Help a Reader Travel: Pacific Coast Highway

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Welcome to another post of helping a reader travel! As I’ve mentioned before, I have not been to every destination (unfortunately), but do get questions from friends and other blog readers on all sort of travel destination questions. So this weeks travel destination includes the Pacific Coast Highway out in California. I received the following email from reader Becky:

“I want to drive the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Los Angeles (or vice versa), however, I need help planning. How much time do I need? What are the big sites to see? What are some hotel recommendations, both using points and boutiques/B&Bs? Are there any ways to get discounts on a car since I am doing a one-way rental?”

While I have been to both Los Angeles and San Francisco many times, I actually have not visited the places in between. This sounds like an awesome vacation though! In regards to rental car, I’ll be commenting on some ways to save money since you are correct – many times they charge you a fee for a one-way rental and/or mileage. For staying in San Francisco, stay tuned for my trip report coming this week!

If you’ve been done this trip before, let’s help out reader Becky! Feel free to comment on recommendations on LA, SF, and everything in between!

Just a reminder – I will include these blog posts in my Trip Reviews page. Thus far we’ve covered Maui and Greece. Comment away!

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.



  1. I am doing the same trip in August. For the car, my advice is just to keep checking Kayak or whatever travel aggregator you prefer. After daily searching for a few months, I have a full sized car reserved from Thrifty for 11 days, with pickup at LAX and drop off at SJC, for $245 all in.

  2. Hearst Castle. Do more than one tour, even though you have to take the mini-bus up and down inbetween. It is a spectacular place and who knows if you will ever get back.

  3. Just did this from San Diego to San Francisco last month.

    The Big Sur part from Hearst Castle at San Simeon to Monterey is by far the huge highlight. It’s probably the most beautiful drive in the world. Plan several hours for it. Carmel’s 17- mile drive at it’s end is also nice with some luxury homes.

    Santa Barbara is a beautiful stop with amazing beaches. Also Pismo Beach is an extremely nice small-ordinary-people beach town. It has a great Best Western over-looking the ocean.

    Biggest LA thing is Venice Beach and the drive out of Hollywood to Malibu on Sunset Blvd. is magnificent.

    The motels at San Simeon are dirt cheap ($35?) and Hearst Castle is a must. Cambria, just south of San Simeon is a great stop to eat at the outdoor Main Street grill or others.

    Golden Gate Park along the SF coast is beautiful, especially historic Cliff House cafe. Don’t miss the Haight ! And Berkeley is often over-looked.

  4. I’ve done the drive in both directions. My preference is to go north to south-the view seems a bit better in that direction.
    You shouldn’t get dinged too much for a 1 way rental car if you’re renting from and dropping off in the bigger airports (LAX/SNA/SFO/SJC/OAK).
    When near Carmel, take some time to go to Point Lobos State Reserve( It will be a definite high point.

  5. This is truly a great trip! Driving north is a bit safer as you have the mountainside of the road (further away from the cliffs). Just a few must see spots include Santa Barbara, Hearst Castle (take multiple tours), go inland to visit Solvang and Carmel/Monterey/17 mile drive.

  6. Plan on spending a couple of days in the Monterey, Carmel, Big Sur area. Nepenthe Restaurant Big Sur – you won’t be disappointed at all. Monterey Bay Aquarium. Parker Lusseau Pastries – Monterey – yum. Don’t miss the Best Big Sur Sight Seeing Spots such as Bixby Bridge, China Cove Beach, McWay Falls, and Hurricane Point (pictured above) and so much more!

    Fill up in Monterey or Carmel before hitting Highway 1. If you absolutely have to get gas while in Big Sur, just get enough to get you to Carmel.

    And, of course, a stop to see the magnificent redwood trees.

    Have a ball!

