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The Ultimate Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Itinerary

The Ultimate Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Itinerary

Get ready to enjoy a scenic Highway 1 road trip. Our Pacific Coast Highway itinerary highlights the best places to stop along the way.

Roubina Al Abashian


8 min read

October 03, 2022

Disclaimer: is not receiving any type of compensation for reviewing any of the products or services mentioned in this article.

Feel the refreshing sea breeze in your hair, let the winding roads engage your spirit, and stand in awe at the dramatic cliffside panoramas. Embarking on a journey along the Pacific Coast Highway is a quintessential experience, emphasizing that the adventure itself is just as important as the endpoints. So, stock up on your preferred snacks from California, ensure your fuel tank is full, fasten your surfboard, tune into your favorite radio station, and prepare for an unparalleled road trip on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH).

Cruise down the iconic Highway 1 for a scenic and unforgettable California road trip.

Where Does the Pacific Coast Highway Start and End

Celebrated as one of the most picturesque routes in the nation, the Pacific Coast Highway, or Highway 1, hugs the coastline, tracing the edge where the ocean meets land from Leggett in Mendocino County down to Dana Point in Orange County. Though the expanse of this journey might appear overwhelming, embarking on this road trip is a feasible and rewarding endeavor.

How Long Is the Pacific Coast Highway

Whether you've recently gotten your car repaired by a California car mechanic or you’ve just bought your first car, there’s no better way to show off your whip than to take it for a ride along 123 miles of the Pacific Coast Highway route. Driving the length of the PCH highway at a leisurely pace takes around five hours, but that doesn’t include stops at the best towns along the highway. For that, you better free at least five days on your calendar and go for a ride, which includes going a little inwards towards more quaint towns as well.

Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Itinerary

Begin the journey in Dana Point, a Southern California town known for its enviable surf.

Day 1

Dana Point

Begin your adventure at the starting point of Highway 1, located just north of Capistrano Beach in Dana Point. Embark on a 45-minute drive that takes you past the picturesque beach town of Laguna Beach, skirts the edges of Crystal Cove State Park, and brings you close to the Newport Beach Pier, before you reach your destination at Huntington Beach.

Huntington Beach

Dubbed “Surf City USA”, this stop is a must on any true California coastal road trip. Pull over, grab your surfboard, and jump into the swells to really experience the Golden State. After catching the perfect wave, it’s time to climb back into the car, roll down the windows, and breathe in the fresh air as you make your way up the state.

Make a pit stop in Venice Beach to walk along the boardwalk, peruse the shops, watch the skateboarders and admire the scenery.

Venice Beach

After driving for about two hours and passing Pacific Coast Highway’s Long Beach, Ca., you’ll come upon Venice Beach. Between the street performers, local artists, eclectic shops, and gorgeous views of the pier in the distance, this destination is well worth the time spent off the road. Appreciate the quirky culture of the Venice Beach Boardwalk and explore the iconic Venice canals to stay along the water’s edge.

If the beach is not calling, however, head inland to grab a slice of pizza, visit the art museums of Los Angeles, see the Hollywood Walk of Fame, or admire the architecture of Beverly Hills mansions.

Santa Monica

Once you’re done exploring Venice, make your way to Santa Monica. The Santa Monica Pier, one of the best amusement parks in California, is worth a trip. Take a ride on the Ferris Wheel at Pacific Park and grab a bite to eat for dinner. With a long day under your belt, spend a luxurious evening in town, rest your head at one of the nearby hotels, and get ready for the adventures awaiting the next leg of your trip.

Grab a bite to eat at one of Malibu's farm-to-table restaurants and enjoy the spectacular environs.

Day 2


The following morning, make the short drive up to Malibu to look at the coastal homes and enjoy breakfast at one of the local restaurants. Stop by the rocky coves, cliffs, and headlands at Point Dume, and practice your skills at one of the most scenic rock-climbing spots in California. Then, take in the views of the San Fernando Valley from Topanga Overlook before continuing on.


Drive north Highway 1, California to Ventura. Take a surf break at Surfers Point, see the long Ventura Pier where fishermen cast their lines, walk around Ventura Harbor Village, visit the town’s historical sights, and discover the beauty within its art galleries.

After stopping in Ventura, continue driving north toward the charming oceanside cities of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.

Santa Barbara

From Ventura, it’s a short jaunt to Santa Barbara, where the rolling hills and sweeping vineyards show the agricultural power of the California coast. Indulge in the local goods, dine alfresco, and hike around the varied landscape before hitting the road again.

Pismo Beach

Spend some time getting to know the Central Coast’s surf scene to see how it stands up to Southern California’s reputation. Then, explore Pismo Beach’s oceanside parks, farmers market, shopping outlets, and butterfly grove before enjoying a picnic on the sand. After walking around this beloved beach town, head slightly inland to San Luis Obispo. Admire the Spanish architecture, meander through the museums, snap a pic in the quirky Bubblegum Alley, and check in to the vibrant Madonna Inn for a charming overnight experience unlike any other.

