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As a large country that depends on vehicles for our primary form of transportation, it should come as no surprise that the U.S.A. is full of iconic and bucket list-worthy drives: Route 66. Skyline Drive (in Shenandoah National Park). The Road to Hana (in Hawaii). The Overseas Highway (to the Florida Keys). And, of course, the road trip that tops them all: the Pacific Coast Highway.
Stretching in entirety from Washington to California, the PCH is a road trip you need to do once in your lifetime – at least! I’ve been fortunate to drive the Pacific Coast Highway once (in 2014), and parts of it many times (especially while living in Washington for four years (2013-2017) and California for another four (2017-2021)). While I have my favorite stretches of this iconic road, I also know that it’s completing the entire thing that many people hope to do.
Based on my many adventures along the PCH, I’ve put together a series of posts to help you plan your own Pacific Coast Highway road trip; this post focuses on a week-long itinerary. You might also want to check out my complete PCH road trip guide, tips on what to pack for your PCH road trip, and my suggestions for the top hotels along the Pacific Coast Highway (a few of which you can stay at during this trip).
Ready to plan your own bucket list 7-day Pacific Coast Highway road trip itinerary? Let’s hit the road!
Note (November 2023): As of the latest update to this post, California Highway 1 (the PCH) is closed between Limekiln State Park and Lucia in the Big Sur area of the route; you’ll need to bypass this closure inland on US-101. Be sure to check the California DOT website (Enter “1” in the field) for the latest updates.
In this post, I promote travel across lands that are the traditional lands of many Indigenous groups. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
Common Questions about Driving the PCH
Before jumping into my suggested week itinerary for the PCH, I wanted to briefly address the most common questions I get asked about the PCH in general.
- Where does the Pacific Coast Highway begin and end? As with so many answers in the world, that depends! The named “Pacific Coast Highway” actually only runs from Dana Point to Leggett (655.8mi), California, but many people want to drive the entirety of the Pacific Coast from Washington to the California-Mexico border. This post focuses more on the latter.
- Which direction should I drive the PCH? You can drive it in either direction, but I recommend driving southbound, and that’s the direction I’ve written this post in; I actually drove most of it northbound when I drove the Pacific Coast Highway in 2014. If you decide to drive northbound, just reverse the order of days I’ve suggested.
- When should I plan my PCH road trip? While you might think summer is the best time for this road trip, that’s not actually the case. The Pacific Northwest has the best weather between June and September, while Central and Southern California tend to have great weather year-round. Northern California, however, tends to have better weather in the autumn than in the summer. For this reason, I recommend planning your road trip in September or early October if you can.
- Where should I stay while driving the Pacific Coast Highway? Personally, I’m partial to hotels (and recommend hotels in this guide), but I know lots of people want to camp. If that’s the case, I recommend checking out this article which helps you choose spots to camp along the route.
If you have other general questions about driving the Pacific Coast Highway after reading the rest of my guide, please let me know in the comments at the end of this post. I can answer you directly and add those questions here too, to help other travelers.
Suggested 7-Day Pacific Coast Highway Itinerary
One week is a great length of time if you want to tackle the entire Pacific Coast Highway; it will, admittedly, include some long driving days, but you’ll still have plenty of time to enjoy the drive and make stops along the way. Here’s a quick glance at my suggested one-week Pacific Coast Highway itinerary:
- Day 1 – Seattle to Newport
- Day 2 – Newport to Crescent City
- Day 3– Crescent City to Fort Bragg/Mendocino
- Day 4 – Fort Bragg/Mendocino to San Francisco
- Day 5 – San Francisco to San Luis Obispo
- Day 6 – San Luis Obispo to Los Angeles
- Day 7 – Los Angeles to San Diego
Below, I have a more detailed breakdown of each day, as well as the shortest route between each day’s start and endpoints – and the coastal route plus stops you can make if you decide to stick to the Pacific Coast Highway the entire way.
