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The Ultimate Pacific Coast Road Trip Itinerary (California & the PNW)

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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!

Pacific Coast Highway Itinerary Featured Image

If you’re considering a drive down (or up) the western coast of the U.S., look no further. After making the trip myself in 2014 and exploring the PCH extensively while living in Washington and California, I’ve put together this comprehensive guide to the great stops, breathtaking sights, and sense of unbelievable freedom you can find if you drive the Pacific Coast Highway.

Whether you’re planning a San Diego to San Francisco, Seattle to San Francisco, San Francisco to San Diego, Seattle to San Diego road trip, or somewhere in between (Los Angeles! Portland! Crescent City!), this post will give you all you need to know. By the end, you’ll be ready to plan your own Pacific Coast Highway road trip itinerary.

This post was originally published in August 2014, and was updated regularly – including most recently in November 2020. If you see an error, please contact me.

What/Where is the Pacific Coast Highway? How Long is it?

How long is the Pacific Coast Highway? Before launching into a bunch of details for where to stop along the Pacific Coast Highway, I need to define a few things:

  1. The Pacific Coast Highway is located in the U.S. states of Washington, Oregon, and California.
  2. The Pacific Coast Highway runs along two highways: US 101 in Washington, Oregon, and parts of California and California Highway 1 in the majority of California.
  3. From end-to-end, the Pacific Coast Highway is 1,675 miles long from Olympia, WA to San Diego, CA.

Now that you know the details, let’s dig into logistics of planning your own Pacific Coast Highway road trip itinerary!

Pacific Coast Highway Map, Direction & Start/End Points

Pacific Coast Highway Map

One of the requests I get asked for is a Pacific Coast Highway map with all of the stops I suggest, so I used Roadtrippers to put together this one. I used to use Google Maps to do this, but I find that the numbered stops and waypoints are much easier to understand, and this Roadtrippers map also has other points of interest (“Extraordinary Places”) you might want to stop at too.

I used Roadtrippers Plus to create this route; you can get $5 off Plus by clicking this link and using code BTR5QTP.

Which Direction to Drive the Pacific Coast Highway?

PCH Southbound Sign

The most important thing you need to decide first when driving the Pacific Coast Highway is which direction you prefer to travel the Pacific Coast Highway (northbound or southbound). If I can make a recommendation? You should drive the Pacific Coast Highway southbound!

The reason I recommend doing your Pacific Coast Highway road trip north to south is that you’ll be on the coastal side of the road. Driving south on the right-hand side of the road, you’ll have a great view of the ocean and coastline. When I drove the PCH in 2014, I did a northbound San Diego to Seattle road trip, and lament that I wasn’t on the “outer” side of the road.

Pacific Coast Highway Start & End Points

Your second choice is where to start your road trip. The traditional definition of the Pacific Coast Highway is to drive California Highway 1 from San Diego to Leggett (or vice versa); you can extend by adding on U.S. Highway 101 through Northern California and Oregon and Washington coasts.

Depending on whether you drive a Washington to California road trip or just drive portions in California, you can start/end your road trip at the various cities in this guide.

Here are some different starting/ending points for a PCH road trip:

  • Seattle to San Diego (or vice versa) – the whole Pacific Coast Highway
  • Crescent City to San Diego (or vice versa) – the California portion of the Pacific Coast Highway
  • San Francisco to San Diego – a great California coast road trip, but only the Central California and Southern California portions

As you can see, you have options! Now let me break down a few itineraries to choose from, based on how much time you have to do your Pacific Coast Highway road trip.

Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Itinerary Options

Pacific Coast Highway Hotels Hero

The Pacific Coast Highway is an ambitious road trip, but totally possible in as few as five days. To help you plan your road trip, here are two possible road trip itineraries you could take. As I mentioned above, both are southbound itineraries.

