Bixby Creek Bridge, Pacific Coast Highway at sunset with an orange glow cast over the ocean

Road Trip From San Francisco To Los Angeles

Updated by Dianne Titos on March 8 2024

The quintessential Pacific Coast road trip in sunny California, this drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles showcases the best of stunning coastal views and beautiful beach towns. You will also get to visit world-famous national parks and iconic landmarks of the West Coast.

The 460-mile road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles takes 10 hours to drive. Key stops include Hearst Castle and Monarch Butterfly Grove, Los Padres National Forest and Big Basin Redwoods State Park, as well as Malibu, Ventura, and San Jose.

Keep reading to learn everything there is to know about this beautiful itinerary, including where to stay along the way, the best time to visit, and our top tips on things to do between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

How to drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles

The map below shows two great route options for your road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Click on the star icons for headline details, and scroll down for much more information below.

* Always remember that drive times can be impacted by traffic, closures, weather and other conditions. It's best to double-check while planning and before starting out on your trip.

Comparison of road trip routes between San Francisco and Los Angeles
RouteDistanceDriving Time
Pacific Coast Route460 miles10 hours
Yosemite National Park Route570 miles11 hours 40 minutes

How far is Los Angeles from San Francisco and how long will the road trip take?

If you are driving directly from San Francisco to Los Angeles without making any detours or stopping at any point, this direct route will take you 6 hours to complete, covering 380 miles. However, this is not the most scenic option.

One of the best ways to enjoy the road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles is by driving along the Pacific Coast Route - this drive covers 460 miles and takes 10 hours to drive.

Another alternative is to follow the Yosemite National Park Route, which will spans 570 miles that can be covered in 11 hours and 40 minutes without making any stops.

For this epic Californian drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles, we recommend putting aside at least 5 days since there is so much to do and see en route.

A foot path leads down to the Pacific ocean in Monterey California.
No matter which route you choose, this road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles will take you through stunning sights such as beautiful Monterey.
mark smith nsb/

Best road trip route from San Francisco to Los Angeles

While there are several ways to do the drive, the Pacific Coast Route and the Yosemite National Park Route are by far the best routes for the road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles. With so much to see on the way, you'll have plenty of places left over to visit on the return trip too.

The Pacific Coast Route is the ultimate beach-lover's dream, with so many places to work on your tan and dip your toes in the sand on the way. You will be able to make stops at beautiful Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz, Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Big Sur and Malibu on the way.

One of the highlights of this drive will follow parts of the legendary Pacific Coast Highway as you make your way from one coastal town to another. This route isn't only about beaches, though. On the way, you can also visit Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and Los Padres National Forest.

Please in mind is that the Big Sur area and parts of Pacific Coast Highway are prone to landslides, so check the road conditions and closures before you set off. Another thing to be careful of is traffic, though, as plenty of the route's attractions are popular with tourists.

The Yosemite National Park Route will take you to the world-famous national park that lends this route its name, as well as the dramatically different yet equally magical Sequoia National Park. You will also get to visit Fresno, Bakersfield, and Santa Clarita on the way for some urban fun.

You will use the Big Oak Flats Entrance to enter the park on this route, which stays open year-round. For other entrance options you can use, you can check out our detailed guide on where the Yosemite entrances are.

Whether you're flying into San Francisco or you simply don't have your own transport in the city, renting a car for your road trip is something you'll want to take care of ASAP.

For an easy-to-compare view of rental options for your road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles, take a look at our partner site,

Pacific Coast Route

You will follow the stunning Pacific Coast Highway for most of this route. Leave San Francisco by taking Interstate 280 (I-280) south, then merge into CA-1 and pass between Pacifica State Beach and San Pedro Valley Park.

Past Half Moon Bay and Cowell Ranch Beach Access, stop at Big Basin Redwoods State Park, then take a break at Santa Cruz.

Your next major stop will be Monterey and then Carmel-by-the-Sea. After that, stop by Garrapata State Park before pulling into Big Sur, and explore Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and Andrew Molera State Park.

Continue south past Hearst Castle to San Luis Obispo. Continue past Pismo Beach before hopping onto US-101, following it to Santa Maria.

