Pacific Coast Highway: Scenic Drive Guide

pacific coast highway

The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) is a stunning coastal route that spans from Washington to California, offering breathtaking views and unforgettable experiences along the way. Whether you’re planning a road trip from San Diego to San Francisco or exploring the entire stretch of this iconic highway, the PCH promises an adventure like no other.

This comprehensive guide will take you through everything you need to know about this scenic drive, from its length to the best stops and attractions along the route. So buckle up, roll down the windows, and let’s hit the open road!

Key Takeaways:

  • The Pacific Coast Highway is a picturesque coastal route that runs from Washington to California.
  • It offers stunning views of the coastline, cliffs, and beautiful urban spaces.
  • When planning your road trip, decide on the direction (northbound or southbound) and where to start your journey.
  • There are various itineraries available, depending on the duration of your trip.
  • Don’t miss the must-see stops along the PCH, including Victoria Beach, Big Sur, Hearst Castle, and the Golden Gate Bridge.

How Long is the Pacific Coast Highway?

The Pacific Coast Highway is an iconic road that stretches through the states of Washington, Oregon, and California, offering breathtaking coastal views and scenic landscapes. This famous highway spans a total of 1,675 miles, making it one of the longest and most scenic drives in the United States.

Starting from Olympia, Washington, the Pacific Coast Highway winds its way down the West Coast, passing through charming coastal towns, rugged cliffs, and stunning beaches. The route continues southbound, traversing the picturesque coastline of Oregon before reaching the beautiful state of California.

In California, the Pacific Coast Highway is particularly renowned for its natural beauty and diverse attractions. From the towering redwoods of Northern California to the famous Big Sur coastline and the vibrant city of Los Angeles, this portion of the highway offers a truly unforgettable experience.

This incredible journey ultimately concludes in San Diego, California, where you can bask in the warm sun and enjoy the vibrant coastal atmosphere. Whether you’re embarking on a road trip adventure or simply driving a section of the Pacific Coast Highway, you’re sure to be captivated by the stunning landscapes and awe-inspiring views along the way.

pacific coast highway in california

  • Starting Point: Olympia, Washington
  • Ending Point: San Diego, California
  • Total Length: 1,675 miles

Planning Your Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

When planning your PCH road trip, it’s important to decide on the direction you prefer to travel (northbound or southbound) and where to start your journey. Many people recommend driving southbound for better views of the ocean and coastline. You can start your road trip in various cities, such as Seattle, San Diego, or San Francisco, depending on the length of your trip and the attractions you want to see along the way.

Exploring the California coast by car allows you to experience the breathtaking beauty of the California Coastal Highway. Driving the California coast offers picturesque views of cliffs, sandy beaches, and charming coastal towns. Whether you’re seeking a leisurely drive or an adventurous road trip full of stops, there are plenty of road trip destinations in California to choose from.

Driving California Coast: Northbound or Southbound?

Deciding whether to drive northbound or southbound on the Pacific Coast Highway depends on your preferences and the experience you’re seeking. Driving southbound offers better views of the ocean and coastline as you’ll be on the side closest to the water. You’ll be able to capture stunning vistas and witness the beauty of coastal landscapes.

If you choose to drive northbound, you’ll still have access to incredible views, but they may be slightly obstructed by the position of the road. However, driving northbound allows you to feel the thrill of driving along the California coast with the ocean in sight.

Choosing Your Starting Point

One of the advantages of the California Coastal Highway is the flexibility in choosing where to start your road trip. Depending on the length of your trip and the attractions you want to see, you can begin your journey from various cities along the coast.

Seattle, Washington, is a popular starting point for those looking to embark on a longer road trip down the West Coast. Starting in Seattle allows you to experience the beauty of the Pacific Northwest before descending along the California coastline.

Alternatively, you can choose to begin your road trip in San Diego, California, and travel northbound. This route allows you to experience the iconic sights of Southern California such as sandy beaches, surf spots, and vibrant cities.

If you prefer to start your road trip in a major city, San Francisco is an ideal choice. From here, you can embark on a scenic drive along the coastal highway, exploring famous landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge and the rugged beauty of Big Sur.

Regardless of where you start your journey, there are countless road trip destinations in California waiting to be discovered. From hidden beaches and charming towns to national parks and iconic landmarks, the California Coastal Highway offers an abundance of breathtaking sights and experiences.

driving california coast

Next, we will dive into recommended itineraries for your Pacific Coast Highway road trip, allowing you to make the most of your journey and explore the best stops along the way.

