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15 Best Stops On Your Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip
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15 Best Stops On Your Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

The open road is where mighty mountains dive into the crashing waves of the roaring Pacific.

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6 min read

August 27, 2021

There’s one road trip that immediately transports you to another place—it’s one you want to go on but dread returning from. We’re talking about cruising the Pacific Coast Highway, of course—it’s arguably one of the best coastal drives in the world. The open road is where mighty mountains dive into the crashing waves of the roaring Pacific. You’ll be driving towards charming beach communities, old Spanish mission towns, vibrant cities, and charming downtowns. Wondering which are the best stops on the Pacific Coast Highway? Not anymore.

Did you know that Mendocino is pretty well-known amongst Germans who followed pop culture in the late 60s?

1. Mendocino

Your Pacific Coast Highway road trip begins at Leggett, so naturally, the first stop is the wonderful Mendocino. Here, waves are grand and harsh, and coastal cliffs are as breathtaking as it gets. You’ll also pass by several unique beaches on the way, but one you should totally check out is Glass Beach. There’s a lot to do in this gorgeous North Coast city, but the road awaits. 

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2. Bodega Bay

Next up is Bodega Bay, the quaint fishing community in Sonoma County. The town is blessed with untainted natural beauty and divine seafood. A picturesque horseback ride on the beautiful rocky shorelines is a dream come true in Bodega Bay. And tasting the area’s fresh seafood is a non-negotiable treat everyone deserves. And did we mention that this is where Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds was filmed? 

There are two things that San Francisco is notorious for: steep rolling hills and fog, which the locals refer to as Karl.

3. San Francisco

Not stopping in the City by the Bay on your Pacific Coast Highway road trip is pretty much blasphemy. You’re cranking up the tunes on the road and the next thing you know the Golden Gate Bridge is waving hello—congratulations, you made it to one of the most eclectic cities in the nation. There’s so much to see and do here, depending on how much Karl the Fog will allow you. Don’t forget to check out major attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island and experience S.F. to the max. 

4. Santa Cruz

Welcome to the most laid-back city on the Central Coast. This surfer’s paradise has more to offer than just beaches. If you have time, pay a visit to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park and traverse the trails featuring marvelous riverside views. Better yet, enjoy a stroll through the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and Botanic Garden. While it’s hard to part ways with Santa Cruz, it’s about time to head down south. 

Monterey is home to many of California's firsts: the first theater, brick house, publicly funded school, public building, public library, and more.

5. Monterey

The scenic coastal city of Monterey invites you with its white-sand beaches and unique attractions. If you thought you’re done splashing around, we’ve got news for you. Search for China Cove in Point Lobos Natural Reserve and jump right in. And did you really go to Monterey if you didn’t play golf? Take a swing at Pebble Beach Golf Links, one of the most scenic golf courses in the Golden State.

6. Big Sur

Wildflowers are blooming, California condors are soaring, and the coastal wind is blowing through your hair—that’s right, you’re in Big Sur. All roads and trails here take you to spectacular places. Whether you trek the Salmon Creek or Overlook Trails, both will reward you with breathtaking cascades. There’s so much more to see and do in Big Sur that you’ll never want to leave.

Founded in 1836, San Simeon was first established when the San Miguel Mission was secularized and divided into three distinct branches.

7. San Simeon

Some might disagree, but San Simeon is one of the best stops to make along the Pacific Coast Highway. Filled both with natural wonders, architectural masterpieces, and lots of outdoor adventures, San Simeon is the picture-postcard spot you didn’t know existed. This prime beach destination is where you'll find Hearst Castle. The 165-room castle, also known as the Enchanted Hill, is one of the main attractions you wouldn’t want to miss. While you’re still here, check out Piedras Blancas Point Beach to see playful sea elephants soaking up the sun. 

8. Cambria

Cambria is a place you should pin on your Pacific Coast Highway map. This is where the ocean meets magnificent pine forests. Here, you’ll find Moonstone Beach, one of California’s best surf spots, where novice surfers learn how to ride the waves. But if surfing isn’t your cup of tea, head to the Fiscalini Ranch Bluff Trail and admire the beauty of the Central Coast at the top.

Morro Bay supports more than two-dozen endangered species, and its most prominent feature is Morro Rock, which stands over 580 feet tall.

9. Morro Bay

One does not simply drive past Morro Bay—the best thing you’ll see on the Pacific Coast Highway is located right here. The distinctive Morro Rock, also known as the "Gibraltar of the Pacific," is a 581-foot volcanic plug sitting at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. But if a rock doesn’t impress you much, you’ll be glad to know there’s more to do in this coastal town. Kayak through the waters of the Morro Bay National Estuary and indulge in some of the best fresh seafood at the Embarcadero before heading towards the charming San Luis Obispo.

10. San Luis Obispo

It’s beautiful, calm, and relaxed—it’s San Luis Obispo. Everything from its sandy shores to hidden gems is worth checking out, but one of the things you can’t miss out on is paying a visit to Pirate’s Cove Beach. Make a stop at Nitt Witt Ridge, the famous castle on a hill that’s made of beer cans, abalone shells, concrete, and other materials. And of course, don’t forget to leave your mark in the city at the Bubblegum Alley.

Fun fact: the oldest human fossils found in the United States were excavated about 30 miles from Downtown Santa Barbara.

11. Santa Barbara

Arriving at the American Riviera is a whole new feeling. When the coastal highway of California guides you here, you’ll notice that the sun shines a little brighter in Santa Barbara. Every visitor ends up falling in love with the city thanks to the gorgeous Spanish architecture and Meditteranean vibes. With its historic landmarks like Old Mission Santa Barbara and natural wonders like Jalama Beach, you’ve got a thousand reasons to stay.

12. Ventura

The beach town of Ventura is a must-stop on your scenic California drive. Offering the best of both worlds, Ventura is a bustling city with a small-town charm. The relaxed SoCal vibes come alive at Surfers Point Beach. As for the town’s Main Street, it's an open invitation for shopaholics from across the state. If you ask us, Ventura sure sits high on the best stops on the Pacific Coast Highway list.

Malibu brings to mind celebrities living in beautiful beachfront homes with fancy sports cars parked in the driveway.

13. Malibu

We’re getting closer to the end, but we’re not exactly done yet. The next stop on your coastal drive is Malibu. The stunning coastal town is where celebrities relax and unwind, and you’ll totally feel like a million bucks when you’re here. Visiting the gorgeous beaches in this city is a must—El Matador State Beach is the local favorite spot. There’s the mandatory trip to the breathtaking Escondido Falls to end your visit on a high note.

14. Los Angeles 

You’re bound to stop by the City of Angels on your Pacific Coast Highway road trip. Visit the Hollywood Walk of Fame, drop by the Griffith Observatory, relax at Zuma Beach—there’s just so much to see and do. Los Angeles is the definition of fun, and you’ll never get bored in this bustling metropolis.

Richard Henry Dana considered the high bluffs and sheltered coves of Dana Point to be the most beautiful spot on the California coast.

15. Dana Point

Congrats, you’ve made it. You’re in Dana Point, the southern terminus of your PCH road trip. Combining laid-back surf culture with luxurious amenities, this city has something for everyone. Thrill-seekers resort to Dana Point Parasail to soar with the birds and enjoy spectacular views from above. As for nature-loving introverts, an afternoon picnic at Pines Park is the most relaxing thing to do in this OC gem

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