5 West Coast Road Trips Everyone Should Do Once


With a coastline that stretches over 800 miles, California offers some of the best road trips in the United States. Road trips along this drive provide views of the rugged coastline, seaside forests, and Southern California’s vibrant beach cities. While there’s no wrong or right way to travel California’s coast, you’ll definitely want to check out these must-do west coast road trips.

San Diego to Los Angeles

For those wanting to explore Southern California, San Diego is the perfect spot to begin. Situated at the southern end of the state, San Diego is home to beautiful beaches, cultural attractions, and many historical sites. Once in San Diego, it’s worth taking a trip to the historic Old Town neighborhood, which is considered the birthplace of California. Balboa Park is also a must-see. This urban park sprawls over 1,200 acres just north of downtown San Diego. It has 17 museums and cultural institutions, beautiful natural spaces, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo.

Heading north along the coast will take you to the charming beach towns of Encinitas and Carlsbad in northern San Diego. A great stop-off point once you reach Orange County is Dana Point, which is known as the “Whale Capital of the West.” This area offers excellent whale-watching opportunities throughout the year. If you’d prefer to explore Dana Point on land, the harbor is a great spot for waterfront dining, shopping, and enjoying views of the coast.

Less than 10 miles north is Laguna Beach, another must-see destination. This seaside resort town is known for its scenic beaches, an eclectic art scene, and vintage boutiques. To really experience Laguna Beach’s art scene, be sure to check out the annual Sawdust Festival, which brings together local artists and over 200,000 visitors each year. After heading north from Laguna Beach, Los Angeles is only about an hour away.

Los Angeles to Santa Barbara

From outdoor recreation to touring the heart of the entertainment industry, Los Angeles offers a busy itinerary. Be sure to head over to Venice Beach, which is known for attracting famous poets, artists, and musicians with its bohemian spirit. Rodeo Drive is also worth the trip, if only for the prime people watching. For those who prefer historical sites, Olvera Street in Downtown L.A. is a must-see. This historic district is home to some of the oldest buildings in the city, and it’s a great spot for traditional Mexican food.

Before leaving Los Angeles County, hop on the Coast Highway and cruise through Malibu for some stunning coastal scenery. From Malibu, the drive to Santa Barbara is just over an hour and some of it offers beautiful views of the coast and rolling hills. The charming town of Ventura is a great halfway point to refuel, eat, and explore the coast.

Santa Barbara to Big Sur

 /><figcaption><em>Bixby Bridge in Big Sur is one of the most scenic spots in California.</em></figcaption></figure>
<p>With its small-town atmosphere and inviting beaches, Santa Barbara is where Californians head when they need a little rest and relaxation. It’s worth spending a couple nights in Santa Barbara to fully explore the area. For those who want to slow down and take in the sights, head to State Street Plaza. This pedestrian-friendly downtown district is home to vibrant eateries, art galleries, retail shopping, and more.</p>
<p>The <a href=Santa Barbara Mission is also a popular attraction, especially for those interested in the Spanish Colonial period. Established in 1786, the mission now serves as a museum and an important historical landmark within the city. When you want to visit the beach, you don’t have to travel far. State Street leads directly to Stearns Wharf and the beach. For outdoor recreation, the nearby Channel Islands offer snorkeling, camping, hiking, and kayaking through sea caves.

On the way to Big Sur, be sure to check out the coastal towns of San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay. These laid-back locales have their own unique charm that makes it easy to slow down and enjoy what traveling is all about.

Big Sur to San Francisco

Heading to the Big Sur area will take you over the Bixby Bridge, one of the most photographed bridges in California—and for good reason. At about 280 feet high, it’s one of the tallest bridges of its kind and offers jaw-dropping views of the coast. There are many lookout points you’ll want to stop at, including McWay Falls, Ragged Point, and Pfeiffer Beach. A must-see location is Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, which is home to California’s towering coastal redwood trees.

Heading further north on Coast Highway will treat you to some of the most stunning coastal views California has to offer. Coast Highway eventually leads to the quiet coastal town of Carmel, which is known for its charming downtown area and beautiful natural scenery. It’s worth staying in Carmel for a day or two and exploring the surrounding area, including nearby Monterey. Popular spots in Monterey include the Fisherman’s Wharf and the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium.

On the way to San Francisco, don’t miss a visit to Half Moon Bay. This quaint coastal town about 30 miles south of San Francisco is a hidden gem in Northern California, featuring white sandy beaches, a historic downtown, and scenic trails along the ocean bluffs.

