Plan a 4-Day San Francisco to Los Angeles Road Trip

The quintessential San Francisco to Los Angeles road trip itinerary is a bucket list trip for many because it truly has it all. You get a taste of the state’s best cities, ocean views, delicious food, and stunning vistas in a fairly short distance.

We’ve done the trip a few times now as tourists and residents of San Diego, so we have a good handle on the best stops along that route. Four days is the perfect amount of time to not feel too rushed but still leave you wanting more.

If you’re traveling the opposite way, you can easily turn this into a Los Angeles to San Francisco drive. You know, just do it backward. You’re smart people!

Are you ready to see what all the fuss is about and start planning your California coastal road trip? I’ve got the details for a fun, efficient trip.

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How long is a road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles?

A road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles is only about six hours with light traffic. A road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco will take a similar amount of drive time. Either direction is about a 380-mile drive.

Just make sure to add some time if you’re driving through the city of Los Angeles. The traffic there is legendary for a reason.

You’re not here for that, though. You want the best stops along the way and a San Francisco to Los Angeles coastal drive that’s just going to kill it on social media. This itinerary details four days of activities and attractions as you drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

Epic views on a San Francisco to Los Angeles road trip itinerary

Where do you stop when driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles?

Where you stop when driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles will depend on how much time you have on your San Francisco to Los Angeles itinerary. Here are a few top stops you should consider:

  • Winchester Mystery House
  • Monterey Bay
  • Carmel-by-the-Sea
  • Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
  • Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
  • San Simeon
  • Hearst Castle
  • Morro Bay
  • San Luis Obispo
  • Santa Barbara

How to Plan a San Francisco to Los Angeles Road Trip

This road trip will include stops on the drive down from the Bay Area into Southern California. I won’t include all the fabulous things you can do on either end, as you can truly spend several days in both San Francisco and Los Angeles and have a fabulous time.

Note: On the northern California coast, you’re so close to wine country that you may as well hit up some wine stops while you’re in the Sonoma or Napa valleys.

If you drove non-stop on the most direct route and encountered little to no traffic — that won’t happen, but just imagine — it’d only take you a little over six hours to drive from city to city. That’s silly, though.

I’d set aside at least four days for the road trip portion with a few extra days on either side if you’re looking to explore more of San Francisco, Los Angeles, or even San Diego if you’re traveling further south.

Boats in San Diego on a San Francisco to Los Angeles road trip itinerary

Here are a few more tips:

  • Plan to take the scenic state route California 1. You’ve probably heard all about the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), right? That’s what you’re here for, a Pacific Coast Highway road trip that shows off the best parts of the state.
  • There are several scenic train rides you can take along the California coast. Amtrak has the details on those. For the purposes of this coastal California road trip, you’ll need a vehicle.
  • I usually use an aggregator like Hotwire or Priceline to find the best deal on rental cars. The other option if you’re on a lengthier road trip is to look into motorhome rentals.
  • If you’re flying into San Francisco — or into Los Angeles and doing this trip in reverse — I’d recommend renting your car from the car rental agencies at the airports. It’ll save you time for all of the fun things you can be doing.

Interested in a map of every stop I describe here? Check out the Google map below:

GIMME MY SAN FRANCISCO TO LOS ANGELES ROAD TRIP MAP!

Day 1: San Francisco to Carmel-by-the-Sea

A winding road on a San Francisco to Los Angeles road trip itinerary

This itinerary assumes you’re already south of the Golden Gate Bridge to start. If you’re further north and have never experienced driving over the bridge, it’s just one of those experiences you should have once in your life. (It’s not as scary as the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway.)

If you have more time to hang out in San Francisco, walking the Golden Gate Bridge is an epic experience, too.

As far as driving, there’s no stopping on the bridge. Any tolls are collected electronically. Check out the bridge website for your options on payment and current rates. There are no fees if you’re traveling northbound.

Grab a quick breakfast in San Francisco before your first stop, and try to get an early start if you’re looking to make it to all of the stops on this itinerary. With more time in San Francisco, spend time not only in the city but also exploring the natural offerings within a short drive of the city. That includes the state’s spectacular redwoods.

