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Coastal Drive from San Francisco to Monterey

The coastal drive from San Francisco to Monterey is one of the top scenic drives in the US. I will show you Highway 1 sights and tell you where on this world-famous route you should stop. 

If you are visiting San Francisco why not make a trip to Monterey? The city has a scenic location and offers a lot for visitors. Fisherman’s Wharf, Cannery Row, Aquarium, whale cruises…

And outside the city there are the two postcard-pretty towns Carmel-by-the-Sea and Pacific Grove. Or why not stay in Carmel Valleyt where they grow wine. And if you like you can drive on to Big Sur.

Capitola Wharf, Highway 1, California

Capitola Wharf, Highway 1, California

There are many possibilities, but what about the drive from San Francisco to Monterey? Let’s look at the map first.

San Francisco to Monterey Itinerary on the Map


This map shows you the itinerary from San Francisco to Monterey along Highway 1. It’s a short way to drive, just 130 miles, but we spent a full day on this scenic coastal drive. Otherwise you don’t see all the sights.

So we started our Highway 1 tour from San Francisco, driving south from the Golden Gate Bridge.

San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco

 Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

San Francisco of course is a must see place in California. We spent days exploring this amazing city and I recommend that to you too. I wrote two posts on San Francisco sights (and some more on other attractions in San Francisco area). Here are my San Francisco posts and you can find the rest on the California posts page.

View from Lands End walking track

Lands End, California

Highway 1 takes you from Golden Gate Bridge through the Presidio to Golden Gate Park in south. From there it takes you to US 280 in Daly City. You can take that road if you like. We instead tried the smaller road along the seashore, Lincoln Boulevard to Sea Cliff and Lands End.

Point Lobos Sutro Baths

Sutro Baths, Lands End

Lands End is a popular hiking area and there is an old bathing complex (Sutro Baths). What about a hike in the fresh sea wind?

Point Lobos walking track


After Cliff House the road turns inland. The Great Highway leads you past Golden Gate Park to Skyline Boulevard that you will follow up to Pacifica.

San Francisco Ocean beach

Ocean beach and Great Highway

Golden Gate Park buffalo

Buffalo in Golden Gate Park

In Pacifica south of San Francisco Highway 1 narrows to a two lane road. There is a row of small towns like Princeton and Half Moon Bay and sandy beaches all the way as you drive down.

Nice beaches but no-one is swimming, absolutely nobody. The Pacific Ocean is very cold, all year round. But you can spend time on beaches in other ways and look at Californian spring flowers:

Californian flowers, Highway 1

Californian flowers, Highway 1 San Francisco to Monterey

Californian flower, Highway 1


Historic Pescadero California


After some driving the old village of Pescadero might be the place for your first stop. It’s a tiny village, a small farming community that only has a church, a country store, a tavern and a post office. But that’s all you need. We are in the American West.

Pescadero Country Store road sign


Pescadero is so tranquil and so original, and just a short drive from the crowds of San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

Just two streets with Wild West buildings. And better still, one of the farmers is producing traditional American barns for sale. I’d so much love to take one of these barns with me and put them to my home yard, back home in Finland, Europe! As a souvenir from here.

Dry Creek Mini Barns Pescadero


More village views of Pescadero, California Highway 1 San Francisco to Monterey:

Pescadero historic homes

Pescadero homes

Pescadero Main Street

Main street, Pescadero, California

Pescadero Country Store

Pescadero Country Store


We stopped a the Country Store. It also had a taverna were local farmers in their cowboy hats and leather booths where having lunch.

Pescadero Country Store

We just had to order hamburgers and join them!

Pescadero Country Store bar

Pescadero country store: the bar

Pescadero Country Store hamburger

A Pescadero hamburger

Rocky Shoreline and Sea Birds

Waterbird on the rock


The region here is very flat farmland but there is a pretty shoreline with rocky cliffs and sandy coves.

Driving southward there are natural preserves that are good for bird-watching.  Above a California sea bird and below a coast view:

Californian Highway 1 coast

Pigeon Point

Pigeon Point Lighthouse California

Pigeon Point Lighthouse

The next stop on Highway 1 is Pigeon Point, 8 miles (13 km) south of Pescadero. Pigeon Point has an old lighthouse station that today serves as a hostel. So this rural area has some accommodation!

The lighthouse built in 1872 seemed to be closed for the public but you we walked around in the hostel area.

Pigeon Point hostel San Francisco to Monterey

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel

Spring is a great time for California travel. The weather is not too hot (and we noticed it can be misty on the coast). There are absolutely no crowds yet.

