The Ultimate California Coast Road Trip: Camping Edition

We’ve mapped out the must-see spots and the most unique camp spots, cabins, treehouses along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). Now it’s time to choose your own adventure—follow our road trip itinerary from Southern California to the north, flip it in reverse, choose just one or two, or even extend your California road trip by continuing on.

Day 1

Start your Highway 1 journey in Dana Point just south of Los Angeles after an overnight getaway at one of these sweet spots:

Photo by Jacquelyn Nytes at Hidden Ranch

Hit Stacks Pancake House for breakfast and Harpoon Henry’s Seafood for dinner. And while you’re here, stop at Salt Creek Beach, Dana Point Harbor, or The Ocean Institute.

Photo by Kristin Ellis at See Canyon Fruit Ranch

Day 2

Next we’re headed to Pismo Beach, a 5-hour drive from Dana Point up past Malibu—so cue up some tunes or podcasts. Be sure to check out Santa Barbara’s Spanish architecture on the way, then grab dinner at Ventana Grill in Pismo.

Settle in for the night at Camp Arroyo Grande or See Canyon Fruit Ranch, then treat yourself to Honeymoon Cafe at sun-up.

Photo by Loretta Richert at Charan Springs Farm

Day 3

We’re on the move to Big Sur, one of the very best spots on the California Coast. It’s a good idea to pull off in Central Coast beach towns like San Simeon to cross Hearst Castle off your bucket list, in Morro Bay for elephant seals and shopping, or in Cambria for sightseeing on the way.

This evening, stay overnight at the Redwood Room or Charan Springs Farm. Grab dinner at the Big Sur Roadhouse, and in the morning, head to the charming Big Sur Bakery for some breakfast.

Photo by Dally Hue at Terminal 4

Day 4

Today we’re officially in Northern California and hitting the Bay Area. Carmel-by-the-Sea, Monterey, and Santa Cruz offer must-see ocean views along the way (try the 17-Mile Drive), while San Luis Obispo is a favorite inland adventure. And San Francisco, of course, has more than enough to keep you busy for a day trip.

This evening, consider having dinner at Sotto Mare in North Beach, and then rest your head at Terminal 4 just outside the city to stay close to the Pacific Ocean.

Photo by Monica Semergiu at Salmon Creek Ranch

Day 5

Once you’ve got your fill of the city, take a meandering coastal drive over the Golden Gate Bridge to see the Marin Headlands and Point Reyes on your way to Bodega Bay. Try Spud Creek Crab Co. for some energy on the way up.

Tonight, take your pick between campsites and a treehouse at Finley Camp or Salmon Creek Ranch, then splurge for breakfast at Drakes Sonoma Coast.

Photo by Ezequiel Gonzalez at Jug Handle Creek Farm

Day 6

Now we’re headed to Mendocino for its redwood forests and local boutiques. Take your pick from these Hipcamps for a magical night’s stay:

Catch supper at Trillium Cafe, then in the morning, get a fresh start with a stop at Goodlife Cafe and Bakery.

Photo by Donna Smith at The Lost Platform

Day 7

We’ve saved the best for last—today is all about Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Notable stops on the way include Fort Bragg, Richardson Grove State Park, and Sinkyone Wilderness State Park.

Tonight, stay at Lost Coast Retreats and get your fix of microbrews and grub at Eel River Brewing. In the morning, swing by Hot Brew Bistro for breakfast and coffee.

Photo by Lisse Lundin at Private Beach Farm

From here, the coast is yours to continue conquering, up to Redwoods National Park and beyond for the ultimate Pacific Coast Highway road trip, known as one of the best road trip routes in the USA.

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