Nothing says summer like a road trip with besties. If you are debating on a destination for your next adventure, these Pacific Coast Highway stops are sure to fuel your wanderlust.
Last updated on February 1, 2023.
Must-See Pacific Coast Highway Stops
Do I like sitting in a confined contraption where I slowly lose feeling in both my legs and my butt? Heck no. But do I enjoy scenic rides and jamming to road trip tunes? Uhm… 100% yes!!!
View of Bixby Creek Bridge from afar.
As much as it’s a love-hate-relationship, driving the Pacific Coast Highway is one of the absolute most awe-inspiring experiences I have ever had.
If you could only go on one road trip in the United States, I vote PCH all the way.
Things to Know for Your Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip
The first time I did the PCH drive was mid-February of 2017. It was more or less a quick two-day trip from LA to San Francisco. That said, I unfortunately did not get to fully explore the coast.
Oceanfront golf course in Half Moon Bay.
Now my guides are typically aimed at helping 9-to-5 travellers plan weekend trips. However, I strongly recommend doing this drive over a couple of days. That way, you can really enjoy the scenery.
After all, what makes a road trip special isn’t rushing from point A to B. It’s taking time to appreciate the journey itself!
Pacific Coast Highway versus California State Route 1
Most trip itineraries use the two names interchangeably.
According to Wikipedia, State Route 1 – or Highway 1 – stretches over 656 miles (1,055 kilometres) from Mendocino to Dana Point. It is the second longest state highway with several portions designated as “Pacific Coast Highway.” (I take this as they overlap and that PCH is only a small part of Highway 1.)
Strangely enough, I’ve read several other contradicting statements that
- PCH is the entire 656-mile route from north to south California
- PCH stretches into the state of Washington
- PCH is actually from San Diego to the Oregon border (according to San Diego Tourism Authority)
When I planned my trip for the first time, I sat in front of my laptop for hours tying to figure it out. The more I researched, the more perplexed I became, gah!
Technicalities aside, most people use PCH and Highway 1 synonymously, and will understand what you’re trying to say. You’ll also see both highlighted as Highway 1 on Google Maps.
The one thing you’ll never see PCH or Highway 1 be referred to is Highway 101. That is a completely different highway!
Big Sur coastline.
For the purpose of this guide, I will focus solely on the route between Marin County to Orange County.
North to South or South to North?
If you want the best views, start your Pacific Coast Highway trip from the north then drive down to the south.
Most travellers will agree. Some will argue that Northern California is much more picturesque and a better end to a trip. Having done both, I can honestly say that you will have a fantastic time regardless of which direction.
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Pacific Coast Highway Road Closure
In 2017, parts of PCH closed down due to a massive landslide. As a result, I took a lot of detours the first time round. Luckily, the highway is now fully open in both directions as I update this post in August, 2022. (I had no issues during my most recent revisit in March of 2022.)
If you’re somewhat Type A like me and prefer to have everything mapped out so there are no surprises, check QuickMap just in case. It’s a handy tool that highlights road closures. That way, you can plan alternative routes effectively.
Download offline Google maps! I cannot stress how important this is.
Wild mustard field near Half Moon Bay.
There will be very limited cell service along PCH so it’s important that you download offline Google maps in advance.
Tip: Not sure how? Google has great instructions.
Best Time to Visit California
Summer is when prices are at an all time high and parking lots fill up fast.
On the contrary, visiting during winter is much cheaper. Sadly, you can pretty much expect fog and storms that may result in potential landslides. (Californian spring is relatively mild, but winters get colder and rainier the further north you go on PCH.)
With that in mind, shoulder season is the most optimal time for embarking on a California Coast road trip. This means visiting between April to May and September to October. Not only is the weather more pleasant, the crowds are considerably less dense.
Elephant seals as seen from Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery.
I personally prefer visiting during spring. (Or anytime between February to May.) You will find colorful wildflowers along the way. Plus, you can catch a glimpse of the migrating elephant seals.
Best Places to Stop on Pacific Coast Highway
Having frequented California numerous times, I truly think Big Sur is the most stunning part of PCH. Of course, that’s not to say you should skip the rest.
Since we have established that driving the coast of California is more exciting from north to south, this is the order we will go in. Be sure to add these stops to your Pacific Coast Highway road trip itinerary!
Point Reyes National Seashore
Starting with Marin County, Point Reyes National Seashore is a gorgeous national park overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It is totally bucket list-worthy, and you can easily spend half a day here.
Its cypress tree tunnel is especially well-liked amongst photographers.
Morning light paired with coastal fog creates an extraordinary phenomenon when ethereal light rays beam through the trees. It’s a rare sight not to be missed. Nonetheless, visiting on a regular day is just as magical.
If you’re not big on photography, there are plenty of other attractions, such as
- Point Reyes Lighthouse
- Point Reyes Shipwrecks
- Tomales Point
- McClures Beach
Remember to leave no trace and practice responsible recreation!
Golden Gate Bridge, antique cable cars, fresh seafood, world-class museums, great shopping, oldest Chinatown in North America, bustling nightlife, incredible views… Have I convinced you to pay a visit yet?
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San Francisco is no doubt a top U.S. destination.
It’s one of the most ethnically diverse cities in America. For that reason, it has become a major foodie heaven. Whether you’re craving Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Burmese, or Polynesian, there’s something for everyone.
