The Ultimate Guide To Pacific Coast Highway
Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most popular scenic drives in the world!
No trip to California is complete without driving through the Pacific Coast Highway!
Pacific Coast Highway is my second favorite scenic coastal drive in the US, the first being Road to Hana in Hawaii. On the drive along the Pacific Coast Highway in California, you’ll come across some gorgeous beach towns, state parks, beaches, pristine forests, lighthouses, and of course, breathtaking views of the Pacific Coast.
Pacific Coast Highway, also known as PCH, California 1, Route 1, Highway 101, Highway 1, Golden Coast, and California Coast road trip, all refer to the road that runs parallel to California’s Pacific coastline.
Technically speaking, Pacific Coast Highway is officially designated as a southern part of State Route 1, also known as Highway 1, starting at Dana Point and ending in Ventura County. But very often, people tend to call the entire highway the PCH, Pacific Coast Highway.
To keep it simple, let’s consider Pacific Coast Highway starts in San Francisco, in Northern California, and extends all the way to San Diego, in Southern California.
The entire stretch of PCH, from San Francisco to San Diego, is around 570 miles and takes about 10-12 hours if you drive non-stop. However, I highly recommend spending a minimum of 4-5 days on your PCH trip, stopping, exploring, staying overnight, refueling yourself, and then moving onto the next stop along the PCH.
Here is my ultimate guide to Pacific Coast Highway, featuring major attractions and popular stops on PCH, along with a suggested itinerary and recommendations on Pacific Coast Highway hotels and restaurants.
Planning Your Pacific Coast Highway Trip
You can fly into one of the major airports in California, including SFO, LAX, or SAN, rent a car, and then hit the PCH!
I recommend breaking the Pacific Coast Highway drive into two parts (1) San Francisco to Los Angeles and (2) Los Angeles to San Diego. You can also reverse the order based on the city you’re flying into in California.
Breaking the Pacific Coast Highway drive into two parts saves you from the fatigue of continuously driving through the winding roads of PCH and lets you spend a reasonable amount of time in the most popular cities in California – San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego.
I have organized my PCH guide into two sections: San Francisco to Los Angeles and Los Angeles to San Diego.
If you’re planning to start your Pacific Coast Highway trip from San Francisco, you could fly into one of many airports near San Francisco, including SFO, OAK, and SJC, spend time exploring San Francisco and then embark on your PCH road trip.
The drive from San Francisco to Los Angles via Pacific Coast Highway is around 480 miles and may take anywhere from 12 hours to a couple of days, depending on the places you stop on the PCH.
On your drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles via Pacific Coast Highway, you can stop at several vista points, beach towns, and attractions, including Santa Cruz, Monterey, Big Sur, Elephant Seal Vista Point, Hearst Castle, Solvang, and Santa Barbara.
I have covered all stops and vista points in detail in the section below – Pacific Coast Highway Stops between San Francisco to Los Angeles.
There’re a lot of people who fly into Los Angeles and then drive to San Diego or San Francisco via the Pacific Coast Highway. You could directly fly into Los Angeles International Airport (Lax) or to one of many other airports near Los Angeles, including BUR, LGB, and SNA.
The drive to San Diego from Los Angeles via PCH is about 150 miles but can take anywhere from 6 hours to a couple of days, depending on how much time you spend at each stop.
On your drive from Los Angeles to San Diego via Pacific Coast Highway, you can stop and explore several gorgeous beach towns in California, including Long Beach, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Dana Point Harbor, Encinitas, Carlsbad, and La Jolla.
I have covered all stops and vista points in detail in the section below – Pacific Coast Highway Stops between Los Angeles and San Diego.
No matter where you start your PCH trip, below you will find all the popular stops & attractions along the Pacific Coast Highway!
Pacific Coast Highway Stops Between San Francisco and Los Angeles
PCH Attractions Map San Francisco to Los Angeles
Gorgeous coastal views, waterfalls, beach towns, a mystery house, Elephant seals, a castle, and a Dutch village awaits you on this side of the Pacific Coast Highway.
I recommend allowing 2-3 days on this leg of the Pacific Coast Highway trip, starting at San Francisco, exploring places on the way, and staying overnight at San Simeon and Solvang.
Popular attractions on Pacific Coast Highway between San Francisco and Los Angeles:
- San Francisco
- San Jose
- Santa Cruz
- Big Sur
- Elephant Seal Vista Point
- Hearst Castle
- Santa Barbara
- Los Angeles
The vista points are listed in sequential order starting at San Francisco, and I have marked and saved these points on Google Maps, which you can use on your phone’s app or a web browser – San Francisco – Los Angeles PCH Google Map.