Day 1: Seattle to Newport
- Fastest Route: 5 hours via I-5
- Most Coastal Route: 10.5 hours via I-5 & US-101
If you have your heart set on driving the entire Pacific Coast Highway from Seattle to San Diego, your first day of driving is going to be a loooooong one – but a beautiful one! This is the one day where I’m on the fence about recommending the most coastal route, because it has so much driving that you can’t really stop often or for very long, to enjoy it!
If you decide to take the long route, some great stops along the way – in Washington – include Olympia (the capital of Washingon), Port Angeles (out on the Olympic Peninsula), Ruby Beach and Hoh Rainforest in/near Olympic National Park, Aberdeen (where Kurt Cobain was from), and Long Beach (one of my favorite PNW towns – here’s why!).
Once you cross into Oregon, there are lots of good stops to consider too, including Astoria (home of The Goonies), Seaside and Cannon City (the latter is home to the iconic Haystack Rock), the Tillamook Creamery, and Lincoln City (famous for its glass art). As I said, there are so many amazing stops you can make on this day, I wish I had an extra day to split it into two! (If you do have 8 days to drive the PCH, make your first stop in Long Beach, WA, to break everything up.)
If you don’t want to do a ton of driving this first day, your route will follow I-5 south from Seattle to Corvallis (south of Portland) and then take Oregon Highway 34 west out to the coast. Or, consider flying into Portland to start your PCH road trip (taking US-30 up to Astoria and then turning down the coast to Newport). You can then plan a separate trip to drive an Olympic Peninsula road trip and up/down the Washington Coast.
Accommodation Suggestions: There are lots of delightful places to stay in Newport, but I spent my one night aboard the Newport Belle. This is an adults-only accommodation, but if that fits your travel group, you’re in for a real treat aboard this restored and converted sternwheeler in the harbor. Rooms start from $189 per night; book on Hotels.com. Browse other hotels in Newport and vacation rentals, too.
Day 2: Newport to Crescent City
- Fastest Route: 4.75 hours via US-101
- Most Coastal Route: Same as fastest route!
After either a long day or a non-coastal one, I’m pleased to report that for the next two days the fastest route is the coastal one, so you’ll make up for it if you took the shorter route from Seattle to Newport on Day 1.
Once you’re on the Oregon Coast, you’ll stay on it all the way to California – that’s your destination tonight. There are lots of beautiful stops you can make along the way:
- There are some beautiful natural sights like Devils Punchbowl and Sea Lion Caves, as well as several state parks and lighthouses.
- You can stop for lunch in Newport, and visit some of the main sights in town, like the Historic Bayfront and Oregon Coast Aquarium.
- South of Newport, the PCH (US-101 in Oregon) meaders inland a bit, but end sup in Crescent City, where you should stay for the night. I have a guide for visiting Crescent City that can help you fill your time there – and then some!
Best of all, it’s a pretty short day of driving (in PCH terms) so you’ll have plenty of time for stops. For more details about today and the stops you can make, check out both my complete Pacific Coast Highway guide and my Oregon Coast road trip itinerary.
Accommodation Suggestions: On one trip to Crescent City, Mr. V and I stayed at this gorgeous 3-bedroom oceanfront property on Pebble Beach Drive. It was huge and fully stocked, perfect for a family or for a couple who just want space to escape. From $295/night; book on VRBO. Browse other vacation rentals and hotels in Crescent City.
Day 3: Crescent City to Fort Bragg/Mendocino
- Fastest Route: 4.5 hours via US-101 & CA-1
- Most Coastal Route: Same as fastest route!
I’ve driven the route from Crescent City to the Fort Bragg/Mendocino portion of the California Coast, and I have to say: it never feels like a 4.5-hour drive. It’s such a beautiful route that the miles and time just seem to slip by!
As you make your way south, I highly recommend spending some time in Humboldt Redwoods State Park along the Avenue of the Giants, which is one of the best places in California to see old-growth Coastal Redwoods. It’s definitely one of my favorite parts of Northern California (of which, to be fair, there are many!).
