While many folks opt to explore the route between Los Angeles and 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 look at the route:  Start at Malibu -- the city at the northwest corner of the Los Angeles metro area 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 the route does not always follow along the Coastline.

PCH (the coastal route) ends (temporarily) and Route 1 continues by turning 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 south along LIncoln Bl (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 exploring the COASTAL portions of Venice, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach, you can do so by selecting a route other than Lincoln Bl.  Here's how: Once you reach the end of PCH in Santa Monica, merge onto Interstate 10 but instead of exiting Interstate 10 onto Lincolin, Bl, simply continue east on Interstate 10 past the aforementioned Lincoln Bl exit and, then exit onto the 405 Freeway (aka San Diego Freeway) heading south.  

Once you're on the 405 freeway southbound, you can get off at a number of places, depending on how much of the coastline you wish to explore.  Here are some options:

a. Rancho Palos Verdes

Take the 405 freeway to the Hawthorne Bl.exit.  Follow Hawthorne Bl. southbound to Torrance Bl. and then head west to the southwest corner of the city of Redondo Beach at the Redondo Beach Pier (on the coast).  Just before entering the downward driveway into the parking structure for the Pier, you'll see Catalina Avenue crossing your path.  Turn left onto it  Just south of Redondo Beach (not far from Pier), you'll enter Rancho Palos Verdes.  Catalina Av will merge into Palos Verdes Drive and will begin climbing up the cliffs of the Palos Verdes Pennisula. Rancho Palos Verdes some of the best views on the California Coast along this road.  Pull over and feast your eyes.  (Photos at the links)

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Palos Verdes Drive descends the southern side of the cliffs and makes a sharp left turn (east).  You'll see Palos Verdes Golf course on your right.  The road makes a few more big turns through Rolling Hills Estates and Harbor Hills.  You'll approach an intersection with 5 streets meeting as one.  Look for a sharp right turn onto Gaffey St and take that turn.  

b. San Pedro (if you wish to skip over Rancho Palos Verdes, you can reach San Pedro directly by staying on the 405 Freeway until the 110 Freeway exit.  Take the 110 freeway southbound and it will end at Gaffey Street.

Gaffey Streeet will take you into the San Pedro area, where one of the two main Cruise Ports area in Los Angeles is located.  Also of interest in San Pedro is Pt Fermin Lighthouse, the Korean Friendship Bell, Fort MacArthur Museum, Ports O' Call Village Marketplace (a harborside shopping and dining center), USS Iowa Battleship, and other attractions.

c. Long Beach (If you wish to bypass Rancho Palos Verdes and San Pedro and go directly to Long Beach, take the 405 freeway south until the 710 Freeway exit.  Take the 710 freeway southbound and it will end at Long Beach.  As the freeway enters the downtown Long Beach area, be sure to avoid the exit marked "Queen Mary" unless you plan to visit the ship (which is now a hotel and museum).

If you wish to bypass San Pedro, from Gaffey Street, look for the signs for the Vincent Thomas Bridge to nearby Long Beach, home of the Aquarium of the Pacific, the RMS Queen Mary, and a second cruise port. Other points of interest include the Long Beach Museum of Art, the Museum of Latin American Art, Shoreline Village (harborside shopping and dining mall), harbor cruises, Belmont Shore (shopping and dining district), Belmont Veteran's Memorial Pier, etc. etc.

When you emerge from the Vincent Thomas Bridge (from San Pedro), you'll be on Ocean Blvd. Most of the above attractions are easily accessible from Ocean Bl.  If you wish to bypass Long Beach, the next beach community is Seal Beach.  You can access it as follows: head east on Ocean Bl, through downtown Long Beach into the Belmont Shore district. The road will fork: follow the left road, E. Livingston Bl.  Shortly afterward, veer to the right onto E. 2nd St.  Follow it through the lively Belmont Shore dining and shopping district and over the small bridge onto Naples Island.  If you have time to stop to explore, do so.  There are canals throughout the small island with spectacular homes along them.  There are footpaths and small bridges if you want to take some time to explore.

d. Seal Beach

Continuing southeast on 2nd Street, you'll see the Pacific Coast Highway (Route 1) crossing your path, just ahead. Turn right to continue your journey southward along the southern California Coastline.  The first beach city is Seal Beach (zoom in, if necessary, to see the names of the cities/beaches)

http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=4692298

e. Huntington and Newport Beach

PCH then passes through Huntington Beach and Newport Beach, where you can explore some more as follows: make a right off of PCH onto Newport Bl which will take you onto the Balboa Peninsula to the Balboa Pier.  Then, if you're adventurous, you can 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. 

f. Southern Orange County Beach communities: Laguna Beach, Dana Point, San Clemente.

Now you are headed to Laguna Beach, Dana Point and San Clemente. Here's a map of the route.

http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=4691995

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.

g, San Diego County Beaches

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.

http://www.sandiego.org/articles/tour...

http://www.torreypine.org/

Once you get past the famous Torrey Pines Golf Course, most folks opt to get back onto Interstate 5 and head to 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.