Here are a few ideas if you’re feeling leisurely and want to see those very tall trees with drive times from San Francisco:

  • Portola Redwoods State Park: 1 hour 10 minutes
  • Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park: 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve: 1 hour 25 minutes
  • Big Basin Redwoods State Park: 1 hour 35 minutes

Otherwise, you’ll start your drive south from San Francisco to get this party started.

Stop 1: Winchester Mystery House (San Jose)

The Winchester Mystery House on a San Francisco to Los Angeles road trip itinerary

Your first stop is less than an hour from San Francisco. I’m a big fan of historical stops, particularly if they’re weird. The Winchester Mystery House is both of those things.

The San Jose mansion was once the home of Sarah Winchester, widow to firearm mogul William Wirt Winchester. It’s said to be haunted by all of those who have been killed by Winchester rifles. Sarah Winchester believed this, which led to constant construction projects on the 24,000 square feet of the house to appease the spirits.

Today, you can see doors and staircases that lead to nowhere and windows that look out onto brick walls on a tour of the mansion. While tours are frequent, they are timed. Book tickets online before you go. Hours of operation vary by season.

If this isn’t up your alley, the alternative is to drive from San Francisco along California 1 to your second stop. If you go this route, don’t miss the oceanfront scenery at Half Moon Bay. It’s just lovely.

Stop 2: Lunch

Lunch in Santa Cruz on a San Francisco to Los Angeles road trip itinerary

Travel back to the coast for lunch and some beachside exploration in Santa Cruz, about 45 minutes away from San Jose.

Don’t miss out on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. If you’re looking for a thrill, you can buy tickets for rides within the amusement park, like the Giant Dipper, a wooden rollercoaster. Aren’t those just the scariest? You never know when they’ll have their last ride.

Too much?

You’re likely hungry by now. The West End Tap & Kitchen is a great option for some gastropub delights and a full bar of California craft beers.

Stop 3: The Monterey Bay Aquarium (Monterey)

Jellyfish at an aquarium on a San Francisco to Los Angeles road trip itinerary

Monterey is about an hour south of Santa Cruz, and the jewel of the city is the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We saw everything we wanted to in about an hour and a half, with about 20 minutes of that time spent staring at the otter enclosure. They’re just so cute when they roll onto their backs with those little paws on their bellies.

We then spent probably another 10 minutes staring at the jellyfish. They’re truly mesmerizing.

You may need more or less time there, based on your interest in all things fishy. The aquarium is open 10am-5pm daily and tickets are available online.

The aquarium is on Cannery Row, which is worth a stroll after if only to imagine what it once was as the center of the sardine-packing industry. It’s admittedly touristy, so skip the eateries there if you’re looking for something a bit more local and reasonably priced.

Stop 4: Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel-by-the-Sea on a San Francisco to Los Angeles road trip
Photo courtesy of Picture Lake.

It’s likely getting late. Luckily, it’s only 15 minutes to your accommodations for the night in Carmel-by-the-Sea, the most charming of beach towns.

If you’re feeling those seaside vibes and a little bit adventurous at the same time, the sushi restaurant Akaoni serves live Monterey abalone sashimi. It doesn’t get fresher than that.

As far as where you’ll be laying your weary head, see some well-reviewed accommodation suggestions below for your overnight in Carmel-by-the-Sea from Booking.com:

  • Carmel Bay View Inn: This no-frills inn is a little easier on the wallet than some of your other options, but don’t expect hot deals on hotels in these parts. Carmel-by-the-Sea is luxe and it knows it.
  • Le Petit Pali at Ocean Avenue: This lovely bed-and-breakfast is where we stayed on our trip through town. It was known as The Getaway at that time, but it looks like it has retained its solid reviews.
  • Normandy Inn: This cute property is a five-minute drive from the beach and about 15 minutes from any whale-watching excursions if you’d like to extend your time.

Interested in a few Vrbo options? Here are my faves:

  • Stay steps away from the beach at this bright one-bedroom. You’re a short walk from all of the dining and entertainment on Ocean Avenue, too.
  • Let’s just say you’re a divided household when it comes to golf and wineries. You can have both at this charming coastal cottage.
  • I wanted to include an option that took advantage of the city’s lush green spaces over its beaches. This one-bedroom promises the ultimate forest tranquility.

