Planning the Ultimate California Coast Road Trip

Since the Gold Rush of 1849, California has been perceived as ‘The Land of Opportunity’ and a place of New Beginnings. Due to its sheer size, California has so much to offer in terms of places to visit and unique adventures to experience. Traveling the California coast makes for a particularly special road trip. Whether you end up traveling north or south along California 1 Highway, the entire experience is sure to be unforgettable. For a trip like this, it’s easier to break up the coast into sections, including the Northern, Central, and Southern coastal regions. Buckle up and grab your Boondockers Welcome membership as we explore the best of the famous California coastline.

Photo credit: Travel in USA

Southern Coast

Southern California is what most people think of when one mentions California. The stereotypes of sunny beaches, bustling cities, and melting pots of food and culture are not entirely incorrect. Visitors typically want to spend at least a month in SoCal to see and do all the classic things along with less known adventures, but even just a few days is sure to provide a relaxing experience. 

Photo credit: Inn at Moonlight Beach

Baja California

While this region is located in Mexico, Baja California refers to the peninsula directly south of California. If you have your passport, you can begin your journey here and work your north up or start north and end your journey south, closer to the equator. 

Things to Do

The beaches in Baja California are unparalleled. The white sands, shimmering waters, and gorgeous geologic rock structures are picturesque. In addition, the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains aren’t too far away with ample hiking and horseback riding opportunities. Lastly, be sure to check out the Tijuana Cultural Center. This museum features exhibits, art, gardens, and an IMAX dome. 

Photo credit: Travel Mexico Solo

San Diego

San Diego is the heart of all things fun in the sun. In this one small area, you can find countless stunning beaches, an award-winning zoo, the famous Legoland, hundreds of incredible places to eat, historic Coronado Island, and so much more. Within the city of San Diego, visitors can also find multiple historic districts, each chock full of arts, food, drinks, culture, and more. This is the perfect city to visit for year round warm, tropical adventures that the whole family can enjoy.

Things to Do

With an area this large, there are almost endless options for activities to enjoy. Balboa Park, which is home to the San Diego Zoo, is always a top choice for first-timers. The Gaslamp Quarter consists of sixteen full blocks of renovated Victorian buildings that now host shops, restaurants, bars, clubs, and so much more. When planning a trip here, be sure to check out the museums, public markets, and, of course, some of the beautiful beaches. 

Photo credit: San Diego Metro Magazine

Los Angeles

When traveling in Southern California, a visit to downtown Los Angeles is an absolute must. Since Los Angeles boasts 284 days of sunshine per year, you can almost always expect warm sunny days, no matter what time of year you plan to visit.

Things to Do

In Los Angeles, there are very classic tourist activities that many enjoy, such as hiking to the famous Hollywood sign, strolling down the Walk of Fame, driving down Sunset Boulevard, or shopping on Rodeo Drive. Past that though, be sure to visit the Griffith Observatory, The Getty Center, the LA County Museum of Art, the Walt Disney Concert Hall, and many of the little cultural pockets that help make this city so special. 

Photo credit: DriveAway

Central Coast

Most consider the Central Coast of California to be the least developed portion of this long stretch. This section starts around Point Mugu and ends in the beautiful town of Monterey Bay. There are four main regions of this stretch, and it includes the gorgeous yet rugged Big Sur region. Continue on to learn all about what you may find when traveling through the Central Coast.

Photo credit: loveEXPLORING

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is located just an hour-and-a-half north of Los Angeles, but it boasts completely different scenery. This town is commonly known as the area where the sea meets the mountains, and it is filled with beautiful beaches and breathtaking scenery.

Things to Do

In Santa Barbara, there are several gorgeous beaches to choose from, each a little different from the next. There, visitors can enjoy a whole slew of exciting activities, including swimming, sunbathing, fishing, surfing, and much more. Santa Barbara also has a vibrant arts culture, with several galleries and theater venues to explore. They also host the annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival. 

Nearby, travelers can also visit the beautiful Channel Islands National Park. This frequently-missed park is comprised of a stunning chain of five out of the eight total Channel Islands. Due to the sheer isolation of the islands, there are unique animals, plants, and archeological resources found here that cannot be found anywhere else on Earth.

Photo credit: Robb Report

San Luis Obispo

Nicknamed “SLO Cal” for the slower pace found here, San Luis Obispo is the perfect place to leave the crowds of Los Angeles and Santa Barbara behind. The entire area is dotted with beaches, mountains, shopping, and vineyards, making for an excellent place to relax and vacation.

Things to Do

There are ample hiking and biking opportunities in San Luis Obispo, along with almost any water activity imaginable. Many beaches are even dog-friendly, and they also offer a flourishing nightlife. 

Photo credit: TripSavvy

Big Sur

Big Sur is famous for its rugged coastline where the Santa Lucia Mountains dramatically rise from the sea. The area is known as the “longest and most scenic stretch of undeveloped coastline in the contiguous United States.” 

