There’s nothing like a coastal road trip—surfboards strapped to the roof of your van, nothing but time and open road ahead. Start this journey in the bustling city of San Francisco, then explore the beauty and ruggedness of the coast along the meandering Highway 1 as you head south along California’s coast toward San Diego.
Begin your trip in San Francisco, California, and the directions are easy: Get on Highway 1, also called the Cabrillo Highway, and head south. If you want to surf before you hit the road, more experienced surfers flock to Ocean Beach, while newbies head to Bolinas or Pacifica. You’ll likely want a wetsuit no matter what time of year it is—the water off the coast of Northern California stays chilly. The NorCal Surf Shop in Pacifica has everything you need and it’s on your way out of town.
Veer off the highway to visit the tiny farming town of Pescadero, just south of Half Moon Bay. Buy a chunk of cheese and a just-out-of-the-oven loaf of garlic and artichoke bread from Norm’s Market and you’ve got picnic lunch to go.
The college town of Santa Cruz has ample surf spots for every level, from world famous Steamer Lane to the beginner break at Capitola Beach. Hit up the Picnic Basket for kale and quinoa salad or a hearty serving of mac and cheese. You can camp nearby at Sunset State Beach or surf from just outside your hotel room at the retro cool and beachfront Dream Inn.
Keep heading south on Highway 1 and you’ll pass through the dramatic rocky bluffs of Big Sur. Stop for a surf at Sand Dollar Beach and a cup of coffee and a homemade muffin at the Big Sur Bakery.
Santa Barbara offers a welcomed retreat for weary road travelers. Book a modern, renovated Airstream at AutoCamp, located inside an RV park, or grab a room and a poolside cocktail at The Goodland. After surfing Driftwoods or El Capitan, head to the Mill, a newly opened collection of local merchants and vendors, including farm-to-table dining at Wildwood Kitchen and local beers at Third Window Brewery.
The low-key surf haven of Encinitas, just north of San Diego, can be your southern-most destination. After early morning waves at Swamis, refuel with a glazed donut at the old school Leucadia Donut Shoppe. Later in the day, don’t miss happy hour at Le Papagayo for pitchers of sangria and mahi mahi tacos. You can take Interstate 5 north for a less scenic but more direct route back to the Bay Area.