You wanna drive the famous Pacific Coast Highway? How exciting! It’s one of the best road trips in the world, taking you from sandy beaches to stunning vistas within miles of one another.
Before you hit the road, there is one important detail you need to arrange. You might even overlook it when planning your trip! What car you drive along the PCH can really affect your experience.
If like me, you choose to drive a rental car, there are many considerations. Here are tips I learned from driving the PCH myself, and how to choose the perfect Pacific Coast Highway rental car for your trip.
1. Don’t Rent in Los Angeles
If you can possibly make it happen, don’t rent your car at LAX. The cost of your rental car can be up to $200 more expensive at Los Angeles Airport, especially when you’re only renting for a one-way trip.
Instead, try other airports in the area. In San Diego or Long Beach, rental companies are more likely to compete for customers with lower prices. In the end, that will help you get a better deal (which is good, since gas prices on the West Coast will definitely eat up the difference!).
2. Bring a Navigator and/or Photographer
This isn’t so much related to the car, but having a companion will make the road a lot more enjoyable. The winding roads will keep you from falling asleep when you’re alone, but someone with a map and camera in hand can grab snaps of all the things you miss while driving, as well as pointing out important rest areas/sight-seeing opportunities along the way. Also, they’ll be able to pick the music, so make sure they’re really awesome.
3. Opt for a Car with a Lower Center of Gravity
When it comes time to select the type of car you want to rent, the lower center of gravity, the better your driving experience will be.
You do not want an SUV with any chance of rolling. Even in a low car, you’re going to have to slow down a lot to make the hairpin turns. In a bigger car, you’re going to miss out on half of the thrill of driving the PCH.
For my trip, a Ford Mustang was a great choice because while I would have bottomed out on a speed bump, there aren’t any speed bumps on the PCH – just glorious winding roads that my car hugged like a dream.
4. Skip the Soft-Top/Convertible
I thought I was being really cool renting a Mustang Convertible to drive up the coast. I thought of blue skies and blowing wind and sexy windswept hair.
Instead, I was always putting the top up and down. Sometimes the fog rolled in and the temperature dropped 20 degrees in 10 minutes. Other times I got sunburned and couldn’t bear it. As long as your car has windows you can roll down, that’s enough to enjoy the experience without the extra charge for a luxe rental car.
5. Go Automatic, Not Manual
Speaking of those mountains and turns, you don’t want to be constantly shifting up and down, up and down…
As an owner of manual transmission cars, I can tell you that your legs will get really tired if you choose a manual transmission for the Pacific Coast Highway. Instead, opt for the ease of an automatic. You’ll be more comfortable, and the car will get less wear and tear.
Plus, you’ll be able to accelerate more quickly when it’s safe to, or when you’re passing someone!
6. Ensure You’ll Have Music
Long stretches of the PCH have no radio or cell service. Ensure you’re all set by either confirming your car has a phone jack (and you’ve got playlists loaded) or buying an AM/FM transmitter for your phone. Make sure you’ve downloaded a few Spotify playlists or loaded an audiobook into iTunes, and you’re set. Here’s a list of the best road trip songs to add to your playlist.
Additionally, make sure you have a way to stay charged – cigarette lighter ports are now perfect for USB charging! On a 7 hour day, you won’t want to spend it listening to static interspersed with country music and NPR (can you tell I didn’t plan ahead on this one?).
Ready to book your Pacific Coast Highway rental car?
Now that you know exactly what kind of car to rent, it’s time to compare and pick the perfect one! I rented from Fox Rent A Car in San Diego. My rental was clean, safe, and they were welcoming and friendly throughout the rental process. They also had the lowest “one-way rental” fee for my trip from San Diego to Seattle. Check out the
Check out the Fox Rent A Car website to shop available cars, and take a shop their special deals on one-way rentals. Another great rental company is Budget Rent A Car, though they don’t have one-way rental deals for California right now.
Have other questions? Let me know in the comments!