It’s time to hit the road and take one of the most iconic drives in the US! I’m going to tell you all of the best stops on a Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip. I have done this road trip four times and I each time it blows me away! This road trip passes through multiple state parks, quaint towns, and the famous Big Sur.
The Pacific Coast Highway stretches a little North of San Francisco all the way past Los Angeles to San Juan Capistrano. I’m going to focus on the drive from LA to SF, which is about 440 miles and takes anywhere from 6-10 hours to drive. There are so many things to see along this scenic stretch of road.
You can do this drive in a day, but if you have more time you can turn this trip into a week long adventure! Read below for all the best stops to see for the very best road trip!
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Table of Contents
Stop #1: Los Angeles
Start your trip in one of the largest cities in the entire country! This city has it all from gorgeous beaches to great nightlife. There’s so much to see and do in LA that it’s hard to choose just a few highlights. I have been now more than 5 times and each time I find something new to explore. Spend a weekend or even longer to see some of the best things LA has to offer!
Highlights in LA:
- Hike to the Hollywood Sign
- Visit the Griffith Observatory
- Explore Santa Monica
- Surf in Malibu
- Walk through Hollywood
- Eat in Koreatown
Stop #2: Santa Barbara
After an hour and a half drive from LA (if the traffic’s not bad), you’ll get to the posh coastal city of Santa Barbara. Dramatic cliffs line the beaches of Santa Barbara while adorable shops line its streets. I stayed in Santa Barbara for a week once and truly fell in love with the culture and the natural landscapes.
Spend a day or two here sitting on the beach, shopping down main street or taking a whale watching cruise. If you are short on time, simply head to Shoreline Park to get the most scenic views of the coastline!
Stop #3: Morro Rock
Continue for another couple hours to reach one of the most imposing sites on your journey: Morro Rock. This rock was formed millions of years ago from a volcano and it looks to arise out of nowhere. It’s magnificent to see this rock at sunrise or sunset when the colors change all around.
Most people visit this area to drive to the base of the rock or observe it from the viewpoints along Morro Bay. Sea lions love to swim around the waters of Morro Bay, so you may get lucky and see some of those adorable creatures!
Stop #4: Cambria
Follow the coastline another half hour and make your way to the adorable town of Cambria. Many people choose to stay in this town, because it has wonderful restaurants and is near many of the best sights on the drive! I have stopped every time I’ve done this drive to grab a quick bite to eat or a coffee in this charming town.
Things to Do Near Cambria:
- Wander Downtown
- Walk on Moonstone Bach
- Eat at Madeline’s Restaurant or Linn’s Restaurant
- Tour the Piedras Blancas Light Station
- Visit Fiscalini Ranch Preserve
Stop #5: Hearst Castle
I went to Hearst Castle when I was a young kid and I still have dreams about this magnificent building. Hearst Castle was home to William Randolph Hearst, a publishing & media magnate. He built this mansion to look like a castle of the Spanish style. It is over 127 acres of land and has astonishing architectural details.
Luckily, you don’t have to be a socialite to visit the castle today. Drive 15 minutes from Cambria, and visit the Castle’s grounds. Today, there is a museum that offers tours of the property.
Stop #6: Elephant Seal Point
Just under 10 minutes from Hearst Castle, lies hundreds of Elephant Seals. Get up close to these huge animals as you walk to the viewing point. Hundreds of seals come every year to this spot to breed and have seal pups. You’ll know you’re in the right place as soon as you hear the loud barking noises that fill the air! These seals are extremely loud.
If your timing is good, then you’ll be lucky enough to see these animals hanging in their natural environment. There are three seasons that you’ll be able to see the peak number of seals and that is in late January, the beginning of May, and in late October. We visited in late February and were able to see plenty of seals laying on the sand, basking in the sun.
Stop #7: Ragged Point
Often known as the “Gateway to Big Sur,” Ragged Point is a wonderful place to stop on your trip. There is a wonderful hiking trail down to the coast and an inn on the cliff overlooking the scenic area of the coast. Unfortunately, the last time we went here, fog had just rolled in and covered all of the scenic landscapes, but we still got out to try and see what we could. On a sunny day, this spot is absolutely spectacular!
