Road Trips California Travel

West Coast Road Trips – Favorite Stopovers!

The West Coast isn’t all over sized sunglasses, teeny bikinis, and bleached blondes. Sure, you have your beach towns and Hollywood glitz, but you also have quaint seaside retreats, lush forests, hazy valleys, and everything in between. You can drive along the coast through three states and feel as though you’ve seen 50. It’s about 2,500 miles of ever-changing terrain from the tip of Baja to Washington’s rugged Olympic Peninsula. Driving the Pacific Coast Highway is a “bucket list” must, but if you don’t have time to see the whole coastline, drive from San Diego to San Francisco and enjoy the scenery in between.

West Coast Road Trips - Favorite Stopovers!

From San Diego…

If you start in San Diego, you can spend some time checking out the city. The Cabrillo National Monument gives you a great view of the coastline along which you’ll be driving. It sits 400 feet above the ocean at Point Loma and gives visitors a view of San Diego, Mexico, and even some islands off the coast. If you make the trip during the winter, you can witness the annual Gray Whale migration at Whale Overlook. The Bayside Trail takes you through the native flora and gives you a glimpse of sea lions frolicking in the waves.

To La Jolla…

Driving north along the coast, you’ll reach La Jolla. You can swim in the ocean, lie on a beautiful beach, or drive to one of the many picturesque sea coves to spot seals. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve offers nature walks, a beach, and cliffs from which you can search for bottlenosed dolphins in the surf.

Through Carlsbad…

Inside the Carlsbad Caverns
Inside the Carlsbad Caverns

The best thing to do, hands down, is spend the day meandering through the phenomenal Carlsbad Caverns.  It’s like being in a movie (pick one: Journey to the Center of the Earth, Raiders of the Lost Ark or National Treasure). The Flower Fields are in bloom from early March to the first weeks in May, and showcase an array of Giant Tecolote Ranunculus flowers in bloom. Carlsbad is also a laid-back beach town with well-maintained beaches, so take a while to sit on the sand.

Toward Hollywood…

Hollywood, California
Hollywood, California

L.A. and Orange County attract more of the tourists and celebrities. Laguna Beach is popular for its luxury hotels and artist community. You can take tours to see artists at work in their studios or go surfing at the beaches where it’s allowed. There are some canyons around Laguna Beach that attract mountain bikers and hikers with surprisingly steep terrain.  In Hollywood, check out the famous Hollywood & Vine intersection, Groman’s Chinese Theatre, the sidewalk stars, and have lunch at Chasen’s, a decades-old actors hangout.

Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach, and Manhattan Beach are bustling and active. A pedestrian walkway called “The Strand” connects the three beaches, and it’s alive with rollerbladers, bikers, and runners. If you stay overnight, you can check out the nightlife along Pier Avenue.  Just north of those beaches are Santa Monica and Malibu, where you can get a glimpse of million-dollar homes overlooking the ocean or tour the scenic campus of Pepperdine University. If you want to see some celebrities in action, visit Malibu during the springtime film festival or check out a surfing contest.

And Beyond…

Just about 100 miles outside of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara lies lush and natural, with beaches and wineries to enjoy. It’s a small city with a lot to do. Gardens, museums, beaches, shopping and golf might be on the agenda. But don’t miss a wine tasting or wine tour. On the outskirts of the city are wineries that allow visitors to partake in one of the main industries of the region.

Drive through beautiful rural towns and stop in San Francisco for few days at least. All the various districts have their own flair, and the Golden Gate Bridge is a must-see.   Don’t miss Fisherman’s Wharf and Chinatown.  Some of the best blues clubs are in Oakland, just across the bay. “Frisco” is home to everyone from hard-core hippies to genteel aristocrats, and just as diverse.

In fact, if San Fran is your base, check this list of road trips from San Francisco for even more options!

Road trips can be long and monotonous, but not when you’re driving along the California Coast. Each turn of the road brings you to a new vista, and every town is different from the last. Whether you stop at a small café overlooking the ocean or take a tour of celebrity homes, you’ll have plenty to do on your road trip.

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