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Planning the Perfect Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

Do you want to do a classic American road trip with the most amazing scenery and wildlife? It doesn’t get much more epic than the Pacific Coast Highway through California, Oregon, and Washington. With so many incredible viewpoints, sights, and attractions along the way, driving the PCH is a must!

Growing up in southern California, in Huntington Beach, meant the PCH was part of my daily life, especially in summer. My first road trip memories are of all eight of us kids piling into the old VW bus with mom and dad, and heading up or down the coast to some beach or RV campground.

Even from that young age, my memories are filled with expansive beaches, rugged coastlines, delicious foods and good times. Flash forward to the twenty-first century and all of those reasons for driving the Pacific Coast Highway remain the same. But with so many beaches, viewpoints, and attractions to choose from, planning an epic PCH road trip can be overwhelming.

We also have an episode our podcast, Streets and Eats, on driving the Pacific Coast Highway. Have a listen here:

In this article:

Our jeep parked at one of the many scenic spots along the Pacific Coast Highway.
Scenic viewpoint along the PCH

What is the Pacific Coast Highway

What a lot of people don’t know, is that the only officially designated Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) is found along sections of California State Route 1 that run through three southern California counties: Orange County, Los Angeles County, and Ventura County. Obviously, though, the term Pacific Coast Highway means different things to different people.

The official starting point of the Pacific Coast Highway at Dana Point.
The official starting point of the Pacific Coast Highway at Dana Point.

For us, and most other road trippers, we’re talking about the whole system of highways running along the entire US Pacific coast. This route begins with California State Route 1 starting at the junction with Interstate 5 in Dana Point, running north where Route 1 ends in Legget, California.

From there, it continues on US 101 along the coast all the way through Oregon and Washington, around the Olympic peninsula, and ending at Olympia, Washington. We’ll use the term, Pacific Coast Highway to cover this entire route.

Official Scenic Route Designations Along the Pacific Coast (source)

  • Pacific Coast Highway – Sections of California State Route One from Dana Point to Santa Barbara
  • Cabrillo Highway – California State Route One from San Louis Obispo to San Francisco
  • Shoreline Highway – California State Route One from Marin to Legget
  • Big Sur Coast Highway. – National Scenic Byway and All American Roadway, California State Route One from San Louis Obispo to Carmel
  • Pacific Coast Scenic Byway – National Scenic Byway and All American Roadway, US 101 in Oregon and Washington

Best Time to Drive the PCH

Driving the Pacific Coast Highway is best in late February through early June. After the rainy season, California’s grassy hills are bright green and dotted with colorful wildflowers.

However, anytime from March through October is going to be good as well. Expect rainy, windy, foggy, and cold weather November through February along the entire coastal highway system.

Oregon and Washington, on the other hand, are still quite cold and rainy all the way into April. For a road trip along the northern stretches of the Pacific Coast highways, plan your trip later in the summer or early fall. During this time, there will be mostly warm sunny days.

Is it better to drive up or down the PCH?

One of the most often asked questions about a PCH road trip is which direction to drive. Most people will recommend driving north to south. However, there are pros and cons to this, and the best answer is that it doesn’t really matter. The Pacific Coast Highway views are spectacular, regardless of the direction you travel.

Driving north to south puts you in the lane closest to the sea and therefore the best views of the rugged coastline and easy access to the viewpoint pullouts. However, this is also the direction with the most traffic and you’re driving into the sun most of the day.

Seals lounging at Golden Gate National Recreation Area is a great place to see wildlife along the PCH.
Seals lounging in the Golden Gate National Recreational Area, CA

Driving south to north has less traffic and it’s still easy enough to pull into the viewpoint pullouts. Having the sun behind you means that it’s not in your eyes as you drive, and it is lighting up the coastline ahead of you for those really dramatic views. If you haven’t figured it out, this is my preferred direction.