California ice flowers


But in the spring the nature shows its best. There are flowers everywhere, a lot of them! Look at these ice flowers!

Pink ice flower

Californian ice flower

California also has a lot of succulents that benefit of the dry but misty climate. Succulents flourish here and grow into huge dimensions:

California succulents

Wallside succulents, Pigeon Point

Pigeon Point succulent

Californian succulents

Green succulent

Pigeon Point rocks are a perfect spot to observe ocean life. There are seals swimming around, barking and lying on the rocks:

California seals, Highway 1

Pigeon Point sea life, California Highway 1

Seal on the rock, Californian Highway 1

A California seal off Pigeon Point

And of course there are the water birds, and whole colonies of them.

Californian water bird

A big black bird at Pigeon Point

Waterbirds on the rocks

Californian water birds

But we have to continue south, we are on the way to Monterey. We are driving in the gently rolling, green landscape. Next stop: Ano Nuevo State Park.

Driving from San Francisco to Monterey


Ano Nuevo State Park

San Francisco to Monterey Ano Nuevo State Park


The beautiful Ano Nuevo State Park consists of a vast area of Californian coast and also extends to the western slopes of the coastal mountains. There are marked walking trails and picnic areas. Parts of the state park are farming land where many crops and herbs, among other things rosemary is grown.

Californian rosemary

Californian rosemary

But Ano Nuevo State Park is best known for its elephant seals that flock here in great numbers during their breeding season every winter.

To see elephant seals you have to walk 3 miles (5 km) from the car park at the park’s south end.

Most times of the year small numbers of elephant seals can be seen in Ano Nuevo State Park and during breeding season you can see a lot of them. At that time you are only allowed to go and watch the seals together with the park ranger.

Californian elephant seal

A Californian elephant seal

Californian shoreline San Francisco to Monterey

Ano Nuevo State Park, California

Californian oat


Information on Ano Nuevo State Park on the California Department of Parks and Recreation website.

Further down Highway 1 comes the next thing to see: the Natural Bridges State Beach.

Natural Bridges State Beach

Natural Bridges State Park


On Natural Bridges State Beach ocean waves have carved huge archways into sandstone cliffs. This makes the cliffs look like bridges which of course is what the beach’s name comes from.

There have been many cliffs of this kind but most of them have collapsed. Only this one is left. You can see the archway at a short distance since it’s just offshore.

Natural Bridges State Park sea birds

Natural Bridges State Park sea birds

The state park itself has a small and protected sandy beach with pretty tidewater pools.

In addition there is a nature path in a grove where you can see Monarch butterflies at certain times of the year. If you’re lucky you can see as many as 100 000 butterflies at the same time! The butterflies stay here in the winter and when spring comes they move to inland valleys.

West Cliff Walk

San Francisco to Monterey ice flowers


West Cliff Walk, or West Cliff Drive, is between Natural Bridges State Beach and the Lighthouse Field State Beach just north of Santa Cruz. It is a 3 mile scenic walk or bike route (also a driving route) along the Pacific Ocean.

Lighthouse Point at the south end is a good place for whale and dolphin watching.

West Cliff Drive beach

West Cliff Drive, California

West Cliff Drive surfers

Surfers walking down the cliff

West Cliff Drive ice flowers

West Cliff Drive flowers

Yellow ice flower

An ice flower

West Cliff drive is a residential area in Santa Cruz. A nice area where each home is different.

West Cliff drive street view

West Cliff Drive homes, California Highway 1

West Cliff drive home


Santa Cruz

West Cliff Drive ends at Santa Cruz. The city was severely damaged in an earthquake but was rebuilt. There are many new houses but the historic core still remains.

Santa Cruz is a university town that is linked by a good road to Silicon Valley. One of California’s missions (that all lie on the earthquake zone) is here, the Mission of Santa Cruz. 

Neptune's Kingdom Santa Cruz


Santa Cruz is a popular tourist resort. The most famous sight is the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk with an old style amusement park and other attractions for holidaymakers. The roller coaster is a National Historic Landmark.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Behind the amusement park is a beautiful sandy beach.

Santa Cruz also has a long 1oo year old wharf with shops and restaurants. From the wharf you can watch wildlife like sea lions, and free sea lion shows are arranged at the end of the pier.

Californian nature flowers

 Santa Cruz flowers, California Highway 1 

San Francisco to Monterey flowers

More information on Santa Cruz and the area on the official Santa Cruz travel website.


