Wanderlust: Nine Best Places to Visit on the California Coast

California. The Land of Milk and Honey has much to offer visitors and natives alike. The beautiful coastline is only rivaled by the view of the mountains, and one or the other (or both!) are within your sight the entire length of the state.

This land of health-obsessed, beautiful people is home to national parks, cultural landmarks, and the nation’s most expensive homes. However, health-obsessed as they may be, everyone sees the value in great wine. A continual inspiration for girls’ weekends to Napa and wedding venues in vineyards, Sunny Cal produces seventeen million gallons of wine each year, a nod to the industry that helped establish California as a state.

When driving the 1 between NoCal and SoCal, you will see some of the most breathtaking sights this country has to offer. From San Francisco to the Baja Peninsula, you will be stoked by the views, the people, and the unique beach towns that offer, like, the best food and cultural landmarks to be found anywhere.

If you are down for a short drive, you will totally love these nine places to visit on the California Coast.     

Top 9 Places to Visit on the California Coast:

  1. San Francisco
  2. Monterey Bay
  3. Carmel-by-the-Sea
  4. Santa Barbara
  5. Malibu
  6. LA to San Diego
  7. Huntington Beach
  8. Newport Beach
  9. Baja Peninsula

It is a short drive from San Francisco to Newport Beach, just over six hours that will leave you enamored with the Golden State. The drive to the Baja Peninsula is a little longer but totally worth the time.

1. San Francisco

Located in NoCal, San Francisco is best known for its bridges, bays, eclectic culture, and choice seafood. The famous bridges from San Mateo to San Jose and Haywood connect its eastern and western shores by spanning water with a surprising average depth of only forty-three feet.

San Francisco streets

Shockingly shallow, most people are glad to know that the waters surrounding Alcatraz Island, home to the former federal penitentiary, are the deepest in the bay and home to several shark varieties. Urban legend and tall tales about shark-infested waters were spread by prison guards to keep prisoners from trying to swim to freedom. These legends have faded and, while not commonly known as a beach town, San Francisco has some gorgeous swimming beaches.

Swimming Beaches in the San Francisco Bay

  • Aquatic Park
  • Ayala Cove
  • China Camp
  • Crown Beach

While stories of mythical man-eating sharks may be legendary, the seafood scene in this area is on point. Regionally, the seafood that must be sampled is abalone, Dungeness crab, sand dabs, and bay shrimp.

Looking for the best lobster tail? Check out the restaurants at Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39.

2. Monterey Bay

The coast of Monterey in the television drama “Big Little Lies” was an additional lead actress, foggy and brooding, mysterious and beautiful. A gift to unwrap slowly, Monterey will present you with wetlands, grasslands, woodlands, mountains, marshes, and estuaries, as well as nature preserves and parks. So, whether you want to explore nature or take in the boutiques of Cannery Row, Monterey does not disappoint!

Coast of Pebble Beach with trees on rocks with waves crashing into them

The 17-Mile Drive of Pebble Beach along Route 1 will put you in the middle of the golfing scene, and while you are not likely to join a foursome of celebrities, it is highly likely they are in the group just ahead or behind you.

As mysterious as the fog and wistfulness of the shoreline, the middle of Monterey Bay boasts one of the deepest canyons in the world, the Monterey Canyon. Its steep canyon walls rival the Grand Canyon itself, measuring a full mile in height from bottom to top.

The wood map of Monterey Bay provides a breathtaking perspective in exquisite detail, establishing itself as a choice souvenir from an experience as special as this road trip.

3. Carmel-by-the-Sea

As you pass through the southern town limits of Monterey, you will find the quaint village of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Charming and romantic, this village offers one square mile of cobblestone streets lined with boutiques and one-of-a-kind restaurants.

Carmel-by-the-Sea also boasts some…interesting…limitations. For example, a long-standing ordinance banning ice cream was upended in 1986 when Mayor Clint Eastwood repealed the law and allowed the sweet treat to be enjoyed while walking the streets once again.

Sunset at a California coast beach

Speaking of walking the streets, do not wear high heels unless you visit City Hall to get a permit. Now treated as more of a souvenir-of-sorts, the permit was originally intended to protect the village from lawsuits stemming from its cobblestone streets. With ancient pines and cypress trees throughout the town, roots have created uneven footing and a trip hazard.

