This is a five minute primer to point visitors to information about the Coastal Drive from SF to LA or LA to SF along the coast.  There are links to articles and content from TA members  ALTippet,  Kibbles09, MJ Neenan, PNWFamily, and Scott H, among others.

A few notable comments 

  • The Coastal Drive from SF to to LA is via Highway 1 to San Luis Obispo and then via 101 to Los Angeles.  Visitors can take the PCH (this is the name of Highway 1 south of Santa Barbara) and go to Malibu and Santa Monica
  • The coastal drive from SF to LA is around 500 miles and can take 10-12 hours without stops. It is recommended that visitors spend two overnights to do this route and not rush through in one day
  • Big Sur is NOT one spot but the entire coastal area from Carmel to Cambria. There is also Big Sur Village, an hour south of Carmel which is near Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and there are a few hotels and restaurants in this area.


The Most Scenic Route 

This is a GOOGLE MAP link of the Most scenic route    

Basically it is SF to Highway 1 at Pacifica all the way to San Luis Obispo and then 101 all the way to LA.  If one sticks to this route then one does not need fancy directions.  or GPS etc.   A paper map will do just fine.  

To Expand that route -- 

Get from SF to Pacifica  Then just Stay on Higway 1 all the way from Pacifica to San Luis Obispo.  Then Take 101 -- DO NOT be tempted to take 1 south of San Luis Obispo to Lompoc or an Air Force Base  --- stay on 101  all the way to Santa Barbara via Pismo Beach and Solvang.

Then from Santa Barbara  follow 101 all the way to LA.

There you have it --  From SF get onto Highway 1 at Pacifica to San Luis Obispo then 101 to LA  

OR  if you have time and want to see the PCH (PCH is the coastal drive south of Santa Barbara NOT NORTH OF SANTA BARBARA,  From SF to San Luis Obispo it is just called Highway 1)  -- you can take Highway 1 AKA PCH  past Santa Barbara and Ventura and then  Highway 1  goes through Oxnard and then hits the coast again and goes all the way through Malibu to Santa Monica.  That is the route that Google maps has above.  It will be longer than just staying on 101 south of Santa Barbara all the way to LA 



From your hotel in LA, find your way to Highway 101 (use GPS or a map) towards Ventura , Santa Barbara and stay on 101 towards Pismo Beach and then San Luis Obispo. From Pismo Beach, take Highway 101 north to San Luis Obispo 

In about 10 miles, take exit 203B to Morro Bay/Hearst Castle, which will deposit you on Santa Rosa Street, which turns into Highway 1

3. Follow Highway 1 to Cambria and then to Carmel and Monterey.

That is pretty much it.  101 and then highway 1 to Carmel  and then there are options to get to SF such as Highway 1 all the way to Pacifica and then to SF via highway 280


From Monterey take 1N to 156E to 101N to 85N to 280N.  Yes a lot of exits but this is the most scenic and the least crowded road and may save you about half an hour or an hour over just going up on Highway 1.   Highway 1 will still be more scenic  

What to see along the way 

Please remember that it is not a race. So the timings above are just suggested times. Ideally if one leaves Carmel early morning after having stayed there for 1 or 2 days and having  seen Point Lobos during that stay, one can do this drive comfortably and get to say Cambria by evening.  If one would like to see Hearst Castle, book the last tour of the day if one must OR PREFERABLY  the first tour the next morning so one does not have to rush to make a tour.   

Distances without any stops 

These are distances between two cities with average traffic and with zero stops. Add appropriate time for photo stops, hikes and traffic issues during rush hour (in and out of SF or LA )  

  • SF to Monterey/Carmel  ---  3 hours along Highway 1  or 2.5 hours via inland freeway  (280S to 85S to 101S to 156W to 1S) 
  • Carmel/Monterey  (they are next door) to Big Sur Village --  1 hour
  • Big Sur Village to Cambria  -- 2 hours. Hearst Castle in San Simeon is about 15 minutes north of Cambria
  • Cambria to San Luis Obispo --- 1 hour
  • SLO to Santa Barbara -- 1.5 hours
  • Santa Barbara to Santa Monica -- Around 2 hours  (take 1 to Malibu and Santa Monica)  OR
  • Santa Barbara to LA -- Around two hours (take 101 to LA) Traffic in the La area can make this into a longer journey


Where to stay overnight?