5-Day Pacific Coast Highway Itinerary

If you are short on time to drive the PCH, as I was, a Pacific Coast highway itinerary for 5 days is ideal. You won’t have as much time to spend in each city, or to take a few of the “long drives,” but you’ll see it all in a short span of time. Here’s a Pacific Coast Highway map and schedule for 5 days:

DayRouteStops
Day 1Seattle to Portland1, 5, 6, 7, 8
Day 2Portland to Crescent City9, 10, 11
Day 3Crescent City to San Francisco12, 13, 14, 15, 16
Day 4San Francisco to Santa Barbara17, 18, 19, 20
Day 5Santa Barbara to San Diego21, 22

7-Day Pacific Coast Highway Itinerary

If you’re lucky to have a few more days for your PCH road trip, a week is a pretty fantastic amount of time to see all that the Pacific Coast Highway has to offer. This Pacific Coast Highway itinerary is 7 days and will let you take the whole route and return home with unforgettable memories:

DayRouteStops
Day 1Seattle to Newport1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Day 2Newport to Crescent City10, 11
Day 3Crescent City to Fort Bragg12, 13, 14
Day 4Fort Bragg to San Francisco15, 16
Day 5San Francisco to San Luis Obispo17, 18, 19
Day 6San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara20
Day 7Santa Barbara to San Diego21, 22

10-Day Pacific Coast Highway Itinerary

If you have more time to drive the PCH, this 10-day itinerary is perfect. You can even stretch it out by spending a few extra days exploring some of the cities along the route if you want to. Here’s a Pacific Coast Highway map and schedule for 10 days:

DayRouteStops
Day 1Seattle to Port Angeles1, 2
Day 2Port Angeles to Long Beach3, 4, 5, 6
Day 3Long Beach to Newport, Oregon7, 8, 9
Day 4Newport to Crescent City10, 11
Day 5Crescent City to Fort Bragg12, 13
Day 6Fort Bragg to San Francisco14, 15, 16
Day 7San Francisco to Big Sur17, 18
Day 8 Big Sur to Santa Barbara19, 20
Day 9Santa Barbara to Los Angeles21
Day 10Los Angeles to San Diego22

When to Drive the Pacific Coast Highway

Pacific Coast Highway View

One of the most popular questions I get about driving the Pacific Coast Highway is about when to drive the PCH. Here are my suggestions:

  • In Washington and Oregon, the best weather of the year happens between June and September.
  • In Northern California, the best weather of the year happens between September and October.
  • Southern California has great weather year-round.

Therefore, I recommend driving the Pacific Coast Highway in September, when you’re most likely to have great weather along the entire length of the road trip.

How to Choose a Car for the Pacific Coast Highway

Before you hit the road, you’ve gotta figure out your car situation!

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! I drove one and I hardly ever got to enjoy it!

If you know which car you want, I recommend renting from Fox Rent-A-Car or Sixt. They all offer budget rentals, run regular deals and specials, and have one-way rental options.

If you’re not sure (or not loyal to any particular car rental company), consider using a tool like Kayak or TripAdvisor to compare a bunch of options (yes, TripAdvisor does rental cars!).

Okay, now you’ve got your car, you’ve got your basic itinerary. You’re all set to start filling in the gaps!

Step-by-Step Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Directions

Pacific Coast Highway Map

Now that you have all the details you need to plan a PCH road trip, you need to know which destinations are worth a stop along the Pacific Coast Highway. Now I’m going to lay out step-by-step directions for a Pacific Coast Highway road trip based on all my tips so far. These stops are numbered to match my Roadtrippers map and trip above (click here to open the trip in a separate window).

For each spot, I share whether I consider it an ‘Overnight‘ stop (where you should spend a night) or a ‘Waypoint‘ stop (where you should stop to stretch your legs and/or see the sights).

Start: Seattle

Pacific Coast Highway - Seattle - View from Kerry Park
  • Stop Type: Starting Point, Overnight
  • Accommodation Suggestions:

Seattle is one of my favorite destinations in the world. After all, I liked it so much when I first visited in 2012 that I moved there in 2013! Therefore, it’s an amazing place to start your Pacific Coast Highway trip! Technically, Seattle is not on the Pacific Coast Highway, but you can fly into Seattle and drive one hour south to Olympia to start your PCH road trip.

Seattle is perfect for anywhere between one day and three days if you have the time. If not, spend your day exploring the Seattle waterfront to see all of the city from above.

