10 Day California Coast Road Trip Itinerary

Our 10 day California coast road trip Itinerary

It’s now been just over two weeks since the trip of a lifetime to California came to an end, I feel like I’ve just about managed to kick the jet lag and the holiday blues so it feels like the right time to start sharing more about our time on the west coast of America.

If you read my California Road Trip Bucket List then you’ll probably be familiar with the basic details of our trip but I wanted the opportunity to share more about our itinerary, how long we spent in each destination and what we’d change if we were to do it all again! I’ll be doing individual travel guides for San Francisco, Los Angeles and Yosemite as there’s just SO much to share so be sure to keep your eyes peeled over the coming weeks for those.

So without further ado, here’s what we got up to on our ten day California Coast road trip!

Day 1 – 2: San Francisco

San Francisco snippets from our 10 day California coast road trip

Where we stayed: Hotel Zelos, not much to really say about this one apart from it did the job. The location just off Union Square was pretty convenient and the rooms were clean, although we were slapped with a $100 amenity fee on arrival (note to self: read the small print in future).

What we did: A whole lot of walking. Seriously. Over 30,000 steps per day!

We managed to cram a whole lot into the two days we spent in San Francisco and it was an amazing way to kick off the road trip in style. We ticked off the main tourist attractions such as cycling across the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, The Painted ladies, Lombard Street and Fishermans Wharf as well as also fitting in a San Francisco Giants game, checking out the Ferry Building and spending a couple of hours in Sausalito.

We left San Francisco feeling satisfied that we’d managed to tick off most of the main tourist attractions which I think was due to arriving with quite a strict schedule which we largely managed to stick to. In hindsight we probably could have fit more into our time if we had made use of the public transport available, we pretty much walked everywhere and let me tell you, San Fran isn’t a small city!

If we visit the again (which I’m sure we will) we know that we’ve ticked off most of the main tourist attractions so would be able to devote more time to exploring districts such as Haight Asbury and the Mission District which are slightly more eclectic and unique.

Day 3: Travel to Carmel and Monterey

Where we stayed: This gorgeous Airbnb which was tucked away in the hills between Carmel-By-The-Sea and Monterey.

What we did: Fell totally head over heels for this beautiful coastal town which looks like it’s straight out of a postcard.

We picked up our car from San Francisco airport on our final morning in the city and hit the road to our Airbnb. The journey took around two hours and gave Adam the opportunity to get used to both the car and the windy coastal roads.

We hadn’t made many plans for our time in Carmel and Monterey as we wanted to slow the pace down a little after the packed schedule we had in San Francisco. We pretty much spent our time mooching and eating, the best combination if you ask me! Carmel-By-The-Sea has some gorgeous shops to nosey around and I pretty much found myself wanting to spend all of my money on souvenirs.

In terms of foodie spots we tried out Il Tegamino which is located in the cutest little courtyard adorned with fairy lights and also Katy’s Place for brunch which served some pretty epic chocolate chip pancakes. We’d had lots of great recommendations from our Airbnb host so I only wish we’d been able to stay longer so we could experience more!

We dropped into Monterey for a quick look around too and although a very cute harbour town I found that it didn’t have quite the same charm as Carmel-By-The-Sea. I had hoped to do some Big Little Lies set spotting but apparently most were purpose built for the show which was a tad disappointing! We had also hoped to fit in 17-Mile Drive but in the end we ran out of time so that will have to be at the top of the list for next time.

Despite only spending approximately 24 hours in the area it’s somewhere that seriously stole my heart, I would love to head back there at some point and take more time to explore the stunning scenery and adapt to the slower pace of life.

Day 4 – 5: Big Sur and Santa Barbara

Where we stayed: The Hayley Hotel, a recently renovated nautical themed hotel just off State Street which served as a great base for exploring Santa Barbara.

What we did: Became surfing pros, seriously, watch out Kelly Slater…

After leaving Monterey we readied ourselves for what was to be the most amazing drive of our lives. We headed down Highway 1 where we stopped of several times along the way to check out the INCREDIBLE scenery Big Sur had to offer. Make sure to leave yourself plenty of time on this portion of the road trip as it really is the main event, we probably pulled over around ten times to take in the views and snap some pictures.

