20 Best Things to Do on Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Los Angeles - Endless Travel Destinations

Itinerary: 20 Best Things to Do on Pacific Coast Highway

Looking for an itinerary with the most amazing stops on highway 1, california check out this road trip itinerary with the very best things to do on the pacific coast highway between san francisco and los angeles.

One of the best things to do in California is definitely a road trip on the legendary Pacific Coast Highway. You’ve probably already heard of the world-famous road, or maybe you’ve already been on a road trip on the Pacific Coast Highway.

It isn’t only considered one of the most scenic drives in America, but also one of the most beautiful stretches of road in the entire world!

The Pacific Coast Highway officially starts right at the Oregon border and ends just south of Los Angeles. But on a road trip on the Pacific Coast Highway, it is especially the 711 kilometers long distance between San Francisco and Los Angeles there’s an absolute must-see sight in California.

The Pacific Coast Highway climbs along the rugged cliffs of the Pacific coast and leads through unspoiled countryside, charming towns, and lush vineyards. While the drive itself is a great experience in California, there are also plenty of cool things to do on the Pacific Coast Highway.

Read also: 36 Very Best Places to Visit in California

20 Best Things to Do on Pacific Coast Highway - Endless Travel Destinations

Table of Contents

Practical Tips for Pacific Coast Highway

Yeah yeah, I know you’re excited about the many things to do on Pacific Coast Highway. But first, I have a few important practical tips for your road trip on Pacific Coast Highway.

Please note that the Pacific Coast Highway between San Francisco and Los Angeles requires at least one overnight stay . As I said before, it’s one of the most beautiful stretches of road in the entire world.

Along the way, there are countless photo stops, not to forget the many amazing things to do on the Pacific Coast Highway. Therefore, I strongly recommend having at least 2 or 3 nights between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The best way to experience Pacific Coast Highway is by driving from north to south , from San Francisco to Los Angeles. By choosing this direction, you’ll get to drive closest to the sea with the best views along Pacific Coast Highway. However, don’t let it limit you, it’s also a beautiful drive from south to north.

The best time for a road trip on Pacific Coast Highway is during the summer months. There’s a great risk of hazy and foggy weather in the northern part of the stretch during the winter months. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee of a cloudless sky, although the odds are better in the summer .

Finally, remember to check for road closures along Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) . It happens now and then that parts of the route are closed due to landslides.

Enough about the practical tips for the Pacific Coast Highway. Let’s take a closer look at the best things to do on the Pacific Coast Highway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

20 Best Things to Do on Pacific Coast Highway - Tips for road trip - Endless Travel Destinations

Best things to do on Pacific Coast Highway:

1. san francisco.

San Francisco is a great place to start your road trip on the Pacific Coast Highway. You can easily spend a few days exploring San Francisco, a charming metropolis with iconic neighborhoods like Chinatown and the Financial District .

There are so many fun and iconic things to do in San Francisco. Of course, you can’t visit San Francisco without seeing the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge . Also, don’t miss the infamous Alcatraz prison, isolated from the mainland and has been home to some of the worst criminals in U.S. history.

How about experiencing the sea lions on Pier 39 , taking a ride in a Cable Car , or driving on Lombard Street , the most crooked and curvy street in the World. There are so many fun things to do in San Francisco and you shouldn’t be afraid of getting bored.

Read also:  15+ Very Best Things to Do in San Francisco

20 Best Things to Do on Pacific Coast Highway - San Francisco - Endless Travel Destinations

2. Half Moon Bay

About an hour’s drive south of San Francisco you’ll find Half Moon Bay, a small idyllic coastal town. Half Moon Bay is known locally for its Pumpkin Festival in October and internationally for the big surf competition, Mavericks .

However, there are no major attractions in Half Moon Bay, but the atmosphere in the small coastal town is amazing. Take a walk in the historic center or visit the beautiful beaches that you often have all to yourself. You can also rent a bicycle or enjoy an idyllic dinner at a restaurant in Half Moon Bay.

3. San Jose

If you would like to take a little detour off the Pacific Coast Highway or don’t bother to visit Half Moon Bay, you should consider visiting San Jose.

This is where you’ll find Stanford University , one of the most prestigious universities in the world. It’s truly a fun and exciting experience to walk around campus.

Another option is to visit Silicon Valley , home to thousands of high-tech companies. Make your way past Google’s headquarters or drop by Apple, Facebook, eBay, Adobe, Logitech, or other leading Silicon Valley headquarters. You probably shouldn’t expect an invitation indoors, but it’s still fun to see some of the world’s most famous companies’ headquarters.

Although there are many things to do on Pacific Coast Highway, I highly recommend taking a detour to San Jose and Silicon Valley!

20 Best Things to Do on Pacific Coast Highway - Stanford University - Endless Travel Destinations

4. Santa Cruz

Continue your road trip on Pacific Coast Highway to the cozy coastal town of Santa Cruz. You’ll probably quickly notice the charm of the old American seaside resort that takes you back to the 1960s.

The laid-back atmosphere is partly because it’s both a university town and a hippie town. It’s also one of the most important surfing cities in the United States with several major surfing competitions every year. The best time to experience the surfers in action is early in the morning when the waves are absolutely perfect.

One of the best things to do in Santa Cruz is to visit the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk with an old amusement park. Enjoy a truly American experience with pink candyfloss, buttered popcorn, fish restaurants, live music, and crowds in the summer. The main attraction of the amusement park is the Giant Dipper , a nearly 100-year-old wooden slide that is the fifth-oldest functioning slide in the United States!

Also, don’t forget to visit Downtown , which is full of great shops and idyllic eateries. Finally, remember to visit Natural Bridges State Beach with a natural arch in a huge rock at the beach shore.

5. Monterey

After driving along, the coast for just under an hour, you arrive in Monterey. This beautiful seaside resort is one of the best things to do on the Pacific Coast Highway!

Monterey is known for the Monterey Bay Aquarium , believed to be one of the best aquariums in the entire world. The large aquarium is housed in an old fish factory and is one of the most popular attractions in California. It may be a good idea to book your tickets in advance as it’s often crowded.

Also, don’t forget to take a walk along Cannery Row , the place where several of John Steinbeck’s books take place. Here you’ll find a myriad of restaurants, shops, and hotels located in old canned fish factories along the water.

The bay off Monterey has rich wildlife and if you’re visiting Fisherman’s Wharf , you may be lucky enough to spot either sunbathing sea lions, seals, or otters.

From Monterey Harbor , you can take part in Whale Watching Tours with great opportunities to see magnificent whales, dolphins, and orcas in the ocean.

20 Best Things to Do on Pacific Coast Highway - Monterey - Endless Travel Destinations

6. 17 Mile Drive

Between Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea you can choose to take a small detour on the private coastal road at 17 Mile Drive. Since it’s a private road, it costs $ 10.25 to drive on the scenic road, but it’s all worth the money!

17 Mile Drive is often on the lists of the 10 most beautiful roads in the United States – and that says a lot!

The beautiful scenic road winds its way along the dramatic coastline of the Monterey Peninsula. It passes adventurous forests, white sandy beaches, million-dollar mansions, and prestigious golf courses.

One of the most popular things to do on scenic 17 Mile Drive is to see the Lone Cypress , an ancient cypress tree that stands alone on a high cliff right next to the Pacific Ocean.

You can also make your way past Bird Rock , a cliff where there are often many birds and sea lions enjoying life in the sunshine. Or how about taking a photo stop at beautiful Pebble Beach or Spanish Bay .

20 Best Things to Do on Pacific Coast Highway - 17 Mile Drive - Endless Travel Destinations

7. Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel-by-the-Sea is usually just referred to as Carmel and is a small artist town located a few miles south of Monterey. This fairytale town has many cozy and idyllic cafes, restaurants, shops, galleries, and charming guest houses.

The idyllic atmosphere of Carmel has attracted many artists and rich people over time. One of the most famous is the actor and film director Clint Eastwood, who was mayor of Carmel in the late 1980s.

Carmel is also known for its strange laws. For example, it is forbidden to wear high-heeled shoes that are more than 5 centimeters high. In addition, neon signs and chain restaurants are also banned in the charming fairytale town.

20 Best Things to Do on Pacific Coast Highway - Carmel-by-the-Sea - Endless Travel Destinations

8. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is located just south of Carmel-by-the-Sea and is considered one of the best of California’s 280 state parks. The scenery in the coastal park is stunning with a myriad of hiking trails winding along the Pacific coast.

The wildlife of Point Lobos is fascinating and there are great chances to spot sea lions, otters, and various bird species. Further out on the horizon, you might be lucky enough to spot a whale in the ocean’s big waves.

Another option is to take a walk along the Cypress Grove Trail or the Bird Island Trail , where you’ll pass the beautiful bay of China Cove with great wildlife.

Just when you didn’t think it could be more beautiful, you arrive at Big Sur – The absolute highlight and the best thing to do on Pacific Coast Highway! Big Sur is a coastline that starts south of the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve and continues until a little north of San Simeon.

The scenic road winds along the dramatic cliffs right off the coast and leads over deep valleys and impressive bridges. The breathtaking viewpoints are endless, and you are guaranteed to park your car all the time, just to snap one beautiful picture after another!

It’s a good idea to set aside plenty of time for this part of the Pacific Coast Highway. This way you can really enjoy the amazing scenery around here. It’s just one of those places you really shouldn’t miss in California !

20 Best Things to Do on Pacific Coast Highway - Big Sur - Endless Travel Destinations

10. Bixby Creek Bridge

After a short drive in the Big Sur area, you’ll arrive at the Bixby Creek Bridge, one of the most iconic attractions along the Pacific Coast Highway.

There’s a good chance you’ve already seen the extremely photographed bridge on Instagram photos, car commercials, or perhaps in HBO’s series Big Little Lies.

Bixby Creek Bridge was completed in 1932 and was the longest cement bridge in the world for many years with a length of 218 meters. Expect an impressive view of the high bridge that connects the roads on both sides of a deep valley at 85 meters altitude.

20 Best Things to Do on Pacific Coast Highway - Bixby Creek Bridge - Endless Travel Destinations

11. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Another of the best things to do on the Pacific Coast Highway is to visit Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. A large and scenic state park with deep forests of huge redwood trees, cascading waterfalls, and stunning viewpoints. One thing is for sure, it’s definitely the perfect place for a hike!

One of the best hiking trails is the 1.8 miles (2.9 kilometers) long Valley View Trail . During the hike, you’ll pass Pfeiffer Falls , an 18-meter-high waterfall that is the highest in the park.

Don’t forget to visit Pfeiffer Beach , known for its special rock formation Sun Portal . If you visit the beach at sunset, you can experience how the sunset shines directly through the hole of the cliff at sea level.

Also, don’t miss McWay Falls , a beautiful little waterfall on an isolated beach. From a viewpoint, you can enjoy the sight of the waterfall falling down the cliffside and directly down onto the beach. It’s beautiful and it almost feels like you’re on a tropical island.

12. Elephant Seal Vista Point

Elephant Seal Vista Point is just over an hour’s drive south of McWay Falls. When you arrive, you must go to the railing and look down on the beach with a huge number of impressive elephant seals.

Most of the elephant seals relax on the beach while other waders in the sea, cool down by throwing sand on their backs or make funny bubbling noises.

The elephant seals are quite fascinating to look at, and it can be hard to walk from there again. So, remember to set aside plenty of time! It’s definitely one of the very best things to do on the Pacific Coast Highway!

The elephant seals were first seen on the beach in 1990. Back then it was just a small colony of elephant seals, but today the colony consists of as many as 15,000 members!

Remember to look at them from a distance and avoid annoying them with sounds or by throwing things. It’s their home, not ours.

20 Best Things to Do on Pacific Coast Highway - Elephant Seal Vista Point - Endless Travel Destinations

13. Hearst Castle

Just a 10-minute drive south of Elephant Seal Vista Point is Hearst Castle, a lavish castle built by newspaper mogul William Hearst. Built in the early 20th century, this huge castle has no less than 165 rooms, several swimming pools, huge gardens, and an impressive art collection.

Hearst also had the largest privately owned zoo in the United States, but it was closed after his death. However, you may still be lucky enough to see zebras grazing in the fields along the way to the castle.

Today the castle is owned by the state of California and has been converted into a museum. Hearst Castle is so huge that there are several different guided tours, each taking about 2-3 hours including the bus ride.

Hearst Castle is one of the most visited sights in the United States, making it one of the best things to do on the Pacific Coast Highway. It’s a very popular sight in California, so it’s a good idea to book your tickets in advance.

Hearst Castle - Endless Travel Destinations

14. Morro Bay

Before the road starts to head inland, you’ll pass Morro Bay, a small coastal town with a busy waterfront. Once you arrive in Morro Bay, it’s impossible to avoid the city’s huge landmark Morro Rock , a massive and ancient volcanic rock.

Morro Rock is located just off the harbor and is just one of 13 ancient volcanic cliffs that stretches in a line from Morro Bay to San Luis Obispo. Unfortunately, you can’t go out there, but you can easily enjoy the view of the cliff from the city.

Also, don’t forget to enjoy some delicious food at one of the restaurants on the harbor. If you want to go shopping, make your way past Morro Bay Downtown with several antique shops.

Morro Bay - Endless Travel Destinations

15. San Luis Obispo

Continue your road trip further south on the Pacific Coast Highway until you arrive in the city of San Luis Obispo, also called SLO. Some time ago, this old and charming city was actually named the happiest city in the United States.

The area around San Luis Obispo is packed with wineries with tasty local wines. Therefore, it’s an obvious place to spend some time if you’re interested in wine. Most of the wineries are open for tours and wine tastings.

If you want to stay overnight in San Luis Obispo, you should check if there’s a room available at the Madonna Inn , a well-known hotel in California. The style of the hotel is very special and even though there are more than 100 rooms, none of them are similar to each other. If you don’t have time to stay overnight, there’s also the opportunity to enjoy a delicious meal in the restaurant instead.

A fun road trip activity in San Luis Obispo is at Bubblegum Alley , a long and narrow alley lined with thousands of sticky chewing gums. Insanely disgusting, but the tourists love it, and why not join the special activity? So, remember some chewing gum for your visit to San Luis Obispo.

16. Pismo Beach

After a short drive back to the Pacific coast, you arrive at the classic seaside resort of Pismo Beach. One of the most popular things to do in Pismo Beach is to take a walk on the long wooden Pismo Beach Pier . If you have plenty of time, you should also not miss the lovely beach and a swim in the Pacific Ocean.

Another fun thing to do here is to visit the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area . This is the only state park in California where you’re allowed to drive on the beach. There is full speed across the field, and it’s normal to see an ATV roaring around the dunes.

If you’re visiting Pismo Beach between October and February, it’s also a must to visit Monarch Butterfly Grove . Here you can experience thousands of beautiful and colorful butterflies all in one place.

17. Solvang

If you’re willing to take a small detour from Pacific Coast Highway, you might want to visit Solvang, a Danish town strangely located in sunny California. Solvang was founded by a group of Danish immigrants in 1911, who wanted to preserve some of their Danish way of life.

The architecture in Solvang is inspired by Denmark. And there are lots of Danish flags, old mills, half-timbered houses, cobblestone streets, Danish names, and traditional Danish food.

If you’ve ever been to Copenhagen, you probably already know the Round Tower, The Little Mermaid, and H.C. Andersen. In Solvang, you can find copies of them. Solvang is a must-see on the Pacific Coast Highway if you’re Danish or just want some European atmosphere.

Unfortunately, there are no longer as many Danes living in Solvang, and the city has become Americanized over the years. By the way, for those of you who don’t know yet, I’m living in Denmark myself. And to be completely honest with you, it seems a bit like Solvang is just built on a fantasy about Denmark.

Most of the traditional food doesn’t even taste like in Denmark and many of the Danish names are misspelled. It is also extremely rare to find such an old city in Denmark, except if you’re visiting a museum. But don’t worry, it’s still a lot of fun to experience a small piece of Denmark and Europe in the US.

Oh, and by the way, if you’re a fan of Michael Jackson, his beloved Neverland Valley Ranch is only a short drive from Solvang! Unfortunately, you can’t enter the grounds, but many of his biggest fans go to the main gate to commemorate the king of pop.

20 Best Things to Do on Pacific Coast Highway - Solvang - Endless Travel Destinations

18. Santa Barbara

It’s time to head back on the Pacific Coast Highway and continue down the coast to Santa Barbara, also called the American Riviera. Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and the massive Santa Ynez Mountains, Santa Barbara is extremely beautifully located!

Tourists from all over the world are attracted by the long sandy beaches with a myriad of palm trees, historic Spanish colonial-style houses, a pleasant climate, and a relaxing atmosphere.

When visiting Santa Barbara, you must not miss the beach, waterfront, and the popular wooden pier Stearns Wharf . For beautiful views of the city and coast, visit the Santa Barbara County Courthouse .

You can also visit the Old Mission , one of the best-preserved Spanish mission stations in the western United States. If you’re looking for great shops and restaurants, State Street is the perfect place.

Another of the best things to do in Santa Barbara is to visit some of the great wineries in the nearby Santa Ynez Valley . Santa Barbara is a beautiful city and the perfect place if you’re dreaming of a beach getaway in Southern California.

Malibu is the last of the best things to do on Pacific Coast Highway before hitting Los Angeles. Malibu is a beautiful beach town that attracts surfers from all over the world with its famous surfing shores.

There are plenty of opportunities to experience the many surfers in action on the waves, but one of the best places is Surfrider Beach . Another popular thing to do in Malibu is to go for a nice walk on Malibu Pier . Head down to Zuma Beach in the evening, to experience the breathtaking sunset!

Malibu is also known for being home to many of the biggest stars in Hollywood, living in large villas and mansions along the narrow coast or the mountains.

If you’re very lucky you might meet Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Aniston, Lady Gaga, Mel Gibson, Beyonce, Kendall Jenner, or another Hollywood star! One of the best places to spot a Hollywood star is at the Malibu Country Mart .

20 Best Things to Do on Pacific Coast Highway - Malibu - Endless Travel Destinations

20. Los Angeles

Unfortunately, your road trip on Pacific Coast Highway between San Francisco and Los Angeles has come to an end. You’ve reached Los Angeles, the last stop on this road trip.

Maybe you’re planning to continue your trip to Las Vegas, San Diego, or something completely different? Either way, remember to spend a few days in Los Angeles before continuing! You can easily spend countless days exploring all the best things to do in Los Angeles.

Visit Hollywood with all its movie studios, record companies, stars of the Walk of Fame, and the Hollywood Sign . And don’t forget to keep an eye on the many celebrities in Hollywood! You can also visit Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, the place where the rich and famous people swing their golden credit cards in expensive designer stores.

When visiting Los Angeles, also remember to make your way past Venice Beach and Santa Monica . Or how about visiting one of the theme parks in Los Angeles such as Disneyland , Universal Studios Hollywood , and Six Flags Magic Mountain .

Los Angeles also offers a myriad of museums and shopping opportunities. For the best views of Los Angeles, visit Griffith Observatory . It’s located in the mountains high above the city and offers breathtaking views of Los Angeles.

20 Best Things to Do on Pacific Coast Highway - Los Angeles - Endless Travel Destinations

So that was my itinerary with stops at the most amazing things to do on the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Los Angeles. What are your favorite stops on Pacific Coast Highway 1, California? What are you looking forward to on your road trip on the Pacific Coast Highway? Feel free to leave a comment.

Planning a trip to California? Read all articles from California

Like this article pin it for later.

Itineray, 20 Best Things to Do on Pacific Coast Highway - Endless Travel Destinations

Related posts

Where to Stay in Miami - Endless Travel Destinations

Where to Stay in Miami: Neighborhood Guide

Guide to Visiting Alcatraz - Endless Travel Destinations

Guide to Visiting Alcatraz in San Francisco

30+ Things to Do in Las Vegas - Endless Travel Destinations

30+ Attractions and Things to Do in Las Vegas

Leave a reply cancel reply.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Check out videos on hundreds of California adventures

California Through My Lens

Pacific Coast Highway: Where to Stop on Your Road Trip

Pacific Coast Highway is easily one of the best drives in the entire world. With tons of beautiful coastal views, two of the most famous cities in the country, some of the best seafood you have ever had and plenty to see along the way, it is a drive you have to experience once in your life. I have driven the entirety of Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in California three times and many individual sections countless times. One of the questions I am most often asked is, “What is the best place to stop along Pacific Coast Highway?” This question is difficult to answer as PCH is different every time I drive it and depending on how much time you have, you can stop at 20 places or 200 along the way. This post was designed to help you plan and get excited for your own Pacific Coast Highway road trip. I have included a guide for taking a seven-day journey on PCH, a detailed history of the highway, and my recommendations for food and hotels below. Plus, I did the drive again in 2022 with my dad and made a 2 hour video on the entire route which you can watch as well. Hopefully, this helps when you plan your trip, and don’t forget to let me know what places I have missed in the comments.

Pacific Coast Highway 7 Day Road Trip Video

In June of 2022, I set out to drive all of Pacific Coast Highway with my dad over 7 days. I documented all of the stops along the way in a 2 hour video I made for my YouTube Channel. You can watch it below if you want to see how we explored Pacific Coast Highway.

24 Best Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) Stops

Here are my twenty five favorite stops on PCH from south to north. Click on the image to learn more about the stop.

Victoria Beach

pacific coast tourist attractions

Victoria Beach has the famous pirates tower of Laguna Beach, which is was built to allow the resident down from their home to beach below. It is no longer used but it is a awesome spot to see.

Venice Beach

pacific coast tourist attractions

One of my favorite spots for people watching, this boardwalk and beach is a crazy area to explore for a few hours.

pacific coast tourist attractions

One of the most beautiful places in all of Southern California, the small hike up to Point Dume is not something you will quickly forget.

Point Mugu State Park

pacific coast tourist attractions

This state park has a lot of nice hiking, especially for a Southern California. Check out the Sycamore Canyon trail for amazing views.

McConnell’s Ice Cream

pacific coast tourist attractions

While all of State St is fun, especially for shoppers, McConnell’s ice cream is a spot I stop at on pretty much every road trip through the area.

La Purisima Mission State Park

pacific coast tourist attractions

This is a fantastic example of California’s mission history. The mission here is wonderfully recreated and it gives you a great taste of early California life.

Monarch Butterfly Grove

pacific coast tourist attractions

When the butterflies are actually here (Nov – Jan) this spot can’t be beat. There are literally tens of thousands of butterflies in this small grove.

Pismo Beach / Splash Cafe

pacific coast tourist attractions

The boardwalk and beach here are beautiful. Add to that the surfer culture and the amazing clam chowder at Splash Cafe and you have an easy recommendation.

Madonna Inn

pacific coast tourist attractions

This eclectic hotel is my favorite spot to stay on PCH. Every room is different and the men’s bathroom has a fountain urinal.

pacific coast tourist attractions

Morro Rock is overpowering and beautiful when you head up PCH near Morro Bay. This is a great spot to watch the sunset or to kayak in the bay.

Hearst Castle

pacific coast tourist attractions

Most people know what Hearst Castle is but it truly is a unique spot to visit and one that is easy to recommend. It will take at least a half day but you will be blown away by it all.

McWay Waterfall

pacific coast tourist attractions

California’s waterfall that falls directly onto the beach has been seen in photos all over the world, so you should make a point to stop at it.

Pfeiffer State Beach

pacific coast tourist attractions

This may be my favorite beach in all of California. It has a massive rock with an arch, purple sand when it rains and a small parking lot that always makes it feel secluded.