If you have the time a roundtrip is the best way to go. It always amazes me how different the views are when you go back down a stretch of road in the opposite direction. I often find myself seeing things I completely missed going the other way. Alternatively, you could drive the PCH in one direction and then drive back on Interstate 5 further inland.

How Long Does it take to drive the PCH?

This is a harder question to answer. We can give the regular driving time but with so much to see and do, it is almost impossible to just drive straight through on any stretch of these coastal highways.

The entire coastal highway route along US 101 and Route 1 (whenever possible) from Olympia, Washington, to Dana Point, California is about 1600 miles and would take a minimum of seven days to drive comfortably.

Along Pacific Highway 1, you will have great views, like this one of Pigeon Point Lighthouse.
Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park, CA

For the more traditional Pacific Coast Highway road trip, we’re talking strictly California State Route 1 from Legget, California in Mendocino, to Dana Point, California. This is 656 miles and can be driven over at least a three-day period. The best answer to the question, though, is how much time do you have?

Beautiful scenery awaits you while driving the Pacific Coast Highway.

How much time do you need to drive the PCH? Time between stops.

  • Dana Point to Santa Barbara (about 150 miles) – The “official” PCH. Driving time is between 3 and 6 hours depending on traffic. But there are some amazing beaches along the route including Huntington Beach, Pirate’s Cove (Newport Beach), Zuma Beach (Malibu), where you could spend anywhere from an hour to half a day.
  • Santa Barbara to Carmel-by-the-Sea – (about 215 miles) This is part of the Cabrillo Highway. Straight through driving in about 4 hours – but there are so many cool stops along the route including the Elephant seals outside of San Simeon, the pelican cliffs just north of Pismo Beach, and incredible coastal views through Big Sur.
  • Carmel-by-the-Sea to San Francisco (about 125 miles) This is the second half of the Cabrillo Highway. Non-stop will take about 3 hours. Stops along this route include Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Pigeon Point Light Station, and a must-stop-for-pie at Pie Ranch.
  • San Francisco to Leggett (about 215 miles) – This is the Shoreline Highway. Driving time is about 6 hours. Don’t miss the Golden Gate Bridge views from Fort Baker, seascape views from Muir Beach  Overlook, and oysters in Tomales Bay.
  • Legget to Bandon (about 280 miles) – Pacific Coast Scenic Byway. Driving time is about 5 hours. There are some truly epic scenic views along the coast including lighthouses, seal rookeries, and giant redwoods (Avenue of the Giants).
  • Bandon to Astoria (about 250 miles) – Pacific Coast Scenic Byway. Driving time is around 5 ½ hours. More breakaway cliffs, geographic wonders like sand dunes and Thor’s Well, and stunning views at Heceta Head Lighthouse.
  • Astoria to Forks (about 220 miles) – Pacific Coast Scenic Byway. Driving time is around 4 hours. The majority of this drive is through Olympic National Park with old-growth Pacific Northwest rainforest, the Lake Quinault rainforest loop, and scenic Klaloch beach.
  • Forks to Olympia (about 175 miles) – Pacific Coast Scenic Byway. Driving time is about 3 ½ hours. Stop for a soothing bath at Sol Duc Hot Springs, and consider a short detour through historic Port Townsend before hugging the coast along Hood Canal to Olympia.

Unfortunately, there was a landslide closing a section of SR-1 in Big Sur and the road is currently closed between the north of San Simeon and Plaskett Creek. This closure is long-term. Check the current status with California Department of Transportation.

Stunning vistas are all along the Pacific Highway 1, like this one at Sonoma Coast State Park.
Sonoma Coast State Park, CA.

Pacific Coast Highway Stops – California, Oregon, and Washington

Most of the coastal highway system travels through rural coastal areas, beach towns, and forest land. However, there are several small cities and large towns that are perfect for a short stop or an overnight stay.