Briefly, here are some of the other must-see attractions in Seattle:

  • The recently renovated Space Needle with its all-new glass floor and paneling
  • The Fremont neighborhood and its resident Fremont Troll
  • Gas Works Park or Kerry Park, both with stunning views of the Seattle skyline
  • The Ballard neighborhood and the Chittenden Locks and Fish Ladder

If you want to spend a few days in Seattle, consider purchasing the Seattle CityPass. You’ll get access to five major attractions at a discounted price, so you can experience more of what Seattle has to offer for less. (Hours and dates for the attractions on the Seattle CityPass have been affected by the pandemic, so be sure to check those when you purchase!)

Pacific Coast Highway Directions: From Seattle, head south along US Highway 101 to Olympia.

1. Olympia

PCH Road Trip - Washington - Olympia State Capital
  • Stop Type: Waypoint
  • Accommodation & Meal Suggestions: none

It’s not a long drive from Seattle to Olympia, so I recommend just making a ‘waypoint’ stop here to stretch your legs before rest of your driving today – whether that’s to Port Angeles or Portland. There’s a nice public parking area near a lake that overlooks the Washington State Capital building. You can stretch your legs with a short walk before getting back on the road.

Pacific Coast Highway Directions:
If you are doing a quick Pacific Coast Highway road trip, head south from Olympia along I-5 to Portland.
If your PCH road trip includes the Olympic Peninsula, follow U.S. 101 west and then north along the eastern side of the Olympic Peninsula toward Port Angeles.

2. Port Angeles

PCH Guide - Port Angeles - Marina
  • Stop Type: Overnight
  • Accommodation Suggestions: If you decide to spend a night in Port Angeles, my #1 recommendation is Colette’s Bed & Breakfast. I reviewed it in my post about FOMO-inducing B&Bs. Rooms from $195/night, book on Booking.com and Hotels.com.
  • Meal Suggestions: For dinner, book a table at Alder Wood Bistro in nearby Sequim. I had an amazing four-course meal there on my last trip to the peninsula.

If you’re planning a full 10 day west coast road trip, make sure you follow my guide and do at least one overnight on the Olympic Peninsula. Port Angeles is the place for that one-night stop.

There are loads of cool things to explore in/around this small PNW town, including Olympic National Park! Other cool attractions include Hurricane Ridge (a popular hiking spot), Elwha River Valley, and Olympic Hot Springs.

Pacific Coast Highway Directions: Head west along U.S. 101 until it turns south along the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula. You’ll see signs for Hoh Rainforest, a left turn which takes you inland to the forest.

3. Hoh Rainforest

  • Stop Type: Waypoint
  • Accommodation & Meal Suggestions: none

Can you believe there’s a rainforest in Washington? Located on the Pacific side of the Olympic Peninsula, Hoh Rainforest qualifies as a rainforest due to the amount of precipitation that occurs each year. In this forest you’ll find amazing old growth trees and is incredibly verdant. It’s a great spot for a short hike to stretch your legs.

Pacific Coast Highway Directions: Return west to U.S. 101 and turn south. The turn-out for Ruby Beach occurs right as the highway reaches the Pacific coast.

4. Ruby Beach

PCH Road Trip - Washington - Ruby Beach
  • Stop Type: Waypoint
  • Accommodation & Meal Suggestions: none

Ruby Beach is only a short drive from Hoh Rainforest but it’s the most picturesque beach on Washington’s Pacific Coast. You can look out over beautiful seastacks that dot the northern part of the Pacific Coast and stroll along the sand covered with huge driftwood formations and sea foam.

Pacific Coast Highway Directions: Head south from Ruby Beach along U.S. 101.

5. Aberdeen

  • Stop Type: Waypoint
  • Accommodation & Meal Suggestions: none

Aberdeen has one main claim to fame: it was the hometown of Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain. If you’re a fan, make sure to stop in Aberdeen to see the house where he grew up. You can find the Cobain house at 1210 E 1st St, and right next door you can see a memorial to Cobain in Kurt Cobain Memorial Park (the house now a private residence, so don’t disturb the owners!).