Greetings from San Francisco mural at Umbrella Alley San Francisco.
Bernal Heights Park left; Baker Beach right.
San Francisco’s classic seafood cioppino at Fog Harbor Fish House.
I suggest spending 2-3 days here. This gives you a good first-time experience of the city. Meanwhile, you still get time to explore the rest of PCH.
The Painted Ladies.
Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden left; The View Lounge right.
Tip: Theft is exceptionally high in San Francisco. Do not leave valuables in your car!
Half Moon Bay
This coastal city may be small, but it’s enough to keep you busy for one afternoon.
Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park.
Half Moon Bay gets its name from its crescent shape. It’s popular amongst surfers and you can go oceanside golfing too.
Some noteworthy attractions include:
- Half Moon Bay State Beach
- Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park
- The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay
- You don’t necessarily have to spend a night here. The area itself is lovely. Other than that, the hotel is also known for its (seafood) buffet.
- Mustard fields
- These typically bloom around mid-February.
- There isn’t a specific address. Simply look up “Wild Mustard Field” on Google Maps.
- The season ends around early March or whenever the farmers feel like it.
Other Coastal City Alternatives: Santa Cruz. Apart from Natural Bridges State Beach, nothing else really catches my attention here. It’s not a high travel priority for me, but you may like it!
Monterey is famed for its marine wildlife and delicious seafood. More importantly, it is home to the acclaimed 17-Mile Drive.
This scenic road runs through Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove on the Monterey Peninsula. Admission was $10.25 USD per vehicle when I visited in 2017. It has since risen to $11.25 USD. Make sure to double check the most up-to-date information.
The Lone Cypress and Bird Rock are two top things to do on Pacific Coast Highway.
The former is a cypress tree that has withstood both weather and time for more than 250 years. It’s a Western icon and one of the most photographed trees in North America.
The latter is a prime birdwatching spot where you can find shorebirds, harbor seals, and sea lions.
Besides the famous 17-Mile Drive, Monterey is most recognized for its aquarium. I’m not crazy about visiting zoos or aquariums, but if this is your jam, Monterey Bay Aquarium is for you.
Casually known as Carmel, this is one of my favorite Pacific Coast Highway stops.
Downtown Carmel is filled with cute little shops and art galleries inside enchanting fairytale cottages. It’s as if you have been teleported into a storybook, and you can easily lose track of time exploring the town’s hidden passageways.
Fun Fact: Clint Eastwood was once elected mayor of Carmel!
If you’re fond of flowers, you’ll also enjoy the Calla Lily Valley.
When I visited for the first time in mid-February, the lilies were only just beginning to bloom. During my second visit in mid-March, they were wilting already. I obviously didn’t time any of my trips to match the bloom schedule, but aim to go around the first week of March. This is usually when they are in peak bloom.
Tip: Pull over and park your vehicle at the Garrapata Trail trailhead. Descend down into the valley and head towards the creek. You will soon be greeted with hundreds white calla lilies. Be careful of poison ivy!
Big Sur is a rugged stretch of the California coast between Carmel and San Simeon.
Some of the most mesmerizing sunsets I’ve seen in the world have been from here. Not to mention, majority of the best stops on Highway 1 are all located in Big Sur as well.
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The number one item on everyone’s PCH road trip bucket list is probably McWay Falls. Even if you’ve never heard the name, you’ve most likely seen it on Apple’s App Store.
This 80-foot long waterfall flows year-round from McWay Creek into the Pacific Ocean. When it is high tide, the waterfall empties into the ocean, creating a tidefall.
Note: It is illegal to climb down to the waterfall and you will get fined.
Bixby Creek Bridge is another one of the must-see Pacific Coast Highway stops. Because of its unique design, it is one of the most photographed bridges in California.
Sunset at Pfeiffer Beach.
Despite spring and fall being more favorable times to visit California, you will be amazed at what winter can bring.
For a few weeks each January, the sun will set in alignment through the Keyhole Arch at Pfeiffer Beach. The beach can get crowded with photographers and their tripods. That said, you may want to avoid weekends (and Martin Luther King long weekend).
Don’t worry if you miss the light show. The purple sand near the northern tide pools is equally as alluring. (This natural phenomenon occurs when manganese garnet particles get washed down from nearby mountains!)
Another one of the most highly sought-after Pacific Coast Highway stops is Hearst Castle in San Simeon.
This 250,000-acre land was originally named La Cuesta Encantada – Spanish for “Enchanted Hill”. It was newspaper publisher, William Randolph Hearst’s vision of a luxury retreat. Due to his fragile health, however, Hearst moved away from the estate and the project was never finished.
Today, you can tour the 165 rooms and admire its pristine terraces, pools, and gardens.
Tickets start at $30 USD per person.
Note that you’ll need to park your car then take their shuttle bus to the actual castle site. Anticipate long waits on weekends and reserve plenty of time for this in your schedule!
Apart from Hearst Castle, another point of interest is Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery.
You can search up “Friends of the Elephant Seal Gift Shop” on Google Maps and this will bring you to the popular boardwalk viewing area.
If it gets packed (which was the case when I visited), you can drive a couple meters down the road towards Pico Creek Beach. It’s a little quieter and you can see these elephant seals all along the coast.
