California, the Golden State, is one of the best places in the country to go for a road trip. Start in sunny San Diego and make your way north to the iconic — if somewhat foggy — San Francisco. There are two main routes between the cities; one is much faster and not as scenic via I-5, while the other is chock-full of natural beauty along the Pacific Coast Highway/Highway 1 (covered here). Whichever route you choose, you're likely to have a great time.
Drive Time from San Diego to San Francisco: approximately 20 hours
Distance from San Diego to San Francisco: approximately 600 miles
Best Car for this road trip: Convertible
Day 1: From San Diego, get on I-5 north and travel for roughly one hour. Take exit 79 toward Beach Cities, and then merge onto CA-1, which is otherwise known as the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). The scenery along the PCH offers some of the most breathtaking coastal views in the world. Keep in mind that the road is rather windy; don’t become so distracted by the sparkling water and towering cliffs that you don’t give safety the attention it deserves. No worries though, there are plenty of pullouts along the way where you can stop and gape at nature’s beauty.
Day 2: Continue on the Pacific Coast Highway until you get to San Luis Obispo. One of this town's claims to fame is its Bubblegum Alley, which is a 70-foot-long alley lined with — you guessed it — ABC bubblegum. You can add your own to the collection!
After San Luis Obispo, get back on route and once again let yourself indulge in viewing the beautiful scenery out your car windows. Keep a lookout for quaint stops and shops along the way. You'll have to cross Bixby Bridge, which is one of the tallest single-span concrete bridges in the world. Be sure to snap some photos of the iconic landmark.
You might also want to make time for a stop in Monterey and stroll through the aquarium.
If you want to fully explore all the best spots along the Pacific Coast Highway, it might take you more than two days to get to San Francisco, but the time will be more than worth it. Between Santa Barbara and San Francisco, you'll cover roughly 366 miles. Keep in mind that a large part of this drive goes through windy roads which can significantly increase travel time.
Days 3, 4 and 5: Take a few days to explore the City by the Bay! Start your tour by taking a drive and familiarizing yourself with the area. Cross the Golden Gate Bridge, check out Golden Gate Park, and go to the top of Grizzly Peak for a spectacular view. After your drive, park your car at your hotel and strike out to explore the city on foot and via public transportation — the city's old cable cars are always fun. There are tons of things to do in the city. You can visit Alcatraz, explore the Mission District, eat fabulous food, and take photos at the Palace of Fine Arts.
You can also take a few trips outside of San Francisco to experience the
surrounding area. Go to Oakland to catch a baseball game, taste wine in Sonoma County, or go to Half Moon Bay to catch a glimpse of the magnificent redwoods or a spectacular sunset.