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10 Awesome Things To Do On A California Coast Drive

Discover top 10 things to do on a drive down the California Coast. Drive the California Coast. Take a California Coast road trip from San Francisco to Santa Barbara.
We lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for a number of years and still visit 2-3 times per year. 

We quickly learned that California is a treasure trove of attractions to explore. You'll find vibrant cities, amazing views, seaside scenery, great food and rich history. Of course, lately the hype is all about superblooms and California flower fields to explore.

We were lucky to have the California coast in our backyard to explore. 

Thinking back, we now present ten things we recommend doing along the coast of California between Los Angeles and San Francisco. 

How long is the California coastline? You can drive 840 miles on a California coast road trip. With so much to see and do, this trip is definitely one for your bucket list. Let's go!

Things to do along the California Coast: Sand castles near Asilomar

1. Enter the World of Hitchcock at Bodega Bay

Let's begin our exploration of coastal California north of San Francisco in Bodega Bay. Bodega Bay's claim to fame is as the setting for Hitchcock's The Birds

While birds rained terror upon the town in the movie, the reality is a quaint fishing village that will still manage to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

California Coast Drive - Bodega Bay

2. Sample Seafood at Half Moon Bay

Half Moon Bay is an easy day trip from San Francisco. Drive down the Pacific Coast Highway (aka Highway 1) and take a step back in time. Spend a few hours exploring quaint shops and restaurants. 

The seafood is simply outstanding. The giant wooden cap'n may be a little over the top but he sure as heck leads the way to a great fish lunch.

California Coast Drive - Half Moon Bay

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: If you have time to spare on your California Coast road trip, consider stopping in San Francisco and taking the ferry to Alameda in the East Bay. You'll be rewarded with stunning views of the San Francisco skyline and the San Francisco Bay Bridge.

3. See Otters in Monterey 

I serendipitously pulled off the road at Moss Landing in Monterey (a great spot for a bird watching day trip from the Bay Area) and what did I find swimming in the water? Sea Otters! 

I could have stood there all day watching them frolick. It's not all fun and games though. There is also the question of lunch. I even got to see one of the sea otters toy with and kill a duck! 

California Coast Drive - Sea Otters in Monterey

4. Stroll the Beach near Asilomar and 17-Mile Drive

17-mile drive represents California coastal beauty at its finest. You'll pay a hefty toll to drive the route ($10 at the time of writing). 

Consider staying in the area in or around picturesque Asilomar and then getting up early to walk along the beach for free. 

It's a truly zen experience with the shorebirds running along the edge of the water and the sound of waves crashing in.

California Coast Drive - The Beach Near Asilomar
California Coast Drive - The Beach Near 17-Mile Drive

5. Visit Steinbeck Country

We'll detour inland for just a moment to Salinas, California, birthplace of prolific American author John Steinbeck. 

Salinas feels like a journey back in time with vestiges of old-fashioned Main St. USA still visible. Get to know Salinas' native son at the National Steinbeck Center

I picked up a copy of Travels with Charley in Search of America when I visited. It was written by Steinbeck later in life describes 3 months of travel all around the United States with his faithful dog Charley. 

Given how much he seemed to enjoy that trip, I feel like Steinbeck is a kindred spirit.

California Coast Drive - Salinas - John Steinbeck Country

6. Marvel at the Elephant Seals at San Simeon

Continuing further south, we arrive at my favorite place of all along the California Coast: San Simeon.

We visited this part of the central coast in January and watched the large male elephant seals fight for dominance and the best mating opportunities along the beach. Friends of the Elephant Seal offers plenty of advice on visiting.
California Coast Drive - Elephant Seals at Piedras Blancas

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Looking for other stunning drives to take around the world? Have you considered an Adelaide to Melbourne road trip along the Great Ocean Road in Australia? Visit scenic places like the Twelve Apostles over the course of about 3 days (one way). You may even spot a koala along the way. Another great scenic road trip is along the East Coast of Taiwan from Taipei to Hualien, the gateway to Taroko National Park.

7. Imagine the Good Life at Hearst Castle

Nearby, Hearst Castle offers a glimpse into the life of the late newspaper magnate, William Hearst. The property was popular among A-list celebrities in the 1920s and 1930s and today offers stunning views.
California Coast Drive - San Simeon - Hearst Castle

8. Taste Wine in Paso Robles

There are a tremendous number of wine regions in California. Paso Robles wineries are lesser known but top notch. Spend a weekend exploring the town and sipping some fine reds.

California Coast Drive - Wine Tasting in Paso Robles

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Looking for other wine tasting trips California? Of course, there is always a classic weekend in Napa and Calistoga to consider. Alternatively, get off the beaten track by driving from San Francisco to Lodi to taste some fabulous wines.

9. Be Transported to Denmark in Solvang

Solvang is a curious place. Windmills greet you on entering the town. Danish bakeries line the streets. 

An ostrich farm lies just on the outskirts of town. Solvang is unique in all of California and is a good place to stop en route to Santa Barbara.
California Coast Drive - Solvang - Little Denmark

10. Live the Beach Life in Santa Barbara

I used to visit the University of California at Santa Barbara frequently for work. 

I always marveled at the campus sitting on a cliff overlooking the sea and would think to myself I'd never get any work done if I was a student here! 

In addition to UCSB, Santa Barbara offers a posh downtown and miles of beachfront walks. Santa Barbara is a city I could imagine retiring to. It's very chill.

California Coast Drive - Santa Barbara

I hope you've enjoyed this virtual tour of the California Coast: from Northern California to Southern California. 

Check out the map below (click on the image to open up an interactive version in Google Maps) and plan your drive along the California Coast. 

What are you waiting for?

Map of things to do along the California Coast

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Things to do along the California CoastThings to do along the California Coast


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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: 10 Awesome Things To Do On A California Coast Drive
10 Awesome Things To Do On A California Coast Drive
Discover top 10 things to do on a drive down the California Coast. Drive the California Coast. Take a California Coast road trip from San Francisco to Santa Barbara.
Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog