10-Day California Road Trip Itinerary (Best Scenic Drives)

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It can feel overwhelming if it is your first time planning a trip to California. California is enormous, with a very long list of things to do.

This 10-day California road trip itinerary targets all the major tourist attractions, making it perfect for those looking for a thrilling trip.

Fortunately, most activities in the itinerary are close enough that you don’t have to go far to get to your next scenic destination.  

Planning Your 10-Day California Road Trip Itinerary

Beautiful California travel itinerary 10 days
Beautiful California

On this California road trip itinerary, the journey begins in San Francisco and ends at Los Angeles along the Pacific Coast Highway.

You can also decide to revert to this itinerary.

The total length of the entire trip is approximately 382 miles and the drive can even take less than a day.

However, it is highly recommended to take your time and enjoy this scenic route.

Here is the itinerary:

  • Day 1 -3: San Francisco
  • Day 4: Big Sur
  • Day 5-7: Santa Barbara
  • Day 8-10: Los Angeles

Day 1-3: San Francisco 

San Francisco is a diverse city that should be explored beyond the typical tourist attractions. It has some world-famous monuments, a thriving tech industry, and unique cityscapes.

Day 1-3: San Francisco California
Day 1-3: San Francisco 

The city’s quirkiness is unmatched, and you can never run out of things to do.

The town is famous for its cultural diversity, Victorian architecture, fine dining eateries, lively neighborhoods, and museums.

Stopovers Along The Route

Check out these ideas of what to do while in the city.

1. The Golden Gate Bridge

Measuring approximately two miles in length, this magnificent bridge connects San Francisco with Marin County and other districts further north. It is over 80 years old (it opened in 1937).

There are many ways to take in the incredible views of the bridge. You can drive across using SR 1 or US Hwy 101 road.

There are also walkways on either side of the bridge open to pedestrians and cyclists. 

You can also take a guided tour with the Golden Gate Bay cruise.

From the bridge, you can admire the beautiful San Francisco skyline, the rolling hills of Marin County, and the iconic Alcatraz Island.

2. Alcatraz Island

You need to take a ferry in order to get to the island. Alcatraz Island is a former prison for notorious gangsters that was later turned into a museum.

You will tour cellblocks, prison facilities, and the island’s lighthouse. Throughout your visit, you will see items that belonged to prisoners, such as shoes and clothing.

The tour guide will also take you to the gun batteries and the military cemetery to learn about the island’s military history.

3. Fisherman’s Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf area has more than ten seafood restaurants, and 100 shops, making it an excellent stop to shop and eat.

Fisherman's Wharf San Francisco
Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco

There are also plenty of waterfront attractions, like:

  • the Aquarium of the Bay
  • Wax Museum
  • PIER 39
  • and the historic Hyde Street Pier

All these make Fisherman’s Wharf the city’s top-rated tourist attraction year after year.

You can also partake in other activities, such as boat tours, including sunset cruises and whale watching.

Lastly, it is a great spot for kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, and sailing that you can engage in.

Other Pit Stops You Might Visit

  • The Seven Painted Ladies
  • Chinatown
  • Golden Gate Park 
  • Cable Cars
  • Lombard Street
  • Coit Tower 
  • San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Where To Stay While In San Francisco

San Francisco has a wide range of accommodation options that are sure to favor any traveler both budget-wise and still offer the best stay.

These hotels are all located close to some of the city’s top attractions.


  1. Argonaut Hotel
  2. The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco
  3. Handlery Union Square Hotel


  1. Holiday Inn San Francisco
  2. Cow Hollow Inn and Suites
  3. San Francisco Marriott Fisherman’s Wharf

Day 4: Big Sur

The Big Sur is often described as naturally beautiful, enchanting, rugged, peaceful, romantic, fog-lined, and transformative.

On day 4 visit Big Sur itinerary California
Day 4: Big Sur

The area is praised for its dramatic scenery and wealth of things to do, such as hiking, redwood forests, wildlife areas, and beautiful beaches.

Stopovers Along The Route

The distance between is approximately 140 miles and can take you around 3 hours.

1. Half Moon Bay

This is the first town you will see on this drive. Half Moon Bay is known for its stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and expanse of sandy beaches.

You can hike along Moss Beach and Redondo Beach which are great places to stop and take a dip in the ocean, relax, and take in the scenery.

You can also take a stroll on Main Street and check out boutique shops, restaurants, galleries, and cafes.

Half Moon Bay is also home to a number of parks giving you a chance to enjoy hiking and bird-watching.

Want more? Read our guide on the Things To Do In Half Moon Bay.

2. Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is known for being an iconic coastal surf town. Rent a board and join the locals for fun in the sun.

Santa Cruz 10-day California trip itinerary
Santa Cruz

You can also explore shops on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk or enjoy playing classic carnival games, hop on an old wooden roller coaster, a Ferris wheel, and arcades galore.

Moreover, stop by Natural Bridges State Beach, famous for its natural arch in the huge rock right off its shoreline.

Alternatively, go for a hike at Wilder Ranch State Park, formerly a dairy ranch, and the buildings have now been preserved for use as a museum.

3. Monterey 

Monterey, California

Monterey is one of the wealthiest towns when it comes to marine life. The town is famous for the Monterey Bay Aquarium research and facility located in Monterey Bay.

Apart from viewing the marine life, you can also explore the world-class golf courses, Fisherman’s Wharf, Carmel Valley, Salinas Valley wineries (71 wineries with 31 tasting rooms), and the natural beauty of the Big Sur Coast.

