From gorgeous waterfalls to stunning beaches and chic towns, these are the best 15 places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway.
The officially named California State Route 1 connects the most picturesque cities and small towns in California and helps you discover the best parts of this beautiful American state.
Highway 1 is over 1000 km long, and in this article, I will talk about where to stop on Pacific Coast Highway. Although, in my opinion, the whole road is worth exploring leisurely.
Imagine driving a red convertible Mustang, feeling the breeze of the Pacific Ocean, and enjoying the stunning scenery.
Every angle is magical, and the landscape is breathtaking wherever you look.
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What I use every time I travel:
- To book hotels: Booking.com
- To book tours: GetYourGuide.com
The best way to drive the Pacific Coast Highway is from north to south, exactly how I did it. This choice is because you get to have the ocean on your side.
Therefore, I advise you to follow the route from San Francisco to San Diego Pacific Coast Highway for your Pacific Coast Highway road trip itinerary.
This way, you won’t have the ocean view obstructed by other cars.
The construction of the Pacific Coast Highway, also known as California State Route 1, began in 1935 and was completed 15 years later.
It stretches over 1055 km or 655 miles, and tourists consider it one of the most picturesque in North America and even globally.
But, apart from the beautiful views, there are so many other things to do along PCH, so let’s jump right into the article where I’ll talk about the best Pacific Coast Highway stops.
READ ALSO: 10 must-see places in California
15 Best places to stop on Pacific Coast Highway
Because it’s possible to be so overwhelmed by the beauties seen along the way that you won’t know where to stop to immortalize the view, I’ll help you with the list of the best stops on the Pacific Coast Highway.
I have inspired myself by my experience, and I assure you that each point is worth seeing and appreciating.
Moreover, I’ve also attached a map of the things to see on the Pacific Coast Highway.
1. Enjoy the best of San Francisco
Start your list of places to visit on highway 1 with “The City by the Bay.” San Francisco is the best starting point for your Pacific Coast Highway road trip.
The city is permanently prone to earthquakes due to its location on the San Andreas Fault so that you won’t see many skyscrapers.
Unlike other American metropolises, the tallest buildings barely reach 300 meters high. Still, San Francisco has so much to offer.
I highly recommend crossing the famous Golden Gate Bridge, one of the most iconic places in San Francisco.
Then head over to Union Square and later drive down the world’s most crooked street, Lombard Street.
Don’t leave San Franciso before you get the chance to admire the beautiful pastel-colored Victorian Painted Ladies and without enjoying an ice cream in Fisherman’s Wharf.
Oh, and since I mentioned the skyscrapers of San Francisco, you must take a look at Transamerica Pyramid, the tallest building in the city until 2016, when the Salesforce Tower surpassed it.
Moreover, if you’re the kind of traveler who feels he hasn’t visited a city until he has seen it from above, then hike on one of these two hills: Twin Peaks or Telegraph, for a 360-degree panorama. From here, you’ll probably get the best view of San Francisco.
Where to stay in San Francisco:
- low-budget: Nineteen 06 Mission
- mid-budget: Marines’ Memorial Club & Hotel Union Square
- luxury: Hotel Triton
Top things to do in San Francisco:
- go on a cruise in the Bay area
- visit Alcatraz
- take a helicopter tour
- visit the California Academy of science
- go on a culinary walking tour in Chinatown
READ MORE: What to visit in San Francisco in less than a day
2. Short stop to Montara Beach | Things to do along PCHThere are many beautiful beaches along Highway 1.
One of them and the second place on the list of best stops on Pacific Coast Highway should be Montara Beach.
It’s located only 30 minutes drive from San Francisco and about 8 miles from the much more famous Half Moon Bay.
Montara Beach is unique because it’s one of the cleanest beaches in America, a perfect place for walking, picnicking, or admiring the most beautiful sunsets.
It’s one of the best places to see along the California Coast.
3. Admire the Pigeon Point Lighthouse
Number three on my list of places to visit along Highway 1 is a lovely, legendary, Instagrammable lighthouse.
Pigeon Point is not a regular lighthouse but a very old one, built in 1871 to guide ships on the West Coast.
Moreover, it is even the tallest lighthouse on the western side of America, reaching 35 meters. And one of the tallest on Highway 1.
It’s no longer functioning, but it’s on the National Register of Historic Places list. Surprisingly and extremely interesting, the buildings around it, where employees lived, are now hostels.
If you’re looking for the best photo spots on Pacific Coast Highway, Pigeon Point Lighthouse should be part of your list.
4. Visit Santa Cruz | Where to stop on Pacific Coast Highway
If we were to make a top of the three most beautiful places to see along the California Coast, Santa Cruz would, without a doubt, be one of them.
