THE ULTIMATE CALIFORNIA COASTAL ROAD TRIP GUIDE

THE ULTIMATE CALIFORNIA COASTAL ROAD TRIP GUIDE

Have you ever wanted to take a road trip along the beautiful Pacific Coast Highway?

STOP TALKING AND START DOING!

I promise you will NOT REGRET IT! I am so excited to share with you my experiences, tips, and photos from my recent PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) road trip! More than likely you have read articles and blog posts regarding this specific trip BUT the BEAUTY of driving the PCH is everyone’s experience will be unique, special, different, AND there is ALWAYS something to discover! So my sister and I loaded up the car, began in Los Angeles, ended in San Francisco, and 1,031 miles, and 7 days later we simply couldn't get over how amazing and special this trip was. If you are flying into Los Angeles to go on this road trip of a lifetime make sure to factor some time in to see the city. In my opinion no amount of time is ever enough in LaLa Land since there is so much to see and do! I also recommend taking this coastal trip in the Spring if possible or the early Fall. I say this because the weather is amazing, there is way less people, excursions and stays tend to be cheaper, less traffic, and requires way less planning and reservation making! My top choice for this trip is easily March or April! Also for all you first time Airbnb users here is a $40 off your first stay!

Booking.com

NOW GET COMFY & BUCKLE UP… TO OJAI (O-HI) WE GO!

DAY 1: OJAI, CALIFORNIA

Even though it feels like an entire new world and so far from the LA hustle bustle, Ojai is only 80 miles from West Hollywood. A short hour and a half drive and we were immersed in this cute, cozy, quiet town. Not going to lie this is the perfect place for a girl’s get-a-away, a wedding, a solo trip, a lower-key bachelorette, or a romantic trip with a significant other.

WHAT WE DID:

  • Rode bikes into the town on the bike path provided by Ojai Rancho Inn. My only complaint was not having a basket on the bike because our next stop made for some incredible, heavier purchases! Take a backpack on your trip regardless! Also, if your accommodation does not have bikes there are places in town to rent from or feel free to walk around town, bikes are by no means a requirement! Not going to lie it felt nice to be able to freely ride a bike for once because in LA that is ummm dangerous!

  • Bart’s Books (Beware… you can easily spend hours in this store. Which is not a bad thing but just be prepared and plan for that!)

  • Treasures of Ojai Antique Store. So many nostalgic finds but no room in my car or apartment right now!

  • Dharma and Dog, “A Pet’s & People’s” Emporium… any chance I can get me some new energy from a shiny new crystal I am sold! Very reasonably priced crystals I must add!

  • Topa Mountain Winery for a wine tasting. Such an adorable place BUT keep in mind they are only open Thursday to Monday from 12pm-7pm.

WHERE WE ATE:

  • Lunch: Hip Vegan… Holy Crap! Vegan or not, this is one you don’t want to skip out on. Sure, at first we were worried we may not like what we ordered BUT I must say the tempeh burger with fries did not disappoint.

  • Dinner: Boccali’s Italian overlooking the mountains. Make it a point to go around sunset! We enjoyed the lasagna which was HUGE. Also no matter how full you are, do not pass on the strawberry shortcake… they are known for it and you will find out why SHORTLY :)

  • Breakfast/Lunch: Bonnie Lu’s Diner for home-cooked comfort food surrounded by cute, pink, diner decor inside.

WHERE WE STAYED:

  • Ojai Rancho Inn. We loved it! Easy parking, free bike rentals, easy access to the bike path, adorable pool area, cute bar and gift shop, and there just happened to be karaoke in the bar on Mondays. It felt like we were staying in a cozy cabin. Would go back and stay in a heartbeat!

THINGS TO REMEMBER FOR NEXT TIME:

TOTAL TRAVEL TIME:

  • 78 MILES/1 HR. 30 MIN.

DAY 2: SANTA BARBARA

WHAT WE DID:

WHERE WE ATE:

  • Early Evening Bites: Loquita Tapas Restaurant. We met a guy in Ojai that highly recommended this place for authentic Spanish cuisine. Since I studied abroad in Seville, Spain I felt totally obligated to check it out. The croqueta de pollo was unreal and an order of the manchego cheese is a must! Actually make that two orders of manchego!

  • Dinner: Ordered delivery from Lucky Penny Pizza. Order the speciality pizza if you decide to stay in for din din. Instead of pepperonis, the pizza features pieces of salami.