Prior to my first trip, I’d looked up “PCH road trip itinerary” on Google and conducted extensive research. It absolutely blows my mind how no one seems to talk about the magnificent sand dunes that are here in Guadalupe!
So between you and me, Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve is a hidden gem that’s worth making a stopover.
What’s unique about these sand dunes is that they are situated right along the shore. Locals come here not only to surf, but to fish as well. Make sure to arrive early in the morning because parking is limited.
The reason I discovered this was because I was literally studying Google Maps.
I encourage you to do the same because what you and I like may be rather different. (After all, this guide is based on sights that I saw and enjoyed, and would recommend.) Plus, it’s good to familiarize yourself with the area you’ll be driving through.
Other Coastal City Alternatives: Santa Maria & Santa Barbara. Santa Maria is home to historic wineries whereas Santa Barbara has plenty of beautiful, sandy beaches to catch sunsets at.
Malibu isn’t just another beach city. It is home to some of Los Angelenos’ favorite beaches, such as El Matador State Beach.
El Matador is one of the three cliff-foot beaches located in Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach. It features captivating rock arches, and gets extremely busy during summer and on weekends.
Plan accordingly so you avoid having to wait for a parking spot!
Other popular weekend destinations include:
- Malibu Pier
- Point Dume
Being from Vancouver, Los Angeles has become my go-to vacation spot because of its close proximity. In fact, there was a period when I’d visited so often that my friends suspected me for having a secret LA lover!
Griffith Observatory left; Getty Center right.
IG-famous Paul Smith pink mural.
From contemporary art museums and vibrant murals to Instagrammable cafés and a variety of delicious cuisines, it’s easy to see why I’ve fallen for the Golden State.
Getty Villa left; Greystone Mansion right.
Venice Canals left; The Last Bookstore.
Same as San Francisco, I suggest allocating 2-3 days here. This gives you time to check out most attractions, yet not so long that LA traffic begins to drive you insane.
Friends set at Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood.
When in LA, be sure to drop by the Media Capital of the World. It’s a short 15 to 20-minute drive from Hollywood and this is where all the major production studios are located.
Here are my recs:
- See how films and TV shows are made at Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood
- Soar above Hogwarts at Universal Studios Hollywood
- Dinner with a view at Castaway Restaurant & Events
My local friends may disagree, but I truly believe that this small coastal city has some of the most stunning beaches in all of California.
I mean, would you look at this beauty!
Other Coastal City Alternatives: Newport Beach & Long Beach. Both are gorgeous although depending on the length of your trip, I would probably only pick one of the three (including Laguna). Beaches tend to look the same after awhile. I’d advise spicing things up and having more variety in your Pacific Coast Highway itinerary.
Top PCH Restaurants to Try
I’m a foodie. I like to eat.
But you’re not me and we most likely have varying styles when it comes to travel. You might be the type to pack instant noodles for your road trip. (Hey, no shame. I do that too sometimes.) Or, you might be the kind to splurge and try new things.
If the latter sounds like you, here are a few Pacific Coast Highway restaurants you may enjoy.
Crab House at Pier 39 (San Francisco)
Killer Combo with Dungeness crab, shrimps, and mussels.
Address: 203 C Pier 39, San Francisco, California, United States
Phone Number: (415) 651-2574
Hours: Open daily from 11:30AM to 9:00PM
Starting from north to south, San Francisco is known for its Dungeness crab and fresh seafood.
Crispy Calamari left; Crab Topped NY Steak right.
In case you couldn’t already tell from its name, Crab House specializes in Dungeness crab served on a hot iron skillet. If you love shellfish, definitely give the Killer Combo a try.
New England Lobster Market & Eatery (Burlingame)
Dressed Lobster Roll.
Address: 824 Cowan Road, Burlingame, California, United States
Phone Number: (650) 443-1559
Hours: Sunday to Thursday from 11:00AM to 8:00PM; Saturday & Friday from 11:00AM to 9:00PM
Burlingame is a short 10-minute drive away from San Francisco Airport. Whether you are flying in or out of SFO, make a stopover at New England Lobster Market.
I’d found out about this spot from my dad’s local friends. They all rave about it and I can confirm that it lives up to its hype!
Café Kevah/Nepenthe (Big Sur)
Views from Café Kevah.
Address: 48510 CA-1, Big Sur, California, United States
Phone Number: (831) 667-2344 for Café Kevah; (831) 667-2345 for Nepenthe
Hours: Open daily from 9:00AM to 3:00PM (café); daily from 11:30AM to 10:00PM (restaurant)
Menu: Café Menu; Restaurant Menu
If you need a pick-me-up for your drive, grab a cup of coffee and enjoy the epic views at Café Kevah.
This café is technically part of the Nepenthe restaurant collection. Nepenthe being the main restaurant, Café Kevah being the café, and Phoenix Shop being the gift shop.
Smoked Wild Salmon top; Manhattan Clam Chowder left; 12oz Ribeye Steak right.
Despite high ratings on Google, I did not find dinner at Nepenthe to be anything special. I would advise ordering pastries or something small at the café instead. The views are still very much worth it. Just save your money for fine dining elsewhere!
Malibu Farm Pier Cafe (Malibu)
Address: 23000 E Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, California, United States
Phone Number: (310) 456-8850
Hours: Monday to Friday 9:00AM to 4:00PM; Saturday & Sunday 8:00AM to 8:00PM
Baby Dutch Pancakes.
