Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip – Carmel to San Francisco

Road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway. What to do from Carmel to San Francisco. Things to do in Monterey, Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay.From Carmel to San Francisco, you’ve made it into the Northern California coastline. This last stretch of the drive before San Francisco offers a great chance to enjoy beautiful scenery, explore unique places and eat some more delicious food.

If you’re just joining us in this series focusing on the Pacific Coast Highway don’t miss out on our earlier pieces including the overview and additional legs along the route. Make sure to sign up to receive the rest of the series right in your inbox here.

Note: Some tours, passes, stays and meals were provided at no cost to the author. All opinions remain my own. You’ll find affiliate links in this post which allow me to continue to improve Traveling Nine to Fiver. I hope this article is useful for you. 

Carmel

After your morning breakfast at Edgemere Cottages get an early start before taking 17 Mile Drive. This road is famous for its views, homes and golf courses. You might recognize Pebble Beach as one of the more iconic golf courses around. Or you can stop along the way at sandy beaches to walk.

From this drive, you can look back along the coast to the South and catch a glimpse of Carmel beach. Along with seeing the unique lonely pine. Road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway. What to do from Carmel to San Francisco. Things to do in Monterey, Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay.

Monterey

This town is filled with delicious places to grab a bite. If it’s breakfast you’re after First Awakenings is a great spot to grab a scramble, do be warned their plates are huge and can easily be split by two. For lunch swing by Lou Lou’s Griddle in the Middle, sit on the pier and enjoy a delicious sandwich or burger. Find a couple more spots you should swing by here.

Once you’ve gotten a bite, one place you shouldn’t miss is the Monterey Bay Aquarium. You’ve spent this entire drive looking out over the ocean. Here you’ll have a chance to see what it’s like underneath the surface. From the otters to the giant bluefin tuna, their exhibits give you a chance to get up close and personal to the sea life in the bay.Road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway. What to do from Carmel to San Francisco. Things to do in Monterey, Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay.

If you end up staying the night one of my favorite spots is the Hyatt Regency, this resort is tucked away from town just enough that you feel like you’re really escaping. For additional places to stay read more here.

Santa Cruz

If you’re looking for some classic fun, the Santa Cruz Broadwalk is entertaining. Play some arcade games or hop on a ride right beside the ocean. If you’re looking to get into a little more of nature swinging by Natural Bridges Beach, a unique site to see and a great beach to sit and relax on.

For a change of pace, drive a dozen miles or so up into the hills and you’ll find a beautiful forest of coastal redwoods in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. The park offers a variety of trails to hike, including one under two miles where you can start to get a feel for the forest without getting too strenuous.Road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway. What to do from Carmel to San Francisco. Things to do in Monterey, Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay.

If you’re a fan of diners you shouldn’t miss Betty’s Burgers. You’ll find delicious sandwiches, burgers, shakes and more; all right in downtown.

Half Moon Bay

Explore the unique Oddyssea Outdoors with a beautiful garden with a shipwreck right in the middle, head inside and you’ll find a quirky store. For a delightful lunch, stop in at The San Benito’s Deli it’s a part of the historic hotel right in town.

To get a little more coastline in before you head into the city, stop by Point Montara Lighthouse. Right near the beautiful state beach, you can wander by the old structure while taking in the view. And if you’re looking for a unique place to stay it’s actually a hostel.

San Francisco

You’ve made it! Now take some time to explore this beautiful city. You can wrap up your PCH drive at Baker’s Beach where you can view the Golden Gate Bridge and relax. You can hop into Golden Gate Park and explore some of the different museums and gardens it has to offer. Head down to Union Square and shop your heart out. Or just eat your way through the city.

Whatever you haven’t had a chance to get enough of, San Francisco will provide. You can take a few more coastal hikes, dine on seafood around Fisherman’s Wharf or even just wander around. If you’ve already hit most of the tourist spots take a look at exploring another layer of the city.Road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway. What to do from Carmel to San Francisco. Things to do in Monterey, Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay.

Staying in Union Square is a favorite of mine and while there are a variety of high-quality hotels. The Sir Francis Drake continues to be my favorite. It’s quirky, yet luxurious, and unlike many of the others in town avoids the attitude that can come along with four-star hotels.

If you’re looking for a couple more options of what to explore in San Francisco don’t miss my city guide for great places to eat, things to explore and more.

Did I miss any of your favorite spots on this stretch of the drive? If so, let me know in the comments below. If you’re looking for more tips on driving the Pacific Coast Highway head over to the series homepage. And sign up for the Traveling Nine to Fiver newsletter to follow the series as it comes out! Next week we’ll cover tips on how you can plan your own Pacific Coast Highway road trip.

About Megan

Megan MacNee is the founder of Traveling Nine to Fiver. From nine to five she works in the non-profit world in California. She focuses on exploring the world from her own backyard to across the globe. You'll find her sharing about explorations through food, books, travel, and more.