It ended up taking us around five and half hours to get down to Santa Barbara which was slightly longer than we had anticipated and it did end up feeling like a long travelling day. If we were to do the trip again we’d probably pop in an extra night in-between Monterey and Santa Barbara so we weren’t covering quite so much ground in one day, either in Big Sur itself or perhaps somewhere like Pismo Beach.

It was Adam’s birthday whilst we were away so I decided to buy him an experience we could both do together, he’s pretty into his board sports but hadn’t tried surfing before so I decided to book this surf experience via Airbnb. I was pretty apprehensive as I’m not the most confident swimmer, especially in the sea but we both absolutely loved it! Adam took to it like a duck to water and even I was standing up on the board after a couple of attempts (check out my IG Story highlights if you don’t believe me!). Dustin from Aloha Adventures was a great teacher and I’d definitely recommend choosing him for a highly personal experience.

This didn’t leave us with a lot of time to actually explore Santa Barbara so we mooched up and down State Street, fuelling up at The Natural Cafe for lunch and grabbing some seriously good ice cream at McConnell’s before heading down to check out the pier before bundling into the car for the hour and half drive down to Santa Monica.

Day 6 – 8: Los Angeles and Malibu

Los Angeles snippets from our 10 day California coast road trip

Where we stayed: This bloomin’ beautiful boho inspired Airbnb based in Santa Monica.

What we did: Spent a LOT of money on Ubers…

Despite spending two and half days in La La Land we feel like we barely even scratched the surface and instead were left feeling pretty exhausted by the sheer size of the city and the effort needed to get around it.

We spent one day doing some of the typical touristy things including a trip to Warner Bros Studio Tour (which we absolutely loved and would highly recommend to any film or TV buffs) visiting Griffith Observatory where you can spot the Hollywood Sign, checking out the Walk of Fame (which is probably just as underwhelming as everyone says), mooching around the shops at The Grove and taking a wander around The Original Farmers Market.

Our second day was based around the Santa Monica/Venice Beach area where we explored the eateries and independent shops in Abbott Kinney, wandered the Venice canals and walked along to beach to Santa Monica where we checked out the pier.

On our final day we decided to head back up to coast to Malibu as I’ve been dreaming of visiting Malibu Farm Cafe ever since we booked the trip. It was just as dreamy as I’d hoped and with a lovely view out across the sea where you can check out the incredible houses that sit right on the beachfront.

We jumped into the car at around midday and headed up to our overnight stay at Hounds Tooth Inn which placed us just outside of Yosemite. A slightly less scenic route which took around five and a half hours in total. On a future trip we’d love to be able to fit in an overnight stop at Sequoia National Park which would break up the driving and mean we could check out the famous General Sherman Tree!

Day 8 – 10: Yosemite

Yosemite snippets from our 10 day California coast road trip

Where we stayed: Autocamp Yosemite, which feels almost like Soho House in the wilderness. Take me back, take me back right now…

What we did: Oh just climbed some mountains, no biggie!

The two days we spent in Yosemite were definitely some of the best of the entire trip; incredible scenery, getting out in nature and experiencing some truly unforgettable sights.

On the first day we kicked things off with the Mirror Lake Trail which is a pretty easy, fairly flat, two mile hike which takes in the famous Mirror Lake. It wasn’t looking quite so mirror-like for us as the lake had dried up quite substansially but we still managed to get some pretty epic photos before heading to check out Yosemite Falls from its base.

The second day saw us ramp things up a little as we took on The Mist Trail, a 4-5 mile walk up the side of Vernal Falls that showcases some incredible views along with some beautiful rainbow appearances to top the whole thing off in style. This ended up taking us around 5 hours to complete and we were pretty glad that we set off early in order to avoid the soaring afternoon temperatures.

Our final day saw us pack our bags which were now filled with a large quantity of Bath and Body Works candles and complete the three hour drive back to San Francisco airport to fly home. A truly unforgettable trip that I’m sure we’ll be reminiscing about for a LONG time to come!

Is a California road trip your idea of a dream trip? Which stop would you love to visit the most?

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Author: Jessica

I’m Jess, a twenty-six year old self diagnosed Instagram and brunch addict. Whilst browsing Jess Who expect to find a hint of relatable personal style, Pinterest-worthy interiors, drool-worthy food and all of the latest happenings in Nottingham!