Day 2: Carmel-by-the-Sea to Cambria

You can spend some time exploring Carmel-by-the-Sea in the daylight this morning. It’s worth a stroll, as the village is quite cute. You’ll likely have breakfast at your accommodations this morning, so fill up for a day of outdoor pursuits.

If you need a snack, pick up something quick at the Carmel Bakery & Coffee House, the city’s oldest retail business. Big Sur is out there!

Stop 1: Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Point Lobos on a San Francisco to Los Angeles road trip itinerary

Your first stop is only a 10-minute drive from Carmel-by-the-Sea. The Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is a perfect stop to get your legs warmed up for the rest of the day, as there are trails for all skill levels within the park.

An easy introduction to the park with opportunities for wildlife spotting is the Sea Lion Point Trail, clocking in at just over half a mile. I’ll let you guess the kind of wildlife you’ll likely spot on this one.

Check out the reserve’s trail map for all of your options. Kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, and swimming are all an option, too, for those looking to extend their stay here.

Stop 2: Bixby Creek Bridge (Big Sur)

Big Sur views on a San Francisco to Los Angeles road trip itinerary
Photo courtesy of gsalermo.

You’ll drive across the Bixby Creek Bridge as you continue south. Bixby Creek is one of the most photographed bridges in California, if not the entire West Coast, as it’s one of the tallest concrete bridges in the world.

It’ll be impossible not to feel all of the feels as you come across and look around you at this point.

Where can I take a picture of the Bixby Creek Bridge? You have a few options for where you can take a picture of the Bixby Creek Bridge. The Castle Rock Viewpoint, Old Coast Road north of the bridge, and Hurricane Point View are all excellent photo stops for the bridge.

Stop 3: Lunch

You’re here for the views and lunch shouldn’t exclude that. Nepenthe is another half hour from the bridge and offers cliffside dining alongside dressed-up pub fare. It’s a little pricey for the casual food they’re serving, but you won’t find better scenery for a burger.

Stop 4: Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (Big Sur)

McWay Falls on a San Francisco to Los Angeles road trip itinerary

Just 10 minutes south, additional outdoor adventuring is waiting at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, home to the ultra-scenic McWay Falls and 300-foot redwoods.

You could spend quite a bit of time at the park exploring its various trails. In a little over half a mile roundtrip, you can walk to an overlook of the 80-foot falls on the McWay Falls Overlook Trail, the most popular trail in the park.

The Partington Cove Trail, about a mile roundtrip, takes you to a rocky beach — this part of the coast is NOT for swimming, so don’t try it! — and an overlook that used to be a loading dock for ships.

Make sure you’re checking current conditions for any trails before you head out, as this area has been affected by erosion.

Stop 5: San Simeon

The San Simeon seals on a San Francisco to Los Angeles road trip itinerary

You’ll have a little over an hour’s drive to your next destination, but it doesn’t involve much more effort than that. Once you arrive, you’ll be right at the Elephant Seal Vista Point for the elephant seals of San Simeon.

What you see will depend on the time of year you’re visiting. You’ll see the most seals during the peak months of January, April, and October. If you’ve seen adult males duking it out during mating season on National Geographic, you can watch it live in December and January.

Naturally, pups are born shortly after and head out to sea by the spring. Parking at the viewpoint and entry are both free.

Stop 6: Cambria

A man on the beach in Cambria on a San Francisco to Los Angeles road trip itinerary.

You’ll have to backtrack a bit in the morning if you want to visit Hearst Castle, but it’s worth it. You’d rather overnight in Cambria than San Simeon. It’s only a 20-minute drive into Cambria from the elephant seal viewing area.

Before you tuck in, grab some dinner in Cambria. If you feel like you deserve something a little fancy, try Madeline’s Restaurant, a French eatery with a nice wine list. Reservations are available by calling 805-927-4175.

Linn’s Restaurant nearby is more casual, with country-style cooking and all the pies, both sweet and savory. Reservations are available by calling 805-927-0371.

