California’s Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most beautiful routes to drive in the world, and it’s often a top pick for travelers. This road trip will take you along the rugged coastline, and show you some of California’s most stunning natural beauty.
However, there are things to know ahead of time. For example, having a general idea of the rules of the road in California and how to drive the PCH can help, as can knowing where to stop along the way.
The following are some logistical and planning tips if you’re thinking about a family PCH road trip.
An Overview of the Pacific Coast Highway
The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) spans for more than 600 miles along the coastline of California. There are mountains, trees, beaches and more. It would take you around 10 hours to drive the PCH without stops, but most people take a week or more to make the trip so they can make stops along the way.
The PCH road trip can be done really any time of year you prefer because the weather in California tends to be mild year-round. However, the peak travel times are July and August so everything will be busier.
The majority of people will start in San Francisco, so you get a feel for this urban hub, and then you can make your way down the coast, although you can do the opposite as well and start in Southern California and end in San Francisco.
There is a reason people like to drive north to south rather than the opposite option though—if you do it the opposite way you’re on the wrong side of the road. To take photos at scenic places, you’ll have to cross the road each time.
If you’re starting in San Francisco, don’t rent a vehicle until you’re ready to leave the city.
Something else to keep in mind is that the speed limit along most of the PCH is around 55 MPH, which should help you with spacing and planning your stops.
When you’re heading home, you can go with a flight out of San Diego or LAX, but LAX is much more stressful in terms of crowds and traffic to get there.
Traveling the PCH with Kids
Of course, if you’re taking a road trip with kids and especially young kids, you’ll want to have things for them to do. A good option is to rent a vehicle with separate screens. Beyond that, your kids may feel nauseous along the way, so trying sea-bands or something similar can be helpful.
PCH Driving Tips
You’ll want to give yourself a crash course on driving in California, because the rules may be different from where you’re from. There are also specific things to keep in mind when it comes to navigating the PCH.
A few California driving rules include:
- You may pass on the right of a highway if it’s marked for two or more traffic lanes in your direction
- You have to always use your headlights 30 minutes after sunset and up until 30 minutes before sunset
- If you’re on a narrow road through the mountainous areas, you have to drive as much as possible to the right
- You can only use your cell phone while driving if it’s hands-free or you need to call for emergency help
Where Should You Stop?
People who have done the PCH road trip advise that you carefully plan out your stops rather than trying to wing it, because otherwise there’s a potential you’ll miss a lot of great things. Some of the highlights along the way include:
- Santa Barbara is a town with Spanish influences, and it’s the largest between San Francisco and LA. Santa Barbara is known for its wineries, and its beauty and charm.
- Pismo Beach features wide beaches, and it’s set on a wide bay. It’s a surfer town, and you may see seals, and there are also coastal walks where it’s likely you’ll see whales on their migration path.
- San Luis Obispo is where there’s the famed Madonna Inn, and during the spring you can see the wildflowers around the Carrizo Plain National Monument.
- If you get a chance to stop at San Simeon, you’ll see the seals that are on Piedras Blancas Beach, and Hearst Castle is nearby as well.
- Bixby Bridge is the iconic bridge that most people associate with the PCH, and it’s one of the highest bridges of its kind.
- Stop at Monterey and visit the aquarium.
- Point Reyes is a national park with features like the cypress tree tunnel.
Of course, there are many other beautiful, breathtaking places along the way, but these give you a starting point.