Capitola riverside houses

Capitola, California

South of Santa Cruz is the postcard-pretty Capitola, a traditional resort town, the Pacific Coast’s oldest. Capitola was founded over 135 years ago and it has kept much of the old atmosphere.

A river, Soquel Creek with the remains of an old wooden railway bridge splits the village is two parts.

Capitola flowers

Capitola flowers

Capitola has some Key West atmosphere, there are pretty buildings in pastel colors, oceanside cafes and a long pier.

Capitola street view

Street views of Capitola, California

Capitola shopping street


Capitola looks like an ideal resort for a relaxed vacation. It has a sandy beach, restaurants, small galleries and antique shops, and Santa Cruz and Monterey at a close distance.

Capitola pier

This is the long Capitola Wharf where you can fish or have a meal, or rent a kayak.

Capitola San Francisco to Monterey

View of Capitola, California Highway 1

California flowers



San Francisco to Monterey California


Monterey is our destination, the city with an interesting history. It got its name from a Spanish explorer who came to Monterey in 1602.Years later Monterey became the capital of the Spanish California.

They city also saw the gold rush after which the capital was moved to San Francisco in 1848.

Fisherman’s Wharf

Monterey Fisherman's Wharf sandwich store


Like Santa Cruz Monterey is a fishing port with a long wharf. Monterey’s wharf is called Fisherman’s Wharf.

The wharf has been the center of fishing and whaling but is today more famous for its souvenir shops, seafood restaurants and whale watching tours.


Me and my husband don’t care about souvenirs and neither do we like candies.

Instead we took a whale watching tour with one of the companies which I can recommend. We spotted many whales, mostly humpback whales and our guide told us a lot whales them and their habits.

Monterey Fisherman's Wharf candy store


California Sea Lions

Monterey sea lions


In Monterey Harbor you can see sea lions everywhere. Hundreds and thousands of sea lions, much more than in San Francisco.

Monterey harbor seals


Monterey Bay sea lions climb to the breakwater and on stones and you can see them below the pier. They even climb on boats. You can see them in the water. They make a noise and they smell, but they are so nice to look at!

Monterey harbor seal


The Pacific Ocean outside Monterey is rich with sea life. Monterey Bay has a vast underwater canyon, it’s like the Grand Canyon below the water.  The deep Monterey Canyon also makes it possible for whales to live very close to the shore.

Monterey Bay waters have been proclaimed the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Monterey harbor

Monterey Bay Marina, California Highway 1

Cannery Row

Monterey Canning Co


Cannery Row used to be a street lined with sardine canneries, an industrial area. Like many other industrial areas it transformed to a shopping and tourist area that today also has the world-famous Monterey Aquarium in one of the canneries, at the north end of the shopping district.


It was John Steinbeck’s well-known book that gave this very special area its name. Steinbeck wrote two of his novels, Cannery Row (1945) and Sweet Thursday (1954) in Monterey, observing the harsh life of fishermen and cannery workers.

Cannery Row Monterey


Cannery Row completes my post on our drive along Highway 1 from San Francisco to Monterey. So now you are in Monterey, California. What else can you do in the Monterey Bay area?

What to Do in Monterey Bay Area?

I made a separate post on Monterey Bay area travel destinations: Pacific Grove, 17-Mile Drive, Carmel-by-the-Sea and Carmel Valley.

For more about California travel you can check out my other posts on California. Behind this link you can find a list on my all California posts:

And you can also read more on Monterey and the area on the official Monterey travel website.


Monterey Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey, California


  1. Thanks for the tour. Thinking of doing it while in Cali next month

  2. Wow thanks for the detailed plan.

  3. Dymphna Gallagher

    This is fantastic!
    My daughter I are doing this exact route this June. Thank you!

  4. How long is the drive from San Fran to Monterrey on route 1 with minimal stops?

  5. Hi
    Where and when is the best time to see hump back whales, also any good places to stay close to the area

    • I think the best season to spot humpback whales is from late spring to fall but as you can see in my post they were around earlier in spring as well. Where to stay: I would recommend Carmel Valley. It’s a bit off the coast but driving only takes a few minutes time.

  6. THANK YOU!! Great for planning our trip!

  7. This is great! I am in San Francisco now with my daughter on vacation, and wanted to take one day to go out and do something outside the city, and along the coast! Thank you for sharing…it looks like this is our one day adventure! 🙂

  8. We re in our 70s and don t feel comfortable driving in large cities. We want to visit San Francisco and then the Monterey Peninsula. We d rent a car outside of San Francisco. Any advice?

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