As far as accommodations for the evening, here are my top picks from Booking.com:

  • Cambria Beach Lodge: This is where we stayed on our own trip. The property is right on Moonstone Beach, and the story checks out. It’s lovely in the moonlight. Their continental breakfast is great, too.
  • Castle Inn: This popular property gets high marks for easy access to sea life viewing at the tidepools nearby. Try to get a room with an ocean view.
  • Fogcatcher Inn: This one is a little bit country, but that just means things feel a little more casual. Guests love the easy parking and multiple community areas for lounging after a busy day.

Here are a few more options from Vrbo:

  • Look down at Cambria from above at this perfectly placed property. The price is high even for this town, but two bedrooms make it more reasonable if you’re traveling with others.
  • If you’re traveling as a couple, this cottage was made for lovers. It’s described that way, at least, thanks to the cast iron tub, fireplace, and cozy patio.
  • Traveling in a bigger group? This beach escape boasts three bedrooms. It’s pricey otherwise, even for my own aspirational travel.

Day 3: Cambria to Santa Barbara

You’ll likely have breakfast at your accommodations, as Cambria is another one of those adorable places that love feeding you in the morning. If you’re not so lucky, the Creekside Garden Cafe has an all-day breakfast menu that’s beloved by locals. (You may see it as Creekside Gardens on your map. It’s one and the same.)

Enjoy one more brisk walk along Moonstone Beach before you head out for the day.

Stop 1: Hearst Castle (San Simeon)

Hearst Castle views on a San Francisco to Los Angeles road trip itinerary

You’re going to need to backtrack a bit here to explore the Hearst Castle. A National Historic Landmark, the Hearst Castle is well worth a visit if only to imagine yourself in that outdoor swimming pool.

Fun fact: The estate was designed by Julia Morgan, one of the most important female architects of any time period, for publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst.

In addition to that pool, highlights include the grand rooms — look up and around you, as the ceilings are often overlooked — and the property’s surrounding fountains.

Tickets are available online at a variety of prices, as there are several tours available. I’d recommend the Grand Rooms Tour for first-timers.

Whichever tour you choose, purchase tickets ahead of time if you’re looking to visit on a specific day and time. If you’re more flexible, tours go out three to four times per hour on timed tickets.

If you’re there a bit later in the day, you can discuss all you saw on your tour at the Hearst Ranch Winery.

Stop 2: Morro Rock Beach (Morro Bay)

Morro Bay on a San Francisco to Los Angeles road trip itinerary
Photo courtesy of Natalia Leen.

In about 40 minutes, you’ll arrive at Morro Rock Beach, known for Morro Rock, an ancient volcanic mound. Swimming is allowed here in the summer months when lifeguards are on duty. Otherwise, the waters get rough. It’s just best not to enter the water where lifeguards aren’t present as a general rule of thumb.

Fun fact: If you’re into birding, this is also a popular spot for nesting peregrine falcons.

Stop 3: Avila Beach & Pismo Beach

A woman relaxes on a beach on a San Francisco to Los Angeles road trip itinerary.

If you’re doing well on time, you’ll pass by Avila Beach and Pismo Beach on your way to your next stop. Stop where it feels right, especially if you’re loving the scenery along this stretch.

The Ontario Ridge Trail in Avila Beach is one of my favorite hikes in the state if you have time to fit that one in. The full loop is a little under three miles with nearly 800 feet of elevation gain, so you’ll want to build in some scenic rest stops.

Stop 3: Lunch

About an hour south and inland, you’ll reach your next stop, the laid-back town of San Luis Obispo. Enjoy some lunch before exploring the town and returning to your scenic drive. Mint + Craft is a great option for light bites and a decent wine and beer list.

Stop 4: San Luis Obispo

Downtown San Luis Obispo is yours to explore as you wish. Here are a few options:

  • Art lovers will want to check out the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, or SLOMA if you’re in the know, full of painting, sculpture, and photography exhibits from regional artists.
  • The San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden is an alternative — or an additional stop if you have the time — for some tranquility on your road trip and for those who have an interest in the floral arts.
  • Lovers of all things weird will want to check out Bubblegum Alley, a 15-foot high and 70-foot long gum wall. Yes, it’s all gum. It’s gross, yet fascinating. You may as well take a look since you’ll be downtown anyway.

