California is known for sunny days, stunning beaches, sweet confections and special drives along the coast. You can sample it all on the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to San Diego where, between exciting attractions and gorgeous vistas, you can sample the region’s best ice cream. Here’s a roadmap to the best sights and sweets on 500 miles of California coast.

Friends eat ice cream cones as they lean up against a camper. They have sunglasses on and tank tops. California Ice Cream
Hit the road for the best sights and ice cream on the California coast © Stanislaw Pytel / Getty Images

San Francisco

Sights: San Francisco is famous for its landmarks, including the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz penitentiary (get tickets in advance). Ride the cable car and go shopping in Union Square, then get your sweet trip started on the right foot with a tour of the Museum of Ice Cream.
Sweets: Bi-Rite Creamery – Mouth-watering unique flavors including salted caramel and Ritual Coffee Toffee. The best location is located in the Mission right next to Mission Dolores Park where you can enjoy city views. Vegan options are available. 3692 18th St

Pastel-colored houses line a pretty bay as the sun starts to go down; California ice cream
Vintage Santa Cruz is a vision on Monterey Bay © Praveen P.N. / Getty Images

Santa Cruz

Sights: Santa Cruz is a quaint little beach town stretching into Monterey Bay with a historic boardwalk filled with vintage rides. Silicon Valley hasn’t run over this town quite yet! The downtown area has plenty of vintage clothing stores, galleries, and great food. Go shopping or on a cruise around the bay.
Sweets: Penny Ice Creamery – All flavors are made from scratch in-house, with organic ingredients from local farms creating eclectic flavors such as Blackberry Sweet Corn, Brown Sugar Oat Walnut, and Peaches & Cream. 913 Cedar St

Cannery Wharf in Monterey is seen with a view of several sailboats tied up and the bay stretching out beyond; California ice cream
Restaurants line the edge of famous Monterey Bay, with views and wildlife on all sides © Westend61 / Getty Images


Sights: Just across the bay sits Monterey and famous Cannery Row, an old sardine packing factory which is now home to wharf-side shops and restaurants. Highlights along the gorgeous bay include the 17-mile drive, a coastal road with stunning views. There’s also the world-class Monterey Bay Aquarium – visit the penguins and hammerheads, and watch for otters off the back deck.
Sweets: Revival Ice Cream – Handcrafted using (and reviving) locally sourced organic ingredients. Signature scoops include the award-winning Bee’s Knees (made from Monterey honey), Apple Pie, and the Mint, Eucalyptus, and Fudge (three ingredients, one great taste). Rotating seasonal flavors are made in small batches. Dairy-Free options. 463 Alvarado St

A massive single-span bridge made of concrete curves around a small ravine on the coast of California near Big Sur; California ice cream
The iconic Bixby Bridge is the symbol of Big Sur © Kathleen Cregg / Lonely Planet

Big Sur

Sights: Along the coast among the rigid Santa Lucia Mountains lies Big Sur, with plenty of stops for gorgeous ocean vistas. Drive along one of the world’s highest single-span bridges, Bixby Bridge. It was built by prisoners and is the bridge seen in HBO’s Big Little Lies.
Sweets: Coast Big Sur – Dishes out delicious soft serve, chocolate landslide sundaes, and affogatos (espresso poured onto a scoop of ice cream) by McWay Falls. 49901 California Hwy 1

Three friends pose for a selfie while sitting on a driftwood log on a beach; California ice cream
Moonstone Beach is a picturesque stopping point on the central California coast © Paul Harris / Getty Images


Sights: Primarily built around tourism, Cambria is known for great Bed and Breakfast spots and Moonstone Beach, named for the pearly colored rocks which often wash ashore. California’s famous Hearst Castle is only a few miles away.
Sweets: Linn’s Restaurant ­– Famous for its Olallieberry pie, Linn’s Restaurant and Bakery is the perfect spot for lunch and a treat, milkshakes included. Just down the street, Mojo’s Village Bean scoops up local Doc Burnsteins Ice Cream Lab ice cream. 2277 Main Street

A rusted out old-fashioned truck is parked next to a faded billboard announcing Harmony, California, population 18; California ice cream
Tiny Harmony, California was founded as an enclave for local artisans © Kathleen Cregg / Lonely Planet


Sights: This small town off the highway has a population of only 18 people, plus a few cows. It was founded and is run by artisans selling art, pottery, wine and ice cream.
Sweets: Harmony Valley Creamery – A cute little ice cream truck is typically parked across from the creamery, serving a great selection of ice creams made with natural California ingredients. See where the Scoop Truck will scoop next. 2177 Old Creamery Road