Things to Do

Here, there are ample hiking opportunities on the beaches, in the mountains, or within the Los Padres National Forest. Visitors can also enjoy the dining, shopping, and art galleries available in town. Along the coast, travelers can also tour the beautiful and historic lighthouses.

Photo credit: San Francisco Chronicle

Salinas

Salinas is located nearby Carmel-By-The-Sea and Monterey, and these three cities are all notoriously popular vacation destinations. True to Central Coast California, this area is dotted with gorgeous beaches and all the outdoor beach activities you could imagine. 

Things to Do

The Salinas area is rich with historical sites, wineries, and working farms. It is also home to the yearly Steinbeck Festival, with Pinnacles National Park also located nearby. The unique landscape is the direct result of multiple volcanoes erupting millions of years ago, making this an excellent place to stay and explore.

Photo credit: California Beaches

Santa Cruz

Our final stop on our Central Coast California road trip brings us to Santa Cruz. Situated between San Francisco and Monterey, this area is filled with stunning beaches, towering mountains, striking redwoods, and beautiful organic farmlands.

Things to Do

In Santa Cruz, surfing is popular among the locals and visitors alike. There are also several local breweries and wineries to enjoy. In addition, Santa Cruz is also known for its year round wildlife-viewing opportunities. 

Photo credit: Visit the USA

Northern Coast

As cliché as it sounds, California’s northern coast is an entirely different place than SoCal. Towering rocks, called sea stacks, dot the beaches, and Highway 1 sits high above the sparkling water below. The weather here also tends to be more mild, staying relatively cool in the summer and not too cold in the winter.

Photo credit: Bon Traveler

Sausalito

This quaint bayside town is located just over the Golden Gate Bridge and only thirty minutes from wine country. Many San Franciscans visit Sausalito to get away from “The City” and just relax. This town became up-and-coming in the 1960s due to the art-meets-industry vibes and the hippies living on houseboats here before it was ever popular. 

Things to Do

The Sausalito area is packed with beautiful beaches that welcome friendly visitors. While you’re visiting the region, you can park your RV at the Marin RV Park. This pet-friendly campground has all the offerings of a typical RV park, such as water and electrical hookups, laundry facilities, a swimming pool, and a dump station. Marin RV Park is located just over ten minutes from Sausalito, making this a convenient home base to explore the boardwalk, swim at the beach, or grab some dinner at a trendy restaurant. 

Photo credit: TravelAwaits

Jenner

Forty-five minutes from Santa Rosa lies Jenner, California, which boasts a year-round population of just 136 people. If you’re looking to unplug and experience some wilderness, then be sure to mark this town on your map. Jenner gives visitors the ability to see the Russian River meet the Pacific Ocean, which seasonally attracts harbor seals. Jenner is lush with outdoor activities, such as kayaking and many hiking trails, as well as a 5,630-acre wildlife reserve.

Photo credit: Travel Lens

Sea Ranch

Just under an hour north of Jenner, visitors can find Sea Ranch. This scenic area is privately-owned, but offers several public beach accesses and plenty to do. 

Things to Do

Sea Ranch guests tend to enjoy exploring the sea caves and viewing rugged bluffs on the town’s beaches. Visitors seeking out a unique experience can visit Benjamino Bufano’s ninety-three-foot ‘Peace Obelisk’ sculpture. In addition, don’t forget to check out the Sea Ranch Chapel. This non-denominational chapel is an architectural masterpiece, created out of redwood that has been shaped and molded to look like a shell. Furthermore, Sea Ranch is about two hours away from the gorgeous Point Reyes National Seashore. 

Photo credit: The Sea Ranch Association

Little River

Little River is just minutes from the town of Mendocino but provides a completely different atmosphere. This tiny town is very tourist-friendly and offers several boutique B&Bs and charming inns. 

Things to Do

The most well-known attraction in the area is the Little River Inn, which is the perfect romantic getaway. Little River is an excellent spot for whale-watching, since the town itself sits on a scenic bluff. One of the most popular activities in the area involves exploring Van Damme State Park. This area is ripe with hiking, biking, and beaching opportunities.

Ferndale

Welcome to historic Ferndale, which is just twenty-five minutes south of the city of Eureka. Here, you will find cute small-town charm in a stunning location.

Things to Do

This village is rich with Victorian architecture that provides a stunning contrast against the coastal backdrop. Here you can visit one of the three beaches, or take a ride on the Lost Coast Scenic Drive. Visitors can also fish or raft on the Eel River, which received its name because of its narrow and winding shape. 

Photo credit: Visit Redwoods

McKinleyville

This beautiful town is home to several beaches that provide equestrian trails and beachcombing opportunities. Visitors can also visit Mad River Beach County Park to see where the Mad River meets the Pacific Ocean. 

Photo credit: Coldwell Banker Cutten Realty

As established, traveling the California coast is such a unique and magical experience. Since it’s all attached by the same highway, it can be a breeze to choose attractions and places to stay. If you’ve never been to the California coast in your RV, consider it for a future trip.

Photo credit: Celebrity Cruises

Have you traveled the California coast? What was your favorite place? Tell us about your adventures in the comments below! 

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