Stop 5: Los Olivos

Los Olivos on a San Francisco to Los Angeles road trip
Photo courtesy of jmoor17.

You’re probably either feeling a little cultured or a little bit creeped out by that bubblegum wall. In any case, it’s time for some wine on your way to your accommodations for the night.

The town of Los Olivos is deserving of more than a wine stop if you have the time, but at the very least, find a winery to support and take a load off. It’ll take about an hour to get to Los Olivos from San Luis Obispo.

A popular option is the Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard. Check out their website for tasting options — there’s one that comes with fresh cheeses! — and reservations.

Demetria Winery & Vineyard is a delight, as well, with a focus on Rhône and Burgundy-style wines. Visit their website to make a reservation prior to your arrival.

Stop 6: Santa Barbara

You’ll be spending the night in Santa Barbara, another hour’s drive, tonight. If it’s well into the evening, fear not. You’ll have plenty of time to check out the city tomorrow.

For the evening, head to the Funk Zone, a happening district full of boutique tasting rooms, cafes, and art galleries. Head into whatever establishment feels right at the moment, especially if it involves wine.

If you need some guidance for dinner, The Lark is a restaurant operating out of a former fish market. Today, it serves New American fare like caramelized diver scallops and buttermilk fried quail. Reservations are available online.

Lucky Penny is a more casual pizza shop and coffeehouse. Try the Farmers Market Pizza, a seasonal option with whatever ingredients are hot right at that moment.

Note: You can also peruse the district map before you head out if you’re that big a planner and want to fashion yourself a little wine or food crawl.

For your overnight, take a look at these options from Booking.com:

  • Best Western Plus Encina Inn & Suites: Sometimes you just want a comfortable stay with a brand you know and trust. This is one of those times. We’ve stayed at this Best Western before with no complaints.
  • Cheshire Cat Inn: This is one of those places that is worth the splurge, especially if you’re only staying for one night and one night only. You can stay in a room called “The Duchess,” and enjoy a wine and cheese hour before you turn in.
  • Santa Barbara Inn: This impressive property takes its California architecture very seriously, but the hotel’s staff take their job even more seriously. Guests love the attention to detail at this stunner.

Here are a few more from Vrbo, the best Airbnb alternative:

  • Stay in a beach penthouse close to everything at this one-bedroom. You’ll be a five-minute walk to the Santa Barbara Harbor from here.
  • Santa Barbara has a great winery scene. This one-bedroom is well-situated for wine-loving travelers who want to explore that scene.
  • When something is defined as a “casita,” I assume it’s going to be small. For the price of this one and those mountain views, it can go as small as it wants. It’s on my shortlist for a return trip!

Day 4: Santa Barbara to Los Angeles

You’ll be overnighting in Los Angeles on this final day of your road trip, so keep that in mind as you move through the day. If you drive straight through from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles, it’ll take you about two hours depending on the traffic you encounter along the way.

If you have more time to spare, there are a number of fantastic day trips to be had from Santa Barbara, including Solvang. This adorable town is also known as California’s Little Denmark, and I have a complete guide to visits there if you’re invested in that.

Otherwise, you’ll stick to Santa Barbara proper at the start of this day. If you want to start the day off with a nosh, the Alessia Patisserie and Cafe is a quick stop for yummy French treats, both sweet and savory.

Stop 1: Santa Barbara

Downtown Santa Barbara on a San Francisco to Los Angeles road trip itinerary

Santa Barbara is postcard perfect. The best, less funky introduction to that is spending some time downtown. I put together a guide to Santa Barbara for you on all the fun to be had there to make things easy on you, but here’s what you shouldn’t miss:

  • State Street: Keep your visit to State Street to the daytime. The young folks come out when the sun goes down. In any case, it’s a great stop for a variety of food options and Santa Barbara shopping.
  • Stearns Wharf: Brave the wooden slats to get down to this picturesque part of town. My favorite stop here is Conway Family Wines, a tasting room with yummy wines and yummy views.
  • The Santa Ynez Valley: Rolling hills, vineyards giving off French vibes, and wines that rival anything you’d have in Napa or Sonoma await wine-tasting fun times in the Santa Ynez Valley.

