The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), also known as Highway 1 is one of the most beloved road trip routes in the U.S. It offers scenic views of the California coast where people can view clifftop scenery, hidden coves, forests, and sandy beaches. Highway 1 is over 650 miles long and would take about 10 hours non-stop to drive straight through.

However, who wants to do that? The Pacific Coast Highway cuts through various towns and cities along the coast, and within each one are amazing views, seaside towns, and unique experiences. Visitors can drive through the highway at any point during the year. The mild weather conditions in California make it easy to do so. Although the wind may get stronger and colder during the winter months, visitors can still have a clear view of the bay and the cityscapes.

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Preparation

Local guides recommend taking the north-to-south route, which starts from San Francisco and ends in San Diego. This way, motorists can have unobstructed views of the coast. When driving along the coast, don’t forget to rolls down the window to catch the sea breeze, and perhaps even smell the ocean. Take a short stop to take photos! Although some spots might be crowded, the wait is definitely worth it.

To get to the Pacific Coast Highway, motorists have to pay an entrance fee of $8. The PCH is busiest during the summer months of July to August, but still pleasant even during spring and autumn. Prior to heading out, make sure that the vehicle is tuned up and has a full tank of gas to avoid any hiccups along the way.

To make the most out of a single road trip, devote at least 5 days to give yourself time to explore some stops without feeling rushed. Take an overnight stay in some of the bigger towns and cities such as Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

Transportation Options

  • Personal vehicle
  • Rental car
  • Chartered bus

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Best Stops

In between San Francisco and San Diego are many towns and cities. Some offer a more urban feel while others have a small, artsy town vibe. Of the many stops along the way, here are some of the best:

  • San Francisco. A perfect mix of the urban setting and nature-filled spaces. San Francisco is home to some famous attractions such as the Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39, the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, and the oldest Chinatown in North America. Enjoy some baked goods at the Ferry Building Marketplace.
  • Monterey. Do some whale watching! Gray whales pass through from December to April, while blue whales pass through from June to October. Visitors might find otters, sea lions, porpoises, and dolphins year-round.
  • Carmel-by-the-Sea. The quiet town of Carmel is home to some art galleries, beaches, boutiques, farmer’s markets. It is quite a romantic pit-stop!
  • Big Sur. Big Sur has vista points that offer a great view of the coast—in particular, the one approaching the Bixby Bridge is popular among tourists. Stop for a picnic amid the woodlands or take a hike within the Redwood forests. Visit the historic Henry Miller Memorial Library go get to know more about the locale.
  • Morro Bay and San Simeon. Visit the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, which was once owned by the newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Pass by the Morro Bay State Park and get the chance to encounter the blue herons, monarch butterflies, and sea otters. Take a short hike in one of the trails or have a break at one of the nearby picnic benches.
  • San Luis Obispo. Spend an afternoon in the local wineries at San Luis Obispo. Sample some of the local wines and take photos of the vineyards.
  • Solvang. This little town has Danish-inspired architecture, bakeries, and antique shops. Take photos and fool people into thinking that you went abroad for a few weeks!
  • Santa Barbara. Also known as the “American Riviera”, Santa Barbara is the place where the wealthy people of LA go on weekends to relax. It has a mix of beachy-bohemian and high-end vibe. Pass by the Getty Center to view the art collection of tycoon J. Paul Getty.
  • Los Angeles. This is the place to be for movies, celebrities, and celebrity culture. Visit the Hollywood Hills or Universal Studios to get to know more about the behind-the-scenes work that goes into making your favorite films.
  • San Diego. The last stop of the Pacific Coast Highway offers access to quiet beaches. San Diego is also home to local parks and zoos, which is perfect for families.

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Where To Stay

  • Intercontinental the Clement (Monterey)
  • L’Auberge Carmel (Carmel)
  • Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn (Big Sur)
  • Ventana Inn (Big Sur)
  • Madonna Inn (San Luis Obispo)
  • Canary Hotel (Santa Barbara)
  • Kimpton Hotel (Santa Barbara)

When To Take The Road Trip

Take the road trip during the summer, when the weather is between 19 to 30 degrees Celsius. Enjoy the heat of the summer, coupled with the cool sea breeze. Those who wish to take a trip between September to October (autumn) should stop by the wineries of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara and partake in the festivities and wine-making activities.

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