One of the most iconic road trips in California ... or indeed in the United States is California's Pacific Coast Highway, also known as Highway 1. Whether you rent a convertible or a campervan for the trip, it is sure to be a memorable one. We've driven this route several times and there are tons of great places for guys to visit. While this trip is a bit awkward now due to the road south of Big Sur being closed due to a slide (as of June 2024), that should be reopening soon so you can complete this legendary road trip the way generations of men have done since 1919.

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Journeying from ultra-glamorous Los Angeles to the beauty of San Francisco is more than just a road trip - it’s a voyage through California’s rich tapestry of culture, history, and natural wonders. Every twist and turn reveals a new and exciting place to visit, from sun-drenched beaches to rugged cliff views, and for those with a sense of adventure pulsing through their veins, renting a campervan is the ultimate way to explore the endless possibilities offered by this road trip.

But where are the must-visit stops as you head along the road from LA to San Francisco? We’ve got you covered! Below, you’ll find a list of unmissable destinations, each offering something unique and truly unforgettable.

santa monica highway 1 pacific coast highway

Santa Monica

The first place you need to stop on your trip from LA to San Francisco is Santa Monica, where you’ll be able to stroll along the pier, grab a hot dog or churro from one of the many vendors, and bask in the buzzing, carnival-like atmosphere. You can also take the opportunity to grab a photo at the end of the historic Route 66 here, as well as explore boutiques and cafes along Main Street before hitting the road for the next leg of your adventure.

santa maria style pinquito beans at hotel ynez solvang california copy

Santa Ynez Valley

As you head up the East Coast, you'll reach one of our most favorite spots for a guys trip - Santa Ynez Valley. Not surprisingly if you've ever watched Sideways, this area is going to seem pretty familiar. From Buelton where Sideways Inn is located, along with Hitching Post II to Solvang a little Danish village with a downtown area featuring half-timbered architecture and windmills that transport you straight into a European Vacation style escape. 

While in Solvang, make sure to stop and say hi to our friends at Peasants Feast, where you'll find some of the best food on the Central Coast. Then head over to Hotel Ynez for a relaxing evening sipping Santa Barbara wines and having your very own private Santa Maria-style bbq on your patio.

Don't miss Mendenhall's Museum of Gasoline Pumps and Petroliana in Buelton before you head north and back to the coast!

San Simeon, California 

This is going to be a weird little detour since there is currently, there is a complete road closure on Highway 1 in Big Sur, while Caltrans has cleared the slide debris from "Paul's Slide" 23 miles north of the Monterey County line, another slide at mile post 25.3, just south of the Vincente Creek Bridge is scheduled to re-open in the fall of 2024. Trust us though, San Simeon is worth visiting and then back tracking on the western side of the mountains through the central valley on Highway 101 instead of continuing north on Highway 1.

Hearst Castle

Continuing along the road, you’ll find the magnificent Hearst Castle, which was built by newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hears. Take the time to explore the lavish grounds, ornate interiors, and impressive art collection, as well as the stunning Neptune Pool adorned with ancient Roman artifacts. As if the castle itself isn’t impressive enough, you’ll also find some of the best views of the California coastline - perfect for anyone looking to document their road trip with incredible photographs.

Elephant Seal Vista Point

Along the rugged coastline of San Simeon, make a stop at Elephant Seal Vista Point to see these magnificent marine creatures in their natural habitat — lounging on the sandy shores and battling for territory! This is truly a unique wildlife viewing opportunity for nature enthusiasts, and the wide variety of seabirds you can spot adds to the excitement. This is an easy stop right off of Highway 1 in San Simeon. While you can see the elephant seals there year-round, the best time to see the main event is December through March as this is breeding season and so you'll see these huge animals fighting for dominance so they can get best access to their choice of females to mate with.

While you can see some activity from the highway, this can also be a longer stop if you want to go and explore the park on foot. Just make sure to avoid stopping there in the first half of December since the natural preserve is closed to protect guests as well as not to disturb the elephant seals as they begin to arrive on the beach and form harems.

Carmel County & Pebble Beach

In Carmel, California, guys looking for an enriching experience can enjoy touring the famous 17-Mile Drive at Pebble Beach, where the stunning coastline and world-class golf courses offer a visually spectacular and upscale outing. Additionally, the town's reputation as a haven for celebrities adds a touch of excitement, with the possibility of spotting famous personalities while exploring its quaint streets, upscale boutiques, and fine dining establishments. This combination of scenic beauty and star-studded potential makes Carmel a particularly appealing destination for those interested in both natural and cultural allure.

Monterey

Or, if you’re looking for something a little more history-based, explore Monterey State Historic Park and Cannery Row, which was once the heart of the city’s sardine canning industry and is now lined with restaurants, shops, and the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail.

santa cruz california beach amusement park

Santa Cruz

Pacifica

This small surfing village, located a few miles south of San Francisco, offers adventure and relaxation. Pacifica, California, presents excellent opportunities for surfing at Linda Mar Beach, known for its consistent waves suitable for all skill levels, while hiking enthusiasts can explore the scenic trails at Mori Point, which provide panoramic ocean views and a chance to spot local wildlife. For a taste of local culture and cuisine, a visit to the Pacifica Pier for fishing or to one of the nearby craft breweries can cap off a satisfying day in this coastal town.

This is also a great place to go crabbing. If you are less into getting a bit dirty, there are plenty of seafood spots here that will have fresh local crabs ready to be sent right to your table! In fact, Pacifica Pier is the only pier in the Bay Area where you can crab or fish for free. Dungeonous crab season begins in November and runs through the winter.

We're going to skip over San Francisco and head north across the Golden Gate to our stopping-off point in Marin County. This is an area that most visitors from outside of California never visit but it's actually a pretty awesome place for outdoor adventure. If you are into hiking, biking, kayaking, surfing ... this is a great destination to visit. However, if all you want is a great view of San Francisco then head over to Golden Gate park and one of our favorite views in the entire world ...

golden gate bridge view from marin headlands park

Marin Headlands

In the Marin Headlands and Golden Gate National Recreation Area in Marin County, guys can experience some of the most stunning views of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, cruise ships parked next to fisherman's warf, and the entire bay. This is one of my favorite viewing spots and it makes an amazingly fun scenic drive as well.

Beyond road tripping, area offers a plethora of outdoor activities, including hiking along rugged trails that weave through rolling hills and coastal landscapes, and biking on paths that offer both challenge and exceptional scenery. Photography enthusiasts will find endless opportunities to capture iconic shots of the bridge and city skyline. Additionally, the historical sites like the Point Bonita Lighthouse add a touch of exploration and discovery to the adventure-packed visit.