It's one of the most iconic road trips in the world—and it should definitely be on your bucket list. However, with so many things to do on the drive from LA to San Francisco, how do you know what's essential and what you can probably miss as you zoom up the coast?
Here is our list of the 35 best things to do on the drive: from the quirky, to the beautiful, to the delicious—make sure you take the time to absorb it all over the course of at least a week.
1. Start your road trip at In N Out Burger near LAX—no matter what time of the day it is. First of all, it's iconic, cheap, and delish. Secondly, it's an essential Instagram post to kick off your trip: if you're in LA and you didn't share an In N Out pic, did it really happen?
2. Drive down to Santa Monica Pier to get a Baywatch-style photo beside the iconic lifeguard houses.
3. Rent a bike and cruise the winding pathways through the crowds at eccentric Venice Beach.
4. Head to brunch at Farmhouse because they make good coffee (rare in the US), and they serve bacon with their French toast (not rare in the US).
5. Before you head out of town, hike up to the Hollywood sign and take a selfie. Because, #fitness.
6. As you head out of LA, drive along the beach road through Malibu to see the line of beach houses right on the water, whilst playing Malibu by Hole.
7. Head to the huge factory outlets in Camarillo for bargains galore if shopping is your thing—it's only a couple of hours outside of LA.
8. Make your first stop over the gorgeous heritage town of Santa Barbara: it's quaint, full of history, and has some great healthy brekkie options after your In N Out / bacon french toast experience.
9. While you're there visit the stunning Mission, and hike to the top of the courthouse for a panoramic view across the town.
10. Head to just outside of San Luis Obispo and stay the night at the kooky Madonna Inn—where every room is themed and different. We chose the Caveman Room, complete with cave walls, an animal-pelt covered bed, our own caveman clubs, and a waterfall shower... that is literally a rocky waterfall!
11. Grab breakfast in pretty San Luis Obispo, a foggy town set amongst the hills.
12. Next, head to the crazy Hearst Castle—a mansion set on an extensive ranch helmed by the newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. Left to the parks department after his passing, the mansion exists as an eccentric museum full of rare antiquities and art that would rival any Italian palazzo. Just to make it weirder, the ranch still hosts Rocky Mountain elk, tahr goats, llamas, white fallow deer, zebras, Barbary sheep and sambar deer that roam freely. Yep, zebras. You'll think you can do it in a couple of hours, but you can't—it'll take almost the whole day to get through it.
We are driving from LA to San Francisco at the moment, so we popped into #HearstCastle today. What a stunner ���� See a tour on our snapchat @ alphabetpony ✈️ // #usa #roadtrip #travel #traveller #travelphoto #travelphotographer #placestogo #bucketlist #travelblog #travelblogger #melbourneblogger #wanderlust #travelinspo #potd
13. As you leave Hearst Castle, don't miss the free wild elephant seal viewing platforms a little further along the road—there are signposts, but blink and you'll miss them!
14. Stay the night near San Simeon—and get ready for a big day driving through Big Sur.
15. Make your way to Big Sur along the stunning, iconic coastline—a road that rivals The Great Ocean Road for views.
16. Stop for lunch at one of the many little restaurants perched precariously on the edge of a cliff over the sea—most of them will have binoculars for you to use, to spot wild sea otters roaming the coastline.
17. Walk the well-known tracks of the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Try to get there early to avoid the crowds that gather all year round.
18. Don't miss the picturesque McWay Falls—an 80-foot waterfall that flows year-round, and only one of two that falls directly into the ocean.
19. Head down to the gorgeous beach at Point Lobos for one of the most stunningly clear hidden beaches in the world.
20. Don't miss the picture opportunity as you cross the vertigo-inducing Bixby Creek Bridge—just before you hit Carmel.
21. For two miles of wild beachfront and gorgeous sea views, head to Garrapata State Park, also just outside of Carmel.
22. Stay the night in the fairytale-like village, Carmel-by-the-Sea.
23. Don't miss the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, located on the water's edge. Here's your chance to catch some sea otters in action if you missed them along the coast!
24. If you haven't already used up your full week at Big Sur, stop by Santa Cruz on your way to San Francisco and stroll the boardwalk.
25. When you arrive in San Francisco, consider a stay at the gorgeous Historic San Remo Hotel, just a short walk to the famous Pier 39. It's like staying at a vintage guesthouse, and it houses America's oldest Italian restaurant to boot!
26. Your first stop in San Francisco should be the Painted Ladies—especially if you were a fan of Full House.
27. Get some culture with a stop over at the architecturally renowned De Young Museum—make sure you head to the far end of the bottom floor to take the elevator up the funnel for gorgeous panoramic views over San Francisco.
28. Lunch time? You have to eat at Tony's for the best pizza in the world, officially. Yep, they won the award in Italy before 400 Gradi did! Beware of imposters—check with a local if you're not sure which one is the real Tony's.
29. Head to Bolerium Books for some communist, marxist, and anti-government literature—and a truly 'X Files' style experience. Look for the alien baby statue and the ceramic South Korean kids riding a nuclear bomb.
30. Looking for a snack? Pop into La Cumbre to try the world's first ever burrito (as we know it now)—which was actually only created here, in this shop, in the 70s!
31. Drive over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in a convertible at sunset.
32. Don't forget to drive down the ridiculous and crazy zig zag road, at Lombard Street.
33. Skip the cheesy Pier 39 at all costs. It's a huge tourist trap filled with Bubba Gump's themed restaurants and bad souveniers. Pop down the side of the pier to catch the seals basking in the sun.
34. Take a ferry out on the harbour to catch a different view of the bridge—and float past the notorious Alcatraz prison.
35. Wander the gorgeous Golden Gate Park, ensuring you stop by the Conservatory of Flowers—a kooky collection of plants from all around the world under a stunning domed heritage roof. It's the perfect chilled moment to reconnect with nature before you head on a flight back home.
Photo credit: Bianca O'Neill for The Urban List