San Francisco, also popularly known as the Bay City!
San Francisco is a cosmopolitan city in Northern California, located on a peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay.
Besides the natural beauty, the picturesque beaches, and closeness to the Silicon Valley, San Francisco is also known for attractions like Golden Gate Bridge, Cable Cars, Alcatraz Island, China Town, and Pier 39.
On your Pacific Coast Highway trip, you must allocate a fair amount of time to explore San Francisco. You can find more details about San Francisco, including major attractions, a suggested itinerary, and recommendations on San Francisco hotels and restaurants, in my San Francisco Travel Guide.
Read More: The Ultimate Guide To San Francisco
San Jose, The Silicon Valley!
Besides being home to the headquarters of the tech giants like Apple, Google, and IBM, San Jose is a lively city with several attractions, including museums, amusement parks, and a great shopping district.
Here are the best things to do in San Jose on your PCH trip
Winchester Mystery House: With a fascinating history, this mansion in San Jose is known for its unconventional structures, including stairways and doors leading to dead ends, full of twists and turns, and is known to be one of the most haunted houses in the world. Winchester Mystery House Address: 525 S Winchester Blvd, San Jose, CA 95128.
Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum: Dedicated to ancient Egypt, this museum has the largest collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts in the US. Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum Address: 1660 Park Avenue, San Jose, CA 95126.
The Tech Interactive: The Tech Interactive is a science and technology museum with several hands-on and interactive displays. The Tech Interactive Address: 201 S Market St, San Jose, CA 95113.
Santana Row: Santana Row in San Jose is a popular shopping district bustling with several retail stores and restaurants. Santana Row Address: 377 Santana Row, San Jose, CA 95128.
California’s Great America: It is one of the most popular attractions in San Jose, especially among families with kids. California’s Great America is an amusement park with several rollercoasters, family-friendly rides, and restaurants. California’s Great America Address: 4701 Great America Pkwy, Santa Clara, CA 95054.
Half Moon Bay: Located forty-miles from San Jose is the beautiful coastal city of Half Moon Bay. Half Moon Bay is known for its stunning coastal views, several hiking trails, and beaches. Half Moon Bay Address: 235 Main St., Half Moon Bay, CA, 94019.
Santa Cruz, a gorgeous coastal city, popularly known for the bridge-shaped rock formation in its Natural Bridges State Beach!
While it’s obvious you must visit the Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz to see the iconic sea arch rising from the bed of the Pacific Coast, there are several other very indulging things to see and do in Sant Cruz.
Popular attractions and Things to do in Santa Cruz on your PCH trip
Natural Bridges State Beach: The stunning views of the sea arch rising from the Pacific Ocean, the Monarch Groove a Natural Preserve, and tide pools make Natural Bridges State Beach my favorite place and a must-see in Santa Cruz. You can see several monarch butterflies, birds, seals, otters, and other animals from the shores of the Natural Bridges State Beach in fall and winter. Natural Bridges State Beach Address: 2531 W Cliff Dr, Santa Cruz, CA 95060.
Roaring Camp Railroad: This is an epic train ride through the scenic places in Sant Cruz. Departing from Santa Cruz Mountains in Felton, the Roaring Camp Railroad offers two routes: (1) Redwood Forest Steam Train, a 1 hour 15 minutes ride through the redwood forest. (2) Santa Cruz Beach Train – 3 hours ride to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk passing through the Redwoods State Park, a truss bridge, and an old tunnel. Roaring Camp Railroad Address: 5401 Graham Hill Road, Felton, CA 95018
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk: Overlooking the Monterey Bay, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a sprawling seaside amusement park with several rides, shops, restaurants, and many other attractions. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Address: 400 Beach St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060.
Santa Cruz Beaches: Santa Cruz is home to two stunning beaches with golden shores, the Main Beach and the Cowell Beach, located adjacent to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
Mystery Spot: This is a fascinating spot in Santa Cruz, and you have to visit it to believe what I am about to say! The laws of physics and gravity don’t seem to apply to this place. Houses, objects, and people appear tilted even though they’re all standing straight. Mystery Spot Address: 465 Mystery Spot Rd, Santa Cruz, CA 95065.
Monterey, home to the legendary 17-mile drive!
