Planning a road trip from San Francisco to Big Sur along the Pacific Coast Highway?
This is one of our favorite road trips in northern California.
Begin in the vibrant city by the bay, drive south along the scenic drive, take a few photos, enjoy the natural beauty of the central coast, lounge on the sandy beaches, explore the tide pools!
It’s the most perfect way to spend a West Coast vacation along the Pacific Ocean!
Also Read: Big Sur Road Trip Itinerary
Where to begin California Coast road trip from San Francisco to Big Sur?
San Francisco is a great place to start your road trip.
The city is known for its iconic Golden Gate Bridge, vibrant neighborhoods, steep hills, and delicious food.
You’ll want to spend a few days in the city before you hit the open road.
You can also begin the road trip from anywhere in the Bay Area or Silicon Valley including San Jose, Santa Clara, Mountain View, or Cupertino.
How far is Big Sur from San Francisco?
Once you’re ready to go, drive about 150 miles south on Highway 1 (the Pacific Coast Highway) towards Big Sur.
The drive from San Francisco to Big Sur will take about 4-5 hours, but make sure you plan for plenty of stops along the way!
San Francisco to Big Sur Road Trip Stops
Here are the best stops along this gorgeous drive on the California Coast.
San Francisco is one of the most incredible places to visit in California.
There’s so much to see and do in this vibrant city.
You could easily spend a few days here exploring all the different neighborhoods, attractions, and restaurants.
If you’re only spending a day or two in San Francisco, we recommend checking out the top SF attractions including Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, Lombard Street, Palace of Fine Arts, and Alamo Square.
Also Read: How to bike the Golden Gate Bridge
Pacific Coast Highway
Once you leave San Francisco and start driving down the Pacific Coast Highway, the views just keep getting better and better.
The best part is that this scenic drive is so well-maintained that you don’t have to worry about any winding roads or rough patches.
Just sit back, relax, and take in the incredible views of the crashing waves and the blue Pacific Ocean.
Also Read: 5 Day pacific Coast Highway Itinerary
Half Moon Bay
About an hour and a half south of San Francisco, you’ll come to Half Moon Bay.
This small coastal town is a popular spot for surfing, whale watching, and fishing.
If you’re looking for a place to stop and have a bite to eat, Half Moon Bay has no shortage of restaurants.
We recommend grabbing a seafood dinner at one of the local restaurants overlooking the ocean.
Further south, you’ll come to the charming town of Pescadero.
This little town is known for its art galleries, antique stores, and farmer’s market.
It’s a great place to stop for lunch or dinner and explore the small-town vibe.
Pigeon Point Lighthouse near Pescadero is one of the tallest in the country and offers some amazing views of the Pacific Coast.
Visitors can see this iconic lighthouse on a guided tour – it’s definitely worth a stop if you’re in the area.
Año Nuevo State Park
South of Half Moon Bay, you’ll come to Año Nuevo State Park.
This state park is best known for its elephant seals, which can be seen on the beach from December through March.
There’s also a visitor center, walking trails, and a nature preserve in the park.
Santa Cruz is a popular surfer town about 2 and a half hours south of San Francisco.
This is a great spot to stop for a few hours and enjoy the sun and sand.
There are plenty of restaurants and shops in town, or you can head to the beach for a day of swimming, surfing, and sunbathing.
Santa Cruz Wharf is a great spot to watch the sunset.
Natural Bridges State Beach, along the scenic West Cliff Drive, is a must-visit spot!
This gorgeous white sand beach features a natural bridge in a huge rock on the coast!
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a popular amusement park in the small city.
With its roller coasters, arcade games, and food options, it is fun for the whole family.
Monterey: Best Place to stay the night from San Francisco to Big Sur trip
The next stop on this amazing road trip is the charming town of Monterey.
This historic town is known for its seafood restaurants, aquarium, and 17-Mile Drive.
We recommend stopping in Monterey for lunch or dinner and spending a few hours exploring the town.
17-Mile Drive is a scenic road that winds through the coastal hills and is home to some of the most expensive homes in California.
It’s definitely worth a drive – make sure to keep your eyes peeled for wildlife like deer and whales.
Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the largest aquariums in the world and is a must-see for any marine life lover.
Cannery Row is a street in Monterey that was once filled with sardine canneries and is now home to art galleries, restaurants, and shops.
Monterey makes the perfect pit stop to stay the night on your road trip.
Further down the coast, you’ll come to the charming town of Pacific Grove.
This town is known for its Victorian homes, gardens, and butterfly sanctuary.
It’s a great place to stop for a few hours and wander around the streets.
The Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary is home to millions of monarch butterflies from October to February.
Lovers Point Park is a great spot for a picnic or to take a walk on the beautiful beach.
Lover’s Point can also be reached along the 17-mile drive.
Carmel by the Sea
Carmel by the Sea is a laidback beach town that is popular with artists as well as millionaires!