  • Lunch: Pickles & Swiss Sandwich Shop. Very yummy and perfect for a quicker bite.

WHERE WE STAYED:

  • Best Western Beachside Inn. This was my second time staying here and I really enjoy it because in my opinion it’s the most affordable option that is less than half a mile from The Funk Zone and directly across the street from the ocean. It has been recently remodeled and parking is free as well.

THINGS TO REMEMBER FOR NEXT TIME:

TOTAL TRAVEL TIME:

  • 33 MILES/45 MIN - 1 HR.

DAY 3: SAN LUIS OBISPO

WHAT WE DID:

  • Made a pit stop at Figueroa Brake and Alignment to have new brake pads put on before leaving Santa Barbara. Just a friendly reminder to make sure your car is caught up on maintenance before going on a road trip! I know it seems like a no brainer BUT I had no idea I was due for new brake pads! This set our day back some which gave us more time in Santa Barbara and less time in SLO (San Luis Obispo).

  • Pit stops in Santa Ynez Valley (passed this area heading to SLO)

    • Neverland Ranch in Los Olivos… okay don’t judge but we totally needed to see where Neverland Ranch actually is. You can’t see anything except a gate but it was still so crazy how it is literally in the middle of nowhere! The town Los Olivos looked cute with some more intimate wine tasting rooms but we just drove thru.

    • Solvang’s Wednesday Farmer’s Market. Solvang is a cute Danish town. Feels like nowhere I have ever been or experienced in Cali. So different and fun. I want to go back and actually explore more and stay a night.

  • Bubblegum Alley in SLO… I mean it is what it is. An entire alley filled with bubblegum. Fun for photos and adding some bubblegum to the collection.

  • The Madonna Inn. No relation to the Madonna. More on The Madonna Inn to come!

WHERE WE ATE:

  • Dinner: Reservation at Alex Madonna’s Gold Rush Steak House. Our meals were so filling and yummy. Be ready for a huge meal! Soup or salad, bread and butter, and we ordered the fried chicken which came with a side of your choice. More carbs aka a potato! Very good!

  • Breakfast: We were attempting to grab breakfast to-go at The Copper Café and Bakery at The Madonna Inn but it is definitely a more sit down/diner type service. We didn’t have much time to waste because we had something exciting on the list for the day so we grabbed McDonald’s breakfast close by… Also very bizarre fun fact… it was the first McDonald’s I had ever been to that didn’t have a drive-thru!

WHERE WE STAYED:

  • The Madonna Inn! This is an absolute MUST! There are 110 guest rooms and every single one has it’s own unique theme and decor. My sister and I booked the “What’s Left” Room and had a little mini photoshoot because how could we not? The bathroom was unreal with sparkling, glittery walls!

THINGS TO REMEMBER FOR NEXT TIME:

TOTAL TRAVEL TIME:

  • 95 MILES/ 2-2.5 HRS.

DAY 4: SAN SIMEON, BIG SUR, & CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA

WHAT WE DID:

  • The Hearst Castle in San Simeon. I could not believe I had driven by here at least 3 other times and hadn’t stopped. We did the Grand Rooms Tour which lasts 60 minutes. Reservations are recommended online during peak times throughout the year. Keep in mind it is an extra $8 to do this online. (reservations can be made 60 days in advance). We decided just to show up and they had spots for us right away on the next available tour. I don’t want to give too much away but I will say Lady Gaga shot her G.u.y music video in the outdoor and indoor pools there so obviously it is EPIC and totally worth the stop! One of the coolest things in our entire country I swear!

  • Quick stop at The Elephant Seal Vista Point to see some seals.

  • Stopped at various viewpoints along the coastal cliffs for photos.

  • Bixby Bridge.

  • Stopped for gas in Big Sur. UGH even I know there are only about 3 small gas stations for a 40ish mile stretch and gas is almost $6 a gallon BUT I got nervous so I put a couple gallons in! You just never know what traffic can be like getting into Carmel or Monterey so rather be safe than sorry!

  • Walked around Carmel-by-the-Sea.

WHERE WE ATE:

  • Lunch: Nepenthe Restaurant. Luckily we were here on a Thursday and only had to wait 10 minutes for a spectacular view of the ocean outside but I have heard that on weekends the wait can become 2+ hours, especially during busier months. I personally would not wait hours because that is time wasted when there is so much to do and see but this place is truly awesome! We ordered the goat cheese & garlic and some really good sandwiches. Nepenthe also has a cute gift shop called The Phoenix that I couldn’t help but buy a new unique, journal from.

