Two wholes weeks of super scenic driving, covering a whopping 1600 miles and staying in 9 different places along California’s West Coast. This was mine & Hannah’s Pacific Coast Highway road trip.
Stop 1: Los Angeles: 1 Night
On this occasion, Los Angeles was unfortunately nothing more than a brief pit stop. A place to chill after an eleven-hour flight and a horrendous customs queue, USA style. This meant we didn’t get to see much of the city, but at the end of the day we wanted a road trip, not a city break.
We picked up our hire car the morning after landing, but not before an early morning walk along Venice Beach, which was an experience. There was a mixture of fitness fanatics and homeless. A VERY stark contrast to the clean cut scenes we see in movies. I guess these real life experiences are the joys of travelling, aren’t they?
Stop 2: Santa Barbara: 1 night
The drive out of LA was a nervy one, mainly because it was our first stint on the roads. This apprehension was rewarded with the PERFECT pit stop. Santa Barbara is a chilled coastal city, with Mediterranean influences and a DAMN fine beach.
The city is split into two, the beach and downtown. The downtown area has bars, restaurants and shops and is a couple of miles inland from the beach. Most of the hotels are next to the beach, along with more restaurants and water sports, including sailing, paddle boarding and canoeing.
Santa Barbara is where we first learnt the valuable lesson of booking a hotel room prior to arriving. After giving up on looking for free Wi-Fi and dropping in on hotels that had no vacancies, we settled on a place that was way over budget, recommended below. Lesson learnt.
Where To Stay: Harbour House Inn – A little gem 1 minute from the beach with charming and modern rooms. The inn offers free parking as well as the hire of beach bikes and beach equipment at no extra cost.
Where To Eat: Sambo’s – Breakfast includes complimentary muffins. Need I say anymore?
Stop 3: Morro Bay: 1 Night
Morro Bay is 100 miles up the coast from Santa Barbara. It’s a much smaller city and this is reflected in the number of hotels, restaurants and shops on offer. It’s a raw place, a bit of a rough diamond. You get the sense people are getting on with their day rather than pandering to tourists, which is fine by me.
There is still plenty to see and do, including kayaking in the bay. I persuaded Hannah to be my kayaking co-captain and this is where we came very close to a gang of seals. Maybe too close thanks to our lack of direction and kayak-driving skills. It was awesome though, and something we probably wouldn’t do at home.
Where To Eat: Taco Temple – A Mexican restaurant serving MONSTER portions, loved by the locals. The only downside being its location.
Stop 4: Monterey: 1 Night
In terms of size, Monterey is in between Santa Barbara & Morro Bay and is just over two hours away from San Francisco, which makes it a perfect pre San Fran pit stop.
Monterey is split into 3 decent sized areas, being downtown, the pier and Cannery Row. These three areas aren’t exactly close together, which makes the free trolley shuttle even more exciting. The trolley looks just like a cable car from San Francisco and really is FREE.
The pier is awesome and is home to many a tourist shop, so be prepared to spend dollar on cheesy merch, like this.
Where To Eat: Hula’s Island Grill – A tiki style restaurant serving great food and cool cocktails. A very welcome change from the seafood and Mexican food on offer everywhere.
Stop 5: San Francisco: 2 Nights
Because of the way we planned our route, San Francisco was our most Northern and maybe our most anticipated destination. Our stops on the way to San Fran were all small seaside cities, so naturally we were excited about the benefits of being in a big city. Like Uber. And UberEATS.
We hit up Alcatraz Island and sat through a VERY windy open top bus tour, thanks to Attraction Tickets Direct. We soaked in the cable cars, steep hills and colourful Victorian houses. BUT when I look back, San Francisco actually felt like the piece of the trip that didn’t quite fit.
I thought the #cityscape would come as a welcome break from all the glorious nature, but it turns out the glorious nature is where I wanted to be. Surprising huh. I would definitely like to visit San Fran again because I think it has something to offer that just didn’t shine through on this trip.
Where To Eat: Marlowe – Slightly pricey, but dinner has a sexy candlelit vibe and the food is good.