PCH Stops in California

California State Route One, or Highway One, runs right through Los Angeles and San Francisco. These two cities make for great beginning and ending points for a short two or three-day drive along the PCH. Driving from San Francisco to LA will take about six hours with lots of great stops in-between.

In fact, there are so many smaller coastal towns and cities along the way that make for some excellent overnights. Travelers heading further north from San Francisco or south from LA have even more excellent stops to choose from.

Make sure to add the Mission San Juan Capistrano to your PCH itinerary.
Mission San Juan Capistrano, CA.

Dana Point

This small beach town in southern California is the starting point of California State Route 1 and the beginning of the PCH. Don’t just climb in the car and hit the road, though.

Spend some time in this seaside town hiking the rugged headlands or exploring the harbor. It’s also known for sport fishing and whale watching. A stop at nearby Mission San Juan Capistrano is a must.

Where to stay: We love the Four Sisters Collection in California for a couples road trip and their Blue Lantern Inn in Dana Point is highly rated. For families with kids, the Best Western Plus Marina Shores is a good bet, right on the PCH and a short walk to the beach.

Interesting attractions, sights, and viewpoints between Dana Point and LA:

  • Mission San Juan Capistrano
  • The Queen Mary, Long Beach
The La Brea Tar Pits is a stop on the Pacific Coast Highway that's great for kids of all ages.
La Brea Tarpits, Los Angeles

Los Angeles

Los Angeles is a destination all on its own where visitors can easily spend at least a week. There’s so much to do including a few of our favorite museums like the Getty and the La Brea Tar Pits.

Of course, Hollywood and Sunset Blvd are high on the list as are Beverly Hills, Anaheim and Disneyland. For road trippers not wanting to stray too far from the PCH, there is more than enough to warrant a stop here, especially if you are interested in doing some outdoor activities around Anaheim.

The highway drives right through LA near the beach. A slight detour to Venice Beach for a surfing lesson is sure to please those looking for the iconic SoCal beach scene, and a stroll through the Venice Canals will make even the most jaded tourist see LA in a different light.

Finally, Santa Monica Pier provides all the fun and excitement kids of all ages are looking for at the intersection of two of America’s most famous roadways, the PCH and Route 66.

Where to stay: While we typically avoid staying in large cities on a road trip, there’s just so much to do here that at least one night is called for. We usually stay at the Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles just off highway One near LAX.

Interesting attractions, sights, and viewpoints between LA and Santa Barbara:

  • Santa Monica Pier
  • Point Dume, Malibu
  • Channel Islands National Park
Santa Barbara mission is an easy stop along the PCH.
Mission Santa Barbara, CA

Santa Barbara

Tucked in between the Santa Ynez mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara has a distinct Spanish Colonial feel with white-washed stucco buildings and red roof-tiles.

Get out on the water on a catamaran for a whale watching tour, or into the hills for some incredible wine tasting. Save some time to explore the historic Mission Santa Barbara located atop a low hill overlooking the city.

Where to stay: Right off the PCH and just two minutes walk to the beach, the Motel 6 surprised us in a good way. It is our choice for budget travelers with kids. Next door, and a little more upscale but still great value for the money, the Santa Barbara Inn is the choice for couples.

Interesting attractions, sights, and viewpoints between Santa Barbara and Pismo Beach:

  • El Capitan State Beach
  • Arroyo Hondo Vista Point
  • Monarch Butterfly Grove
Wildlife is abundant on the Highway 101 road trip.
A juvenile pelican is easy to spot when overlooking Pismo Beach.

Pismo Beach

Bugs Bunny sums it up in one famous line: “Well here we are, Pismo Beach and all the clams we can eat.” While this lively seaside town is well known for its seafood, especially clams (stop for the annual Pismo Beach Clam Festival if you’re driving through in October), there’s more to do here than just digging clams at the beach.

Thanks to the abundance of clams along the sandy beaches, wildlife abounds in the area. One of our favorite viewing stops along the PCH is the Pelican cliffs rookery, near the Clay Courts parking area.