Recommended Itineraries for Your PCH Road Trip

Planning your Pacific Coast Highway road trip is an exciting endeavor, and choosing the right itinerary can greatly enhance your experience. Depending on the duration of your trip, there are various options to consider that will ensure you make the most of your time exploring the scenic drives, coastal road trips, and road trip destinations along the way.

5-Day Itinerary: The Highlights

If you have a limited amount of time but still want to experience the beauty of the Pacific Coast Highway, a 5-day itinerary is a great choice. This itinerary allows you to see the must-visit destinations and experience the breathtaking coastal views. Start your journey in San Francisco and head south, passing through iconic locations such as Santa Cruz, Monterey, and Big Sur. End your trip in Los Angeles, where you can explore the vibrant city and relax on the beautiful beaches.

7-Day Itinerary: Time for Exploration

If you have a bit more time to spare, a 7-day itinerary allows for a more leisurely exploration of the coastal road trip. Start in San Francisco or Los Angeles and travel the full length of the Pacific Coast Highway. Take your time to stop at each destination along the way, including the charming towns of Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Pismo Beach. Don’t forget to spend a day exploring the breathtaking landscapes of Big Sur and the stunning coastal views it offers.

10+ Day Itinerary: The Ultimate Adventure

If you have the luxury of time, a 10+ day itinerary is perfect for a comprehensive and immersive road trip experience. Start your journey in Seattle and drive all the way down to San Diego, capturing the spectacular coastal scenery along the California coastline. This itinerary allows you to spend extra time in cities and destinations that capture your interest, such as the picturesque Mendocino, the vibrant city of San Francisco, or the charming coastal towns of Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara. Embrace the freedom of the open road and indulge in the natural beauty of the Pacific Coast Highway.

No matter the duration of your road trip, the Pacific Coast Highway offers an unforgettable experience with its scenic drives, coastal road trips, and road trip destinations. The diverse itineraries cater to different preferences and time constraints, making it accessible to road trippers of all types. So, pack your bags, hit the road, and embark on a journey of a lifetime along the breathtaking Pacific Coast Highway.

scenic drives in california

Best Stops Along the Pacific Coast Highway

The Pacific Coast Highway is a treasure trove of must-see stops and attractions that will make your road trip unforgettable. From the picturesque shores of Seattle to the sunny beaches of San Diego, this iconic route offers a myriad of hidden gems and must-see California attractions. Here are just a few highlights along the way:

must-see stops along the Pacific Coast Highway

  1. Victoria Beach: Located in Laguna Beach, this stunning spot is known for its mesmerizing tidal pools and unique rock formations.
  2. Venice Beach: Experience the vibrant and eclectic atmosphere of this iconic California beach, complete with street performers, colorful murals, and a bustling boardwalk.
  3. Big Sur: Marvel at the breathtaking beauty of Big Sur, where rugged cliffs meet the Pacific Ocean. Take in the views from Bixby Bridge and explore the enchanting Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.
  4. Hearst Castle: Unleash your inner explorer at this magnificent castle perched atop a hill overlooking the coast. Discover its luxurious rooms, stunning gardens, and breathtaking ocean views.
  5. Golden Gate Bridge: No trip along the Pacific Coast Highway is complete without a visit to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Snap some unforgettable photos and soak in the awe-inspiring views.

These are just a taste of the many amazing stops you’ll encounter on your Pacific Coast Highway adventure. Along the way, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for other hidden gems and must-see attractions that will make your journey even more memorable.

Best Views on the Pacific Coast Highway

The Pacific Coast Highway offers an unforgettable journey with some of the most breathtaking views you’ll ever experience. From the rugged coastline of Big Sur to the towering cliffs of Oregon, every turn along the Pacific Coast Highway reveals a new vista that will leave you in awe.

Starting in California, Point Dume offers a spectacular panoramic view of the coastline and the sparkling Pacific Ocean. As you continue your scenic drive, make sure to stop at Point Mugu State Park, where you can admire the mesmerizing combination of the deep blue ocean and rugged cliffs.

best views on pacific coast highway

No trip along the Pacific Coast Highway is complete without a visit to McWay Waterfall. Located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, this 80-foot waterfall cascades directly onto the sandy beach below, creating a truly magical scene.

Another iconic spot along the Pacific Coast Highway is the Bixby Bridge. As you cross this majestic bridge, be sure to take a moment to capture the stunning view of the coastline stretching out into the horizon.

Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a photography lover, or simply seeking a dose of tranquility, the Pacific Coast Highway will deliver unforgettable views that will leave you speechless. So, hit the road and embark on the ultimate scenic drive along the Pacific coast.

Where to Stay and Eat Along the Pacific Coast Highway

When embarking on a scenic Pacific Ocean road trip along the iconic Pacific Coast Highway, you’ll find a diverse selection of accommodations and dining options to enhance your journey. Whether you’re seeking luxury hotels, charming bed and breakfasts, or budget-friendly motels, the PCH offers a range of choices to suit every traveler’s preferences.

As you venture along the picturesque highway, you’ll also have the opportunity to indulge in fresh seafood and savor local cuisine at the numerous restaurants lining the route. From delicious clam chowder in San Francisco to delectable fish tacos in San Diego, each stop on your coastal road trip is sure to satisfy your taste buds.

For those embarking on a road trip from Seattle, consider staying at The Edgewater. This iconic waterfront hotel offers stunning views of Elliott Bay and is located within walking distance of popular attractions like Pike Place Market and the Space Needle.

In San Luis Obispo, the famous Madonna Inn is a must-visit accommodation. With its whimsical and uniquely themed rooms, this hotel promises an unforgettable experience for travelers seeking a touch of eccentricity.

When visiting San Francisco, explore the city’s vibrant neighborhoods and stay at one of the many boutique hotels that blend luxury and charm. These accommodations not only provide a comfortable stay but also immerse you in the heart of the city’s cultural and culinary delights.

pacific ocean road trip

Highlights of the Pacific Coast Highway in California

The California section of the Pacific Coast Highway is truly a sight to behold. From natural wonders to vibrant cities, there is something for everyone along this iconic route. Here are some of the must-see attractions that await you on your journey:

1. Drive-Through Tree in Leggett

Experience a one-of-a-kind adventure by driving through a massive tree in Leggett. This unique attraction, known as the Chandelier Tree, offers a memorable photo opportunity and a chance to marvel at the beauty of nature.

2. Stunning Beaches of Santa Barbara

Head down to Santa Barbara and soak in the sunny beaches that line the coastline. Take a leisurely stroll along the shores, enjoy water sports, or simply relax under the California sun.

3. Famous Big Sur Coastline

No visit to the Pacific Coast Highway is complete without exploring the breathtaking Big Sur coastline. With its towering cliffs, rugged coastline, and picturesque vistas, Big Sur is a nature lover’s paradise.

4. Vibrant City of San Francisco

Immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of San Francisco. Explore iconic landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge, visit Alcatraz Island, and take a leisurely walk through the charming streets of this captivating city.

5. Historic Hearst Castle

Journey back in time with a visit to the opulent Hearst Castle. This iconic landmark showcases the grandeur and extravagance of the Gilded Age, offering guided tours that provide a glimpse into the lives of the rich and famous.

6. Monterey Bay Aquarium

Embark on an underwater adventure at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Discover a diverse array of marine life, from playful sea otters to majestic sharks, and learn about the importance of ocean conservation.

7. Breathtaking Views of the Golden Gate Bridge

No trip to San Francisco is complete without capturing the beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge. Take in the breathtaking views of this iconic landmark from various viewpoints, or even embark on a bike ride across the bridge itself.

As you journey along the California section of the Pacific Coast Highway, these attractions will leave you in awe of the natural beauty and cultural richness that this incredible route has to offer. So, pack your bags and embark on an unforgettable adventure along the PCH California coastline.

Exploring the Pacific Coast Highway in Oregon and Washington

The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) continues its breathtaking journey into Oregon and Washington, treating travelers to equally stunning coastal scenery. As you venture northward, make sure to visit some notable stops along the way, including:

  • Cannon Beach: Experience the awe-inspiring beauty of Cannon Beach, known for its iconic Haystack Rock. Marvel at the towering monolith rising from the sands and explore the charming town filled with art galleries, boutiques, and delectable seafood restaurants.
  • Olympic National Park: Immerse yourself in the majestic wilderness of Olympic National Park. Embark on scenic hikes through lush forests, witness cascading waterfalls, and discover serene lakes and meandering rivers. Keep an eye out for the park’s diverse wildlife, including Roosevelt elk and bald eagles.

As you continue your west coast road trip, be sure to explore the charming coastal towns that dot the landscape, each with its own unique character and attractions. Breathe in the fresh ocean air, indulge in local cuisine, and immerse yourself in the laid-back vibes of the Pacific Northwest.