This busy breakfast-and-lunch spot with oceanside patio seating serves up fresh, farm-to-table food and jaw-dropping views of the Pacific Ocean.
I’m not kidding when I say their steak salad is to. Die. For.
Mastro’s Ocean Club (Malibu)
Jumbo Prawns left; restaurant exterior right.
Address: 18412 E Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, California, United States
Phone Number: (310) 454-4357
Hours: Monday to Friday from 5:00PM to 10:00PM; Saturday & Sunday from 11:30AM to 10:00PM
Mastro’s Steakhouse and Mastro’s Ocean Club are upscale steak and fish houses specializing in steak, seafood, and sushi.
New England Clam Chowder left; Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes right.
They have locations all across the States, and are often frequented by locals + top celebrities so you know they’re good!
Tip: They enforce a strict upscale dress code and reservations are encouraged.
Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong (Los Angeles)
Address: 3465 W 6th Street, Los Angeles, California, United States
Phone Number: (213) 384-9678
Hours: Sunday to Thursday from 11:30AM to 12:00AM; Friday & Saturday from 11:30AM to 1:30AM
Every time I visit LA, I make an effort to come here for late lunch or dinner.
Their Korean BBQ is honestly so good that I always share this place with friends visiting Los Angeles. And they all love it too!
Tip: They sadly do not accept reservations. If you don’t want to wait 1-2 hours for a table, come on a weekday afternoon (after lunch and before the dinner rush) or late at night before closing.
Not in the mood for BBQ? Try these other LA restaurants!
Castaway Restaurant & Events (Burbank)
Address: 1250 E Harvard Rd, Burbank, California, United States
Phone Number: (818) 848-6691
Hours: Monday & Tuesday from 4:00PM to 9:00PM; Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday from 11:00AM to 9:00PM; Friday & Saturday from 11:00AM to 10:00PM
Castaway is a top restaurant in Burbank. It overlooks the San Fernando Valleys and is a great date night spot.
Belle left; El Mariachi right.
Petite Seafood Tower.
They specialize in seasonally-inspired cuisine with a steak-forward focus, and have an incredible meat dry-aging room with a Himalayan salt wall.
I came here with my boyfriend and we actually ordered the Petite Seafood Tower. It was equally as delightful, but do give their Cape Grim or Mishima Wagyu a try.
The Cliff Restaurant (Laguna Beach)
Papa Chen being the OG influencer working those angles! XDD
Address: 577 S Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, California, United States
Phone Number: (949) 494-1956
Hours: Monday to Friday from 8:30AM to 9:00PM; Saturday from 8:00AM to 10:00PM; Sunday from 8:00AM to 9:00PM
In case you haven’t noticed… I’m a major sucker for dining with a view.
Unfortunately, my dad and I opted to come here for breakfast and the coastal fog didn’t lift until later that morning when we’d already finished our meal.
Now it’s been awhile since our visit and their menu has changed. I believe we got french toasts and some version of a huevos rancheros, but with tortilla chips??? Everything was super yummy and the views made it that much better!
Best Hotels Along Pacific Coast Highway
Going in order again from north to south, here are a few hotel properties that have earned my stamp of approval.
Fairmont San Francisco (San Francisco)
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Address: 950 Mason Street, San Francisco, California, United States
Phone Number: (415) 772-5000
Check-In Time: 4:00PM
Check-Out Time: 12:00PM
Parking: $68 USD/night; unlimited entries
I spent two nights in Fairmont’s Main Building Balcony Suite on my most recent 2022 California trip. It’s an older building, but its classic ambiance is paired with modern amenities. The service was superb and the location is convenient too.
Rosewood Sand Hill (Menlo Park)
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Address: 2825 Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park, California, United States
Phone Number: (650) 561-1500
Check-In Time: 3:00PM
Check-Out Time: 12:00PM
Parking: $68 USD/night; unlimited entries
An advantage of staying here is that all guests have access to complimentary car rentals. There’s literally no better way to cruise down PCH in style than in a Mercedes-Benz convertible!
Did I mention that everything at their Michelin star restaurant is absolutely divine!?
As stated above, The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay is situated in a beautiful part of Half Moon Bay. I’ve yet to book a vacation here, but I’ll report back if and when I do.
In the meantime, Rosewood Sand Hill is short 20-minute drive from Half Moon Bay. You won’t regret booking a stay here!
Post Ranch Inn (Big Sur)
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Address: 47900 CA-1, Big Sur, California, United States
Phone Number: (831) 667-2200
Check-In Time: 4:00PM
Check-Out Time: 12:00PM
This has been on my bucket list for the longest time and I’m still waiting for an occasion to treat myself.
Post Ranch Inn is is perched 1,200 feet above the Pacific Ocean and is renowned for its striking views. From relaxing in a heated infinity spa pool to dining amongst the clouds, there truly is no better hidden oasis to escape to.
Pacifica Suites (Santa Barbara)
Address: 5490 Hollister Avenue, Santa Barbara, California, United States
Phone Number: (805) 683-6722
Check-In Time: 3:00PM
Check-Out Time: 12:00PM
Pacifica Suites may be somewhat dated, but it’s an extremely affordable 4-star property. In fact, it was one of the most enjoyable hotel stays during my first Highway 1 California road trip!