Sea otters frolic in the waters offshore, and harbor seals can be heard barking around the pier. Also, don’t miss the Monarch Butterfly Grove from October to February.

Where to stay: Smack dab in the middle of things in downtown Pismo Beach, but still close to the beach, is the budget-friendly Inn at the Pier. For a more relaxed stay, just off the PCH and right on the beach, SeaCrest Ocean Front Hotel is the place to stay.

Also, not far from Pismo Beach are the Santa Maria wineries. If you are a connoisseur, you will want to stop here and indulge in a few tastings.

Interesting attractions, sights, and viewpoints between Pismo Beach and Carmel-by-the-Sea:

  • Hearst Castle
  • Padras Elephant Seal Rookery
  • Limekiln State Park
  • Gamboa Point and Big Creek Bridge
  • McWay Falls and Beach
  • The lighthouse at Point Sur State Historic Park
  • Castlerock Viewpoint and Bixby Bridge
Otters at Big Sur can sometimes be seen on your PCH drive.


One of California’s original artist colonies, Carmel still is home to many artists and galleries. It’s also known for the interesting architecture found in its fairytale cottages and the beautiful Clinton Walker House, a Frank Lloyd Wright creation.

Oh, and we should mention one quirky law. Sorry fashionistas, no high heels allowed without a permit (source).

Of course, the town, along with neighboring Monterey, is also a great base for exploring the Point Lobos State Natural Preserve and Big Sur and McWay Falls.

Where to stay: I can’t not recommend the Four Sisters’ Coachman’s Inn for couples, perfectly situated for exploring downtown, walking to restaurants, or going down to the beach. For families or on a budget, try the Carmel River Inn or the Carmel Mission Inn both right off of highway one.

Interesting attractions, sights, and viewpoints between Carmel and Santa Cruz:

  • Point Pinos Lighthouse
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium
One of the best stops slong the Pacific Coast Highway is the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum.
Santa Cruise Surfing Museum, CA

Santa Cruz

Located at the north end of Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz faces south and has a warmer climate than other northern California beach towns. It also boasts some of the best surfing in the state and is recognized worldwide as a top surfing destination. Regardless of whether you are a surfer or a spectator, Santa Cruz has plenty to offer the Pacific Coast road tripper.

Spending a couple of hours at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is also a must for families and children of all ages. Home to the oldest amusement park in California, riding one of the few remaining classic wooden roller coasters is sure to thrill. Younger kids will love a ride on one of the unique horses on the historic Looff Carousel.

Where to stay:

  • West Cliff Inn – Cool old Victorian mansion, on a bluff overlooking the beach
  • Seaway Inn – Classic road trip hotel, steps from the beach and main Santa Cruz attractions

Interesting attractions, sights, and viewpoints between Santa Cruz and San Francisco:

  • Santa Cruz Boardwalk
  • Santa Cruz Surfing Museum
  • Greyhound Rock Viewpoint
  • Pigeon Point Lighthouse Viewpoint
The iconic Golden Gate Bridge is a Pacific Coast Highway attraction.
If you are looking for a place to spend a few days of your PCH trip, go to San Francisco, and enjoy walking on the Golden Gate Bridge.

San Francisco

The city by the bay needs no real introduction here. The fact that the Pacific Coast Highway, here known as the Shoreline Highway, runs right over the Golden Gate Bridge should come as no surprise. Aside from views of the bridge, there’s so much to do here, it could easily take two or three days on your road trip.

San Francisco is a natural starting or stopping point on the PCH. In fact, probably the most popular Pacific Coast Highway road trip is a three-day trip from San Francisco to LA. That stretch certainly has some of the most scenic parts on California Route One. Whether your road trip begins, ends, or just passes through, be sure and plan your time accordingly.

Check out our San Francisco Attractions post to start planning your time there.

