Pacific Coast Highway: 4-Day Southern California Road Trip

Starting from Santa Barbara, this 4-day southern California road trip itinerary follows the Pacific Coast Highway through Los Angeles to San Diego. You’ll catch the must-see sights of the area, as well as pick a few of your own.

Sunset at Santa Monica Beach.
Sunset at Santa Monica Beach. Photo © Andrew Bayda/123rf.

Day 1

Santa Barbara to Santa Monica

(85 miles/136 kilometers, 2 hrs)

Ease your way into the Los Angeles metro area, stopping along the way based on your interests (and need to take a break from the traffic). Take the US-101 South route toward Ventura’s picturesque harbor, the point of departure for the Channel Islands. About five miles out of Ventura, CA-1 splits from US-101 and heads southwest through Oxnard to Point Mugu State Park in the Santa Monica Mountains. Watch for surfers as you drive through Malibu. Lovers of art and history should consider a stop at the Getty Villa.

Once you reach Santa Monica, stop at the Santa Monica Pier for strolling, amusements, and plenty of options for sunset dining. Stay at the beachfront Georgian Hotel.

Day 2

Los Angeles

Sleep in a little to avoid the morning traffic. Then it’s time for a classic L.A. drive up Sunset Boulevard to Hollywood. Wander the Hollywood Walk of Fame (corner of Gower Street and Hollywood Boulevard) and get an eyeful at the ornate TCL Chinese Theatre.

Spencer Tracy's Hollywood Star. Photo © Lisa Robinson/The Department of Creativity.
Spencer Tracy’s Hollywood Star. Photo © Lisa Robinson/The Department of Creativity.

Enjoy some science along with views of the city from the Griffith Observatory—or take your views with a side of art at The Getty Center. Get a taste of Hollywood nightlife on the Sunset Strip. Or head back to the beach to wander quirky Venice Beach Boardwalk. Families may want to plan on an extra day for an excursion to Disneyland Resort.

Day 3

Santa Monica to San Diego

(140 miles/240 kilometers, 3 hrs

Continue south down the coast, stopping along the way based on traffic and your interests. Stop in Long Beach to tour the Queen Mary or the Aquarium of the Pacific. Hit the sand or the waves at surf mecca Huntington Beach. Stop in any of the Orange County beach cities for lunch. For a less civilized beach experience, wander Torrey Pines State Reserve, one of the wildest stretches along the southern coastline.

Torrey Pines State Reserve. Photo © Chad McDermott/The Department of Creativity.
Torrey Pines State Reserve. Photo © Chad McDermott/The Department of Creativity.

The coast highway goes through a few transformations, becoming the San Diego Freeway, then County Road S-21 and Historic Route 101 in northern San Diego County. Upon arrival in San Diego, check into Hotel Indigo.

Day 4

San Diego

Visit Balboa Park, including the grand Botanical Building. Families will want to spend the day at the famous San Diego Zoo. Outdoor enthusiasts should head north to La Jolla Cove for some kayaking or snorkeling. Sun-worshippers should head to Coronado with its beachside shops and the legendary Hotel del Coronado. End your trip in the Gaslamp Quarter with a toast to PCH.

Related Travel Guide