Pacific Coast Highway Directions: From Aberdeen, continue south along U.S. Highway 101.

6. Long Beach

  • Stop Type: Overnight
  • Accommodation Suggestions: For accommodation, you can splurge on a stay at the beautiful Shelburne Hotel, which changed owners and had a major renovation – or choose an alternative option by booking a trailer at the Sou’wester (from $128/night).
  • Meal Suggestions:
    • The Depot (delicious home-cooked dishes in the old railroad depot)

Long Beach is – and always will be – one of my favorite destinations in Washington. The little set of communities on Long Beach peninsula are at the lower left corner of the state and are home to cozy accommodations and surprisingly delicious restaurants. There are plenty of things to do in Long Beach for more than an overnight stop!

Pacific Coast Highway Directions: It’s a short drive south and a little east along U.S. 101 from Long Beach to cross the Astoria into Oregon.

7. Astoria

PCH Road Trip - Oregon - Astoria
  • Stop Type: Waypoint
  • Accommodation & Meal Suggestions: none

Astoria, like Aberdeen in Washington, is a great destination for lovers of pop culture. If you’ve ever seen The Goonies, you know exactly what I mean. After driving across the famous Columbia River bridge, stop and give yourself a self-guided tour of popular Goonies spots in Oregon’s northwest-most town.

Pacific Coast Highway Directions:
If you are on a quick PCH road trip, turn inland along the Columbia River and then south on I-5 to Portland.
If your Pacific Coast Highway road trip includes the Oregon Coast, skip “Portland” below and drive south along U.S. 101 to Seaside & Cannon Beach (#8).

(Optional: Portland)

Weekend Getaways from Portland Hero
  • Stop Type: Overnight
  • Accommodation Suggestions:
  • Meal Suggestions: Portland is a foodie’s heaven. For brunch, it’s hard to go wrong, but some of my favorite spots are Clyde Common and Tilt. Don’t miss Portland’s famous food trucks too, for lunch or dinner.

Portland is the only city on this list that isn’t on the coast, and it’s definitely a trip extender if you want to visit Portland while driving the Pacific Coast Highway.

Once in Portland, it’s easy to spend a few days exploring; I have been to Portland repeatedly and there are so many experiences that can more than fill a stop on your road trip. If you don’t have the time, plan an overnight stop and make a late start after brunch at one of Portland’s many amazing restaurants.

Pacific Coast Highway Directions:
If you are a shorter Pacific Coast Highway road trip, continue south along I-5 to Grant’s Pass, then turn southwest to Crescent City (#11).
If you are taking a longer PCH drive, turn west out of Portland along Oregon Highways 99W and 18 to connect with U.S. 101 near Lincoln City. You will miss Seaside & Cannon Beach on this route, so your next stop will be Newport (#9).

8. Seaside & Cannon Beach

  • Stop Type: Waypoint
  • Accommodation & Meal Suggestions: none

Seaside is a picturesque coastal town, a western interpretation of the East Coast summer destinations along the Atlantic. The huge sweeping beach is admittedly not warm enough for a swim – but it’s great for a stroll in the surf. Downtown is a series of taffy-colored storefronts filled with beach gear, kitschy coastal crafts, and the Funland Seaside Arcade, which harkens back to the heydays of coastal vacations.

South of Seaside, be sure to stop in Cannon Beach to admire Haystack Rock. One of the most famous sea stacks on the U.S. Pacific Coast, Haystack Rock is picture perfect while you stretch your legs.

Pacific Coast Highway Directions: Continue south on U.S. Highway 101 along the Oregon Coast to Newport.

9. Newport

PCH - Oregon - Haystack Rock
  • Stop Type: Waypoint
  • Accommodation & Meal Suggestions: none

Newport is a great destination to stretch your legs for a few hours once you arrive back on the Pacific Coast (you can also drive straight down Highway 101 from Cannon Beach if you decide to skip a stop in Portland). The Oregon Coast Aquarium lets visitors explore the marine ecosystems around this part of the Pacific Ocean.