Bixby Bridge

pacific coast tourist attractions

One of the most photogenic spots on PCH, Bixby Bridge will take your breath away. It is a quick stop but one you will remember.

Monterey Aquarium

pacific coast tourist attractions

Probably the best aquarium in the entire United States, Monterey Aquarium has so much to look at you will be overwhelmed, in a good way

Giant Dipper Roller Coaster

pacific coast tourist attractions

Right on the Santa Cruz boardwalk, this fantastic old wooden roller coaster from 1924 is something that you really should ride while driving up PCH.

Natural Bridges State Beach

pacific coast tourist attractions

Santa Cruz has a lot of great spots and great food places, but Natural Bridges State Park is one of my favorites by far. This beach has a beautiful rock arch about 20 feet out in the water and is a great spot for sunset.

Palace of Fine Arts

pacific coast tourist attractions

European architecture in the heart of San Francisco, Palace of Fine Arts is one of my favorites spots for photography in the city.

Golden Gate Bridge

pacific coast tourist attractions

What do I really need to say about this bridge? Of course you have to visit it while on PCH as it is one of the most iconic spots in all of California.

Muir Beach Overlook

pacific coast tourist attractions

Another often skipped but yet beautiful quick stop, this overlook provides an awesome birds-eye view of the coastline.

Hog Island Oyster Company

pacific coast tourist attractions

If you like oysters then you don’t need any more information, if you don’t like them then you need to try them here, fresh out of the water and mind-blowing good.

Point Arena Lighthouse

pacific coast tourist attractions

This 60 foot tall lighthouse right out on the cliffs is a great spot for views and for learning more about the lighthouses that used to dot the California coastline.

Glass Beach

pacific coast tourist attractions

The beach where people threw trash and the ocean turned that trash into smooth pieces of glass. It is a crazy spot to see.

Chandelier Drive Thru Tree

pacific coast tourist attractions

Right where PCH ends is the Chandelier Drive Thru Tree in the town of Leggett. No trip down Highway 1 is complete without a photo of your car going through it.

Pacific Coast Highway FAQ

How long is the Pacific Coast Highway?

Route 1, AKA Pacific Coast Highway, is 655 miles.

Where does it start and end?

The official start of Pacific Coast Highway is in Orange County in the city of Dana Point. The end is at the intersection of Highway 1 and Highway 101 in Leggett.

When is the best time to drive Pacific Coast Highway?

The best time to drive the Pacific Coast Highway is in the spring or fall. If you’re traveling during summer, prepare for high temperatures and heavy traffic on the road.

How long should I plan for a Pacific Coast Highway road trip?

Since the drive is about 650 miles long and it takes most people 4-5 days to do it depending on how much sightseeing they do along the way. It’s not recommended to attempt it all at once because there are so many beautiful spots along the way that deserve more than a passing glance and you cannot drive fast on many of the narrow roads, so it takes longer than you would think. I recommend 7 days if you have it, but 4-5 days will allow you to see a lot as well.

How is the drive?

Driving along the PCH in certain sections like Big Sur is like driving on a roller coaster — there are lots of curves, narrow lanes and steep drop-offs. While most of this highway is two lane roads with limited shoulders and relatively straight, there are also few sections where it becomes four lane divided highways such as between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, which allows drivers who want faster speeds access to passing lanes if needed.

Is it easy to follow?

Outside of the Los Angeles portion, which can be a little tough to navigate, the route is pretty straightforward and easy to follow.

What are the best sections of Pacific Coast Highway?

For me, here are the best sections from South to North

  • Laguna Beach: The region is known for its breathtaking beaches and some of the best Southern Califronia beaches can be found here.
  • Santa Barbara: An amazing California coastal town with great food, shopping and activities.
  • Big Sur: This is the quintessential PCH experience with some of the most stunning coastal views you will ever see.
  • Point Reyes / Tomales Bay: If you have the time to visit Point Reyes Seashore, do it. It has one of the most beautiful lighthouses on the drive and miles a hiking trails.
  • Mendocino: This small town has some of the best coastal views in the Northern California section.

Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) Road Trip Day Guides

If you are interested in driving the 600+ miles that makes up Pacific Coast Highway, then check out how I broke down each of my 7 days below. These day itineraries are designed to give you an example of how you can do the drive but you may want to do less or more spots each day than I did.

–  Dana Point to Malibu

pacific coast tourist attractions

–  Malibu to San Luis Obispo

–  San Luis Obispo to Monterey

–  Monterey to San Francisco

pacific coast tourist attractions

–  San Francisco to Mendocino

pacific coast tourist attractions

–  Mendocino / Fort Bragg to Eureka

Continue the Journey (Oregon and Washington)

Interested in continuing up to the Oregon state line or even all the way up to Seattle? Check out these other posts I wrote to help make the most of your journey along the coast of both Oregon and Washington.

Eureka to Oregon

pacific coast tourist attractions

–  Eureka to the Oregon State Line

Oregon & Washington Coast Stops

pacific coast tourist attractions

–  Oregon and Washington 4 Day Road Trip

Pacific Coast Highway eBook

I created this ebook after my 2022 Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip. In the ebook it has FAQ, some of my top spots, a suggested itinerary and a link to the map with all of my stops on it. If you are interested, you can purchase it below.

Map of Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) Stops

The above ebook has a link to the map I created with all of the stops that I did on my last trip. It is a great resources for planning your trip along PCH since the stops are already added to the map for you.

pacific coast tourist attractions

Food on Pacific Coast Highway

Here are a few of my favorite places for food on Pacific Coast Highway.

  • The Crab Cooker in Newport –  Fresh shrimp cocktails and seafood.  Review here
  • Schooner or Later in Long Beach-  A great stop for breakfast, get there early as the wait can be long. Order “The Mess”.  Review here
  • Neptune’s Net in Malibu –  Seafood sampler and tacos with optional frozen yogurt after.  Review here
  • Spencer Makenzie’s in Ventura  – You must have the Ahi Pockets, you simple must.
  • Johnny’s Tacos in Ventura –  Awesome deep fried crispy tacos at this tiny Mexican place.
  • Tupelo Junction in Santa Barbara  – Amazing stop for breakfast, I recommend the Crab Cakes or Pumpkin Waffle.  Review here
  • Santa Barbara Seafood Company in Santa Barbara – The onion rings are to die for, as are the oyster shots and great Cioppino, right on the pier.  Review here
  • McConnell’s Ice Cream in Santa Barbara –  A must stop in Santa Barbara, try the Churros Con Chocolate and the Salted Carmel.
  • Splash Cafe in Pismo Beach and San Luis Obispo – Simply my favorite place for clam chowder, it is amazing. They have locations in Pismo Beach and San Luis Obispo.  Review here
  • Black Cat Bistro in Cambria-  Very high-end dinner spot, but amazing food if you are a foodie like me. Order anything with scallops.  Review here
  • Linns Bakery in Cambria –  You must go here for the Olallieberry pie, it is fantastic and not a fruit you see often.
  • Old Fish Grotto in Monterey – Great restaurant on the pier with fantastic clam chowder. Review here
  • LouLou’s Griddle in the Middle in Monterey – Pancakes bigger than your plate. It’s an amazing breakfast spot. Review here
  • The Little Chihuahua in San Francisco –  Try the fried plantain burrito for something totally unique. Open late.  Review here
  • Brenda’s Soul Food in San Francisco –  One of my favorite places in all of California, try the shrimp and grits and the crawfish beignets.  Review here
  • Mama’s in San Francisco  – Another amazing breakfast spot, but you have to get there early it is small and gets so packed. Get the Eggs Benedict.  Review here .
  • Hog Island Oyster Company  – Fresh Oyster right out of the water, pretty much the only way to eat them.  Review here .

Where to Stay on Pacific Coast Highway

This is not a definitive list of where to stay but here are some of the great state parks you can camp in (arranged from South to North) and hotels at the end.

  • Leo Carrillo State Park – Camping information
  • McGrath State Beach – Camping information
  • Emma Wood State Beach – Camping information
  • Carpinteria State Beach – Camping information
  • El Capitan State Beach – Camping information
  • Refugio State Beach – Camping information
  • Gaviota State Park – Camping information
  • Oceano Dunes Recreation Area – Camping information
  • Morro Bay State Park – Camping information
  • Hearst San Simeon State Park – Camping information
  • Limekiln State Park – Camping information
  • Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park – Camping information
  • Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park – Camping information
  • Manresa State Beach – Camping information
  • Half Moon Bay State Beach – Camping information
  • Sonoma Coast State Park – Camping information
  • Salt Point State Park – Camping information
  • Manchester State Park – Camping information
  • Van Damme State Park – Camping information
  • Mackerricher State Park – Camping information
  • Standish-Hickey State Reserve – Camping information
  • Richardson Grove State Park – Camping information
  • Benbow Lake State Reserve – Camping information
  • Humboldt Redwoods State Park – Camping information
  • Patrick’s Point State Park – Camping information
  • Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park – Camping information
  • Del Norte Redwoods State Park – Camping information

Here are my suggestions. I have either stayed at all of these myself or they have been recommended to me by people I trust. These links are affiliate links so if this post was helpful, consider booking a hotel through one of these links.

  • It is hard to recommend a hotel here as the city is so big and there are so many great options.  Browse this list  and pick one that is in your budget and location.
  • Canary  – Located super close to State St, it is a beautiful hotel with a great location. It can be more expensive though.
  • Hotel Milo  – A cheaper option which is walking distance from the pier. Santa Barbara is just an expensive place to stay in general.
  • SeaVenture Beach Hotel  – A fun little hotel right on the beach with a unique style and only a 10-minute walk from downtown Pismo Beach and the pier.
  • Madonna Inn  – One of my favorite hotels on this entire drive, it’s super eclectic and fun.
  • Sea Otter Inn  – Relaxing hotel with breakfast delivered in the morning and a great location next to the water.
  • Big Sur River Inn  – Fun little hotel, and a cheaper option in Big Sur. Rooms are nothing to write home about but a super fun vibe and a great location.
  • InterContinental  – Beautiful hotel that is right on Cannery Row and many rooms look out over the ocean.
  • Cannery Row Inn  – Cheaper hotel with a good location at the end of Cannery Row.
  • The Monterey Hotel – Historic Victorian hotel in the heart of Monterey
  • Ocean Pacific Hotel  – A no-frills hotel with a fantastic location. Walking distance from the famous pier but you can rent bikes form them as well.
  • The Ritz Carlton  – If you can afford it then this is the place to stay. It is one of the most famous hotels on the entire drive as it sits out on the bluffs looking over the bay, but of course, it is far out of my price range. If you are not staying here I would stay in Santa Cruz or push onto San Francisco.
  • Like Los Angeles, there are so many hotels here and most are fantastic, I would just  browse this list  and see what is in your price range.
  • Hill House Inn  – Beautiful old hotel that I stayed at and recommend. The hotel itself is historic and it is a 5 minute walk from the main downtown street.
  • Carter House Inn  – If you are looking for a historic place to stay than the Victorian style of the Carter House Inn is a winner. However, it is a more expensive option.
  • Eureka Town House  – This is another no-frills cheap hotel, but it has a fantastic location near the old town so it is a good spot to stay.

History of Pacific Coast Highway

Construction of the Pacific Coast Highway, California State Highway 1, started in the 1920’s as a planned 1,400-mile link between the Mexican and Canadian borders. The road now runs nearly continuously from San Juan Capistrano in Orange County in the south to United States Highway 101 near Leggett in Mendocino County in the north.

The highway might not exist today had a single determined Malibu landowner prevailed in her long struggle to enjoin Los Angeles County from starting it. Since at least the 1890s, a primitive carriage road had run the rocky coast north from Santa Monica only to end at a barrier at her property line. A formidable opponent, in 1906 she forced the Southern Pacific Railroad to run its tracks around rather than through Malibu to reach Santa Barbara.

In 1907 when the county proposed to extend the coastal road through Malibu, she challenged the county’s exercise of eminent domain and stalled it for years. The court in 1923 finally awarded title of the Malibu right of way to the government and $107,289 to the tenacious challenger as compensation.

Construction of California Highway 1 was piecemeal; the first part completed was the central segment that passes through Big Sur. This is probably the most famous for its scenery. Authorized in 1919 by a state bond measure and constructed over 18 years with some labor from San Quentin prison inmates (paid 35 cents per day), it opened in 1937. Although popular for its scenic beauty, the Big Sur segment can be hazardous. Landslides and erosion have caused several closures for repairs.

The rugged terrain of the 100-mile Big Sur segment of California Highway 1 between Carmel and San Simeon required construction of 32 bridges. The first, small timber structure over Salmon Creek about 19 miles north of San Simeon opened in 1928. The Bixby Bridge about 13 miles south of Carmel, completed in 1932, was the most difficult to build. Its deck, 356 feet long and 260 feet high, rests on two concrete abutments fastened to sheer cliff walls at a point 140 feet above the ground. The National Register of Historic Places lists seven concrete arch bridges between Point Sur and Carmel.

In 1925, construction began to extend Route 60 between San Juan Capistrano and Oxnard farther north to Ventura. At Point Mugu, the construction cut a path through the coastal mountains, creating Mugu Rock in the process. Then, in 1931, work on Route 56 progressed south from Cambria to San Luis Obispo.

A 1933 expansion of the state highway system extended Route 56 southward from Pismo Beach through Guadalupe and Lompoc to Las Cruces and northward along the coast from Carmel through Santa Cruz to San Francisco. Part of this segment between Pacifica and Daly City suffered major earthquake damage in March 1957 and unfortunately became unusable.

Several segments north of San Francisco completed the Pacific Coast Highway: one from the Golden Gate to Valley Ford in Sonoma County, a second from Jenner to Westport in Mendocino County, and a third from Westport northeast to Leggett, where California Highway 1 now joins United States Highway 101.

The Pacific Coast Highway and its segments have had numerous names and numbers. The Big Sur segment was initially the Carmel–San Simeon Highway or Route 56. The Highway 1 designation first appeared locally in 1939. After construction and joinder of all segments, the official designation of California Highway 1 followed in 1964.

Route 56 along Big Sur became California’s first state scenic highway in 1965. In 1966, Lady Bird Johnson led an official ceremony at Bixby Bridge as the federal government designated the California Highway 1 as an All-American Road.

Make sure to leave a comment with your favorite spot below .

Similar posts.

Rose Valley Falls Trail: A Nice Waterfall Outside of Ojai

Rose Valley Falls Trail: A Nice Waterfall Outside of Ojai

8 Things to do in Yosemite Valley in the Winter

8 Things to do in Yosemite Valley in the Winter

Will Richards Studio: Fun Art House in Avalon, Catalina

Will Richards Studio: Fun Art House in Avalon, Catalina

20 Things to do in Los Angeles in 2022

20 Things to do in Los Angeles in 2022

Los Angeles to Las Vegas Road Trip Guide (25+ Stops on the Drive)

Los Angeles to Las Vegas Road Trip Guide (25+ Stops on the Drive)

Ultimate California Bucket List: 100 Adventures You Need to Have in the State

Ultimate California Bucket List: 100 Adventures You Need to Have in the State

  • WORK WITH US

Photo Presets

The Mandagies

Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip - Big Sur

The Perfect Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Itinerary (25 Stops + 3 Itineraries!)

Post Summary: The Ultimate Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Itinerary + All The Stops Along The Way

The Pacific Coast Highway is easily considered to be one of the most iconic road trip routes in the world !

It’s not hard to believe either. From the moody beaches in Washington to the spectacular natural bridges in Southern Oregon to the winding roads of Big Sur, California , there is something new to see around every bend.

pacific coast tourist attractions

Berty and I drove the entire route back in 2017, and have returned to deeply explore sections every year since then!

Because we know this route so well, we wanted to create this comprehensive guide for iconic stops and places to see along the entire length of the Pacific Coast Highway, all 1,700-ish miles between Seattle, Washington and Orange County, California !

In this power, we’ll share the best PCH stops in Washington, Oregon, and California to make your Pacific Coast Highway road trip your most epic trip yet.

Let’s get planning!

pacific coast tourist attractions

Step By Step Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Directions (Download)

Where is the pacific coast highway how long is it.

The Pacific Coast Highway has many names.

You can also recognize it by its abbreviation (PCH), and referred to as the California Coast road trip , Pacific Coast Highway road trip, Route 1, Highway 101 (through Washington and Oregon), or even just Highway 1 (in California).

All names aside, they all lead you down the same road, which is the route that parallels the Pacific Ocean and the western border of the contiguous United States.

The traditional Pacific Coast Highway (Route 1) is 655 miles long. The full Pacific Coast Highway (Orange County to Seattle) is just over 1,700 miles.

We’ll be talking about the entire Pacific Coast Highway itinerary in this blog post. (Seattle to Orange County)

pacific coast tourist attractions

Pacific Coast Highway Map, Directions, & Best Times

Which direction to drive the pacific coast highway.

Where should you begin your Pacific Coast Highway itinerary? Northbound or Southbound?

There are two directions to do a Pacific Coast Highway road trip – driving south or driving north! Honestly, both are great options but being from Washington, Berty and I began in Seattle and made our way south.

If you are searching for the best weather conditions, here are pros of each direction:

  • Southbound (Seattle to Orange County): Driven during spring break, you can escape the Pacific Northwest rain and enjoy the warmth of Southern California.
  • Nortbound (Orange County to Seattle): Driving north will help you escape California’s hot weather in late summer and fall.

The Hoh Rainforest - Twilight Tour in Forks

Pacific Coast Highway Start and End Points

Traditionally, the Pacific Coast Highway is considered to be the entire Highway 1 of the California Coast. This spans between Capistrano Beach is Orange County to Legget in Nortoerhn California. Highway 1 is 655.84 miles.

However, we like to think of this drive spanning three Pacific Coast states: Washington, Oregon, and California.

The traditional starting point in Washington is Seattle (with a detour through the Olympic National Park). The traditional starting point in California is San Diego .

When To Drive The Pacific Coast Highway

We also began our trip in June, but this trip is good to take any time of year.

If you decided on making it a winter road trip route , that means you’ll have a lot fewer crowds to deal with! Driving along the coast, the weather is more temperate and usually doesn’t get cold enough for snow, so you won’t run into many driving issues.

However, if you’re looking for the “windows-down, sunsets every night” kind of trip, we recommend taking this drive any time between June-September for the best chance of good weather.

Pacific Coast Highway Map

Top Tips For Driving The Pacific Coast Highway

So, how can you plan a Pacific Coast Highway road trip? Here are our suggestions of things to do before your trip:

Plan Your Stops Carefully: Carefully creating an itinerary will help make reserving hotels and activies a LOT easier. However, make sure to leave just a little wiggle room for surprises! Book Accommodations In Advance: The Pacific Coast Highway is a popular road trip route. Once you know your trip dates, plan to book hotels and campgrounds ASAP. We like to split accommodations between car camping and hotels for a good mix. On a budget? Here are 20 car camping hacks to consider. Check Road Closures: Check you route for any major road closures. This actually happens a lot more often than you might think Big Sur often has landslides. Rent a Great Car (or RV!): You can rent a car and book hotels, OR you can rent a campervan and book campgrounds for a budget-friendly trip. Outdoorsy has cool recreation vehicles vans to rent – it’s like Airbnb but for RVs! Decide When To Embark: Determine when to plan your PCH trip and how many days you have. Keep scrolling to the bottom of the post for PCH itinerary examples. Use a Good Navigation App : Good navigation apps make a huge difference. Read our favorite road trip planner apps here. Get a Convertible…or a Harley! If you are driving only a small section of the PCH, rent a fun vehicle! This isn’t mandatory, but it sure is iconic to drive on the highway in one of these cool rides. Ask Great Questions: You’re in the car for a long time. Make sure to have these road trip questions ready to brighten those dull moments. Download Podcasts + Playlists : Download these road trip podcasts and personalized playlists when you have wifi. You’ll thank me later. Pack Your Car With The Essentials: Here’s a list of road trip essentials you need to be packing. Prepare To Stop Frequently: The whole point of driving the Pacific Coast Highway is to take in the sights!

Cape Kiwanda Oregon, Pacific Coast Road Trip Stops

How To Choose a Car For The Pacific Coast Highway

Choosing the right vehicle for your Pacific Coast Highway road trip is probably THE most important decision you will make.

Option 1: Drive Your Own Car Make sure your car has had a tune-up, and its oil changed. It’s worth it to get checked out now, than risk something going wrong mid-way through your trip.

Option 2: Rent a Regular Car Renting a car is a great option for a reliable drive down the Pacific Coast Highway. Personally, we like Avis becuase they have a great rewards program. You can find cheap options

Option 3: Rent a Campervan or RV Renting a campervan is an awesome way to experience a little bit of vanlife. Search for the best campervans at Outdoorsy . Just note, it may be a little tricky to drive a campervan one-way. You may have to return it at your starting point via I-5!

Option 4: Take The Public us (Kind of possible, but not recommended) Yes, it’s possible to cobble together transportation on local transit. You’ll find that you can get around easiest in Southern California and the central Oregon Coast. However, there will be stretches of road with no transporation avaiable, or you may have to leave the coast and venture inland to find a route. It’s cheap yes, but takes quite a bit of pre-planning.

Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip On A Budget

Are you hoping to plan a Pacific Coast Highway road trip route on a budget ? Here are some budgeting hacks we like to use to plan a budget PCH trip:

Use The Dyrt To Find Campgrounds: The Dyrt is the largest online campground database. We use the offline campground search feature to find spots on the go (no service needed!). The Dyrt gave us a code for you, our epic reader, to try the pro membership for 30 days free!   Click here to unlock your 30-day free trial . Find Free Campsites: Road tripping around the west coast for years, we’ve learned a thing or two about finding free campsites in the USA . Our guide includes campground searching hacks, backcountry packing guides, and tips on how to find the best camping spots on the PCH. Cook Your Own Meals: Save money on the road by making your own quick & easy camping meals . Manage Money On The Road: Learn how we travel on a budget in the Pacific Northwest .

Grab your gear and let's go! If you are like us and love to be outside, we've written this comprehensive post about the best winter coats & jackets to wear in the Pacific Northwest this season. We're covering everything from rain gear, parkas, to puffers, even utility jackets! TheMandagies.com

What To Pack For A Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

A good Pacific Coast Highway road trip will take you through the rainy gloom of Washington, as well as the sunny beaches of California. This makes packing slighly more challenging – you’ll have to account for tons of variable weather!

Rain Jacket: You’ll need one in Washington and Oregon, especially during winter and spring. Here are our favorite rain jackets to wear in the Pacific Northwest . Light Layers: Once you reach California, it’s nice to have light, packable layers to bring on your day adventures. We like this windbreaker and this colorful fleece for easy layering. Down Jacket: Down jackets are an excellent option for extra warmth, especially when paired with a rain jacket. Get this packable one to save space in your suitcase. Sunglasses: You’ll need some, since you’ll be watchin the sunset every night! Grab this pair of inexpensive but HIGHLY rated sunglasses to knock around on your adventures. Hiking Shoes: Hiking in the PNW for over a decade, we know a thing or two about boots! Read our list on the best hiking boots , to pick the right ones for you. Walking Sandals : From walking around Huntington Pier to strolling around your campsite, walking sandals are essential to your Pacific Coast Highway packing list. Portable Phone Charger: This Goal Zero 24 is the perfect companion to charge your phone on a day trip. Camera: Here’s our guide on how to take smartphone landscape photography, or you can check out the travel photography gear as media professionals. Hiking Clothes: You’ll want to bring these highly-coveted hiking shorts , a day pack , and the 10 hiking essentials .

Here are some posts we’ve written about what to pack for certain parts of the Pacific Coast Highway:

  • 5 Essentials to Bring On The Washington Coast
  • The Ultimate Packing List For San Francisco
  • What To Pack For A Weekend in Los Angeles

The Best Pacific Coast Highway Stops (State By State)

If you’re planning to experience the entire Pacific Coast Highway (including extending it to Oregon and Washington), you probably know that there is an insane amount of beautiful stops to take.

We’re going to break locations down state by state, to give you bite-sized chunks of information for each place.

Each state provides something unique and exciting for your Pacific Coast Highway road trip itinerary, so read below for location inspiration in Washington, Oregon, and California!

Cape Flattery - Pacific Coast Road Trip Stops

Pacific Coast Highway Stops In Washington

Washington is not all rain and gloom!

While the movies portray this evergreen state in a constant shroud of clouds and moodiness (Thanks, Twilight) , its nothing farther from the truth.

Here, you can find powerful waterfalls, secret coves, and lush green forest, and amazing hikes in every corner of this beautiful state.

Keep on reading to read about some highlights along the Pacific Coast Highway in Washington!

Cities in Washington State - Seattle, Washington - TheMandagies.com

Seattle, Washington

This is where we suggest starting your Pacific Coast Highway road trip.

Seattle is a great place to stock up on all the road trip essentials , grab rental cars, and arrive by plane to stay on your journey on the Pacific Coast Highway. If you’re flying in to begin your journey, you’ll fly into Sattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA).

Have a little bit more time on your hands? Stick around for a few days and try these unique things to do in Seattle , or take these incredible day trips from Seattle .

Fun things to do in Seattle, Washington:

  • Visit Pike Place Market
  • Go to the first-ever Starbucks Coffee store
  • Visit The Museum of Pop Culture
  • Watch the sunset at Jose Rizal Park
  • See the Space Needle up close at Kerry Park
  • Have a bonfire with friends at Golden Gardens Park
  • Go to A Husky Football game in the University District

Read More: What To Pack For The Pacific Northwest

Girl overlooking Mount Storm King

Port Angeles

If you are starting in Seattle or Vancouver, chances are you’ll need to take a ferry across the Puget Sound to reach the Olympic Peninsula . It’s also possible to drive around through Olympia, if you don’t want to put your car on the ferry.

From here, you will pass the cities of Sequim and Port Angeles. Before hitting to Pacific Coast Highway, we recommend taking a stop by Lake Crescent for some classic PNW vibes and maybe a quick lunch break too.

If you want to see what the lake looks like from above, test your limits and hike Mount Storm King . The 4.7-mile round trip hike gains over 2,000 feet in elevation, including scrambling up the side of a cliff with the help of a few installed ropes.

This hike isn’t for the faint of heart, but your attempts will be rewarded with experiencing one of the most spectacular places to see in the Olympic Peninsula .

Stay Overnight: Book a stay at The Olympic Lodge in Port Angeles . It’s right in town, and central to other adventures like Hurricane Ridge, Salt Creek, and Lake Crescent.

pacific coast tourist attractions

Sol Duc Falls

Sol Duc Falls is located in the Olympic National Park , and along Highway 101 on your way towards the coast.

It’s a small detour before heading to the ocean. However, the detour is worth every minute! The short trail to Sol Duc Falls leads to one of the most gorgeous waterfalls in Washington state.

If you are wanting a unique place to stay in the Olympic National Park, consider staying at the Sol Duc Hot Springs, a natural pool resort in the park.

Doing this, you can wake up early to visit the falls and beat the crowds!

Emily Mandagie standing at Cape Flattery, Makah Land - TheMandagies.com

Cape Flattery

If you’re looking for the most northwest location in the lower 48 United States, you’ve found it at Cape Flattery !

This jaw-dropping piece of coastline is owned by the Makah Tribe. It includes beautiful sea stacks just offshore and expansive views of the Pacific Ocean and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

If you are planning your Pacific Coast Highway itinerary for epic photo spots, don’t miss this place! You’ll need an entry pass ($10 per vehicle) and you can pick it up at the gas station or grocery store at Neah Bay.

Forks, Washington

Emily at La Push Second Beach - Pacific Coast Road Trip Stops

La Push Beaches (First, Second, and Third)

You may know these beaches from the movie Twilight but rest assured there are no vampires in sight. (Partly because it’s werewolf territory anyway, DUH) In fact, we’ve seen some of the most incredible sunsets right here on Second Beach.

When visiting, it’s important to note that there are three beaches to choose from. First Beach provides easy and instant beach access, so it’s a popular choice for families.

Second Beach requires a hike on a short trail to reach the beach, and you can also camp on this beach. Second Beach is also the most popular option for its beautiful rock formations and vast shoreline.

Third Beach requires a longer hike and is the least visited of all the beaches.

Any of these Washington beaches you choose, don’t forget to pack these 5 beach essentials!

Read More: La Push Beach + and Beach Camping Tips

Ocean Shores, Washington

pacific coast tourist attractions

Ocean Shores is a quaint little town on the Washington Coast, just north of Grays Harbor.

Here, you will find tons of vacation rental homes, small seafood restaurants, and tons of beach activities. Berty and I came with our friends last summer and opted to rent motorbikes on the beach, eat our weight in crab, and explore the jetty!

Restaurants to try in Ocean Shores:

  • Murphy’s Candy & Ice Cream Shop
  • Galway Bay Irish Pub
  • Ocean Beach Roasters and Bistro
  • Oyhut Bay Bistro

Want more beach fun on the Washington Coast? Check out Ruby Beach and Rialto Beach !

Read More: 7 Fun Things To Do In Ocean Shores, Washington

Pierce County Area (Gig Harbor, Tacoma, and Puyallup)

pacific coast tourist attractions

If you’re looking to spend a little extra for a comfortable room and some great food, spend some time exploring Gig Harbor and boating around the South Puget Sound . You will be able to spot wildlife all around you, whether it’s jellyfish or a pod of orcas!

Some of our favorite cities in Pierce County to explore: Puyallup (Washington State Fair), Tacoma, and Gig Harbor!

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park - On The Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

Take your journey slightly inland to explore Mount Rainier National Park. Here, you can test your limits and backpack up to the summit (training required!) or simply take a nice stroll at the base of the mountain like on Nisqually Loop Trail .

Mount Rainier is best explored if you spend 2-3 days in the park! There are so many different areas to cover (Paradise Area and Sunrise Area are the most popular), so give yourself time to enjoy the beautiful outdoors here in the Pacific Northwest.

Most Popular Activities To Do At Mount Rainier:

  • Hike the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail
  • See Silver Falls
  • Hike the Skyline Divide Trail
  • Visit the Longmire Museum

Cape Disappointment State Park

pacific coast tourist attractions

Cape Disappointment is located in the far southwestern corner of Washington State. Here, you can discover miles of trails, play on the beaches, and maybe even spot an orca offshore!

For a memorable photo opportunity on your Pacific Coast Highway road trip, take the trail down to Deadman’s Cove and capture this hidden beach at sunset!

Read More: Cape Disappointment + Deadman’s Cove

Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Stops In Oregon

Emily Mandagie at Secret Beach on the Oregon Coast

The Oregon Coast itself is worthy of its own road trip but lucky you – you get to see it all and more!

We’re sharing all the best stops along this part of the Pacific Coast Highway and what you can expect in this beautiful state.

Not enough time for the whole thing? Take an Oregon Coast Road Trip instead!

Cannon Beach

Emily sitting at Cannon Beach, Oregon - TheMandagies.com

Cannon Beach is a family and dog-friendly beach located 1.5 hours west of Portland. Here, you can explore the many quaint seaside shops, take a walk on the beach, and explore the many tide pools.

There are many services available here, so it’s a great stop for camping, resting, or even getting a seaside Airbnb! (By the way, y ou can get $40 off your first reservation at this link! )

Read More: Spending The Day At Cannon Beach

Cape Kiwanda

pacific coast tourist attractions

Cape Kiwanda  is a popular beach on the Oregon Coast. Here, you can walk along the beach and enjoy Pacific City’s own “Haystack Rock”, or climb the nearby sand dunes to discover incredible views, coves, and rock formations!

Too busy for you? Venture just a 5-minute drive south to Bob Straub State Park, where you can walk along the less-traveled and peaceful beachfront.

The area of Oregon can be rainy and cloudy year-round, but if you’re lucky you can experience one of its gorgeous sunsets (that is if the weather cooperates!). Make sure to pack a rain jacket!

Read More:  10 Epic Adventures To Take Aroun Cape Kiwanda

God’s Thumb Hike, Lincoln City

pacific coast tourist attractions

The hike to God’s Thumb is a moderately difficult hike along the Oregon Coast. A 4.6-mile round trip hike will bring you to a curved landscape on an oceanside cliff. 

It gets its name “God’s Thumb” because it slightly resembles a thumb… but we think it kind of looks like a soft-serve ice cream swirl!

Located in Lincoln City, Oregon , this is a perfect place to get out of the car, stretch your legs, and see a beautiful area of the Oregon Coast.

Read More: Hike To God’s Thumb in Lincoln City On The Oregon Coast

Devil’s Punchbowl

pacific coast tourist attractions

Devil’s Punchbowl State Natural Area is a perfect stop on your Pacific Coast Highway road trip. Here, you can experience the power of the ocean slamming and swirling into a carved-out bowl.

From the top, you can see down inside the “punchbowl”. During high tide, the waves swirl and crash around inside, but during low tide, you can walk down on the beach and explore inside.

Stay a while for a roadside picnic, to explore tide pools, or climb around on the rocks on the shore.

Thor’s Well

pacific coast tourist attractions

Thor’s Well in another one of the Oregon Coast’s amazing natural phenomena. You can experience the most dramatic sights at high tide, but beware – it’s the most dangerous time to visit too.

Similar to the Spouting Horn in Kauai , this sinkhole looks like water is just draining into a huge abyss, but it’s actually a natural rock tube that sucks and shoots water our according to the adjacent waves.

Don’t get too close to it though, it pushes and pulls water with a powerful force , meaning if you get too close you risk being swept off your feet into the hole!

This area is located just south of the Cape Perpetua Visitor’s Cente r, with lots of wheelchair accessible walkways AND walk-at-your-own-risk paths too.

Cape Perpetua Scenic Area

pacific coast tourist attractions

Cape Perpetua Scenic Area is an amazing spot on the Pacific Coast Highway, and probably home to one of the best photo spots on the PCH!

For a quick side trip, take the drive up to Cape Perpetua Lookout , where you can see the Oregon Coast meet the winding highway below. It’s an incredible view – make sure to bring your camera!

This is also a great stop for some camping on the Oregon Coast, as well as exploring the many ocean features and scenic trails in the area.

Read More: 10 Epic Things To Do In Cape Perpetua Area Of The Oregon Coast

(Bonus Side Trip!) Umpqua Hot Springs + Toketee Falls

pacific coast tourist attractions

Got an extra day to spare?

Since you’re already in Oregon, consider taking a side trip east to the Cascade Mountains. The Umpqua National Forest has a lot to see, but it’s shining stars have got to be Toketee Falls and the Umpqua Hot Springs.

Both of the trails to Toketee Falls and Umpqua Hot Springs are nearby one another, short, and easy to follow.

They can be accomplished in a morning or afternoon trip. If you haven’t visited a Pacific Northwest hot springs  yet, this is the perfect chance to do it!

We would suggest that you Visit Toketee Falls first, so you can save your soak for last!

Read More: 5 Essential Tips For Soaking at Upmqua Hot Springs

Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor

Samuel H Boardman Scenic Corridor - Oregon Coast Road Trip Route

Of all the stops on the Oregon Coast, Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor is a MUST visit. Offshore rock formations, dramatic cliffs, and crashing waves make this place a magical stop on the Pacific Coast Highway.

To fully experience this area, we suggest scheduling your visit for sunset. The sun sets over the Pacific Ocean, and on a clear day the skies light up with beautiful colors. Don’t forget to stop at other iconic spots in the park including Secret Beach, Natural Bridges, Arch Rock, and Indian Sands Trail!

Located on the Southern Oregon Coast , Samuel H Boardman spans around 10-miles of rugged, scenic coastline. There are many hikes to choose from around Samuel H Boardman Scenic Corridor . Take some time to explore a few (many trails are short) , and pick your favorite spots for sunset.

Pacific Coast Highway Stops In California

Congratulations! You’ve made it to California!

This is technically the beginning of the official Pacific Coast Highway (also called Highway 1) , but we all know you’ve put in too many miles on your car and see too much epic-ness for it to be just starting.

While you’ll be encountering a lot more sunshine in this section of the road trip, the Northern California coast can be a little temperamental! Don’t put away your rain coast just yet.

California road trip stops on the Pacific Coast Highway are some of the most breathtaking and beautiful areas of the whole trip. Read on to discover where to go and what to see below in the sunshine state.

Redwood National and State Parks

pacific coast tourist attractions

If your Pacific Coast Highway road rrip is taking you southbound, your first California stop will be at the Redwood National and State Parks.

The Redwoods are known for their spectacularly tall and beautiful trees. Furthermore, this area is home to some of the tallest trees on earth!

There are several scenic drives to take here, but the prettiest Northern California drives are through the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park (the scenic route) and the Avenue of The Giants at Humbolt Redwoods State Park. For a lot of stops and viewpoints of the ocean, consider stopping at Patrick’s Point State Park !

Read More: 10 Things To Do In The Redwood National Park

Fern Canyon

Emily Mandagie in Fern Canyon Trail, Redwoods California

Wait, did we just travel through time? You’re not far off if you felt like you just stepped foot into Jurassic Park. In fact, scenes from the movie were filmed right here in Fern Canyon!

Fern Canyon Trail in the Redwoods is a very short route – just 1.1-miles to revel in the 50-foot tall fern-covered walls and lush surrounding forest. The hike is easy, but getting there is a different story. The trip requires a few creek crossings and winding, narrow dirt roads to reach the trailhead. We’ve got everything you need to know about Fern Canyon right here !

Black Sand Beach

pacific coast tourist attractions

Have you been looking at thos e famous black sand beaches in Iceland ? Get a taste of the beauty (without the price of a plane ticket) and come visit a look-alike on the California Coast.

Shelter Cove is a little town located in the King Range National Conversation Area. Here, there are craggy coastlines, dramatic scenery, and a black sand beach. The waves are tall and powerful here.

Warning: The road is winding and treacherous, which can be dangerous in bad weather.

This is also an extremely out-of-the-way detour, with one route going in and out from the beach. Make sure to have a full tank of gas, and be prepared to drive on narrow roads and near tall cliff edges!

Read More:   How To Get To California’s Iconic Black Sands Beach

Point Reyes National Seashore

pacific coast tourist attractions

Love the California beach? Explore the Point Reyes National Seashore , a protected coastline of rolling pastures, historic landmarks, and even a secret docked ship!

Start your journey in the town of Inverness, where you can stock up on food, gas, and even camping gear if you choose to spend the night in one of their many campgrounds .

Some of the best things to do in Point Reyes National Seashore are visiting the historic lighthouse (make sure to pay attention to its hours of operation! ), driving down the canopy of Cypress trees , and even whale watching if you come at the right time of year!

Read More: Spending The Day At Point Reyes National Seashore

Bolinas Ridge

pacific coast tourist attractions

If you have a scheduled stop in San Francisco on your Pacific Coast Highway itinerary, make sure to make a sunset stop just north of the city , on Bolinas Ridge .

This area of golden, glimmering rolling hills is located on the edge of Mount Tamalpais State Park in Marin County, California.

Our favorite scenic road to drive is Ridgecrest Boulevard , which includes pullouts ever so often to quickly park your car and enjoy the beautiful and consistent sunsets on this piece of the California coast.

Read More: A Golden Sunset At Bolinas Ridge

Mount Tamalpais

pacific coast tourist attractions

Keep the spirit of adventure alive , even in a bustling city like San Francisco !

If you’ve got a pit stop in the Golden City, journey just north of the Golden Gate Bridge and experience Mount Tamalpais State Park for a quick break from city life.

Here, you can take many amazing trails with stunning views of big city buildings across the bay. Some of our favorite trails for city views are the East Peak Hike  (to a stone lookout tower) and the Verna Dunshee Trail. 

Going when it’s cold outside? Read our San Francisco Winter Packing List .

Read More: 10 Adventurous Things To Do Outside of San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge

pacific coast tourist attractions

No trip along the Pacific Coast Highway is complete without seeing the iconic Golden Gate Bridge!

On either side of the bridge, there are several incredible viewpoints to check out. Some of the best places to view the Golden Gate Bridge are from Battery Spencer, Kirby Cove, and the North Vista Point.

Remember: The Golden Gate Bridge is a toll bridge . Motorcycles and regular cars will get through and be billed $8.00 to the address your car is registered at.

San Francisco, California

Pacific Coast Road Trip Itinerary - San Francisco Stop

If you’ve been driving southbound on your Pacific Coast Highway road trip, San Francisco will be the first large city you will encounter. 

Here, you can experience many iconic and famous landmarks. Here are some places to see while in San Francisco :

  • See the sunrise at the Golden Gate Bridge
  • Visit Fisherman’s Wharf
  • Stop By The Painted Ladies
  • Wander through the neighborhoods and see the beautiful Victorian-era houses

Need a place to stay in San Francisco? Click here and get $40 off your first booking on Airbnb!

Shark Fin Cove

pacific coast tourist attractions

Click here to see more amazing pictures from our visit to Shark Fin Cove.

Shark Fin Cove is a beautiful California coast beach located south of San Francisco – in Davenport, California. It’s named for its rock formation just off the shore that resembling a shark’s top fin. 

You aren’t able to see this cove from the road, which makes finding access a little difficult . There are no signs indicating the location, so you must rely on Google Maps to help guide to you the parking lot off the California Coast Highway 1.

This place provides absolutely stunning views from above AND below. Start your visit at the top and walk along the trails near the cliffs (but be careful!). Finally, climb down into the cove via a steep trail to find beach access.

On a weekday, it’s very likely you will get this beach all to yourself! 

Read More: What To Expect At California’s Shark Fin Cove

Big Sur State Park

pacific coast tourist attractions

When you think of driving down the California Coast , Big Sur is what Pacific Coast Highway dreams are made of. Sunny coastline, winding roads, dramatic cliffs, and beautiful bridges are scattered along 90 miles of this beautiful West Coast drive.

Some of the highlights on this part of the PCH include:

  • Pfeiffer Beach
  • McWay Falls
  • Bixby Creek Bridge
  • Pebble Beach
  • 17-Mile Drive (Monterey/Pacific Grove)

Pro Tip: A day trip to Big Sur, California is absolutely the most quintessential activity  of any good Pacific Coast Highway road trip. Don’t miss this.

Read More: How To Pull Off A Day Trip To Big Sur, California

(Detour Off Highway 1) Yosemite National Park

pacific coast tourist attractions

While you’re in the area, might as well take a little detour to one of the greatest national parks in America!

Yosemite is home to the tallest waterfall in North America, home to giant Sequoia trees, and has more than 800 miles of trails for hikers to enjoy.

Only have 24 extra hours to spare for Yosemite? Click here for our 24-hour guide to Yosemite National Park.

Pro Tip: If you are hoping to spend a few days in the park, make camping reservations extremely early in advance.

Camping spots generally get full six months before the reservation date. A trip to Yosemite National Park requires a lot of pre-planning.

Los Angeles, California

Pacific Coast Road Trip Stops - Los Angeles

Another major city on your Pacific Coast Highway road trip will be Los Angeles California. For many going northbound, this is a common starting point (as well as San Diego).

If you’re like us and coming to LA on a southbound Pacific Coast Highway trip, this is a fun pit stop to take a few days and recharge from all that driving.

Again, if you are looking to book a place on Airbnb, click here to get $40 off your first booking!

Here are some fun things to do in Los Angeles:

  • Santa Monica Pier + the Amusement Park on the boardwalk.
  • Venice Beach
  • Griffith Observatory
  • The Getty Museum
  • Hollywood Boulevard
  • Hike to the Hollywood Sign

Read More: How To Spend a Fun Weekend in West Hollywood, California

Orange County, California

pacific coast tourist attractions

Orange County California is just south of the city of Los Angeles. With a slower lifestyle, less traffic, and a lot more beach space, this place is a perfect getaway for sunshine lovers and surfers alike.

There are a few opportunities to camp on the coast, like RV sites in Huntington Beach and tent sites at Crystal Cove State Park. Either way, it’s definitely worth it to spend a few days in Orange County and experience all it has to offer!

Must-see spots to visit in Orange County:

  • La Tour (Secret Oceanside Castle in the cliff)
  • Huntington Beach (Sur City, USA)
  • Newport Beach Harbor and Balboa Island
  • Laguna Beach
  • Here are our favorite restaurants in Orange County to try!

Looking to travel to the OC on a budget? Check out our list of free things to do in Orange County to have maximum fun, with money still left in your pocket!

Read More: 10 Amazing Outdoor Activities in Orange County, California

San Diego, California

You did it!

San Diego will be the likely the end (or the beginning!) to your Pacific Coast Highway itinerary.

However, it’s still worth visiting for a few days. There are so many amazing things to do in San Diego that this city is an excellent way to kick off or wrap up any Pacific Coast Highway road trip.

Don’t miss out of Torrey Pines State Reserve! This network of outdoor trails have some of the best views in the entire city. Spend some time exploring the trails during sunset for a magical stay in San Diego.

Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Itinerary Examples

Wondering if you can see all these iconic landmarks in one trip?

To accommodate different trip lengths, we’re sharing some example itineraries for a five-day trip , one-week trip , and two-week trip down the Pacific Coast Highway.

Read below to find your perfect one!

5 Day Pacific Coast Highway Itinerary

Five Day Pacific Coast Highway Itinerary

Five days to drive down the Pacific Coast is absolutely doable! During these days, you have time to experience the highlights of the coast, and whet your appetite for another future trip!

  • Day 1: Seattle, WA to Coos Bay, OR
  • Day 2: Coos Bay OR, to Redwood National Park, CA
  • Day 3: Redwood National Park, CA to San Francisco, CA
  • Day 4: San Francisco, CA to Los Angeles, CA
  • Day 5: Los Angeles, CA to San Diego, CA

7 Day Pacific Coast Highway Itinerary

One Week Pacific Coast Highway Itinerary

One week on the Pacific Coast Highway will allow you to see the most iconic locations. One week is great for travelers who want to fit in the entire trip during a school break, or only have so many days to take off of work.

A one-week Pacific Coast Highway road trip itinerary will allow you to see the highlights without feeling rushed. Here’s an example PCH itinerary:

  • Day 1: Seattle WA, to Forks, WA
  • Day 2: Forks, WA to Cape Kiwanda, OR
  • Day 3: Cape Kiwanda, OR to Redwood State Park, CA
  • Day 4: Redwood State Park, CA to San Francisco, CA
  • Day 5: San Francisco CA, to Big Sur, CA
  • Day 6: Big Sur, CA, to Orange County, CA
  • Day 7: Los Angeles, CA to San Diego, CA

10 Day Pacific Coast Highway Itinerary

Two-week pacific coast highway road trip itinerary.

Two Week Pacific Coast Highway Itinerary

If you have two weeks to spare, this is the ideal amount of time for a Pacific Coast Highway road trip!

Two weeks gives you ample time to see all the highlights, take some day hikes, and even some off-coast detours like Yosemite or Toketee Falls! You will be able to see everything you want and more, and not feel rushed in your process.