One night  -- Cambria is around the half way point.  

If you have 2 nights and 3 days, Monterey/Carmel for one night and then Cambria or Pismo Beach or Morro Bay for the other night.  Note: these recommendations work for a southbound drive SF to LA or a northbound drive LA to SF.

If you have 3 nights and 4 days   Monterey/Carmel then Cambria or Pismo Beach and then Santa Barbara.  Please DO NOT stay in Santa Maria. 

If you want to spend time in wine country on the Central Coast, Paso Robles just 30 miles inland from Cambria on Highway 46 is great.There is also the Santa Ynez valley just north of Santa Barbara. Both regions produce award-winning wines.

One can easily spend 2-3 days in Monterey/Carmel and the Santa Cruz areas and in Santa Barbara/Ventura area if one has a week or more to do the central coast 

San Luis Obispo is a major city on the Central Coast with a well known university.  If visitors want to spend a few days around a city with bars and nightlife, this would be the place. 

Yes please book your hotels in advance.  It does not matter which time of the year.

While there could be hotel vacancy on weekdays especially outside of the major vacation periods, it is suggested that visitors spend their time enjoying the place than trying to search for last minute accomodation. Certain weekends may require a two day minimum reservation in some areas. The towns are widely spaced and have few or no large chain hotels, especially on the section of coast between Monterey and SLO.


What to see, where to stop enroute?

National Geograhic Magazine has an article on what to see enrout

Photoblog of the Central Coast  

Big Sur Details 

Big Sur Photos  

Trip Report from a California DE 

Trip Report from a member who made the trip in 2 days 


Cannot Drive along the coast but would like bus/train options?

Starline Tours for 3 days 

Green Tortoise Tours for 3 or 7 days 

Cal Parlor Tours 

Please read reviews before you book.  Amtrak has a train, the coast starlight that does cover part of the coast from SF to LA but it MISSES the BIG SUR coast which is the most wonderful part of the drive.  The tour companies above cover that area by bus and add Amtrak for part of the journey


Other things to consider:

It really does not matter if you go SF to LA or LA to SF.  Going south, one is closer to the overhangs and cliffs and it is a tad bit easier to use a pullout on Highway 1.  It is a 2 lane highway and if you are going from LA to SF, it is really not that hard to wait and turn into the pullout. Either way you will see amazing coastline and have fun.


Fill up gas in major cities.  There are fewer gas stations along Highway 1 and gas prices are relatively higher enroute

There are no tolls on Hwy 1 between San Francisco to Los Angeles so you can decline the toll program that rental car companies charge extra for. 

It is hard to get lost enroute. It is just 2 roads all the way down. 1 and 101.  You may lose network signal in some stretches but so what, enjoy nature and put your phone away.

Can one drive this road at night ? Sure but It is not fun and one will miss the lovely scenery. If you are new to driving on the 'wrong' side of the road, you may not enjoy the winding Highway 1. Highway 101 is a regular divided freeway.

In winter, perhaps after it has been raining for a while, one may see an occasional mudslide so please check road conditions here. Please type 1 in the search box.

Is there June Gloom and fog on this road ? There is cloud cover and coastal fog at times but it adds to the charm and it lingers for some time during the day and may dissipate as the day progresses. It is rarely  pea soup or dense fog. It is nice with or without the sun.

Convertible ? Sure but perhaps not in winter. Four people in a convertible? Perhaps the back seat folks may not have as much fun with the wind blowing on them and the minimal leg room. Check temperatures.  Sunny California does not mean hot coastal roads. It will be pleasant to cool along Highway 1 most days in the year.