The classic Pacific Coast Highway road trip is best enjoyed southbound, so it makes sense to fly into San Francisco, and fly home from Los Angeles. This way (since you'll be driving on the right) you'll be hugging the coast most of the way, enjoying clear views of the ocean.
Enjoy stopping off at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, a little over an hour and half south of Big Sur. It is the most magnificent place. From there, it's just two and half hours' drive to Santa Barbara which makes for a perfect overnight stop. Then it's four hours to the very south of the state, arriving at San Diego.
The American Riviera is where the Pacific Coast is south-facing and sheltered by the Santa Ynez mountains. I wrote a piece about the American Riviera in July last year; the feature and Insider Guide is on the SUR in English website.
My personal travel passion is discovering hotels, and a visit to the 'Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara' captures the essence of the Santa Barbara style. Originally a 19th century country club, this historic resort is a remarkable example of the Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. The building and gardens are a delight to explore. Even if you're not staying, it's a great spot to enjoy a sundowner overlooking Butterfly Beach. However, if you are a guest, then you get to enjoy dinner at the vintage-style Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club, a snapshot of old-school southern Californian chic and cool. Fourseasons.com/SantaBarbara/
San Diego is California's second largest city. This beachside metropolis sprawls along the coast for kilometres. Famous for its zoo, San Diego is made up of a series of neighbourhoods and coastal communities, retaining a small-town feel. My favourite area is La Jolla. This coastal enclave offers on-trend B&Bs, fancy golf resorts, and chic boutique hotels.
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve in La Jolla, although within San Diego, is one of California's wildest stretches of coast, where rare, protected Torrey pines grow upon strikingly eroded land falling down to the Pacific. Adjacent, one finds The Lodge at Torrey Pines, a classic west coast property that, although less than 20 years old, is built as a celebration of the early 1900s Californian Craftsman-style architecture. Resort highlights include the A.R. Valentien restaurant, recognised for its locally sourced cuisine; and the adjacent championship Torrey Pines Golf Course.