If you’re going to Coachella, you might as well make a road trip out of it, right?
I went on a road trip to Coachella a few years ago now. We decided to fly in to San Francisco, and then out of Las Vegas, and explored as much as we could in between. I remember though, when I was planning our Coachella road trip, I was totally overwhelmed by where to go and what to do. Turned out the best idea is to just head south down the Pacific Coast Highway, or California’s Highway Number 1.
(Click the pic for the interactive Google map)
But, there’s a lot to see along the way on the Pacific Coast Highway – so here’s my guide on where to stop off on your Coachella road trip, which you can adapt to suit the time you have.
Road Trip to Coachella:
Pacific Coast Highway
The Pacific Coast Highway is well known as one of the most scenic drives in the world. I’m lucky enough to say I’ve done it twice. Once on the road trip to Coachella I mentioned before, in the back of a people carrier style car, and once driving myself in a Ford Mustang. Yeah, that was awesome.
The whole route takes around ten hours to complete, from San Francisco to San Diego, if you don’t stop, but stopping is all part of the fun. And you probably won’t want to go all the way to San Diego if you’re road tripping to Coachella, although, if you have the time, it’s a great city.
Over the 1000km you’ll see stunning coastal views, seaside villages, untouched forests and pass some sunny wine making districts too.
Here’s where I’d recommend your Coachella road trip takes you.
– Thanks to Rick Schwartz for the pic.
Fly into San Francisco to get the trip off to an awesome start. Drive over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and you’ll feel like you’ve well and truly arrived in the US. While you’re there spend some time in Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz Island and just relaxing with a coffee in Union Square. Get around via the famous San Francisco tram and make sure to take a look at the crazy Lombard Street too.
Head to the gay area – the Castro District – for rainbow zebra crossings, friendly bars and a great night out. I can personally recommend the frozen margaritas, lots of them!
– Thanks to Harsh Light for the image from Flickr.
San Jose is part of the almighty Silicon Valley – Facebook and Google HQs are here, and the famous Hewlett Packard garage from where Apple all began.
If techy start up culture isn’t really what you’re into then there are still galleries, museums and the Winchester Mystery House to keep you entertained. Said house is full of curiosities including dead end hallways, staircases that run up to the ceiling and 165 rooms. The late Sarah Winchester built the place at a cost of over $20m, as instructed by her Medium.
You can also see the zoo, the largest open air market in the USA and make sure to check out Downtown San Jose by night.
– Thanks to Jaume for the pic from Flickr.
Next stop on your Coachella road trip is Santa Cruz, but first; the stunning Half Moon Bay. Make sure you stop for moody snap off the cliff edge and round to the bay. Drive a little further and you’ll get to Ano Nuevo State Park where you can visit the elephant seals, and see a San Francisco Garter Snake too.
If you don’t stop again, just an hour and a half later you’ll find yourself right in the heart of Santa Cruz. Enjoy the old-school Americana vibe along the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Check out the lighthouse on the beach, the Big Dipper along the boardwalk and the beautiful beach.
Head to Pacific Avenue for all kinds of vintage goodies, Palomar for night time salsa dancing, Wilder Ranch State Park for hiking and the Rio Theatre for local music. The Wharf is a great place to start for restaurants and shops and if you have the time you can go on a whale watching boat or fishing expedition.
– Thanks for the pic from Flickr, Keith Cuddeback.
Leave Santa Cruz and an hour later along the curve of the coast you could be right in the heart of the stunning Monterey Bay. Here you can enjoy the Monterey Bay Aquarium, check out the stunning Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, chill at the Old Fisherman’s Wharf or go shopping at Cannery Row. Or, drive along the scenic ’17 Mile Drive’ on your road trip to Coachella and have a mooch around Carmel-by-the-Sea, a cute seaside village with shops, cafes and restaurants. Whale watching, sailing, kayaking, golfing and biking are also popular in Monterey – all depends on how much time you have.
A gentle uphill drive from here takes you out to the Big Sur. You definitely need to save at least a few hours to hang out here.
– Thanks for the pic Giuseppe Milo, from Flickr.
Your road trip to Coachella will take you over the Bixby Bridge – one of the tallest single span concrete bridges in the world. It’s also one of the most photographed bridges on the West Coast thanks to the 714 feet long and 280 feet high stretch over a canyon.
There are many beautiful sights along the Big Sur – Pfeiffer Beach, McWay Falls, Point Sur State Historic Park, Ragged Point – so make sure to swap up the driving here so you call get a chance to look out.
The Big Sur was super popular with the hippies in the 60s and has retained that arty, hippy focus. If you have the time in your itinerary to spend a night there make sure to check out one of the cliff side communes. Unfortunately my friends and I tried to do this, but they wouldn’t let us in. Could have had something to do with the look of disgust at their baseball caps, but they weren’t having it.
