California road trip

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Our California Road Trip – The Ultimate Guide to Driving the Pacific Coast Highway

California road trip

We enjoyed a seventeen day California road trip travelling on the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to San Diego. I have combined all my highlights, trips and destination guides in this post. I hope you enjoy it!

The Pacific Coast Highway is one of the world’s most iconic road trips and once you drive it you will know why. Not only is the drive itself spectacular, but to see so many dream destinations on one trip, is pretty cool too. We visited San Francisco, Monterrey, Cambria, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica and Los Angeles before chilling out on the beach in San Diego for our last few days. Needless to say there were so many highlights and so many tips and tricks that I couldn’t possibly put them all in one post, but check out my short video here and read all my posts below.

Learn all about biking the bridge in San Francisco and the not so pretty Fishermans Wharf. Find out the best places to stop on route and the best things to do with kids in California. I also have a post on tips for driving the Pacific Coast Highway to make the most out of your holiday.

The Streets of San Francisco – The Good, The Bad And The Ugly.


San Francisco – Biking The Bridge!


12 things to do with kids in California


Top Tips for Driving the Pacific Coast Highway


The Best Places To Stop On The Pacific Coast Highway

I hope you enjoy my posts and they help you with your California road trip plans.



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The Worlds Best Road Trips – Prices from €1429 Including Flights, Hotels & Car Hire.

road trip

From California to Cape Town, Christchurch to Canada, check out the worlds best road trips and get planning your next adventure.


I spent a month driving through France and Italy, drove the PCH from San Francisco to San Diego, the Garden Route in South Africa and even drove Sydney to Byron Bay – as you can see, I’m a big fan of road trips! I love visiting different places. Having a car ensures you go off the beaten track and experience places you may not have seen otherwise.

However, while I like the freedom a car brings, I also like to pre-book accommodation so I don’t have to spend my valuable vacation time searching for somewhere to stay. Having your itinerary mapped out and hotels booked also ensures you actually get to all the places on your ‘to do list! I have teamed up with Tropical Sky who through their various brands including, American Sky, Canadian Sky and Australian Sky, offer a wide selection of self drive road trips and escorted tours to destinations all over the world. Here are five of their best road trips, all with flights, hotels and car hire included.



South Africa: Cape Town, Winelands and Eastern Cape Safari

best road trips

We went to South Africa for our honeymoon and loved it so much we went back at Easter with the kids! On this trip you will stay in one world’s greatest cities, visit the magnificent wine region and hopefully see the Big 5 in one of South Africa’s best Game Reserves. In between all this you can be adventurous and paraglide off the top of Table Mountain or go shark diving! If that’s not your thing, just spend a day chilling out on one of South Africa’s amazing beaches.

This luxury road trip includes flights, car hire, a four night stay in Cape Town and a three night stay in Stellenbosch, before catching a flight to Port Elizabeth for a three night stay in the five star Shamwari Game Reserve. You will be staying in luxury hotels throughout and on safari you will have two game drives per day and meals included. You can add on extra nights if you wish, Tropical Sky will tailor make an itinerary to suit you.

Price from €4209 – click here for more details:




13 Night Great Parks Of  Western Canada

best road trips

Vancouver, the Canadian Rockies, Banff, Jasper, Whistler – this road trip is firmly at the top of my bucket list! Hike, cycle, try white water rafting or kayaking, Canada will make you want to get active and bring out the nature lover in you. You begin your holiday in Vancouver before setting off to explore the magnificent Canadian National Parks. Explore the Okanagan Valley and Glacier National Park before spending two nights in the resort town of Banff. Visit Lake Louise, one of the world’s most spectacular lakes. Stay in the UNESCO World Heritage town of Jasper and explore the largest National Park in the Rockies. Go hiking, white water rafting or check out the Japer SkyTram for stunning views from the top of the mountains. Drive through the Yellowhead Pass and enjoy a host of outdoor activities in the celebrity town of Whistler. This 13 night road trip will allow you experience the best of Western Canada. Price includes flights, car hire, 3 nights in Vancouver, 1 night in Penticton and Revelstoke, 2 nights in Banff, Jasper, 100 Mile House, and Whistler.  You will also receive a personalised Canada Roadbook, containing essential travel information featuring overview notes, local sightseeing and attractions, daily itinerary highlights, provincial maps with city guides and customised day-by-day routing maps.

Price from €2129  – click here for more details.




13 Night California & Las Vegas – Best of the West

best road trips

I drove the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to LA last year and loved it, but this trip is even better! The Best of the West road trip includes Arizona and Nevada too. It combines the coastal towns of Santa Barbara and Monterrey with the jaw dropping cities of LA and San Francisco, the natural landscape of Death Valley with the dazzling lights of Las Vegas. Visit Alcatraz, cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge or hang out in Hollywood. You can go designer shopping in Palm Springs and take a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon. This trip also allows you to see the spectacular rock formations in Yosemite National Park. This 13 night trip includes flights, car hire, 2 nights Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and San Francisco, 1 night in Palm Springs, Phoenix, Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Yosemite, Monterey and Ventura. You will also receive a welcome kit with maps and a day-today itinerary. Add on extra nights or make the trip shorter by flying home from San Francisco. Like all of these road trips, Tropical Sky can tailor make an itinerary to suit you.

Price from €2059 – click here for more details.




22 Night, Grand New Zealand Road Trip

best road trips

Spend over three weeks exploring the islands of New Zealand on this once in a life time road trip! Explore the vibrant city of Auckland before setting off to to see the magnificent Bay of Islands. Travel through the wilderness of Waipoua Forest and Rotorua, the heart of Maori culture. Marvel at the geysers, waterfalls and overall thermal activity and enjoy a traditional Maori dinner. En route to Wellington you can visit the Lord of the Rings territory before taking a scenic boat trip to the South Island. Go whale watching in Kaikoura and enjoy some wine tasting in the Waipara Valley before arriving in Christchurch. Take the Milford Sound Nature Cruise, cutting through the fiords in search of dolphins, seals and penguins. Drive south past wineries, glaciers and breathtaking scenery to the adventure capital of the world, Queenstown, your home for two nights. Skydive, bungee jump, go white water rafting, you name it, it’s in Queenstown. Visit the Franz Josef Glacier before ending your trip on the iconic Tranz Alpine Scenic Train back to Christchurch. The price below includes flights, car hire including insurance, GPS, ferry / terminal fees, motel accommodation and a tour pack with detailed driving instructions, maps and guide books. When you click on the link the price will show at €2699, which is excluding flights. If you wish to add or reduce the number of nights on this itinerary, talk to the staff in Australian Sky and they will tailor make an itinerary to suit you.

Price from €4589 – Click here for more details.





11 Night, Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road, Kangaroo Island & Adelaide.

best road trips

The Great Ocean Road is no doubt one of the world’s most iconic coastal drives and many say is was the inspiration for our own Wild Atlantic Way. You will begin your journey in the dynamic city of Melbourne where you can soak up Australian city life for three nights before embarking on your road trip.  Your first stop will be Torquay, the surfing capital of Australia before driving onwards to famous Bells Beach and spending a night in Apollo Bay. Drive along the Great Ocean Road to Port Campbell passing the iconic Twelve Apostles and discovering the London Bridge. You can then choose the short route to Robe or choose to drive via the Grampians National Park, both options offering stunning scenery and interesting attractions. Drive along the coast to Coorong National Park past Lake Alexandria and Lake Albert before arriving at the seaside town, Victor Harbour. Walk across the Causeway and explore Granite Island. Take the car ferry to the unique Kangaroo Island and enjoy two days with the native kangaroos, koalas and sea lions! You will finish your journey in Adelaide where you will have two days to explore this city of culture. The price below includes flights, accommodation and car hire but when you click on the link the price will show at €1299, which is excluding flights. If you wish to add on stays in other Australian cities, talk to the staff in Australian Sky and they will tailor make an itinerary to suit you.

 Price from €2299 – click here for more details.


This post was sponsored by Tropical Sky but all views, as always, are my own.



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The Travel Expert

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Top Tips for Driving the Pacific Coast Highway

Pacific Coast Highway

Planning a California road trip? Check out my top tips for driving the Pacific Coast Highway and make sure you get it right!

Driving the California Coast is one of the world’s most iconic road trips, and it is important you take your time to explore it properly. Many try to combine Yosemite, Napa Valley and even Arizona into this trip, but I highly recommend you don’t. Each city and region deserves time to appreciate it, and you will want to spend some time relaxing on the beach at the end. My top tips for driving the Pacific Coast Highway will help you make the most of this amazing road trip.


1. Drive North to South.

Top tips for driving the Pacific Coast Highway, by the Travel Expert

To make the most of the sea views, drive North to South. Otherwise you will be on the wrong side of the road and literally have to cross it every time you want to stop for photos. San Francisco is an ideal place to start. I would suggest that you take a transfer from the airport and wait until you are leaving to collect your hire car.

You don’t need to have a car in San Francisco and parking charges are exorbitant. Make sure you book a car for collection ‘downtown’ so you don’t have to taxi back to the airport.


2 Be clever with your car hire.

Top tips for driving the Pacific Coast Highway by The Travel Expert



3. If travelling with kids – be prepared.

Tablets or iPads are a godsend on a long journey. Upload movies or games before you go. I found our media share invaluable, it creates an ad-hoc wifi network of its own so the kids can watch movies at any time, in the car, in restaurants etc. Some kids tend to feel nauseous when watching tv, try sea-bands, they worked a treat with my kids.  

Research your stops beforehand. I was surprised at how many museums were child friendly. Alcatraz, Hearst Castle, the California Science centre and the USS Midway museum, were all suitable for kids. Ask at the information centre for children’s guide books, many offer a treasure hunt system where kids have to find answers to questions and receive a prize upon completion.

My two particularly loved the junior rangers badges they got on Alcatraz and climbing onto airplanes and helicopters at Midway.

Top tips for driving the Pacific Coast Highway by The Travel Expert



4. Plan your stops carefully.

Top tips for driving the Pacific Coast Highway by The Travel Expert

When driving the PCH, the journey is the destination so make sure you allow plenty of time to see it. The speed limit is 55 miles per hour on most of the journey – and people stick to it. You will also want to stop for photos so allow at least two hours per 100 mile journey.

Try to plan your itinerary as much as possible and use your valuable lunch times to stop in the ‘right’ places along the way. Ask your travel agent, check TripAdvisor or read travel blogs for recommendations, and try to take in as much as possible.

I almost missed places like Hearst Castle ( below) which was well worth a visit. For information on my favourite stops, read my blog here.


5. Fly Direct, or if this is not possible, fly home from San Diego not LAX.

Top tips for driving the Pacific Coast Highway by The Travel Expert

Plan your route before you book your flights, it doesn’t have to be exact but at least plan where you will spend the last few days. I always recommend using direct flights if possible, but if the price is too expensive, or there are no direct flights from your location, then fly home from San Diego if you are spending your last few days there.

Google maps will tell you it’s a two hour drive to LAX from San Diego – its not! Well maybe it is at 5am, but for the most part of the day there is traffic, and it can take up to four hours, allowing for one or two wrong turns! The last thing you need on your last day is the stress of thinking you might miss your flight. Trust me, flying home from San Diego is a much better option if you are staying there.

If this isn’t possible, make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to get to LAX. There are some great restaurants in the airport, particularly 3 Forks steakhouse, their aim is to serve steak that is so tender, you don’t need a knife to cut it! Get to the airport early and enjoy a nice meal before you board.