Heading south, you will reach Gaviota State Park and hug the coast before heading east. From Santa Barbara, take a detour to Cachuma Lake and Los Padres National Forest. Back on the main route, stick to the coast all the way to Ventura.

Pass Point Mugu State Park and Point Dume before pulling into Malibu, and from Santa Monica, take Interstate 101 the rest of the way to Los Angeles.

Sunset as seen from Pismo Beach, California
One of the highlights of the Pacific Coast Route is undoubtedly the magical sunset at Pismo Beach.

Yosemite National Park Route

Head out of San Francisco on I-80 and merge onto I-580. You will soon find yourself on scenic state roads as you head towards Red Hills Recreational Management Area.

CA-120 will take you through Groveland and Buck Meadows before you reach the Big Oak Flat Entrance of Yosemite National Park. Spend some time admiring the stunning views, and leave the park using the South Entrance.

Heading south, you will drive through Oakhurst and Yosemite Lakes as you make your way towards Fresno. Spend some time in this charming city before setting off again, this time to visit Sequoia National Park. If you have more time, you can make a detour to Kings Canyon National Park while here.

After your visit, keep firing south through Bakersfield and you will soon reach Santa Clarita on the last leg of your journey. Once you are done exploring this city, head southeast to your destination in Los Angeles, following I-5.

Half Dome view, snow covered mountain cap and trees on a sunny day
Make sure your camera is ready - Yosemite National Park features some of the most breathtaking landscapes year-round.
Keneva Photography/

Best places to stop between San Francisco and Los Angeles

You'll definitely want to break up the road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles into a week if you have time. If you can help it, try to find yourself a room in one of these hotels:

Enjoy the stunning coastal views at Big Sur

Big Sur is one of the highlights of any good Pacific Coast Route about 3 hours into the drive, so you should definitely try to book a hotel room here if you can. Of all the resorts here, The Alila Ventana Big Sur stands out with its beautiful views of the ocean and spectacular rooms.

After waking up to an unforgettable sunrise, you'll want to start your day here with a meal at The Sur House, one of the region's finest restaurants. After that, you can hike the various scenic trails that Big Sur is so known for.

McWay Falls in scenic golden evening light with blue sky in summer, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Big Sur, California
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is home to the famous McWay Falls, which should be at the top of your list of places to visit while in Big Sur.

The swimming pool at this hotel will help you beat the heat like few others can, and if you have some time to kill, you can always try some spectacular wine at the terrace bar or enjoy a relaxing yoga class.

Adding to all that is the amazing location - places like Pfeiffer Beach and Andrew Molera State Park are only a short distance away, giving you every reason in the world to spend plenty of time outdoors.

While the resort is definitely expensive, it's worth every penny - combining a great location with every amenity under the sun, Alila Ventana Big Sur is one of California's most breathtaking resorts.

Admire the breathtaking vistas of Yosemite National Park

Fish Camp, nestled just at the gateway of Yosemite National Park, is an ideal stopover around 5 hours into your journey, offering a seamless blend of natural beauty and convenient access to the park.

This charming and quaint mountain town is the ideal base if you are looking to explore Yosemite while enjoying a serene and less touristy environment.

Vibrant sunset over Tunnel View of mountains in California's Yosemite National Park
Choosing a favorite view in Yosemite will prove to be an impossible task with so many awe-inspiring vistas, but Tunnel View comes close.
Andrew S/

The park's must-visit highlights include the awe-inspiring Tunnel View, offering a panoramic vista of Yosemite's famous landmarks, the tranquil and picturesque Tenaya Falls, and the iconic Half Dome, a symbol of the park's rugged beauty.

If you'd like to learn more about the best photo spots in Yosemite National Park, you can reach our detailed guide by clicking here.

For your stay, the Big Creek Inn is the perfect choice at the doorstep of the national park, striking a balance between comfort and proximity to Yosemite's wonders. Surrounded by beautiful greenery and nature, you will be waking up to birdsong and calmness during your stay here.

The inn boasts a stellar location, with the South Entrance of Yosemite National Park less than 2 miles away and the famous Tenaya Falls about a 20-minute drive from your doorstep.