Monterey, a small but beautiful coastal city in California, is known for its cannery history and breathtaking coastal views.
Here are the must-see places in Monterey on your PCH trip
17-Mile Drive: The enchanting scenic drive in Pebble Beach, starting at Pacific Grove Gate, passing through stunning beaches, sea cliffs, and serene forests, is a must-see do in Monterey. There are 17 stops on the 17-mile drive, each offering some stunning views, including Spanish Bay Beach, The Restless Sea, The Lone Cypress, Ghost Trees at Pescadero Point, and more. 17-Mile Drive Address: 1700 17-Mile Drive, Pebble Beach, CA 93953.
Monterey Bay Aquarium: The Monterey Bay Aquarium, a very popular attraction among families with kids, is home to several engaging exhibits and shows. Monterey Bay Aquarium Address: 886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940.
Cannery Row: Cannery Row, once the main fish packing area in Monterey, is now a bustling waterfront street running parallel to the coastline of Monterey Bay, lined with several shops and restaurants. Cannery Row Address: 700 Cannery Row, Monterey, California 93940.
Old Fisherman’s Wharf: This is a historic wharf in Monterey, once a wholesale fish market, is now a touristy attraction, located close to Cannery Row, is home to several restaurants and shops. Old Fisherman’s Wharf Address: 1 Old, Fishermans Wharf, Monterey, CA 93940.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve: This is one of the hidden gems in California, located 15 miles from Monterey, is home to sublime nature, including tidal pools, stunning rock formations, and sea coves providing shelter to sea lions and sea otters. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve Address: GPS Coordinates – Lat: 36.5192, Long: -121.9497.
Big Sur is the most scenic stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway!
Big Sur, on the Pacific Coast Highway, is the stretch between Carmel and San Simeon. The 90 miles long stretch of Big Sur offers some awe-inspiring coastal views and has several vista points along the way. Big Sur is my favorite and the most scenic part of the entire Pacific Coast Highway drive!
Here’re the must-see places in Big Sur on your PCH drive
- Garrapata State Park
- Bixby Creek Bridge
- Point Sur State Historic Park
- Pfeiffer Beach
- Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
- McWay Falls
- Limekiln State Park
The vista points are listed in sequential order starting from Carmel, and I have marked and saved these points on Google Maps, which you can use on your phone’s app or a web browser – Big Sur Google Map.
San Simeon, located on the Pacific Coast Highway, is home to the Elephant Seal Vista Point & Hearst Castle!
San Simeon is a quaint town on the PCH and is home to two popular attractions of California – Hearst Castle and Elephant Seal Vista Point.
Hearst Castle: Hearst Castle is a sumptuous and awe-inspiring hilltop estate overlooking the Pacific Ocean located in San Simeon, California. Castles are rare sights in the US, and given the lavish design and beautiful architecture, Hearst Castle is a must-see on your Pacific Coast Highway trip!
Elephant Seal Vista Point: Located about 5 miles north of Hearst Castle is the Elephant Seal vista point, here you would find thousands of elephant seals resting at the shore. There is a parking lot and a viewing platform overlooking the beach, from where you can see the elephant seals.
San Simeon is an excellent choice to take a break and stay overnight on your Pacific Coast Highway road trip.
You will find more details about Hearst Castle, Elephant Seal Vista Point, and San Simeon hotels & restaurants in my Hearst Castle Guide.
Read More: The Ultimate Guide To Hearst Castle
Experience Denmark in California!
Solvang is a quaint little town located in Santa Barbara County, California. Solvang’s main attraction is the town’s European architecture and heritage, as it gives you the taste of Denmark in everything you see and eat.
Solvang has something to impress everyone; whether you love nature, architecture, wine, food, pastries, shopping, you will find it in Solvang! Whether it’s a day trip or you plan to spend a couple of days in Solvang, there are plenty of things to keep you entertained during your visit!
Read More: The Ultimate Guide To Solvang
Santa Barbara, a lively coastal city with a gorgeous waterfront and bustling downtown!
Santa Barbara is another beautiful coastal town in California, with golden sandy beaches, a gorgeous waterfront, a lively pier, boutique shops, and restaurants.
Here are the must-see places in Sant Barbara on your PCH drive
Stearns Wharf: Located in downtown Santa Barbara, Stearns Wharf is a deep-water pier lined with several shops and restaurants, also home to the Sea Center and the starting point of several day cruises. Stearns Wharf Adress: 217 Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara, CA 93101.
