If you have one week for a vacation in California, consider the coastal drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles, or reverse it and start in LA and finish in San Francisco. Superlatives don’t do justice to the views you’ll see while twisting and turning, climbing and descending along Pacific Coast Highway (Hwy. 1). It’s one of the nation’s most thrilling roads, gripping the mountainside while it takes you past coastal redwood forests, ocean cliffs, and secluded coves battered by the dazzling, formidable Pacific.
Below you’ll find a sample one week California itinerary starting in San Francisco which goes south to Los Angeles via Carmel, Big Sur, Pismo Beach and other great attractions. I’ve included the daily driving mileage and driving time to give you an idea of how much driving is involved each day.
Total mileage for this 1 week California itinerary – 500 miles (805 kilometers)
Total driving time for this 1 week California itinerary – approx. 9 hours
Arrive in San Francisco, check-in to your hotel. Visit some of the downtown attractions like Pier 39 and the Golden Gate bridge.
Spend the day touring the sights of San Francisco. Possibilities include Alcatraz Island, Golden Gate Park, and the Cable Car Museum.
Pick up your rental car if you have not already done so, and drive from San Francisco towards Monterey (140 miles, approx. 1 hour 40 minutes drive depending on traffic in San Francisco). Take Highway 280 out of San Francisco instead of the 101, it is much more scenic. Take highway 17 south to Santa Cruz.
- Stop in Santa Cruz (morning). The Santa Cruz boardwalk is world famous and is a must see.
- Take highway 1 to Pacific Grove and Monterey (early afternoon / evening). Pacific Grove has some beautiful seaside walks. While in Monterey consider visiting the Monterey aquarium which is one of the most popular aquariums in the United States and receives over 2 million visitors per year.
(Spend the night in Monterey)
Today’s drive is from Monterey to San Simeon (100 miles, approx. 2.5 hours drive, but you will want to make several stops along to the way to stop and walk the beach, take pictures of the views and see things like McWay Falls.)
- On the way out of Monterey visit Carmel via 17 Mile Drive which has incredible scenery. 17 Mile Drive is the home of the famous Pebble Beach Golf Club (morning)
- Make several stops along the Big Sur coast (late afternoon / evening)
(Spend the night in San Simeon)
After visiting Hearst Castle drive from San Simeon to Pismo Beach (55 miles, approx. 1 hour drive)
- Tour Hearst Castle (morning)
(Spend the night in Pismo Beach)
Today’s drive is from Pismo Beach to Santa Monica (180 miles, 3 hour drive)
Some people are not familiar with Solvang, the Danish village nestled in the Santa Ynez Valley that looks and smells like Christmas year-round, with twinkling lights at night and baked goods served fresh every morning. Solvang, is a quick 45-minute drive from Santa Barbara, is a unique village rife with activities, seasonal festivals, wine-tasting rooms and delectable dining.
(Spend the night in Santa Monica and walk the Santa Monica boardwalk)
Spend the day in the Santa Monica & Los Angeles area
- Possible attractions include Hollywood, Universal Studios, Disneyland, Griffith Observatory etc
(Spend the night in Santa Monica)
From Santa Monica to Los Angeles International Airport (12 miles, 20 minute drive depending on LA traffic)
- If you have time before heading to the airport, view the sites at Venice Beach or Malibu etc
- Fly out of LAX
Tip – If you have extra time and want to explore the Los Angeles area, check out our Things to do Around Los Angeles itinerary.
Tip – To quickly find more details on any of the attractions in this itinerary see the clickable attractions on our California map