My room was spacious and the staff were friendly. All breakfast items were made to order, and I even received a 2014 Lapostolle Merlot as a free welcome drink for being an Expedia VIP guest. (I’m not sure how this happened because this was one of the rare times I’d booked through them. The Traditional Suite with 1 king bed for 2 guests was $273.53 CAD a night on Expedia.)
Sure it’s not Fairmont or The Ritz, but it’s a cozy home-away-from-home!
Kimpton La Peer Hotel (Los Angeles)
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Address: 627 N La Peer Drive, West Hollywood, California, United States
Phone Number: (213) 296-3038
Check-In Time: 3:00PM
Check-Out Time: 12:00PM
Parking: $65 USD/night; unlimited entries
If you’re looking for a centrally-located property that is quiet, Kimpton La Peer is a fantastic choice.
The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel (Dana Point)
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Address: One Ritz Carlton Drive, Dana Point, California, United States
Phone Number: (949) 240-2000
Check-In Time: 4:00PM
Check-Out Time: 11:00AM
Parking: $70 USD/night; unlimited entries
The Ritz is technically located in Dana Point, but they brand themselves as a Laguna Beach hotel. (Tourists are usually more familiar with Laguna. Moreover, the two cities aren’t very far apart either.)
I had an amazing time in the Ocean Suite. It’s perfect for your next birthday, anniversary, or major milestone celebration, and I can’t recommend it enough.
And there you have it! Best Pacific Coast Highway stops you need to see on your next road trip.
Phewww! That was a lot of information to take in all at once! Hopefully this will prepare you for that upcoming Highway 1 road trip.
Don’t forget to save this for later and check out my California vlog on YouTube!
Wow! Wow! Wow! This has to be one of the most stunning coastal routes. I think traveling this route would take me a decade since I would have to stop so much to take pictures. Do you have a favorite spot that you stopped at? I think the Golden Gate Bridge and McWay Falls would be my favorite spots to photograph!
Hahhahaa maybe a decade wouldn’t even be enough! McWay Falls was definitely a favorite for me. That and gosh… I think all of them make it to my favorites list!
Man, this is a dream road trip! We spent a couple of weeks in Northern CA last spring and wished we could get to Big Sur. Isn’t Carmel charming??
Aww bummer! But I guess now you got another reason/excuse to return 😉
You’ve got really nice photographs compiled on this post alone that I could even just check the pictures without reading any single thing on the post because I was too mesmerized. 😛
I’ve never been to anywhere in America, but this road trip is definitely something to look forward to when you can travel slowly around the Pacific. I particularly want to visit the Malibu and Garrapata State Park. 🙂
Thanks so much Marya! Although I do hope you took the time to read the post because I spent several hours drafting it in hopes of helping travellers like yourself plan the most epic PCH road trip possible 😀
That coast line looks insane and your photos are so damn good! The Pfeiffer bay looks like somewhere I need to visit! I would love to visit America soon, this is definitely somewhere I need to visit. Thanks for sharing such an informative post!
Thanks Amber! It was basically impossible to take bad photos here. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for you to visit soon!
I would really LOvE to do this drive!! Well would love to start in LA all the way up to Seattle but I knew nothing of the landslides!! Going to SF at the end of month, super excited!
Oh that’d be so fun!!!!! You’ll for sure have to at least check out Monterey or the cities nearby San Francisco. You’d be amazed at how much California has to offer!
I am a sucker for seas and oceans and beaches, so it all looks amazing to me. ButI am most attracted by the sight of Pfeiffer Beach. The colours of the sand are simply mesmerizing!
You’re a thalassophile just like myself then! In that case, I highly recommend doing this road trip because you’d absolutely fall in love!!!
The Big Sur Coast was actually where I first got into photography. I went as a kid an my mom waited for a sunset shot, back when film cameras were a thing. We had that picture developed and hung on top of our couch for years. It’s such a stunning backdrop for photography along this route.
I think there is a significant difference between Laguna, Newport and Long Beach. Leguna has the tide pools and reefs close to shore. Newport has that impressive harbor and Balboa Island. Long Beach has the industrial harbor, aquarium and Queen Mary. Very different experiences for all three destinations.
How nostalgic! And you’re totally right. The three are super different but generally still classified under the coastal city category. I just feel that if a trip is filled with too much of the same variety of activities, everything begins to sort of blur a little and lose its specialty. I’d definitely recommend visiting all three on its own separate occasion or perhaps on a longer trip even 🙂
The stops along the way looks stunning. I love the coastal views. I can definitely see how it can take a couole of days to conplete. Hopefully you will get to go back to see the things you didnt on this trip.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed! And hopefully this will inspire you to embark on this road trip adventure as well!!
Wowww! I have to do this road trip – thank you so much for this great blog post! All your pics are so beautiful – you really made me wanna book a flight right now.
You’re most welcome, Martina! Thank you for the kind words and I’m so happy to hear that!
WOW! what an amazing adventure this must have been. So many different things to see and do I am a keen photographer and this looks like an incredible destination to take amazing photo’s. Great post, loved it!
Omg yessss!!!!!!! The entire PCH is so photogenic. It might take you weeks to complete just because you’ll literally want to stop every 3 seconds for a photo hahaa.