Stop #8: Mcway Falls
Continue down the highway for an hour and visit one of the only tide falls in North America at this spot! Julia Pfeiffer Burns is home to Mcway Falls, a waterfall that cascades from the granite cliffs onto the sandy shores. At certain tides, the waterfall flows directly into the ocean. I have seen it on every journey down this highway and it’s definitely worth stopping!
This park also has 300 foot redwoods and a number of trails to hike in the park. There is a fee of $10 per vehicle to visit, so don’t forget to bring cash!
Stop #9: Pfieffer Beach
This is my favorite stop on the PCH and if you don’t know about it, you’ll completely miss it! There are no signs for this beach, so have it in your maps before you go. Drive 20 minutes from Mcway Falls, and turn down Sycamore Road, which is a mile short of Big Sur State Park. Then, you’ll follow a narrow dirt road for two miles to get to the beach. Entrance to the beach is $12.
This beach is famous for its purple sand and the rock formations that sit on the shoreline. One of the most famous parts is Keystone Arch, a large rock that has small keyhole to the ocean. You could spend a whole day here on the beach, picnicking, relaxing, surfing or exploring.
Stop #10: Bixby Bridge
Bixby Bridge is arguably the most iconic spot along the entire Pacific Coast Highway. This bridge was constructed in 1932 and it is still used by hundreds of cars every day. The bridge itself sits between the cliffs of the highway and it’s a magnificent site. Recently, fires have threatened this historical site.
In order to get the best picture, stop on the North side of the bridge. There are plenty of pull-offs and you’ll be able to get a wonderful view of the bridge with the rugged cliffs behind it.
Stop #11: Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
Once you’ve gone 40 minutes down the road, you’ll start to see cars lined up on either side of the road. Hundreds of people are there to see Point Lobos . Many people say that this is the most beautiful park in all of California. If you park in the reserve, then there is a fee of $10, so many people choose to park along the road.
At this park you’ll find plenty of walking trails to see the rugged landscapes and abundant wildlife. Don’t miss Gibson Beach and China Cove, some of the best sights in the reserve. I can’t wait to stop here on my next trip up the coast!
Stop #12: Carmel
As soon as you drive over the Carmel Highlands, you’ll enter the town of Carmel by the Sea. This town is incredibly nice, with great restaurants and high-end shops. Stop in town to go shopping or grab a quick bite to eat (although it may be pricey!)
After a visit to town, you can head to the 17 mile scenic drive in the Pebble Beach area. In order to drive through, you’ll have to pay $11.25 at the entrance. The drive has multiple scenic spots to see some of the best coastline areas of the PCH. I recommend doing this at least once!
Stop #13: Monterey Bay
As a kid, this was my favorite destination on the drive. Monterey Bay is home to one of the best aquariums in the entire country. They are known for their work with sea otters and they have wonderful exhibits. This is a wonderful place to spend time as a family, because even adults will love it!
If you’re not a fan of aquariums there is still plenty of reasons to stop here. They have a lively Fisherman’s Wharf with carnival games and fun treats. You can also take a boat ride around the waters of Monterey Bay and try your luck at spotting otters. This is the perfect family friendly destination!
Stop #14: Big Basin Redwoods
Visit California’s oldest state park when you go to Big Basin Redwoods! I have actually never been to this park, but I have always wanted to go. Here, redwoods and sequoias tower above you at staggering heights. It’s recommended that you walk through the park, because the roads are very narrow for driving.
Stop #15: San Francisco
It’s time to end your Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip in one of the best cities in the US. This city is home to some of the best food, the prettiest streets, and wonderful miles of coastline. I recommend that you spend at least two days exploring, because this city has so much to see!
Highlights in SF:
- Grab food in Chinatown
- Visit the Golden Gate Bridge
- Drive down Lombardi street
- Explore Coit Tower
- Picnic at Dolores Park
- See the Painted Ladies
I hope you decide to add the Pacific Coast Highway road trip to your bucket list and get on the road! There are so many great sites to see along the way. You’ll want to go back for more!
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