Stop 2: Lunch

Burgers in Santa Barbara on a San Francisco to Los Angeles road trip itinerary

Grab lunch before you hit the road again at one of Santa Barbara’s fantastic eateries. Finney’s Crafthouse & Kitchen was our pick for their elevated pub food and great beer list. If you’re near State Street, Patxi’s Pizza is a great way to keep yourself satiated for the rest of the day.

Interested in seafood? Brophy Bros. is well-known for its fishy offerings. Just expect a wait at that last one, as it’s super popular with both tourists and locals.

Stop 3: Carpinteria or Ventura

A seagull in Ventura on a San Francisco to Los Angeles road trip itinerary

You’ll be making your way down to Los Angeles at this point. Choose a beach town to take in some last-minute casual vibes before encountering the madness of Hollywood. If you have the time, stop in both.

Carpinteria will come first, about 20 minutes along the coast from Santa Barbara. To stretch your legs, visit Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve, a great place to spot harbor seals and their pups if you take a walk down to the Carpinteria Seal Sanctuary Overlook. It’s about a mile each way, but all on level land.

If that was just too strenuous for you, take a break at the Island Brewing Company in town.

It’s another 20 minutes along the coast to Ventura from Carpinteria. The Ventura Pier is a popular spot for some self-reflection, and nerds can enjoy panels along the way that tell the story of both the pier and greater Ventura. I am that nerd.

Surfers Point at Seaside Park is a birders’ paradise, in addition to a great spot for watching some surfers do their thing.

I’d hate for you to think that you’d miss out on a brewery if you chose Ventura over Carpinteria. I’ve got you. Try Ventura’s MadeWest Brewing Company, which overlooks the pier.

Stop 4: Los Angeles

It’s at least another hour and a half from Ventura to Los Angeles, depending on the traffic at the time you hit the road. Sadly, your California coastal drive has come to an end.

We have friends in Long Beach that we stay with whenever we’re anywhere near Los Angeles on a coastal road trip. That doesn’t mean you’re out of luck and on your own in seeking out well-reviewed accommodations in the area.

See what I was able to find that was well-reviewed and didn’t exhibit exorbitant pricing per night for your overnight in Los Angeles from Booking.com:

  • Freehand Los Angeles: This downtown option comes with skyline views of the city, funky decor, and an option to save some cash by staying on their hostel side. I’m private bathroom all the way, but you do you.
  • Hotel Angeleno: This modern hotel in Westwood is a good option for travelers who want to visit The Getty while they’re here.
  • Luxe City Center Hotel: This downtown property is a good option for travelers who need access to the Crypto.com Arena, formerly known as the Staples Center. The arena name is lame, but the location’s good.

Budget-savvy travelers may be fine with staying near Los Angeles International Airport, as perhaps you’re flying out of LAX this night or the next. Hotels there are less expensive. Check out some well-reviewed options below from Booking.com:

  • Hilton Los Angeles Airport: If you’re loyal to the Hilton, this one is rated fine for a quick stay close to the airport. This one has more on-site dining options in case that’s important to you.
  • Los Angeles Airport Marriott: Let’s just say you’re a fan of resort-style pools. This one has what you’re after. Guests like the on-site Starbucks. It’s the little things when you’re getting ready to head home.
  • Sonesta Los Angeles Airport LAX: Big rooms, comfy beds, and a fast, frequent shuttle make this one of the more popular options for LAX travelers.

Interested in your Vrbo options? Here are some highly-rated accommodations on that site:

  • This garden suite in Fairfax earns a high rating for being in a quiet neighborhood that’s still within walking distance to good dining and entertainment.
  • This large two-bedroom is another good option if you want proximity to Crypto.com Arena. It’s cheaper than hotels in the area if you’re able to split the costs.
  • This one-bedroom in West Los Angeles is modeled after the Under the Tuscan Sun aesthetic, and I love that. Enjoy an outdoor stone pool if you visit on a sunny day.

With More Time on a San Francisco to LA Road Trip

If you’re lucky enough to have some days to spare, you can spend some time exploring Los Angeles, even if you’re visiting Los Angeles on a budget. Explore the city’s ethnic neighborhoods for a literal taste of my favorite thing about Los Angeles: its diversity.