Where to stay:

  • San Francisco Proper Hotel – Historic Flatiron on Market St. with an amazing rooftop bar
  • Hotel Zoe – Great value, right in the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf and all the fun

Interesting attractions, sights, and viewpoints between San Francisco and Fort Bragg:

  • Golden Gate Bridge Viewpoint near Battery Yates in the Fort Baker
  • Muir Wood’s National Monument
  • Sea Lions at Jenner Lookout Point
  • Point Cabrillo Light Station
Every Pacific Coast Highway trip should include a stop to say hello to Paul Bunyon and he blue ox.
Paul Bunyon and his blue ox in Klamath, CA

Fort Bragg

Fort Bragg is a sleepy little coastal town in Mendocino county. Stopping here for a day or two provides an opportunity to really get out and explore one of northern California’s most amazing regions. There is a historic railway to ride, beach combing on a famous glass beach, and some fun festivals that the whole family will enjoy.

What I love the most about Fort Bragg, however, is that migrating whales come very close to the coast along this stretch of the highway. In March and April, Grab your binoculars and head out to Point Cabrillo for a chance to spot these amazing creatures. If you’re here in early September, enjoy the logging show during Paul Bunyan days.

Where to stay:

  • Emerald Dolphin Inn – Mini golf and arcade for the kids, and massage and spa for the adults
  • Beachcomber Motel – Another classic road trip motel right off the highway and right on the beach

Interesting attractions, sights, and viewpoints between Fort Bragg and Bandon:

  • Confusion Hill
  • Redwoods National Park
  • Crescent Beach overlook
  • Ariya’s Beach
Welcome to Oregon sign along the PCH.

Pacific Coast Highway Stops in Oregon

Driving along the Oregon Coast on US 101 is an unforgettable journey through rural coastal towns and passing by some of the most picturesque rock-strewn beaches. There aren’t too many overnight spots along the way, so plan accordingly.

Oregon beaches are windy, rocky, and huge. They're big enough for Circles in the Sand murals like this one; Make it a stop on your PCH itinerary.
Circles in the Sand maze in Bandon, Oregon


By the time you get to Bandon, you’ve already driven past miles and miles of Oregon’s amazing beaches. Nothing, however, compares to the beaches here, especially Face Rock. There’s more than just beaches, though, Bandon has some great food and one of the most interesting art installations to be found anywhere in the world.

Every spring and summer, a group of local artists and volunteers team up on the silky sands of Face Rock beach. As the tide goes out, they skillfully begin drawing in the sand. When they are finished, the result is a massive, intricate labyrinth known as Circles in the Sand that is not only a treat for the eyes but a fun walk for the whole family. When the tide comes back in, the whole beautiful display is washed away.

Where to stay:

  • Bandon Inn – Comfortable Inn overlooking Bandon Old Town and the Marina
  • Windermere on the Beach – Cozy little cottages snuggled up to the beach

Interesting attractions, sights, and viewpoints between Bandon and Astoria:

  • Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
  • Tillamook Creamery
  • Heceta Head Lighthouse
  • Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, Ft. Clatsop
Wild elk along the Pacific Coast Highway in Oregon.
Wild elk along the road just outside of Astoria, Oregon


What began as a fur trading post in the early 1800s, is now America’s oldest settlement west of the Rockies. Astoria today is a laid-back western city with small town charm and a beautiful old downtown district. This is the Pacific Northwest at its best, with miles-long beaches, old-growth rainforests, amazing food, beer, and wine.

Astoria is right at the mouth of the Columbia River and has a long tradition of fishing and outdoor adventure. You can see the whole history of the town drawn out in marvelous sgraffito on the outside of Astoria Tower or climb to the top for the best views of the town and the surrounding countryside.