I’m completely mesmerised by your photos! I haven’t been to the west coast of the USA for a long time, and I need to go back! The Hearst Castle and Isabella’s Jewel Box are incredible. Plus, I’m in Europe, and drastically missing the sunshine, so seeing all your photos of beaches is making me so jealous! A lovely post as always!
Thanks so much Lisa! These past few months here in Vancouver since I’ve gotten home after my road trip have been gloomy too so I could for sure use some sunshine right now as well 🙁
Love this comprehensive list! On our first trip to California, we were lucky enough to stay with relatives so we were able to take our time and see more over a few days.
Still haven’t made it Guadalupe, Hearst Castle and the Elephant Seal Rookery though. Those are next on our list!
That’s so awesome!!! I’ve found hotels in California to be expensive in general so you were lucky indeed. Hope you’ll get to revisit and check out these places you’ve missed!
Omg these images are just absolutely stunning! I’m sooo saving this for my next trip. You’re doing a great job with the guides so far btw – they’re all super informative.
Aww thanks Nicola! It makes me so happy to hear that you’re enjoying my guides <3
I’m completely in love with your photography (and loved the attributed work as well, awesome choices). California has, somehow, been a state that escaped me. This post definitely has made me move it up the bucket list. I’m really curious about your equipment, would you mind sharing your setup?
Hey Lauren, thank you so much for the kind compliment and I don’t mind at all! I recently just got a new camera – the Sony A7R III – and been loving it. As you can probably imagine, we were rushing from points A to B then B to C so I shot on Auto for the most part. For McWay Falls, I had a tripod with me and did a long exposure versus a regular shot on Manual mode. A few other places where I was shooting against the sun, I used Manual as well. I’m still learning though so I really just played with the settings until the photo looked somewhat good 🙂
You already had me at the first photo in this article! Stunning. Those beaches looks so remote and untouched, it’s hard to believe they’re in CA. I cannot wait to visit Big Sur one day! I love all of your photos. This is a great list!
Hehee glad I could CAPTIVATE you, Tara 😉 Let me know if you ever have any other questions for your future visit!
I have been driving on the coastal road from San Fransisco to LA once but reading your post now makes me realised of how much I missed out! Your post is a good motivation for me to hit that highway 1 again! Thanks for a fun read and beautiful photos!
You’re most welcome, Dada! And don’t worry, I’ve been there too. There’s always so much to see that it’s impossible to experience it all. Hope you’ll get to do the road trip again sometime soon 🙂
Wow this route is heavenly! And you have done justice to it by clicking by far the most gorgeous photos. Also love your edit idea for Los Angeles.
Thank you, Ketki! I’m so glad you liked the edit because that one is probably one of my faves. Cheers!
I want to see the PCH so badly! I don’t drive so will have to figure out another way to get around. I would really like to see those amazing sand dunes in person. Hearst Castle looks great as well. I would just wander around murmuring “Rosebud…”
Ahhh bummer you don’t drive. Although I’m sure you can round up some friends who could drive you – which is even better hahaa.
Your photos are simply amazing, I can’t get enough of them. They are so inspiring and want me to jump in my car and heave over to California, to drive this route. Big Sur looks stunning, the color of the water is so pretty! Hearst Castle is a treat as well, those interiors are just screaming to be visited. 🙂
Thank you so much, Joanna. I’m so extremely flattered and happy to hear I was able to inspire you to want to do this road trip yourself. Hope you’ll actually get to soon and let me know if you ever need any other recommendations for your trip!
As a Southern California native, I love PCH. I have family in both LA and San Francisco, so when I had a few extra days to spare, I would cruise along PCH, as opposed to taking the 5 freeway. It was pretty sad when the landslide happened, and I had actually planned a trip to Big Sur around that time and had to make some adjustments. Carmel and Laguna have to be some of my favorite stops along the way!
How lucky!!! I low key want to move to LA and after doing the PCH drive, I’m even more so convinced that I should move to California. And despite the sad news, I’m sure you discovered new sceneries along the alternative route you had to take 😀
this post has skyrocketed this road trip to the top of my bucket list. it looks absolutely stunning.
Thank you, Eli. Hope this will inspire you to visit!
I’d love to drive SR 1. I actually didn’t know that that was different from the PCH. That’s good to know! Big Sur and Victoria Beach would be two must-sees for me along the way.
I honestly didn’t either until I was drafting this post. Traveling really does broaden your knowledge 🙂
Your photography is honestly so amazing. Wow. Those first few photos of the Pacific Coast Highway really remind me of the part of New Zealand I’m currently living in. And that Hearst Mansion, how have I never heard of this, it looks like one of the most spectacular houses.
Thank you so very much, Aimee! I haven’t been to New Zealand yet but it’s definitely on my list so I guess this is close enough for the time being hahaa. Hope you’ll get to embark on this incredible road trip someday in the future!
This brings back so many memories for: the time I did this trip in 1998 when I knew little about the area but it was stunning. I actually had no idea about the difference between PCH and H1 though! Hearst castle looks amazing! Time to go back…
Wow that was crazy long ago! I wonder how much has changed since then. Sounds like you do need a revisit 😉
What a fantastic comprehensive list! We drove Route 66 this fall and stayed a week exploring around Los Angeles and we cannot wait to get back and take this drive. The palm trees. The cliffs. The water. Ugh… so many things to experience. Thanks so much. Saving this one for later.