  • Day 1: Seattle, WA to Port Angeles, WA
  • Day 2: Port Angeles, to Forks, WA
  • Day 3: Forks, WA to Astoria, OR
  • Day 4: Astoria OR, to Cape Kiwanda, OR
  • Day 5:  Cape Kiwanda OR , to Brookings, OR
  • Day 6: Brooking OR, to Redwood State Park, CA
  • Day 7:  Redwood State Park, CA to Mendocino, CA
  • Day 8: Mendocino, CA to San Francisco, CA
  • Day 9:  San Francisco, CA to Santa Cruz, CA
  • Day 10: Santa Cruz, CA to Big Sur, CA
  • Day 11:  Big Sur, CA to Santa Barbara, CA
  • Day 12: Santa Barbara, CA to Los Angeles, CA
  • Day 13: Los Angeles, CA to San Diego, CA
  • Day 14: End in San Diego

Some of our Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Inspiration

Creating this Pacific Coast Highway road trip itinerary was quite the workload! Lucky for us, this is the kind of work we live for, and it was fun, inspiring, and most of all helpful!

We hope this helps in your own Pacific Coast Highway road trip and makes planning a little bit easier for you.

Here are some of the pins we’ve created to share with our followers on Pinterest. Feel free to save some too for your own inspirational road trip!

Pinterest ( Find us at @themandagies )

Have you taken a pacific coast highway road trip what were some of your favorite stops, ready to plan your own pacific coast highway road trip read these helpful posts:.

8 Steps For Planning A Flawless Weekend Trip

2o Energizing Hikes In The PN W

The Essential 2017 PNW Bucket List

Want more Pacific Coast Highway road trip inspiration? Follow our curated board on Pinterest!

Looking for the best route to take on the Pacific Coast Highway? We're sharing the complete PCH route, including the best stops in Washington, Oregon, and California for the ultimate west coast road trip! #westcoast #PNW #california #oregon #washington #roadtrip #PCH #pacificcoasthighway #Pacificcoastroadtrip

So excited for you guys! My hubby and I did a similar (but quicker, so we didn’t see everything) trip in the summer of 2010 (a LONG time ago!). It was amazing. There is an amazing hike in Redwood National Park (Gold Bluffs Beach Section) that leads down to this secret beach. Even in summer (August) there wasn’t anyone on the trail. We were pretty new to the “planning” travel business so didn’t really plan anything when we went, but this hike was a highlight of our trip. I’m dying to go to the Painted Hills and Hot springs so excited to see what you guys think. Have so much fun!!! We’re secretly living through both of your photographs and blogs dreaming of our move one day back to this beautiful region of the world. We love Ireland, but the PNW truly can’t be beat.

Hi Danielle! I’m so glad you like our photographs and blog! That means so much to us 🙂 I’m so intrigued about the Gold Bluffs Beach Hike in the Redwoods. Now we need to go back and do that one!!!

🙌 Awesome, you're subscribed!

Thanks for subscribing! Look out for your first newsletter in your inbox soon!

Get us in your inbox

Sign up to our newsletter for the latest and greatest from your city and beyond

By entering your email address you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and consent to receive emails from Time Out about news, events, offers and partner promotions.

Awesome, you're subscribed!

The best things in life are free.

Sign up for our email to enjoy your city without spending a thing (as well as some options when you’re feeling flush).

Déjà vu! We already have this email. Try another?

Love the mag?

Our newsletter hand-delivers the best bits to your inbox. Sign up to unlock our digital magazines and also receive the latest news, events, offers and partner promotions.

  • Los Angeles

Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) at southern end of Big Sur, California

Guide to the ultimate Pacific Coast Highway road trip

Follow the ribbon of highway up the coast of California and see tons of great offbeat and traditional destinations

Photograph: Shutterstock

There’s a reason car commercials often feature California’s Pacific Coast Highway. It’s a beautiful, sinuous ribbon of highway that goes along the Pacific Ocean, sometimes on high cliffs that make you hold your breath. All along Highway One, you’ll find great places to stop and experience the things that make California so rad—like fresh seafood, coastal breezes, palm trees and the ever-noisy but charming sea lions. These stops are listed in geographic order, starting in SoCal and working your way north up the coast.

Note: As of this writing, Highway 1 is closed between Limekiln State Park and the north end of Paul’s Slide near the town of Lucia, with no predicted re-opening date. That’s thanks to winter storms that literally took out some of the roadway. However, coastal businesses remain open. This website lets you check conditions and learn the detours that will keep you moving.

RECOMMENDED: The best things to do in California

Been there, done that? Think again, my friend.

Best Pacific Coast Highway road trip

Treasure island beach park.

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Laguna Beach Living (@lagunacoastliving)

With palm tree-lined bluffs, golden sand and azure waters, this dreamy waterfront park is the perfect place to start your road trip. Follow the blufftop path, which is dotted with pocket gardens and numerous lookouts that offer sweeping views of the shimmering Pacific. A walkway leads down to the shore, where beachgoers sunbathe, swim and enjoy some of the best snorkeling around. Pack a picnic or splurge for lunch at the tiny Montage Resort  before you hop back in the car. 

Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier

This 1909 landmark offers timeless fun in the sun. Stroll its 1,080-foot expanse, pausing to gaze at the sweeping views of the coastline, and nab a hand-scooped shake from Soda Jerks . You won’t want to miss lobster rolls at The Albright , mesmerizing sea jellies at the aquarium , and a whirl on the giant Ferris wheel that soars high above the water. Just mind the traffic when posing for pics beneath the pier’s iconic arched, neon sign.

Discover the best things to do in Santa Monica

Sidecar Wine Tour

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Sidecar Tours Inc. (@sidecartoursinc.co)

It’s hard to beat winetasting while you’re shuttled from winery to winery in a sidecar—especially if the sidecar holds you and another buddy! The Sidecar Tours company has the world’s first and only tandem sidecars. Your designated driver, wearing a vest and tie, will be knowledgeable about the wine region and will narrate what you see in the vine-covered hills—and even maybe drive between the vine rows. The experience lasts 2.5 hours and includes tastings at three wineries. Now you just have to find a dog with goggles!

Madonna Inn

Madonna Inn

The primary draw of the visually striking  Madonna Inn  is its 110 rooms outfitted with over-the-top themes, such as the rock-filled caveman room and the frilly robin-egg-blue interiors of the romance suite. But there’s plenty for casual, daytime visitors, too. Pair meaty steaks with shockingly pink, tufted booths at the Gold Rush Steak House, dig into comfy diner fare at the Copper Cafe or nab a sky-high slice of frosted cake for the road. 

Discover the best things to do San Luis Obispo

Moonstone Beach

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Visit Cambria (@visitcambria)

Officially part of the Hearst San Simeon State Park, peaceful Moonstone Beach  immerses visitors in the natural beauty of California’s central coast. A one-mile wooden boardwalk ambles along a low seaside bluff, skirting driftwood-lined sand and outcrops with the chance to see yelping sea lions, otters and maybe even whales and dolphins depending on the season. Along the way, numerous staircases lead down to the shore for exceptional beachcombing. Go during the morning for quiet contemplation or at sundown for brilliant, fiery skies.

Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle

Famously designed over the course of 28 years by the pioneering architect Julia Morgan, Hearst Castle —the sprawling estate of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst—drips with exquisite architecture and Hollywood lore. Hearst’s mistress Marion Davies threw infamously lavish bashes frequented by notable celebs and dignitaries, including Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin and Joan Crawford. By the time the ailing Hearst left the property in 1947, his yet-unfinished Xanadu encompassed 165 rooms, numerous pools and acres of gardens. 

Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery

Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery

Want to see an elephant seal baby be born? Or watch an elephant seal fight? It’s all possible at this rookery , where you follow a flat, wheelchair-accessible path that overlooks the beach where the seals live. There are interpretive displays, docents to talk to, and, of course... bulbous, adorable sea friends who can be as large as 16 feet long and weigh up to 5,000 pounds. The rookery is just off Highway 1, seven miles north of San Simeon, with ample free parking. Although it’s free and open year-round, the best viewing times are late January, late April and late October.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

View this post on Instagram A post shared by vani srinivasa (@vans_mom_traveler)

It’s unfair to pick a favorite spot in the coastal paradise that is Big Sur, but if you only have time for one stop, make it Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park , the home of the famed 80-foot-tall McWay Falls. While other noteworthy Big Sur sites require a lengthy hike or drive, visitors can marvel at the spectacular coastal waterfall within minutes of stepping from their car (follow the 0.3-mile trail from the parking lot)—keep your eyes out for condors along the way. Note that there is no beach or ocean access from the top of the falls due to hazardous conditions that have caused deaths. The park is named for a pioneer woman rancher and is a different entity than the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Bonus points for exploring the nearby Partington Cove Trail, a two-mile drive north of McWay Falls, which overlooks the glimmering turquoise waters of a secluded beach cove.

Nepenthe restaurant

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Nepenthe Restaurant (@nepenthe.bigsur)

The veranda of this Big Sur restaurant is like the prow of a ship overlooking the Pacific—and turn your head to see the gorgeous Santa Lucia Mountain range. Sunsets here will make you stop your road trip and just...linger. It sits 808 feet above sea level and has great hippie lore associated with it, as well as its origin story of being built on the site of a love chalet for Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. There’s an excellent wine list, with neighbor-grown pinot noirs and the offerings of other family-owned local wineries. Grab an Ambrosiaburger and bliss out on the view.

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Mark Kot M.D. (@drmarkkot)

You’ll want to clear your camera’s memory for the gobsmacking beauty awaiting you at the coastal Point Lobos State Natural Reserve . Often referred to as the crown jewel of the California state park system, this series of rocky promontories is lined with trails that traverse an almost otherworldly coastal landscape with stirring vistas of Monterey Bay. Edward Weston and Ansel Adams spent years photographing the region. It’s hard to go wrong here—a captivating scene lies around every bend—but a favorite destination is the Bird Island Trail, which skirts beach coves with resting seals and turquoise waters. And, as the name suggests, you may see many cormorants and other birds. If you have more time, check out the North Shore Trail, which zigzags through tangled pine and cypress forests set high above the Pacific. 

Discover the best  things to do in Carmel

Monterey Bay Aquarium

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Monterey Bay Aquarium (@montereybayaquarium)

Situated directly above bay waters, the  Monterey Bay Aquarium  protects one of the most biologically diverse marine ecosystems on the planet. You’ll enjoy intimate views of playful sea otters, feasting leopard sharks, and scores of sea creatures swimming about a giant kelp forest. The open sea exhibit is 35 feet tall and holds 1.2 million gallons. The aquarium is also renowned for its ocean conservation efforts, such as the pioneering Seafood Watch program, which ensures diners' food choices help foster healthy oceans.

Discover the best things to do in Monterey 

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk (@beachboardwalk)

Opened along Santa Cruz’s seafront in 1907, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is the state's oldest amusement park and still packs the fun in with nostalgic midway games, candied apples, and a mix of modern and vintage rides. The Giant Dipper, a legendary 1924 wooden coaster that’s designated as a National Historic Landmark, still elicits screams from its numerous twists and drops. You’ll also find mini golf, a sprawling arcade, and a seasonal lineup of free concerts and movies on the beach.

Discover the best things to do in Santa Cruz

Swanton Berry Farm

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Swanton Berry Farm (@swantonberryfarm)

To find Swanton Berry Farm , look for the vintage yellow pickup truck. The indoor farm stand is crammed with treats made from its organic fruit, including pies, scones, shortcakes, cobblers, and lemonade, plus a self-serve tasting bar allows you to sample their extensive lineup of homemade jams. Pack a picnic to enjoy at one of the many picnic tables strewn inside and out.

Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Pigeon Point Light Station (@pigeonpointlightstationshp)

It’s impossible to miss the Pigeon Point Light Station , a 115-foot beacon named for the Carrier Pigeon, one of the many ships that wrecked offshore before the lighthouse was constructed in 1872. The lighthouse itself has been closed since 2001 ($18m for renovation funding was approved in 2021), but the exterior is still photo-worthy, as is the striking coastal surroundings. Numerous walkways lead to dramatic overlooks perched above the churning Pacific, offering an exhilarating spot to snap a pic or spy migrating whales.

Sam's Chowder House

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Sam's Chowder House (@samschowderhouse)

Head to Sam's  to sample the things that made the coastal community of Half Moon Bay famous: fresh seafood and small independent farms. Set on the shores of Pillar Point Harbor—where visitors can still buy seafood direct from fisherman’s boats—the waterfront eatery dishes up New England staples such as lobster rolls and clam chowder in a dining room with sweeping vistas of the coastline. Outside, a heated patio and sprawling fire-pit warmed deck is the place to be at sunset.

Discover the best things to do in Half Moon Bay 

The Presidio

View this post on Instagram A post shared by The Presidio of San Francisco (@presidiosf)

Before becoming a national park in 1994, The Presidio served as a military outpost for Spain, Mexico, and the U.S. Here, historic military structures house modern attractions such as the Walt Disney Family Museum set in former army barracks and the House of Air trampoline park occupying a former airplane hangar. Don’t miss a stroll along waterfront Crissy Field , which leads to the base of the Golden Gate Bridge, or on the historic Lovers' Lane Trail through a lush eucalyptus forest.

Discover the best things to do in San Francisco 

[image] [title]

Discover Time Out original video

  • Press office
  • Investor relations
  • Work for Time Out
  • Editorial guidelines
  • Privacy notice
  • Do not sell my information
  • Cookie policy
  • Accessibility statement
  • Terms of use
  • Copyright agent
  • Modern slavery statement
  • Manage cookies
  • Advertising
  • Time Out Market
  • Search Please fill out this field.
  • Manage Your Subscription
  • Give a Gift Subscription
  • Newsletters
  • Sweepstakes
  • Destinations

20 'Secret' Spots Along California's Pacific Coast Highway

A local's twist on the classic coastal road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

Mimi Slawoff is a former Los Angeles Daily News reporter who covers travel and parenting. She has contributed to L.A. Parent for three decades and also writes for Westways magazine, Colorado Parent , FamilyFun magazine, Travel + Leisure , and more.

pacific coast tourist attractions

California's iconic Highway 1 has many natural and historic attractions along the Central Coast, famous for its beaches and migrating whales. But there are also numerous "secret" spots along the approximately 440-mile coastal drive between San Francisco to the north and Los Angeles to the south (where Highway 1 becomes Pacific Coast Highway).

Have grippy shoes and cameras ready for a new perspective on a classic road trip.

Stow Lake, San Francisco

Paddle on a manmade lake dating to 1893 in Golden Gate Park. Stow Lake Boathouse rents rowboats and pedal boats ideal for cruising by the lake's stone bridge, waterfall, and Chinese pavilion. See ducks, turtles, birds, and other wildlife.

Batteries to Bluffs Trail, San Francisco

Leave the city behind for a short hike that follows the Presidio's wild western shoreline . Seasonal native dune plants and wildflowers attract butterflies and birds. Consider a sunset hike for majestic views.

Devil's Slide Trail, Pacifica

Walk on the only stretch of Highway 1 closed to cars. The easy 1.3-mile paved trail has signage, benches, and ocean views. Devil's Slide was part of Highway 1 for many years but was dangerous because of falling boulders. In 2014 a tunnel was built for cars and this portion of Highway 1 was transformed into a pedestrian trail. Look closely to see a railroad bed in the hilly terrain, the only remnants of an ill-fated railway.

Sea Horse Ranch, Half Moon Bay

Horseback riding on the beach is sure to be a trip highlight. The one-hour scenic Equestrian Trail ride ($100) has beach and ocean views but skips the sand. Book the 90-minute Trail and Beach tour ($110) to ride on Poplar Beach. The Early Bird Special offers a two-hour trail and beach ride for $85.

Shakespeare Society of America Headquarters, Moss Landing

To stop or not to stop? That is the question — and the answer is yes. Moss Landing, a tiny fishing port best known for its catch, is also home to the Shakespeare Society of America headquarters containing thousands of artifacts, some dating back 500 years. Peruse the rare book and reference collection, museum and memorabilia, visual art, and theater arts archive.

Public Art Walk, Sand City

Grab a coffee at a local bakery and download this map to find murals, a dino sculpture, and painted bee boxes on a self-guided public art walk in Sand City, a 2.9-square-mile town on the Monterey Peninsula. The quirky, Instagram-worthy public art and murals in the West End are created by local and visiting artists.

Hidden Beach and Waterfall, Ragged Point

McWay Falls may be the most photographed waterfall on the Central Coast, but it's not the only one. At Ragged Point , the steep, half-mile Black Swift Trail leads to a tiny black sand beach with a waterfall. Heads up: the trail can be slippery.

Piedras Blancas Light Station, San Simeon

Built in 1875, the still operating light station is named for the unique white rocks offshore, home to seabirds, sea lions, and elephant seals. Soak up lighthouse history on a two-hour tour to the Fog Signal Building and the bottom level of the lighthouse. Bring binoculars for wildlife sightings. Reservations are necessary.

Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, Cambria

Take a walk on the wild side at the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve , a protected open space with over 150 different native plants and 430 birds. Miles of hiking trails and a coastal bluff with views of migrating whales and birds make this a must stop — and it's free.

Marley Family Seaweeds, Cayucos

Hunt vegetarian style and munch on kelp (it's nutritious!) on a private seaweed foraging tour with the Marley family. Learn about sustainable and respectful harvesting and how to forage edible seaweed. Then enjoy a seaweed ramen treat on the beach.

Cayucos Tide Pools, Cayucos

There are many turnouts between Estero Bluffs (shortest walk to shore) and Harmony Headlands for easy access to tide pools brimming with sea stars, anemones, spiny urchins, purple shore crabs, and more. Plan your visit for low tide when marine life is more visible. Find more marine life at a beached boat in Point Estero .

Morro Bay National Estuary, Morro Bay

Daniel Gorostieta/Travel + Leisure

You may have seen huge Morro Rock (it's hard to miss!) but check out the secluded estuary and wetland inhabited by hundreds of animals and plants. Hike coastal trails or rent a kayak (from A Kayak Shack ) and paddle in calm water to Sandspit Beach.

Swinging Bridge, Arroyo Grande

Balance on a swinging bridge 40 feet above the Arroyo Grande Creek, and 171 feet across. It was built in early 1875 by the Short family, whose land was divided by the Arroyo Grande Creek.

Dunes Center, Guadalupe

For nearly a century, the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes held a secret about the 1923 film "The Ten Commandments." After filming, director Cecil B. DeMille had the set buried in the dunes. There it sat until archaeologists excavated it in 2017. See the huge sphinx head, prohibition-era liquor bottles, makeup, and tobacco tins at the Dunes Center .

Llama Farm, Santa Barbara

Spend a night "glamping" in El Capitan Canyon , where resort guests can hike to a nearby llama farm, interact with animals, and chat with farmers. You can also see llamas by the side of the road just south of the campground. Park at the El Capitan surf spot overlook.

Rancho La Patera and Stow House, Goleta

Learn about California's railroad and lemon history at this historic site and ride a miniature train at the adjacent South Coast Railroad Museum (open weekends). Plus, enjoy lush Victorian gardens and free concerts (the first Sunday of each month).

Ventura Botanical Gardens, Ventura

A fire that scorched the ocean-view Ventura Botanical Gardens in 2017 revealed a secret: hidden terraces and long stone walls from the late 1700s. They're now an integral part of the 107-acre Mediterranean-themed gardens, which have since grown back.

Self-realization Fellowship Lake Shrine, Pacific Palisades

Find your zen at the hilltop nature and spirituality sanctuary , housing a temple, a meditation garden, and a lake with duck, swans, fish, and turtles. Founded by Paramahansa Yogananda, the facility's Gandhi World Peace Memorial contains a portion of Gandhi's ashes sent from India.

Annenberg Community Beach House, Santa Monica

Christian Hundley/Travel + Leisure

Hang out at the public beach house featuring the Marion Davies Guest House, a historic swimming pool with marble decking, volleyball courts, and more. Built in the 1920s by William Randolph Hearst for actress Marion Davies, the property was sold to the state of California in 1959. It's operated by the City of Santa Monica.

Venice Canals, Venice Beach

Adrian Rudd/Travel + Leisure

Tucked away in a residential neighborhood, the Venice Canals (built in 1905 by Abbot Kinney to resemble Venice, Italy) are surrounded by lovely homes with private docks for non-motorized boats. Stroll along sidewalks and bridges to photograph the pretty canals.

Related Articles

  • © Roadtrippers
  • © Mapbox
  • © OpenStreetMap
  • Improve this map

pacific coast tourist attractions

The top things to do on a Pacific Coast Highway road trip

Roll the windows down and take one of most scenic drives in the U.S.

  • Featured Trip Guides
  • Classic American road trips

Created by Roadtrippers - December 10th 2020

P icture it: Driving up the scenic California coast, windows (or top) down, blasting your favorite tunes—sounds like the perfect road trip, right? The Pacific Coast Highway, formally known as California State Route 1, is the ultimate road trip route. It’s designated an All-American Road for its scenic views, and it packs one amazing path that takes you past awe-inspiring attractions and places. Here’s a guide to the must-see spots while roadtripping the PCH.

San Diego, California, United States

Starting at San Diego in the south, this is classic Southern California. The beaches, the museums, the food scene, and more make it the perfect vacation city. Explore the Gaslamp District for the nightlife and Balboa Park for the culture.

Children's Pool

San Diego, CA

The Children's Pool is the best place on the Pacific Coast to get up close and personal with seals. Back in the 1930s, a seawall was built in the ocean at this beach to make it safer for kids to swim without the danger of strong waves. As it turns out, the beach proved to be even more popular with harbor seals than human kids. Today’s visitors are allowed on the beach, but they are discouraged from getting into the water or from getting too close to the seals. Observing wild seals from this vantage point is an unforgettable experience.

2 MARKET Restaurant + Bar

Then, get a taste of California at MARKET Restaurant and Bar in Del Mar. From local grapefruit and avocado salad to flash seared local wahoo tortellini, the fresh fare here will please just about any palate.

3 Carlsbad Mineral Water Spa

Only in California would you find something like "artisan water" from a historic site. Whether you visit Carlsbad Mineral Water Spa for a soak in the mineral water baths, or you're just picking up some water (it's 70 cents per gallon), it's definitely a unique place to stop. The mineral water is alkaline, and it is said to be the most healthful mineral water in the world (actress Shailene Woodley is a fan).

Laguna Beach, CA

After getting refreshed, pull over at Laguna Beach's Moro Ridge. This hike along a canyon ridge has picnic areas and epic views of the coast (on a good day, you can see clear to Catalina Island). Plus, the canyon is home to plenty of wildlife.

5 Ruby's Diner

When you're hungry, grab dinner at Ruby's Diner. This local chain restaurant sits right on the Huntington Beach Pier, which means epic views of the Pacific while you nosh on burgers, milkshakes, and fries in a fun, 1940s-style atmosphere.

Wayfarers Chapel

Rancho Palos Verdes, CA

The next stop is Rancho Palos Verdes and the Wayfarers Chapel. Built by the son of Frank Lloyd Wright, named Lloyd Wright, this chapel is a great example of the "organic architecture" for which both the Wrights were so well known. It complements the already-stunning landscape of the California coast with the use of wood and glass.

7 Fishing With Dynamite

If you're hungry, head to Manhattan Beach's Fishing With Dynamite restaurant. Whether you go for the raw bar, a massive platter, or just something off the regular menu, you're sure to enjoy the fresh seafood here. The menu is divided into "old school" and "new school" dishes, depending on how adventurous you feel. Don’t miss the great cocktails and tasty desserts.

Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica, CA

Finish up your day at the historic Santa Monica Pier. Take a spin on the vintage carousel, sit at the soda fountain, see marine life at the aquarium, or just enjoy the beach and the people-watching. This is one of the most iconic piers along the West Coast. From the roller coaster and Ferris wheel to the arcade, there's tons of old-school fun to be had here. Look around for the signs noting this as the official end of Route 66.

Point Dume State Beach

Once you reach Malibu, pull over at Point Dume State Beach. Here you can spot dolphins, explore tidepools, and swim in the relatively calm water—or just sit on the beach and soak it all in.

10 Channel Islands Beach

The next town you'll reach is Oxnard. The harbor at Channel Islands Beach has a marina, shops, attractions, and more. You can just hike along the shore, find a place to rent kayaks, or book a tour out to the stunning Channel Islands National Park.

11 Beach House Tacos

Nothing says PCH quite like fish tacos. Beach House Tacos in Ventura has a walk-up window by the pier that serves cheap meals and mimosas and beer.

12 Santa Barbara Maritime Museum

From old ships, the fishing industry, and lighthouses to displays on sailor tattoos, scuba diving, and surf artists, the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum covers every aspect of beach living. Plus, it's right on the marina, so the ambiance is perfect.

13 The Habit Burger Grill

Forget In-N-Out. The Habit Burger Grill makes a truly crave-worthy charburger. The toppings are even more unique than the burger. Order yours "Teriyaki Style" with pineapple and grilled onions, or "Santa Barbara Style" with cheese and avocado. Don't forget sweet potato fries, onion rings, and a rich malt to complete the meal.

14 Gaviota State Park

While in Goleta, visit Gaviota State Park. The consistently mild weather and lovely beach make this park worth a visit. It also offers hiking, boating, camping, and plenty more to see and do. And, it was a filming location for the movie Sideways .

15 Palmina Wines

Once you reach Lompoc, prepare for some serious wine tasting. The laid-back vibes at Palmina Wines make the experience of tasting some outstanding varietals (paired with cheese, charcuterie, bread, and olive oils) even more incredible. The winery produces dozens of European (mostly Italian) wines using grapes from vineyards across Santa Barbara County.

16 Kay's Orcutt Country Kitchen

You won't find a better place for breakfast/lunch along the route than Kay's Orcutt Country Kitchen in Santa Maria. This quaint cafe serves scrambles and omelettes as well as burgers, sammies, and more, along with alcohol and refreshing beverages.

17 Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove

During the winter, majestic monarch butterflies come to Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove to wait out the cold weather. Scientists aren't sure what keeps the beautiful butterflies returning to this location each year, but between November and February, the place is filled with hibernating monarchs.

18 Firestone Grill

If you're not tired of eating fish tacos, make a stop at Firestone Grill in San Luis Obispo, which serves up BBQ ribs, tri-tip sandwiches, burgers—and yes, fish tacos, too.

19 Fiscalini Ranch

Next you'll reach Cambria. The PCH bisects the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, which features some of the best hiking in the area. At this hidden gem, you can see wildflowers, forests, and dramatic ocean views from the 400-foot bluff. Several well-maintained and easy trails offer plenty of ways to experience the ranch.

The best time to travel the Pacific Coast Highway: It should be noted that June, July, and August are particularly foggy months. If you're looking for a time of year with the clearest views and best weather, October is generally the best time to roadtrip the PCH. Notably, the summer months can get crowded at many of the attractions along the route. Since it's high tourist season, you'll experience higher rates at hotels and longer waits at restaurants (many of which are also seasonal and closed in winter).

Roadtrippers

Roadtrippers helps you find the most epic destinations and detours—from roadside attractions to natural wonders and beyond.

Explore More Trip Guides

  • Route 66 Leg 2: St. Louis to Tulsa
  • Route 66 Leg 1: Chicago to St. Louis
  • Route 66 Leg 3: Tulsa to Amarillo

Route 66 Leg 4: Amarillo to Albuquerque

Keep exploring with the roadtrippers mobile apps..

Anything you plan or save automagically syncs with the apps, ready for you to hit the road!

Connect with us and hit up #roadtrippers

Tall tales, trip guides, & the world's weird & wonderful.

  • Roadpass Digital
  • Mobile Apps

Business Tools

  • Partnerships

Get Inspired

  • Road trip ideas by state
  • National parks
  • Famous routes
  • Voices from the Road

Fresh Guides

  • The ultimate guide to Mammoth Cave National Park
  • The Ultimate Guide to Badlands National Park
  • Top 10 things to do in Ohio
  • Offbeat Road Trip Guides
  • Road Trip USA
  • Scenic Routes America
  • National Park Road Trips
  • Terms and Conditions
  • BEFORE YOU GO
  • EAT AND STAY
  • Our PCH Blog

Pacific Coast Highway Attractions

Those must-see sights along pch.

Pacific Coast Highway Attractions, those must-see sights along PCH, include Hearst Castle, Big Sur, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Golden Gate Bridge.

Bixby Bridge in Big Sur

Choosing the top Pacific Coast Highway attractions isn’t easy, as there are so many we love! 

The must-see sights definitely include places such as  Hearst Castle  and  Big Sur . The  Monterey Bay Aquarium  is one of the finest in the country, and who wouldn’t get a thrill from driving over the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time… and even the second and third time?

But how do you compare the big cities like  San Francisco  and  Los Angeles  with pretty towns like  Carmel  and  Mendocino ? And how do you measure those against such remote beauty spots as Redwood National Park or  Olympic National Park ?

A Shark in the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Photo (c) Donna Dailey

To narrow down our own very personal list of the best Pacific Coast Highway attractions, we decided to exclude specific towns and cities. Instead, we’ve recommended the things you absolutely must see – or at least, as many as you can – while you’re driving the magnificent Pacific Coast Highway.

Hearst Castle is undoubtedly the star attraction by anyone's standards, so we've started there on the Central Coast, followed by highlights in Southern California, Northern California, Oregon, and Washington.

Hearst Castle Outdoor Swimming Pool at Dusk

Hearst Castle

The astonishing and palatial home of publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst is a National Historic Landmark and you should certainly plan a visit here. Room after room of lavish and sometimes not-so-lavish items (check out the ketchup bottles in the dining room) are jaw-droppingly impressive, as are the grounds and the whole estate.

Tours should be booked in advance at busy times. Check out a typical  daytime Hearst Castle tour here , and also read about our  Hearst Castle Evening Tour . For the Practicalities of a visit (how long to allow, where best to stay etc) go to our  Visiting Hearst Castle  page.

Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Beach near Hearst Castle

Piedras Blancas Beach

While here, don’t forget to look in on the magnificent elephant seal colony at Piedras Blancas Beach, seven miles north of San Simeon and right on PCH, where anything up to 15,000 elephant seals can be viewed at close quarters.

The Big Sur coast along the Pacific Coast Highway

Big Sur is the most dramatic stretch of PCH, where the Santa Lucia Mountains meet the Pacific coast. The result is impressive scenery, zigzagging roads, and an endless desire to pull off the highway and just stand and stare. This is, not surprisingly, the stretch of the road most often subject to closures when the winter or spring weather is bad. If the road here does get closed, there’s just no alternative than to turn round and go back. But if that happens you get to see it twice, in each direction. It’s worth it!

A turtle in the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey Bay Aquarium

If you want to find out what’s happening in that secret world under the waves, and along the shoreline you drive right by, a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium is a must. There is a big focus on the local marine life, but other species from around the world are here, too. You can't drive PCH without stopping to see the aquarium. See our separate page on the  Monterey Bay Aquarium .

Santa Monica Pier at Night

Santa Monica Pier

There are several piers along PCH, including a great one at Santa Barbara , but for us the Santa Monica Pier is a landmark. This is where the Pacific Coast Highway leaves Los Angeles behind and heads up the coast, but first join the crowds and enjoy the 1922 carousel, the amusement park, the aquarium and the restaurants.

It’s been featured in films including  The Sting, Forrest Gump, The Hannah Montana Movie , and many more. It’s brash, it’s busy, but it’s definitely got a character all its own

San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge by Moonlight

Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco’s most famous bridge (yes, there are others!) may look familiar from photos and films, but nothing prepares you for the real thing. Drive through the city on either Highway 1 or Highway 101, and the two meet just before they join to cross the bridge (they split up again a few miles on the others side).

Whichever direction you travel, pull off at the viewpoint on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge. If the weather is kind you’ll look back at the bridge, the bay, and the city, and know why people want to leave their heart there.

The Point Reyes National Seashore, north of San Francisco

Point Reyes National Seashore

The most famous stretch of PCH is between San Francisco and LA, but immediately north of the City by the Bay is this unusual, beautiful, and very special part of the coastline, the Point Reyes National Seashore . It’s rugged and can be wild, but it’s a spectacular region of much-needed lighthouses, Native American heritage, rural communities, ranchers, oyster farms, makers of cheeses and other tasty goodies – seemingly a world away from the more familiar lifestyle of Southern California.

A fallen giant redwood tree in California's Redwood National Park

Redwood National Park

Some people are surprised that the giant redwoods feature as a highlight of a Pacific Coast Highway road trip, but there are a few places where geography forces the road inland. There are, in fact, several Redwood national and state parks , so you’ll have more than one opportunity to see these magnificent trees, the tallest in the world. The Ladybird Johnson Redwood Grove and the aptly-named Avenue of the Giants are two of the most popular places to experience these natural wonders.

Oregon Sand Dunes

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

These often windswept sand dunes stretch for about 40 miles along the Oregon coast, and are an intriguing, unusual and ever-changing landscape. Their wildness and ancient history are a long way from the Southern California beaches with which PCH is more associated. Go hiking or biking in them, or take a dune buggy for an exciting look into the surprising flora and fauna that exists in this desert-like landscape.

Florence Sea Lion Caves

Florence Sea Lion Caves

We wondered at first why people would pay to see a sea lion cave, when you can see sea lions all along the coast, but once inside we knew why. It’s one of the best wildlife experiences we’ve had, like walking into a wildlife documentary, but with the barking sounds at full volume and the addition of the fishy smells that a few hundred sea lions bring with them.

This is said to be the largest sea lion cave in the world, and every rock and cranny is crammed with them – basking, honking, diving in and out of the water. You view them up close through an opening in the rock, the animals seemingly unaware of your presence. It’s an amazing experience, so don’t drive by – dive in!

Path In Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park

The Olympic National Park contains three distinct sections, is a World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve, and contains the only rainforest in the United States. It ranges from sandy beaches to glacial mountains, via wonderful forests with nature trails, giant trees, and wildlife including elk and bear. Like everyone else who visits, we fell under its spell at once, and there can be nowhere better to start, or to end, your Pacific Coast Highway road trip.

Olympic National Park Itinerary

If you're planning a trip to the Olympic National Park, we strongly recommend this trip-planning guide and itinerary from Just Go Travel Studios. Click on the image to learn more about what it contains.

pacific coast tourist attractions

Some of our driving pages

Pacific Coast Highway Travel reviews the Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Guide book covering the drive from Vancouver to San Diego.

Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Guide

Pacific Coast Highway Travel reviews the Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Guide book covering the drive from Vancouver to San Diego.

The Pacific Coast Highway in California book shows in historic photos the building of the Pacific Coast Highway from its earliest beginnings in 1911.

Pacific Coast Highway in California

The Pacific Coast Highway in California book shows in historic photos the building of the Pacific Coast Highway from its earliest beginnings in 1911.

Pacific Coast Highway Travel's advice on driving the Pacific Coast Highway in five days, including the best places to stay over, and the best things to do and see.

Driving the Pacific Coast Highway in Five Days

Pacific Coast Highway Travel's advice on driving the Pacific Coast Highway in five days, including the best places to stay over, and the best things to do and see.

Drive times and distances on the Pacific Coast Highway or the quickest routes from Seattle to San Francisco to Los Angeles to San Diego.

Pacific Coast Highway Drive Times and Distances

Drive times and distances on the Pacific Coast Highway or the quickest routes from Seattle to San Francisco to Los Angeles to San Diego.

One of the best guides to West Coast RV Parks, covering campgrounds in California, Oregon, and Washington, is West Coast RV Camping from Moon Guides.

West Coast RV Parks

One of the best guides to West Coast RV Parks, covering campgrounds in California, Oregon, and Washington, is West Coast RV Camping from Moon Guides.

Pacific Coast Highway Travel's advice on driving the Pacific Coast Highway in three days, including the best places to stay, and the best things to do and see.

Driving the Pacific Coast Highway in Three Days

Pacific Coast Highway Travel's advice on driving the Pacific Coast Highway in three days, including the best places to stay, and the best things to do and see.

Epic Drives of the World from Lonely Planet describes 50 of the world's most exciting road trips, including, of course, the Pacific Coast Highway.

Epic Drives of the World

Epic Drives of the World from Lonely Planet describes 50 of the world's most exciting road trips, including, of course, the Pacific Coast Highway.

Here are the basic facts if you plan to drive the Pacific Coast Highway, including which is the best direction and when is the best time to go driving.

Drive the Pacific Coast Highway

Here are the basic facts if you plan to drive the Pacific Coast Highway, including which is the best direction and when is the best time to go driving.

Pacific Coast Highway stops include big city vacation destinations like Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, and smaller places like Monterey.

Pacific Coast Highway Stops

Pacific Coast Highway stops include big city vacation destinations like Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, and smaller places like Monterey.

Pacific Coast Highway Travel's guide to Oregon coast charging stations for electric vehicles, from Brookings in the south to Astoria in the north.

Oregon Coast Charging Stations

Pacific Coast Highway Travel's guide to Oregon coast charging stations for electric vehicles, from Brookings in the south to Astoria in the north.

When to Drive the Pacific Coast Highway depends on whether you want to drive in Oregon and Washington as well as California, and on the weather.

When to Drive the Pacific Coast Highway

When to Drive the Pacific Coast Highway depends on whether you want to drive in Oregon and Washington as well as California, and on the weather.

Lonely Planet's Coastal California guidebook is the ideal travel guide for driving or cycling the Pacific Coast Highway from the Oregon border to Mexico.

Coastal California Guidebook

Lonely Planet's Coastal California guidebook is the ideal travel guide for driving or cycling the Pacific Coast Highway from the Oregon border to Mexico.

 Pacific Coast Highway Travel takes the 17-Mile Drive from Carmel to Pacific Grove and Monterey, stopping to see the Lone Cypress and beautiful coastline views.

The 17-Mile Drive between Carmel, Pacific Grove, and Monterey

Pacific Coast Highway Travel takes the 17-Mile Drive from Carmel to Pacific Grove and Monterey, stopping to see the Lone Cypress and beautiful coastline views.

Pacific Coast Highway Travel's advice on driving the Pacific Coast Highway in four days, including the best places to stay, and the best things to do and see.

Driving the Pacific Coast Highway in Four Days

Pacific Coast Highway Travel's advice on driving the Pacific Coast Highway in four days, including the best places to stay, and the best things to do and see.

Here are links to the different ways you can go along the Pacific Coast Highway, one of the most popular drives in the world but you can also cycle it.

Here are links to the different ways you can go along the Pacific Coast Highway, one of the most popular drives in the world but you can also cycle it.

Driving the Pacific Coast Highway is made easier with Road Trip USA by Jamie Jensen, a good handbook for the west coast drive.

Driving the Pacific Coast Highway

Driving the Pacific Coast Highway is made easier with Road Trip USA by Jamie Jensen, a good handbook for the west coast drive.

Review of the Pacific Coast Highway Road Trips book from Lonely Planet, which includes a California Driving Guide, by the Pacific Coast Highway Travel website.

Pacific Coast Highway Road Trips: Lonely Planet Guidebook Review

Review of the Pacific Coast Highway Road Trips book from Lonely Planet, which includes a California Driving Guide, by the Pacific Coast Highway Travel website.

Historic Route 66 winds from Chicago to LA, going through Los Angeles, meeting the Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica, California, at the Santa Monica Pier.

Route 66 Meets the Pacific Coast Highway

Historic Route 66 winds from Chicago to LA, going through Los Angeles, meeting the Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica, California, at the Santa Monica Pier.

Pacific Coast Highway Travel's advice on driving the Pacific Coast Highway in two days, including the best places to stay, and the best things to do and see.

Driving the Pacific Coast Highway in Two Days

Pacific Coast Highway Travel's advice on driving the Pacific Coast Highway in two days, including the best places to stay, and the best things to do and see.

Pacific Coast Highway driving tips for this great American road trip include finding cheap gas, watching the speed limits, and allowing plenty of travel time.

Pacific Coast Highway Driving Tips

Pacific Coast Highway driving tips for this great American road trip include finding cheap gas, watching the speed limits, and allowing plenty of travel time.

The best time to drive the Pacific Coast Highway is when you have the most time to spare, but late spring and fall is when you'll get the best weather.

Best Time to Drive the Pacific Coast Highway

The best time to drive the Pacific Coast Highway is when you have the most time to spare, but late spring and fall is when you'll get the best weather.

Pacific Coast Highway Travel's guide to Washington coast charging stations for electric vehicles along Highway 101 from Oregon and around the Olympic Peninsula.

Washington Coast Charging Stations

Pacific Coast Highway Travel's guide to Washington coast charging stations for electric vehicles along Highway 101 from Oregon and around the Olympic Peninsula.

Driving from San Francisco to San Diego has two main options, the fast way on I-5 or the scenic route along the Pacific Coast Highway.

San Francisco to San Diego

Driving from San Francisco to San Diego has two main options, the fast way on I-5 or the scenic route along the Pacific Coast Highway.

Pacific Coast Highway travel offers advice on driving from LA to Hearst Castle, including distance, journey time, and route.

LA to Hearst Castle

Pacific Coast Highway travel offers advice on driving from LA to Hearst Castle, including distance, journey time, and route.

If visiting California and planning to drive the Pacific Coast Highway it's important to know California driving laws in case they differ from your own state.

California Driving Laws

If visiting California and planning to drive the Pacific Coast Highway it's important to know California driving laws in case they differ from your own state.

Recent Articles

RSS

Just Off The Pacific Coast Highway, This Beach Is Often Called California's Most Stunning

Jun 25, 24 03:58 AM

Where Else to Eat in Monterey

Jun 22, 24 10:48 AM

salmon_seafood_fish_restaurant-pixabayjpg.jpg

California’s Central Coast Is A Cool Summer Destination

Jun 22, 24 03:55 AM

FTC Disclosure :   If you make a purchase via a link on this site, we may receive a small commission on the transaction - at no added cost to you. Thank you!  

LATEST BOOKS

Take a look at our latest books: 101 Best Things to Do on the Pacific Coast Highway and 101 Budget Hotels along the Pacific Coast Highway. Click on the covers to learn more.

101-best-things-kindle-cover.jpg

LATEST NEWS

Find the best deal with HotelsCombined.com

As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases, but at no cost to you.

Buy an inexpensive journal to record your own Pacific Coast Highway adventure!

PCH-Road-Trip-Journal-front-cover.jpg

If you're planning a PCH road trip, take a look at our guide to hotels along the way:

PCH-Hotels-Guide-2021-cover.jpg

FOLLOW OUR PCH VIDEOS ON YOUTUBE

pacific coast tourist attractions

The Best PCH Guide We've read lots of guides to the Pacific Coast, and easily the best one is the Moon Handbook. You can read our review here , or buy it through the Amazon link below.

Moon-PCH_road-trip-guide-cover.jpg

DISCOVER CALIFORNIA

© 2024 California.com All Rights Reserved

RECOMMENDED BUSINESSES

15 Best Stops On Your Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

15 Best Stops On Your Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

The open road is where mighty mountains dive into the crashing waves of the roaring Pacific.

Roubina Al Abashian

August 27, 2021

There’s one road trip that immediately transports you to another place—it’s one you want to go on but dread returning from. We’re talking about cruising the Pacific Coast Highway, of course—it’s arguably one of the bes t coastal drives in the world. The open road is where mighty mountains dive into the crashing waves of the roaring Pacific. You’ll be driving towards charming beach communities, old Spanish mission towns, vibrant cities, and charming downtowns . Wondering which are the best stops on the Pacific Coast Highway ? Not anymore.

pacific coast tourist attractions

1. Mendocino

Your Pacific Coast Highway road trip begins at Leggett, so naturally, the first stop is the wonderful Mendocino . Here, waves are grand and harsh, and coastal cliffs are as breathtaking as it gets. You’ll also pass by several unique beaches on the way, but one you should totally check out is Glass Beach. There’s a lot to do in this gorgeous North Coast city , but the road awaits. 

Does your business rank among the best in California?

Recomended businesses

Show me california.com recommended businesses near.

Learn more about our selection criteria and vetting process.

2. Bodega Bay

Next up is Bodega Bay , the quaint fishing community in Sonoma County. The town is blessed with untainted natural beauty and divine seafood. A picturesque horseback ride on the beautiful rocky shorelines is a dream come true in Bodega Bay. And tasting the area’s fresh seafood is a non-negotiable treat everyone deserves. And did we mention that this is where Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds was filmed? 

pacific coast tourist attractions

3. San Francisco

Not stopping in the City by the Bay on your Pacific Coast Highway road trip is pretty much blasphemy. You’re cranking up the tunes on the road and the next thing you know the Golden Gate Bridge is waving hello—congratulations, you made it to one of the most eclectic cities in the nation. There’s so much to see and do here, depending on how much Karl the Fog will allow you. Don’t forget to check out major attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island and experience S.F. to the max. 

4. Santa Cruz

Welcome to the most laid-back city on the Central Coast. This surfer’s paradise has more to offer than just beaches. If you have time, pay a visit to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park and traverse the trails featuring marvelous riverside views. Better yet, enjoy a stroll through the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and Botanic Garden . While it’s hard to part ways with Santa Cruz, it’s about time to head down south. 

5. Monterey

The scenic coastal city of Monterey invites you with its white-sand beaches and unique attractions . If you thought you’re done splashing around, we’ve got news for you. Search for China Cove in Point Lobos Natural Reserve and jump right in. And did you really go to Monterey if you didn’t play golf? Take a swing at Pebble Beach Golf Links , one of the most scenic golf courses in the Golden State .

Wildflowers are blooming, California condors are soaring, and the coastal wind is blowing through your hair—that’s right, you’re in Big Sur. All roads and trails here take you to spectacular places. Whether you trek the Salmon Creek or Overlook Trails, both will reward you with breathtaking cascades. There’s so much more to see and do in Big Sur that you’ll never want to leave.

7. San Simeon

Some might disagree, but San Simeon is one of the best stops to make along the Pacific Coast Highway . Filled both with natural wonders, architectural masterpieces, and lots of outdoor adventures, San Simeon is the picture-postcard spot you didn’t know existed. This prime beach destination is where you'll find Hearst Castle . The 165-room castle, also known as the Enchanted Hill, is one of the main attractions you wouldn’t want to miss. While you’re still here, check out Piedras Blancas Point Beach to see playful sea elephants soaking up the sun. 

Cambria is a place you should pin on your Pacific Coast Highway map. This is where the ocean meets magnificent pine forests. Here, you’ll find Moonstone Beach, one of California’s best surf spots , where novice surfers learn how to ride the waves. But if surfing isn’t your cup of tea, head to the Fiscalini Ranch Bluff Trail and admire the beauty of the Central Coast at the top.

pacific coast tourist attractions

9. Morro Bay

One does not simply drive past Morro Bay—the best thing you’ll see on the Pacific Coast Highway is located right here. The distinctive Morro Rock, also known as the "Gibraltar of the Pacific," is a 581-foot volcanic plug sitting at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. But if a rock doesn’t impress you much, you’ll be glad to know there’s more to do in this coastal town . Kayak through the waters of the Morro Bay National Estuary and indulge in some of the best fresh seafood at the Embarcadero before heading towards the charming San Luis Obispo.