Where to stay:

  • Holiday Inn & Suites – Surprisingly good with stunning river views and fireplaces in the room
  • Hotel Elliot Astoria – Historic hotel and a perennial favorite in the heart of Astoria

Interesting attractions, sights, and viewpoints between Astoria and Port Angeles:

  • Olympic National Park, Lake Quinault
  • Olympic National Park, Kaloloch Beach
  • Forks Timber Museum
  • Olympic National Park, Sol Duc Hot Springs
The Washington Welcome sign in Pacific Highway 1.
The Washington Welcome sign in Pacific Highway 1.

Pacific Coast Highway Stops in Washington

In Washington, route 101 spends more time inland passing through the old-growth Pacific Northwest rainforest. Olympic National Park is the major highlight here, and the route takes drivers around and through the park as they cruise around the Olympic peninsula.

One of the many metal sculptues along the Raymond Heritage Wildlife Sculpture Corridor, it's a great place for a breather as you drive the Pacific Coast Highway.
Raymond Heritage Wildlife Sculpture Corridor, WA

Port Angeles

The largest city on the Olympic Peninsula, Port Angeles makes a great base for one or two days exploring nearby Olympic National Park. The historic downtown near the port has a variety of excellent eateries serving locally sourced seafood and produce. If you’re lucky enough to be there in early October, the annual Dungeness Crab and Seafood Festival is a must.

Road trippers with a little more time on their hands should consider a trip on the Black Ball Ferry over to Victoria, British Columbia. Or why not get out on the Salish Sea for some incredible whale watching? This is a great port to go out of for orca, gray, and humpback whales.

Where to stay:

  • Port Angeles Inn – Steps away from the historic downtown and the port
  • Angeles Motel – Classic route 101 drive-up motel, close to Olympic NP Visitor Center

Interesting attractions, sights, and viewpoints between Astoria and Port Angeles:

  • Olympic National Park, Hurricane Ridge
  • Purple Haze Lavender Farm
  • Fort Worden State Historical Park
A Pacific coast highway 7 days trip allows you to end up in beautiful Olympia, Washington.
Olympia Harbor, WA


Washington State’s capitol is a laid-back seaside city with a small town feel. The marina and boardwalk area around Percival Landing is ideal for a sunny day stroll. Wander through the nearby historic downtown area for some eclectic shopping and a bite to eat at one of the notable local seafood joints.

Springtime is best for a visit to Olympia with flowers in bloom throughout the city and gorgeous cherry blossoms around the State Capitol Campus. Younger kids will love an afternoon spent exploring the world-class Hands-On Science Museum. While the whole family will love the weekend farmer’s market near the port.

Beaches galore await your PCH drive, like Pismo Beach.

Best Beaches on the Pacific Coast Highway

While the Pacific Coast Highway is mostly renowned for its scenic ocean views, it is also just as famous for its beaches. From the sun-soaked expansive beaches in the south to the windswept, rugged silky smooth sand beaches in the north, the drive along the coastal highway system has a beach for any type of beach lover.

Best Southern California Beaches on the PCH

Where’s the best beach? Ask a hundred different southern Californians and you’ll likely get a hundred different answers. The Pacific Coast Highway between Dana Point and Los Angeles hugs the coast and leads road trippers past some of the most famous beaches in the world.

My favorites tend to be the smaller, less crowded beaches with rocky promontories closing off a sandy cove. Luckily there are more than a few of these to choose from. My favorite, however, has to be Pirate’s Cove in Newport Beach.

There are many beaches to enjoy along the way on the PCH highway, like Laguna Beach.
Laguna Beach, CA.

For the larger, expanse of sandy beach that seems to run on forever, you can’t go wrong with Huntington Beach. Bring an umbrella, sunblock, boogie board, and a picnic for the quintessential “Day at the Beach.” Oh, and be sure to find a spot near the pier.

Other notable SoCal beaches:

  • Treasure Island Beach, Laguna Beach
  • Irvine Cove Beach, Laguna Beach
  • Zuma Beach, Malibu
  • Harbor Cove Beach, Ventura

Best Northern California Beaches on the PCH

Heading out of Southern California, California Route One changes its name from the “official” Pacific Coast Highway to the Cabrillo Highway. Beaches along this stretch of road tend to be less crowded, more dramatic and can be a little harder to get to, especially those along the Big Sur section of the highway.