– Thanks to Sathish J for the pic from Flickr.
I really wanted to go to Hearst Castle in San Simeon, but we’d spent so much time fannying about with photos etc at the other stops, we just didn’t have time. This is where many pop stars have shot videos, from Lady Gaga to Beyonce, and I wanted to shoot one too. Staring me :).
Up at Hearst Castle on The Enchanted Hill you’ll find more than 250,000 acres of rooms, suites, cottages, kitchens and grounds. Over 1 million people visit every year – it’s the number one attraction in San Simeon.
Other things to do in San Simeon include Moonstone Beach, Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery and shopping at Cambria Village too.
San Luis Obispo
San Luis Obispo is a great spot for hikers and outdoorsy types. You can hike up Black Hill, Islay Hill, Bishop Peak and round the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden. You could also check out the Fremont Theatre for its awesome facade and Soda Lake is an awesome sight too.
Nearby Pismo Beach is a lovely little stop off – tasty restaurants, ATV rentals, wine tasting, fishing, surfing, skydiving, bowling and mineral springs. I went dune buggying on the sand here – to be honest, I was scared. The area we were doing it in was so vast that I worried I’d get lost as I wouldn’t see anyone for ages. Also, I kept getting stuck in the sand and had to climb out the buggy onto the roof and wave until someone came to help. Sure you’ll be a better driver than me though.
– Thanks to David Santos for the pic from Flickr
Santa Barbara is a great choice for a final stop on your road trip to Coachella, before hitting the bright lights of Greater Los Angeles. Keep to the coast line along the Pacific Coast Highway and you’ll see Stearns Wharf and East Beach. Or you can make the special effort to explore in and check out Santa Barbara Zoo, Santa Barbara Botanic Garden and Lotusland too. Culture vultures can hone in on the Lobero Theatre, the Arlington Theatre and the Santa Barbara Historical Museum.
– Thanks to Wendel for the picture from Flickr
You’ll pass through the town of Oxnard (where I got totally lost when I went by myself) – carry on and you’ll end up right on Ventura Beach in front of the pier. This is the spot if you want to do some surfing. If not, take a look around the historic Downtown Ventura and make the most of the vintage boutiques and second hand stores. Last minute shopping to pick anything up before Coachella, right?!
– Thanks to Tea Daniel for the pic from Flickr
Malibu looks and is incredible. I remember when I was driving my Mustang (darrhhhling) and just stopping on the side of the road to really take in the incredible coastal views unfolding before me. It was one of those moments where I was like ‘how is this my life?’.
Follow signs to Point Dume and you’ll find a beautiful sandy beach, headlands, cliffs and rocky coves. Walk around Malibu and you’ll find piers, sickeningly beautiful weekend homes and super healthy restaurants. Might even see a celeb while you’re there too.
Exit Malibu via the stunning Topanga Canyon, which has been a popular hideout for Hollywood superstars for years. Stay on Route 27 and you’ll find offbeat stores, diners and ramshackle saloons along the roadside. Get out at the top for an awesome view over the San Fernando Valley at the top of Topanga Overlook.
Yay, you’ve made it to Los Angeles! Such a cool city and so much to see. My top recommendations would be to visit the Kodak Theatre, walk along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, check out the Santa Monica Pier, drive down Sunset Boulevard and stroll down Rodeo Drive. If you have time, check out the Hollywood sign from Griffith Observatory, visit Universal Studios and go on a stars homes tour too. So much to do!
– Thanks to Randy for the pic from Flickr
I’d strongly recommend spending a night in Palm Springs before you head to Coachella Festival. You can book a decent place for around £25 a night and then have a night of relative luxury before you hit that camp site. This is exactly what we did, making sure that there was a Walmart nearby.
We drove to the Walmart the night before and bought everything we needed for Coachella. I’d ordered some of it online beforehand, but I don’t necessarily think you need to. We also bought all our food and drink here. Then, in the morning we found a bottle shop nearby and bought all our spirits.
Coachella! – Empire Polo Club
– Thanks for the pic Thomas Hawk, from Flickr
Yay, finally Coachella day, and the last section of your road trip to Coachella. We left at around 9am to get to Coachella and by 11am we were in and setting up all our camping equipment. Ready for an awesome festival. Two of my friends that I went with have been back every year since!
After Coachella we drove to Las Vegas, for a final night out to end the trip. Although, we were all so exhausted, all we did was go up the Stratosphere to go on the rides, check out a few hotels and we were in bed for 10pm. So we had a huge breakfast to make us feel like we’d actually experienced some of Las Vegas. And then off I flew to New York!
Want another Vegas road trip option? How about driving from Vegas to Yosemite?