Pacific Coast Highway Directions: Continue south along U.S. 101. It’s less than 10 minutes’ drive from Newport to Devils Punch Bowl.

10. Devils Punch Bowl

PCH Stops - Devil's Punchbowl
  • Stop Type: Waypoint
  • Accommodation & Meal Suggestions: none

Sort of the “opposite” of sea stacks like Haystack Rock, Devils Punchbowl is another beautiful natural rock formation along the Oregon Coast. It was also formed by wave erosion, and now the huge hole is a beautiful vista or hiking spot.

Similar to Haystack Rock, your experience stopping at Devils Punchbowl will depend on the tides. At low tide, you can hike down into the hole or go tidepooling; at other times you can have a picnic while trying to spot whales off the coast.

Pacific Coast Highway Directions: Continue south along U.S. 101 to Crescent City – always stick to the coast!

11. Crescent City

  • Stop Type: Overnight
  • Accommodation Suggestions:
    • If you’re budget-conscious, this cute house sleeps two and has all the basics to serve as a base for exploring the city or a quick overnight stop. From $75/night; book on VRBO.
    • On our recent trip, we 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 $210/night; book on VRBO.
  • Meal Suggestions: Opt for a meal stop and enjoy harbor views while you dine at Chart Room. We also enjoyed Port O’ Pints and Seaquake Brewing on our visit in late 2020.

When you hit the California coast, it’s like driving in a postcard. Jagged coastline, infinite blue water, sunny days, gorgeous sunsets… these are just a few of the reasons California Highway 1 became a popular route in the first place! Here are the stops I suggest for a Pacific Coast Highway California road trip itinerary.

Crescent City is the first city you’ll enter when driving southbound into California along the Pacific Coast Highway (or last if you’re headed northbound). Located on a beautiful crescent-shaped bay, Crescent City is along part of the PCH where California Highway 1 and U.S. Highway 101 overlap – hence this guide referring to both Highway 1 and Highway 101 as the “PCH” in different states. The coast near Crescent City is dotted with the gigantic rock formations out at sea that characterize most of the northern and central California coastline.

Crescent City is a great spot for an overnight stop (or longer) depending on your itinerary.

Pacific Coast Highway Directions: At this point in Northern California, the PCH is still U.S. 101. Follow the highway south as it winds inland and along the coast.

12. Humboldt Redwoods State Park

  • Stop Type: Waypoint
  • Accommodation & Meal Suggestions: none

After Crescent City, the Pacific Coast Highway starts to navigate in and away from the coast at times, which includes chances to experience one of California’s natural wonders: the Redwoods. It’s easy to make a stop in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, so take the opportunity!

Old Highway 101 is now called the Avenue of the Giants, and I highly recommend slowing down to enjoy this 31-mile stretch through some of California’s oldest living – and tallest! – trees.

Pacific Coast Highway Directions: South of Humboldt Redwoods, there’s a junction where California Highway 1 (CA-1) begins. At this point you should take the exit to CA-1; this is now the Pacific Coast Highway.

13. Fort Bragg Glass Beach

Things to Do in Fort Bragg - Glass Beach
  • Stop Type: Waypoint
  • Accommodation & Meal Suggestions: none

My stop in Fort Bragg was relatively short, but it was worth it! Fort Bragg is home to a beautiful glass beach, pictured above, where the entire beach is made of sea glass from past trash dumps. While the glass is technically part of MacKerricher State Park and you can’t take it home – 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.

Pacific Coast Highway Directions: Follow California Highway 1 south.

14. Mendocino

  • Stop Type: Overnight
  • Accommodation Suggestions: The Little River Inn
  • Meal Suggestions: The Whale Watch Bar at Little River Inn is one of my favorite pubs in California.

I recently discovered Mendocino on a weekend trip and fell in love with the small town. With colorful historic seaside homes and great hiking trails and other outdoor activities, Mendocino is good for at least an overnight stop – don’t be surprised if you want to spend even longer here once you arrive!

Pacific Coast Highway Directions: Continue south along California Highway 1.

