23 Spots to Stop by on the Popular California Longitudinal Course Pacific Coast Highway!

23 Spots to Stop by on the Popular California Longitudinal Course Pacific Coast Highway!

Hello! I'm KAREN from the SoCalization Marketing Department .

It's a sudden, but how are you all doing on your day off? In the United States, many people go on road trips, especially on long holidays!

A “road trip” is a journey that takes hundreds or thousands of kilometers by car. You can stay where you want for as long as you want, and enjoy yourself wherever you want! There is a charm!

It's been a little over a year since I came to San Diego, and I've taken a few road trips there. I've been to San Francisco, Arizona, Utah, and more.

In fact, I just recently returned from San Francisco and Yosemite National Park during Thanksgiving Break! Using the Pacific Coast Highway (commonly known as PCH), I also visited the places introduced this time!

Without further ado, I would like to introduce 23 recommended spots on the Pacific Coast Highway, which is very popular for road trips, from San Francisco to our holy land of San Diego!

About the Pacific Coast Highway!

Road Trip Name: Pacific Coast Highway

Passing States: Washington, Oregon, California

Road Numbers: US-101, CA-1, I-5

Starting point: Washington/Seattle Olympic National Park

Destination: California/San Diego

Distance: About 1,650 miles (about 2,655 km) by coastal route

Main Area: San Francisco to San Diego

Distance: 580-600 miles (933-966 km)

Drive time: about 12 hours

Main things to do: photography, relaxing on the beach, exploring small towns and major cities

Where does the Pacific Coast Highway begin and end?

The Pacific Coast Highway, which I would like to introduce this time, is a highway that runs along the coastline of the beautiful Pacific coast from the starting point of Seattle to the final point of San Diego.

First of all, as a premise, PCH is not a single highway, but consists of multiple highways and highways. Starting near Seattle, Washington, US-101 loops around Olympic National Park and extends to Leggett, Northern California.

From there, the road splits to become CA-1 and travels south to Dana Point, between Los Angeles and San Diego, before turning to I-5 for the final few miles, which stretches along the coastline.

Driving the entire length of the Pacific Coast Highway in this way, starting in Washington State, is a lot of fun, but it takes so long that most people only drive the popular San Francisco to San Diego California portion. It looks like you are!

Q&A on the Pacific Coast Highway!

  • How long does it take to drive the California Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to San Diego?
    • CA-1 is said to be completed in 10 to 12 hours if run non-stop. However, it would be a shame not to detour here and there, so we recommend spending at least 10 days on your journey to fully enjoy this amazing road trip!
  • Is the Pacific Coast Highway Safe?
    • If you've road tripped other parts of the US, I don't think you'll find this road dangerous. There are some winding and narrow roads here and there, but most of the roads are straight, so few people will find the drive extremely difficult. If I had to pick one, it would be traffic jams in July and August, which are likely to occur during the tourist season in the summer.
  • When is the best time to drive the Pacific Coast Highway?
    • The best season depends entirely on your travel preferences.
    • Summer is of course blessed with good weather, but the roads are heavily congested every day. Additionally, hotel prices are high and restaurants in popular towns can be expected to fill up in the evening.
    • We recommend visiting in spring or autumn, when there is less congestion and the weather is pleasant. Hotels are often relatively affordable and you won't have trouble finding parking.

23 recommended places to visit between San Francisco and San Diego:

1. San Francisco

San Francisco at dawn with Oakland Bridge and tram lines SF is one of the 3 big cities to stop at along California's Pacific Coast Highway road trip

San Francisco is one of America's most popular destinations, thanks to its world-famous bridges, infamous prison on the bay and cable cars that run through the city. Walkable and quirky, this city is a must when visiting California.

SF (San Francisco) is a wonderful city filled with unique sights, delicious food, and a relaxed atmosphere. Take a stroll around the Embarcadero, Fisherman's Wharf, Mission District and more!

Required time: 2 days minimum, 3 days is better!

Tip: Two must-sees are Twin Peaks and Coit Tower.