Besides being a very chic town, with tons of restaurants where you can enjoy tasty food, and all the places with a dream view of the Pacific, this small town is also home to the University of California, whose campus I very much enjoyed visiting.
Not to mention that Santa Cruz will also surprise you with an amusement park on the oceanfront.
It’s one of the nicest in the country, a place where you will feel the adrenaline, riding one of the oldest wooden rollercoasters, dating from almost 100 years ago.
The conclusion is obvious, but I need to put it into words: you must add Santa Cruz to the list of best stops on Pacific Coast Highway!
Where to stay in Santa Cruz:
- mid-budget: Fairfield Inn & Suites Santa Cruz
- luxury: Dream Inn Santa Cruz
5. Don’t skip Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey
I included these places to visit along highway 1 together at number 5 because they are just 10 minutes away from each other.
Physical proximity is not the only thing they have in common, as Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey are coastal towns with chic homes, dream panoramas, and excellent golf courses.
If time is not a problem for you, go to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, a wonderful place with many hiking trails.
Two fun facts about Carmel-by-the-sea is that you need a permit to wear high heels, and no fast-food chains are allowed.
I would undoubtedly include these two gorgeous towns on the Pacific Coast Highway stops list if I were you.
Where to stay in Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey:
- low-budget: Stage Coach Lodge
- mid-budget: Carmel Bay View Inn
- luxury: Portola Hotel & Spa
Top things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey:
- go on a whale-watching tour
- catamaran sailing cruise
- take some private surfing lessons
- go on a wine-tasting tour
6. Cross the Bixby Bridge | Pacific Coast Highway stops
Once here, you will have a feeling of déjà vu. It’s impossible not to have seen photos on Instagram or Pinterest with this specially designed bridge, which automatically propelled it to the list of the most photographed places in the State.
It could also be the most famous of the stops along the Pacific Coast Highway.
The reinforced concrete construction was completed in 1932. According to the latest statistics, it has a total length of 218 m and a height of 85, and is crossed daily by over 4500 cars.
However, I recommend you stop before and after crossing it to capture it in pictures from both angles. That’s because it’s one of the best photo spots on Pacific Coast Highway.
7. Visit the beautiful places in Big Sur | Pacific Coast Highway stops
The highlight of the places to visit along highway 1 is Big Sur, and that’s not because you have reached the middle of the road trip because it’s not the case, but because the landscapes here will take your breath away.
Along the 85 miles, you’ll be tempted to stop in every place where stunning coastline views will be.
Some time ago, just before the highway was built, Big Sur was almost an unpopulated place where even the electricity was missing.
Today, it’s one of the best 15 places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway, loved by tourists for hiking, camping, climbing or walking, boat riding, and kayaking.
Where to stay in Big Sur:
- Big Sur Lodge
- Big Sur River Inn
8. Hike to McWay Falls | Best stops on Highway 1
This is my favorite place of all the best stops on Pacific Coast Highway!
McWay Falls a mini waterfall that flows straight into the ocean, rocks covered with musk, glowing turquoise waters, a charming and hardly accessible beach that looks untouched, surrounded by cliffs and lawns with pastel pink flowers.
The splendid panorama gives me the feeling of being on an exotic island.
The waterfall in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park can be admired by taking a short trail through the forest.
Do not even think about crossing the Pacific Coast Highway without spending a few hours on this fairytale land.
9. The elephant seals in Point Piedras Blancas
Number nine on the list of places to see along the California Coast is Point Piedras Blancas, situated about one hour from McWay Falls.
The cute animals were first seen here, on the beach, in 1990. Initially, it was a small number colony, but in the meantime, it has expanded so much that the colony now has 15,000 members.
The sea elephants come here to relax on the beach, socialize, carry out their mating rituals, and chill by throwing sand on their backs with the help of their flippers.
Though they smell pretty unpleasant and are extremely noisy, these fascinating animals deserve to be seen in their natural habitat.
It’s one of the best things to see on the Pacific Coast Highway.
10. Taste the wine in Santa Barbara | Pacific Coast Highway best stops
The American Riviera has become famous for its wide beaches, relaxing atmospheres, and especially colonial Spanish-style houses with red-tiled roofs.
It’s easy to recognize Santa Barbara for its large number of vineyards outside the city and for the places where wine can be tasted. It’s one of the best stops on Highway 1.
Where to stay in Santa Barbara:
- low-budget: Quality Inn near Downtown Santa Barbara
- mid-budget: La Playa Inn Santa Barbara
- luxury: Harbor View Inn
Top things to do in Santa Barbara:
- go on a wine tasting and lunch tour
- tour the city on an electric bike
- go on a beer walking tour
- take a kayak tour
11. Visit Santa Monica
You have already reached the 3rd “Santa”, the one in which you find the end of the famous historic Route 66, the one that’s now 100 years old, and on which you can entertain yourself in old-school style, in one of the most beautiful amusement parks in the country.