15. Marshall & Point Reyes

  • Stop Type: Waypoint
  • Accommodation Suggestions: none
  • Meal Suggestions: If you’re hungry, stop for lunch at Nick’s Cove (pictured above). If you really love oysters, swing by Hog Island Oyster Company and purchase some to shuck and eat right then.

Point Reyes is arguably my favorite part of the Pacific Coast Highway – and that is saying something as it’s really hard to choose favorites from over 650 miles of California coastline!

While driving southbound, you’ll approach Marshall first. From the perspective of California Highway 1, it might seem like just a few buildings alongside the road. Next, you’ll pass through Point Reyes, which again seems underwhelming. Both have way more to explore once you stop or pull off the road.

In particular, plan a long foray out to Point Reyes State Park and Lighthouse. This 20-mile (one way) detour will take you out on Point Reyes, and has stark and beautiful landscape because it’s so far out “at sea.” Additionally, you’ll get a sense for the magnitude of the San Andreas fault line, which comes inland along the northern part of Point Reyes.

Be sure to plan your trip on a day the lighthouse is open for tours, so you can climb the steps down to the lighthouse and look out beneath the clouds across the sea. The Point Reyes Lighthouse is only open to visitors from Fridays to Mondays (weekends) from 10am-4:30pm. Plan accordingly when you design your PCH itinerary. It’s worth it!

Pacific Coast Highway Directions: Follow CA-1 south – it’s a meandering route, but if you follow it all the way until Muir Beach you can make an optional stop at Muir Woods if you want.

16. San Francisco

Pacific Coast Highway - San Francisco - View from Lands End

It’s impossible to reduce all of the amazing things to do in San Francisco down to a small paragraph or overnight stop on a Pacific Coast Highway road trip. Now that I’ve moved to this part of California, I know this is true.

If you’re planning a PCH trip and want to pass through San Francisco, you can either skim over along the side of the city as you drive down the coast, take a detour inland to visit Yosemite National Park, or dive in for one night knowing it will only make you want to come back for more.

No matter which you choose, you’ll enter SF by driving across the Golden Gate Bridge; you can either stay along the coast and drive down Ocean Beach or head east into the city. In the city, the San Francisco CityPass is a good option – it’s super helpful for getting around and seeing the city’s top sights. (Hours and dates for the attractions on the SF CityPass have been affected by the pandemic, so be sure to check those when you purchase!)

Pacific Coast Highway Directions: When you’re ready to continue on your PCH road trip, make your way back to California Highway 1 head south.

17. Pigeon Point

PCH - California - Pigeon Point
  • Stop Type: Waypoint
  • Accommodation & Meal Suggestions: none

Pigeon Point can be a fun rest stop along the Pacific Coast Highway or a quirky one-night stop depending on your itinerary. As the tallest lighthouse on the U.S. Pacific Coast, Pigeon Point Lighthouse is picturesque, and you can view it from several different angles along the nearby coastline. Unfortunately, you can’t climb the lighthouse steps as it has been closed for restoration since 2001.

Pacific Coast Highway Directions: Carry on south on CA-1, the PCH.

18. Big Sur

Pacific Coast Highway Itinerary Featured Image
  • Stop Type: Waypoint
  • Accommodation & Meal Suggestions: none

When you picture the Pacific Coast Highway, it’s Big Sur that comes to mind. The most easily accessible and breathtakingly stark part of the PCH is a short drive (about 3 hours) sound of San Francisco, so many people in the Bay Area do it as an overnight or weekend trip.

Big Sur is defined as the stretch of coastline and adjacent state park between Carmel and San Simeon. Here, California Highway 1 carves a sinuous path along steep cliffs; the road is beautiful at a price, since mudslides aren’t uncommon along this stretch of highway, and can close the highway for months. (As of July 2018, the PCH reopened after a 2017 mudslide!)

If you want to spend part of one day during your Pacific Coast Highway road trip beachcombing or hiking, Big Sur is the place to do it.

Pacific Coast Highway Directions: Continue south on CA-1, the Pacific Coast Highway.

19. Pismo State Beach

  • Stop Type: Waypoint
  • Accommodation & Meal Suggestions: none

Pismo State Beach is another great stop during a day of driving from San Francisco to Santa Barbara (or reverse). I stopped here to eat a to-go lunch I had purchased earlier in the drive, with my toes in the sand.