Mission Santa Barbara: The iconic landmark of Santa Barbara, the Mission Santa Barbara, is an old Spanish Mission known for its beautiful Spanish Colonial architecture and the many gardens. Mission Santa Barbara Address: 2201 Laguna St, Santa Barbara, CA 93105.
Santa Barbara Beaches: Santa Barbara is home to some stunning beaches, including East Beach and West Beach, located on either side of the Stearns Wharf, Leadbetter Beach, and Butterfly Beach, among other popular beaches in Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara Downtown: Santa Barbara has a lively pedestrian-friendly downtown, with several boutique shops, restaurants, and Paseo Nuevo, an elegant Spanish-style outdoor shopping mall. Santa Barbara Downtown Address: 651 Paseo Nuevo, Santa Barbara, CA 93101.
Santa Barbara Zoo: The Santa Barbara Zoo, located atop a hill overlooking the Pacific Coast, is a very popular spot for families with kids. The zoo is small but has an impressive collection of animals and lush gardens. Santa Barbara Zoo Address: 500 Ninos Dr, Santa Barbara, CA 93103.
Los Angeles, The City of Angels!
Surrounded by mountains, desert, and the beautiful Pacific Coast, Los Angeles is blessed with natural beauty and endowed with excellent weather.
Los Angeles is home to several renowned film studios, theme parks, skyscrapers, several museums, and other tourist attractions. It’s a good idea to take a break in Los Angeles, explore the city, and then embark on the second half of the Pacific Coast Highway road trip.
You will find details about Los Angeles attractions, hotels, and restaurants in my Los Angles Travel Guide.
Read More: The Ultimate Guide To Los Angeles
Pacific Coast Highway Stops Between Los Angeles and San Diego
PCH Attractions Map Los Angeles to San Diego
On this stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway, starting at Los Angeles and going all the way to San Diego, you will come across some beautiful sandy beaches, sea caves, and gorgeous beach towns in California.
I recommend spending a couple of days on this leg of the Pacific Coast Highway trip, starting at Los Angeles, exploring places on the way, and staying overnight at Long Beach and Carlsbad.
Popular attractions on Pacific Coast Highway between Los Angeles and San Diego:
- Los Angeles
- Long Beach
- Huntington Beach
- Newport Beach
- Laguna Beach
- Dana Point Harbor
- La Jolla
- San Diego
The vista points are listed in sequential order starting at Los Angeles, and I have marked and saved these points on Google Maps, which you can use on your phone’s app or a web browser – Los Angeles – San Diego PCH Google Map.
Long Beach is a lovely beach town and home to the Aquarium of the Pacific and The Queen Mary!
Once you’re done exploring the attraction in Los Angeles, your next stop on the Pacific Coast Highway trip is the city of Long Beach.
Long Beach is a vibrant beach town located 25 miles from Los Angeles and is home to some stunning beaches, including Long Beach City Beach, Junipero Beach, Mothers Beach, and Bayshore Beach.
However, there is a lot more to see in Long Beach beside the beaches, and you may very well need a couple of days to explore all of Long Beach.
The other popular attractions in Long Beach include the Aquarium of the Pacific, The Queen Mary, and the charming Naples neighborhood. Long Beach also servers as a gateway to the Catalina Islands, with ferries departing from the Long Beach Catalina Island Ferry Terminal.
Huntington Beach, also popularly known as the Surf City USA!
Huntington Beach, located in Orange County, California, is known for its iconic pier, a lively downtown, and surf beaches.
Must-see places in Huntington Beach on your PCH road trip
Huntington Beach Pier: The iconic Huntington Beach Pier is a long pier offering sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, with souvenir shops, fishing rentals, and a couple of restaurants. Huntington Beach Pier Address: CA-1 & Main St, Huntington Beach, CA 92648.
Downtown Huntington Beach: The lively Main Street, lined up with palm trees, stores, restaurants, surf stores, and souvenir shops, is a must-see in Huntington Beach. Downtown Huntington Beach is also home to the International Surfing Museum and Pacific City, a shopping mall in a beautiful setting overlooking the Pacific Coast. Huntington Beach Downtown Address: 21010 Pacific Coast Hwy, Huntington Beach, CA 92648.
Newport Beach is home to beautiful beaches, coves, and a shopping destination on the Pacific Coast Highway!
Newport Beach, known for its laid-back beach culture, is home to two piers, museums, gorgeous coves, and a shopping district.