Keep it casual, keep those heels shorter than two inches, and keep your eyes on the cobblestone. Permits are also issued for men, should the mood strike!

4. Santa Barbara

A featured stop on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight train, Santa Barbara has no shortage of perfect waves and stunning sunsets. The perfect blend of history and nature, this town features both the Old Mission Santa Barbara, the tenth of twenty-one missions set up in California, and Channel Islands National Park, an archipelago offering opportunities to kayak, snorkel, and hike among wildlife.

Whale-watching is an essential coast experience. In November through April, the Pacific waters off Santa Barbara are teeming with humpback, blue, grey, and killer whales. As seen in detail on a wood map, these deep waters offer safe passage to warmer climates. 

5. Malibu

With its chill vibe, slow culture, and twenty-seven miles of coastline, Malibu offers the who’s-who of the Hollywood crowd and the rest of us world-class beaches, surfing, and hiking as a few good reasons to hang around.

Carbon Beach, also known as Billionaire’s Beach, offers the best opportunity to catch a glimpse of the homes of the rich and fabulous. Zuma Beach and Topanga Beach offer family-friendly locations to catch some waves, scuba-dive, or body surf.

Not down for all the outdoor activities? Get your art on at the Getty Villa art museum. A replica of a 1750s villa discovered in Italy, the grounds consist of four gardens.

The 4 Gardens of the Getty Villa Art Museum

  • Outer Peristyl
    Rectangular blue fountain at the Getty Villa Art Museum
  • Inner Peristyle
  • Herb Garden
  • East Garden

These gardens feature over three hundred varieties of plants and flowers, providing the perfect backdrop for a stroll. The architecture of the villa and the smell of the gardens will transport you to a sunny day in Italy, and the old-world charm of Santa Barbara will hold you in its romantic embrace.

6. Los Angeles to San Diego

Los Angeles to San Diego California Cribbage Board

Your drive on the 1 through Los Angeles to San Diego will be the height of the Californian experience. You will feel like a native as you bake in traffic, crawling along the highway, picturing yourself in the glam and trendy industry, or imagining a heavy surf culture is your lifestyle.

The fabulousness of it all is only surpassed by the leisure and fun of being powerful and well-known in La-La-Land. Wait. Is that an In-n-Out? Fantasy over - the craving for this burger is real!

Your cruise continues down this 124 miles of coastline, bringing you to America’s Finest City: San Diego. With seventy miles of pristine beaches, idyllic weather, and family-friendly attractions at every turn, the oceanside city of San Diego lives up to its name.

San Diego’s thirty-one beaches offer every possible outdoor sport and activity you can dream of as well as beautiful surroundings. The ocean, cliffs, and some of the cleanest shorelines provide the perfect setting to soak up the sun.

More interested in some of the family-friendly attractions? There are several popular ones to choose from, including:

Family-Friendly Attractions in San Diego

  • San Diego Zoo
  • San Diego Zoo Safari Park
  • Sea World San Diego
  • LEGOLand California

Laid-back and charming, San Diego is the oldest town established in California. Close to the Mexico border, its culture, food, art, music, and language are influenced by its Mexican heritage.

Ranked as one of the twenty-five “most beautiful” cities, San Diego is a top destination on your cruise south on Route 1.

7. Huntington Beach

Man surfing a giant wave on Huntington Beach

Huntington Beach, affectionately known as Surf City USA, lies only a shocking twelve miles from Disneyland. With nine and a half miles of pristine beaches, Huntington Beach has earned its reputation as a world-class surfing destination with perpetually beautiful weather and heavy, laid-back surf culture.

The Huntington Beach pier is a fun, youthful area with good surf shops, Mexican food, and rock-n-roll shops. Compared to other small beach towns, Huntington is a bit more vibrant, ranking high with young professionals and providing diversity and ample nightlife.

Best Nighttime Activities in Huntington Beach

  • Moonlight Movies on the Beach
  • Inspiration Point
  • Hauntington Beach Manor
  • Gondola Adventures

8. Newport Beach

Newport Beach is a three-mile peninsula bordered by Newport Harbor on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. The waters of Newport Harbor are home to three man-made islands.