Where to stay: Chancellor Hotel on Union Square - Great value boutique hotel in a prime location in the heart of the city

2. Golden Gate Bridge

Photographing San Francisco's golden gate bridge is one of the best things to do on a pacific coast highway road trip driving from San Francisco to San Diego

San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge is perhaps the most photographed bridge on the planet. Its cosmopolitan orange color is instantly recognizable, and if you're lucky you can even see it piercing through the haze of San Francisco Bay.

You can see the bridge from various places around SF, but only a few places have a special view. Battery Spencer and Marshall's Beach are great spots to photograph the bridge from an angle.

Time required: 2-3 hours to see the bridge from all the best viewpoints

Tip: Start on the Marin Headland side of the bridge and try to cross it back to San Francisco!

Where to stay: Fairmont Heritage Ghirardelli Square - luxury bay view hotel

3. Alcatraz

Alcatraz Island from SF bay Pier 33 with telephoto lens the rock looks desolate

There are times when the quality of a tour of any historical monument or landmark is disappointing. But don't worry. Alcatraz is nothing like that!

The tour of Alcatraz Prison is full of information unique to Alcatraz Island, such as episodes of prisoners who tried to escape from prison in the past and stories about the strict lock system.

Ferries to Alcatraz are available from Pier 33, but be sure to book in advance as they can sell out! This tour is highly recommended as you can listen to Japanese commentary with an audio headset.

Duration: 3-4 hours, including ferry shuttle bus, if you want to take your time and participate in a talk session

Tip: Find out in advance which talk sessions will be held and plan your audio tour around that talk!

Suggested Place to Stay: Hotel Zephyr San Francisco - Right next to Pier 33

4. Half Moon Bay State Beach

Half Moon Bay state beach 4 miles of golden sand on the pacific coast near San Francisco

A good first stop after leaving SF is Halfmoon Bay State Beach. You have to pay US$10 to park your car on this 4-mile stretch of beach.


If you leave SF in the late afternoon or early evening, enjoy the sunset on the beach! But if this is the start of your day, you don't have to spend too long here as there are still plenty of beaches to choose from.

Distance from previous destination: 30 miles from downtown San Francisco

Time required: Within 1 hour

Tip: Parking is limited on the road to the beach, so arrive early to secure a spot.

Suggested place to stay: Beach House Half Moon Bay - Luxury suites on the beach

5. Pigeon Point Lighthouse

Pigeon Point Lighthouse tallest lighthouse on west coast of US fantastic stop on California highway 1 between SF and LA

Pigeon Point Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse on the West Coast of the United States. Built in 1871, the 115-foot white lighthouse towers over the rugged coastline and is an incredibly picturesque sight.

This lighthouse looks just like a New England lighthouse and still aids navigation today!

Also great for watching the sunset if you leave SF at the end of the day! The inside of the lighthouse is a hostel, so you can stay overnight.

Distance from previous destination: 21 miles from Half Moon Bay State Beach

Time required 30 minutes to 1 hour (if passing)

Tip: The best time to photograph Pigeon Point Lighthouse is at sunset.

Suggested place to stay: Pigeon Point Lighthouse - Inside the Lighthouse!

6. Shark Fin Cove

Shark fin cove is a small secluded cove with cave and huge rock shaped like a shark fin close to San Francisco California

Sharkfin Cove is one of many outstanding rock formations you drive through on the Pacific Coast Highway. The huge and interesting fin-shaped rock is a great place to visit when traveling with children.

Tell the kids that the world's biggest shark lives here! After that, take him down to the beach to see the fringed fins from a small cave!

Calm days and low tide are perfect for framing giant fin-shaped rocks for long-exposure sunset photographers.

Distance from previous destination: 18 miles from Pigeon Point Lighthouse

Required time: 30 minutes to 1 hour

Tip: The Sea Cave is also a great place to capture a beautiful California sunset.

