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Planning a California Road Trip up the Scenic Pacific Coast Highway (PCH)

25 places · 5 days
kmriex ·3 months ago
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California is a state known for its eternal sunshine and magnificent coastlines. One of the best ways to see “The Golden State” is by taking a road trip on the Pacific Coast Highway.

Story
Itinerary
This road trip starts in Dana Point and concludes in Mendocino County. Along the way, you’ll see some of California’s best views and most scenic roads. You’ll hit the state’s most famous seaside cities.
While you could speed through this road in one day, I recommend taking your time. I have created a 5 day itinerary to take a deep dive into all of the famous Californian coastal cities and seaside towns along the way.
Here is everything you need to know about planning a scenic Pacific Coast Highway road trip.
Day One
Your PCH road adventure will start in Dana Point. I would recommend visiting a little early so that you can stay here overnight because this part of California is stunning. This city is well-known for whale watching, seaside resorts, and surfing.

Dana Point

Dana Point, CA, USA
The first part of your trip will take you through world-famous Orange County (the OC). This county has beautiful coastal communities. You’ll pass through all of the beach cities and areas such as Laguna Beach, Crystal Cove State Park, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, and Seal Beach. Start early so you can take your time and make stops along the way. Laguna and Crystal Cove are cliffy beaches, and Newport, Huntington, and Seal Beach have exciting towns with scenic piers.

Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach, CA, USA
The non-stop journey through the OC will take a little over an hour. However, with stops, it will take you the whole morning. I recommend making a more extended pit stop in Huntington Beach or Seal Beach to grab lunch.

Huntington Beach

Huntington Beach, CA, USA
Next, head to Venice Beach. It will take you about two hours via PCH, and you’ll pass through Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach, and Marina Del Rey. Stop off and take your time exploring Venice or anywhere else that catches your eye. Venice is world-famous for its street art, skating culture, and fun shops.

Venice Beach

Venice Beach, Los Angeles, CA, USA
When your done, head to Santa Monica, where you’ll spend the evening and stay overnight. Santa Monica has one of California’s best piers and a massive shopping district called Third Street Promenade.

Santa Monica

Santa Monica, CA, USA
Day Two
Start your day early again and head to Malibu to explore and grab breakfast.

Malibu

Malibu, CA, USA
The next part of the trip from Malibu to Santa Barbara takes about an hour and a half. Stop off in Santa Barbara and grab lunch. Santa Barbara has a beautiful Spanish-style downtown area with countless restaurants and shops.

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara, CA, USA
After lunch, continue your journey.
On the way is Solvang, a “little slice of Denmark in SoCal.” It’s a little off the freeway but worth visiting because it is unique. This little town has Danish-style architecture, windmills, and restaurants.

Solvang

Solvang, CA, USA
You’ll end the day at Pismo Beach, where you’ll have dinner and explore the pier and beach. If you’re lucky, there may be whales on the coast. You can also visit nearby San Luis Obispo, a quaint town nestled into greenery with a Spanish Mission.

Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach, CA, USA

San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo, CA, USA
Day Three
On day three, drive up to Morro Bay to see the iconic rock and grab breakfast.

Morro Bay

Morro Bay, CA, USA
Pack a lunch and make sure you fill up gas because you’ll hit a large stretch of road without a stop.
Continue up the coast and pass through scenic coastal towns like Cambria and San Simeon.

San Simeon

San Simeon, CA, USA
After these towns, you’ll pass through almost one hundred miles of pristine coastline. You’re likely to see some majestic elephant seals on the beaches. This stretch is two hours non-stop, but you’ll want to take breaks and see the scenery. A few points of interest include Carmel-by-the-Sea and Bixby Bridge.

Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA, USA

Bixby Creek Bridge

Bixby Creek Bridge, California 1, Monterey, C...
At the end of this drive, stop in Monterey. If you have time, explore the beach and aquarium.

Monterey

Monterey, CA, USA

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row, Monterey,...
Day Four
Start the day by having breakfast in Santa Cruz and strolling along the boardwalk before heading north.
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Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Beach Street, San...
Then, continue up towards the picturesque Half Moon Bay (about two hours). Spend a few hours at the bay before continuing your journey to San Francisco.

Half Moon Bay

Half Moon Bay, CA, USA
Have lunch in San Francisco and explore for a few hours before heading north towards Bodega Bay. In between, you’ll stop off at Point Reyes and see the Muir Woods National Monument and Stinson Beach. Then, stay overnight at Bodega Bay.

San Francisco

San Francisco, CA, USA
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Muir Woods National Monument

Muir Woods National Monument, Mill Valley, CA...

Steep Ravine Trail

Steep Ravine Trail, Stinson Beach, CA, USA

Bodega Bay

Bodega Bay, CA, USA
Day Five
The last part of the trip will take you through Mendocino County.

Mendocino County

Mendocino County, CA, USA
Take your time exploring the coast, stopping off at Fort Bragg along the way to see Glass Beach.

Glass Beach

Glass Beach, Fort Bragg, CA, USA
The end of your trip will be at Leggett. Make sure that you visit some drive-through redwood trees while up there. It is an incredible experience that you can’t miss!

Leggett

Leggett, CA, USA
You can stay overnight and take the same route back or take the 101 freeway to the I-5 south for nine hours to get back to Southern California.
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