10. San Luis Obispo

It’s beautiful, calm, and relaxed—it’s San Luis Obispo . Everything from its sandy shores to hidden gems is worth checking out, but one of the things you can’t miss out on is paying a visit to Pirate’s Cove Beach. Make a stop at Nitt Witt Ridge, the famous castle on a hill that’s made of beer cans, abalone shells, concrete, and other materials. And of course, don’t forget to leave your mark in the city at the Bubblegum Alley.

pacific coast tourist attractions

11. Santa Barbara

Arriving at the American Riviera is a whole new feeling. When the coastal highway of California guides you here, you’ll notice that the sun shines a little brighter in Santa Barbara . Every visitor ends up falling in love with the city thanks to the gorgeous Spanish architecture and Meditteranean vibes. With its historic landmarks like Old Mission Santa Barbara and natural wonders like Jalama Beach, you’ve got a thousand reasons to stay.

12. Ventura

The beach town of Ventura is a must-stop on your scenic California drive . Offering the best of both worlds, Ventura is a bustling city with a small-town charm. The relaxed SoCal vibes come alive at Surfers Point Beach. As for the town’s Main Street, it's an open invitation for shopaholics from across the state. If you ask us, Ventura sure sits high on the best stops on the Pacific Coast Highway list .

We’re getting closer to the end, but we’re not exactly done yet. The next stop on your coastal drive is Malibu . The stunning coastal town is where celebrities relax and unwind, and you’ll totally feel like a million bucks when you’re here. Visiting the gorgeous beaches in this city is a must—El Matador State Beach is the local favorite spot. There’s the mandatory trip to the breathtaking Escondido Falls to end your visit on a high note.

14. Los Angeles 

You’re bound to stop by the City of Angels on your Pacific Coast Highway road trip . Visit the Hollywood Walk of Fame, drop by the Griffith Observatory , relax at Zuma Beach—there’s just so much to see and do. Los Angeles is the definition of fun, and you’ll never get bored in this bustling metropolis.

pacific coast tourist attractions

15. Dana Point

Congrats, you’ve made it. You’re in Dana Point, the southern terminus of your PCH road trip. Combining laid-back surf culture with luxurious amenities, this city has something for everyone. Thrill-seekers resort to Dana Point Parasail to soar with the birds and enjoy spectacular views from above. As for nature-loving introverts, an afternoon picnic at Pines Park is the most relaxing thing to do in this OC gem . 

Need help with a home improvement project? Get a free quote today!

Enter your zip code.

California's 11 Most Affordable Places to Live

Inspiration delivered straight to your inbox.

Awesome thank you for subscribing to our newsletter..

When you provide your email address, you are agreeing to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy , and you are giving your consent to receive email communications from California.com regarding updates, happenings, special offers, and promotions from our partners.

Where to See 4th Of July Fireworks in Los Angeles

RELATED Articles

pacific coast tourist attractions

RELATED CITIES

pacific coast tourist attractions

Discover More

Breaking Down Annual Santa Cruz Events and Festivals

Breaking Down Annual Santa Cruz Events and Festivals

Explore the year-round brilliance of Santa Cruz's vibrant community by looking at all the city's annual events and festivals.

How Santa Cruz Can Support a Holistic, Healthy Lifestyle

How Santa Cruz Can Support a Holistic, Healthy Lifestyle

Santa Cruz boasts a supportive community and plenty of ways you can support a healthy, holistic lifestyle by the ocean.

Where to See 4th Of July Fireworks in the Bay Area

Where to See 4th Of July Fireworks in the Bay Area

Here's a breakdown of where you can see the spectacular 4th of July Fireworks Across the Bay Area.

Where to See 4th Of July Fireworks in Los Angeles

Where to See 4th Of July Fireworks in Los Angeles

Check out our dive into where you can see 4th of July Fireworks in Los Angeles.

Purpose section

National Geographic content straight to your inbox—sign up for our popular newsletters here

PCH

  • PHOTO GALLERY

9 Must-See Stops on California's Pacific Coast Highway

This iconic route is known for its mountains, forests and beaches, but there are plenty of man-made wonders hidden among the flora and fauna.

California’s Pacific Coast Highway is known for its stunning ocean views set against a backdrop of mountains, forests and beaches, but there are plenty of man-made wonders hidden among its flora and fauna. While most travelers who have driven down State Route 1 know about Bixby Bridge and Pea Soup Andersen's , the road is full of lesser known gems. An explosively bright vintage dining room, tree cocoon lodging, and a train ride through redwoods are just the beginning of the many unexpected sights along the West Coast’s most breathtaking drive.

  • Nat Geo Expeditions

FOURTH OF JULY SPECIAL

Get National Geographic magazine for $10 off

Related Topics

You may also like.

pacific coast tourist attractions

The ultimate Pacific Coast Highway itinerary, from San Francisco to Santa Monica

pacific coast tourist attractions

Maasai Mara & beyond: 5 must-see safari parks in Kenya

pacific coast tourist attractions

The essential guide to visiting Canada

pacific coast tourist attractions

Get ready to hit the road with these road trip essentials

pacific coast tourist attractions

How to plan the ultimate road trip adventure in Canada

  • Environment

History & Culture

  • History & Culture
  • Mind, Body, Wonder
  • Interactive Graphic
  • Paid Content
  • Terms of Use
  • Privacy Policy
  • Your US State Privacy Rights
  • Children's Online Privacy Policy
  • Interest-Based Ads
  • About Nielsen Measurement
  • Do Not Sell or Share My Personal Information
  • Nat Geo Home
  • Attend a Live Event
  • Book a Trip
  • Inspire Your Kids
  • Shop Nat Geo
  • Visit the D.C. Museum
  • Learn About Our Impact
  • Support Our Mission
  • Advertise With Us
  • Customer Service
  • Renew Subscription
  • Manage Your Subscription
  • Work at Nat Geo
  • Sign Up for Our Newsletters
  • Contribute to Protect the Planet

Copyright © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society Copyright © 2015-2024 National Geographic Partners, LLC. All rights reserved

PCH1 Road Trip

The Ultimate Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Planner

Planning to go on the best road trip in the world? You have come to the right place.

Welcome to our ultimate Pacific Coast Highway road trip planner!

We are the #1 resource dedicated to planning a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway. 

Pacific Coast Highway road trip ranks pretty high among bucket list travel experiences – in fact its one of the most scenic drives in the entire world!

Highway 1 is a gorgeous drive along sprawling cities, charming coastal towns, beautiful beaches, majestic forests, and stunning landscapes.

Whether you are planning a trip to California, Oregon, or Washington….

….or planning the ultimate West Coast Road Trip from San Diego to Seattle;

We have multiple Pacific Coast Highway road trip itinerary recommendations that cover different areas of the West Coast!

That means you can use this as a Washington / Oregon Highway 101 road trip planner or California coastal road trip planner for Highway 1.

This Pacific Coast Highway road trip planner will help you plan your entire trip and cover the following:

  • The Best Cities to begin your Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip
  • Best PCH Itineraries for all types of travelers
  • Best Stops / best attractions to visit on the Pacific Coast Highway
  • Where to stay along the Pacific Coast Highway
  • Best places to eat along the Pacific Coast Highway
  • Hidden Gems / Offbeat attractions along the Pacific Coast Highway

This Pacific Coast Highway road trip guide also covers other useful and important information including

  • Best time to visit the Pacific Coast
  • How much to drive each day along the PCH
  • What to pack for Pacific Coast Highway road trip
  • How much does a Pacific Coast Highway road trip cost aka Budgeting for your PCH trip

It is quite easy to plan a PCH road trip by yourself using our Highway 1 / Highway 101 trip planners and online booking sites to reserve your flights/rental car/hotels.

Awesome, right? Then let’s start planning your Pacific Highway road trip itinerary now.

Before you begin

As an American, you probably know what goes into planning an epic cross country road trip.

After all, we are pretty road-trip obsessed country!

However, what if you are traveling from abroad and are interested in the Pacific Coast Highway drive itinerary?

You’re in luck – we have many resources to help you plan your trip including information on visas, renting a car, and driving in America.

Our detailed PCH road trip planners will take you step by step through the process of planning your trip:

  • The initial steps in planning the Pacific Coast Highway road trip involve: Deciding what part of the PCH will you drive How many days will you devote to the entire trip and When is the best time to visit. Information to help you in deciding these is covered in Step 1: PCH FAQs and Step 2: Best PCH Stops
  • You also need to pick a PCH gateway city, decide how will you reach there, and whether you need to rent a car or drive your own. Find information on the best cities to start your PCH Road Trip in Step 3: PCH Gateway Cities
  • If you want to see the highlights of central California, specifically Highway 1, then refer to the California coast road trip planner. If you want a Pacific coast trip through PNW, then focus on the Oregon coast and Olympic peninsula. Information on specific Itineraries is covered in Step 4: PCH Itineraries
  • Finally, book your trip! Find our recommended hotels, car rental companies, and flight aggregators in Step 5: Book your PCH Road Trip .

Also, don’t forget to join our Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Facebook Page where you can ask questions or share your photos or itinerary with fellow travelers.  Click here to join now . 

Ready to get started? Let’s start planning the ultimate Pacific Coast Highway road trip together! 

Don’t believe us when we say that the PCH road trip is the most beautiful road trip in the world?

Then check out these beautiful photos from the USA West Coast!

Step 1: PCH FAQs

The Pacific Coast Highway is pretty large and rather confusing.

It is essential to understand the PCH before you plan a trip.

Here’s some basic information:

Where does the Pacific Coast Highway start and end?

Wondering where is the Pacific Coast Highway and how long it is? Also, where does the PCH start and end?

One of the things that creates confusion while planning a Pacific Coast Highway road trip is that the road is simply huge.

Plus everybody seems to be talking about a different stretch of the road when they refer to the PCH.

We experienced this several times while planning our first trip to the region. 

The coastal route or the PCH starts at San Diego near the Mexican border and ends near Seattle in the city of Olympia in the Pacific Northwest.

It is not officially named the Pacific Coast Highway but has always been called so since it parallels the Pacific Coast.

The routes to follow for the road trip include Highway 1 in southern and central California and Highway 101 in northern California, Oregon, and Washington.

How long is the Pacific Coast Highway?

Since it goes the entire length of the West Coast, just how long is the Pacific Coast Highway?

The road beginning in San Diego to its end in Olympia, the capital of Washington State is roughly 1700 miles long!

And yes, it really does go parallel to the Pacific Ocean for the most part!

What is the PCH1?

The road officially called the PCH1 is located in California. Its other name is California State Route 1 (SR1) or Highway 1.

Where does Hwy 1 start and end?

The PCH1 drive extends from the I-5 intersection in Orange County, Southern California to Highway 101 intersection near Leggett in Northern California.

Also, the name PCH 1 is interchangeably used with Highway 1 (Hwy 1) or Route 1 or California 1 or SR 1. 

Add to that, certain parts of California PCH 1 near Pismo Beach on Central Coast are known as Cabrillo Highway while a section north of San Francisco is called the Shoreline Highway.

Many times Hwy 1 merges with Hwy 101, creating even more confusion.

This is most noticeable from Pismo Beach to San Luis Obispo and along the Golden Gate Bridge where the two roads merge.

The Hwy also simply disappears and takes street names in San Francisco (19th Avenue) and in Santa Monica (Lincoln Blvd).

If you are planning a trip along this route, then the Highway 1 trip planner will help you discover attractions between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

So how do you ensure you don’t get lost while planning a road trip up PCH?

The easiest way is to ensure that you are following the PCH1 between Monterey and San Luis Obispo in California.

This is the most spectacular stretch that passes through Big Sur and the road here is clearly marked, causing no confusion.

Our California Highway 1 road trip planner will guide you towards the best stops on Highway 1 California in Big Sur including McWay Falls and Pfeiffer Beach.

Which section of the Pacific Coast Highway should you drive?

For first-timers, we recommend driving the California Highway 1 or PCH 1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles for multiple reasons.

This stretch of PCH1 passes through the beautiful Big Sur region.

For many people, Big Sur is the #1 attraction along the route.

Also, the gateway cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco are very well connected and easy to fly in or out after your trip.

One-way car rentals between the two cities are easily available or you also have the option of a loop road trip.

Our San Francisco road trip planner will help you plan your trip to SF, LA, as well as the attractions in between.

Have already been to this part of California Coast? Don’t want to begin in SF? You have many other options to customize the itinerary as you want!

After the PCH 1 ends, you can either drive south along the coast to San Diego or all the way up to Olympic National Park and the Canadian border in the north.

Alternatively, you can also begin the Pacific Coast Highway road trip from San Diego and drive north.

The entire route is scenic and has plenty of attractions.

In northern California you will find beautiful redwood trees while in Oregon, you can see stunning capes and lighthouses as well as unique geological formations.

In Washington, you will find everything from deep blue lakes and dense rainforests to sea stacks and driftwood covered beaches.

And that’s why it is so important to decide which stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway you want to drive before you plan your trip.

Which direction to drive the Pacific Coast Highway?

All right, so you have decided which section of the Pacific Coast Highway you are going to be driving.

You know how much time you have in hand.

So which gateway city do you begin your PCH Road trip?

Is it better to drive north or south on the Pacific Coast Highway?

While many people recommend driving from south to north, our favorite is to drive south.

Yes, you will see the most gorgeous sites first and might end in the chaotic city of Los Angeles but you will be closer to the stunning views plus have easier access to parking lots and pull-outs.

That being said, if you have enough time to savor the trip then the direction won’t really matter much!

When to visit the Pacific Coast Highway?

The best part? You can drive the Pacific Coast Highway year round! 

There are, however, certain times of the year when the PCH road trip is more scenic than others.

Spring is our personal favorite.

You can see wildflowers along the Pacific Coast Highway plus spot wildlife including migrating whales.

The temperature is pleasant for hiking, during the daytime it is neither too hot nor too cold.

An added bonus, the crowds are fewer than in summer or winter holidays.

However, you should skip spring break week, if possible.

Remember: Spring can be too windy and cold but the gorgeous wildflowers tip the scales. 

Our second favorite time of the year for this road trip is from late summer to early fall, just after the schools are in session.

September and October on the coast are mild and sunny.

A pleasant breeze flows from the ocean making hikes more fun.

Wineries along the PCH in Napa, Sonoma, and along the Central Coast have beautiful fall colors and are ready for harvest.

Visitors can enjoy grape stomping at wineries if they time it right.

Winter and summer both have their pros and cons.

In winter, you can whale watch and enjoy the scenic beauty without the fog.

But temperatures, especially for northern California, can be quite chilly.

It can also rain, causing landslides and slippery trails.

The PCH may stay closed for days due to extended storm damage. 

The very end of winter – from mid to late February – is a good time with mild weather and low crowds.

The summer months of June, July, and August can be quite foggy.

Big Sur looks beautiful and dramatic in the fog but the roads can be treacherous for driving.

The fog usually prevails in the morning and evening so you should still have clear blue afternoons.

As you continue south, it can get too hot to hike or stay outdoors for longer times.

Peak tourist times are winter holiday season and summer vacations.

Expect accommodations to fill up faster, potential delays on the road, and full parking lots at major attractions like Bixby Bridge and McWay Falls.

To read more about the best time to visit and see photos in different seasons, read our post When to Drive the Pacific Coast Highway .

How to rent a car for a PCH road trip? Which car should you rent?

The best way to travel Pacific Coast Highway is by car!

Look for one way car rentals unless you plan to do a round trip.

However, one-way rentals can be expensive so factor that in while planning your itinerary.

If you have more time and want to do the Pacific Coast Highway road trip on a budget, then you can definitely return to the original destination to reduce costs.

An SUV is really useful while negotiating the twisting turns of the PCH however, it is also easy to break in into.

Because of that, we prefer a sedan if we are driving with kids and have a lot of luggage in the trunk.

A muscle car or a convertible is also a great option for driving the Pacific Coast Highway.

The coast has stunning views and a top down lets you feel the ocean breeze and enjoy the panorama.

A recently popular option is to rent an RV for the Pacific Coast Highway travel itinerary.

This allows you to enjoy the natural attractions along the coast to the maximum.

How much should you budget for Pacific Coast Highway road trip?

The famous question, how much does it cost to drive the Pacific Coast Highway?! Or what should be your Pacific Coast Highway road trip budget?

In general, we recommend budgeting $200 per person per day including hotel, car, and food for road tripping the Pacific Coast Highway.

That’s why the easiest way to do the trip on a budget is to choose a shorter Pacific Coast Highway trip itinerary.

The fewer number of days on your trip, the fewer the costs.

That said, California, in general, is expensive and we have never been able to go on an extended California trip under $1000 per person including airfare.

You can also consider road tripping the PCH 1 along Oregon or Washington to reduce costs as these states are somewhat cheaper than California.

More Pacific Coast Highway FAQs

To read more Pacific Coast Highway FAQs including the following common doubts, click here .

  • Is the Pacific Coast Highway dangerous to drive?
  • What should you not miss on the Pacific Coast Highway?
  • Which part of California should you visit?
  • How long does it take to drive the entire Pacific Coast Highway?

Step 2: Best PCH Stops

If you have decided to visit the most popular part of coastal California:

Begin your Pacific Coast Highway road trip planning by exploring the major attractions and things to do along California’s Hwy 1.

Popular attractions including West Coast lighthouses , waterfalls, state parks, hiking trails, beaches, coastal towns await you on this marvelous drive – and off course the iconic Bixby Bridge!

You can find information about these and other essential attractions in our California Coast trip planner.

Also, explore other stops on Highway 101 in northern California if you have more time.

Here you will find majestic redwood trees and the Redwoods State and National parks.

Road trip the Redwoods Scenic Byway and explore cities like Eureka and Crescent City.

There are also plenty of stunning stops along the Pacific Coast Highway in both Oregon and Washington.

You can read more about the best stops along the PCH here.

This will give you an idea of the most important places to visit and help in planning the trip around your interests.

Step 3: PCH Gateway Cities

Once you have selected your itinerary, you need to select which West Coast cities you can fly into.

While there are many cities on the West Coast, the 5 major ones which make perfect places to begin your PCH road trip are these:

Begin a Pacific Highway trip around the Evergreen State in the Emerald City of Seattle.

Read our post on things to do in Seattle now to plan your trip.

To see Oregon’s dramatic coastline, redwood trees, rock formations, and sand dunes, start a Hwy 101 road trip in Portland.

Read our post on Things to do in Portland now.

San Francisco

San Francisco is our personal favorite to start an epic Pacific Coast road trip.

It also makes an excellent starting destination for California fly drive route planner.

Read our post on things to do in San Francisco now.

Los Angeles

Tinseltown is exciting and glamorous.

It also happens to be cheap to fly into and makes a perfect start to PCH drive.

You can plan a California coastal highway itinerary up or down the coast and have whale of a time.

Read our post on Best Things to do in Los Angeles now.

San Diego is the perfect destination to plan a trip using our SoCal trip planner.

Read our post on Best Things to do in San Diego now.

How to reach the PCH Gateway Cities?

The major airports for road tripping the Pacific Coast Highway 1 in California are San Francisco and Los Angeles.

San Francisco actually has three airports: San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose.

You need to research airfares to all three to ensure you are getting the best deal.

Similarly, Los Angeles also has a couple of nearby airports including Long Beach, Burbank, Orange County, etc and is a great California PCH trip start point.

If you are extending your trip along the West Coast, then fly into San Diego, Portland, or Seattle to start your Pacific Coast Highway road trip itinerary.

Budget airlines that often have great deals to California or the Pacific Northwest include Frontier Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Alaska Air, and Southwest.

To get the best flight deals, we recommend booking using flight aggregators like Skyscanner or CheapOair.

Step 4: PCH Itineraries

This is our favorite part of trip planning!

This is also where we can help you the most as we have been planning road trips since the past 12 years.

We recommend that you go through our many itineraries, pick the one that is the best fit, and customize it to suit your needs.

Let’s plan the perfect Pacific Coast Highway road trip ever!

Fly and Drive PCH Itineraries by number of days

Since you will already be driving a lot every day along the PCH we generally recommend fly and drive itineraries.

However, if you happen to live nearby or have enough time to travel, then you can definitely drive to California and then go on the Pacific Coast Highway road trip. 

You can spend anywhere from 4 days to 10 days on the Pacific Coast Highway.

Here are the highlights of our popular itineraries.

Click the link to read in-depth each itinerary for Pacific Coast Highway.

Pacific Coast Highway 4 day itinerary

The simplest California road trip planner.

If you have only 4 days, then spend one day in San Francisco and see the highlights including the Golden Gate Bridge, Lombard Street, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Alcatraz.

Visit one of the beaches: Ocean Beach, Crissy Field Beach, or Baker Beach are the most popular ones!

The next day, leave early from San Francisco and explore Half Moon Bay and Monterey.

See the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Cannery Row, visit the sandy beaches of Half Moon Bay, and take some time to explore Santa Cruz or Pebble Beach.

Stay the night in Carmel or Monterey and leave early for Big Sur.

See Bixby Creek Bridge, hike McWay Falls, spend time at San Dollar Beach before reaching San Luis Obispo for the night.

Spend some time to see SLO attractions including Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, Historic Downtown, Bubblegum Alley, and the Madonna Inn – a famous hotel with eclectic decor!

Then stop at Santa Barbara. Sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez mountains, this coastal city feels very Mediterranean.

Santa Barbara has many attractions including the charming white colonial downtown, Mission Santa Barbara, museums, zoo, and more!

Enjoy shopping or dining at Stearns Wharf or take a whale watching cruise before heading for Los Angeles.

In Los Angeles, visit the Walk of Fame, see Griffith Observatory, and the Hollywood Sign before calling it a day.

You can read this itinerary here for this Highway 1 trip planner. 

Pacific Coast Highway 5 day itinerary

Looking for Pacific Coast Highway itinerary of 5 days?

We would recommend following our 4-day pacific highway 1 itinerary with just a few changes: you can spend the extra day exploring either San Francisco, Big Sur Coast, or Los Angeles.

In San Francisco, use your second day to see Muir Woods, Mission District, Chinatown, and Twin Peaks.

If you chose to stay in Big Sur, then stay at the romantic Ventana Resort or Post Ranch Inn.

Stop at each pull-out and look for wildlife.

Tour the Point Sur Lightstation, photograph the Bixby Bridge, and see the seals at Elephant Seal Rookery in Piedras Blancas.

Make the detour to explore Central Coast’s wine country.

If you chose Los Angeles then the sky is the limit.

You can explore the museums especially the Broad and LACMA or spend a day at Universal or Disney!

If you ask us, we would pick Big Sur over the cities, any day!

You can read about this itinerary in detail here for the 5 Day PCH trip planner. 

Pacific Coast Highway 7 day itinerary

Our favorite! A week is a perfect time to drive this stunning route.

On your first day of California pacific coast highway itinerary 7 days, start at the northern end in Leggett and see those majestic coastal redwoods.

Drive your car through the Chandelier Tree tunnel.

Then eat oysters in Tomales Bay and visit Point Reyes Lighthouse before spending the night in San Francisco.

For the rest of your coast to coast road trip planner, spend 1 day each in San Francisco, Monterey, Big Sur, Solvang, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles.

With 7 days in hand, you have enough time to explore Big Sur’s hidden gems such as Henry Miller Memorial Library and Andrew Molera State Park.

View this itinerary now to read all the details of the 7 day Pacific Coast Highway trip planner.