These are my top tips, have you any more to add? I would love to hear them, please comment below 🙂


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The Best Places To Stop On The Pacific Coast Highway

California girl

A California road trip is one of the best coastal drives in the world and for me it has always been a bucket list holiday. It was everything I had hoped it would be and a lot more. Check out the best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway and make sure you get it right!


I can’t stress how important it is to plan it in advance. For those who have heard people saying not to plan it – please ignore them! Well that is unless you have no time constraints and a pocketful of money. Most of us have two – three weeks, so use your time wisely! I have left out numerous places, but these are my recommendations on the best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway, based on a two – three week trip. I also have a separate post – top tips for driving the Pacific Coast Highway so make sure you check that one out too. I hope they help you with your travel plans!

The best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway

1. San Francisco

For most people this is where you will start your journey, try to allow four days if possible. Bike the bridge, see Alcatraz (book online beforehand), walk Fisherman’s wharf and check out Union Square and the Castro district. I stayed at the Suites at Fisherman’s Wharf. They are ideally situated only minutes from the Wharf, Lombard Street ( crooked street) and on the cable car route to Union Square. For more info on San Francisco you can read my blog here.

The best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway

2. Monterey or Carmel

This is a tough choice as they are very close to each other, so you will probably only chose to say in one. If travelling with kids I would choose Monterey. The aquarium there is one of the best I have seen and the town is very family friendly. I stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel. It is a fantastic hotel in the centre of the town with excellent facilities and sea-views. It also has an excellent happy hour from 3 – 6. Not only are drinks half price but so are their delicious light bites. A nice glass of Californian wine and a plate of Monterey Bay Calamari will only set you back $12! They also have an excellent kids menu in the restaurant, even at breakfast time. Monterey has some lovely walks and bike paths along the seafront, and it even has it’s own Fisherman’s Wharf.

The best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway

Carmel is more authentic and if travelling as a couple, this would be my choice. You will love strolling around the pretty streets and stumbling upon local shops and art galleries, selling upmarket souvenirs. If you happen to be staying in Monterey, pop in for lunch or even a coffee, there is something special about Carmel by the Sea. If you have time, try lunch at Clint Eastwood’s (a former Mayor of Carmel ) Mission Ranch.  If you are a golf fan, take a spin to nearby Pebble Beach, they have numerous dining options and some quite reasonably priced.

The best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway

3. Cambria or San Luis Obispo

Another tough choice but it really depends what you are looking for.  Cambria’s quaint town is full of art and antique shops and has a country feel to it. It is generally quiet and everything pretty much shuts down at 9pm so if you are looking for nightlife, don’t stay here! It is the gateway to the Big Sur and the mountainous scenery is a welcome break from the coast road. I liked it because it was a total contrast to the other places we had stopped in, and it was beside Hearst Castle. This was a total surprise to me and well worth a visit. Sitting on 250,000 acres it is so hard to believe that this was once a private house.

The best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway

I stayed at the Cambria Pines Lodge. The country style hotel with old furniture and quirky gardens make it utterly charming.  Visit the elephant seal rookery in San Simeon and witness hundreds of seals playing. Stop by Sebastian’s café  for lunch afterwards. It is one of those places that is a post office, a grocery store, a wine tasting emporium and a café! Trust me, their subs ( and wine ) are amazing!

The best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway

San Luis Obispo is a college town and offers much more night life and upmarket shopping than Cambria. You will find everything from high street stores to theatres as well as some terrific wine bars. It is a good distance from the coast, about a 20 minute drive, so don’t expect the beach at your doorstep.


4. Santa Barbara

This was one of my favourite towns. It is the kind of place I would like to retire to ( in my dreams!). The fact that Rob Lowe happens to live here might have something to do with that! In fact numerous celebrities have houses here, including  Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise. There isn’t actually much to see but it has such a relaxed feel that you can’t help but chill out. I stayed here for two nights and loved it, (incidentally I found one night was sufficient in Monterey and Cambria). There are no billboards allowed, only pretty shops and upmarket restaurants. Go wine tasting in one of the numerous wine bars, sample some of California’s best restaurants or chill out on the beach. I stayed in the Harbor View Inn which is ideally located across the road from the beach. Try Bouchon for lunch or dinner, its a fantastic French brasserie – but make sure you book in advance.