You’re welcome, Angela! Glad to share my knowledge. Let me know if you ever have any questions for your future road trip!
I did the PCH when I was 9 so I didn’t appreciate it. Definitely need to do it again as an adult! And as someone from Kelowna, BC its definitely doable in a short amount of time!
Ahhh no way, what a small world!!!!! I used to study in Kelowna! And yes, you definitely need to revisit 🙂
Your post lures me into book a trip to the pacific coast right away. I love all the pictures and am amazed by the beauty all around. I am particularly interested in visiting these – Rocky Beach and Victoria Beach. Mission 2020! 🙂 Cheers!!
Happy to hear I could inspire you to visit, Aditi. Let me know if you ever need any other recommendations or have further questions for your future trip!!
Road trips are great fun and provide such a wonderful opportunity to have an immersive experience of the places. The pacific coast highway road trip seems pure heave. Given the scenic places that you cover on this road trip, it is nothing short of epic. The list of places is amazing but the one I really fell in love was Victoria beach.
Couldn’t have said it better! Victoria Beach is definitely a hidden gem worth spending an afternoon at so I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you to witness its beauties in person someday!
Oh I’ve so wanted to do this drive! We did a tiny sliver of it from Santa Cruz to San Francisco last summer. I did not know about the purple beach or the dunes! They look so amazing. And the Hearst mansion would be pretty incredible, too.
Right??? Maybe now you’ll be more intrigued and motivated to actually map out your road trip and finally go hahaa.
One big – WOW! This looks amazing! I would like to do the same road drip. And I would definitely stop in LA for some longer time. And that Guadalupe – Oh my God! I can imagine myself spending my whole day there and not moving at all!
Omg that’s exactly what I wanted to do. The weather is so nice there. Sunny but not too hot because you get that sea breeze. Simply perfect!
I’ve been lucky enough to do some amazing coastal drives around the world but just from the collection of pictures it’s really enticing me to do a pacific coast trip – I do agree that Laguna beach will definitely be a place I would stop, nd LA and Malibu haha – Ok , ok I’d stop at them all lol – I don’t think I’d want to leave
Hahhaa you’ll probably need at least a month to see everything!!! Let me know if you ever need any other recommendations if you do decide to do this road trip later down the line 😀
I would love to do this road trip one day! I knew there were beaches along the way but I don’t think I realised just how many stunning, beautiful, secluded gems there were. McWay falls looks absolutely incredible as well!! This was a very inspiring read.
Thank you so much for the kind words, Nicola! Glad to hear I could be of inspiration <3
Insanely gorgeous pictures! I have been to the West Coast but I regret not having done the Pacific Coast Highway by road back then. Laguna Beach and Malibu are so high up on my bucket list for the next time that I am there. Hearst Castle, I have not heard of but it looks amazing, especially the Roman Pool inside. I did not know there are such lovely sand dunes in Guadalupe! McWay Falls is gorgeous too. What an incredible road trip.
Wait until you see the Neptune Pool! It’s under construction atm but hopefully by the time you make it back in California, it will be filled because it will blowwwwwwww your mind. Highly recommend a visit!!
Absolutely beautiful pictures! I’ve done this trip too many times to count, and each time I find something new to enjoy. I love the beaches in the Laguna Beach area, but still have yet to make it to Victoria Beach. My favorites on Hwy 1 are Laguna Beach, Big Sur & Carmel. Such a beautiful coast!!!
I’m incredibly jealous you’ve gotten so many chances to do this road trip! Can definitely see why those three are your favorites because I think those are mine too 🙂
Excellent post! I was a surprised at how much I liked Hurst Castle when we did this trip. It seems like a silly stop, but I just loved the location. Have you done the North end as well (SFO to YVR)?
Hey Jen! That’s awesome to hear!! I’ll be looking forward to my future visit. Oh and I’m from YVR actually hahaa but it’s never dawned on me to do any road trip past Oregon. Guess I’ll have to put that up on my list now.
I have heard about PCH from friends who stay in the US, always wanted to go. The pictures are gorgeous and strengthens my resolve to go there now. This post is very comprehensive, I am sure people will find it very useful.
Thanks Suman, so happy to hear that! Let me know if you ever have any further questions for your future trip!
It looks super nice in the hotel. I would love to go on this road trip
Hahaa that’s because I didn’t upload the photos of the bad ones we stayed at 😉
Oh, my. What an exquisite place! This gotta be added to my bucket list as well. And by the way, incredible pictures.
Thank you so much, Nikhila! Glad to hear I could inspire you to wanna pay a visit!
The photos are so inviting and I am definitely saving this guide. I love road trips and I think this is by far my favorite on the Pacific coast. I will inform friends in the US who are looking for amazing road trip routes.
Thanks Gemmiz! I’m a road trip lover myself too and I guarantee you will enjoy this one. Cheers!
What a great blog post! So detailed! I loved San Fran when I visited many years ago but I feel like I have missed out not visiting Carmel on Sea – it looks so lovely!
It’s lovely indeed! You’ll have to pay a visit next time you’re back in the area again!!
One. Your photos are INSANE. How did you edit them? What camera do you use? These are amazing!! Two, this is a great guide and thank you for including the road closures. We were thinking about doing this road trip and I didn’t even think of the detours we would have to take.
