The Pacific Coast Highway (or PCH) is touted as one of the best road trip highways in the US and for good reason. The Highway spans all the way from the Mexican border in San Diego to the Canadian border. This stretch of road is home to some of the most incredible beaches and ocean views you will ever see. There are some of the cutest beach towns with great food along the way. This trip has it all and that’s why we planned out the perfect Pacific Coast Highway road trip.
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Where to Start
The first thing to planning your Pacific Coast Highway road trip is which direction you want to travel. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter, but if you want the best views of the ocean and access to the most pullouts try trekking north to south. If your starting from the Los Angeles area, check out our California National Park Road Trip which ends at Redwood National Park.
Before getting started and mapping out your route please note this road is very windy, especially in the north. There are also a lot of steep climbs and declines. If you have a larger RV please make sure you are very comfortable in these types of conditions before starting on your trip.
Redwood National Park
Depending on how far north you start it is 60 miles south from the border of Oregon to Redwood National Park.
Redwood National Park is a must-stop spot. This part of the road is home to the tallest trees in the world. From Crescent City to the National Park there is some of the best hiking you will ever experience.
The redwood trees tower over you with the backdrop of the ocean cliffs. You can’t go wrong with any hike in this area.
The next must-stop on your Pacific Coast Highway road trip is 177 miles south to Fort Bragg.
This is a cute fishing town with lots of history. Aside from the little downtown with shops and places to eat, you have to check out Glass Beach. Glass Beach is just as it sounds, tiny pieces of glass that have been smoothed out by the waves.
It makes for a very unique experience. While visiting you will also want to check out Point Cabrillo Lighthouse. This lighthouse sits on the edge of picturesque cliffs and is perfect for watching sunsets.
The roads to get to Fort Bragg are windy and narrow and restricted to those who have motorhomes under 40 feet. If you are like us with a large RV, skip this spot and head down to San Francisco via the 101.
After Fort Bragg, continue driving south on the PCH for 164 miles to San Francisco. There is so much to do in San Francisco.
Famous for the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, the city also has unique historical architecture and world-class food.
When driving along the PCH you have to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. There is no better way to enter the city.
Once there you have to visit Fisherman’s Wharf for incredible seafood. Then venture over to Alcatraz for a tour of the prison.
Once done in San Francisco continue south 76 miles to Santa Cruz. When visiting this beach city, it’s hard not to feel relaxed. Santa Cruz has a very laid-back vibe due to its oceanfront boardwalk.
Along the boardwalk, there are lots of shopping, restaurants, and theme park. It’s a fun experience for all ages.
You also must check out the Mystery Spot. This attraction defies gravity and how physics works. We can’t give it all away, you have to see it for yourself.
After Santa Cruz, the next must-stop spot on this Pacific Coast Highway road trip is 43 miles to Monterey. This eclectic town with waterfront views everywhere is nothing but peaceful.
Time seems to move a little bit slower here. There is a world-class aquarium that is a must-see. This large aquarium submerges you into the world underwater.
You must also take the drive along the 17-mile drive that ends at Pebble Beach. The drive has some of the most spectacular ocean cliffs.
Once done in Monterey, take the short drive 30 miles south to Big Sur. This area is one of the most photographed parts of the Pacific Coast Highway road trip.
Known for the lush forest and steep ocean cliffs, it truly is a special place. Some stops to make in this area are Pfeiffer Beach. This hidden alcove beach has one of the few places you can get to the water. The cliffs tower above the alcove making it a perfect place to stop.
If you can’t get to Pfeiffer Beach try visiting McWay Cove. Another hidden alcove with impressive ocean cliffs. There is even a waterfall that runs onto the beach.
Big Sur is also home to Bixby Bridge. You will be driving over it but we suggest you also stop for photos. This is a famous spot for some of the most incredible sunset photos.
After Big Sur your next Pacific Coast Highway road trip stop is 65 miles south to San Simeon. This town is another small beach town with lots of shopping, restaurants and beaches. But this town is most famous for Hearst Castle and the elephant seals.
Hearst Castle is an outlandish 82,000 sq ft property built in the mountains. On one of the many tours, you can take you will see the lavish rooms, beautiful gardens and even a zoo.
Another site to see are the elephant seals that frequent the area. During the peak seasons, there are as many as 17,000 to be seen.
55 miles south of San Simeon is Pismo Beach. This area is a very popular summer destination.
The beach town offers shopping, beaches and some of the best clam chowder. One of the highlight attractions in this area is Avila Hot Springs. This is a spa that takes advantage of the natural hot springs for your benefit. They offer swimming pools to massage packages.
After a day at the spa, there is nothing more fun than going to the Sunset Drive-In. Be sure to look online for what is showing that day and reserve your tickets ahead of time.
Lastly, you have to make a stop at the Pismo Beach Dunes. Many visitors like to make sleds and slide down the steep dunes.
Continuing south on your Pacific Coast Highway road trip another 80 miles is Santa Barbara. There is no shortage of things to do in this more established area. There are lots of shopping and great restaurants.
Downtown Santa Barbara has anything you could want to eat, great bars, and many wine tasting rooms. There is also a zoo.
Santa Barbara is a fun place to take the family out or leave the kids at home for a date night.
The last stop on this Pacific Coast Highway road trip is 95 miles south to Los Angeles. This stop could keep you busy for months.
Famous for Hollywood, Rodeo Drive, and the Malibu beaches, you are sure to have plenty to do. You will probably even run into one or two of the celebrities that live in the area.
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