This is a great place to stop for lunch or dinner and take in the relaxed beach town vibe along Ocean Avenue.
The town is known for its fairytale cottages, art galleries, boutiques, and wine tastings, so be sure to check out some of the local spots.
As you drive further down the coast, the views just keep getting better and better!
About an hour and a half south of Carmel, you’ll come to the world-famous Pebble Beach.
This exclusive beach town is known for its golf courses, luxury hotels, and stunning coastline.
If you’re looking to spend a few hours or a day in luxury, Pebble Beach is the place for you.
Big Sur and the Central Coast
As you continue driving down the PCH, the Central Coast starts to reveal its natural beauty.
There are so many gorgeous spots to pull over and take photos, like Ragged Point, Pfeiffer Beach, and McWay Falls.
Things to do in Big Sur
Big Sur with its amazing views, foaming waves of the Pacific, rugged rocky cliffs, towering redwood trees, and striking mountain ranges is a gem of California’s Coast!
Also Read: Best Things to do in Big Sur
This state park is home to some of the most stunning coastal scenery in California.
Point Lobos State Park has forests, meadows, and dramatic ocean cliffs.
There are miles of trails to explore, as well as coves, beaches, and cliffs to admire.
It’s a great spot for a day hike or bike ride.
The reserve is also popular for its exceptional marine life including sea lions, sea otters, whales, and more!
Garrapata State Park
This state park is home to redwoods, cypress, pine, and oak trees.
There are also miles of trails that wind through the forest and along the coastline.
It’s a great spot for a hike or a picnic.
Bixby Creek Bridge
This is one of the most photographed bridges in America!
The bridge is a magnificent sight as it arcs across the Bixby Creek canyon and the rugged coastline.
It’s definitely worth a stop to take photos and enjoy the view.
Point Sur Lighthouse
This lighthouse is located on a high point of the Big Sur coastline and is open to the public for tours.
The lighthouse is the only one in California that is open to the public.
It’s worth a visit if you’re in the area on the San Francisco to Big Sur Road Trip.
Andrew Molera State Park
If you’re looking for a rugged and secluded California state park to explore, look no further than Andrew Molera State Park.
This beautiful park is located in the heart of Big Sur and offers ample opportunity for hiking, camping, fishing, and birdwatching.
There are miles of trails that wind through meadows, forests, and along the coastline to undeveloped beaches.
This state park is a great place to wander around and take in the beautiful scenery.
This purple sand beach is one of the most famous destinations in Big Sur.
The beach is known for its unusual color and for the large rock formations that can be seen from the shore.
It’s a great place to stop for a photo op.
Travel Tip – Plan to visit the beach on a weekday, as it’s hard to find a spot in the parking lot during peak times.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
Located in Big Sur, California, this state park is home to majestic mountains, crashing waves, and redwood forests.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is also one of the most popular camping destinations in Big Sur.
McWay Falls: Best Stop on San Francisco to Big Sur Road Trip!
The beautiful waterfall is located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and is a must-visit attraction of the Big Sur region.
The 80-foot waterfall spills directly onto the beach and is one of only a handful of waterfalls in the world that does so.
It is a stunning sight to behold.
Visitors can take a small hike to the viewing platform of the waterfall.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
If you’re looking for an amazing California state park to explore, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is definitely worth a visit.
With stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and impressive redwood forests, this park has something for everyone.
Hiking trails wind through the forest and down to the beach, making it the perfect place for a day spent outdoors.
Be sure to stick around until sunset; the views are simply breathtaking.
Limekiln State Park
Limekiln State Park is the perfect spot to spend a sunny day outdoors.
With its stunning ocean views, lush greenery, and tranquil atmosphere, this park will leave you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
Don’t miss out on all the fun things to do here, including hiking, picnicking, and swimming.
Ragged Point is one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Situated on a bluff overlooking the ocean, it has breathtaking views in every direction.
The sunsets are especially stunning, as they dip into the water and set fire to the sky.
Spend some time to take in the beauty of this spot, stay at the Ragged Point Inn or dine at The Restaurant at Ragged Point before you drive south!
San Simeon Elephant Seal Rookery
The Elephant Seal Rookery is a beautiful spot to take in the wildlife of Central California.
Located just north of San Simeon, this rocky outcropping is a great place to see elephant seals and pelicans.
It’s also a great place to spot cute baby seals.
So there you have it – a perfect road trip down California’s Pacific Coast Highway.
The San Francisco to Big Sur road trip has everything from scenic drives, breathtaking views, beautiful beaches, and charming beach towns.
This route takes you through some of the most beautiful scenery in the state, and there’s plenty of things to see and do along the way.
So pack your bags and get ready for an amazing journey on the San Francisco to Big Sur Road Trip!
Also Read: Pacific Coast Highway Road trip Planner