If you know anyone who’s done the Pacific Coast Highway road trip, they’ve probably told you that it was one of the best things they’ve ever done.
If you’re planning to tackle the trip yourself, you’re probably wondering: what should you not miss on the Pacific Coast Highway?
We’ve got your guide to places to stay, things to see, and what to do when driving along the Pacific Coast Highway.
Where should I stay along the Pacific Coast Highway?
You’ll pass through countless California towns on your road trip down Highway One, but here are the top spots to stay for a night or two.
Starting up north, San Francisco is a must-see city. From Golden Gate Bridge park to Alcatraz Island, you’ll be thankful you decided to do more than drive through this incredible place. Make sure to hitch a ride on the iconic trams while checking out Fisherman’s Wharf, Lombard Street, and Union Square, too.
San Jose is another northern city that’s worth an overnight stay. It’s the home of Silicon Valley where the likes of Facebook and Google have planted roots. But there’s also a handful of museums to check out as well as a zoo, the largest open-air market in their entire country, and nightlife in the downtown area. Don’t miss it!
As you move down the coast, you’ll come across Santa Barbara. Nature lovers will especially enjoy a night’s stay here with plenty of animal sightings and botanical gardens to explore. It’s only a few hours outside of Los Angeles, too, which means the weather will have warmed up and beach days are ahead.
You’ve arrived in sunny southern California and it’s time to hit the surf. Santa Monica has one of the most iconic beaches in the world with the Pacific Park amusement park on the pier, luxury restaurants not far away, and gorgeous sandy beaches as far as the eye can see.
Last but not least, most people’s final stop on their Pacific Highway road trip is beautiful San Diego. Check out Balboa Park, the Cabrillo National Monument, the San Diego Zoo, and the stunning Coronado Beach. With optimal weather conditions year-round, it’s the perfect final destination.
What is the prettiest part of the Pacific Coast Highway?
Now that we’ve gone over the cities that are best for spending at least a night, these are the prettiest places to stop and enjoy along the way. Some are best for a quick selfie, others are magical spots that you’ll want to spend at least a few hours.
Regardless, they’re all absolutely breathtaking.
Point Bonita Lighthouse
In Spanish, “bonita” literally means pretty. So, it’s clear that this lighthouse is one of the prettiest spots on the Pacific Coast Highway. Located in the San Francisco area, the Point Bonita Lighthouse gives you unbeatable views of the Pacific Ocean and Golden Gate Bridge.
Built way back in 1855 to help usher in ships through the Golden Gate straits, it’s got that touch of history, making it well worth the visit.
Half Moon Bay
As you make your way down the coast, stretch your legs at the idyllic Half Moon Bay. This small town south of San Francisco offers a quiet respite and is the perfect spot to stop for lunch and a beer at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company.
Take in the stunning views or go horseback riding on the beach. You’ll be rejuvenated and ready to get back on the road after stopping here. Don’t forget to try their world-famous clam chowder, too!
Pfieffer State Beach
Big Sur is another area you don’t want to miss on your Pacific Coast Highway drive and one of the highlights – and there are a lot of highlights – is Pfieffer State Beach. Cross the iconic Bixby Bridge and feast your eyes on deep gorges with purple sand. It’s a place you simply have to see to believe.
Moving way down near San Diego, La Jolla is another gorgeous spot for both relaxing and exploring. Filled with shops and restaurants and the Pacific Ocean crashing nearby, it’s what you think of when you imagine a true California beach.
Things To Do Along the Pacific Coast Highway
If you want some things to do during your trip down the Pacific Coast Highway, we’ve got you covered. These activities are great for when you don’t necessarily want to stay the night but want to do more than take a few selfies on a bathroom break. To make the most of these extended stops, store your luggage nearby and take advantage of public transit or pedestrian-friendly routes.
Kids and adults both go crazy over the Monterey Aquarium. It’s definitely a hot spot along the Pacific Coast Highway. After all, it’s rated one of the best aquariums in the entire world. It includes some of the most biologically diverse sealife sanctuaries of sea creatures you’ve ever seen and it’s definitely not to be missed.
Explore the mythical home of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Heart at Hearst Castle, a hilltop estate in San Simeon. Parties thrown by Winston Churchill and Charlie Caplin have been held at Hearst Castle and it’s certainly an intriguing, lavish place to spend an afternoon.
Wildlife Watching in San Luis Obispo
A favorite thing to do in San Luis Obispo is taking part in their epic wildlife watches. But, there are tons more you can see and do in the area. From hiking down “Bubblegum Alley” to wandering through Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, it’s a pit stop that you won’t regret.