Pacific Coast Highway Roadtrip

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Seeing as how my wife is due at the end of May, we wanted to take one last vacation before our lives forever change. But… where do you go in the middle of January with a pregnant wife? After a lot of research, I came up with a 9 day road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway; something I’ve always wanted to do.

We started our trip in San Diego, and ended in San Francisco. We met friends along the way, enjoyed a blend of tourist sights and hidden gems, and saw some of the best sights in the country. I decided to document all of our favorite things along the way, so that someday I can hopefully help another expecting couple enjoy a great vacation before birth!


Day 1 – landed in San Diego in the morning

  • San Diego Zoo – We spent 4 hours there, but could have easily been a whole day.
  • Walked around the popular Gaslamp Quarter in the evening. Lots of shopping at eating places.
  • Stayed at: Airbnb listed studio condo right in the heart of Gaslamp (downtown SD). Highly recommend this place and its host.
  • Good eats:
  • Lunch – Anthony’s Fish Grotto. Awesome spot for lunch on the pier with inside and outside seating
  • Dinner – Barleymash. High end sports bar known for their huge selection of loaded french fries and mac ‘n’ cheeses.

Day 2 – More San Diego

  • Morning hike of Cowles Mountain. 3 mile round trip hike. Many had their babies and dogs, so definitely easy/moderate.
  • Afternoon visits to Conorado Island and Ocean Beach (OB). Plenty of things to walk around and see.
  • Evening sunset at Sunset Cliffs. A beautiful thing to do if you have time.
  • Stayed at: Ocean Beach Hotel. Be sure to get an ocean view room. Much nicer than the other rooms!
  • Good eats:
  • Lunch – Leyroy’s Kitchen in Conorado. A bit pricey for lunch, but most places are in Conorado.
  • Dinner – South Beach Bar & Grille in Ocean Beach. AMAZING Baja fish tacos.

Venice Sunset

Day 3 – Head up towards LA

  • In the morning, we drove north from OB and stopped at Aliso Beach in Laguna. Beautiful beach, and saw dolphins swimming just off the shore!
  • Afternoon visit to Hollywood, Rodeo Drive, and other touristy things. Headed to Venice in the late afternoon and evening Venice Beachouse(checkout the sunset view above from Venice).
  • Stayed at: Airbnb listed beach house just off Venice Beach. We loved it; makes you feel like one of the locals! Checkout the photo to the right.
  • Good eats:
  • Only one worth noting was The Terrace Cafe in Venice. Nothing too special about this place, but had nice outdoor seating.

Day 4 – Venice/Santa Monica/Malibu areas

  • Started the day off right with a nice jog and shopping around the Venice Boardwalk.
  • Headed to Santa Monica in the early afternoon. Great outdoor mall a few blocks from the coast. Checked out Santa Monica Pier. It’s packed full of people, but something cool to explore.
  • Drove to and spent the evening Malibu (about an hour drive from Santa Monica).
  • Stayed at: A really cool Yurt in Malibu, listed on Airbnb. Host is a world traveling author, and it was a really cool experience.
  • Good eats:
  • Lunch at Wahoo’s. Definitely known for some great fish taco’s (we were on a fish taco kick if you couldn’t tell).
  • Dinner at Neptune’s Net just west of Malibu. Highly recommended. Huge cooler of bottled beer options, and best fried seafood I’ve had in a while. Most are fried, so make sure you’re in the mood for that.

Day 5 – Burbank & Santa Barbara

  • A bit of backtracking… but we scored tickets to the Tonight Show with Jay Leno! One of his last shows ever too – we got to see Adam Sandler, Ali Wentworth, and Sheryl Crow!!
  • Besides the show and stopping to eat, we didn’t have many other activities.
  • Stayed at: Agave Inn in Santa Barbara. Really cool spanish style inn off State street, with a great price.
  • Good eats:
  • Champagne French Bakery in Thousand Oaks. Great breakfast sandwiches
  • The Brewhouse in Santa Barbara. Talk about a sweet local brewery with good food and great prices! Reminded me of Grand Rapids!

Day 6 – San Simeon / Cambria

  • From Santa Barbara, we drove highway 1 up towards San Simeon (about 2.5 hrs drive time). Stopped at Morro Bay along the way. Highly recommend grabbing a sandwich and eating near the giant Morro Rock.Hearst Castle View
  • Toured Hearst Castle. DO IT. If you have time, do more than one tour – the Grand Rooms tour went fast and we wish we could have done more of the castle. Photo is the view from the castle (my wife and friend)!
  • Stayed at: Fogcatcher Inn. Moonstone Beach Dr. has several small inns to choose from. We loved our ocean view king room with fireplace here.
  • Good eats:
  • Had a great dinner at Linn’s Restaurant. Cambria has a cute downtown with really friendly people. This place had great food at reasonable prices.

Carmel cliffside

Day 7 – Carmel (photo from hotel above)

  • Just north of Cambria is Piedras Blancas – stop there to see thousands of Elephant Seals chilling out on the shore!
  • Drove highway 1 up toward Carmel. You will want to stop every 10 minutes. The views along this drive are breathtaking. Best driving you’ll do the whole trip. On a clear day, you can see the whole world! Took us 4 hours to drive the 80 some miles!
  • Spent the evening walking around downtown Carmel. My wife definitely thought it was “the cutest” downtown on the west coast. Blocks and blocks of local boutique shops!
  • Stayed at: Ticklepink Inn (view from the room is above). This was definitely our splurge night… but it felt like our honeymoon all-over. Welcome bottle of champagne (for me), chocolates (for Erin), ocean views where you can see whales… what could be better!?

Day 8 – Monterey Bay & San Francisco

  • We started the day by driving 17 mile drive. A cool scenic drive through the golf courses of Pebble Beach. $10 cost, but worth it.
  • We then visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Definitely schedule around the various feedings, it made it so much better.
  • Drove highway 1 up through Half Moon Bay, then into San Francisco.
  • Spent the evening settling into San Francisco and walking parts of town.
  • Stayed at: Hotel Vertigo for both nights. Nice spot in the popular Union Square part of town
  • Good eats:
  • Dinner at Fly Bar. A cool gastropub just down the road from the hotel. Great food and drink options, and very reasonably priced! Really cool vibe in the place too with unique artwork.

Day 9 – San Francisco exploration!

  • We drove the Golden Gate Bridge, visited Muir Woods, drove Lombard street, checked out Fisherman’s Wharf, took a boat ride around Alcatraz… just go have fun!
  • Good eats:
  • Bagels and coffee at Cup-a-joe, right next to Hotel Vertigo
  • Lunch at Tarantino’s. Cool spot right in Fisherman’s Wharf that overlooks the docks. If I were you though, I’d grab food from the outdoor stands!
  • Dinner at UpCider – another gastropub near the hotel. I want to bring this type of place to Grand Rapids – huge cider collection on draft, along with beer and small plates. A bit pricey, but worth a stop for cider!

Day 10 – back to frozen Michigan

Hope everyone reading this gets a chance to do a trip like this someday!


Update: I completed a fun video highlighting this trip. Check it out below!

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