Other Pit Stops You Might Visit

  • Pigeon Point Lighthouse
  • Año Nuevo State Park
  • Shark Fin Cove
  • Capitola
  • Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Where To Stay While In Big Sur

Check out these suggestions for places to stay on the San Francisco to Big Sur Drive.


  1. Fernwood Resort
  2. Carmel Valley Lodge


  1. Big Sur Lodge
  2. Little European Lodge

Day 5-7: Santa Barbara

Also referred to as The American Riviera, Santa Barbra gets this nickname from its palm-lined beaches, beautiful coastline elegance, and Spanish-style architecture that wrap around the city.

Day 5-7: Santa Barbara itinerary California
Day 5-7: Santa Barbara

This famous Southern California beach town has some top attractions like Santa Barbara Harbor, Mission Santa Barbara, Stearns Wharf, and County Courthouse.

Stopovers Along The Route

The direct drive from Big Sur to Santa Barbara is 213 miles. The top stops along the way from Big Sur to Santa Barbara are:

1. Paso Robles

This Californian city is known for its agriculture, olive groves, and world-class wineries. Paso is alive with boundless attractions.

Visit the Paso Robles Pioneer Museum, Estrella Warbird Museum, Paso Robles Zoo, Paso Robles Aquatic Center, and Paso Robles Children’s Museum.

Take a drive through the vineyards, and winding hills, explore the area’s various hiking trails, and engage in wine tasting at some of the over 200 wineries in the area.

2. Morro Bay

Located in San Luis Obispo County in California, Moro bay is the ultimate relaxing getaway with countless fun things to do.

Enormous Morro Bay rock
Morro Bay rock and boats

From spectacular wildlife sightings, seaside adventures, fishing, surfing, sailing, and hiking.

The most popular place to visit is Morro Rock which is a volcanic mound home to lagoons, trails, and a bird-rich saltwater marsh.

Other sites include Moro Bay State Park, Moro Bay Aquarium, and the Moro Bay Art Museum.

3. San Luis Obispo 

Perfectly positioned at the foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains, San Luis Obispo offers hiking trails, museums, pristine beaches, a historic downtown, hot springs, and wineries.

San Luis Obispo 10-day California trip itinerary
San Luis Obispo

It’s no surprise why the town calls itself “The Happiest City in America.”

You should not miss various noteworthy sights around the town.

These include the SLO Farmers’ Market, San Luis Obispo Mission, wine tasting in Edna Valley, and SLO Museum of Art.

Other Pit Stops You Might Visit

  • Cambria
  • Pismo Beach
  • Solvang

Where To Stay While In Santa Barbara

Plenty of accommodation options are available to suit every traveler.


  1. Oasis Inn and Suites
  2. Orange Tree Inn


  1. Best Western Plus Santa Barbara
  2. The Presidio

Day 8-10: Los Angeles

Los Angeles is a massive city and stuffed with so many worthwhile experiences. The city has iconic beaches such as Malibu, Santa Monica Beach, and Venice Beach.

Day 8-10: Los Angeles itinerary California
Day 8-10: Los Angeles

Los Angeles is also famous for having the best shopping areas, such as Rodeo Drive, Hollywood to Highland Center.

You can visit several iconic landmarks, like Walt Disney Cert Hall, Hollywood Sign, and the Griffith Observatory.

Also, LA has several cultural attractions, from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to the Getty Center.

Stopovers Along The Route

The distance between these two towns is approximately 95.7 miles, and it takes around one and a half hours on normal traffic.

Take enough time to explore the area, as the route has fantastic stops and many fun things to do.

1. Carpinteria

Only ten minutes drive from Santa Barbara, Carpinteria has all the elements that make it a fantastic place for awesome outdoor activities.

Carpinteria, California

The main attraction here is the Carpinteria State Beach which is dubbed “the world’s safest” due to its calm waves. 

Linden (the oldest street in town) is also famous for its excellent shops and restaurants.

Other best-hidden places not to miss include:

  • Carpinteria Seal Sanctuary
  • Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve
  • Island Brewing Company
  • and Carpinteria Salt Marsh Nature Park

2. Ventura

This surf city is famous for its beautiful beach Ventura Beach.

The beach offers various water activities, including stand-up paddle boarding, harbor cruises, whale watching, and kayaking.

Ventura, California

Also, the main street is filled with awesome cafes, restaurants, shops, and bars worth browsing and checking out.

Other awesome activities to engage in while in Ventura include exploring the museums, art scene from downtown galleries, and the Ventura Botanical gardens.

3. Oxnard

Located in Ventura County, Oxnard is about forty-five-minute drive south of Santa Barbara.

Oxnard, California

There are many things to do in Oxnard, such as museums, restaurants, shops, and water sports like kayaking, diving, and fishing.

Attractions range from Southern California beach, Mullin Automotive Museum, Channel Islands Harbor Farmer’s Market, Channel Islands National Park, and more.

Other Pit Stops You Might Visit

  • Golf N Stuff
  • Sycamore Cove Beach
  • Thousand Oaks
  • Malibu
  • Getty Villa
  • Santa Monica

Where To Stay While In Los Angeles


  1. Huntley Santa Monica Beach
  2. Hilton Los Angeles-Universal City
  3. The Biltmore Los Angeles


  1. Sonder at FOUND Santa Monica
  2. The Pierside Santa Monica
  3. Hotel Aventura

Final Thoughts 💭

The route from San Francisco to Los Angeles is a great way to experience California. This 10-day California road trip itinerary allows you to experience the beauty of the state; From endless options of mountains, beaches, nice towns, delicious food, coastal areas, Islands, national parks, and hiking trails.

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