I can recommend a California road trip on everyones bucket list – the scenic drive down the infamous Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to San Diego is one trip I will not forget.
I was excited to visit California, even writing about it now I wish I was still there. The chilled atmosphere and stunning beaches put it firmly at the top of my favourite states so far (out of a whopping 4, well done CA).
We drove the PCH highway as part of a 2 week west coast USA road trip, unfortunately we only had two days to drive down the California coast so we didn’t go all the way to San Diego, instead stopping at Los Angeles. The PCH highway has so much to offer that you could easily spend four or even five days to experience every part.
What is the Pacific Coast Highway?
The Pacific Coast Highway is a section of Highway 1 or California State Route 1, it is also known as the California coast highway. Large sections of Highway 1 run concurrent with Highway 101 which is much quicker, but I would recommend sticking to Highway 1 for the coastal views and beaches.
CAUTION: Bad weather can mean route 1 is sometimes closed due to mud slides – we had to turn around at Big Sur and go back to Monterey to come back down the i5, definitely check before you travel.
Essential stops on the Pacific Coast Highway:
Starting Point: San Francisco
The golden gate bridge, the fisherman’s wharf and all-round trendy vibes make San Francisco a great place to start any West Coast California trip.
A compact yet crowded city, San Francisco is home to the only remaining manually operated cable car system in the world which is why they’ve become such a recognisable symbol of the city – the cable car museum is an interesting (and free) activity. I can highly recommend cycling across the golden gate bridge as the view from the other side is just as exhilarating.
We spent two nights in San Francisco before setting off early on our 2 day California coast highway road trip to Los Angeles.
Stop 1: Santa Cruz
This stop is about 90 minutes from San Francisco. Santa Cruz has some great old school vibes going on. There are plenty of places to get some food and enjoy the atmosphere.
Head for the boardwalk to enjoy the amusements including the giant dipper wooden roller coaster that first opened in 1924 and the ferris wheel. The main beach can get very crowded so we opted to visit Natural Bridges State Beach instead.
Stop 2: Monterey Bay
Travel another 45 minutes down the highway and you’ll come to Monterey, the bay area is a great place to stop off. With a few hours in Monterey Bay you can visit the aquarium, stroll down the old fisherman’s wharf and marvel at the seals, sea lions and sea otters lining the pier by the coast guard.
Stop 3: Bixby Bridge
If you stick to Highway 1 as I’ve suggested, you’ll pass over both Rocky Creek and Bixby Bridge. This is a wonderful place to stop and take in the views of the California coast highway.
The bridges are a great area to view the sun set and you’ll see many people set up their camper vans around here. This is only a short stop to admire the views but one worth sharing.
Stop 4: Pfeiffer Beach
This beach is stunning and popular amongst locals. This was our last stop of the day so we arrived around sunset which was perfect for taking in the views.
You’ll need to turn off the highway and head down a smaller road, it takes about 15 minutes but is worth it. There is a small entrance fee and it is a day time only beach so you won’t be able to stay after dark or camp.
Not far away is the McWay waterfall, we didn’t get chance to visit this but many other visitors highly recommended stopping off if you can spare the time.
**NOTE: At this point we had to turn around and head back up the highway due to road closures (November 2017). CHECK FOR ANY CLOSURES. If the road is closed, I would recommend turning around at Bixby bridge to head onto the i5 rather than venturing as far as Pfeiffer beach.**
Stop 5: Malibu
The bu! This is where many of Hollywoods A-list celebrities live and was made famous as the home of Charlie Sheens (non-existent) Malibu beach house. Look out for the area where the rocks form a peninsula, this is point dume – you can hike up here for a great view across the breach.
Stop 6: Santa Monica
We loved Santa Monica so much that we returned a few days later and spent the entire day here. The pier with it’s iconic Ferris wheel and pacific ocean beach make this a great final stop on your California coast road trip.
Grab yourself a burger and chips from one of the piers outlets and stroll down towards Venice beach.
The original muscle beach is just near the pier with predominately gymnastics equipment. If you really need to work off that burger, head further down for the Venice Muscle Beach with weightlifting platforms.
Finishing Point: Los Angeles
Get back on the California coast highway for another 30 minutes. This is where the journey comes to an end in the Californian capital. After our trip down the pacific coast highway we spent a few nights in LA. Visit Griffith park, get that iconic shot of the Hollywood sign or take a tour of the film studios.