Best Places to Stay: Near Santa Cruz - Mission Inn (cheap), Inn at Depot Hill (luxury)

7. Natural Bridges State Beach

Natural bridges state park near Santa Cruz is the perfect place to watch sunset over California's pacific coast not far from highway 1

Natural Bridges State Beach charges for parking, but it's worth it if you arrive before sunset. At low tide, you can explore the rock pools and spot starfish and crabs. Otters and seals play offshore, and if you are lucky, you may be able to see migrating whales.

The beach is small, but well maintained. The Natural Bridge's centerpiece is a free-standing rock structure with an arched door-like cave just a few meters into the sea.

Dozens of shore birds come to the beach as the sea drifts gently, with a spectacular orange sky at dusk.

Distance from previous destination: 9 miles from Sharkfin Cove

Duration: 30 minutes to 1 hour, longer if you want to see the sunset

Tip: End your first day on Pacific Coast Highway 1 here or next in Monterey.

Best Places to Stay: Santa Cruz - Mission Inn (cheap), Inn at Depot Hill (luxury)

8. Monterey

Monterey Bay Aquarium announces reopening date

Monterey is the first town you can slow down after leaving SF. This charming town is perfect for a morning stroll. Don't miss Cannery Row, once the center of a sardine packing factory, now transformed into restaurants, galleries and shops.

Monterey Bay's biggest attraction is widely known as one of the nation's best aquariums. This is the first aquarium in the United States to breed and exhibit great white sharks and recreate a kelp forest.

Further around the cape is Lover's Point Park and Point Pinos Lighthouse. Take a quick walk through these two locations before heading to your next destination.

Distance from previous destination: 45 miles from Natural Bridges State Beach

Time required: 2-3 hours total, more if you have breakfast in town.

Tip: If you have the time and budget, consider spending an extra night in the Monterey area.

Suggested places to stay: Wave Street Inn (cheap), Monterey Plaza (luxury)

9. 17 Mile Drive

Lone Cypress Tree on 17 mile drive in Monterey Bay near pebble beach golf club

17 Mile Drive is a stunning coastal road with beaches, rocky headlands and supersized mansions, all owned by the Pebble Beach Corporation. Pebble Beach is a gated community and 17 Mile Drive is part of it, so you have to pay US$10.50 to drive on the road.

Is it worth it? You might think that. Of course there is!

There are many roadside attractions to stop at to enjoy the scenery, sea life, golf courses and more.

The most famous attraction is the lone cypress tree, which stands alone on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Distance from previous destination: 2 miles from Monterey Bay Aquarium

Duration: 2-4 hours total, depending on your golf likes and dislikes

Tip: Near Pebble Beach, you'll find mansions you wouldn't normally see.

Recommended Places to Stay: Near Carmel-by-the-Sea - Candle Light Inn or Carriage House Inn

10. Pebble Beach Golf Club

Pebble Beach Golf Links | Pebble Beach Resorts

Pebble Beach has hosted the US Open six times, the last being Gary Woodland's first major victory in 2019. With the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop, it's easy to see why this place is so popular.

Widely regarded as one of the best golf courses in the world, Pebble Beach is actually open to both non-guests and members. $525 + $92.50 caddy fee is OK.

A more realistic plan is to visit the museum and stroll the club grounds. Definitely worth a visit.

Distance from previous destination: End of 17-mile drive

Duration: 1 hour to tour the museum and grounds

Tip: You can go inside the clubhouse at Pebble Beach or to the observatory on the 18th hole.

Recommended Places to Stay: Near Carmel-by-the-Sea - Candle Light Inn or Carriage House Inn

11. Carmel-by-the-Sea

4 Hidden Gems in Carmel | Tim Allen Properties

Carmel-by-the-Sea is just amazing. You can stroll through the wonderful shops, boutiques, art galleries and restaurants before walking down Ocean Avenue to Carmel Beach.

Stop by a café, grab an ice cream and enjoy the scenery of this idyllic town.

Note: If traveling north to south, there are few hotel options between Carmel and San Simeon, Cumbria and Morro Bay. Try to leave by lunch at the latest. Otherwise, you'll be driving 30-40 miles in the dark.

Distance from previous destination: 2.5 miles from Pebble Beach Golf Club

Duration: 2 hours to see the beautiful small towns, 3 hours including the beach visit

Tip: Carmel Beach is less than half a mile from the center of town and is an easy walk.

Recommended Places to Stay: Near Carmel-by-the-Sea - Candle Light Inn or Carriage House Inn

12. Bixby Creek Bridge

Bixby bridge curving over headlands close to Big Sur in California on the Pacific Coast highway 1

The Bixby Creek Bridge is one of the most popular stops along California's California Pacific Coast Highway and offers great photo opportunities. There are many people taking selfies here, so congestion is expected!

There is one small parking lot, but it fills up quickly, so I think you'll have to use the dirt road parking lot. Getting in and out of the parking lot is difficult and requires patience.

It's worth the effort if you just sit back and relax with the stunning views of the bridge and the Pacific Ocean in the background.

Distance from previous destination: 15 miles from Carmel-by-the-Sea

Duration: Less than 1 hour to enjoy the scenery and take pictures

Tip: When looking at maps and GPS, plan to stop at Castle Rock Viewpoint.

Recommended places to stay: Near Big Sur - Big Sur River Inn (cheap), Ventana (luxury)

13. Point Sur

Point Sur State Historic Park and Lighthouse, Carmel, CA - California Beaches

Point Sur is a California State Park and Navy facility located in the heart of the Big Sur coastline along the Pacific Coast Highway.

Erosion over the years has created a beach between the mainland and Point Sur, which can be walked for US$15 per person with guided tours on Wednesdays and weekends throughout the year.

Beyond Point Sur is the Point Sur Lighthouse, completed in 1889 after numerous shipwrecks, towering over a massive volcanic boulder.

The lighthouse still plays an important role in preventing undersea shipwrecks today.

Distance from previous destination: 6.6 miles from Bixby Creek Bridge

Duration: 30 minutes to 1 hour (if not participating in a guided tour)

Why: After sunset, the sun shines directly behind Point Sur, so it's best to see it early.

Recommended places to stay: Near Big Sur - Big Sur River Inn (cheap), Ventana (luxury)

14. Partington Cove

Partington Cove is an unusual short hiking trail from California's pacific coast highway leading to a rough sea cove with rocks to climb

Pfeiffer Beach is one of the calmest beaches you'll want to stop by between San Francisco and San Diego, but it's popular and has a separate admission fee. Either spend an hour lounging on one of California's best family-friendly beaches, or continue to your next stop, Partington Cove.

Partington Cove is the only popular hiking spot along California's Pacific Coast Highway. Park your car on the bend in the road and find the metal gated entrance around the bend.

A short but fairly steep trail in good condition leads into the valley.

At the first intersection turn right and immediately after that turn left over the wooden bridge. In seconds you will reach the entrance of a 60 foot wooden tunnel.

After exiting the tunnel, Partington Cove opens up. If you feel confident and safe, climb over the rocks and find the best spot to watch the waves crashing into the cove.

Distance from previous destination: 18 miles from Point Sur

Duration: 2 hours for descent, walk and return to car

Tip: Wear shoes with good grip as you will be climbing around the rocks.

Suggested places to stay: San Simeon (cheap), Cambria - 50 miles south (luxury) hotels

15. McWay Falls

McWay falls is the single most stunning natural feature along California Pacific coast highway 1 thin waterfall plunging onto a sandy beach and joining the ocean as the tide gently washes in

McWay Falls is a popular scenic spot on California's Pacific Coast Highway road trips. It's not often that you see a waterfall where the water cascades from the rocks to the beach in a perfect stream!

McWay Falls lands in the water after the sand, just as the Pacific tide gently washes the sands of tiny McWay. It's a lovely sight.

To get to the viewing point you have to walk inside the parking lot and under Hwy 1 instead of from the main road. Then, you will arrive at the observation terrace, which is crowded with tourists.

Distance from previous destination: 2 miles from Partington Cove

Duration: 1 hour to enjoy the falls

Tip: If you visit during the day, bring an ND filter so you can take pictures of the smooth water.

Suggested places to stay: San Simeon (cheap), Cambria - 50 miles south (luxury) hotels

16. Morro Bay

Morro Bay is an intriguing town between San Francisco and Los Angeles huge random rock at sea with colors in sky

Morro Bay is a small waterfront town named after Morro Rock, a 580-foot-tall volcanic rock. The quaint harbor is protected by huge boulders, the waters are calm and you can enjoy paddling.

Otters often visit the marina and often play in the shallow water. Morro Rock attracting swirling colorful clouds, especially at dawn and dusk, is a spectacular sight.

Distance from previous destination: 81 miles from McWay Falls

Time required: 1 hour in front of Morro Bay harbor, more if going to nearby state parks

Tip: The Hofbrau der Albatross hand-carved beef sandwich is a must.

Suggested place to stay: Masterpiece Hotel - Roman spa hot tub in the basement!

17. San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo weird chewing gum alleyway is but a fun stop off on the way to LA

San Luis Obispo, or SLO CAL for short, is one of the oldest European cities in California.

San Luis Obispo's main attraction is the alleys covered in bubblegum so much that you can't see the concrete.

SLO CAL is home to the California Institute of Technology, a popular farmer's market, and the Spanish Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa.

By the way, SLO CAL is the northern limit of Southern California defined by SoCalization, and there is Paso Robles in the wine region, so please check out the wines we handle.

Distance from previous destination: 14 miles from Morro Bay

Time required: 1 hour to see the town

Tip: Get great coffee at Scout Coffee near Bubblegum Alley!

Where to stay: Garden Street Inn - French country boutique hotel

18. Pismo Beach

Coronavirus: Crowds pack Pismo Beach CA for warm weather | San Luis Obispo Tribune

Pismo Beach is a laid-back beach town where a traditional California wooden pier stretches over 1,000 feet into the Pacific Ocean across golden sands.

Like elsewhere along the Pacific Coast Highway, the Pismo Beach pier is best viewed at dusk. I wish I could stop time at sunset on this road trip! LOL

Dinosaur Caves Park is nearby and overlooks the pier and beach. There is also a eucalyptus grove made for monarch butterflies from November to February.

My personal recommendation is Splash Café . The cute appearance is one of the charms, but the delicious clam chowder is very popular at the shop! Please go if you have time.

Distance from previous destination: 12 miles from San Luis Obispo

Duration: 1 hour walk around the beach and pier

Tip: Oyster Loft is an excellent seafood restaurant.

Suggested place to stay: Inn at the Pier - With pool and fitness center, meters from the beach

19. Solvang

Solvang Danish town in California is unique strange but awesome definitely stop here when driving pacific highway 1 from San Francisco to San Diego along the coast

Solvang is a picturesque little town with a taste of Denmark in sunny California. Best stop along the Pacific Coast Highway and not to be missed.

Traditional Danish architecture, windmills and rows of boutique shops will keep you entertained for hours. Don't miss Mortensen's Bakery (croissants are a must-order!), Copenhagen Sausage Garden, coffee shop and chocolate shop.

The whole city is amazing, so be sure to explore each street.

Distance from previous destination: 64 miles from Pismo Beach

Duration: 2 hours to explore this unique and wonderful town

Tip: There is a free parking lot around the side street.

Where to Stay: Mirabelle Inn - Beautiful Boutique Hotel

20. Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Pier near sunset long shadows casting and usa flags waving in wind

Santa Barbara is known as the 'American Riviera' and with its Spanish colonial influences and living in a Mediterranean climate, you'll understand why!

Upscale, classy and a popular tourist destination, Santa Barbara is the perfect place to pull over and relax for a day or two.

Enjoy world-renowned wines and great restaurants as you walk down State Street to reach the Santa Barbara Pier and beachfront.

When planning your itinerary, consider a day trip to Channel Islands National Park, just 20 miles off the coast of Santa Barbara.

