Things to do driving between LA and San Francisco

Question: I’m planning a family trip (wife two teenage daughters) to the west coast this summer. We know LA area pretty well. What things are recommended to do in San Francisco and on the way between LA and SF

Advice: In SF, hit the farmers’ market early Saturday and load up on cheese, breads, pate, wine and fruit. Take the ferry to Angel Island, walk to the top of Mt. Livermore and enjoy your feast with a 360-degree view of the Bay.

Then take a cable car ride, go to Fisherman’s Wharf (kind of touristy), go to Nob Hill, go over Golden Gate to Sausalito for some spectacular views of the SF skyline especially at dusk.

In the San Francisco Bay Area the Muir Woods is a must (just over the Golden Gate in Marin). Also, Sausalito (just over the bridge) is great. Go to the Muir woods early and go into Sausalito for lunch or brunch. Alcatraz is really cool.

At the Golden Gate Bridge, be sure to go to Fort Point just underneath the bridge on the SF side. The oldest stone fort west of the Mississippi is a great spot. Then take time to drive through the Presidio.

I don’t like the SF Giants, but if you like baseball try to fit in a game at the ballpark. There are plenty of places to eat around it too.

If you are driving from LA to SF, I recommend the coast route 1 vs. 101 or I-5 through the valley. Great scenery the whole way and arguably one the most beautiful stretches of road in the country. A few notable highlights on the trip, Hearst Castle, Monterey/Carmel/Pacific Grove, and Big Sur – where time has stood still since 1967. Also, you could take a side trip to Ojai for a few winery tours too, although there are several wineries along the trip. If you have the chance, the Monterey Aquarium is very cool and they have some spectacular exhibits that are very informative.

Take the time to go through the Monterey Aquarium, then go south through Pacific Grove (and Point Lobos state park–it’s free) and the amazing 17-mile drive past Pebble Beach and into Carmel. Walk around Carmel and have lunch or dinner. I’d skip Santa Cruz unless you want to take your kids to the Boardwalk (the amusement park)

Let me emphasize that in Cambria you have Hearst Castle. Also in Cambria get a motel room right on Moonstone beach and watch the sun do down in the Pacific Ocean with your family. Stop on HWY 1 (its the PCH in So Cal) at Elkhorn Slough (near Monterey) and rent some Kayaks and Kayak in the Slough and enjoy the Marine Wildlife up close. This is an incredible place that most travelers just drive by.

If you have time, just south of Half Moon Bay, is a private Beach called Martins Beach. Check it out. It costs $5 a carload of people. It is clean and beautiful. They shot scenes from the Robin Willams Movie “Bicentennial Man” there.

Be sure to leave plenty of time for the drive up the coast on the highway. It can be a slow go but the scenery is fantastic, one of the best drives in the. It would be a shame to feel pressed for time and not enjoy the sights. Be sure to stop at the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo (just off the highway) for lunch.

We camp at Shaver Lake a mile up in the Sierras.. incredible place.. hurts your eyes, its so beautiful. Consider scheduling a trip to Lake Tahoe, which is only a 4-hour drive from the bay area. If you go to Tahoe try to stay on the north shore, like Kings Beach… South Lake is too commercial for me.

Another good side trip is Kings Canyon Park (Sequoia national Forest). This park is much like Yosemite, but less crowded. It’s just an incredible place. Climb Moro Rock to the top of a Granite dome and get a view that goes for miles.

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  1. Martin Varon says:

    Martin’s beach has raised it’s fee to $10.00.

    Good suggestions. I also like Nepenthe for a relatively expensive but spectacular view.

    Cheers, Marty

    PS. I have no association with Martin’s beach.

  2. susan says:

    Just a reminder that Highway 1 is closed just North of Half Moon Bay near Montara until at least late September. To go between SF and Half Moon Bay you need to take Highways 280 and 92 and you can expect the traffic to be heavy on 92 especially during the commute hours.

    Despite the traffic, the Coastside is still worth a visit. Main street(Half Moon Bay) has nice shops especially the landmark “Cunha’s Market” . Half Moon Bay also has the Ritz Carlton which has a nice spa and of course luxurious rooms with a luxurious price. There is a Golf Course (Half Moon Bay Ocean Course) nearby.

    Just North of Half Moon Bay and still accessible by Highway 1, Princeton-by-the-Sea has a nice harbor as well as the The Half Moon Bay Brewery and Barbara’s Fish Trap. Both restauraunts would be good choices for Lunch or Dinner.

    If you are interested in haunted buildings the Moss Beach Distillery is supposed to be haunted by the “Blue Lady”. It is located just north of Half Moon Bay and is still accessible via Highway 1

  3. ken ramey says:

    If you take highway 1 from San Luis Obispo north, carry a lunch, and take Alka Seltzer; you may get carsick. Allow 8 hours to get to Carmel, assuming you don’t stop along the way. It is a lovely drive so long as the day is clear. If not, don’t try it. You can always visit the missions off US 101. And in Paso Robles, there are a multitude of wineries surrounding. Hyway 46 west makes a nice trip to the coast, or you can take Los Osos road west south of San Luis Obispo and drive through Morro Bay. It requires a right turn out of Los Osos (the Bears) so watch for the sign as you near the coast. Drive through the park (left turn after crossing the small bridge) to see Morro Rock before you go north on #1. This would be a good place to spend the night, too. Beyond Hearst Castle is where the road beccomes SLOW. Start early, providing the weather is favorable. If not on the way up, it may be on the way south. Happy Trails!

  4. carpoolio says:

    State Street in Santa Barbara is a good stop from LA. And, visit San Luis Obispo if possible. On Thursday nights the city hosts a huge farmer’s market in the center of downtown. It’s always fun, and good cheap eatin’. The drive up Hwy 1 through Morro Bay, San Simeon and Big Sur is also highly recommended if you have the time to wind up the slow road. I agree with Ken, though – if it’s really foggy on the coast, the drive may not be worth it beyond San Simeon. You can take 46 from Hwy 1 to 101 if it’s too foggy, and go the quick route. Between Paso Robles and Salinas on 101, I’m afraid there isn’t much to do but sit back, watch the fields, and listen to music.

  5. denise willows says:

    Haight Street is a must in S.F as you and your teenagers will love it! This will give you a look and feel of the real S.F and it’s a lot of fun, good shopping and so on. Also Golden Gate Park nearby is beautiful and will take you out to Ocean Beach and you can have lunch/dinner at the historic Cliff House.


  6. m.r. says:

    Don’t forget to visit Hearst Castle &


  7. Maggie Smallwood says:

    I agree with Marty about Nepenthe. I still have fabulous memories of a lunch there… and this was at least 25 years ago. Gorgeous place with incredible views!

  8. pearl says:

    Ano Nuevo State Park is a stop off the beaten path, but worth it for sea creature buffs. Its most alive at winter, when it is the breeding ground for elephant seals and you can watch the males seriously fight for territory and other things…but in the summer adults come back to molt. It is truly amazing to see these gigantic beasts up close (not too close though!) and in the wild.

  9. Wayne Palmer says:

    We spent the night waiting to enter Hearst Castle at a nice family friendly motel in San Simeon. the area has many motels and stores to buy anything you may need. We sat on the beach by a fireplace tended by the staff and watched the sunset. this was the best stop we had between Vegas, San Francisco and Reno

  10. Roger says:

    Check out the Presido in S.F. Also Crissy Field in the Presido. Great water front trail leading up to Fort Point and a walk over the Golden Gate Bridge. All free.

  11. Cindy says:

    We took a side trip from San Francisco to Yosemite that was worth the time. Yosemite is beautiful.

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