Driving The California Coast |Classic road trip in California

Lauren Bath explores the USA with Helloworld.


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This year I finally did it; I finally visited the United States of America! The USA is a funny destination, it’s somewhere that all Aussie’s assume they’ll visit one day and yet so many of us haven’t been. Indeed it took me until now to get over and even then it was a work trip! I was thrilled to tick the USA off my bucket list on a California coast road trip.

I’m already looking forward to many more visits starting this September with New York.

California Road trip
Muir Woods National Monument is a short drive from the city and a wonderful place to spend the morning.

Although I had identified the USA as a bucket list destination I had offered no further thoughts on where I wanted to go. It was up to Helloworld to research and provide me with a fun and photogenic destination and obtain partners to support the travels.

California Coast Road Trip

Luckily Qantas Airways and their partner American Airlines came to the party with return flights and Visit California invited me to do the classic San Francisco to California road trip!

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The Mission in Santa Barbara is a great stop with a fascinating history. And it’s pink.

Leaving from San Francisco after a couple of days of exploration, we hit the road for California with planned stops at Monterey, San Simeon and Santa Barbara.

The final destination of our road trip in California was Santa Monica with time at the end to hit all the tourist hot spots like Rodeo Drive, Venice Beach, Los Angeles and Malibu.

Just writing those names gives me such a big grin, all places that I’ve heard about and dreamed of visiting since I was old enough to watch movies! Here are some top tips for my favourite spots!

Classic road trip in California

driving the california coast
Lunch at Malibu Farm, there’s also a great souvenir store on the pier with tempting knick knacks, books and postcards.

I flew into San Francisco on a direct flight from Sydney and didn’t feel too badly, thanks in part to my business class upgrade. Thanks Qantas!.

I was staying at the Westin which is super central and we basically planned to hit the most photogenic places so I could get some iconic shots before we started our drive.

I think I saw every perspective of the Golden Gate Bridge but I also loved visiting Muir Woods National Monument and Sausalito.

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A picture perfect Santa Monica sunset, we waited a week for this!

San Francisco to Monterey

The drive from San Francisco to Monterey is only a couple of hours, which meant there was heaps of time to explore the area once we arrived.

We went immediately to Point Lobos and, despite the persistent rain, I took one of my favourite shots of the trip of my host Simone standing on one of the impressive cliffs.

I seriously couldn’t get enough of this place and spent hours getting drenched and watching the crashing waves.

It wasn’t the classic California weather I’m sure others would have hoped for but it was perfect for me!

driving the california coast
One of my absolute favorite stops, Point Lobos near Monterey. I loved the rain and the mood!

Big Sur

The next day was the day I had been looking forward to the most, Big Sur!

I only had one day to enjoy one of California’s most beautiful stretches of coastline and I was ready for it.

I must have taken a thousand photos over our many stops while driving the California coast. 

McWay Falls is the obvious hero shot and I wanted to nail that but I also enjoyed a hike to Pfeiffer Falls, some time at the Bixby Bridge and a few random beaches along the way.

Despite some pretty terrible weather, I made the absolute most of the day and it was evening before we finally arrived to San Simeon where we were to stay the night.

driving the california coast
Elephant Seal Colony near San Simeon.

Hearst Castle

The next day was another easy drive, just a couple of hours. We made the most of our time in San Simeon with a visit to Heart Castle (must-do) and a morning with the elephant seals at a nearby colony.

In Santa Barbara, the Mission is a really pretty spot but there’s also a great pier that I flagged for a sunrise!

road trip in california
McWay Falls looking pretty spectacular despite the ongoing rain.

Finally, we were on our way to Los Angeles, well Santa Monica to be exact although we had big plans for explorations.

Star spotting in Malibu

We grabbed a lunch and some star spotting in Malibu, walked the Hollywood Walk of Fame, ate In-N-Out Burger, hosted an instameet at Santa Monica Pier and visited some star homes in Hollywood.

Despite how touristy our program was I couldn’t believe how much fun I had.

These places are so deeply entrenched in my psyche that every experience was a revelation.

driving the california coast
In-N-Out Burger is a California MUST and they even had a veggie burger for me! Ask to Dzgo animaldz on your fries.

If you haven’t been to the USA yet driving the California coast is a wonderful place to start and a road trip in California is an experience I highly recommend.

Everything is so easy from direct flights to car hire and the famous San Francisco to Los Angeles drive is easy going and very, very pretty.

Like so many of my destinations, I am already swearing I’ll go back with my partner and have more time! Haha.

road trip in california
One of the shots we came to California for, that famous Santa Monica silhouette.

Lauren Bath is a social media influencer who has over 450,000 followers on Instagram. She visited the USA on assignment with the assistance of Helloworld, Visit California, Qantas and Air America. 

Discover USA

Going on a road trip? See our road trip packing list for ideas to help with your planning.

If you’re planning on visiting California in winter, Lake Tahoe is a beautiful spot and a fabulous destination to go skiing and snowboarding. There are plenty of outdoor activities, such as snowshoe hikes and snowmobile tours. Other top spots for skiers are Sun Valley in Idaho and Jackson Hole in Wyoming.

Driving The California Coast

Driving The California Coast


  1. I’ve only done part of that drive. I went from Los Angeles to Monterey along the coast. I loved it, and I hope I get the time to do it again more slowly so I can stop, take photos and really enjoy every major point along the way.


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