One of the best road trips you can take in the USA is the Pacific Coast Hwy. Route 1 is a 656-mile road along most of California’s coastline. Although there are great ocean views and mountainous landscapes, there are many other incredible things to see and do. Although the PCH covers three-quarters of California’s coastline, I will focus on the San Francisco to Los Angeles portion. I’ve done this drive multiple times and compiled a list of my favorite stops from San Francisco to Los Angeles. *I have indicated what side of the road each point of interest is on when driving North to South.*
Muir Woods National Monument
Thirty miles north of San Francisco, you can stroll through the monument while marveling at the towering redwood trees, some of which are 1,000 years old. Muir Woods is one of the last remaining ancient redwood forests in the Bay Area. *Reservations required*
Golden Gate Overlook Right
Shark Fin Cove Right
Santa Cruz Boardwalk
Cannery Row Monterey
Monterey is a great ocean-side town that is worth exploring. One of the highlights is the aquarium. Jellyfish, sea otters, and a towering kelp forest are a few of the fantastic exhibits on display.
Adjacent to the affluent town of Carmel by the Sea, you will find the even more exclusive neighborhood of Pebble Beach. Outside the famous golf courses and multi-million dollar homes are scenic attractions such as Bird Rock and the famous Lone Cyrpus.
Bixby Creek Bridge
The Bixby Creek Bridge is among the most photographed points of interest along the PCH. Built in 1932 and standing 280ft tall is an essential stop on your road trip.
Pfeiffer Beach Right
One of the few ocean access points in Big Sur is Pfeiffer Beach—a famous beach amongst photographers who gather to capture the sun setting through the arch of Keyhole Rock. The best chance to see this particular sunset is in December and January.
There are only a few food options along the PCH, but the go-to place for dining is Nepenthe. Great food and extraordinary views are worth the stop.
Henry Miller Memorial Library Left
Emil White built this non-profit art center/bookstore in tribute to the late writer and artist Henry Miller—a great place to stop and purchase a book or some art.
McWay Falls (Parking Left/Falls Right)
During high tide, this 80-foot-tall waterfall empties directly into the Pacific Ocean. Situated in the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, visitors can view McWay Falls year-round.
Elephant Seal Vista Point Right
After leaving Big Sur and entering San Simeon, you’ll find 6 miles of beach home to thousands of Elephant seals. The elevated viewing area is accessible for free to the public every day. October through March are the best times to visit.
Hearst Castle Left
If you’re lucky, and 5 miles south of the Elephant Seal Beach, you will see Zebras grazing along the side of the road on the Hearst family estate. Afterward, head up the road and tour the massive castle built 1919-1947 by William Hearst and designed by Julia Morgan.
Famously known for Morro Rock, an ancient volcanic mound, this coastal town is great to stop for fantastic seafood restaurants and little gift shops with incredible harbor views.
Marvel at the Danish architecture and do a wine tasting at one of the many wineries in Southern California’s Santa Ynez Valley.
One of my favorite coastal cities has to be Santa Barbra, a great place to stop on your road trip or stay the night: great restaurants and ocean views.
El Matador State Beach Right
There is not much swimming or sunbathing on this beach; its most notably known for its natural rock formations, like this one that resembles an elephant.
Point Dume Right
I recommend visiting Point Dume in Malibu for a great place to watch the sunset. At the rear of the parking lot, take the stairs up to the lookout point with stunning views of the Palos Verdes Peninsula and Catalina Island.
Getty Villa Museum Left
With over 40 thousand Roman and Greek antiques dating from 6,500 BC to 400 AD, this museum and educational center should be a stop on your PCH itinerary.
Santa Monica Pier Right
Santa Monica is the perfect place to end or pause this itinerary if you choose to continue your PCH drive south. Offering great beachfront hotels, a wide range of culinary delights, and, let’s not forget, the pier that is at its best at night.