Take in the majestic sights of the Central Coast while cruising across the famous Bixby Bridge in Big Sur.

Day 3

San Simeon

Embark on a scenic 45-minute drive along the Pacific Coast Highway, then take a short 15-minute detour inland towards San Simeon for a visit to the grand Hearst Castle. Unlike the common mansions of Southern California, this grand estate reveals the extravagant lifestyle of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, featuring a home with 165 rooms spread across 127 acres, adorned with swimming pools, fountains, and meticulously designed gardens. Enjoy the panoramic ocean vistas from the castle's balconies before making your way to the local town to explore the iconic Hobie Surf Shop, a pivotal spot in the surf culture. Perhaps add a new surfboard to your collection, and then rejoin Highway 1 to continue your journey along California's stunning coastal route.

Big Sur

In the morning, venture on toward the hot springs, rolling dunes, and unbeatable seafood of Big Sur. Take a short hike to see McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, then continue on to cross the oft-photographed Bixby Bridge. Here you’ll experience the views of the Big Sur beaches from atop one of the tallest single-span concrete bridges in the world. Just north of here, you’ll find the quaint town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, followed by the popular destination of Monterey.

Stop and snap a pic of the breathtaking Big Sur vistas before driving on toward Monterey and Santa Cruz.


Another one of the best stops on the Pacific Coast Highway is the quaint town of Monterey. Take some time to explore the aquarium, Cannery Row, and Old Fisherman’s Wharf. Just on the other side of Monterey Bay, you’ll find the adorable town of Capitola — make sure you spend some time in it.

Santa Cruz

Take the opportunity to surf the waves and ride the roller coasters that epitomize the Santa Cruz lifestyle. Stroll around to see the boutiques and eateries that exude the coastal vibe and the California dream before continuing north.

Make a small detour and enjoy the unique charm of Silicon Valley.

San Jose

For a slight detour, jump on Highway 17 to San Jose to witness the incredibly unusual Winchester Mystery House. This supposedly haunted mansion has been under continual construction since 1884, due to Sarah Winchester’s wishes and the upkeep that comes along with having the eccentric home open to the public.

Half Moon Bay

After exploring the unique San Jose landmark, take Highway 9 south toward Santa Cruz and drive through Castle Rock State Park, or travel north through Mountain View to catch Highway 84, which meets up with Highway 1, California again at San Gregorio. Either road will lead you to Half Moon Bay for exclusive beaches and decadent seaside eateries. Once you’ve had your fill of adventures for the day, check in to a nearby hotel and catch the sunset before turning in.

Spend a day exploring the sites of San Francisco before driving across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito.

Day 4

San Francisco

This fair morning we go on a scenic drive in the Bay Area and make our way to San Francisco. Enjoy sumptuous spoonfuls of clam chowder from a sourdough bread bowl; indulge in a bar of Dandelion Chocolate, and say hello to Karl the Fog (who will undoubtedly stop by). Then, drive across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and visit Sausalito for stunning views of the city before traveling west toward Point Reyes.

Point Reyes

Soon, you’ll find Muir Woods National Monument, which provides the perfect scenery for a forested hike. Continue your outdoor adventure in nearby Stinson Beach and walk around Point Reyes before driving through Bodega Bay.

Bodega Bay

Pull off the road in Bodega Bay, and go on a horseback ride to take full advantage of the environs. Sit on the sand to admire the waves, bluffs, and beauty that surrounds you before you tackle the curvy section of the PCH highway, which eventually leads to Timber Cove Resort—one of the best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway.

Check in for the evening, capture the view with a photograph or two and savor the flavors of sustainable seafood and local produce at Coast Kitchen. Listen to a record and enjoy a pour-over by the fireplace to experience a truly decadent evening.

End the epic road trip in Mendocino, a remote coastal community surrounded by towering redwoods and lush forests.

Day 5


Spend the morning relaxing in your room, then set out toward Mendocino. Watch the waves become rougher as the inland scenery incorporates denser brush and taller trees. Get out of the car in Mendocino to look at the historic architecture, making sure to drive north to Fort Bragg to see the intriguingly beautiful Glass Beach. 

Cruise northeast for just over an hour and you’ll find yourself in Leggett, completing the last portion of the road trip you planned. When Highway 1 ends, turn around, and prepare yourself as you begin the Pacific Coast Highway road trip from north to south. Stop by the colorful fruit stands, fishing villages, intimate beaches, and bustling towns that caught your eye on the way up. Returning home with a happy car and even better memories will leave you eager to plan your next eco-friendly California road trip.

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