My personal favorite is historic and delicious Koreatown. Check out this guide to Koreatown if you’ve got more time.

Otherwise, pick and choose a few Los Angeles highlights that have always intrigued you about the city. The Getty Villa Museum is a favorite of mine, but if you’re here for the celebs, I won’t begrudge you the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The Getty building on a San Francisco to Los Angeles road trip itinerary

Just don’t pack too much in because it does take some time to get from place to place in that Los Angeles traffic.

Los Angeles is also a fantastic base for adventures in Los Angeles County and within a short drive. My favorites include:

  • Santa Monica: Stroll the Santa Monica Pier and do some of the most intense people-watching of your life at Muscle Beach. Window shop along the Third Street Promenade or take in more sun at Tongva Park, an urban oasis.
  • Malibu: Escape the city for a place synonymous with celebrity homes and luxe living. If you’re regular like me, throw in a hike to an old MASH set at Malibu Creek State Park.
  • Ojai: You’ll need to hit the road for this one as it’s about an hour and 15 minutes away from downtown Los Angeles, but Ojai may just be the relaxed escape you need on an extended stay in LA. Wine, boutique shopping, and olive oil await.
A woman poses among olive trees on a San Francisco to Los Angeles road trip itinerary.

You can also tack on some additional time in San Diego, another two to three hours south of Los Angeles, depending on the time of day. I have a ton of San Diego content on the blog thanks to our seven years living in America’s Finest City.

Here are a few of my favorite guides:

SF to LA Road Trip: FAQs

When is the best time of year to drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles?

The best time of year to drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles is whenever you can make it happen, but spring and fall are particularly lovely.

As far as the best time of day to drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles, try to avoid rush hour at either end. Los Angeles traffic is known for its intensity, but San Francisco’s no slouch, either.

Is it hard driving from LA to San Francisco?

It isn’t hard driving from LA to San Francisco. Traffic is the biggest worry at either end, so make sure you have a full tank of gas before you head out. If you’re making the trip solo, take advantage of the numerous pullouts along the way, especially once you get to Big Sur.

Those epic views can get distracting.

What is the most scenic route from San Francisco to Los Angeles?

The most scenic route from San Francisco to Los Angeles is along the coast and Highway 1. This is one of the most beautiful drives in the United States. Despite the seemingly breezy San Francisco to Los Angeles drive time, this road trip begs for as much time as you can give it.

Is it worth driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles?

It’s absolutely worth driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles, especially if you have some time to spend at California’s most scenic stops along the way.

If you’re short on time, you’ll just have to make it a point to visit California again to explore what you missed. I lived there for seven years and it still didn’t feel like enough. I’ll be back!

Ready to Drive San Francisco to Los Angeles?

Your Flight: I use a variety of tools to find cheap airfare, but if you’re looking to book flights to California during a particular period of time, especially during busy times (e.g. school breaks), you should use Skyscanner. It’s a great tool for when you’re more flexible, too, as it allows you to compare travel based on length of travel, departure date, etc.

Deals to San Francisco and Los Angeles are easy to come by if you’re patient. Another strategy is following the major airlines to catch good deals that may come up for your city as you plan to road trip San Francisco to Los Angeles.

For adventurous folks who travel on the reg, I also subscribe to Going, formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights. You’ll get cheap flight deals from your home base straight to your inbox.

Your Accommodations: I typically recommend sites like Booking.com and Hotels.com for your accommodation needs. Vrbo is our preferred Airbnb alternative. Scroll up for my accommodation tips along your California road trip.

Seeking even more wallet-friendly accommodations? Try Hostelworld. Their picks are heavily vetted and reviewed to offer you a safe experience on a budget.

Etc.: For general travel goodies, visit my Favorite Things page. For more information on planning your travel, visit my Travel Tools page.

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Agnes Groonwald

Agnes Groonwald is the creator of Travel on the Reg, a travel/humor blog for regular people who travel in a regular fashion. She has been to 50/50 U.S. states and explored 30+ countries, most often as a digital nomad. She's all about sharing the honest truth about travel, real experiences, and all the quirky stuff about her favorite (and not so favorite) places.

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