Aww thank you, Lorial! I just upgraded my camera to the Sony A7R III and I edit with Lightroom. Happy to be of help with the road closure knowledge and let me know if you ever have any further questions for your trip! 😀
So much detail in this post! The perfect guide for this trip, thanks for sharing and I agree with your small tip regarding searching the Google maps.. hidden gems are everywhere!
Right!? Who knew studying maps could be so fun and rewarding hahaa.
Wow! This is very detailed and informative. Appreciate your efforts in putting this together!!! I wouldve never known there’s an offline verson of Google maps. And good thing there’s a Marriott hotel there. I guess i am all set. All I need to do is convince my hubby. Lol. By the way, Your photos are breathtaking – makes me want to go there right now!
Aww thank you Carmen! Glad you liked my photos and found my guide helpful. I’m sure convincing the hubby would be an easy job considering how STUNNING the coast is!
Wow! If your intention was to spark the reader’s wanderlust with this post, you certainly have done so! Would you believe it that we are in SFO in early June this year, and now I am really regretting not having time to do this drive. What with Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Napa and SFO city, the 2 weeks are already packed 🙁
Bummer! There’s always so much to see and too little time though so maybe next time. Sounds like you already got an exciting trip planned!!!
This is the perfect lengthier itinerary for exploring this part of the country! I really want to do this trip. So far I’ve only seen Monterey, San Francisco, and LA from a cruise ship and it gave me a great taste of each place. Now, to go back for more! Lovely photos!
Thanks Lauren! Hope you’ll get to see the rest of California soon! 🙂
Your photos make me wanna book a flight now and do this road trips. Everything looks gorgeous. Thanks for sharing this itinerary, very useful. Sending it to my friend in Cali and hopefully we can do this road trip too.
Aww thanks girlie! That makes me happy to hear. Let me know if you guys have any further questions!
There are so many place names that I recognise but haven’t been to. Hearst castle looks really interesting. and its filled with such opulent detail. This looks like a great trip and one that I would love to do someday.
I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for you, Janine. I think you’ll really enjoy the drive!
I’ve been there twice, but your first picture alone makes me want to go back right away. I loved artsy Carmel and enjoyed Monterrey a lot – for Steinbeck, but mainly for the aquarium.
Oh I didn’t know Steinbeck had ties to Monterey! Will defs have to give his stories a read now.
as a native Californian who is getting ready to move back to California after nearly 8 years abroad I can tell you this is soooo high on my list! I’ve only done this drive as a kid and so badly want to do it ASAP when I move back! I just recently drove Hwy 1 from Pescadero to Santa Cruz and that is so beautiful as well. Can’t wait to check off these SoCal spots when I drive it!
Wow that’s awesome, Gabby! Seeing the same scenery eight years later is an experience in itself and I’m definitely excited for you! Happy adventuring 😀
I have heard so many things about the US Coasts but haven’t read any of them with so great passion as now. Pacific Coast Highway looks terrific and I would love to drive along it. Seeing that Rocky Beach, that would be my favorite place.
Hahhahaa I’m glad you could feel my love for this drive through these words on a screen. It’s honestly such a beautiful coast and you’d absolutely love it!
I am really in love with this Pacific Coast Highway road trip, very informative. So much to do with these beautiful destinations. I should visit them someday and enjoy every minute from this road trip. I really love all of the photos, impressive guidelines.
Thanks Ghia! So happy you enjoyed the guide. Let me know if you ever have any questions when you do get to visit 🙂
We did this in 2009 but only missed Pfeiffer Beach, McWay Falls and the Dune Preserve! And there was no road repair. We did it by RV and camped along the way!
How fun!!! I’ve always wanted to rent an RV for a road trip. I mean… just think of all the hotel costs you’d save! Sounds like you need a revisit to check out the places you’d missed!
What a fantastic and thorough post! The Pacific Coast Highway is one of the top roadtrips I want to do. So I’m book marking your post 🙂 Love all your recommendations and photos, and all that food. Thank you!
And thank you, Arienne! Glad to be of help and don’t hesitate to reach out if you ever have any further questions for your future trip!
A wonderfully comprehensive post here. I have only visited San Francisco and Los Angeles separately, but have never travelled up and down the coast. But your post makes me want to know do this. I love beaches – all beaches – so this looks like an incredible journey that I would love. Armed with my camera of course, to capture those beautiful sunsets.
You’ll definitely have to give this road trip a go! Especially since you love beaches, you’d enjoy the drive even more. You won’t regret it! 😉
Wow. That sure looks like a great road trip. It kinda reminded me of the great ocean drive in Australia. With hills one side and the turquoise of the ocean on the other. Amazing views. Can’t imagine a better road setting than this!
Definitely sounds like a great time! I’d love to do a solo trip like this someday!
We live in the SF Bay Area and often head down the Pacific Coast Highway on long weekends– yet no matter how often we take this road trip, it’s always a delight. I really enjoyed reading your post which is packed with helpful tips and tricks to make the most of the experience. You’re absolutely right about doing last minute checks regarding highway closures before heading out on this trip. Hearst Castle is stunning and a must-see for its amazing architecture, attention to detail and gardens. Thanks for sharing this post –amazing photographs as well!
I loved reading your post. Extremely detailed. Just follow this guide and it will be a fantastic trip.
Great photos! I hope we get the chance to travel to California soon 🙂