit.
Going North to South, let's start at Malibu -- the city at the northwest corner of the County of Los Angeles -- and head south on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) aka Highway 1 or Route 1. You can take Route 1 south all the way to South Orange County, but there are a couple of recommended detours, just as on the Central California Portions of the Coastal Highway.
The first detour is a flexible one that can be taken any time between the southern border of Santa Monica and the southern border of Redondo Beach. Let's look at this more closely. PCH ends and Route 1 turns inland (away from the coast) near the southern border of Santa Monica. There, PCH merges into Interstate 10 aka the Santa Monica Freeway and heads east (away from the coast). About a mile inland, Route 1 exits from Interstate 10 and continues along LIncoln Bl in a southerly direction (about a mile / 1.6 km inland). Lincoln Bl is a commercial corridor packed with traffic lights, traffic, malls, gas stations, stores, auto body shops, etc. Most importantly. there is no view of the coast from Lincoln.
Continuing south on Lincoln, it turns inland just north of LAX (the airport) and merges into Sepulveda Bl which has a similar character to Lincoln Bl (no view of the coast and lots of commercial traffic). To get glimpses of the coast, you can turn westbound almost anywhere along Lincoln Bl or Sepulveda Bl but doing so might be slow-going since you'd be entering a largely residential beach area that might be curvy, have local traffic and can have streets that end or change direction. It may also be difficult to find parking in these areas, especially parking 'on the street'.
Turning west off of Lincoln Bl will give you exposure to Venice. Turning west off of Sepulveda Bl (south of the airport) will bring you into one of the following neighborhoods (in order, from north to south): Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach or Redondo Beach.
If you wish to skip over the portion of Route 1 that runs through Venice, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach, once you reach the end of PCH in Santa Monica, you can continue east on Interstate 10 past the aforementioned Lincoln Bl exit and, then head south on the 405 Freeway (aka San Diego Freeway). Take the 405 freeway to the Hawthorne Bl.exit. Follow Hawthorne Bl. southbound to Torrance Bl. and then head west to the southern end of Redondo Beach at the Redondo Beach Pier (on the coast).
Just south of Redondo Beach (not far from Pier), you'll enter Rancho Palos Verdes.
The second detour is in the Rancho Palos Verdes area. You will want to get off PCH to get some of the best views on the California Coast along the road on the cliffs of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. There are some great Vista view points along this road. (Photos at the links)
At the other end, you end up at the San Pedro area, where one of the two main Cruise Ports area in Los Angeles is located, you follow the roadway to go along the ports to Long Beach, a main Tourist Location, and another Cruise Port. Follow that down the roadway to Seal Beach, where you once again join up with the PCH. Here is a marked map of the detour.
Then you head down the PCH through Huntington Beach to Newport Beach, where the second recommended detour is, you get off the PCH to go down the Balboa Peninsula to the Balboa Pier. Then you catch a small 3 car Ferry to take you across the bay to Balboa Island, drive through this quaint community and exit it off the other side and get back onto the PCH. Now you are headed to Laguna Beach, Dana Point and San Clemente. A link to a map of the second detour.
Due to the large Camp Pendleton Military Base, you will have to get onto the Interstate Freeway, I-5 though the area. There is a nice Vista Point headed Southbound, and a Public Rest-stop before you leave the base property.
Once you get past the base, you will see an exit sign for the Coast Hwy, which is also known as the Old Route 101, this takes you through Oceanside, Carlsbad, Leucadia, Encinitas, Solana Beach, Del Mar and the Torrey Pines State Park area. with some amazing views and places to pull over to enjoy the views and some beach time. The following links are first, a marked map with some highlights and photos, the second link is the Torrey Pines Natural Reserve website.
Once you get past the famous Torrey Pines Golf Course, most folks opt to get back onto Interstate 5 and their final destination.
And FYI, the best option is going North to South, so you can take advantage of many View points (pull offs) that are only on the "ocean side" of the road.