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Often referred to as the Golden State, California combines the best of the United States. Stunning landscapes meet iconic, bustling cities that you simply must see. eSky’s road trip guide takes you from San Francisco to Los Angeles along the rugged US West Coast, taking in nature and legendary American metropolises along the way. Check out California’s Highway One tour for the ultimate American experience!

How To Get From San Francisco To Los Angeles?

There are two ways to get from San Francisco to Los Angeles by car. One is a typical highway and the other, much more interesting option, is the Pacific Coast Highway, also known as California Highway One, California State Route One, or simply California One. The highway winds along the ocean shore for over 700 km, offering amazing views of Big Sur’s cliffs and winding through charming coastal towns. You can cover the whole distance in one day, but you won’t see much on the route. A multi day road trip gives you time to enjoy the route’s beauty and attractions at an easy pace.

The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco © iStock
The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco © iStock

Natural Wonders In San Francisco

We start our journey in San Francisco, one of the USA’s wealthiest cities. San Francisco, as it’s known, boasts an extremely picturesque location, surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and rolling hills. The infamous prison island of Alcatraz is a must-visit along with the iconic Golden Gate Bridge — the world’s most photographed crossing. San Francisco’s vintage trolleybus trams will give you a feel for the city’s layout and run down to tourist-friendly Fisherman’s Wharf, where you can enjoy freshly-caught seafood — the clam chowder is a local speciality.

View on San Francisco from Twin Peaks mountain © iStock
View on San Francisco from Twin Peaks mountain © iStock

San Francisco is also famous for the thick, swirling fog that often descends upon the city; it is so characteristic that residents have even given it a name — Karl. Nobody would have expected that weather itself could become an Instagram star, and yet Karl has over 250,000 followers and counting. Speaking of natural pursuits, active travellers and nature lovers will find many interesting attractions here.

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We recommend a walk around Golden Gate Park followed by an evening climb to the top of Twin Peaks, where you can enjoy a fabulous illuminated panorama as the sun sets. Similar views can be glimpsed from Coit Tower, where you can admire San Francisco in all its glory.

Half Moon Bay © iStock
Half Moon Bay © iStock

Relaxation In Half Moon Bay

Almost immediately after leaving San Francisco along Highway One, you’ll come to Half Moon Bay. Ideal for surfing, hiking, sunbathing and general relaxation, this is a great stop on your tour. Do remember that your sat nav will usually suggest the shortest route, so it’s a good idea to prepare a list of spots you want to visit in advance and add them to your journey planner. It is worth straying slightly off the coastal route to visit Big Basin Redwoods State Park, where you can see Giant Redwood trees with a circumference of up to 15 metres.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk © iStock
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk © iStock

Amusements Await At Santa Cruz

The next stop on our route is Santa Cruz, located just an hour’s drive from Half Moon Bay. This small tourist town is classically Californian, with a fun Beach Boardwalk amusement park located right on the waterfront. After enjoying the thrills and spills of the fair, take a walk over the long pier where noisy seals and sea lions tend to gather. If you want, you can go a little lower to take a closer look at these fascinating animals.

Fisherman's Wharf, Monterey © iStock
Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey © iStock

Ocean Waves In Monterey and 17-Mile Drive

Next up is the port town of Monterey, famous for the US’s second largest oceanarium. If you plan to visit then it’s best to book your tickets in advance as it’s a very popular attraction. Along the Monterey coast is a toll road called 17 Mile Drive. It costs around $10 to drive and is entirely optional, but we’d recommend it as being totally worth the price. There are 14 viewpoints along the route, all with amazing scenery — tall, rugged cliffs, crashing waves and the endless blue of the Pacific Ocean beyond.

Bixby Bridge © iStock
Bixby Bridge © iStock

The paradise coast of Big Sur

17 Mile Drive leads all the way to Carmel by the Sea and just behind the town is, in our opinion, Highway One’s most scenic stretch. This is where the 130 km-long Big Sur coast begins, meandering along the coastline to reveal ever-changing views of the ocean, cliffs and beaches. One attraction is the famous Bixby Creek Bridge, and we’d recommend arriving to catch the sunset over the bridge from Hurricane Point.

McWay Falls © iStock
McWay Falls © iStock

Continuing your journey south, you will reach Pfeiffer Beach, one Big Sur’s most recognisable symbols. The beach is located in the state park of the same name where you can find a tall, lonely rock with a comparatively small “hole” through which water rolls towards the beach. Another reserve worth visiting is Julia Pfeiffer Burns. Its biggest attraction is the McWay Falls waterfall that flows directly into the ocean. As you travel further, you will notice that the rugged coastline grows gentler and an interesting point along this section of the drive is Piedras Brancas, from where you can admire endangered Elephant Seals.

San Luis Obispo © iStock
San Luis Obispo © iStock

Astop at Ragged Point will afford experienced hikers a trail from which they can admire the wild nature of the region, including a black beach and a nearly 100-metre waterfall. Driving further south you will find the famous Hearst Castle, an enormous luxurious mansion filled with antiques and works of art. Wine lovers will be interested in San Luis Obispo where you can learn more about Californian wine production on a winery tasting tour. The last important stop before Los Angeles is Santa Barbara, a charming, also very popular seaside town.

Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles © iStock
Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles © iStock

Star City, Los Angeles

California’s most famous city, Los Angeles is the culmination of the entire Highway One route that leads from San Francisco along the Pacific Ocean coast. Famous for its glittering film industry based around Beverly Hills and Hollywood, you can visit the Warner Bros. Studio, the Avenue of Stars, Disneyland and Griffith Observatory. During your stay, you will quickly notice that LA is a city of contrasts: on the one hand there is wealth, celebrity and world-famous attractions. On the other hand, parts of LA suffer from terrible poverty and homelessness. Nevertheless, it is definitely worth spending time in the City of Angels and soaking up its unique atmosphere.

Griffith Observatorium and Hollywood sign © iStock
Griffith Observatorium and Hollywood sign © iStock

In search of the true, laid-back spirit of California head to Venice Beach with its famous skatepark, or to the golden Santa Monica Beach with its amusement park. Both beaches are good if you want to try your hand at surfing, and with a bit of luck, spot a few celebrities, too. We especially recommend going up into the Santa Monica Mountains where, instead of hiking, you can take a horseback ride. Alternatively, take a car ride along the famous Mulholland Drive, which offers a panoramic view across the entire Los Angeles city sprawl, Hollywood sign included, and beyond to the San Fernando Valley.

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