Man-Made Islands in Newport Harbor

  • Balboa Island
    View from the water of boats and houses along Balboa Island
  • Little Balboa Island
  • Collins Isle

Each island has year-round inhabitants and is also home to small businesses, including restaurants, bakeries, and art boutiques. These “islands” are available by ferry or bridge and contribute heavily to the overall surf town vibe of Newport Beach.

Known for world-class body surfing, this ten-mile stretch of pristine beaches is popular with visitors seeking that perfect mix of excellent waves and a laid-back lifestyle. But if you are still looking for star-power, Newport Beach has that, too. 

Home to the first-ever Miss Newport, Shirley Temple, and Humphry Bogart, Newport Beach became quietly famous as the filming location for the hit movie “Beaches.” 

9. Baja Peninsula

Technically in Mexico, the Baja Peninsula stretches for 770 miles, separating the Sea of Cortez from the Pacific Ocean. A popular travel destination for sport fishers, desert racers, and whale watchers, this peninsula offers unique landscapes and incredible wildlife.

A man swimming above a whale shark in the deep ocean

The Sea of Cortez is home for part of the year to one of the ocean’s most gentle giants – the whale shark. The whale shark is the largest fish in the ocean, and while they make seasonal appearances elsewhere, the behemoth visits for longer periods of time in these warm waters.

The Baja Peninsula wraps up our Route 1 road trip tour of California’s coastal waters. The shorelines are stunning all along the drive from San Francisco to the peninsula. Alas, California offers beautiful inland water destinations that should not be missed either.

When you travel inland, there are a few notable lakes that are must-see destinations as well.

Must-See Lakes in California

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe 3-D Nautical Wood Chart

Lake Tahoe is the second-deepest lake in the United States and one of the deepest in the world. In close competition with some of the Great Lakes, Lake Tahoe is deep enough to have the Empire State Building completely submerged in its depths.

Lake Tahoe touts the purest water – almost as pure as commercially distilled water – and splits itself between California and Arizona. The landscape surrounding Lake Tahoe is as magical as it is wild. The scenic mountains provide year-round adventure and some of the most picturesque vistas you will ever experience. Tahoe is known for being a destination for watersports, skiing, spas, and even casinos. It’s a popular vacation destination for everyone.

Lake Arrowhead

The man-made Lake Arrowhead is an adventurer’s destination of choice. A cozy, quaint resort town, Lake Arrowhead features recreational activities such as backpacking, hiking, bicycling, water and snow skiing, and fishing.

Lake Arrowhead is an angler’s delight. The lake is stocked annually with rainbow trout but also houses an abundance of other fish.

Fabulous Fishing in Lake Arrowhead

  • Large Mouth Bass
  • Small Mouth Bass
  • German Brown Trout
  • Catfish
  • Crappie
  • Bluegill

California souvenirs wooden signA quick trip from the city of Angels, you can travel from Los Angeles to the beauty of Lake Arrowhead in just an hour and a half—even more proof that the beauty of the shoreline and the mountains are always within reach in Sunny California.

Trips to either lake can be commemorated with detailed wooden lake art. Your wood map will make a stunning piece that captures the beauty of your trip in a lake of wood, perfect for display in your home. The lake art will serve as a reminder of special times with family and friends.

The Perfect Souvenir for Your California Adventure

The California Coastline is an endless display of beauty and drama. From pristine shorelines to adventurous cliff faces, it tempts any traveler not just to visit but stay a while. The memories of your road trip south on the 1, from San Francisco to Newport Beach and even down to the Baja Peninsula, can be celebrated in a wood map featuring each shoreline.

Whether you prefer your lake art be a wall clock, cribbage board, cork map, or elegant wall art, each wood map will elevate the space it occupies and reflect the significance of your trip and the memories you made.

Each stretch of shoreline is commemorated in its own wood map. Your home will become the perfect reflection of your time at the shore. The time you spent making memories, baking in traffic, soaking in the sun, and eating some of the best food you have ever tasted will be relived in each glance at your wood maps.

Your memories deserve a presentation of the highest quality. The road trip along the coastline helped you discover more about the great state of California and yourself. Every moment captured in a map stays with you forever, just like the feeling of the sun on your face, the wind in your hair, and the sunlight gleaming off the California coastline.

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