Take a moment to soak in the beauty of the rugged coastline, where crashing waves meet towering cliffs and rocky shores. Capture the essence of the Pacific Northwest with scenic vistas that truly embody the spirit of exploration and adventure.

So, pack your bags, hit the road, and embark on an unforgettable journey along the Pacific Coast Highway. Let the breathtaking coastal scenery and charming towns of Oregon and Washington be the backdrop to your memorable road trip.

west coast road trip

Conclusion

The Pacific Coast Highway is an incredible coastal road trip guide that offers breathtaking views and a sense of adventure. Whether you embark on a short section or travel the entire route, this scenic drive is bound to create lifelong memories. From the stunning cliffs of Big Sur to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, each stop along the Pacific Coast Highway showcases the beauty of the West Coast.

As you navigate through Washington, Oregon, and California, you’ll encounter picturesque towns, charming coastal communities, and majestic natural wonders. Be sure to visit notable attractions like the Hearst Castle, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the Olympic National Park in Washington. Don’t forget to pack your camera to capture the stunning vistas and panoramic views that await you at every turn.

Whether you’re a nature lover, a history enthusiast, or simply seeking a memorable road trip experience, the Pacific Coast Highway is the perfect destination. Immerse yourself in the coastal beauty, indulge in fresh seafood, and stay in charming accommodations along the way. So, get ready to set out on an unforgettable journey along the Pacific Coast Highway and let the road lead you to your next adventure!

FAQ

How long is the Pacific Coast Highway?

The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) is a total of 1,675 miles long, stretching from Olympia, WA to San Diego, CA.

How should I plan my Pacific Coast Highway road trip?

When planning your PCH road trip, it’s important to decide on the direction you prefer to travel (northbound or southbound) and where to start your journey. Many people recommend driving southbound for better views of the ocean and coastline. You can start your road trip in various cities, such as Seattle, San Diego, or San Francisco, depending on the length of your trip and the attractions you want to see along the way.

What are some recommended itineraries for the Pacific Coast Highway?

Depending on the duration of your road trip, you can choose from various itineraries. A 5-day itinerary allows you to see the highlights of the PCH, while a 7-day itinerary gives you more time to explore each destination. If you have 10 or more days, you can take a leisurely drive and even spend extra time in certain cities along the route.

What are the must-see stops along the Pacific Coast Highway?

The Pacific Coast Highway is filled with incredible stops and attractions. From Seattle to San Diego, there are numerous must-see spots along the way. Some notable stops include Victoria Beach, Venice Beach, Big Sur, Hearst Castle, and the Golden Gate Bridge. These are just a few of the many amazing locations you can explore on your road trip.

Where can I find the best views on the Pacific Coast Highway?

The Pacific Coast Highway offers stunning views at every turn. From the rugged coastline of Big Sur to the towering cliffs of Oregon, there are countless breathtaking vistas to admire. Some of the best views can be found at Point Dume, Point Mugu State Park, McWay Waterfall, and Bixby Bridge. Be sure to have your camera ready to capture these picturesque moments.

Where should I stay and eat along the Pacific Coast Highway?

Along the PCH, there are plenty of accommodations and dining options to choose from. Whether you prefer luxury hotels, quaint bed and breakfasts, or budget-friendly motels, you’ll find accommodation that suits your needs. Additionally, there are many restaurants serving fresh seafood and local cuisine. Some recommended places to stay include The Edgewater in Seattle, Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, and boutique hotels in San Francisco.

What are the highlights of the Pacific Coast Highway in California?

The California section of the Pacific Coast Highway is particularly renowned for its beauty. It includes iconic attractions such as the drive-through tree in Leggett, the stunning beaches of Santa Barbara, the famous Big Sur coastline, and the vibrant city of San Francisco. Explore the historic Hearst Castle, visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and take in the breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

What are some recommended stops along the Pacific Coast Highway in Oregon and Washington?

The PCH continues into Oregon and Washington, offering equally stunning coastal scenery. Some notable stops include Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock in Oregon, as well as Olympic National Park in Washington. Explore charming coastal towns, hike through lush forests, and take in the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

How can I make the most of my Pacific Coast Highway road trip?

The Pacific Coast Highway is an unforgettable road trip experience, offering breathtaking views, incredible attractions, and a sense of freedom and adventure. Whether you choose to drive a short section or embark on the entire route, you’re bound to create lifelong memories. So pack your bags, hit the road, and enjoy the scenic beauty of the Pacific Coast Highway.

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