Driving along the Pacific Coast Highway is more than a road trip, well known as California State 1 — it’s an experience. From amazing cities like San Francisco and San Diego to breathtaking state parks like Pfeiffer Big Sur and Point Lobos, a road trip along the PCH needs to be on everyone’s bucket list. Follow these suggestions below for the ultimate PCH experience.
Where to Start and End
The PCH officially begins where the U.S. 101 becomes the California Highway 1 in Legget, California, and ends where the California Highway 1 transitions into Interstate 5 in Dana Point, Orange County. Although San Diego is technically not along the official PCH, it’s definitely worth a visit. The most inclusive route would either start or end in San Diego or San Francisco.
If you’re not from California, be sure to familiarize yourself with their traffic laws and rules of the road, as they may differ from your state (or country). For example, in California, it’s prohibited to touch, use or look at your smartphone while driving, even if it’s being used for navigation purposes.
Where to Stop Along the Way
Between San Francisco and San Diego, you’ll find a wide range of metropolitan cities, quaint beach towns and even remote fishing neighborhoods worth a visit.
Begin with a visit to Golden Gate Park for beautiful views of the iconic red bridge, then to Fisherman’s Wharf for some delicious clam chowder and a drive down the windy road of Lombard Street. For a little history and culture, visit Alcatraz Island, Presidio Park, Chinatown and the beautiful Japanese Gardens. As you leave San Francisco, visit Half Moon Bay and Ano Nuevo State Park to visit the wild elephant seals.
Only 90 minutes away from San Francisco is an old-school Americana vibe beach town built along a boardwalk. Visit the amusement park and ride the Big Dipper, shop on Pacific Avenue, hike at Wilder Ranch State Park, and eat at local favorite Laili Restaurant for contemporary Mediterranean and Afghan cuisine.
Monterey is a little slice of oceanic heaven and a must-stop on your road trip. Check out the stunning Monterey Bay Aquarium, Old Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row for shopping, dining and bars. Spend some time outdoors and get active sailing, kayaking, biking and surfing. The marine life is rich, and if you’re lucky, you’ll spot a gray whale, humpback, blue whale, pacific white-sided dolphin, orca and so much more. Golfers and nature lovers will indulge in the Pebble Beach scenic drive.
Big Sur is arguably the most beautiful destination along the PCH. Visit Pfeiffer Beach’s emerald waters, McWay Falls, Ragged Point, Esalen Institute’s natural hot springs, Point Sur State Historic Park and, of course, Bixby Bridge, which you’ll have to drive over. Big Sur is a small, hippie, mountain community, and camping is the lodging of choice here. Whether you stay in a tent, cabin or yurt, Big Sur is definitely worth a visit.
Santa Barbara , our dear hometown, brings you back into civilization with the famous Santa Barbara Mission, Zoo, pier, botanical gardens, a variety of museums and theaters, and delicious dining options. For an all-day bistro with seasonal cuisine, visit Nuance and be sure to try the wood-fired focaccia. Part of the Funk Zone complex, which also includes a guitar shop, brewery, artisanal spirits and two sibling restaurants (Lucky Penny and Les Marchands Wine Bar), the contemporary American restaurant, Lark, is a great option for outdoor dining and sipping. For Japanese cuisine fans, don’t miss the amazing Arigato on State Street, with its creative and oh so tasty dishes. Santa Barbara is also a great place to go hiking, surfing, whale watching or paragliding. Feel free to ask us for tips…
Between Santa Barbara and San Diego, there lies a very long stretch of beautiful beaches and scenery, including Ventura, Malibu, San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente, to name a few. Once you reach San Diego, visit the La Jolla Marine Reserve, Balboa Park, Seaport Village, Cabrillo National Monument and Old Town for great Mexican food. San Diego is the perfect city to put that cherry on top of your amazing PCH road trip experience.
Of course there are many other interesting and wonderful places along the PCH, like Malibu Canyon, Guadalupe dunes, Los Angeles, Carmel, Morro Bay, San Simeon’s Hearst Castle and elephant seal colony, or Mendocino up North. So many places to see and enjoy.
What is your favorite place on the Californian coast?