Clathrin adaptor (AP) complexes facilitate membrane trafficking between subcellular compartments. One such compartment is the cilium, whose dysfunction underlies disorders classified as ciliopathies. Although AP-1mu subunit (UNC-101) is linked to cilium formation and targeting of transmembrane proteins (ODR-10) to nematode sensory cilia at distal dendrite tips, these functions remain poorly understood. Here, using Caenorhabditis elegans sensory neurons and mammalian cell culture models, we find conservation of AP-1 function in facilitating cilium morphology, positioning and orientation, and microtubule stability and acetylation. These defects appear to be independent of IFT, because AP-1-depleted cells possess normal IFT protein localisation and motility. By contrast, disruption of chc-1 (clathrin) or rab-8 phenocopies unc-101 worms, preventing ODR-10 vesicle formation and causing misrouting of ODR-10 to all plasma membrane destinations. Finally, ODR-10 colocalises with RAB-8 in cell soma and they cotranslocate along dendrites, whereas ODR-10 and UNC-101 signals do not overlap. Together, these data implicate conserved roles for metazoan AP-1 in facilitating cilium structure and function, and suggest cooperation with RAB-8 to coordinate distinct early steps in neuronal ciliary membrane sorting and trafficking.