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Scenic drive from San Diego to LAX

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Melbourne, Australia
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Scenic drive from San Diego to LAX

To catch our flight to Australia late on Saturday, December 8th, we intend to drive to LAX from San Diego leaving soon after breakfast. We need to be at LAX by 8pm which gives us approx 12 hours to do the 130 miles trip. Does the Pacific Coast highway allow us to stop and and look at the scenery whenever we want and is there scenery that makes stopping worthwhile?

If not, perhaps we would be better to drive more directly to LA and then have a gawp at something there? The Hollywood sign perhaps?

Is the traffic easier on the week-ends for out-of-towners like us who usually drive on the left with cars that have steering wheels on the right?

Fortaleza, CE
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1. Re: Scenic drive from San Diego to LAX

I-5 from SD to around San Juan Capistrano will give you good views of beaches. SJC mission worth a stop, too. If you are going to tour the L.A. area (an absolutely enormous area, which to many people includes not just the City of Los Angeles, but also the County of Los Angeles, and even adjoining counties, such as Orange County), plan your itinerary. The Hollywood Sign you'd likely view from afar and takes a few minutes at most to see. Many want to see the Hollywood Walk of Fame because they've heard of it, but, again, not much to see. If you want to take time for a movie studio tour, Warner Brothers in Burbank may be the best, but Sony Studios (formerly MGM) in Culver City is closest to LAX. Paramount is in Hollywood. Tours take a couple ofhours.

Traffic is easier for everyone on weekends than druing the week, but there can still be congestion. It is generally frowned upon to drive on the left in the greater L.A. area. Have good maps and/or a GPS. The freeway system can get confusing, especially if you're not just taking the most direct route to LAX (I-5 then I-405). Freeways have names (e.g., San Diego Freeway, Santa Ana Freeway), but most times people use the numbers, with "the" before it (e.g, "take the 5 to the 405 . . ."). Some people find it intimidating, others not.

Edited: 8:58 am, November 15, 2012
San Diego...
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2. Re: Scenic drive from San Diego to LAX

Starting in the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego, drive on Torrey Pines Road north to Del Mar, and in Del Mar get on Pacific Coast Highway north and follow that through the coastal towns: Solana Beach, Cardiff, Encinitas, Leucadia, Carlsbad and then Oceanside. That will give you close views of the ocean at many locations. Interstate 5 is further inland and has only distant views of the ocean so I would recommend PCH (Highway 101) instead.

At Oceanside, though, you will have to get on Interstate 5 north for a while, as that is the only public road through the huge Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base. Once you get to San Clemente, you can get back on Pacific Coast Highway. You take Exit 79 from Interstate 5, the one with the signs that say "1 Beach Cities." Highway 1 will take you through Capistrano Beach, Dana Point, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Seal Beach, with ocean views at various points.

But then Highway 1 goes inland and goes through cities and is not scenic. I would stay on it for a little while until you come to Interstate 405, and take Interstate 405 north, through Long Beach, Carson, Hawthorne, and then take the exit for LAX airport. I'm not exactly sure which exit number it is but there will be signs indicating it is the exit for the airport.

I'm not sure how long this drive will take you, but I would budget at least 6 hours for it including a stop for lunch and quick stops for views here and there. Your average speed on Pacific Coast Highway will probably be 30 to 40 mph (48 to 64 kph). For more information on this route see http://www.us-101.com/

The alternative would be to take Interstate 5 north from San Diego, to Interstate 405 north to LAX airport. This would be much faster with an average speed of 70 mph (112 kph) and if there was no traffic it would take 2 hours and 10 minutes, but in heavy traffic could take 3 hours or more. Also it would be far less scenic; you would be further away from the ocean and mainly going through cities and suburbs.

Chula Vista...
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3. Re: Scenic drive from San Diego to LAX

Hi,

You could drive the coastal highway from San Diego through La Jolla, Torrey Pines, Del Mar, Encinitas, Leucadia, and Carlsbad to Oceanside.

http://goo.gl/maps/XEWCN

Each town has its own charm and character, and there are a number of beaches along the route that you can stop at (although finding parking may be a challenge on a Saturday).

La Jolla - Village with its high-end shopping, La Jolla Cove with its opportunity to see seals.

http://www.lajollabythesea.com/

http://www.lajollabythesea.com/la-jolla-cove

Torrey Pines - Famous golf course; Torrey Pines Gliderport where you may see people hang gliding or parasailing over the cliffs; Torry Pines State Reserve.

http://sandiegofreeflight.com/jm170/

http://www.torreypine.org/

Once you hit Oceanside, you'll be at the south end of Camp Pendleton, a US Marine Corps base, and it's best to get back onto I-5. I'll let others more familiar with the area north of Camp Pendleton offer suggestions.

You could easily spend a minimum of 2 hours up to the better part of the day making the trip between San Diego and Oceanside depending on how many stops you make along the way.

Corona del Mar, CA
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4. Re: Scenic drive from San Diego to LAX

Here is the route I would take.

http://tinyurl.com/agh243p

You'll have to work with Google Maps to get more precise directions, but I really believe that the part of the coast after Downtown Long Beach is some of the most spectacular and dramatic coast line in California, north or south. I would skip it.

La Jolla, California
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5. Re: Scenic drive from San Diego to LAX

<<I would skip it.>> ??? scottca?

Fortaleza, CE
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6. Re: Scenic drive from San Diego to LAX

Maybe they mean least spectacular?

Washington State
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7. Re: Scenic drive from San Diego to LAX

Hi Colin B, and welcome to TripAdvisor forums.

If you go 'up' one level, you'll be on the California state forum page. In the upper right is a box titled "More about California" with one section called "Top Questions about California." Click it. One of the topics has some information about the Southern California coastal drive between L.A. and San Diego. (The info in that Top Q may be a repeat of what you've learned here, but I think that exploring the Top Q on any forum page can yield some terrific tips.)

Have a great drive!

Melbourne, Australia
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8. Re: Scenic drive from San Diego to LAX

G'day and thanks for a great response. I thought it might be a few days before anyone replied but you guys were onto it in minutes. From here driving on the huge highways in the cities of USA is a pretty daunting prospect. Few roads here have more than three lanes and very few interchanges involve more than two roads! And then there's your insistence on driving on the right. The degree of difficulty is compounded. Also, it makes unsheathing your sword to confront highwaymen very awkward unless, of course, you are all left-handed!

I will certainly check out the California section but I am looking forward to this drive much more now. We were thinking of checking out La Jolla while in San Diego and believe the open plains zoo is a must-see. What else do you think is so great in San Diego it must be seen once in a lifetime? Anything from buildings to art to natural beauty to something bizarre and unique - like Banksy graffitti, for instance. Thank you all - enjoying your work!

Melbourne, Australia
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9. Re: Scenic drive from San Diego to LAX

Great response, thanks so much. I shall keep it for reference.

Melbourne, Australia
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10. Re: Scenic drive from San Diego to LAX

Thanks for this reply. We feel there is plenty of time to do the trip and can even deviate from the route a bit to stop or see something spectacular. Being December and getting close to Christmas I thought the beaches might be less popular and the scenery less cluttered than usual. Of course the weather may effect the whole experience quite a lot!