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  • Exploring the beach near the Santa Monica Pier along the Pacific Coast Highway
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    Los Angeles: Urban Star Power Meets California Cool

  • Shops lining picturesque and historic State Street in downtown Santa Barbara
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    Santa Barbara: Laid-back Beach Vibes and Artistic Flair

  • The massive Morro Rock at Morro Bay, a seaside natural wonder near San Louis Obispo
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    Morro Bay: The Coast at its Most Pristine

  • Meadows, rocky shoreline and underwater habitats at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
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    Carmel and Monterey: California Coastal Culture at its Finest

  • Pathway through a mighty redwood forest at Muir Woods National Monument
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    Last Stop: World-Famous San Francisco

Mountain and ocean views along the Pacific Coast Highway in California
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Benjamin Stafford Day

The Best of City and Country: Cruising California's Pacific Coast Highway

  • Route distance:
    770.00 km
  • Suggested Time:
    1-2 weeks

What makes a trip up the Pacific Coast Highway is the sheer variety it offers – in views, activities, urban attractions and natural wonders.

The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) stretches between Los Angeles and San Francisco, California, and boasts a variety of sights to suit any taste, from busy urban metropolises dripping with West Coast cool to sleepy towns perfect for unwinding, all accented by gorgeous natural views. Snaking along the picturesque Pacific Ocean as well as inland, the PCH makes for an unforgettable – and easy! – road trip experience. No matter what you seek, you'll find it somewhere along this iconic road.

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Exploring the beach near the Santa Monica Pier along the Pacific Coast Highway
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Los Angeles: Urban Star Power Meets California Cool

The second-most populated city in the USA, Los Angeles is unlike any other urban center, thanks in large part to its cultural variety. Fly into the "Entertainment Capital of the World" via Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). This expansive metropolis, with its busy streets, rolling hills and sunny beaches, is bursting with creative people from all walks of life.

When it's time to kick off your trip up the PCH, start at Venice Beach, home to Abbot Kinney Boulevard. Frequently called the coolest block in the USA, thanks to its bevy of hip dining and shopping options, the boulevard perfectly captures Venice's eccentricity. Cruise about four kilometers up the coast and you'll find Santa Monica, an upscale neighborhood that's home to a world-famous pier, the Santa Monica Aquarium and the Third Street Promenade, considered a top shopping district. Before you continue up the coast, take a short jaunt inland to Burbank's Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood, a working movie and television complex that offers tours of its expansive back lot and a fascinating glimpse of Hollywood's inner workings.

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153 km
1.75 hours by car
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Shops lining picturesque and historic State Street in downtown Santa Barbara
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Visit Santa Barbara/Mark Weber

Santa Barbara: Laid-back Beach Vibes and Artistic Flair

Once you've had your fill of the City of Angels, the next logical choice is escaping north to relaxed Santa Barbara. The drive alone, which cuts inland, is worth it, boasting both mountain and ocean views. One of Santa Barbara's cultural crown jewels is La Arcada, a nearly 100-year-old complex outfitted with quaint cafes and art galleries. Nearby, a short walk into the sea takes you to Stearns Wharf, which juts into the Pacific and hosts a variety of eateries, as well as the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center. A trip to this city wouldn't be complete without catching some rays. Santa Barbara has some of the best beaches the USA has to offer, including Leadbetter Beach (with easy surf) and Arroyo Burro Beach (a quieter choice and a favorite with locals).

173 km
2 hours by car
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The massive Morro Rock at Morro Bay, a seaside natural wonder near San Louis Obispo
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Benjamin Stafford Day

Morro Bay: The Coast at its Most Pristine

Continue your trip up the snaking PCH, turning inland before you eventually make your way back to the sea. As you do, the California coast grows increasingly quaint, while the views become more impressive. Located just outside San Luis Obispo, seaside Morro Bay captures the best of the state's natural wonders. Its waters are teeming with rockfish, halibut and sole, and its estuary is protected under a national program. Don't miss the famed Morro Rock, a massive and ancient historic landmark born from the remnants of a volcano and located at the entrance of the harbor.

235 km
2.5 hours by car
04
Meadows, rocky shoreline and underwater habitats at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
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Benjamin Stafford Day

Carmel and Monterey: California Coastal Culture at its Finest

Continuing north on the PCH, in Carmel-by-the-Sea, you'll find Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, a protected and picturesque area known for its wildflowers and a plethora of hiking trails along rocky beaches. For a little more culture, head due north to Monterey. The center of activity here is Cannery Row, an area formerly populated by sardine canneries, and now home to a bevy of cafes, shops and galleries. Romanticized by legendary author John Steinbeck – a street in the community is named after the hometown hero – Monterey is also home to Old Fisherman's Wharf, a well-known spot for whale-watching tours.

After a day of Monterey sightseeing, a jaunt around the region's famed 17-Mile Drive is a must. The 27-kilometer roadway offers drivers plenty to feast their eyes on, including pristine golf courses, upscale neighborhoods and a 250-year-old cliffside tree dubbed the Lone Cyprus, a local icon in Pebble Beach.

192 km
3 hours by car
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Pathway through a mighty redwood forest at Muir Woods National Monument
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Benjamin Stafford Day

Last Stop: World-Famous San Francisco

As your California expedition wraps up, a final stop in San Francisco and the famed Bay Area is in order. The trek along State Route 1 from Monterey is the longest of the trip, but well worth the time. San Francisco is teeming with things to do, whether it's a ride on city's famed trolley system, a visit to its expansive Chinatown or a walk down the steep and twisting Lombard Street.

Before flying home from San Francisco International Airport (SFO), take time to discover the natural wonders just a short drive away. Cruise across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin Headlands, a peninsula famous for its impressive views of the city. Then, take a half-hour drive from Marin to Muir Woods National Monument, home to gargantuan California redwoods. The oldest is an estimated 1,200 years old, and the redwoods are considered the tallest living trees on earth.