After you spend a day or two exploring Yosemite, you might understandably be tired in the late afternoons. The inn's communal areas are stocked with a vast collection of movies and games, perfect for a quiet evening in.

Explore the beautiful streets of Los Angeles

We could go on about Los Angeles' finer points forever, so after a day of exploring this beautiful city, you'll want to go home to an amazing hotel. There are quite a few great picks in town, but a definite highlight is Shutters on the Beach in beautiful Santa Monica.

Whatever floor you're located on, you'll be waking up to an amazing sight as the property is located right on the beautiful beachfront and the many beaches in the Santa Monica area will tempt you with their white sands from the moment you open your eyes.

Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, at dusk, with pedestrians crossing
Always busy, Hollywood Boulevard, home to the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame, is a must-visit in Los Angeles.
Sean Pavone/

One Pico and the Living Room are amazing places to energize yourself with some delicious food before setting out to explore Los Angeles.

Great window views are one thing, but an outdoor swimming pool almost overlooking the ocean is something else altogether - you won't want to get out of the water unless it's to enjoy all the other amazing amenities this hotel has to offer.

Located near the Original Muscle Beach Santa Monica, among other attractions, this hotel is the perfect base of operations if you want to get to know the Los Angeles region as intimately as possible.

READ MORE - Click here for more great hotel options

Things to see on a road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles

Although it's not the longest drive, the road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles has a lot to offer. These are only some of the most legendary attractions you can find along the way:

  1. Pacifica State Beach - Located in the San Pedro Valley, Pacifica State Beach is a quintessential San Francisco beach, known for its wide, sandy shores and popular with surfers and beachgoers alike.
  2. Half Moon Bay - A picturesque coastal town, Half Moon Bay boasts a variety of beautiful beaches and scenic oceanside trails, making it a must-visit for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.
  3. Big Basin Redwoods State Park - Home to some of the most majestic redwood forests in California, this park offers serene hiking trails through ancient tree groves, showcasing the state's natural grandeur.
  4. Sunset State Beach - Situated in Monterey Bay, Sunset State Beach stands out as a key destination, renowned for its stunning beachscapes and peaceful oceanfront settings.
  5. Monterey & Carmel-by-the-Sea - Coastal towns that stand out with their sandy beaches and unique architecture. We recommend visiting Monterey State Beach while here.
  6. Big Sur - A spectacular stretch along the California coast, Big Sur combines dense forests, dramatic cliffs, and breathtaking natural scenery, creating an unforgettable driving experience.
  7. Elephant Seal Vista Point - Visit during the right season to witness a spectacular scene of elephant seals basking on the beach against a backdrop of crashing ocean waves.
  8. Hearst Castle - An architectural marvel in California, Hearst Castle is a historic estate known for its opulence, grandeur, and significant place in the state's rich architectural history.
  9. Monarch Butterfly Grove - A magical experience awaits in fall or winter when this grove becomes a haven for thousands of monarch butterflies, offering a stunning natural spectacle.
  10. San Luis Obispo - This delightful coastal city is famous for its unique Bubblegum Alley and the historic Spanish Mission Museum, reflecting a blend of quirky charm and cultural heritage.
  11. Cachuma Lake - Renowned as a premier destination for lakeside camping and water sports, Cachuma Lake offers recreational activities second only to the allure of the Pacific Ocean.
  12. Los Padres National Forest - Serving as a floral gateway to Los Angeles, this expansive forest is known for its diverse ecosystems and scenic beauty, epitomizing California's natural splendor.
  13. Point Dume - Offering unparalleled views of the Pacific Ocean and Santa Catalina Island, Point Dume is a breathtaking coastal headland perfect for nature observation and scenic photography.
  14. Malibu - Celebrated for its celebrity allure, this iconic oceanside city is the ideal concluding stop on a coastal road trip, boasting pristine beaches and a quintessential California vibe.
Cliffs on the Pacific Ocean coastline near Half Moon Bay, California, with a blue sky
Half Moon Bay is a favorite among locals and it is easy to see why with its beautiful coastal views.
Sundry Photography/

