Packing Lists for Travel,  Road Trip Tips

10 Essentials to Pack for the Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

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The open road is calling, and you want to answer. Where better to explore the beauty of America than by making your way down the Pacific Coast Highway, which stretches from Washington State to the southern border of California?

I’ve been fortunate to drive the Pacific Coast Highway in full once, and drive portions of it many more times while living in Washington and California. It’s a road trip route unlike any other – but it’s also unique in the climate, driving conditions, and services you’ll experience along the way.

Pack for the Pacific Coast Highway Hero

To that end, there are some special items you should pack for the Pacific Coast Highway specifically. These items are good road trip essentials in general, but as you’ll see, they are particularly helpful when driving the PCH, and will ensure you have a safe and fun drive along the winding windswept coast of the Western U.S.

Ready to hit the open road? Give this list a quick look, pack what you’ve forgotten, and have a great time!

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.

This post was originally published in March 2019, and was updated in January 2023.

Planning Your PCH Road Trip

In case you haven’t finalized your Pacific Coast Highway road trip plans yet, I have a number of resources that can help you:

Okay, now let’s get into what you need to pack for the Pacific Coast Highway.

What to Pack for the Pacific Coast Highway

Pacific Coast Highway Northbound

As you grab your gear to load up the car or pack to pick up your rental before setting off along the PCH, here are 10 items you might forget – but which are essential for enjoying the drive on the 1600+ mile Pacific Coast Highway.

1. Sunglasses

How much you’ll need sunglasses depends a lot on your PCH itinerary and which direction you’re driving. If you’re driving southbound on the PCH (like I suggest here), you’ll definitely need them!

For women, I love these Ray Ban Erikas; for men, you can’t go wrong with these polarized Sunskis.

2. Cell-Car Transmitter

Some of the best road trips in the world are great because they’re in remote places you can’t easily each; the PCH is definitely one of those.

This also means you might not have radio service; you’ll need to plan ahead to ensure you have music or podcasts to listen to. This handy car transmitter also has a USB port so you can stay fully charged the whole trip.

3. Cell Phone Mount

Speaking of phones, did you know that many U.S. states have hands-free laws? On the PCH, all three states (Washington, Oregon, and California) have some of the most aggressive laws in the country.

This means you pretty much can’t touch your phone while driving. If you’re navigating, you need your phone, so use a suction cup phone mount to keep your phone visible and both hands on the wheel.

4. Spotify Premium & Travel Playlists

I can’t deny it: I’m a Spotify addict. I listen to Spotify ALL. THE. TIME. and I get really confused when I hear other people have ads because they don’t pay for premium.

Spotify Premium lets you download your favorite playlists and podcasts to your phone in advance, so you’ll have something to listen to even when you’re out of cell or radio service.

5. A Good Camera

Most road trips are a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You probably won’t drive this route again, and you don’t want blurry snaps on your phone as the only proof you did it!

Until recently, my go-to camera was an old Sony NEX-6; if I were investing today, I’d go with the Alpha a6000 (pictured).

6. Wet Wipes

Whether you’re road-tripping with kids or just some fun-loving adults, wet wipes are a great thing to stick in one of the seat-back pockets. I have distinct memories of my mom using these to wipe my hands and face as a kid after a roadside ice cream stop.

These ones come as a 10-pack of 20-wipe envelopes.

7. Road Trip Snacks

While there are definitely some fantastic restaurants along the PCH, you might find yourself hungry in between stops – and it’s hard to find healthy options if you just stock up at gas stations.

You obvs don’t have to buy these on Amazon – you can just stock up at your local store before you hit the road –, but I put the link in case you like the options!

8. Waterbottle(s)

Not all water bottles are created equally when it comes to road trips. In particular, you want one that has a small mouth hole, so you’re not spilling water all over yourself. It probably also needs a narrower base so it can easily fit in the cup holder.

Additionally, states like Washington, Oregon, and California have pretty strict rules on single-use plastics, so it’s best to do your part and reduce waste during your road trip.

I love this one from Hydroflask because it’s skinny enough to fit in most car cupholders and is colorful so you won’t forget it anywhere.

9. Guidebook & Maps

Y’all already know how I feel about using guidebooks for travel planning. Lonely Planet has a selection of road trip guides that are perfect if you’re planning a trip. You’ll find all the tips you need to make the most of your time on the road, and the best recommendations for what to do and where to stay.

I mean, the second-best recommendations, because I’ve already got you covered with road trip tips.

Bonus: Get this guidebook for free with a free 30-day trial of Kindle Unlimited. Sign up here!

10. Roadside Car Kit

Did you know that most rental cars don’t have a full emergency roadside car kit – if they have any emergency equipment at all?!

The reality is that if you have an issue while driving the PCH, you’ll probably be waiting a while – so it’s important to have the basics to try and fix issues yourself or at least keep yourself safe until help arrives.

Whether you’re driving your own car or renting one for the road trip you’re planning, an emergency car kit can help save an otherwise terrible day.

Making sure you have these essentials packed for the Pacific Coast Highway will ensure you have an unforgettable road trip – and have everything you need along the way. Have questions about a specific item you need to pack for the Pacific Coast Highway? Let me know in the comments!


Plan Your PCH Adventure!

The Complete Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Guide gives you all the info you need to plan an epic road trip from Seattle to San Diego, in one convenient place.

Get this ebook for just $12.99 $9.99!


Help others discover this post too!

I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.

2 Comments

  • Guy Irving

    We are looking into a Pacific coastal trip (likely Crescent City down to San Diego in a 5 day span next October). Your postings are wonderful and helpful! Any chance you can suggest where some of your fantastic pictures were taken? We will be bringing cameras with us. Any chance you know of great getaway spots for photography or light hiking?
    We are also planning an Alaska cruise for 2025, so will be buying from the V&V store to prepare.
    Thanks!
    Guy

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