Your destination for the night is either Fort Bragg or Mendocino (15 minutes further south). You really can’t go wrong with either one – though if you decide to stay in Mendocino, I would definitely stop in Fort Bragg along the way. (If you choose Fort Bragg instead, start Day 4 with a stop in Mendocino if you have time.)
The primary attraction in Fort Bragg is actually trash… specifically, broken glass. Fort Bragg Glass Beach is part of MacKerricher State Park and you can’t take it home – but you can still spend time out of the car searching for different colors and shapes of beautiful sea glass that wash up from the Pacific Ocean. There’s also so much more to do in Fort Bragg, including riding railbikes or the historic Skunk Train up into the coastal mountains, visiting the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, and hiking along the many headlands in the area.
If you do decide to spend an overnight in the area, I recommend stopping in historic downtown Mendocino first and walking around the Mendocino Headlands to stretch your legs before heading to my recommended overnight accommodations (which is also where you can eat).
Fort Bragg Accommodation Suggestions: There are definitely options in Fort Bragg, but I really enjoyed our stay at the Noyo Harbor Inn, down near the marina. You’ll definitely get Newport vibes if you stay here! Rooms start from $266 per night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com. Browse all hotels and vacation rentals in Fort Bragg.
Mendocino Accommodation Suggestions: A few minutes south of the main part of Mendocino, the Little River Inn is one of my favorite hotels along the PCH. It’s self-contained with a spa, golf course, and everything else you need – don’t be surprised if you want to stay more than one night. Rooms start from $240 per night; book directly on their website. Browse other Mendocino hotels and vacation rentals.
Day 4: Fort Bragg/Mendocino to San Francisco
- Fastest Route: 3 hours via CA-128 & US-101
- Most Coastal Route: 4.75 hours via CA-1
Whether you start the day in Fort Bragg or Mendocino, your end destination is the same: San Francisco. The inland route is faster, but – unsurprisingly – I prefer to spend the extra hours by driving the coastal route, which begins to change from being rugged and forested to more sweeping low hills, dunes, and cypress groves – this is part of what defines the central coast of California (though all San Francisco folks always correct me that SF is in Northern California.)
If you drive the coast, some of my favorite places to stop include Point Reyes National Seashore (which can add a few hours to your day if you really want to explore it, making for a very long day!) and Muir Woods for more time among the Redwoods. I also love to stop in Marshall for lunch, either at Nick’s Cove or Hog Island Oyster Company.
If you take the inland route, you can zip down more quickly to reach San Francisco and spend some time exploring the city’s top attractions – the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Ferry Building, and the city’s many great museums are all worth your time if you decide to prioritize more urban time versus driving on the coast.
Accommodation Suggestions: Blow your budget and stay the night at the Fairmont San Francisco, one of the nicest hotels in town. This gorgeous building mostly survived the 1906 earthquake and captures Victorian glory with modern amenities. Rooms start from $179/night, book on Booking.com or Hotels.com. Browse other San Francisco hotels and vacation rentals.
Day 5: San Francisco to San Luis Obispo
- Fastest Route: 3.5 hours via US-101
- Most Coastal Route: 4 hours via CA-1 & US-101
With only a half-hour difference between the fastest route and the most coastal route today, you can probably guess which one I recommend.
(It’s worth noting that the reason today is so similar is because this is the portion of the PCH that is closed due to landslides as mentioned above. The “most coastal” route only has a small portion of coastal driving, then follows the same route as the fastest route, along US-101 inland through the Salinas Valley.)
In any case, take the coastal route while you can today: your first stop can be Pigeon Point Lighthouse before stopping in either Monterey or Carmel-by-the-Sea (a slight detour/extra time) for lunch. Once inland on US-101, you could take the extra time to detour in to visit Pinnacles National Park; it’s one of my favorite parks, and a relatively small park which makes it optimal for a half-day visit. If that sounds intriguing, check out my suggested itinerary for Pinnacles to help you decide.
