March 23, 2016

The Journey: Los Angeles to San Francisco

In our recurring “The Journey” feature, we highlight scenic and interesting drives that can be made in a weekend.

Two of California’s largest cities, Los Angeles and San Francisco, are separated by nearly 500 miles of natural beauty. Along the way, you’ll find staggering seaside cliffs, pristine sandy beaches, and towering redwood forests. Considering the wide breadth of sightseeing opportunities, it’s astounding that such a trip can be made in a weekend.

The quickest way to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco is to take Interstate 5, an inland route that spans about 400 miles. It’ll take you about 6 or 6.5 hours without too much traffic, but this is the no-frills option—there’s not much sightseeing to be had here. If you’re in a rush to get to your destination, this might be the right way to go, but if you have time to spare we’d definitely recommend taking a more scenic route. 

The 101 will take you about an hour longer than the 5, and you’ll get a chance to see some actual scenery. Santa Barbara, Pismo Beach, and San Luis Obispo are among the high points of this drive.

If you’ve got the time and you’re prepared to go all in, take Highway 1, California’s coastal route. You might need to set aside a long weekend to enjoy all the scenery and points of interest that this route has to offer, as it takes close to about 10 hours of driving, minus additional traffic time (which is inevitable). This route includes the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), the section of Route 1 that spans from Dana Point to Oxnard.

On your way north from San Luis Obispo, consider stopping at Morro Bay, a quaint fishing village known for a huge volcanic rock that juts out of the water. Big Sur is one of the major sightseeing points along the 1, with 90 miles of breathtaking rugged coastline. Carmel, Pebble Beach, and Monterey are additional points of interest in Monterey County.

As you make your way up to the Bay Area, the Santa Cruz Boardwalk is worth a stop—it features arcade games, rides, and an historic carousel (also, be sure to try the excellent saltwater taffy). And as you close in on San Francisco, check out Half Moon Bay, a cute seaside town and popular weekend destination for San Francisco residents.