Pacific Coast Highway 10 day itinerary

With 10 days in hand, you have so many options.

One way is to follow the 7- day itinerary but drive all the way down to San Diego to create the ultimate California driving trip planner.

Another is to start in Los Angeles, follow our 7-day itinerary heading north, and explore up to the Avenue of Giants in northern California.

If you love slow travel, then drive from Leggett to Los Angeles but spend time hiking in Point Reyes and Point Lobos, visiting the remote Channel Islands National Park, and touring the wineries of Santa Ynez Valley.

The epic 10 day California road trip for families and RVers.

The ultimate chilled-out California Pacific Coast Highway trip!

You can also do a Northern California road trip from San Francisco for the Pacific Coast Highway Itinerary 10 days.

Or you can drive all the way up to Portland and see the Oregon coast attractions along the way.

You can also visit the Olympic Peninsula on a Pacific Coast Highway 101 road trip in Washington.

To decide which itinerary to choose, click here now . 

If you have less than 4 days

If your Pacific Coast Highway drive time is too long, then you won’t have enough time to enjoy all the attractions on the way.

We would not recommend driving the entire length of the PCH or Highway 1 if you have less than 4 days.

For short weekend trips, consider the below trips in our California road trip route planner.

We also suggestions for PCH day trips in Oregon and Washington.

Best PCH road trips from San Francisco

If you have 3 days or under, then it is not feasible to drive the entire length of PCH.

You can make the drive but will miss out on a lot of attractions.

Instead, consider day trips and weekend getaways along the coast for Pacific Coast Highway road trip itinerary 3 days.

Our top 3 getaways for Pacific Coast Highway road trip itinerary 1 day from San Francisco are Point Reyes, Monterey, and Big Sur.

Carmel by the Sea, only a short drive from Monterey and Pebble Beach, is also a great weekend trip from San Fran.

Best PCH road trips from Los Angeles

For day trips and weekend getaways along Hwy 1 from Los Angeles, consider visiting La Jolla, Malibu, Santa Barbara, Solvang, Pismo Beach, or San Luis Obispo.

Or drive south towards San Diego, Newport Beach, and La Jolla.

These destinations are just a few hours away from LA and great to visit.

Visiting Big Sur from Los Angeles is hectic if you have only 2 days but possible with 3 days in hand.

Best PCH road trips from San Diego

You can also road trip up the pacific coast highway from San Diego to Los Angeles or Anaheim.

Enjoy Hollywood or city life in Los Angeles or see Disney and other theme parks in Anaheim.

Relax at Huntington Beach. Or visit Coronado island for a different type of trip.

The San Diego trip planner has many ideas to enjoy the attractions of southern California.

Best PCH road trips from Portland

Combine a visit to Portland with an adventure down the PCH.

While you cannot use Portland to San Francisco road trip planner in just 4 days, you can visit Astoria or Cannon Beach.

Go hiking in Ecola State Park or drive the Three Capes Scenic Loop.

Best PCH road trips from Seattle

There are plenty of PCH trips from the Emerald City.

Drive the Highway 101 south to Tacoma or Olympia.

Or take the ferry to Port Angeles and Olympic peninsula and follow Highway 101 all around the peninsula.

If you have more than 10 days

If you have anywhere around two weeks, we would recommend driving either down to San Diego in the south or driving towards Portland or Seattle in the north from LA or SF.

You can also drive from San Diego to Seattle or vice versa using our west coast road trip planner.  

2 Week West Coast Road Trip Itinerary

2 weeks is the ideal time to go on an epic US West Coast Road trip.

From the Olympic peninsula in Washington to southern California, you can use our border to border coast trip planner to plan the most amazing, once in a lifetime, USA West Coast Road Trip Itinerary.

You can either start in San Diego and drive towards Portland or Seattle or start in the Pacific Northwest and drive south.

The entire drive is over 1700 miles and should be done only if you have 2 weeks or more in hand.

Point to Point PCH Itineraries

You can also plan PCH road trip itinerary depending on your start city and destination rather than days.

Pacific Coast Highway Itineraries by State

San diego to los angeles drive.

Wondering how to plan a trip to California coast between Los Angeles and San Diego?

This California Highway 1 road trip itinerary will take you through stunning beaches of La Jolla, Laguna Beach, and Oceanside.

You can see charming coastal towns and enjoys SoCal’s relaxed vibe.

California Coast Road Trip from LA to SF

This is the ultimate CA road trip planner.

Visit two of California’s biggest cities and visit the natural attractions on the coast including beautiful Big Sur, McWay Falls, and 17 Mile Drive.

This Pacific Highway 1 road trip is our favorite road trip along the West Coast! Read this itinerary now.

Northern California Coast Road Trip

This Highway 101 road trip itinerary in Northern California will take you through giant, majestic redwood trees and the most remote parts of the coast.

From attractions like Point Reyes and Muir Beach to charming cities like Mendocino and Eureka, this itinerary for driving Pacific Coast Highway will leave you spellbound.

See the glass beach at Fort Bragg, tour the famous Point Arena Lighthouse, enjoy hiking at Mendocino State Parks, and drive the Avenue of Giants on this epic PCH itinerary.

Oregon Coast Road Trip Planner

Plan a trip from Brookings in the south to Astoria in the north using our Oregon Highway 101 road trip planner.

Visit attractions such as Cannon Beach, Natural Bridges, and Devil’s Punchbowl on this amazing Oregon Coast Road trip .

Washington Olympic Peninsula Road Trip

Our Highway 101 trip planner in Washington follows the road around the Olympic peninsula.

It can be used to visit attractions such as Ruby Beach, Hoh Rainforest, Hurricane Ridge, Port Angeles, and Seattle. Read this itinerary now .

We would recommend going through our list of Suggested PCH Itineraries and deciding upon an itinerary based on your interests before finalizing your trip.

Pacific Highway Road Trip Map

Looking for map of Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip?

Among our resources, we have plenty of Pacific Coast Highway road trip maps, depending on the section you want to drive.

If you are interested in Big Sur, use the California Highway 1 road trip map.

Use the Northern California road trip map planner to see the redwoods.

Follow Pacific Highway itinerary maps for Oregon or Washington to plan a Pacific Northwest trip.

Be sure to finalize your Pacific Coast Highway Map and print copies before you embark on your trip.

Step 5: Book your PCH Road Trip

And finally we come to the task of booking your PCH vacation.

When to book and plan your PCH trip

In general, we recommend booking your trip at least 6 months in advance, though ideally, earlier is better.

While you can always plan a last-minute PCH road trip, especially if staying nearby, it is not recommended.

This especially applies if you are traveling in peak periods and in the Golden State.

Every California trip planner suggests booking in advance.

As we have experienced, booking hotels closer to the trip can definitely make the trip twice as expensive.

Before booking your trip, we recommend researching destinations and finalizing your Pacific Coast Highway Road trip itinerary.

In some instances, we have booked first and then planned the trip but this can lead to more hectic trips.

Here’s what all you need to book for your trip.

Book flight tickets to the West Coast

For best deals, book your tickets to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, or Seattle by checking on Skyscanner or Google flights.

Book car rental

All major companies have their branches in California.

You can rent from a variety of companies including Hertz, Fox, Enterprise, Dollar, and Thrifty for your trip. 

Book hotel accommodations as per the itinerary

There are a variety of hotels, resorts, and motels for every budget along the PCH.

We have covered the best places to stay along the PCH in detail in this post.

Purchase travel insurance

We recommend getting travel insurance from World Nomads.

Purchase attraction tickets, if any

There are several attractions along the PCH for which you can purchase tickets in advance.

We recommend the advance purchase of tickets for attractions like the Monterey Aquarium, San Francisco museums, etc.

Purchase tours and cruises, if any

You can go on a variety of wildlife watching cruises along the PCH including whale watching, dolphin cruises, etc.

You can also reserve tickets for the Alcatraz cruise prior to your trip. 

Recommended group tours

There are no tour companies that take you the entire length of PCH.

This is very much a self-drive trip.

However, there are companies that will take you to Malibu from Los Angeles or to Monterey from San Francisco.

Also in Monterey, you can take whale watching tours.

Reserve a table at restaurants, if needed

You will find amazing restaurants serving a variety of cuisine along the PCH.

Our favorites are seafood restaurants in Monterey, oysters in Tomales Bay, Mexican food in Mission District of San Francisco, and a variety of cuisines in Los Angeles.

If you like to plan every detail or want to plan for a special meal for birthdays or anniversaries, then you can reserve a table at the hotel of your choice in advance.

Prepare, pack, and go on the best road trip ever!

What other preparations should you make.

If you are traveling internationally then check your passport validity and visa status.

Apply for visas, if necessary.

Also, check whether you need IDP (International Driving Permit).

Other preparation includes print and/or having virtual copies of all maps, itineraries, tickets, and bookings easily accessible on your phone.

Also, budget your trip and convert currency, if needed.

Read below for more detailed information.

Understand internet and phone coverage

You will find that there is extremely poor and at times zero cell coverage along many stretches of the PCH, especially in the Big Sur region.

That’s why we recommend carrying a GPS in addition to your phone as well as saving offline maps on your phone.

You can also get printed maps of PCH1 for the section you are planning to drive.

If you are traveling internationally

The three main areas to take care of if you are traveling internationally include taking care of passports and visas, renting a car and driving in USA, and converting money to USD. 

If you are traveling with kids

Pacific coast highway road trip with kids? Been there, done that!

Our final section of the ultimate Pacific Coast Highway road trip planner.

Did you know that you can drive the Pacific Coast Highway with kids?

The first time we went with our kids was when our daughter was just a 6 months old baby and our son was 3 years old.

We started in San Francisco, cycled the Golden Gate Bridge with the kids, drove through Big Sur, watched the elephant seals at Piedras Blancas rookery near San Simeon, and ended our trip at Anaheim in Disney.

Both the kids loved every bit of it.

Also, most places and businesses in California, Oregon, and Washington and especially along the Pacific Coast Highway are kid-friendly.

When we road tripped, most hotels provided crib or baby cots, all the restaurants had high chairs, and even the wineries had kid-friendly areas.

Throughout our trip, we met friendly people who smiled and waved at our kids.

We always felt welcome wherever we went and felt quite at ease.

Read our post on Best Kid-friendly resorts along the Pacific Coast Highway to book your accommodations.

There are so many things to do along the Pacific Coast Highway road trip that are perfect for the kids.

They will love exploring nature: hike through redwood forests, discover tide pool creatures, play in the sand and on the beach, splash in the water, hike to see waterfalls, whale watch using binoculars, plus spend quality time with the parents.

There are also many kid-friendly attractions on the route including the Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39, Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Oceano Dunes Railroad museum, sand dune buggy rentals, whale watching tours, Santa Monica Pier, Disney theme parks, etc.

For more information, read our post on the Best Things to do on the West Coast with kids.

In fact, driving the Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most fun family holiday vacations for families. 

Other things to consider

Stretches of the Pacific Coast Highway can get closed due to storms or landslides or wildfires, so we recommend keeping an eye on the news before your trip and getting travel insurance for just in case anything goes awry.

What should you pack for Pacific Coast Highway road trip?

It can get chilly along the PCH any time of the year, so we recommend packing in layers: long sleeve shirts, short sleeve t-shirts, and tank tops.

Pack long hiking pants for the northern and central coast and shorts for SoCal.

Pack a rain jacket and a sweater for the chilly days.

Take hiking shoes and socks and water shoes for beachcombing.

Pack some heels and a silk blouse for date nights in San Francisco, Monterey, and Los Angeles.

If you plan to drive north towards Portland and Seattle in the winter, then add thermal underwear and a packable jacket.

In summer, take sunglasses, a sunhat, and sunscreen.

Do not forget to pack a camera and binoculars.

Read this before you leave

We have got many excellent resources on planning a Pacific Coast Highway road trip.

We suggest that you browse around the site  – take a look at our PCH Road Trip itineraries , bookmark us for a later visit, sign up for our newsletter, or follow us on social media to know more about the Pacific Coast Highway. 

If you need to ask us questions about the trip, then join our Pacific Coast Highway Facebook Community now – it’s the perfect place to ask any itinerary related questions and plan your PCH road trip.

We hope that our Pacific Coast Highway road trip planner helps you in planning an awesome road trip.

Other useful posts to plan your Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

Pacific Coast Highway 4 day Itinerary PCH 5 day itinerary Pacific Coast Highway 7 day itinerary Pacific Coast Highway 10 Day itinerary All PCH Itineraries Best Places to Stay along the Pacific Coast Highway Best Pacific Coast Highway Stops

Leave a Comment Cancel reply

  • Twitter / X
  • Readers' Choice
  • Food & Drink
  • Arts & Culture
  • Travel Guides

USA TODAY 10Best

10 places you need to see when driving the Pacific Coast Highway

Aimee Heckel

September 20, 2018 // By Aimee Heckel

By Aimee Heckel Travel Expert September 20, 2018

California’s Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most famous, scenic drives in the world. Stretching along a large chunk of the Golden State and hugging the shoreline the bulk of the way, from Malibu southward, makes this road trip one of the most flexible. Nearly anywhere you start, stunning views are guaranteed.

Pull off a quick weekend trip by just hopping through the smaller beach towns near San Diego , or plan the mother of all road trips along Cali’s coast from San Francisco to the southern tip of California and stop at as many cities, parks, overlooks and attractions as you have days for.

Because so many points on this highway are famously fantastic, it can be hard to narrow them down. We’ve picked our top 10 favorite stops along California’s coastline, from top to bottom, to help you plan your way.

Advertisement Advertisement

1. Muir Woods

Muir Woods' ancient redwoods

San Francisco packs big amusement in its hilly neighborhoods, lined with great shops, restaurants and bars, and, of course, the famous Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island. But our favorite part of this region is beyond the city and into Muir Woods , where you can find 500-plus-year-old redwood trees in an otherworldly forest. Ancient trees stretch farther than seems possible and lunge skyward at hundreds of feet tall. 

After you find your way out of the forest, head to the hidden, charming Stinson Beach . It's a small town with a peaceful strand, a historic lighthouse on a cliff and a 308-step walkway with panoramic views that will leave you breathless, in more ways than one. 

2. Half Moon Bay

Gray Whale Cove State Beach in Half Moon Bay

About half an hour south of San Francisco is a history buff’s beachy paradise, Half Moon Bay, formerly Spanishtown. The city has made it a priority to preserve its history, as one of the oldest settlements in San Mateo County. Walk through the historic downtown, ride bikes through the bluffs and enjoy stretches of sand that you'll often have all to yourself. The luxurious hotels and romantic restaurant options here offer a different experience, following the small-town simplicity of Stinson Beach (although Half Moon Bay is far from presumptuous).

McWay Falls cascades 80 feet down to the beach

This is one of the most well-known areas of Highway 1 and it’s considered a destination in and of itself. Big Sur is a designated American National Scenic Byway and the views explain why. Wildlife-watching is big here; expect to see anything from whales to elephant seals. Stop to hike the stunning cliffside waterfall in the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.

4. Hearst Castle

Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle

Ideally located right in the middle of San Francisco and San Diego – four hours either way – and just past the Los Padres National Forest is the Hearst Castle . This residence, built by newspaper bigwig William Randolph Hearst in 1919 and overlooking San Simeon, is filled with art, gardens and water features. Take a tour through the various buildings on the castle’s 127 acres and feel like you’ve traveled back in time. This is a museum like no other.

5. Santa Barbara

Stunning Santa Barbara vineyard

Santa Barbara offers plenty for visitors: great shopping, stunning mountain views and outdoor adventures galore. But it’s the dining and wining scene that stops our car every time. Santa Barbara has earned a reputation for its award-winning wineries. Take tours, sign up for special wine dinners or, if you’re lucky, be in town for a wine fest. If that's not enough to convince you, the movie Sideways was filmed here, too. Take a self-guided tour of the various locations seen in the movie (and grab a glass along the way).

6. Venice Beach

Venice Beach at sunset

Venice Beach is one of the quirkiest, most creative beaches in California (and that’s saying something). Stroll along the lengthy beach promenade and watch people exercising outside at Muscle Beach, breakdancing, skateboarding, selling crafts, playing street basketball and painting. The urban art is colorful, the surfing here is great and there are more tourist shops than you could visit in a day. 

7. Dana Point

Set off from Dana Point Harbor for whale watching

Dana Point is a must-visit along the highway, whether you want to get into the water or just look at it. Dana Point is considered the "Whale Watching Capital of the West" for its endless opportunities to view the marine mammals in their natural habitat. And the high bluffs here provide stunning coastal views. Surfers love the waves, fishermen like to cast out and thousands of boats set off from here.

Watch ships in the harbor before visiting the shops and waterside restaurants. Don’t leave without visiting Doheny State Beach, the Salt Creek Beach or Baby Beach.

8. Solana Beach

Solana Beach cliffs

Solana Beach may not be one of California’s most famous beaches – you do have to earn an oceanside seat on the sand by climbing down often lengthy and steep staircases carved through the high cliffs – but the scenery here is stunning and memorable. Solana is rocky, with some cliffs dropping right off at the edge of the ocean. Find one of the handful of beach access points and you’ll be at one of the most secluded beaches in a bustling California town. Many art galleries, restaurants and home decor stores, all walking distance to the water’s edge, fill the downtown.

9. Ocean Beach

Surfing is a favorite activity at Ocean Beach

This small community, not far from San Diego, feels like it’s still in the '60s and '70s. Expect to see VW buses, shirtless beach regulars, taco stands, antique shops, dogs everywhere and tattoo parlors.

Ocean Beach is arguably the most laid-back, surfer town on the coast. No fishing license needed to cast a line. Prices are more moderate than other San Diego communities, too. Walk all the way to the end of the lengthy pier and get a full view of the OB. The entire town feels vintage in the best way.

10.  Point Loma

Old Point Loma Lighthouse

End your road trip at a historically significant and dramatic landmark: the Old Point Loma Lighthouse. This lighthouse marks the entry to San Diego Bay and is a reminder about the region’s history; it’s one of the oldest lighthouses on the West Coast. Sign up for a tour or just explore it yourself. Then take time to visit the Cabrillo National Monument on the Point Loma Peninsula. This marks the place where Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo became the first European to land on the West Coast in 1542.

Aimee Heckel

About Aimee Heckel

Aimee Heckel is a travel writer who explores different areas of the California coast as an annual tradition.

Read more about Aimee Heckel here.

Connect with Aimee via: Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Pinterest

Photo of Laguna Beach, California

  • 7 Most Beautiful Small Towns on the Pacific Coast to Visit in 2024

When thinking of a getaway to the Pacific, many focus on California , specifically the big coastal cities or popular resort towns. However, the Pacific Coast encompasses a broader region than one might imagine. Stretching from the Canadian province of British Columbia through Washington and Oregon before reaching California, the towns along the cliffs, beaches, and harbors are the true gems of the Pacific Coast.

From the world-famous Laguna Beach to the lesser-known town of Oceanside, from bluff-top Mendocino to historic Port Townsend, these towns offer easy access via the scenic Pacific Coast Highway. The fine seaside ambiance and the dramatic natural backdrop, featuring cliffs and windswept cypress trees, complement the laid-back West Coast vibe, creating a peaceful escape for every taste.

Laguna Beach, California

People on the beach in Laguna Beach, California.

Laguna Beach , which sounds like a fairy tale, is a small city in Orange County, globally known as the beach town from the eponymous TV show. While the myth of the glitzy, carefree beachside life holds true, Laguna Beach prides itself on being a welcoming art colony with a sandy fringe of beaches and lush natural attractions. From Victoria Beach to 1000 Steps Beach and Table Rock Beach, and Thalia Street Beach offering amazing mansion views. Just south, Woods Cove is a popular protected stretch adjacent to Ruby Street Park with its wooden winding staircase to the sands. Drawing thousands of hikers, bikers, birdwatchers, and other wildlife lovers, the 2,400-acre Crystal Cove State Park boasts a 3.2-mile sandy beach with coves and tide pools and access from downtown via the Willow Staging Area for rugged hiking and mountain biking trails.

Visitors can enjoy direct access to the El Moro Canyon Trail along the scenic oceanfront highway, as well as its Moro Campground. The verdant Crescent Bay Point Park blends into aquamarine views of the ocean and a tide pool, while Treasure Island Beach looks like a scene from coastal Italy. The curb appeal is enhanced where you can see the beauty from the eyes of others at the waterfront Laguna Art Museum. Featuring a permanent collection of over 3,500 contemporary works, don’t miss the cozy Coast Gallery, while the Sawdust Art Festival hosts lively summer and winter festivals with crafts, ceramics, and sculpture. Rated among the best along the California coast, Cliff Restaurant and the Deck offer a family-friendly feel and a romantic vibe, perfect for inviting someone special to enjoy the ocean's treasures.

Lincoln City, Oregon

Lincoln City, Oregon Coast

Home to just over 10,000 residents, Lincoln City feels larger along its coastal stretch with top-tier attractions like Chinook Winds Casino Resort, yet remains uncrowded, allowing visitors to enjoy its natural features. Siletz Bay offers birding and kayaking opportunities, while the D River State Recreation Site hosts annual sandcastle contests and kite-flying competitions. With seven miles of pristine beaches to soak up vitamin D in the summer, if you’re in the shopping mood, score a deal at the Lincoln City Outlets. Nearby, God’s Thumb is a moderate-to-difficult hike with a trailhead in town, offering a winding path through lush coastal forests, rolling hills, and meadows with seasonal wildflowers.

Lincoln City enjoys year-round popularity thanks to its charming downtown, filled with boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants. The beloved Finders Keepers event attracts visitors in the off-season, from October to May, to find hidden glass balls along the beach on a fun and scenic hunt for any type of group. Bring hiking boots and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife and birdwatching as you ascend to the dramatic sandstone promontory, God’s Thumb summit, overlooking the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean and Lincoln City. Afterwards, Mo's Seafood & Chowder is a must-visit, and Pelican Brewery’s state-of-the-art restaurant on the bay offers memorable summertime evenings with loved ones.

Mendocino, California

Back street in Mendocino, United States.

Synonymous with dramatic cliffs and windswept cypress trees, Mendocino attracts scores of outdoor lovers each year. Home to only 894 residents, this picturesque town is completely surrounded by Mendocino Headlands State Park, with rugged headlands flaunting beautiful seasonal wildflower displays that beckon visitors. Choose among the miles of cliffside trails, secluded beaches, or a complete natural immersion through the 7,400-acre wildlife corridor. From Point Kelley and Cypress Grove to the Mendocino Trail, if you make it all the way around counter-clockwise, descend to Big River Beach at Mendocino Headlands State Park.

Looking for an intimate spot to unwind? Portuguese Beach is a protected cove-like space with aquamarine waters and stair access from the bluffs. All that nature inspires artisan shops and cafes in town like Trillium Cafe & Inn and GoodLife Cafe & Bakery, both offering eye-pleasing aesthetics and a classically laid-back West Coast vibe. Whether you're in for the eye candy at the Mendocino Art Center or to satisfy your coffee cravings and tantalize your taste buds at GoodLife Cafe & Bakery, the popular Mendocino Grove offers a serene stay just south of the bustling downtown. While savoring leisurely exploration, don't miss the Ford House Visitor Center & Museum.

Oceanside, Oregon

Oceanside, Oregon, USA. Picturesque seaside village off the beaten track on Oregon's central coast.