Along your California coast road trip, stop at all the state parks as well, like Morro Bay.
Morro Bay State Park, CA.

Best Beaches Between Santa Barbara and Carmel:

  • Morro Strand State Beach, Morro Point
  • McWay Beach and Waterfall (Big Sur)
  • Garrapata Beach and Calla Lily Valley
  • Carmel Beach, Carmel-by-the-Sea

Best Beaches on Cabrillo Highway Between Carmel and SF:

  • Lighthouse Field State Beach, Santa Cruz
  • Gazos Creek State Beach (Pigeon Point Lighthouse nearby)
  • Dunes Beach, Half Moon Bay
  • Rockaway Beach, Pacifica

Of course, the farther north you go, the more rural and rugged the highway and the beaches become. Rocky islands dotting the coast, dramatic sea cliffs, and empty beaches with some great camping can be found along this stretch of California Route One.

The road is now named the Shoreline Highway from San Francisco to Legget, and the Coastal Highway from Legget heading north where US Route 101 takes over.

Best Beaches in Northern California North of SanFrancisco:

  • Muir Beach
  • Bodega Dunes Beach and Campground
  • Fort Bragg Glass Beach
  • Trinidad State Beach, Trinidad
Views like this one at Meyers Creek, is one of the main reasons you want to do a Pacific Coast Highway trip.
Meyers Creek Beach in Oregon

Oregon Beaches

The beaches in Oregon are some of my favorite beaches in the world. I’m all about dramatic coastlines, waves crashing over massive boulders, and silky smooth sand. And the less crowded it is, the better.

Fortunately for those continuing their Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Oregon, this description fits practically every beach along the drive.

Best Beaches in Oregon on the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, US 101:

  • Ariya’s Beach, Gold Beach
  • Bandon Beach, Bandon
  • Hobbit Beach, Florence
  • Canon Beach, Canon
  • DeLaura Beach, Warrenton
Views such as Heceta Head Lighthouse is what makes the PCH highway such a must-do drive.
Heceta Head Lighthouse in Oregon

Washington Beaches

The Pacific Coast Scenic Byway doesn’t spend much time right on the coast in Washington, and where it does, beaches aren’t really the main attraction.

However, the beaches at Kalaloch in Olympic National Park should not be missed. These are perfect for beach combing and who knows, you might even find a glass float or two washed up on shore.

Big Sur has one of the best viewpoints on the Pacific Coast Highway.
Big Sur, CA

15 Most Scenic Spots on the Pacific Coast Highway

There really are too many viewpoint pullouts to list them all. However, these are our favorites views from the road (again, this list is built driving south to north):

  • Point Dume, Malibu (PCH)
  • The pelican cliffs just north of Pismo Beach (Cabrillo Highway)
  • Padras Elephant Seal Rookery (Cabrillo Highway)
  • Gamboa Point and Big Creek Bridge (Cabrillo Highway)
  • McWay Falls and Beach (Cabrillo Highway)
  • Castlerock Viewpoint and Bixby Bridge (Cabrillo Highway)
  • Pigeon Point Lighthouse Viewpoint (Cabrillo Highway)
  • Golden Gate Bridge Viewpoint near Battery Yates in the Fort Baker (Shoreline Highway)
  • Duncan’s Landing Overlook (Shoreline Highway)
  • Seaside Creek Beach (Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, CA)
  • Crescent Beach overlook (Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, CA)
  • Spruce Island Viewpoint (Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, OR)
  • Ariya’s Beach (Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, OR)
  • Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint (Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, OR)
  • Thor’s Well (Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, OR)
The PCH Highway takes you right past the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in California.
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, CA

