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  • Mother and child on a beach below the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California
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    Starting Point: San Francisco

  • Two surfers walking with surfboards at sunset in Santa Cruza, California
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    Felton and Santa Cruz

  • Teenagers admiring the view from Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, California
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    Big Sur

  • Paradise Beach outside Cambria, California
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    Cambria

  • Morro Rock in the early morning light in Morro Bay, California
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    Morro Bay

  • The History Center in San Luis Obispo, California
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    San Luis Obispo

  • Women jumping in Los Olivos, California
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    Los Olivos and Solvang

  • Santa Barbara cityscape on a sunny California day
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    Santa Barbara

  • Pacific Coast Highway in Los Angeles, California
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    Los Angeles

  • Two women taking a break from riding their bikes in San Diego, California
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    San Diego

Car driving on Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, California
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Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

  • Route distance:
    951 km
  • Suggested Time:
    6 days

Explore California’s stunning coastline from San Francisco to San Diego

The legendary Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) was first started in the 1930s, and remains a marvel of human effort that hugs over 900 kilometers (600 miles) of California’s rugged and beautiful coastlines. It is one of the most astoundingly scenic roads in the world, meant to be traversed slowly, while gasping at the mountains, towering trees, expansive beaches and endless sky. It also affords travelers an unparalleled opportunity to dip into all the character California has to offer: pioneer outposts, surfing villages, farm-fresh foods, local wine, roadside kitsch, Hollywood glitz and bohemia.

Before you get started on your road trip, some helpful tips: Without stopping, it takes approximately 10 hours to drive the entire length of the Pacific Coast Highway, but on this route, it’s recommended to take your time to see the sights and stay overnight along the way, stretching your vacation out to at least six days. Thanks to California’s mild weather, you can drive the Pacific Coast Highway at any time of year. The best weather is expected from late spring through fall, with the busiest travel season in July and August.

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Mother and child on a beach below the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California
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Starting Point: San Francisco

Start your PCH road trip in San Francisco, a famously hilly swath of greenery and urbanity. Filled with lush settings, San Francisco’s jewel is Golden Gate Park, 1,000+ acres of grounds that include two world-class museums, a Japanese tea garden, a herd of buffalo, a windmill and much more. Stroll through the park before heading to North Beach, a one-time nexus of Beatnik and Italian culture. Browse the iconic and sprawling City Lights Bookstore before imbibing at perfectly cluttered Vesuvio Cafe (which, despite its name, is a cozy bar, right on Jack Kerouac alley.) Steps from North Beach you’ll find the oldest Chinatown in North America complete with décor and busy, local eateries. Head to the bustling waterfront Ferry Building, where you can take in bay views and stock up on epicurean local snacks before hitting the road.

 

139 km
2 hours by car
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Two surfers walking with surfboards at sunset in Santa Cruza, California
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Felton and Santa Cruz

As you wind your way from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, make a brief stop at Devil’s Slide, a 2-kilometer (1.3-mile) stretch of land that was once a piece of Highway One, but is now a scenic walking path in Pacifica. If you had any doubts about your PCH trip, they’ll be washed away by sweeping ocean views as you slalom past seaside outposts. Before hitting surfer-centric Santa Cruz, stop in nearby Felton, a drowsy mountain town nestled among Redwood trees. Refresh at watering hole Monty’s Log Cabin (its rustic appearance lives up to its name) which offers a sunny back patio. Then pop by The Bigfoot Discovery Museum to learn all about California’s favorite cryptid. Finally, make your way to Santa Cruz, a friendly beach town with a university, gorgeous redwood trees and waves that surfers from all over flock to ride. Founded in 1907, the Santa Cruz Boardwalk boasts old-fashioned roller coasters (with Pacific Ocean views!), an arcade and the distinct scent of sea air, cotton candy and hot dogs. (Fun fact: Scenes of the '80s classic film “The Lost Boys" were shot here.)

114 km
2 hours by car
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Teenagers admiring the view from Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, California
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People observing Northern Elephant Seals at the Rookery on the rugged Big Sur coastline, near Cambria, California
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Big Sur

You’ll see rugged mountains blanketed with dreamy redwood forests drop into dramatic coastline. While you can camp within the forests, those who prefer beds should consider Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn, which feels a bit like staying with your fabulous bohemian aunt. Explore the nearby Henry Miller Memorial Library and when you grow hungry from hiking, dine on classic California cuisine (local wine and farm-fresh produce, anyone?) on the lofty patio at Nepenthe while gazing out at the ocean.

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120 km
2 hours by car
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Paradise Beach outside Cambria, California
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Cambria

On the way into Cambria, stop at the Piedras Blancas Friends of the Elephant Seal rookery, where crowds of the bulbous-nosed pinnipeds rest, mate and fight. (But don’t get too close, these creatures can weigh over 4,000 kilograms or 8,000 pounds.) Continue to the charming seaside village, home to rocky shorelines, bluffs and tide pools teeming with sea life. Get a generous slab of warm ollaberry pie with vanilla ice cream at Cambria mainstay, Linn’s Restaurant.  

33 km
1 hour by car
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