10 Things to See and Do on the California Coast

coast of California
Share Me!

Disclosure:  This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to purchase through my link, at no cost to you.


California is arguably one of the most diverse states in all of America.  From the north to the south there are different wine regions, mountains, national parks, beaches; you name it, California has it.  And while the entirety of California is pretty dang incredible, the coast of California is where it’s at.  While I’d encourage anyone to come to any region of California, there’s something special about renting a car and driving up (or down) California’s coast.

Below you’ll find the best things to see and do when you road trip the coast of California.


10 of the Best Things to See and Do on the Coast of California

This post contains information on renting a car in California, plus my favorite stops along the coast.  If you’re looking for a specific California itinerary, don’t miss…


1.  Bixby Creek Bridge, Monterey

The Bixby Creek Bridge is one of the most recognized structures in California.  It’s famously shown in the beginning credits of the TV show, Big Little Lies, and is located in Monterey just north of Big Sur.  The bridge was constructed in 1931 and soars 260-feet above a canyon.  If you’re driving from north to south, there is an area to pull off to the side for great views of the bridge and the dramatic coastline.


2.  Drive through Big Sur

Big Sur is a beautiful, and expansive stretch of coastline that takes you from Carmel to San Simeon.  The drive is approximately 80-miles, all down a two-lane highway.  If you’re visiting California, this is a must do!  There are tons of places to stop along Big Sur (some even mentioned in this post), places to eat, and even luxurious hotels and campsites to stay in.  But even without planning any stops through Big Sur, the drive itself is well worth it.


3.  Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of my favorite landmarks in the US.  Not only is it not overrated, but I am also blown away every time I get a glimpse of it – whether I’m close up or far away!  If you’re visiting the coast of California, a visit to San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge should be on your list.


Read more:  The Best Places to Go for Views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge


4.  Lovers Point Park, Pacific Grove

This area of rugged coastline has been popular amongst locals for over 100 years.  The area is a great spot for water activities like surfing, kayaking, and diving.  Because of it’s location (facing east), it’s also one of the only spots on the west coast where you can watch the sun rise over the water!


5.  McWay Falls, Big Sur

If you have the time to stop during your drive through Big Sur, I definitely suggest getting out to stretch at McWay Falls.  McWay Falls is an 80-foot waterfall that “falls” all year.  Because it’s a state park, you will have to pay $10 this area.  To see McWay Falls, you’ll have to park in the parking lot and take a short trail to the waterfall.


6.  Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur

16-miles south of Bixby Bridge, Pfeiffer Beach is an off-the-beaten-path destination in Big Sur.  Known for its keyhole rocks and purple sand, Pfeiffer is a great place to get out of the car and just relax.  As you travel down a steep hill, towards the coast, the road opens up at a beautiful sandy beach.  To access Pfeifer Beach you will have to pay $12.50.  It’s definitely a hidden gem on the California coast.


7.  Pismo Beach

Halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, you’ll find Pismo Beach – a gem in central California.  Aside from the beach itself, the town has some great wineries, shopping, restaurants, and activities!  It’s a beautiful option if you’re looking to explore central California or you’re just looking for a quick stop in-between SF and LA.


8.  Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, Carmel-By-The-Sea

Located in the dreamy town, Carmel-By-The-Sea, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is a beautiful area where you can hike around.  I recommend Bird Island Trail, and if you have extra time, Whalers Cove.  If you have unlimited time time, you might want to consider walking the entire 6-mile loop around the park.  This is a state park so you’ll have to pay $10 to enter.


9.  Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara

Just north of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara has to be my favorite city in California, and perhaps even my favorite in America.  This beautiful beach town is quintessentially California with laid-back vibes, year-round sunshine, beaches, great weather, and amazing restaurants.  Furthermore, exploring Stearns Wharf is one of my favorite things to do in Santa Barbara.  Walk out on the pier for seafood and wine at Deep Sea for views looking out over the ocean.


Read more:  Spending 2 Days in Santa Barbara; The Ultimate Santa Barbara Itinerary


10.  The Hidden Kitchen, Cayucos & Cambria

Do you ever just stumble upon something and KNOW that you’ve struck gold?  That was me when I walked into this breezy, laid-back California restaurant that specializes in waffles – The Hidden Kitchen.  This little restaurant serves all-organic food, specializing in blue corn waffles and blue corn tacos.  There are two locations in California – Cayucos and Cambria.

(Photo is not from The Hidden Kitchen).


Tips for Renting a Car in California

If you’re flying into California with the goal of renting a car and road tripping the coast of California (which you should), below you’ll find my best tips for doing so!

  • Which city should you start in?  The bigger the city, the more rental options you’ll have!  I suggest flying into San Diego, Los Angeles, or San Francisco and going from there.
  • What car rental company should you use?  I generally prefer to rent from Enterprise (just based on availability plus past customer service), but I also like to use the platform QEEQ to compare prices across rental companies.
  • Any tips for making your rental cheaper?  Aside from comparing multiple different companies using QEEQ – I also like to play around with dates/where I’m picking the car from and dropping it off at.  Generally it’s cheaper if you pick up and drop off the car at the same location; play around with those things to bring your cost down.
  • What’s the best time to visit the coast of California?  Because California is generally beautiful year-round, I always prefer off-season when there are less tourists.  Plus, at that time your rental will probably be much more affordable!  For this reason I’d suggest visiting in the winter months; sometime between November-March.
  • What are the requirements to rent a car in California?  You have to be 25-years old, with a valid drivers license, and a credit card to rent a car in California.


The California coast is so beautiful and there are so many incredible things to see and do.  I hope that this gives you a good starting point into discovering the beauty that California has to offer.


Pin Me!


Share Me!

Kylee is a Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU) nurse passionate about making travel affordable and accessible to nurses. Inspiring nurses to travel both near and far, Kylee began Passports and Preemies in 2017 while volunteering in Skopje, North Macedonia as a way to reach nurses and advocate for the prevention of nurse burnout by traveling. Kylee is the original creator of the “8 Day Vacay” – a vacation geared towards nurses who aim to take advantage of the potentially 8 days off between work weeks with no need to use PTO.

Find me on: Web | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *