15 Amazing Stops on the LA To San Diego Drive (2023 Edition)

Planning a trip to California soon and interested in driving from Los Angeles to San Diego? Well, that is an absolutely excellent decision, because this route is filled with dozens of beautiful beaches, charming coastal towns, and lots of incredible things to do! I’ve put together this LA to San Diego drive/road trip itinerary, and it’ll go over what I think are all the best places to stop along the way! 

Southern California is truly one of the most enchanting places in the U.S.A, and I guarantee that if you stop in all of these places between LA and San Diego, you’ll be looking up real estate, and will soon be planning a move to California! 

Whether you’re looking for a quick weekend getaway, or on an extended road trip – grab yourself some In-N-Out, and fall in love with California every night while watching the sunset every night! This LA to San Diego drive has every place stop you should make for the ultimate California experience!

LA to San Diego Drive Road Trip

The Ultimate LA to San Diego Drive Road Trip

How Far is San Diego from Los Angeles?

There is only about 120 miles between San Diego and LA, and without traffic will take around two hours. With that being said, if you decide to drive straight from one city to the next, you’ll be missing out on SO many incredible destinations along the way.

There are also bus and train options to get from LA to San Diego, but I definitely think the best way to travel from one city to the next is to have a car and enjoy an incredible drive!

la to san diego

Unusual cloudy days on the La to San Diego Drive

Absolutely YES! While the most the direct path is taking “The 5” freeway, but I’d highly recommend taking an extra couple days and enjoy a scenic road trip along California’s iconic Pacific Coast Highway (PCH).

You’ll enjoy stunning coastal views, charming towns, and plenty of incredible things to do to keep you busy for days! 

California Beach from above

LA to San Diego Road Trip Overview

Before we dive into each of these major cities, here’s a quick look at all the great stops on the LA to San Diego Drive:

  1. Santa Monica
  2. Venice Beach/ Marina Del Ray
  3. Manhattan Beach
  4. Long Beach
  5. Huntington Beach
  6. Newport Beach
  7. Laguna Beach
  8. Dana Point
  9. San Clemente State Beach
  10. Oceanside
  11. Carlsbad
  12. Encinitas/ Cardiff By The Sea
  13. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve & Golf Course
  14. La Jolla
  15. Pacific Beach

Laguna Beach Coastline

15 Best Stops along the LA To San Diego Road Trip

Alright, let’s discuss in detail a bit more on each destination including things to do, where you should stay if you decide to spend some extra time there, and some other fun recommended travel tips! I’ve also included a few fun travel videos for some of the stops, so be sure to watch the YouTube clips for trip inspiration!

los angeles to san diego road trip

1. Santa Monica 

This journey begins in one of LA’s most famous and iconic cities, Santa Monica! It’s actually one of my favorite beachside destinations in California, and you could spend several days here enjoying all the world-class restaurants, rooftop bars, and unbeatable west coast sunsets. 

Santa Monica Beach - Places to stop between Los Angeles and San Diego

Make sure you take a walk through the Santa Monica pier, take a ride on the roller coaster at Pacific Park, relax on the soft sandy beach, get some exercise by renting a bike and riding along its miles of bike paths, and take a stroll along Ocean avenue.

I’d also recommend you experience the stunning view of the ocean and mountains from Palisades park, graze through the local Santa Monica Farmers Market (open on Saturday/Sunday only), and do some shopping through the Third Street promenade! Santa Monica is simply the perfect way to start your LA to San Diego road trip!

Where to Stay in Santa Monica:

The Garden Hide-Away | 5 Star Santa Monica FANTASTIC

This clean and bright Santa Monica bungalow has an incredible overall guest score from hundreds of happy guests. It’s just a short walk down to LA’s famous beach and its many attractions, and is one of the best value stays in the area!

Santa Monica Pier - Los Angeles to San Diego Drive

Santa Monica is the best way to start the Los Angeles to San Diego drive

2. Venice Beach & Marina Del Ray 

Venice Beach - la to san diego drive

Located just a few miles south of Santa Monica, you’ll find the colorful suburbs of Venice & Marina Del Ray. You could easily rent a bike in Santa Monica, and ride down along the well-paved path down here!  

Whether you’re looking for a funky souvenir, a fresh tattoo, or just want to watch the lively street performers, definitely make a stop through Venice beach! Take some photos of the muscle men at the iconic muscle beach, watch the talented skateboarders in the skate park, and enjoy a meal at one of the foodie hotspots in the area!

While you’re in the Venice area, make sure you take a stroll or bike ride through the beautiful canals and bridges found in Marina Del Ray!  It’s a completely charming coastal community, and in 1965,  became the largest man-made, small-craft harbor in the country. Enjoy its laidback atmosphere, colorful sunsets, and partake in one of the popular watersport activities. It’s another must-visit for California visitors, and would be a highlight of your Los Angeles to San Diego road trip!

Where to Stay in Venice Beach / Marina Del Ray:

Venice Canals Bungalow~Sexy Deck, Venice Beach, Pier & Boardwalk

This luxurious VRBO located in Venice Canals is just blocks from the famous beach and its many visitor-friendly attractions, and you’ll fall in love with with the peaceful views from this quaint vacation rental.

Venice Beach - LA to San Diego Drive

Image via @adamhahn

3. Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach - things to do between san diego and los angeles

I recently visited Manhattan Beach for the first time (after living in Southern California for 20+ years), and I completely fell in love with it! It’s got a fun pier to watch the surfers from, tons of volleyball courts to play a quick game, and beautiful beachfront properties to dream about owning one day.  

There’s also a really nice downtown district filled with many family-owned restaurants, boutique fashion shops, and well-maintained paths filled with colorful flowers.  

Photographers will love the long-exposure shots you can get under the Manhattan beach pier, families will love exploring the Sand Dunes or a stroll through Live Oak  Park, and art fans will be ecstatic about the various galleries in the area! If you’re looking for fun and unique places to stop on the way to San Diego, I’d highly recommend checking out Manhattan Beach if you got the time!

Where to Stay in Manhattan Beach:

Designer Beach Studio In Manhattan Beach, Amazing Location! Steps to Beach!

This pretty Manhattan Beach studio abode is fresh, unique and comfortable. Enjoy warm California days with beach towels and chairs provided!

4. Long Beach

Long Beach - los angeles to san diego road trip

“With so much drama in the L-B-C, It’s kinda hard bein Snoop D-O-double-G. But I, somehow, some way. Keep comin up with funky ass shit like every single day” — Snoop Dogg 

One of the main destinations you simply can’t miss along this Los Angeles to San Diego drive is Long Beach, California. 

“Long Beach is one giant playground located right in the heart of Southern California. Here you can experience it all from a deep-sea adventure at the Aquarium of the Pacific right on the bay and a voyage in time aboard the historic Queen Mary to lively guided tours through downtown and the colorful East Village.”

I’d recommend taking a bike ride along the beach, taking a ferry over to Catalina Island for a day-trip, and taking a Whales & Dolphins watching cruise! You could easily spend 2-3 days soaking up everything Long Beach has to offer, as it’s as one the most popular and lively places on this Los Angeles to San Diego drive!

Where to Stay in Long Beach:

1st Floor Beachfront Apartment with Ocean Views & Walking Distance to Everything

This charming Long Beach apartment features stylish interiors and an unbeatable location. You’ll be just seconds on foot to the beach, downtown Long Beach, shops, restaurants and the buzzing local entertainment district. 

Long Beach - Places to visit in California

5. Huntington Beach

Huntington Beach CA - cities between la and san diego

Huntington Beach is one of the best cities between LA and San Diego!

Just about twenty minutes down the Pacific Coast Highway from Long Beach, you’ll find the lively suburb of Huntington Beach! This is one of the two main beaches I grew up going to and an outstanding place to spend an afternoon or even a couple of days!

It’s home to one of the longest piers on the West Coast of California (measure 1,850 feet in length), has lots of beach parking across the street (or pay $10 to park in the lot), and a vibrant nightlife scene! 

I’d recommend doing some drinking in Huntington Beach, as it’s filled with awesome bars, breweries, distilleries, lounges, and nightclubs.  

Watch the sunset while you stroll along the Huntington Beach pier, do some shopping along the buzzing Main Street, and be sure to hit some waves, as HB is known as “Surf City”!

Where to Stay in Huntington Beach:

Classic & Affordable Beach Cottage! A Short & Easy Walk To The Sand!

This five-star Huntington Beach surf cottage is spacious, well-situated and stylish. You’ll just staying just minutes from Huntington Beach, Sunset Beach and many other leading local coastal hubs. 

Hungtington Beach, California - LA to San Diego Drive Places to visit

Image via @adamhahn

6. Newport Beach

Newport Beach - los angeles to san diego drive

Ahh, Newport Beach, one of the shining stars in Orange County! It’s one of California’s most iconic beach cities and comes complete with a massive stretch of beautiful soft sand, two different piers, and lots of fun bars, restaurants, and events to keep just about anyone entertained.

You could stop into the mega-shopping mall, “Fashion Island“, grab a shake on Ruby’s Diner on the Balboa pier, or take a bike around through the tiny alleyways along the Balboa peninsula. 

I’d also recommend a quick jaunt down through the Crystal Cove State Park along PCH, which is one of “Orange County’s largest remaining examples of open space and natural seashore. It features 3.2 miles of beach, 2,400 acres of backcountry wilderness and an offshore underwater area. The park also features the federally listed Historic District, an enclave of 46 vintage rustic coastal cottages originally built as a seaside colony in the 1930’s & 40’s and nestled around the mouth of Los Trancos Creek.” 

There’s also a buzzing nightlife scene in Newport, as well as its inland counterpart of Costa Mesa! It’d be a fantastic place to stop for a meal or sightseeing when you drive from LA to San Diego!

Where to Stay in Newport Beach:

Clean Cottage for 2, Great Location! Large Patio, AIR, WiFi, Grill

This top-rated Newport Beach VRBO boasts an incredible location just steps from the beach, beautiful interior, and comfortable bedding for a superb stay!

Hungtington Beach, California

Image via @adamhahn

7. Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach CA

Continuing down through Orange County along the Pacific Coast Highway, you’ll arrive at the iconic Laguna Beach, which is home to some of the most stunning beaches, coastlines, and houses in the state! It might just be the most jaw-dropping stop on the scenic drive from San Diego to Los Angeles!

Now, there is A LOT to do in the Laguna beach area, but here are few of my recommendations!

  • Take a stroll through Heisner Park
  • Visit Main Beach
  • Visit 1000 Steps Beach During Sunset 
  • Explore the Tide Pools
  • Ride the Free Trolley through town
  • Check out Treasure Island 

If you find yourself with several days in Laguna, I’d recommend checking out this article for the TOP 100 THINGS TO DO IN LAGUNA BEACH“, as it’s filled with epic ideas, activities, and attractions!

Where to Stay in Laguna Beach:

In the heart of Laguna Beach! Walk Everywhere!! Location! 5 star

This stunning one bedroom beachfront apartment is light, fresh and oozes Laguna Beach vibes. Perfect for a cozy seaside getaway, the pad boasts views from its front patio, and is just minutes walk from the heart of downtown Laguna Beach and to Main Beach.

Laguna Beach - LA to San Diego Drive

Image via @adamhahn

8. Dana Point 

Dana Point - la to san diego road trip

So my cousins have been living down in Dana Point for nearly 15 years, and it’s definitely one of the better areas in Orange County!  You can soak up the sun at one of its many gorgeous beaches, experience marine life on one of the many ocean cruises, or go boat shopping through the wondrous Dana Point harbor.  

If you happen to be in town on a Saturday, stop in the Dana Point Farmer’s Market for some fresh produce and local healthy snacks, fruits, veggies, nuts, and freshly baked bread!  

If there’s one thing you gotta do while you’re in Dana Point, it’s the quick 0.2 mile Bluff Top walking trail, which provides an amazing panoramic view of the harbor! This could be a fun and easy stop when Driving from LA to San Diego  

Where to stay in Dana Point:

Newly Remodeled Dana Point Beach Getaway

Affordable, fun, and perfectly located in Dana Point – you’ll love this bedroom condo and exploring all the nearby attractions!

Check out this awesome Youtube Video for a bit more Dana point travel inspiration!

9. San Clemente State Beach

Are you interested in doing any beach camping? Well, this is exactly where you should go in Southern California! But even if you don’t, it’s still worth a visit 

San Clemente is a gorgeous mile-long beach that is popular for swimming, bodysurfing, skimboarding, and of course, surfing! 

Check out the San Clemente State Beach website for more information, opening hours, and making a beach camping reservation!  

San Clemente Beach, California

Where to Stay in San Clemente:

San Clemente’s Most Popular Vacation Rental – Check out our reviews!

The name speaks for itself! This stylish condo is just steps from the beach, restaurants, bars and shopping in the heart of San Clemente, California. 

10. Oceanside

Welcome to Oceanside, the northernmost city in San Diego County! Located right along the Pacific Ocean, you will find over six miles of stunning beaches, wonderful attractions, a lively boardwalk, and the longest wooden pier on the California coast, measuring at 1941 feet in length ( which 1/3 of a mile)!

I’d suggest checking out the most popular Harbor Beach, take a visit through the Beach House winery, and take a gander through the Oceanside Museum Of Art!  

If you’ve got a decent travel budget, than I’d look into chartering a boat, so you can sail up and down the California coast for a few hours!   

Where to stay in Oceanside:

1 Bedroom With 2 Queen Beds Beautiful New Remodel With Harbor View From Balcony

One of Oceanside’s most in-demand and highly-rated vacation rentals, this one bedroom beachfront condo is stylish and high-end. Its patio boasts views over Oceanside Harbor and the beach is right at your fingertips. 

LA to San Diego Drive 01-5

11. Carlsbad

After a short drive down from Oceanside, you’ll quickly enter the small town of Carlsbad, but it’s list of attractions is quite massive! The one destination that tops any list is a visit to the epic LEGOLAND California Resort. If that doesn’t interest you, then instead book yourself a ticket to the Sea Life Aquarium.

Another important attraction in Carlsbad is the lovely Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch! It’a “fifty-acre dazzling rainbow of beautiful ranunculus flowers set on a hillside overlooking the striking Carlsbad, California coastline. The outdoor space is idyllic for planning weddings, events and corporate gatherings held among the lush gardens, or you may choose to nestle indoors in our 200-seat Paul Ecke Jr. Barn for special occasions!”

Where to Stay in Carlsbad:

Gorgeously Remodeled Carlsbad Beach Bungalow

This sylish one bedroom Carlsbad bungalow is just steps from beach and Carlsbad’s many restaurants, bars and of course – LEGOLAND! The stylish space is one of the best in town, and perfect for a Carlsbad getaway on your road trip!

Carlsbad - Los Angeles to San Diego Drive

Image via @adamhahn

12. Encinitas & Cardiff By The Sea

Continuing down the coast, you’ll find yourself in the charming city of Encinitas, which is Spanish for “hills of live oaks”. It’s another quirky beachside area, extremely popular for surfers, families, and beach fun! 

Make sure you take a stroll along the popular “Moonlight Beach”, explore the San Elijo Lagoon State Marine Conservation Area, and get lost among in San Diego Botanic Gardens!  

Cardiff by The Sea - Los Angeles to San Diego Drive

Image via @adamhahn

13. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve & Golf Course

While Torrey Pines might be located within San Diego city limits, it somehow remains one of the wildest area of land on the Southern California coastline! Visiting here is like taking a time machine back, and you’ll experience what it looked like centuries ago!  Complete with the maritime chaparral, the rare Torrey pine, miles of pristine beaches, and a lagoon that is a crucial element to migrating bird species! It’s truly a must-visit, with it’s coastline filled pine trees,, sandstone canyons, and a wide variety of dirt hiking trails overlooking the ocean!

Torrey Pines is also home to California’s most pristine and famous golf course, but any fan of golf is already aware of that little tidbit!  Head over to the Torres Pine Golf Course website for reservations, prices, and more info!

14. La Jolla Cove

If I ever move back to California, I’d personally love to find myself an apartment or house in the La Jolla  district in San Diego!  With its selection of the mesmerizing beaches, unbeatable coastline views, and charming city center, it’s such a fantastic place to spend a good amount of time!

La Jolla is a small beachfront city located only about twenty minutes north from downtown San Diego, and is truly a gem! Complete with so many awesome eateries (with rooftop terraces overlooking the beach & sunsets), nearly perfect weather year-round, and some of the best snorkeling and scuba-diving in Southern California!  

There’s a really fantastic walking trail filled with different viewpoints and photo opportunities, and you definitely have to experience La Jolla Cove for yourself!

La Jolla- LA to San Diego Drive

15. Pacific Beach

Last, but certainly not least, Pacific Beach is the PLACE TO BE once you’ve arrived in San Diego. This suburb is basically the “epitome” of Southern California culture, and you will fall in love with everything this area has to offer! With a wide variety of bars and restaurants lining the beach, beautiful sunsets every night, and a welcoming atmosphere- you’ll find yourself wanting to stay in “PB” as long as possible!

Check out this awesome article by my fellow blogger titled “25 Things To Do In Pacific Beach San Diego” for more inspiration and information!  

Do I need to anything to this LA to San Diego Drive Itinerary?

Being a so-cal native, I could probably add at least a dozen more places that I think would be worth a visit, but I wanted to keep it to 15. If you think I need to add any specific destination along the Pacific Coast Highway, please do let me know! I’d also love to hear of your favorite restaurants and bars in the area, as I plan on completing this drive a lot in the coming months, and would love some recommendations!

Mission Beach- San Diego

Image via @adamhahn

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LA to San Diego Drive

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