) -- Fall is one of the best times to travel along the California coast, after kids have returned to school and international tourists have headed home. You're also more likely to find better prices at hotels and high-end restaurants.

Here's a highway adventure for foodies that goes from San Francisco to Santa Barbara. It's one of the country's most picturesque drives, offering many stops for dining and gazing. Ideally, you would take six days to make this trip, but here's one you could do in four.

Road trippers will find sweeping views and high-end restaurants on California's Highway 1.

Day 1 - San Francisco:

Arrive in San Francisco as early in the day as possible. Check in to the

Clift Hotel

near Union Square. Part of

Morgan's Hotel Group


, the historic property offers trendy luxury that's walking distance to art hotspots like

Hang Art

and the

Hespe Gallery


Afterwards, hit Zuni Cafe for its menu of locally grown Italian and French cuisine. After lunch, you'll explore nearby Hayes Valley and its newly gentrified strip of cafes, yoga studios and trendy shops. Plan for a late dinner at

Coi Restaurant

, which has earned two Michelin stars, which offers fine dining with an organic twist.

Day 2 - Santa Cruz:

The next morning, you'll leave the city and head for historic Highway One. One of your first stops will be Half Moon Bay, a former cattle and agricultural settlement for the Mission San Francisco de Asis in the 19th century that's now known for its surfing. It's also home to

Pasta Moon

, an Italian restaurant that serves treasures like ahi tuna with linguine, goat cheese gnocchi and pizza with prosciutto and pear. Order your meal to go and find a spot on the beach.

The two-hour drive from San Francisco to Santa Cruz will likely take much longer because you'll want to stop at the numerous produce stands, deserted beaches and mountaintop lookouts.

You'll arrive late afternoon at Santa Cruz's

Dream Inn,

which Joie de Vivre Hospitality recently restored to its 1950s splendor. As the only oceanfront boutique hotel in Santa Cruz, it offers views of the beach where the California surfer movement began. After you check in, walk along the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, the state's oldest amusement park. If you're feeling adventurous, take a bumpy ride on the Giant Dipper, a wooden roller coaster built in 1924.

Dinner will be a more grown-up affair at the

Oswald Restaurant

, which serves venison tartare, burgers and fried chicken in a groovy downtown dining room.

Day 3 - Big Sur:

Between Santa Cruz and Big Sur, you could explore the Monterey Bay, John Steinbeck's Salinas or the endless organic farms of Castroville and Watsonville. For this trip, we'll drive straight to Carmel.

First, you'll enjoy a burger on the patio at Clint Eastwood's

Hogs Breath Inn

, a quirky English-style pub. After lunch, it's a downhill walk to the edge of the Pebble Beach Golf Links. Enjoy the scenery and then walk back to your car.

It's a lazy, 40-minute ride south to Big Sur, where ideally you would check in to the Post Ranch Inn for a two-night stay. Instead you'll head for the

Ventana Inn & Spa

with its granola-meets-grandeur of oceanview rooms with stone floors and marble bathrooms. Have dinner at the

Post Ranch Inn's

Sierra Mar restaurant, where you'll find roast rabbit, Alaskan halibut and artichoke ravioli until 9 p.m.

Day 4 - Santa Barbara or back to San Francisco:

At this point, you can continue south on Highway One or head back to San Francisco on the zippier Route 101.

If you choose Santa Barbara, you'll enjoy a staggeringly beautiful five-hour drive that will take you to San Simeon and the Hearst Castle. But if you want to get there faster, you can head straight to the

Bacara Resort & Spa

and spend your last night relaxing at the hotel pool or taking a moonlit walk on the beach.

If you need to return quickly, Route 101 will get you to San Francisco International Airport in three hours. Those with a little more time can plan a stop in Los Gatos to dine at

Manresa Restaurant

, which has earned two Michelin stars. The menu offers French and Catalan specialties using organic, local produce. A four-course dinner is sure to beat


(MCD) - Get Report

drive-through window.

-- Reported by Michael Martin of in Los Angeles


Michael Martin is the managing editor of -- a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in In Style, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine, ITV and BBC.