Driving down the California coast on Highway 1, also called the Pacific Coast Highway, should be on everyone’s bucket list. Arguably the most scenic drive in the United States, there are coastal bluffs, stunning beaches, and fresh seafood restaurants all the way down the coast. The stretch on The San Francisco Peninsula from San Francisco down to Santa Cruz offers some of the best beaches and hidden gems in the Bay Area. We’ve rounded up the best spots to visit for your next road trip itinerary.
Start your road trip in Pacifica with a stop at family-owned Mazzetti’s Bakery for a sweet treat like apple fritters, old-fashioned glazed donuts, or cheese danishes. After grabbing a bite, head down to Mori Point for an easy hike and sweeping views of the ocean.
For lunch, head south to Pacifica State Beach, also known as Linda Mar State Beach, and visit what’s arguably considered the most beautiful Taco Bell in the world. Recently upgraded as a Taco Bell Cantina (meaning it can serve alcoholic beverages!), this Taco Bell boasts an indoor fireplace and patio seating with gorgeous ocean views. It even has an order window exclusively for surfers!
After exploring the beach, plan to spend the night at Fairfield Inn & Suites San Francisco Pacifica, conveniently located right off Highway 1 with ocean-view rooms and direct access to Rockaway Beach. For dinner, visit Nick’s Seafood Restaurant for a fresh meal and live music and dancing on Fridays and Saturdays.
When heading out the morning after, be sure to save time to explore Devil's Slide Trail for one of the most breathtaking lookout points in the area.
2. Montara & Moss Beach
Keep heading south on Highway 1 until you reach Montara, where you can stop at the popular Montara State Beach. Nearby, Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is a beautiful marine sanctuary of tide pools filled with anemones, sea urchins, sea stars, and much more. The best time to visit is during low tide when more of the rocky shore is exposed. Trails along the bluff are accessible for walking and running, and there are stairs that lead from the parking lot down to the tidepools. There is also the gorgeous Seal Cove Cypress Tree Tunnel which is a great spot for photography.
3. Half Moon Bay
With year-round activities and special seasonal events, Half Moon Bay is always worth a visit. Here you’ll find Pillar Point Harbor, which is home to a commercial fishing industry and offers opportunities for kayaking, eating fresh seafood, and even purchasing your own fish fresh off the docks.
Try the Dungeness crab, seasonal oysters, or fish and chips at Half Moon Bay Brewing Company. Nearby, Jettywave Distillery has incredible cocktails and an outdoor garden lounge with live music.
We recommend spending at least a night (or more!) in Half Moon Bay to see all that this charming coastal city has to offer. For a high-end splurge, visit The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay, which has sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, and a fine-dining restaurant, Navio.
Other great options include Oceano Hotel & Spa and Beach House Half Moon Bay, both offering views of the Pacific Ocean and Pillar Point Harbor.
For dramatic scenery, head to Pescadero, with its mile-long shoreline, rocky dunes, cliffs, and sandy coves. Just across the highway, see all kinds of wildlife at the Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve.
Harley Farms is a fun stop for families and animal lovers. Visitors can meet and feed goats before sampling cheese in the shop. Pick up a few cheese selections for the road or have a picnic out by the pond.
After a day of outdoor adventure, you’ll need a place to kick back and relax. Head to Costanoa Lodge+Camp+Resort to soak in the extraordinary beauty of the California coast. This eco-resort has Douglas Fir cabins and tent bungalows equipped with electricity for a perfect glamping experience. Onsite is Cascade Restaurant & Bar for locally sourced California cuisine.
While you’re there, take a trip to Pigeon Point Lighthouse. The 115-foot lighthouse is perched atop a cliff and offers incredible views. Also nearby is Año Nuevo State Reserve, an incredible park that is the breeding ground for up to 10,000 elephant seals each year!
5. Loma Mar & Beyond
From Pescadero, you can head back to the bay through Pescadero Creek Road, stopping at Loma Mar Store & Kitchen for lunch among the redwoods and exploring the vast amount of parks and open spaces along the way. Alternatively, you can keep heading down Highway 1 toward Santa Cruz and Monterey to continue your adventures.
Explore the Itinerary
Looking for more hotel options along the way? Check out all of the great hotels on The San Francisco Peninsula.