Just two hours west of Portland, Oceanside feels a world away thanks to its amphitheater-like appeal. Home to only around 465 residents, it's hard to resist this small hillside town, overlooking the sea from the dramatic headland, with pristine sandy beaches below and stunning natural wonders around. While accessible via Highway 101, you'll have to navigate from the big city and make a small detour through Tillamook State Forest. Score a cliffside cabin with incredible views and head beachside with the Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge visible from almost any point in town. Just offshore, part of the sprawling Cape Meares National Wildlife Refuge, this main beach access and park offer a vast sandy stretch, great for agate hunting and rockhounding, especially after a storm.

The rocky Maxwell Point juts into the ocean with tide pools and a variety of sea creatures at low tide, and a mysterious opening in the side of the rock. Don't completely ignore the “Caution” sign, but use discretion to enter the 90-foot-long tunnel blasted by ambitious resort owners in 1926. Leaving nothing behind but the gaping hole through the rock, Tunnel Beach on the other side is free for beachcombers to explore. If tight spaces aren't your cup of tea, combined with the rare rockslides that blocked the tunnel in the past, you can still access the secret beach around the rock at extreme low tide. Otherwise, drive three minutes north to the secluded Lost Boy Beach and five minutes further for the Cape Meares Lighthouse and the nearby tentacled "Octopus Tree."

Port Townsend, Washington

Port Townsend, Washington, USA: Main Street Plaza

Nestled at the northeastern tip of the famed Olympic Peninsula, Port Townsend is an enchanting getaway just two hours north of Seattle. Anchored deep in maritime heritage, the little town boasts exceptionally well-preserved Victorian architecture in downtown, a National Historic District in its entirety. Transporting you right back into the mid-19th century—the days of its establishment—meandering the streets feels like flipping pages of a history book, flickering with ornate old buildings, vibrant shops, galleries, and eateries. The Port Townsend Film Festival attracts crowds in September to watch independent films and documentaries in an authentic atmosphere, while the Old Consulate Inn and Manresa Castle near the waterfront offer stays that complement the old fairytale charm.

Visitors can enjoy strolls and shopping all the way to the historic seaport and the Northwest Maritime Center, a one-stop shop for scenic boat tours and cruises, as well as kayaking adventures along the scenic Puget Sound. Just a stroll northward from the core, the sprawling Fort Worden State Park features trails and a beach area with panoramic views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Cascade Range, where the mountains meet the ocean. The aquamarine spectrum against the graying mountain peaks of Olympic National Park is hallucinogenic. So come for the historic charm and adventures in the early fall weather and stay for the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival to celebrate the area's passion and heritage with boat-building demonstrations, races, and workshops.

San Simeon, California

Pacific Ocean view from Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California

A winery, a castle, a world-famous state park, and a beach all to yourself with a stunning high pier jutting far out into the water? San Simeon, home to only 462 residents as of this year, is easily accessible via the scenic Highway 1 from Cambria just south on your coastal road trip. Visitors can enjoy hiking trails just north of town or take a scenic drive south to Hearst San Simeon State Park, one of the oldest in the California State Park System, with its two natural preserves and a cultural preserve. The well-marked 3.3-mile trail through parts of the San Simeon Natural Preserve and the Washburn Campground features scenic overlooks, benches, and information panels on this wildlife habitat, a wintering site for monarch butterfly populations. Find the popular San Simeon Creek Campground along the park's coastal bluffs, with unobstructed ocean views and rocky shores, at 115 campsites for tents and RVs.

Just 9.3 miles north from here, the elephant seal rookery stretches for six miles along the shoreline near Piedras Blancas Light Station, with the most active mammals during late January, April, or October. The Elephant Seal Boardwalk offers an ideal vantage point to see the seals who arrive at the rookery from the open ocean to give birth, breed, and rest after long migrations in search of food. Back in town, the Hearst Castle Visitor Center offers information and tour tickets for Hearst Castle, as well as a theater, casual bites, and a gift shop. Located just a quick drive north, the hilltop castle, a 20th-century mansion, was built by the eponymous media magnate. The $30 entry fee offers the experience of the opulence and grandeur of the "Casa Grande," "a museum like no other" with lavish interiors, priceless art pieces, and beautiful grounds overlooking the Pacific with manicured gardens.

Westport, Washington

Marina at Westport, Washington.

Just across North Bay from the Olympic Peninsula, Westport is hidden in Grays Harbor County along the Pacific coast, with South Bay to the east and the open ocean to the west. Just southwest of Seattle, this peaceful, quaint town of less than 2,100 people feels smaller, having blissfully avoided overcommercialization, while Westport Light State Park invades nearly half its breadth. The 212-acre oceanfront park with an accessible hiking trail and saltwater fishing is home to the state's tallest lighthouse at 107 feet. Located in the park's lower portion, the historic Grays Harbor Lighthouse, built in 1898, offers scenic views from the top. Visitors can also unwind at Blackbeard's Brewing Company, overlooking the lighthouse.

Tipping the peninsula, the Westport Viewing Tower offers an observation deck, while the nearby Observation Platform, a historic landmark, lets you wander even further into the waters past the limits. Home to the Westport Maritime Museum, Merino's Seafood Market, and a few places to dine, it's hard to miss the waterfront Bennett's Fish Shack, an iconic spot next to the museum, beckoning visitors with its glitz for the feast of your life. Home to popular inns and resorts, American Sunset RV & Tent Resort is a great place to stay on a budget at the heart of town, while the 172-acre Twin Harbors State Park just south is a camping park with yurts, cabins, and RV sites for immediate access to the trails and a beach for fishing.

The Takeaway

Oceanside looks like a hillside amphitheater, while San Simeon features the Hearst San Simeon State Park, one of the oldest in the California State Park System, and the Hearst Castle, the magnate's former home. Beckoning travelers with waves of romanticism, marine vibes, and ocean breezes, Port Townsend looks like an old novel along the meandering, languid streets, while Mendocino offers panoramic views of crashing waves against rocky outcrops.

Much of the beauty stems from the soul, like the artistic community of the glitzy Laguna Beach, which reveals treasures through artisan boutiques and contemporary works among the high-end fashions. So whether you're coming to tantalize your taste buds with seafood, chase lighthouses, or enjoy beloved events like Finders Keepers in Lincoln City, these Pacific Coast towns promise to be the highlight of 2024.

More in Places

Businesses lined along the bustling W Water Street in Decorah, Iowa. Editorial credit: Steve Heap / Shutterstock.com

The Best Small Towns in Iowa to Chill Out In 2024

Elvis Presley Statue in Tupelo, MS, with City Hall in the background. Image credit: Chad Robertson - stock.adobe.com.

9 Towns In Mississippi With The Best Downtown Areas In 2024

Sedona, Arizona, USA downtown cityscape and mountains.

The Most Picturesque Small Towns in Colorado Plateau

Whitefish, Montana: Main Street retains a small-town charm, popular with tourists year-round. Editorial credit: Beeldtype / Shutterstock.com

2024's 6 Most Beautiful Small Towns in Montana

Bar Harbor, Maine: Coastal town known for whale watching and boating. Editorial credit: Darryl Brooks / Shutterstock.com

9 Ideal New England Destinations for a 3-Day Weekend in 2024

Cyclists at Rocheport station on the Katy Trail, Missouri. Image credit marekuliasz via Shutterstock

8 Underappreciated Towns to Visit in Missouri

View of downtown Water Street in Port Townsend Historic District.

8 Budget-Friendly Towns in Washington for Retirees

Bar Harbor, on the coast of Maine, has a population of only 5,000 but cruise ships bring in 250,000 tourists. Editorial credit: Darryl Brooks / Shutterstock.com

9 of the Most Walkable Towns in the Northern United States

See them while you can: Climate change is reshaping iconic US destinations

The process will be gradual, but the result is clear : some of america's most famous destinations will be reshaped by a warming world..

As millions of Americans flock to the nation's coasts, islands and national monuments this summer, experts have a sobering message: Climate change is rapidly reshaping some of the United States' most iconic destinations.

Devastated tropical islands. Ruined coastal homes. A flooded capitol. The changes are unfolding in plain sight and at a rapid and terrifying pace, experts told USA TODAY – with no sign of stopping.

Some of the most obvious and dramatic changes can be seen at the bustling coast, where rising seas mean summer vacation spots face a supercharged risk. There, the natural rhythm of water meeting land increasingly results in flooding and erosion that eats away at roads, homes and businesses.

Here is a look at some of the nation's most famous destinations, which are being altered by a warming world:

California's Big Sur Coast Highway is falling into the ocean

One of California's most scenic and best-known attractions is the Big Sur Coast Highway, which clings to the side of cliffs and offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.

But it's increasingly inaccessible because of climate change-induced landslides, cliff collapses and rockfalls.

“We have much more intense, prolonged winter storms that bring heavy rain and wind. As a consequence, the rate of failure due to landslides has increased significantly,” said Peter Swarzenski, interim acting chair with the U.S. Geological Survey's Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center.

The road has been in an ongoing fight against gravity since it was first constructed in the 1930s. But now, a new level of damage is coming from increasingly furious winter storms and climate change-exacerbated wildfires that lead to soil erosion.

The end result: hundreds of millions of dollars in damage that require closures so frequent the California Department of Transportation maintains a website listing them.

Highway 1: California's Pacific Coast Highway is falling into the ocean. Is this the end of the road?

A massive storm on March 30 caused a section of the roadway a dozen miles south of Carmel to fall into the ocean. Locals only had limited access in and out and it took six weeks to reopen.

On June 23 , a section of the highway at Paul's Slide only opened after being closed for a year-and-a-half because of a major slide that poured as much as 500,000 cubic yards of material across the roadway.

Such closures "used to happen once every few years. Now it’s almost every year," said Swarzenski.

Sea level rise threatens Outer Banks coastal escapes

More than 5 million visitors a year flock to the sandy beaches of the barrier islands off North Carolina, visiting lighthouses and soaking up the sun. But it’s hard to miss the clear evidence that the warming climate is changing this fringe of islands.

While flooding of the low lying oceanfront highway has always been an issue during storms, today it occurs more often. 

The impacts of higher sea levels and high tide flooding aren’t just visible along the beach. They’re evident on the inland side of the islands, along the Albermarle Sound in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, where scrubby freshwater bogs are being overtaken by salt marsh. Ghost forests are scattered across the landscape as salt water intrusion kills trees. Some local landmarks that once stood on solid ground are now sitting in the water. 

High tide flooding – frequently referred to as sunny day flooding – already occurs twice as often along the Outer Banks as it did in 2000, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and that’s only expected to increase. 

The agency expects high tide flooding to triple by 2030, and to be 10 times higher by 2050. 

This year has seen major projects taking place along the beach, to fight the rising tides and maintain the oceanfront highway. The roadway sees so much activity from dune over wash and flooding the North Carolina Department of Transportation maintains a Facebook page just to share NC 12 updates with the public. 

A new bridge opened in 2022 to take motorists around some of the most flood-prone spots.

Communities along the Outer Banks are grappling with hard questions about adding sand to replace vanishing dunes and when to retreat from development in some oceanfront areas. 

Washington, DC's historic sights are sinking

Some of the most iconic tourist sights in Washington, D.C., are sinking.

The man-made Tidal Basin, flanked by treasured monuments including the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and the cherry trees that are a symbol of international friendship, are under siege. Experts say rising water levels, urbanization and subsidence – the sinking of the land – are contributing to the problem.

Over the past century, sea levels in the area have risen over 13 inches , with signs of acceleration. Today, the Tidal Basin's walkways flood at certain times of day. At the Jefferson Memorial, the tops of hand railings along walkways are under water. That’s not how it was 15 or 20 years ago, said Seri Worden, senior director of preservation programs at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

“There are certain areas of the Tidal Basin when you're walking, say, from the Jefferson Memorial towards the MLK Memorial, where you cannot walk along the edge of the Tidal Basin at all because it's so flooded and so muddy and slippery, it's closed off,” she said. “And that's really a shame for one of our most important monuments in the country.”

The rising water levels from climate change are also killing off cherry trees that line the basin. When walkways are flooded, people end up trampling the trees’ roots. Plus, rising temperatures year after year are causing the peak bloom season to occur earlier and earlier . 

In 70 years, the entirety of the Tidal Basin walkways could be under water if nothing is done, Worden said.

The National Park Service has begun construction on a $113 million project to restore the seawall and widen walkways, according to Superintendent of National Mall and Memorial Parks Jeff Reinbold. That should curb the twice-daily flooding, he said.

“We’re confident in the ability of the seawalls to address the majority of the impacts we’re going to see well into the future,” Reinbold said. 

Still, other experts think the Tidal Basin will need a longer-term plan that might include changing the way visitors experience the monuments there. “Otherwise, we might lose them altogether,” Worden said.

Rising seas, flooding and heat in Key West

When it comes to sea-level rise, Key West, Florida, is "one of the most vulnerable places in the nation to rising sea levels," according to the Partners for Livable Communities .

Like many parts of South Florida, Key West is quite flat, with many sections, including the downtown hub of tourist activity, reaching no more than 3 feet above sea level.

Grimly, Key West could experience up to 7 feet of sea level rise by 2100, NASA reports . Such a dramatic rise would put much of the Keys underwater.

But it's not just the slow march of sea-level rise that worries locals: It's also the extremely hot summer days and ferocious hurricanes, Sheetal Almas, the adaptation and energy coordinator for the city of Key West, told USA TODAY. While Key West has always had to deal with heat and hurricanes, climate change is supercharging these threats.

The city is well aware of its vulnerability and is developing a Climate Adaptation Plan to assess the multiple threats, Almas said. "We're seeing what the city can do to be more resilient," she said.

Potential visitors to Key West should pack flexibility into their vacation schedules, Almas said, especially if they're visiting during the heart of hurricane season, from mid-August to mid-October. She recommends purchasing travel insurance and "having a way to get off the island" should evacuation be necessary.

Hawaii faces wildfire threats ‒ and more

Hawaii may have a reputation as an idyllic island getaway, but tourism on the island faces several headwinds.

Last year, Fodor's Travel named  Maui  among 10 destinations on its  2023 “No List”  that tourists should reconsider visiting because of the threat of  environmental damage  caused by overtourism and climate change.

And then came the wildfires.

After fires devastated the town of Lahaina, many people were displaced from their homes and forced to live in hotels or leave the island, bringing to light their own concerns about tourists taking up housing accommodations on the island and displacing local families. More than 100 people died in the fires.

The islands of Maui, Oahu and The Big Island are susceptible to more devastation from wildfires and other climate threats this summer, said Abby Frazier, a climatologist who studies the spatiotemporal dynamics and impacts of climate change and climate variability.

Frazier joins other experts who have been warning that climate change will reshape the Aloha State. Researcher Chip Fletcher previously told USA TODAY that Hawaii will face more wildfires, hotter sea surface and air temperatures, more coastal erosion and more extreme rain.

The islands also face sea level rise, an increase in drought and storm frequency and a change in rainfall and stream flow pattern and variability, according to the report “ Climate Change and the Visitor Industry ” produced by The University of Hawaii Sea Grant Center for Sustainable Coastal Tourism and funded by the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

“Over the next couple of decades climate change is expected to have an increasingly negative impact on Hawaii’s tourism sector, the state’s primary economic engine,” the report said.

Contributing: Marc Ramirez , USA TODAY; Gareth McGrath, USA TODAY NETWORK

COMMENTS

  1. 18 Must-See Stops on California's Pacific Coast Highway

    Best Places to Stay. Just 10 miles down the coast, Mendocino is an especially charming coastal town and the only one on the California coast designated as a historical landmark. Established in the 1850s, you'll find grand Victorian buildings along with saltbox cottages. It's also famous for its art galleries, stunning scenery and as the ...

  2. The 32 Best Pacific Coast Highway Stops: California Towns, Landmarks

    Santa Cruz. Just south of the Bay Area, Santa Cruz is a laid back, quirky hippie town. From the beach boardwalk to the lush redwoods, Santa Cruz is one of the best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway. And it's hard to miss: you'll be driving right through, so when you see roller coasters, it's time to stop.

  3. The ultimate Pacific Coast Highway itinerary, from San Francisco to

    The popular tourist attraction, Venice Beach, is located within a few miles south of Santa Monica in LA County. Photograph by Yasara Gunawardena Day 6: Santa Monica

  4. Itinerary: 20 Best Things to Do on Pacific Coast Highway

    5. Monterey. After driving along, the coast for just under an hour, you arrive in Monterey. This beautiful seaside resort is one of the best things to do on the Pacific Coast Highway! Monterey is known for the Monterey Bay Aquarium, believed to be one of the best aquariums in the entire world.

  5. Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip {25 Stops

    Pacific Coast Highway road trip guide that was created to go along with the YouTube video found here. It includes 20 of my favorite stops, information on cost, a 7 day itinerary for cities to start and end at, and a link to a digital map that shows all of the places we stopped. You will get a PDF (7MB) file. $ 4.99.

  6. The Perfect Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Itinerary (25 Stops + 3

    A one-week Pacific Coast Highway road trip itinerary will allow you to see the highlights without feeling rushed. Here's an example PCH itinerary: Day 1: Seattle WA, to Forks, WA. Day 2: Forks, WA to Cape Kiwanda, OR. Day 3: Cape Kiwanda, OR to Redwood State Park, CA. Day 4: Redwood State Park, CA to San Francisco, CA.

  7. Guide to the ultimate Pacific Coast Highway road trip

    Guide to the ultimate Pacific Coast Highway road trip. Follow the ribbon of highway up the coast of California and see tons of great offbeat and traditional destinations. Monday November 6 2023 ...

  8. The Complete Pacific Coast Highway Guide:

    The Pacific Coast Highway is arguably one of the most famous drives in the entire world. Stretching from Washington to California, the Pacific Coast is picturesque, with cliffs, sea stacks, gorgeous urban spaces, and the raging ocean. Making a Pacific Coast Highway road trip is a popular bucket list experience - for good reason...

  9. The Ultimate Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

    Known as one of the most scenic drives in the country, the PCH—also called Highway 1—runs next to the ocean's crashing waves, from Leggett in Mendocino County all the way down to Dana Point in Orange County.With so many miles to cover, considering all the potential Pacific Coast Highway stops can seem daunting—but we found the best road trip sights along the way, so relax and make the ...

  10. THE 30 BEST Places to Visit in Pacific Coast (UPDATED 2024)

    2024. 3. Marietas Islands. 3,481. Islands. Formed as a result of volcanic activity, this group of uninhabited islands is a great place to spot marine wildlife like dolphins, manta rays, turtles, and even humpback whales during winter. It is….

  11. Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Itinerary

    The Perfect Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip. Where to stay, eat, and sightsee on the drive between San Francisco and Los Angeles. California's Pacific Coast Highway is one of America's most ...

  12. 20 'Secret' Spots Along California's Pacific Coast Highway

    A local's twist on the classic coastal road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles. California's iconic Highway 1 has many natural and historic attractions along the Central Coast, famous for its ...

  13. Pacific Coast Highway map and guide

    The Pacific Coast Highway, or the PCH, is one of the most famous road trip routes in the U.S., right up there with Route 66 and Skyline Drive in terms of popularity.. While many people still consider the Pacific Coast Highway to be the California section only, Highway 1 and U.S. Route 101 combine to provide an epic road trip along nearly the entirety of the West Coast of the U.S. that offers ...

  14. The top things to do on a Pacific Coast Highway road trip

    The Pacific Coast Highway, formally known as California State Route 1, is the ultimate road trip route. It's designated an All-American Road for its scenic views, and it packs one amazing path that takes you past awe-inspiring attractions and places. Here's a guide to the must-see spots while roadtripping the PCH.

  15. Pacific Coast Highway Attractions

    This is where the Pacific Coast Highway leaves Los Angeles behind and heads up the coast, but first join the crowds and enjoy the 1922 carousel, the amusement park, the aquarium and the restaurants. It's been featured in films including The Sting, Forrest Gump, The Hannah Montana Movie, and many more.

  16. 15 Best Stops On Your Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

    14. Los Angeles. You're bound to stop by the City of Angels on your Pacific Coast Highway road trip. Visit the Hollywood Walk of Fame, drop by the Griffith Observatory, relax at Zuma Beach—there's just so much to see and do. Los Angeles is the definition of fun, and you'll never get bored in this bustling metropolis.

  17. Things to Do on the Pacific Coast Highway, California

    Things to Do on the Pacific Coast Highway, California. 1 of 9. Soaring 260 feet above Bixby Creek, this iconic bridge overlooks Big Sur 's precipitous cliffs and canyons. While Bixby Bridge is ...

  18. The Ultimate Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Planner

    This is the ultimate CA road trip planner. Visit two of California's biggest cities and visit the natural attractions on the coast including beautiful Big Sur, McWay Falls, and 17 Mile Drive. This Pacific Highway 1 road trip is our favorite road trip along the West Coast! Read this itinerary now.

  19. THE 10 BEST Things to Do Near Pacific Coast Highway

    The Preserve Golf Club. Be the first to review this attraction. 19 Pronghorn Run, Carmel, CA 93923-7711. 8.2 miles from Pacific Coast Highway. 1-19 of 19. 1. Things to do near Pacific Coast Highway on Tripadvisor: See 3,844,787 reviews and 11,988 candid photos of things to do near Pacific Coast Highway in California, United States.

  20. 11 Most Scenic Road Trips to take on the Pacific Coast

    Bixby Creek Bridge on Highway #1. Journey along Highway 1, approximately 600 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Start the trip in the vibrant city of San Francisco, home to iconic landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island. Drive south along the coastline, marveling at the stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.

  21. 10 places you need to see when driving the Pacific Coast Highway

    California's Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most famous, scenic drives in the world. Stretching along a large chunk of the Golden State and hugging the shoreline the bulk of the way, from Malibu southward, makes this road trip one of the most flexible. Nearly anywhere you start, stunning views are guaranteed.

  22. San Luis Obispo: The town that is pure California perfection

    With gorgeous scenery, drive-in movies and what's billed as the world's first motel, San Luis Obispo is a throwback West Coast paradise serving up cool new attractions.

  23. 14 Best Small Towns to Visit on the Pacific Coast

    Cannon Beach, Oregon. Cannon Beach, and Haystack Rock. Cannon Beach, home to the iconic Haystack Rock, is an artist's haven set against the stunning backdrop of the Pacific Ocean. The 1.5-mile public art walking tour would take you around art installations like The Wave, Welcome Pole, Whale Ribs, and Tufted Puffins.

  24. THE 10 BEST Things to Do in Pacific Coast (2024)

    2024. 7. Faro Mazatlán. 693. Lighthouses. Challenging hill climb leading to panoramic views from a glass floor lookout and bridge, set against a backdrop of ocean and town vistas, with resting spots available. See ways to experience (6) 8.

  25. 15 Best Pacific Islands to Visit

    One of the most stunning remote islands, Palau is a tiny area of land in the Pacific, but it's packed with impressive nature.It's an archipelago of volcanic and limestone islands that are covered in forest and surrounded by turquoise waters. Diving is the main reason people visit here, and the top attractions are Blue Corner, the Badrulchau Stone Monoliths, the Ngardmau Waterfall, and ...

  26. 7 Most Beautiful Small Towns on the Pacific Coast to Visit in 2024

    The Pacific Coast, spanning from British Columbia to California, features charming seaside towns and scenic ... Laguna Beach prides itself on being a welcoming art colony with a sandy fringe of beaches and lush natural attractions. From Victoria Beach to 1000 Steps Beach and Table Rock Beach, and Thalia Street Beach offering amazing mansion ...

  27. These iconic US destinations are threatened by climate change

    One of California's most scenic and best-known attractions is the Big Sur Coast Highway, which clings to the side of cliffs and offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. ... tourist sights ...