San Luis Obispo – your overnight destination – is not quite on the coast, but is close. It’s a great destination for wine tasting or to learn more about the California Missions – a few of which you have passed on this route already!
Accommodation Suggestions: The Garden Street Inn is a French-inspired boutique hotel is in the heart of downtown. Rooms from $115/night, book on Booking.com or Hotels.com. Browse other hotels and vacation rentals in San Luis Obispo.
Day 6: San Luis Obispo to Los Angeles
- Fastest Route: 3 hours via US-101
- Most Coastal Route: 4 hours via CA-1 & US-101
You might have noticed: the driving times are growing shorter as you reach the end of your Pacific Coast Highway road trip. You could, of course, adjust this suggested week-long PCH itinerary to spend more time exploring the northern half of the coast instead of the southern, but I find that most people want to stop and see sights in Southern California, and are more prone to long driving days along the start and less-populated Northern California, Oregon, and Washington coasts.
In any case, today is the shortest day of driving yet; it’s a half-day even if you take the slightly longer, most coastal route. US-101 (the fastest route) zips you down to Los Angeles pretty quickly (though you should expect traffic as you get closer to the city), whereas the coastal route allows you to make stops like:
- Lompoc, a cute town on the edge of Vandenberg Space Force Base where you can try wine tasting or spot a rocket launch if the timing is right.
- Santa Barbara, home to another California mission and some fantastic restaurants and wine-tasting spots.
- The Malibu Coast, known for its Hollywood residents and beautiful homes, as well as some of the best surfing along the entire Pacific Coast.
Your end destination is the big city of Los Angeles, and there’s no shortage of things to do. You might take a peek at my suggestion for how to spend one day in L.A. – you could divide it into two half-days for this trip, and sample the city in a short time.
Accommodation Suggestions: Check if the budget-friendly Wave Manhattan Beach Hotel is available; it works well if you plan to do stops #7-#10 on my one-day itinerary above. Rooms from $113/night, book on Hotels.com. Browse the many, many Los Angeles hotels and vacation rentals you can choose instead.
Day 7: Los Angeles to San Diego
- Fastest Route: 2 hours I-5
- Most Coastal Route: 3 hours CA-1 and I-5
This final day of your whirlwind Pacific Coast Highway road trip is actually the shortest in terms of driving – it’s all about sampling the best that Southern California has to offer. Your goal here is to make it from Los Angeles to San Diego, and given how bad the traffic in L.A. and how developed the coast is in the Greater Los Angeles area, I would just take the fastest route to get out of the chaos quickly. (I-5 runs along the coast south of L.A. anyway!)
Once you get south of L.A., you can easily make stops in seaside communities like Dana Point, Huntington Beach, and Encinitas before you reach the end of your road trip in San Diego. From there, you can either fly home (if you rented a car) or drive home.
I don’t have a specific guide for San Diego yet – I really want to spend some time here but haven’t had the chance yet, beyond the short time I spent during my own PCH road trip.
How to Choose a Car for the Pacific Coast Highway
Speaking of cars… you’ve gotta figure out your car situation! Maybe you are planning to drive your own vehicle to the start of your Pacific Coast Highway road trip and home afterward – or maybe you don’t want to put that mileage on your vehicle. In that case, you’ll need to rent a car.
When I drove the PCH, I rented a car and drove it as a ‘one-way rental’ (meaning I dropped it off in a different city than I picked it up). This was more expensive than a round-trip rental, but I didn’t want to drive the Pacific Coast Highway both ways!
I’ve put together some tips on how to choose the right car for the PCH, but in short, I recommend an automatic car with a low center of gravity – but skip the convertible or SUV. Both of these vehicle types will either slow you down or you won’t get the use out of it for the extra cost.
Have any other questions about how to plan your 7-day Pacific Coast Highway road trip? Let me know in the comments below, or check out my complete PCH guide which has tons of details to help you plan your trip!