  • Dinner: Pepe’s Little Nepali Italian in Carmel-By-The-Sea. Ordered the Alla Parmigiana Chicken Parm and the Di Stefano goat cheese salad. What can I say we were on a goat cheese kick that day! All the food was fabulous.

WHERE WE STAYED:

  • Candlelight Inn Bed and Breakfast in Carmel-By-The-Sea. This place was cute, had their own parking lot, and they even gave us our breakfast to-go the night before since we were leaving before their 7am breakfast the next day. It was just what we needed for the night but definitely want to check out another bed & breakfast next time.

THINGS TO REMEMBER FOR NEXT TIME:

  • Right before Nepenthe in Big Sur I saw a sign for a bookstore but didn’t catch the name. Since I love bookstores my goal is to make a stop next time.

  • Carmel-By-The-Sea closes down pretty early. Come 6pm all that was open was restaurants and bars. There were so many cute shops that we unfortunately just had do some window shopping at since we got there so late in the day.

  • Hog’s Breath Inn Restaurant… Very random but rumor has it Clint Eastwood used to own it when he was the mayor in Carmel and my parents ate there on their honeymoon so I feel obligated to give it a shot! Also I have dined at Mission Ranch Restaurant, the restaurant located at the current hotel Clint Eastwood owns and it is very good! A little pricier but perfect for a nice dinner splurge. They also only accept reservations on a few select holidays so expect a wait time. The ocean views are breathtaking and overall it was worth the wait!

  • Monterey, CA… Tons to explore in Monterey! I have been on previous trips and loved walking around the pier area! Still want to try Paluca Trattoria Italian on the pier which is the cafe in the HBO show “Big Little Lies”. Unfortunately, they aren’t getting a tag on my end because of a bad first attempt at eating there! Sorry!

  • Point Lobos State Park is perfect if you are looking for something more active. It is absolutely gorgeous but we did not have time this trip! It is located right before the city of Carmel.

  • Another amazing hidden gem in Big Sur is the Esalen Hot Springs. Don’t tell anyone I let the secret out but this place is very magical and healing! From 1am until 3am you can sign up for a very healing session in the hot springs. It is beyond magical. The hot spring is hanging over a cliff overlooking the ocean and you can see every single star in the sky it is so dark. If being in a public space with other people who are nude bothers you this isn’t the place for you! Clothes are optional. I believe reservations need to be made the morning of the evening you want to go and the spots go quick! $35 per person. Look into this 100%, especially if you are open to it and with the right person!

  • For a killer glamping experience check out Ventana Inn & Spa… I had a friend visit before the Kardashians did when it first opened and believe it or not it used to be drastically cheaper for the experience. It is high on my list of places to stay! If you are looking to splurge and go all out in Big Sur GO FOR IT!

Esalen Hot Springs

Esalen Hot Springs

Big Sur, CA

Big Sur, CA

TOTAL TRAVEL TIME:

  • 135 MILES/3 HOURS

DAY 5: NAPA VALLEY

WHAT WE DID:

  • Going to go ahead and say if you are making the trip to San Francisco you absolutely have to set a day aside for Napa Valley. I have seen so many blog posts that don’t even mention it! Do yourself a favor and make it happen, especially if you love wine like me! Also I wish I didn’t have to mention this but please drink responsibly and DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE! Uber people! (free first ride) Party Bus! Lyft! ($5 off first ride). Anything but getting behind the wheel after a day in the sun and sipping wine all day. For the best experience plan ahead and reserve about an hour per tasting for 4-5 tastings! I wouldn’t go into Napa blindly personally. It is very spread out. The wineries are open typically from 10AM to 5PM so plan ahead!

  • Napa Valley Wine Tastings

    • Goosecross Outdoor Tasting (reservation required). Luckily my friend Angela who I was visiting is a member here so all our tastings were complimentary! But plan for all the tastings to run from $40-$50 a tasting in general. Do your research before because you can find some freebies!

    • Rutherford Hill Outdoor Tasting. $30-$60 a tasting. (reservation recommended) This was my absolute favorite tasting! I did the all reds AND the views were absolutely incredible! My friend’s fiancé is a member so we lucked out again with complimentary tastings!

