As you can tell, this is prime road trip country - particularly the famous stretch known as Big Sur - but the entire 440 mile stretch between San Francisco and Los Angeles is spectacular, and obviously topped and tailed by two of the greatest (and VERY different) cities in America.
Heading south from 'Frisco means you're on the Ocean side of the road the whole way, and for most the first main stop is the Pebble Beach Peninsula, home to golf courses galore but also the towns of Monterey and Carmel. Monterey is famed for its huge aquarium, in what was once the town's sardine processing factory, and home to aquatic animals from hammerhead sharks to sea otters. Needless to say, children will love it, but most adults too. On the other side of the peninsula, charming Carmel is home to wealthy retirees and art galleries galore and more than a little reminiscent of an English seaside town, except with sunshine, and a Spanish mission dating back to the 18th Century.
Next stops include the hugely photogenic Bixby Bridge and the region of Big Sur that has leant its name to the wider area from Carmel down to Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo. The mountainous interior dropping into the sea with the road clinging to the cliffs makes this one of the most iconic stretches of tarmac anywhere in the world, and one worth at least a night's stay so you can get out of the car for a while and explore on foot, be that walking along dramatic headlands, or around cultural anomalies such as Hearst Castle, the extraordinary former home of the multi-millionaire media baron William Randolph Hearst, inspiration for Orson Welles's movie Citizen Kane.
At this point you're almost equidistance between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and can stop off in Morro Bay and at pretty Pismo Beach before reaching Santa Barbara, rebuilt in Spanish colonial style after a devastating earthquake in 1925 and bordered by the ocean to the south and the beautiful Los Padres National Forest and mountains to the north. The south facing slopes make this one of California's finest wine regions, with much of the produce available to sample on the fun Urban Wine Trail in the city itself. Santa Barbara is also home to some of the state's most spectacular houses, on the so-called America Riviera, as well as the fun waterfront area of the Funk Zone, brimming with cool bars and restaurants. From there it's just a quick two hour hop into Los Angeles via the movie mogul multi-millionaire mansions of Malibu and the beaches of Santa Monica.