If you're traveling with kids, the Santa Barbara Zoo is highly rated and just a few miles out of town.

By the way, Santa Barbara also has wines handled by SoCalization, so please check it out!

Distance from previous destination: 46 miles (approximately 74 km) on US-101 or 33 miles (approximately 53 km) on CA-154 from Solvang

Duration: Half day to 2 full days, depending on time frame

Tip: Take the CA-154 to Santa Barbara for sweeping views of the Santa Barbara skyline.

Suggested Places to Stay: Near Santa Barbara - Harbor House Inn or Harbor View Inn

21. Los Angeles

Los Angeles is the biggest of the 3 cities along California Pacific Coast highway 1 from San Francisco to San Diego Hollywood sign from Mt Lee overlooking LA city amazing view

Everyone loves Los Angeles, it goes without saying that it is a well-known tourist city!

Los Angeles, the City of Angels, is world-famous for Hollywood and cinema, but there's so much more going on here that you'll need at least two full days.

Hollywood, Santa Monica, downtown, movie studio tours, live game and talk show screenings, the Hollywood sign, the Griffith Observatory, and more in Los Angeles.

After a few days of driving, it's time to pull over and discover Tinseltown's glitz.

It's not wine, but SoCalization also carries Los Angeles craft beer , so please check it out!

Distance from previous destination: 100 miles from Santa Barbara

Time required: 2 to 4 days, depending on time

Tip: Getting around LA by car can be daunting and time consuming, so take the subway whenever possible.

Suggested Places to Stay: Near Hollywood - Hotel Hollywood (cheap) Kimpton Everly (luxury)

22. Warner Bros Movie Studio Tour

Warner Bros VIP tours | Estudio de animation, Los angeles, Studio

The Movie Studio Tour is the quintessential attraction on the itinerary for first-time visitors to Los Angeles, and a perfect stop from a drive along the Pacific Coast Highway.

As well as Warner Bros., there are studio tours from Sony, Paramount and Universal.

In general, you'll see familiar exterior sets, studio lots of currently airing TV shows, costumes, soundstages, exhibits, and props.

Warner Bros. has popular exhibits on DC, Batman, Friends, The Big Bang Theory and Harry Potter.

Distance from previous destination: depending on location

Duration: Warner Bros. Studio Tour totals 2-3 hours

Tip: Book early to avoid disappointment on the day.

Suggested Places to Stay: Near Hollywood - Hotel Hollywood (cheap) Kimpton Everly (luxury)

23. San Diego

How to Spend the Perfect 3 Day Weekend in San Diego, California - Traverse

We have arrived in San Diego, our holy land ! What better place to end an epic road trip on the Pacific Coast Highway?

We recommend at least two full days to explore San Diego and the surrounding area.

San Diego's laid-back vibe and perfect weather will make you want to spend more time here. A must visit after your Pacific Coast Highway vacation.

Balboa Park, Gaslamp, Coronado, La Jolla, Old Town, and all the beaches back in town from Torrey Pines make San Diego the last place you shouldn't miss.

Of course, SoCalization carries San Diego craft beer ! There are many cute and colorful designs, so be sure to check them out!

Distance from previous destination: 120 miles from Los Angeles on I-5

Time required: 2-3 days to see all of San Diego's highlights

Tip: Follow the coastal road through Laguna Beach and Newport Beach towards Orange County.

Recommended places to stay: Staypineapple (cheap), Pendry San Diego (luxury)

It was a little long blog, but how was it?

America's most popular road trip! There are so many destinations on the Pacific Coast Highway alone! You can go from San Francisco to San Diego in one day, but if you're not in a rush, try spending a few days. How about running slowly without trying so hard?

I also went on a road trip during the Thanksgiving break to visit the Golden Gate Bridge, 17 Mile Drive, Bixby State Bridge, Point Sur, Pismo Beach, and more! It was a long road, but I was able to see such beautiful scenery, so I was able to make good memories without any difficulty.

There are countless road trips like this in the US, so grab a SoCalization beer or wine and feel free to make a “what if” plan of places you want to visit!