What To Know: Not all central hotels have parking, and even if they do it’s likely you will have to pay extra for the privilege of valet parking. The only other option is to use a multistory car park, which charges by the day.
Stop 6: Yosemite: 2 Nights
Yosemite was COOL. A must visit. A real humdinger.
A two night stay is the minimum amount of time needed to explore Yosemite National Park. Mainly because it’s a good idea to get to the park early to avoid congestion and parking issues. Yeah, traffic really is an issue, even in a national park.
As there isn’t a lot of accommodation on offer within the national park, it’s common to drive an hour from your hotel to the visitor centre. Although it’s worth a visit, there isn’t actually a great deal on offer at the visitor centre. If you’re planning on a long walk, it might be worth bringing lunch with you.
The towns around Yosemite are small, really small. A shock to the system coming straight from San Francisco. No UberEATS and not too much in the way of entertainment. BUT, the views that Yosemite has to offer is definitely worth the sacrifice.
Where To Stay: Oakhurst – A small town, 14 miles from the entrance to Yosemite National Park, with more than a few hotel and restaurant options.
Where To Eat: DiCicco’s Italian Restaurant – Awesome mozzarella sticks and the best marinara sauce, EVER.
Stop 7: Ventura: 1 Night
After finishing up in Yosemite we had a decision to make. Vegas or no Vegas? It was a toughie, but because we had such a blast driving up the coast, we wanted to get back to it instead of driving hours inland.
After spending half an hour frantically searching for places we missed on the way up, we came across Ventura. Ventura is halfway between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara and is definitely worth a visit, especially the downtown area, with the perfect balance of having plenty to do and places too eat, but without being too busy.
Where To Stay: Inn of Ventura – A Best Western, but high quality and close to downtown Ventura.
Where To Eat: Cafe Fiore – A traditional Italian restaurant in the centre of Ventura with all the Italian goodness we’re used to at home.
Stop 8: Laguna Beach: 1 Night
With our visit to Laguna Beach being towards the end of our road trip, our attentions turned away from exploring to chilling. Chillin like a villain. This was helped by our last minute hotel booking, which turned out to be the epitome of relaxation, recommended below.
Being a big fan of The O.C, driving through Newport Beach en route to Laguna Beach was obviously a highlight. We cruised past the beaches where Sandy Cohen would have hit the waves, the pool houses where Ryan would have lived and the shops where Seth would have bought his Chrismukkah presents. AHH MEMORIES.
But please don’t be too shocked when I tell you very little was actually filmed in the city that inspired the show. Check out this awesome map of filming locations here.
Where To Stay: Casa Laguna Hotel & Spa – Margarita on arrival, complimentary room upgrade, heated outside swimming pool and the most comfortable robes known to man. All for a VERY reasonable price.
Stop 9: Palm Springs: 2 Nights
Palm Springs is just under two hours from Los Angeles and it’s HOT, HOT, HOT. I think the temperature hit 37º, which sounds mental but isn’t actually too bad when you’re only job is to sit next to a pool.
I would like to say we explored the sh*t out of Palm Springs, especially as we were there for not one, but two nights. However, I have no regrets when I say we spent a majority of the time either by the pool, or eating, or both.
Not only was it a long trip, but it was also my birthday and before getting back to reality I wanted to say fuck it, give me fries and Pina Coladas ALL DAY LONG.
Where To Stay: Ace Hotel & Swim Club – A super cool hotel in a super hot place. There are two pools, a spa, a restaurant, massive beds and a general sense of freedom & love. Beautiful.
Where To Eat: The Tropicale – A jazzy place located in the heart of Palm Springs, reminiscent of the old Miami supper clubs, serving exotic cuisine.
Kings Highway & The Amigo Room – Forming part of Ace Hotel and headed up by an award winning chef, meaning hotel guests are never too far from delicious food.
Stop 10: Los Angeles: 1 Night
Before flying home the next day, we spent one last night in Los Angeles, just to make the airport transfer easier. By this point we were in ‘get me home’ mode, especially as there is no delaying the inevitable. To celebrate the trip in true American style, we ordered a sexy pizza pie on UberEATs. We somehow hilariously managed to set the wrong location and the pizza never arrived. SAD TIMES.