  7. I live in the Monterey/Carmel area. There are very few chain hotels in Carmel, but Monterey has a gorgeous Intercontinental right on the water. It would be ideal if you have priority club points. Pebble beach/17 mile drive are highlights for a lot of people, but if you are into boutique shops Carmel is THE place to go, and eating at Clint Eastwood’s place, Mission Ranch, (and/or staying there) is great- try the scallops!

  8. I would highly recommend Pfeiffer Burns State park if you are the outdoors type. Lots of good beaches along the way as well (many of which are not crowded). I have stayed at many of the places along the Coast in Big Sur, and my favorite is Treebones resort – allows you to experience Big Sur in a unique fashion!

  9. Done this trip many time. Top highlights include.

    1. Point Lobos State Park in Big Sur. Probably one the most beautiful places I have ever hiked. Give yourself several hours here. Great non strenuous hiking abounds.
    2. A place called El Capitan Canyon Resort. They do Glamping. Elevated and furnished safari tents in a beautiful canyon in Santa Barabara within walking distance to the beach.
    3. A town called Ojai between santa Barbara and LA. About 12 Miles inland, but worth the trip.
    4. Carmel
    5. Monteray
    6. Solvang, CA for a day. Do the “sideways” wine tasting route. Beautiful countryside. Go see the movie first if you have not yet.
    7. Santa Cruz area including some hiking in the redwoods.
    8. If you have kids hit the mystery spot and boardwalk amusement park in Santa Cruz.
    9. Plan to spend a night in the town of Morrow Bay. Great stopping point and nice town on the water.
    10. Nepenthe restaurant in Big Sur

    Have fun!

  10. Haha, that’s funny cause I’m flying into San Diego tomorrow to take the drive up to San Francisco. I rented a car at SAN and will return at SFO for 9 days for $143. I booked through Southwest portal for an extra 1200 rapid reward points through Alamo and I wasn’t charged a sur charge for one way travel. I looked up codes on other sites and used them on Southwest site and they worked fine. I’m cashing in on the Club Carlson promotion and staying at their hotel for the extra points. I too am having a problem finding a place on the coast so I’m heading over to Fresno to stay Park Inn. Hope this helps!

  11. Just got home on Sunday from a coast line vacation. Started in San Fransisco and ended in Santa Monica. We used Carrental8. It was the cheapest and didn’t charge extra fees to pick up car in San Fran and drop it off at LAX. We rented a convertible. Wouldn’t do it any other way! In Monterey the Pebble Beach 17 mile tour along the coastline is well worth it! Just beautiful! We stayed in Pismo Beach – beautiful little beach town. Stayed at Sea Adventure on the beach for 109.00 up until Tuesday than prices pretty much doubled starting on Wednesdays. We didn’t look for the big hotel names to stay at as we didn’t spend a lot of time in our room. We enjoyed spending the extra on dining and sightseeing as there is so much to do and the food is delicious! It is all so breath taking you don’t even know where to look! We drove inland 4 1/2 hour to Yosemite National Park and we were so glad we did that! Absolutely breath taking. Back to Montery for the evening. We ended at Santa Monica Pier. Wonderful beautiful vacation! Make sure you go to Fishermans Wharf in San Fran – especially if you enjoy seafood. We did the rocket boat ride there and a city tour. The city tour was well worth the money. $25.00 per person on a double decker bus. It was a beautiful sunny day and it took us to the golden gate bridge at the end of the tour. San Fransisco is such a beautiful city to see and it was about 2 hours long. Soak it up.It’s a trip of a lifetime!

  12. I forgot to mention Santa Cruz. A wonderful 1940’s-60’s preserved beach town with a boardwalk and amusement arcade. Also the 60’s hippie town of CA. The main street is wonderful. As good as the Haight in San Francisco (which also is a MUST visit). Personally I much Santa Cruz over the normal touristy stuff in Monterey.

  13. We could not find a car rental from SanFrancsico to Los Angeles for any less than $1181.
    We read Heather’s comment about carrental8 and got the same rental for $300!! Thank you Heather!!!

    Definitely stop by!

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