Yosemite National Park Route

  1. Red Hills Recreational Management Area - A hidden gem in the Sierra Nevada foothills, this area offers a unique landscape of red serpentine soil and rare plant species, ideal for hiking and bird-watching enthusiasts.
  2. Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum - Located in the historic town of Groveland, this museum provides a rich insight into the local history and the impact of the Gold Rush, serving as a perfect preamble to Yosemite National Park.
  3. Yosemite National Park - Renowned for its breathtaking waterfalls, giant sequoias, and diverse wildlife, Yosemite is a natural masterpiece, offering endless outdoor activities and iconic vistas like El Capitan and Half Dome.
  4. Fresno Flats Historical Village and Park - This park in Oakhurst recreates 19th-century life in the Sierra Nevada foothills, featuring restored buildings and artifacts that depict the area's pioneer history.
  5. Bass Lake - A picturesque mountain lake near Yosemite, Bass Lake is a haven for water sports, fishing, and camping, surrounded by pine forests and offering a tranquil escape.
  6. Visalia Fox Theatre - A beautifully restored 1930's theater in downtown Visalia, it now hosts a variety of live performances and events, reflecting the cultural vibrancy of the Central Valley.
  7. Sequoia National Park - Home to some of the largest trees on Earth, including the famous General Sherman Tree, this park offers stunning forest landscapes, hiking trails, and the impressive beauty of the Sierra Nevada.
  8. Tunnel Log Tree - An iconic fallen giant sequoia in Sequoia National Park, it's known for the tunnel carved through its trunk, allowing visitors to walk or drive through and experience the majesty of these ancient trees up close. To learn more, click here.
  9. California Living Museum - Located in Bakersfield, this unique zoo focuses on plants and animals native to California, offering educational exhibits and a chance to learn about the state's diverse ecosystems.
  10. Buck Owens' Crystal Palace - A legendary music venue and museum dedicated to country music star Buck Owens, it's a hub for live music, dining, and a glimpse into the rich country music scene of Bakersfield.
  11. Fort Tejon State Historic Park - This historic site north of Los Angeles offers a glimpse into life in a 19th-century army outpost, with reenactments and exhibits on California's early history and the Fort Tejon earthquake.
  12. Pyramid Lake - Nestled in the mountains of Los Angeles County, this reservoir offers outdoor activities like boating, fishing, and picnicking, set against a backdrop of scenic beauty.
  13. Six Flags Magic Mountain - An adrenaline-packed theme park in Valencia known for its world-class roller coasters and family-friendly attractions, it's a must-visit for thrill-seekers.
Beautiful sunset in Sequoia national park in California, USA with the tall trees all around.
Had enough coastal scenery and want something different? Sequoia National Park is home to a strikingly different landscape.
My Good Images/

Best time to go on a road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles

The road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles can be done whenever, but with the coastal option and national parks en route, it definitely shines brighter during certain times of year.

The Pacific Coast Route is home to countless amazing parks and beaches, most of which are best enjoyed in or around summer when the temperatures are around 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

That said, you should be careful of the coastal fog enveloping the Pacific Coast Highway on hot summer mornings. Los Angeles itself is quite crowded throughout most of the year, especially in the summer.

Visiting this time of year also means the hotels will be at their most expensive, but it might be worth considering if you want to enjoy the surrounding beach towns and festive events. Los Angeles hosts LA Pride every June and Nisei Week Japanese Festival in August.

Winter can also be a good time to visit - LA doesn't get as cold as other cities near the coast, and the occasional rainfall tends to scare off out-of-season adventurers, leaving the streets empty enough for you to explore without running into major crowds.

You can expect temperatures in LA to be around 55-75 degrees Fahrenheit if you opt to visit during winter. However, keep in mind that the Tioga Pass Entrance of Yosemite closes down in winter, so if you are following Yosemite National Park Route and want to use this entrance, plan accordingly.

That said, spring and fall might just be the best times to do the trip, as the temperatures peak at around the mid-to-late-70 degrees and the crowds are generally thinner than they are in summer. If you do visit during these seasons, keep an umbrella handy in case it starts raining.

If visiting during these seasons, you can plan your trip around Monterey Whalefest in April and Monterey Jazz Festival in September on the Pacific Coast Route, and Tulare County Renaissance Fair in Visalia if you opt for the Yosemite National Park Route.