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California Dreaming for the Family

San Francisco, Carmel Valley, Morro Bay & Los Angeles

The classic California self-drive itinerary from San Francisco to Los Angeles down Big Sur is one of America’s iconic road trips, and sharing it together as a family is a uniquely life-enhancing experience.

At a Glance

  • An absolute classic road trip that is ideal for families

  • Drive down Big Sur to explore secret beaches, watch sealions play, or trek inland through ancient redwood forests

  • The cool cultural scene of San Francisco - shop, eat and play in America's most beautiful city

  • Take the kids to Disney or Six Flags while in L.A., or simply head down to Venice Beach and gawp

  • Best to avoid the cloudy months of May and June - the ideal time weather-wise is August to October

Adventure, Family, , Beach

Insider's View

If you get the chance, it's worth detouring off Big Sur a few miles inland to visit the opulent magnificence of Hearst Castle, William Randolph Hearst's extraordinary home near San Simeon.

Maudie Tomlinson

Call us on 858 523 9000 to start planning your vacation to California


There are countless ways of getting from San Francisco to Los Angeles, but we think that this classic route down the Pacific Coast Highway is one of the best. It is designed as a short trip that will allow you to enjoy the highlights, but it is very simple to add in other places en route to make this into a longer trip.

Begin by flying to San Francisco, probably the USA’s most beautiful major city, breathtakingly situated overlooking San Francisco Bay with its Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island. We would suggest three nights here to fully enjoy the city’s charms, staying at the wonderful Ritz Carlton with its ideal location in historic Nobb Hill. In the city itself, you can explore the different neighborhoods, from the colorful counter-culture of Mission District or Haight-Ashbury to the exotic smells of Chinatown and the fantastic artisan market of the Ferry Building. Take a cable car ride up those steep hills and be sure to take the ferry ride out to Alcatraz Island to see Al Capone’s prison cell. Don’t ignore the surrounding areas though. Across the water is Sausalito with its beautiful yachts and great restaurants, and a little further on are the incredible Muir Woods, where you can feel tiny among soaring giant redwood trees.

Then drive south a couple of hours to stay two nights at the northern end of Big Sur, staying at the Carmel Valley Ranch. This is a fantastic base for activities such as horseback riding, championship golf and some gentle exploration of the vineyards or charming Carmel-by-Sea.

Next comes one of the real highlights, a drive down the sweeping coastline of Big Sur with its magnificent vistas of the Pacific Ocean, rugged coastal hills and remote beaches where sea lions play – truly one of the world’s great ocean drives. There are plenty of diversions to interesting places such as Hearst Castle near San Simeon and Julia Pfeiffer beach, so be sure to ask us about all the possibilities. Stay overnight in delightful Morro Bay at Big Sur’s southern end at the charming Anderson Inn, located on the waterfront with spectacular views of Morro Rock and the ocean.

Finish by driving the last stretch to Los Angeles, where we would suggest basing yourself in Santa Monica at Shutters on the Beach, a classy beachfront hotel, which is ideal for some pampering or exploring the best of LA, from the glamour and designer shopping of Beverly Hills to the gritty movie history of Hollywood. Do like the locals and hire rollerblades or a Segway to explore fascinating Venice Beach, or potter around some of the great farmers’ markets and buy a picnic to have on the beach. Head down to Anaheim for a day at the original Disney theme park, or go behind the scenes at Hollywood's Universal Studios. And in Santa Monica itself, there is the fun of the pier, as well as surf lessons, to really help you get that Californian vibe.





Fly to San Francisco
3 nights

San Francisco, California

Ritz Carlton San Francisco
2 nights

Carmel Valley

Carmel Valley Ranch
1 night

Morro Bay

Anderson Inn
2 nights

Santa Monica, Los Angeles

Shutters on the Beach
Fly home from Los Angeles

Location & Directions

San Francisco, Carmel Valley, Morro Bay & Los Angeles

Fly to San Francisco for three nights at the Mandarin Oriental San Francisco, which is centrally located on Sansome Street, in the Financial District. Within walking distance to the Bay, Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown and the Ferry Building. From there drive to Carmel Valley Ranch, on Old Ranch Road in the Carmel Valley, at the foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains. One nights stay in Anderson Inn, located on Embarcadero, on the waterfront in the seaside village of Morro Bay. Before your final drive to Los Angeles, staying at Shutters on the Beach, on Pico Boulevard on Santa Monica's oceanfront. The hotel is a short walk to Montana Avenue and Santa Monica Pier.

When to go

The California coast has a year-round climate. Summer (June - September) is the peak-tourist season, this is when the weather is hottest but beaches can be over crowded. January and February are the rainiest months. If you are visiting in May, June or July, watch out for the 'marine layer', a cloudy overcast, almost fog-like cloud which may affect the beach and first mile or so of the coastal strip, especially in the mornings.

Best time to Visit

Good time to visit

Average time to visit

Call us on 858 523 9000 to start planning your vacation to California


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