San Francisco to Humboldt Redwoods State Park

 /><figcaption><em>Avenue of the Giants is a must-see for anyone on a West Coast road trip.</em></figcaption></figure>
<p>Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge is the perfect welcome to California’s most scenic major city, San Francisco. Once in San Francisco, there are so many ways to fill up your itinerary. Typical hot spots include the Fisherman’s Wharf, Golden Gate Park, Union Square, and the farmer’s market at the Ferry Building Marketplace. For book lovers, San Francisco is also home to some fantastic and historic bookstores. No matter your interests, San Francisco is a great city to just get out and explore.</p>
<p>As you head north up the coast after leaving San Francisco, stop at <a href=Point Reyes National Seashore, which offers 71,000 acres of pristine coastal wilderness. You can explore the windswept beaches, hike the bluffs, and view wildlife.

The remaining drive to Humboldt County is a bit long, but worth it. Once you reach California’s towering redwood trees, you’ll understand why: these massive trees grow to well over 300 feet and are the tallest in the world. Drive along the 32-mile Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt Redwoods State Park to get an up-close glimpse of these magnificent coastal redwoods that can only be seen in California.

Can you spot the $207,744 difference between these identical homes?

Financing is the difference!

Get the details in The 62+ Loan Homebuyers Guide.

55places Mortgage is a joint venture between Mutual of Omaha Mortgage and 55places.com.
Details here.

Share this post:

We're here to help! (800) 928-2055

Call us to speak with a customer service representative.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Get Weekly Updates

I agree that 55places and its affiliates, partner providers or agents may call, text, or email me about my inquiry, which may be made with automated means. I understand that my consent is not a prerequisite for buying a property. I may revoke my consent at any time by contacting [email protected] Message/data rates may apply. I also agree to 55places.com’s Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

The Best Places to Snowbird in 2021

We’ve gathered 25 of the best places for snowbirds, including cities in Florida, Arizona, California, Texas, South Carolina, and Nevada. For each entry, we’ve also provided a list of recommended 55+ communities in the area. If you’re ready to find your own winter retreat this season, here are some of the best places to consider.

A group of older adults socialize within their 55+ community.

Top 10 FAQs About Living in 55+ Communities

We’re here to answer all of your questions about joining a mature living community, so you can feel empowered in your decision. This is the next great adventure of your life, and we’re firm believers in leaving the stress out. Check out these top 10 FAQs about living in 55+ communities.

A senior couple takes a hike in a low-humidity state they chose for their retirement.

Retirement: What Are the Top 5 States With the Lowest Humidity?

There are many factors in deciding where to retire, and the weather can be one of them. Luckily, many of the states with nice weather also offer additional benefits for people over 60 and have several exciting active adult communities. Here are the four best states for a low-humidity retirement.

Lake view during autumn at dusk of Table Rock Mountain in Pickens, South Carolina.

5 Reasons To Consider a South Carolina Retirement

What does South Carolina have to offer active adults? A selection of over 80 active adult communities is just the beginning. These five reasons to consider a South Carolina retirement just might convince you that this southern coastal state has everything you’re looking for in a 55+ community.

The Best Places to Retire in South Carolina

South Carolina is known for having some of the best golf courses in the country, but that’s not all it has to offer active adults. The state has a rich history and culture, a wide selection of entertainment and recreation, and miles of beaches and coastal living.

North Carolina vs. South Carolina

The Carolinas are a power couple when it comes to maintaining an active lifestyle in an amazing climate, but they’re separated by more than just a border. A side-by-side comparison of the two can quickly show which is better for you when it comes to your interests and needs.

Exterior view of a model home at Del Webb Carolina Gardens, Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina on a sunny day.

55+ Communities With New Homes for Sale Near Raleigh

If you’re in the market for a new construction home in Raleigh, North Carolina there are plenty of options to consider. We’ve put together a list to help you start your search for the perfect neighborhood with new homes.

About 55places

We’re changing the way people 55 and older are searching for their perfect next place. With a national network of hand-selected real estate experts, plus comprehensive information, unbiased content, and on-the-go insight about thousands of communities across the country, we’re a trusted resource paving the way from here to home. Whether you’re interested in a low-maintenance single-level residence, an active lifestyle or age-qualified community, an intimate enclave, or anything in between, we can help you make your next move the best one yet.

Scroll to Top