    • Grgich Hills Estate Tasting. This one costed us $25-$40 depending on which tasting you wanted to do. We didn’t really care for this particular place overall. The wine wasn’t the best, the people weren’t the nicest, and I remember after signing the check we all agreed it wasn’t worth the money. Also, we did not have a reservation, we just walked in… so maybe a rule of thumb is if they require a reservation maybe there is a good reason why :)

    • Sutter Home Family Vineyard. I mean this one is just a classic since this is the wine my sister and I always drank back in Indiana. This wine tasting is complimentary! YAY! There is an option to upgrade your tasting for $7 or something very inexpensive like that. I also hear that you can tour the actual Sutter Home, however, I have yet to do that. The two times I have visited Sutter Home we walked in without a reservation no problem.

    • V. Sattui Winery for a bottle of wine. By the time we arrived here which we did not plan for, they were no longer doing tastings because they were close to closing. They did however, sell us a bottle that we all split outside. This place is known to be a little on the touristy side and is often referred to as “The Disneyland” of wineries, so not the most intimate experience. We also finally broke into our cooler bag of crackers, fruit, and cheese. THIS IS A MUST! Do yourself a favor and pack a cooler bag of water and some snacks or a picnic to get you thru the day. Most of the wineries allow food and water just no outside alcohol!

WHERE WE ATE:

  • Breakfast: Quick bagel on the go before a day filled with wine. Random bagel shop in Pleasanton, CA where we were staying.

  • Lunch: Well…. we had some wine and snacksOops!

  • Dinner: Sushi to-go. Again random place in Pleasanton… we were desperate, burnt out, and just plain exhausted!

WHERE WE STAYED:

  • Luckily Angela lives in Pleasanton, about 45 minutes from San Fran and 45 minutes from Napa so we were there for the two nights in this area. In the past I have stayed at The Best Western Bed & Breakfast in Napa and it was so cute! They offered a complimentary evening wine tasting with freshly baked cookies. I know this property is still there it just may no longer be a bed and breakfast! This particular morning started very early. We left Carmel around 7AM and as soon as we arrived in Pleasanton we headed straight to Napa!

THINGS TO REMEMBER FOR NEXT TIME:

  • The Menage A Trois Vineyard. Apparently they changed the name to Napa Cellars. This is my favorite wine to buy when I am at Trader Joe’s but also rumor has it Napa Cellars doesn’t serve Menage A Trois anymore. Hmmm either way would love to see it since it is where my favorite wine is made! Tastings are around $30.

  • Trefethan Vineyard and Estate. Interesting story here. The property was destroyed by an earthquake a few years ago. Then when I visited for my first Napa Trip it was temporarily offering tastings in a huge tent! Now they have a beautiful new tasting room which I have yet to see! Tastings run from $25-$50 a person.

  • The Napa Valley Wine Train. A romantic date I would love to go on! Dinner and wine on a train riding through the gorgeous Napa Valley! It is on the pricier end but for sure worth doing at some point with the right person! My friend and her fiancé had the opportunity to go and let’s just say it sounded very romantic!

  • Castello di Amorosa. A tasting in a beautiful castle for $30. I am there!

TOTAL TRAVEL TIME:

  • 200 MILES/4 HOURS TOTAL…2 HOURS TO PLEASONTON FROM CARMEL AND 45 MIN - 1 HR TO NAPA AND 1 HR BACK FROM NAPA

DAY 6: SAN FRANCISCO

WHAT WE DID:

  • Started the day with some homemade mimosas since we had a wonderful driver for the day. Thank you to my ladies fiancé Ryan! Ladies… if you find a man that is willing to DD (designated driver) for you and your friends HE IS A KEEPER! I don’t normally recommend spending the day in the city in a car because it can be difficult to find parking but shockingly on a Saturday it wasn’t much of a problem for us!

  • The Painted Ladies in Alamo Square. As seen in the opening credits of “Full House”. Perfect spot to hang out and decompress for a little. Take a picnic!

  • The Full House House… which was under major construction as of Spring 2019 and didn’t even look the same! Luckily I had seen it years ago but was somewhat of a bummer this time around but I must say it was still really cool to see it. Couldn’t help but wonder why this exterior out of all you could have chose in San Fran? Once you set eyes on it, you will get what I mean! Very very random!

  • The Mrs. Doubtfire House. I mean had to show the sis since this was one of our favorite movies growing up. The house is beautiful with views of the bay and located on the corner of 2640 Steiner Street which Sally Field mentions in the movie!