The best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway

5. Santa Monica

Santa Monica is a bustling city but with a beach resort feel. We stayed at the fabulous Palihouse Hotel. This luxury boutique hotel is situated on a quiet residential street yet only one block from the heart of the city. The rooms are so spacious, equipped with walk in wardrobes, fully fitted kitchens and round baths. It doesn’t have a swimming pool but if like me, you plan on spending most of your days visiting LA and the surrounding area, this shouldn’t matter. The Santa Monica pier has a fun fair with a rollercoaster and big wheel and although a little tacky, it is a great family friendly resort.

The best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway

The main hub of the city is the pedestrianised 3rd Street Promenade. It is full of shops and dining options and is a nice place for an evening stroll. Make sure you try the Misfit bar and restaurant for contemporary American cuisine, situated just off the 3rd Street Promenade. If travelling with kids, you will have to do lunch as they are not allowed in after 6pm. Although not as pretty as Santa Barbara, it is a launchpad to stay in when visiting LA. There are plenty of public transport options. If you don’t want to drive into LA, the hop on hop off bus is a good choice which will bring you to all the nearby beaches as well as Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Universal Studios.

The best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway

6. Los Angeles

I chose to stay in Santa Monica when visiting LA. However, if you want to stay central, West Hollywood (or WeHo as the locals say) is probably your best bet. This two mile radius is home to the Sunset Strip and full of upmarket hotels, designer shops and the latest celebrity hangouts. You can easily pop down to the walk of fame, Beverly Hills and see all the highlights of LA from there. Treat yourself to lunch at Spago in Beverly Hills. Although a two star Michelin restaurant, the prices do not reflect this. It is exceptional value for such amazing food and the atmosphere is electric – I would highly recommend it.

The best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway

Make sure you visit the California Science Centre. It is free to enter and you could easily spend the day there. It is amazing to see the space shuttle, Endeavour  – make sure you book in advance, its only a $2 charge. If travelling with kids, visit Universal Studios which is home to rides such as Harry Potter, Transformers, Minions and Jurassic Park. You should be able to see this in one day. Disneyland however has two parks, so you would need to allow two days to see it properly.

The best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway

7. Last Stop – Beach!

Driving south from LA you will come across numerous beach towns. Huntington beach is a good choice for college students, Laguna beach is the upmarket choice for families and couples, and San Diego, the most popular option, is suitable for everyone. I stayed at the Bahia Resort Hotel on Mission beach. It is a great family friendly hotel with excellent facilities and friendly staff. You can rent numerous boats at reasonable prices, visit their luxury sister hotel, the Catamaran by steam boat, or chill out in one of their cabanas by the beach. My kids highlight was watching movies at night in the heated swimming pool! Draft is a good choice for drinks or dinner (American style) and offers the best view to watch the sunset. Mission beach on the whole is a little tacky though..

The best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway

If you want a nice upmarket beach resort try Coronado Bay or La Jolla. Take in happy hour from 3 – 6  in Peohe’s Coronado, overlooking the bay. Like many good hotels and restaurants in California they offer half price drinks and bites during happy hour. San Diego is home to a world famous Zoo, Legoland, Seaworld, the USS Midway museum and some of California’s best beaches. There are lots to see and do in San Diego, so make sure you allow yourself enough time to see it!

The best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway

Well if you managed to read all of that I am impressed. As you can see there is so much to do, you do need to plan! I am a travel expert and I still felt it necessary to contact umpteen travel agent friends, and read numerous travel blogs for recommendations. Queue to thank our Irish – Californian girl Kristin Skinner from American Holidays for all her advice! 

I hope you liked my choices on the best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway. If I have left out any of your favourites, please comment below – I would love to hear them.


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The Travel Expert Sarah Slattery

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