PCH Main Attractions

There are some amazing attractions along the Pacific Coast Highway, everything from national parks to amusement parks and quirky roadside attractions. Here are our favorites:

  • Mission San Juan Capistrano – Historic California Mission near Dana Point, CA
  • The Queen Mary – Famous Ocean Liner now a hotel and museum in Long Beach, CA
  • Channel Islands National Park – Rugged Pacific coast islands teeming with marine life
  • Hearst Castle – Historic estate, turned eclectic museum near San Simeon, CA
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium – World-class aquarium highlighting California coastal marine life
  • Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk – Classic boardwalk amusement park on the beach in Santa Cruz, CA
  • Fisherman’s Wharf – World famous San Francisco destination, fresh seafood, bay cruises, and more
  • Muir Wood’s National Monument – Serene Redwood forest, an easy day trip from San Francisco
  • Confusion Hill – Quirky but classic road trip attraction where the laws of physics are questioned
  • Redwoods National Park – Drive-through tree? Sure, but get out of the car here, too!
  • Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area – Rent an off-road vehicle and smash the dunes
  • Olympic National Park – Soak in Sol Duc hot springs, kayak Quinault Lake, or explore the rainforest

Scenic Side Roads along the Pacific Coast Highway

As if the Pacific Coastal Highway system weren’t scenic enough, there are some side roads that are even better. These are scenic loops that leave the main highway and take the intrepid road tripper to, or through, some of the most not-to-be-missed scenery.

  • Avenue of the Giants (CA 254)
  • Cape Meares Loop (OR 131)
  • Quinault Rain Forest Loop Drive (WA)
  • Strait of Juan de Fuca Highway (WA 112)
The oysters at the Marshall Store are worth making a stop on the PCH.
Delicious and fresh, you don’t want to pass by the Marshall Store without downing some oysters.

Where to eat on the PCH

There’s so much good food all along the Pacific Coast Highway system, that it’s almost impossible to go wrong. From the freshest homemade ice cream to straight out of the sea and to the plate seafood, it’s all there somewhere along the road.

Check out our Food Bucket List for all the must-have California foods. Seriously, a quick search on your phone will find something great near you. However, there are a few places along the highway that we always stop at or feel just can’t be missed.

Here’s our top ten list of must-stop food places along the Pacific Coast Highway system:

Sunset at Big Creek Bridge in Big Sur, a must-see on the PCH.
Sunset at Big Creek Bridge, Big Sur, CA

Cost of Driving the Pacific Coast Highway

A road trip along some part of the Pacific Coast Highway is on practically everyone’s bucket list. This popularity, of course, has a factor in pricing hotels, restaurants, and other attractions.

Add to that the remoteness of many of these places and the difficulties and cost of transporting goods and services and it is easy to understand that costs will be a little higher than usual.

That being said, expect to pay around $300 for two people each day to cover modest lodging, meals, and gas. Families of course will be a little higher, and accommodations and dining can get as luxurious as even the most demanding traveler would want.

Road trippers on a lower budget can save a significant amount of money by taking advantage of the incredible camping to be found all along the coast.

Blue Whale skeleton at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center is a must-stop along the Pacific Coast Highway.
Blue Whale skeleton – Seymour Marine Discovery Center, CA.

Final Thoughts on Driving the Pacific Coast Highway

Driving the Pacific Coast Highway is on everybody’s bucket list. For good reason! This is some of the most dramatic oceanfront scenery in the world paired with the best beaches in the USA and some of the best food and wine to be found anywhere. And there’s only one real way to do it, on a classic road trip! Whether you drive from north to south, or south to north, the scenery and attractions are sure to amaze and please the whole family.

About the Author

Jim Vail, cofounder of Roving Vails, is an avid traveler and explorer. He’s been to all fifty states and traveled around the world. He’s happiest shooting wildlife photography, camping and hiking in the mountains, or fishing on the side of a river in Alaska. Find out more on our About Us page.

Jim in a tree in Olympic National Park.