Sights: With its historic storefronts housing antiques shops and eateries, the main drag of amiable, slow-paced Cayucos recalls an Old West frontier town, complete with a saloon.
Sweets: Brown Butter Cookie Company – Ok, this might not be ice cream, but some would be amazing between the delectable cookies from the big red building on the corner of D Street. 98 N Ocean Ave

A kayaker heads toward Morro Rock in San Luis Obispo in the early morning at a marina; California ice cream
Morro Bay, in San Luis Obispo County, is the perfect place for some off-shore natural adventures © Jhoanna Reyes / EyeEm / Getty Images

San Luis Obispo

Sights: Halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles lies San Luis Obispo. Notable stops include Morro Bay and the university, Cal Poly. The Madonna Inn is a great place to stay as the decor is wild and each room has a different theme.
Sweets: Nite Creamery – Made with liquid Nitrogen, the ice cream develops an extra creamy taste. Some favorites include Strawberry Creme (made with real Strawberries), BBB (Peanut Butter ice cream, bananas, brownies and topped with a peanut butter drizzle). Gluten-free options available. 570 Higuera St #103

Birds fly past the terra cotta roof of a spanish-style mission in Santa Barbara; California ice cream
Is it a coincidence the dome of the Old Mission in Santa Barbara is reminiscent of a scoop of ice cream with a cherry on top? © Dave Fimbres Photography / Getty Images

Santa Barbara

Sights: A great stop for shopping and dining – be sure to visit Santa Barbara’s Old Mission before heading over to the Santa Barbara Zoo. The Ritz-Carlton Bacara is a beautiful place to stay or stop in for sunset drinks.
Sweets: Rori’s Artisanal Ice Cream – Rori Trovato makes each flavor unique, including malted milk ball, lemon curd or serious dark chocolate. You can also visit Rori’s Ice Cream Factory in Carpenteria, just outside of Santa Barbara. 38 West Victoria Street

A multicolored ferris wheel is partially hidden by a large red-painted ice cream parlor in Santa Monica; California ice cream
What says summer fun better than an ice cream shop on the Santa Monica pier? © Kathleen Cregg / Lonely Planet

Santa Monica

Sights: Whether you ride the roller coaster at Santa Monica Pier, shop along the Third Street Promenade or take a beach day, you won’t be disappointed with the wealth of options in Santa Monica.
Sweets: Scoops Ice Cream and Treats – Grab a scoop of Lappert’s ice cream served on the Santa Monica Pier, part of Pacific Park. Walter Lappert opened his first store in Sausalito, California. Three generations later, the Lapperts are still serving up Hawaii Pink Sea Salt Caramel, Lemon Creamsicle, Banana Cream Pie, and Carmel Coconut Macadamia, to name a few. 380 Santa Monica Pier, Suite 6

A young man and woman eat ice cream cones as they walk along the boardwalk in Venice Beach; California ice cream
You never know what you'll see on the Venice Beach boardwalk © Tanveer Badal / Getty Images

Venice Beach

Sights: Tour the Venice Canal Walk and check out the real estate, or walk along the Venice Beach Boardwalk and meet some interesting characters, to say the least! 
Sweets: Wanderlust Creamery – Combines the best of world travel and ice cream, putting your senses to the test. Flavors include Sticky Rice and Mango inspired by Thailand, Japanese Neopolitan, and Passionfruit Cacao inspired by Brazil. 609 Lincoln Blvd Suite B

Four scoops of ice cream are stacked on a cone being held by a hand in front of a chalkboard offering other scoops; California ice cream
Handel's Homemade Ice Cream is the stuff of legends in laid-back Encinitas © Kathleen Cregg / Lonely Planet


Sights: Encinitas is a relaxing beach and surf town where the surfers will stay out until the last drop of sunlight disappears at San Elijo State Beach.
Sweets: Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream – Get a tower of homemade ice cream from Handel’s. With more than 50 flavor options, there is a scoop (or 4) for everyone. 90 N Coast Hwy 101 #101

A freckled boy eats an ice cream cone at Pacific Beach in San Diego; California ice cream
Put a cherry on your tasty road trip along the California coast with a sweet stop in San Diego © Stuart Westmorland / Getty Images

San Diego

Sights: Last stop, San Diego. Take a swing at Torrey Pines Golf Course or jump off a cliff and hang glide at the Gliderport. Be sure to visit the world-famous San Diego Zoo, then head downtown to the trendy Gaslamp Quarter for shopping and dining. The best place to stay is at the gorgeous historic Hotel Del Coronado.
Sweets: MooTime Creamery – A classic soda shop contributes to the old-town vibe. Made-from-scratch ice cream has daily rotating flavors for the ultimate freshness. Give your taste buds a punch of sweetness. 1025 Orange Ave

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