Los Angeles to San Francisco road trip


There are some road trips you have to do in California and that includes the drive along the Pacific Coast Highway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. I made a round trip, but outward journey to San Francisco was along the Pacific Coast Highway, and the return trip was along the less interesting Interstate 5.

Places I visited on my road trip:

  • Hearst Castle
  • Monterey
  • San Francisco

Other locations I had on my initial list but didn’t get a chance to see:

  • Yosemite National Park (Had to cancel because of dense smoke in Yosemite Valley)
  • Santa Barbara
  • Solvang
  • Winchester Mystery House at San Jose

Length of round trip:

6 days (I would recommend a full week to 10 days so you can really take your time). I felt rushed about at times.

Day 1

I started my trip from Santa Monica on a Sunday afternoon. Traffic was fairly light on the PCH in the early stages towards Malibu, but as soon as I reached Ventura, it was heavy traffic all the way until Santa Barbara. A delay of 1 hour and 30 mins on this section of my trip meant I didn’t have time to stop off at Santa Barbara. I finally made it to San Simeon where I stayed for one night.

Day 2

Hearst Castle was only 5 miles drive from where I was staying.


Unlike other historic monuments I’ve been to, Hearst Castle is situated 5 miles up the hill away from the visitor center, and you can’t really see it or get there by car. You have to book a tour to see it. There are 4 tours of the castle, each in a different area and each costs $27. Once you purchase a tour at the visitor center, you can then board a bus that will take you to the Castle to meet with your tour guide.



All tours are around 30 to 45 minutes, and they all end up at the castle exterior. I’m not a fan of forced tours, simply because I prefer to walk around at my own pace and taking my time with photos. I just went on 2 tours, the Grand Rooms and Upstairs Suites. I just felt rushed a bit and I ended up taking fewer photos because I wanted to hear what the tour guide was saying out of respect.

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It was around 1pm before I set off to Monterey, but only after taking a peek at the elephant seals nearby at San Simoen.


The views around the PCH a little further north of San Simeon was mind blowing and it just got better and better as I got closer to Monterey. You travel on windy roads with the mountain with the ocean view on the other side. The trip between Hearst Castle and Monterey should have took me around 2 hours and 40 minutes, but instead took me around 5 hours simply because I stopped and took plenty of scenic photos along the way.

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I made it to Monterey just before sunset and checked into my hotel close to Fisherman’s Wharf. Didn’t do much that evening other than chilled out with well earned beer and a meal.


Day 3

I had a choice to see the aquarium where they filmed Star Trek: Generations, or go on the 17-mile drive. I had been to a few aquariums recently, so 17-mile drive it was.

There are toll gates that you can get on the 17-mile drive and it costs $9.75 per car. Once you’re paid up, you’ll get a map which lists many scenic points that you can stop off. The drive is one large loop and the road is marked yellow / red and signposted along the way in case you take a wrong turn. The drive should take a few hours if you intend to stop off and take plenty of photos.

After the 17-mile drive, I set off to San Francisco. Unfortunately I had caught a cold upon arriving, so I had no choice other than rest up for the night.

Day 4

I felt much better in the morning, so it was time to check out San Francisco, even though I’ve been here so many times, but never get bored of checking out the same places. Staying in downtown Union Square area made it easier to get around by public transport so I took that option for the first day here.


The Golden Gate Bridge was the first place I went to like other times, but this time I had a working Google Maps on my phone so getting bus routes was easier.

After a trip there, I went straight to Fisherman’s Wharf, then off to the twisty Lombard Street and finally took the cable car back towards my hotel via Chinatown.

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Day 5

I was more adventurous on my final day here and decided to get around by car only I get really nervous with city traffic because of plenty of cars, one way streets, trams, pedestrians etc. You would think I would be used to it having spent most of my life in London.

I did more or less the same with the car, and even drove down Lombard Street for the first time. I wonder what the residents on that twisty road think of all the tourists.

