Experience the Ultimate California Coastal Itinerary


California is known to have one of the most beautiful stretches of coastal scenery in the country.

Peter D. Tillman/Wikipedia

California is known for its long coastline, dotted with beautiful towns and stunning oceanside views. This itinerary focuses on exploring the coast, and includes art, history, and shopping for those who want to delve into the area beyond the water. Experience Big Sur and San Diego, coupled with a stay in Carmel-by-the-Sea, to allow for the ultimate experience in dreamy seaside California. By enjoying time immersed in nature among charming settings, this diverse trip brings to life the culture and gorgeous landscapes of California.


Trip Highlight

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

A consistent highlight for California visitors is feeling small against the backdrop of stately, tall redwood trees. Get up close to these vast, awe-inspiring beauties during a visit to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

Trip Designer

Visit California

Visit California’s goal is to remind travelers of the vast experiences that await in California. The Golden State boasts a variety of trip options, from laid-back luxury to outdoor adventures, and Visit California is the ultimate resource to guide the way.

Hike among the seasonal flowers at Garrapata State Park.

Ingmar Wesemann/Getty Images

Day 1Enjoy the Beauty of Nature in Northern Big Sur

As you explore nature on your coastal road trip, the Post Ranch Inn makes an ideal home base. The property keeps sustainability top of mind and is set on the cliffs of Big Sur, offering incredible ocean views. Make plans to eat at Sierra Mar, the inn’s onsite restaurant, which offers a farm-to-table experience and well-curated wine list.

Wildflower lovers will enjoy spending time at Garrapata State Park, where you can hike among the seasonal flowers exploding with color. Also, don’t miss beachcombing at the mostly undeveloped Andrew Molera State Park. However, the park’s highlight is seeing condors and learning about their habitat at the Discovery Center.

Wear comfortable shoes and head to Point Sur State Historic Park to explore the light station on foot. Make a point to arrive early for the three-hour walking tour, which those who enjoy immersing themselves in history will love. Pay attention as you traverse Bixby Bridge. Several stops along the bridge provide mesmerizing vantage points to snap a memorable photo or simply soak in the view. End your day by eating outdoors at Nepenthe, and stop by The Phoenix Shop to peruse work from local artisans.


Founded in 1770, Carmel Mission is considered the most authentically restored Franciscan mission.

Oleg Pokrovskiy

Day 2Explore Carmel-by-the-Sea to its Fullest

After a day focusing on nature and California outdoors, get ready to have a lovely day traipsing around luxurious Carmel-by-the-Sea. Build time into your schedule to visit the Carmel Mission Basilica Museum as you appreciate its architecture. The city is brimming with fabulous boutiques, so wear comfortable—yet stylish—shoes to peruse shops like Fourtané’s, which has an extensive estate jewelry collection.

To satiate your appetite midday, La Bicyclette has a cozy atmosphere and menu featuring European Country cuisine. Afterward, participate in a wine tasting at Lepe Cellars. Varietals such as the 2021 Grenache and 2019 Petit Verdot may tempt you to purchase a bottle to take home as a souvenir of time well spent.

White-sand beaches also await if you simply want to while the time away after consuming beverages made from the fruit of California vines. Ocean waves beckon travelers to stay and enjoy the sun as it sets over the Pacific. If you’d rather stay in town, choose Normandy Inn Carmel or one of the many other local inns.


Located just off Purple Sand Beach, Keyhole Arch is a natural hole carved into the rocks.

Paul Kimo McGregor

Day 3Complete Your Park Experience in Southern Big Sur

Let the vast expanse of redwoods at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park take your breath away. Whether it’s your first experience with these trees or you’ve seen them up close many times, marvel at their height as you gaze upward. Then spend time relaxing on Pfeiffer Beach while searching for purple sand and photographing rock formations like the famous Keyhole Arch.

Lunch awaits at Big Sur River Inn and Restaurant, where you can dine outdoors while sticking your feet in the river. Choose a lighter salad, such as Noelle’s, or order Pasta Castroville if you worked up an appetite. After your meal, head to the Henry Miller Memorial Library and learn about this famous author’s colorful life.

Depending on the season, gray whales frequent Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, named after an early pioneer woman of the area. Gawk at the beauty as you carefully walk along the ridges and experience sightings of both flora and fauna. Of course, the best way to end a day along the ocean is to dine at Coast, where fine art and delectable cuisine await within a building partly constructed from water tanks.


The San Diego Botanic Garden is a 37-acre urban oasis dedicated to rare and endangered plants from around the world.

San Diego Botanic Garden

Days 4 and 5Plunge into San Diego Experiences

Depart from either Monterey or San Jose to fly nonstop to San Diego and explore further down the coast. Book your accommodations at the 211-room The Sofia Hotel, billed as a hotel that fosters balance and harmony. You can even bundle your stay with a sightseeing tour or craft beer experience.

Grab a Danish or almond croissant for breakfast at Wayfarer Bread and Pastry, and get ready for a day of adventure exploring sea caves on kayaks. For a different view of the ocean, make time to wander the 29 gardens of the San Diego Botanic Garden.

You might choose to alternately stay under the red roofs of the famed Hotel del Coronado, though even if you don’t, schedule a guided walking tour of Coronado Island and hear stories of Navy SEALs as you stroll along the seaside. Although you could sail by day, dusk is the ideal time to head out on a sunset cruise to see San Diego by water. Complete your time by eating in-season fresh seafood at The Fishery. Whether you spread this itinerary over two days or keep it to one, San Diego is sure to capture your heart.