The park is set right on the pier. All in all, Santa Monica is one of the best photo spots on Pacific Coast Highway and the perfect place to look at people and sunsets 🙂
Where to stay in Santa Monica:
- low-budget: Santa Monica House
- mid-budget: Ocean Lodge Santa Monica Beach Hotel
- luxury: Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows
12. Spend some days in Los Angeles | Best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway
Los Angeles is the epicenter of the fashionable world of America, the starting point of the cinema and music industry, whose protagonists live in luxury residences in Beverly Hills.
There’s so much to do in Los Angeles. From getting that perfect tan on Venice Beach, feeling like a star on Hollywood Boulevard, admiring the expensive cars on Rodeo Drive and expensive homes in Beverly Hills, to just wandering around the streets or spending a fun day at Universal Studios, Los Angeles has it all!
Therefore, can you imagine a list of the best places to see along the California Coast without Los Angeles in it? Me neither!
Where to stay in Los Angeles:
- low-budget: Freehand Los Angeles
- mid-budget: Hotel June
- luxury: Hotel Bel-Air – Dorchester Collection
Top things to do in Los Angeles:
- visit the Aquarium of the Pacific
- spend a day at Universal Studios
- take a celebrity homes tour
- go on a helicopter tour in Beverly Hills and Holywood
- visit the Natural History Museum
READ MORE:TOP 10 FUN things to do in LOS ANGELES
3 Days in Los Angeles – what to do and see
13. Get some tan on Seal Beach
Probably the only optional destination on the list of best stops along Pacific Coast Highway, considering the subjectivity that made me propose it to you.
Seal Beach is intimately linked to my childhood memories, in the light of the fact that here was filmed the series I watched every day, 20 years ago.
It’s about Sunset Beach, and there are chances you have also been a fan of this American drama.
In this case, I suggest you visit Seal Beach, not only for the sake of memories but also for its beauty, for the huge white sandy beach, for ocean-facing terraced houses, for the second-largest wooden pier in the country, but also for the tallest palms I have ever seen.
READ MORE: Sunset Beach soap opera – I went to see the houses
14. Visit Laguna Beach, one of the best places to visit in California
I’ve praised and praised the beaches in California, but this time I’ve got to the most beautiful along the California Coast, from my point of view.
Laguna Beach, located somewhere halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, is a 7-mile long beach with bays, cliffs, azure waves, parks, and lots of vegetation that offers many activities for nature lovers and art devotees.
Where to stay in Laguna Beach
- low-budget: The Tides – Laguna Beach
- mid-budget: Capri Laguna on the Beach – A Boutique Hotel
- luxury: Monarch Beach Resort
15. Go on a day trip to San Diego
San Diego is not just another Californian city. It’s the second-largest in the state and the eighth in the country.
Moreover, its position at the border with Mexico makes it unique, bringing influences on culture, lifestyle, and cuisine.
So, crossing the border for tamales, enchiladas, tortillas, and guacamole is no longer necessary.
San Diego has beaches, museums, parks, and gardens and a great asset, warm weather all year round.
If you get here, you have to cross the bridge and go to Coronado Island, where you will have an excellent view of the city’s skyline.
Where to stay in San Diego:
- low-budget: Kings Inn
- mid-budget: Hillcrest House Bed & Breakfast
- luxury: Tower 23 Hotel
Top things to do in San Diego:
- go on a harbor cruise
- take a whale watching tour
- go on a dinner cruise
- take a 90 minutes kayaking tour with a guide
READ MORE: San Diego, California in one day
Best places to eat on the Pacific Coast Highway
Every successful road trip requires a few stops to eat well. On the Pacific Coast Highway, you will not find many restaurants, except for the cities you pass.
I recommend that you choose from this list of places to eat along Highway 1:
- Rocky Point Restaurant
- Big Sur Roadhouse
- The Village
What is the speed limit on Pacific Coast Highway?
The speed varies depending on your area, but you must never exceed 55mph.
How long does it take to drive the Pacific Coast Highway?
The road trip can take a day, two days, a week, or even longer, depending on where you want to stop.
I recommend you spend at least a week here because the best stops on the Pacific Coast Highway are not few at all. As you can see in the list above.
What is the best time of year to drive the Pacific Coast Highway?
I think the best times for Pacific Coast Highway are spring and fall, when temperatures are quite ok and not as crowded as summer.
Is California Highway 1 dangerous?
The short answer is yes. The Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most dangerous roads in the United States because of the steep terrain and because you won’t find guardrails everywhere.
When the weather is harsh, the road or portions of it are closed.best stops along the pacific coast highwaywhere to stop on pacific coast highway