Best places to see in Newport Beach on your PCH road trip
Newport Pier: Located on the Balboa Peninsula, the Newport Pier offers excellent views and a great place to watch the sunset over the Pacific. Newport Pier Address: 70 Newport Pier, Newport Beach, CA 92663.
Crystal Cove State Park: The Crystal Cove State Park in Newport Beach is home to wooded canyons, cliffs, hiking trails, and tide pools and is breathtakingly beautiful and a must-see in Newport Beach. Crystal Cove State Park Address: 8471 N Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA 92651.
Fashion Island: Overlooking the ocean, Fashion Island is a premier shopping district in Newport beach with several luxury brands, boutique shops, restaurants, and a movie theater. Fashion Island Address: 401 Newport Center Dr, Newport Beach, CA 92660.
Balboa Fun Zone: Located in the Balboa Peninsula, in Newport Beach, the Balboa Peninsula is a popular family destination with several appealing attractions, including the iconic waterfront Ferris wheel, many gaming arcades, a boardwalk, and several shops and restaurants. Balboa Fun Zone Address: 600 E Bay Ave, Newport Beach, CA 92661.
Laguna Beach, a small but charming coastal town, is known for its many art galleries!
Home to two beautiful coastal parks and a happening downtown with retails stores, restaurants, and art galleries, Laguna Beach is one of my favorite stops on the Pacific Coast Highway.
Here are the must-see places in Laguna Beach on Pacific Coast Highway
Heisler Park: Heisler Park is a beautiful oceanfront park with stunning coastal views, paved pedestrian paths, benches, and gardens. Heisler Park Address: 375 Cliff Dr, Laguna Beach, CA 92651.
Main Beach Park: Main Beach Park is another oceanfront park in Laguna Beach, with a boardwalk, basketball and volleyball courts, and several restaurants and shops. Main Beach Park Address: Broadway St & Pacific Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA 92651.
Laguna Beach Downtown: Starting at Main Beach Park and stretching all the way to Legion Street, Laguna Beach Downtown is home to several restaurants, shops, and art galleries.
Dana Point, Carlsbad, and Encinitas are the next three beach cities on the Pacific Coast highway!
Dana Point Harbor
Dana Point city, home to the Dana Point Harbor, lined with several restaurants, shops, and the starting point of several whale-watching cruises, is a great spot on the Pacific Coast Highway. Dana Point Harbor: 34571 Golden Lantern, Dana Point, CA 92629.
The city of Carlsbad has an alluring charm of a European village on the Pacific Coast Highway and home to several attractions, including white sandy beaches, Legoland California, Sea Life Aquarium, resorts, and several shops and restaurants. Carlsbad State Beach Address: 7201 Carlsbad Blvd, Carlsbad, CA 92008.
Encinitas is a beach city and worth a stop on the Pacific Coast Highway. Encinitas is home to the Moonlight State Beach, San Diego Botanic Garden, and beautiful Meditation Gardens overlooking the Pacific Coast. Moonlight State Beach Address: 400 B St, Encinitas, CA 92024.
La Jolla, a small seaside neighborhood, is known for its La Jolla Cove!
The second last stop on your Pacific Coast Highway road trip, La Jolla, is a small neighborhood known for its sea caves, gorgeous views, crystal clear water, and marine life.
La Jolla Cove is a small gorgeous beach snuggled between sandstone cliffs in La Jolla and is one of the most visited and photographed beaches in California.
You can see the sea caves located along the bluff by taking a guided kayak tour or visit the Cave Store, which has a human-made tunnel that goes inside the Sunny Jim Cave. La Jolla Cove Address: 1100 Coast Blvd. (at Girard Ave), La Jolla, CA 92037.
San Diego is the oldest and one of the most vibrant towns in California!
San Diego, the final stop on the Pacific Coast Highway, is one of California’s finest cities. The perfect year-round weather makes San Diego a popular tourist destination in the US!
There’re several things to see and do in San Diego, including the world-famous San Diego Zoo, Sea World, museums, national monuments, beautiful beaches, and so much more!
You will find details about San Diego attractions, hotels, and restaurants in my San Diego Travel Guide.
Read More: The Ultimate Guide To San Diego
Other California Attractions & Related Posts
I hope you enjoyed reading the post, The Ultimate Guide To Pacific Coast Highway, and I hope this will help you plan your perfect Pacific Coast Highway road trip.
Happy feeding your soul!
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