Driving the California coast is a quintessential American road trip and is something that everyone should experience at some point in their lifetime! Whether driving the whole coastline, or just a section of it, there are so many beautiful places to stop along the way.

The drive between LA and San Diego is only about 120 miles (roughly 2 hours of driving point to point without traffic). But the best parts of any road trip are the stops along the way, and with dozens of beautiful beaches and cute coastal towns, the California coast will not disappoint.

Although the quickest way between these two cities is to take the I-5, the most scenic option is to take the Pacific Coast Highway, or Highway 1. This drive is one of the most beautiful in the whole of the US, and there are so many beautiful stops to make along the way.


More Iconic Stops On The Drive From LA To San Diego

When driving from LA to San Diego, it's worth making the road trip more exciting and exploring the beautiful coastal area lying between the two unique Southern California cities. This list was updated to include additional unique stops worth making on a road trip from LA to San Diego.

12 Santa Catalina Island

For those with plenty of time to enjoy the California coastline, an excellent place to start is to leave the car behind in Long Beach and catch a ferry over to Santa Catalina Island. Just one hour away via high-speed ferry, Santa Catalina is one of California's Channel Islands and lies southwest of LA. The resort town of Two Harbors is on the north of the island, and the city of Avalon is in the south, complete with palm trees, cabanas, and art deco Catalina Casino. There are hiking trails across the island, and it's known for its wildlife and amazing diving opportunities, making it the perfect first stop on any LA to San Diego road trip.

Related: How To Spend 3 Days In LA

11 Huntington Beach

Just 20 minutes further down the coast from Long Beach, and about as far north as you can get in Orange Country, is beautiful Huntington Beach. With one of the longest piers on the California Coast, it is the perfect place to catch a west coast sunset. Known locally as "Surf City", the beach is a perfect place to take a surf lesson, or lively Main Street has lots of bars, breweries, shops, and cafes to enjoy.

10 Laguna Beach

With some of the most stunning beaches and coastlines along this coastline, Laguna Beach is a must-see beach along the California Coast. The town is an eclectic mix of a hippie beach town, boutique shopping, and art galleries. Main Beach has tide pools to explore and a beautiful boardwalk leading to the paths and gardens of nearby Heisler Park. The Laguna Coast Wilderness Park has over 40 miles of trails leading to rocky bluffs, coastal vistas, and canyons. Hiking to Barbara's Lake is also a unique opportunity to see a natural lake along this coastal drive.

9 Dana Point

Dana Point is known as the "Whale Capital of the West," so keep a lookout for these majestic animals, whether watching from the harbor or heading further out to sea on a whale-watching tour. The 0.2-mile Bluff Top hiking trail gives visitors a breathtaking panoramic view of the harbor, and the harbor itself has many boutique stores, restaurants, and cafés to enjoy a rest after whale-spotting!

8 San Juan Capistrano

A visit to San Juan Capistrano involves a little inland detour, but it is one of the most historic destinations in the region, and it's a nice way to break up the beach stops along this coastal drive. Downtown is filled with Spanish-style architecture and antique stores, and one of the highlights is seeing the San Juan Capistrano Mission, one of the oldest buildings in the state. For those taking an overnight stay here, there are plenty of taquerias and old-timey western bars to enjoy.

7 Temecula

Further inland still is the Southern California city of Temecula. It's famous for the nearby Temecula Valley Wine Country, where there are stunning hillside vineyards and an abundance of golf courses. Another beautiful historic town, Temecula, is filled with 1800s buildings and antique stores, making it a unique stop along the way between LA and San Diego.

Related: Less Touristy (But Still Fun!) Things To Do In San Diego

6 San Clemente State Beach

San Clemente is a quirky surf town and is the southernmost town in Orange County. It is often windy and wavy, making it the perfect place to try out some water sports, and there are surfing spots here suitable for beginners right up to professionals, making it one of the best surf sports along the California coast. Another unique thing about San Clemente Beach is that visitors can camp right on the mile-long beach!

5 Oceanside and Carlsbad

There are over 6 miles of breathtaking beaches at Oceanside, making it one of the best beach-side destinations along this coastline. It is also home to the longest wooden pier on the California coast - roughly 1/3 mile long! The views along the Oceanside coast are truly spectacular, and it is worth taking some time here to soak them up!

A short drive from Oceanside is the small town of Carlsbad which is often top of tourist's to-see lists because of its many big attractions, including the LEGOLAND California Resort and the impressive Sea Life Aquarium.

4 Encinitas

Another stop with unbeatable coastal views is the beautiful Encinitas. This small city is just a little south of Carlsbad, and the streets are packed with quirky stores and relaxed restaurants. It is also home to the San Diego Botanical Garden, filled with various plant species from around the world. For visitors looking for a mellow town with seaside charm, this is the perfect place to stop.

3 Torrey Pines State Natural Preserve

Although technically within San Diego city limits, the Torrey Pines State Natural Preserve is some of the wildest lands found along the Southern California coastline. Here visitors will find the rare Torrey pine along with a beautiful lagoon which is still used by several migrating bird species. With deep sandstone canyons and miles of pristine beaches, this is the perfect last stop before hitting San Diego!

2 Newport Beach

Newport Beach town will be reached on a road trip from LA to San Diego after driving along Highway 1 to the south from Huntington. This iconic town is known as an amazing summer destination and boasts various types of activities for everyone to enjoy. People visiting Newport Beach are recommended to see the Fun Zone and Balboa Pier, where they will witness an amazing seaside amusement park with arcade games, a small Ferris wheel, and traditional carnival food. Multi-million dollar homes and iconic boutiques can be spotted on Balboa Island. The latter can be reached from Balboa Pier in five minutes in a small car ferry.

1 Table Rock Beach

People who want to enjoy stunning seaside scenery with fewer tourist crowds will stop at Table Rock Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in Orange County. This spot can be located in South Laguna just off of the Pacific Coast Highway, north of Mission Hospital. Although people will have to walk down several stairs to reach the beach, it's still worth witnessing this unique area. The wonderful surf, beautiful rock formations, and solitude Table Rock Beach offers are all worth heading to this difficult-to-reach stop along the road trip from LA to San Diego.