One of the best spots to get a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge is at Battery Spencer lookout point on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge as you can see below.


To get to Battery Spencer, head north over the bridge, and just past the Vista point on the right, take the exit onto Alexander Avenue, then take a left so you go back towards the south of the bridge, and then a right onto Conzelman Road just before you go across the bridge. Follow the road and you should see a parking lot to your left. Park up if you can, and if it’s really busy, you might want to consider parking up further along the road at the next parking lot.

There’s a short walk on a footpath towards the lookout from the first parking lot. If you plan on spending some time here after dark, take a flashlight with you as the footpath isn’t lit.

Don’t forget there is a bridge toll of $6 only on the way into San Francisco. The bridge toll caught me out as they got rid of the manual tolls early this year to keep traffic moving so you have to call a number to pay in advance, or just wait until they send you an invoice.

Information on the Golden Gate Bridge toll can be found at the following link.


Day 6

Nothing exciting on this day, just took the Interstate 5 all the way back to LA.


Track weekend

Friday 13th

I just couldn’t resist another trip to Buttonwillow Raceway for some more track time with my friend in his Nissan GT-R. Only this time, it was more eventful than the last trip out. What could go wrong on Friday 13th.

Like the last time, we set off in our own cars, around 8pm on Friday, but failed to check the weather forecast in the Grapevine area, which is around 4000ft to 5000ft elevation. I lost my friend on the Interstate 5 so he was a few minutes ahead of me. When we hit the Grapevine area, snow came down hard and the wind battered my car from all directions. Traffic slowed down to 5 mph within 30 minutes and lane markings on the I-5 was non existent. Four lanes turned to two and eventually to one since every driver was naturally following the car in front and staying in the tracks it had made in the snow.

Whenever traffic stopped, it was hard for some drivers to get moving again. Was quite funny to see cars wheel spinning on the spot, including myself. I had to turn traction control off to try to get moving again, but that didn’t seem to have positive affect on anything.

Not long, my car stalled, and it wouldn’t start up again. My hazard lights were not working too so I was a sitting duck at this point in the middle of the motorway. Panic mode engaged! My friend called and said he got off the I-5 to a nearby motel. I got towed by the California Highway Patrol to the same motel in Lebec where the local temperature was -1 degrees Celsius. My car was revived on Saturday morning by a local mechanic who discovered that the alternator needed replacing. He didn’t have a spare, so I’ll have to get this sorted back home. I continued to Buttonwillow raceway.

A view from my motel room in Lebec.


Since it had been raining on the track on Friday, the surrounding areas of the track was like a mud pit. If you went off in those areas, there was no way out, and the damage must be pretty bad. You’d have to be towed out.

So many cars went off the track in every session not due to the track condition, but mainly from driver errors, so the session had to be stopped while cars were towed out, the loose mud swept off the track etc. This caused a lot of downtime for all drivers, so on Sunday, they warned all drivers that if anyone had to be towed, they would be disqualified from their next session.


That announcement helped a lot on Sunday. Drivers were definitely being more cautious to start with and you could tell from the slower lap times they were posting. I guess everyone had the feeling that if they got towed on their first lap, they would have to miss the rest of that session and the one after, meaning 50% of the day gone. The track condition was much better on Sunday, warmer, track had more grip and some of the muddy runny off areas were easier to get out of so cars that did go off, could at least get themselves back on the track.

The moment of the day occurred later on in the day. A teenager who looked like he’d just passed his driving test took my place and sat with my friend in the Nissan GT-R. He’d never been out on track before. Obviously he’s never experienced the level of G-forces throwing him all over the place, that he managed to throw up once the session was over. Fortunately he had the decency to open the door first.

The journey back home was less eventful than the journey out, but my car made it back home in one piece. So, I’ve learnt two valuable lessons this weekend.

1. Always check the weather forecast along the whole journey

2. Never allow teenagers to ride with you on track day unless they’ve done this before