Pismo is a popular camping destination, so the most common amenities you’ll find if you decide to stay longer than a few hours are camping-oriented. There are a few restaurants in town and 17 miles of beautiful beach to explore. If you happen to do your PCH road trip in the winter, Pismo State Beach is also home to the largest colony of migrating monarch butterflies during the winter months.

Lastly, Pismo is a great stop for a midday workout on the road, with the huge stretch of beach to walk/run on.

Pacific Coast Highway Directions: Continue south along CA-1. The PCH heads inland near Lompoc but is the main road you can take to Santa Barbara.

20. Santa Barbara

  • Stop Type: Overnight
  • Accommodation Suggestions:
    • Plan an overnight in Santa Barbara so you can soak in the charm. For accommodation, try a small hotel like the Eagle Inn. Rooms start from $115/night, book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.
    • When it comes to vacation rental options, Agapios Cottage is a cute, affordable option that offers some privacy too. Starts from $123/night, book on Hotels.com.
  • Meal Suggestions: Try to make it to Happy Hour at Enterprise Fish Company. Oysters, calamari, and other fresh seafood small plates are on sale! (Temporarily closed due to the pandemic!)

Santa Barbara was the biggest surprise I had on my PCH road trip in 2014. I was, for the most part, ambivalent about the cities along the PCH. I was far more interested in the hundreds of miles of coastal roadways.

My overnight stop in Santa Barbara changed my mind. I loved the harbor and wharf, was surprised by the food scene, and lightly dabbled in the historical significance of Santa Barbara enough for me to want to return. I enjoyed it so much that I wrote a whole article about the experiences I recommend in Santa Barbara!

Pacific Coast Highway Directions: As you might have guessed – continue following California Highway 1 south!

21. Los Angeles/Venice Beach

  • Stop Type: Waypoint
  • Accommodation Suggestions: none
  • Meal Suggestions: Venice Ale House is a good spot with waterfront views and plenty of people watching opportunities.

Los Angeles is the last major city on my list of Pacific Coast Highway stops, and though I have a guide to spending one day in L.A., you can and should spend as much time as you like. Whether you just want to see the top highlights and sightseeing hotspots or want to dive into L.A.’s booming food scene, you can find it all in Los Angeles.

Depending on the timing of your itinerary, you may want to do an overnight here. If you’ve just stayed overnight in Santa Barbara or started your road trip in San Diego, that may not make as much sense. I haven’t stayed at any L.A. hotels, so I don’t feel comfortable recommending any. That said, there are plenty of nice ones depending on which part of town you want to stay in.

Pacific Coast Highway Directions: Follow CA-1 south out of L.A. to avoid the city’s notorious traffic as you make your way along the coast.

22. Huntington Beach

  • Stop Type: Waypoint
  • Accommodation Suggestions: none
  • Meal Suggestions: none

If you need to stretch your legs on your day of driving between Los Angeles and San Diego, Huntington Beach is a great spot to stop. I had the chance to spend a weekend in Huntington Beach a few years ago and loved the vibe in this surf town. On your stop here, be sure to walk out along the pier and keep an eye out for surfers working the breaks along the beach.

Pacific Coast Highway Directions: Continue along CA-1 to San Diego, your final stop on this PCH road trip.

End: San Diego

California Cosat Road Trip - San Diego
  • Stop Type: Overnight, Ending Point
  • Accommodation & Meal Suggestions: none

San Diego was the starting point of my Pacific Coast Highway road trip; for you, it may be the end. San Diego is high on my must-visit-longer list, so I’m again a bit short on recommendations here. San Diego is known for its Zoo and was made Instagram famous for Potato Chip Rock. Whether you stop to take a few Instagram-worthy spots or ogle the animals, there’s plenty of experiences to choose from in San Diego.

Pacific Coast Highway Directions: None! Congrats on finishing your Pacific Coast Highway road trip. ?

That’s it! PCH bucket list road trip… done! Have other questions about driving the Pacific Coast Highway? Let me know in the comments!

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