  • Crissy Field to relax and take photos in front of the infamous Golden Gate Bridge!

  • Land’s End Park.. located on the other side of the bridge to take more photos and just relax! Very mellow day doing the touristy stuff! (tad bit hungover from Napa) Shhh…

WHERE WE ATE:

  • Lunch: OMG!!! Taco Bell with OCEAN VIEWS in Pacifica, CA! This wasn’t much of a detour and it had been on my bucket list for some time now so we absolutely had to stop! My love for Taco Bell is true! This Taco Bell unfortunately does not have their liquor license yet (a/o spring 2019) so to be completely honest with you we snuck Tito’s Vodka Shooters in with us and poured them into our Baja Blast Freezes, Taco Bell Cantina Style! This Taco Bell is literally in the sand and has a walk-up window outside for the beach goer's to order from! Taco Bell lovers this is A MUST!

  • Dinner: Chubby Noodle Asian Fusion. Normally not my style for food BUT I must say I was pleasantly impressed. Make a reservation 100%. This place is family style food and did I mention they blast rap and hip-hop during your meal. So random, hilarious, and fun! We loved the Szechuan Green Beans, the steamed pork buns (comes with 3), and really liked the chicken teriyaki. The sweet potato noodles were a little underwhelming for me! Also they have all-you-can-eat and bottomless mimosas on Saturday’s and Sunday’s for $45/person from 10am to 2:30pm. Pretty sure there is a table time limit but either way I want to go back and have the experience!

WHERE WE STAYED:

THINGS TO REMEMBER FOR NEXT TIME:

  • Alcatraz Night Tour. I had done the day time tour in the past and I don’t like to repeat experiences except if something about it is different! The night tour sells out no joke months in advance and is a little more expensive! The day time tour also sells out just not as far in advance. If you know you are going to be in San Fran way ahead of time do yourself a favor and buy a ticket for the night tour if they are available. Taking a ferry to Alcatraz Prison and seeing the view of the city from there and the tour alone was one of the coolest things I have ever done! Such a unique experience for sure!

  • In the past I had rented a bike in San Fran and rode across the Golden Gate Bridge. For all of you feeling ambitious the bridge is 1.5 miles each way. My brother and I biked across the bridge to Sausalito then took our bikes on the ferry and rode the ferry back to San Francisco on a past trip. Sausalito is the cutest little town and worth venturing off too but only if you are feeling up for some physical activity (You can always just ferry there and back too!) For more information on renting bikes to Sausalito check out this amazing POST by The Day Dreamer Next Door.

  • Ride the Cable Cars! To be honest I haven’t done this yet because both times I was in San Fran were on weekends and the wait was like two hours to ride. No thanks!

  • Ghiradelli Square for all you chocolate lovers. (the original chocolate factory once stood here). I visited on a prior trip and let’s just say I consumed an ungodly amount of chocolate and ice cream. NO REGRETS!

TOTAL TRAVEL TIME:

  • 150 MILES/ 3 HOURS TOTAL… 1.5 HOURS TO SAN FRAN FROM PLEASANTON AND 1 HR. 15 MIN TO 30 MIN BACK TO PLEASANTON

DAY 7: BACK TO LOS ANGELES

Today was a very sad day! The trekk back to LA! Keep in mind this trip can be customized shorter or made longer! Honestly it is up to what you really want to see and do and how much time you have! From Pleasanton To Los Angeles on a Sunday morning it took us around 6 hours to get back. The drive is pretty boring to be honest and not as exciting as driving oceanside BUT pop some good tunes on or a good audiobook/podcast and you will be good to go!

AND THE WINNER GOES TO…

MY TOP PICKS:

  1. The Hearst Castle in San Simeon

  2. Rutherford Wine Tasting in Napa and Deep Sea Tasting in Santa Barbara

  3. The Madonna Inn

  4. Everything about Ojai!

  5. Oceanside Taco Bell in Pacifica, CA

MY SISTER’S TOP PICKS:

  1. The Chubby Noodle in San Fran AND all of San Fran!

  2. Taco Bell in Pacifica, CA

  3. Rutherford Winery in Napa

  4. All of Santa Barbara… especially The Funk Zone and Loquita Tapas

  5. Ojai all together and especially Bonnie Lu’s Diner

GOOD LUCK ON YOUR COASTAL ADVENTURE FIT FRIENDS!

XoXo,

Brittney
































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