Finding the best places to see along the California coast is a difficult task. That’s because this scenic route is one of the most beautiful in the world, and because there are uncountable places to visit along highway 1.
The road that connects the cities of the California Coast crosses spectacular landscapes, places where the ocean meets the steep rocks, and where you will feel like you are part of a beautiful dream.
Imagine driving a red, convertible Mustang, with your hair in the wind, feeling the breeze of the Pacific Ocean, and enjoying the stunning scenery. Every angle is magical, and you can see the powerful waves hitting the cliffs of the Californian coast.
The best way to drive the Pacific Coast Highway is from north to south, and that’s exactly how I did it. Hence, I chose to start in San Francisco and end in San Diego because I didn’t want to have the ocean view obstructed by other cars, which would have happened if choosing the opposite direction. So, I advise you to follow the same route.
The construction of the Pacific Coast Highway, also known as California State Route 1, begun in 1935, and was completed 15 years later. It stretches over 1055 km or 655 miles, and tourists consider it as one of the most picturesque in North America, and even in the world.
The mountains, the charming coastal towns, the valleys, the cliffs, the beaches, and the vineyards, make up a wonderful landscape, which we have the opportunity to admire in all its splendor, driving on the famous highway.
Given these Pacific Coast Highway stops, It’s probably the most relevant experience to really understand the expression “California dreamin”.
Best stops along 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 in order to immortalize the view, I’ll help you with a list of best stops on Pacific Coast Highway.
I have inspired myself from my own experience, and I assure you that each of these points is worth seeing and appreciating.
Start your list of places to visit on highway 1 with “The City by the Bay“, “The Paris of the West” or “Fog City“. You guessed, I’m talking about the gorgeous San Francisco, and its over 50 hills.
Because it is permanently prone to earthquakes, due to its location on the San Andreas Fault, the city is not built on height so it doesn’t have too many skyscrapers, like the other American metropolises, the tallest buildings not even reaching 300 meters high. Still, San Francisco has so much to offer.
I highly recommend crossing the famous Golden Gate Bridge, taking on foot Union Square, driving down the most crooked street in the world, Lombard Street, admiring the beautiful pastel-colored Victorian Painted Ladies, enjoying an ice cream in Fisherman’s Wharf, and admiring the Transamerica Pyramid, the tallest building in the city until 2016, when it was surpassed by the Salesforce Tower.
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.
Where to stay in San Francisco:
- low-budget: Nineteen 06 Mission
- mid-budget: Marines’ Memorial Club & Hotel Union Square
- luxury: Hotel Triton
2. Montara Beach
The second place on the list of best stops on Pacific Coast Highway should be Montara Beach. 30 minutes later and you will reach it, since it is located about 8 miles from the much more famous Half Moon Bay.
Montara Beach is special due to the fact that it is one of the cleanest beaches in America, a perfect place for a walking, picnic, or admiring the most beautiful sunsets. It is definitely one of the best places to see along the California Coast.
3. Pigeon Point 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 definitely one of the tallest on Highway 1.
It’s no longer functioning but it’s on the list of the National Register of Historic Places. Surprisingly and extremely interesting, the buildings around it, where employees used to live, are now hostels.
4. Santa Cruz
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, set right 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 feel the 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:
5. Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey
I included these places to visit along highway 1 both 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 both coastal towns with chic homes, dream panoramas, and awesome golf courses.
If time doesn’t press on you, go to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, a very beautiful place with lots of hiking trails.
Where to stay in Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey:
6. Bixby Bridge
Once here, you will have a feeling of déjà vu. It is 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 be the most famous of the stops along Pacific Coast Highway also.
The reinforced concrete construction was completed in 1932, it has a total length of 218 m, and a height of 85, and is crossed daily by over 4500 cars, according to the latest statistics.
However, I recommend you stop before and after you cross it to capture it in pictures from both angles.
7. Big Sur
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 cut your breath.
Along the 85 miles, you’ll have the temptation to stop in every place, that stunning the views of the coastline will be.
Although some time ago, just before the highway was built, Big Sur was an almost an unpopulated place where even the electricity was missing, today it is being assaulted by tourists who come here for hiking, camping, climbing or walking, boat riding and kayaking.
Where to stay in Big Sur:
8. McWay Falls
This is by far 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. A splendid panorama that gives me the feeling of being on an exotic island.
The waterfall, located 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
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, make voices, socialize, carry out their mating rituals and cool, by throwing sand on their backs with the help of their flippers.
Though they smell quite unpleasant and are extremely noisy, these fascinating animals deserve to be seen in their natural habitat. Is one of the best places to visit along highway 1.
10. Santa Barbara
The American Riviera has become famous for its wide beaches, relaxing atmospheres, but especially for the colonial Spanish-style houses with red-tiled roofs.
It’s easy to recognize Santa Barbara for its large number of vineyards outside the city, but also for the places in the city where wine can be tasted.
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
11. 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 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. Los Angeles
The epicenter of the fashionable world of America, point 0 of the cinema and music industry, whose protagonists live in the 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 wander around the streets or spend a fun day at Universal Studios, Los Angeles has it all!
Therefore, can you imagine a list of best places to see along the California Coast without Los Angeles in it? Me neither!
Where to stay in Los Angeles:
13. 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 had been a fan of this American drama, as well.
In this case, I suggest you visit Seal Beach, not only for the sake of memories but also for its beauty, for the very large 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.
14. Laguna Beach
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. San Diego
San Diego is not just another Californian city. It is the second-largest in the state and the eighth in the country. Moreover, its position at the border with Mexico makes it really special, bringing influences on culture, lifestyle, and cuisine.
So, for tamales, enchiladas, tortillas, and guacamole, it’s no longer necessary to cross the border.
San Diego has beaches, museums, parks, and gardens, but also a great asset, friendly weather all year round. If you get here, you have to cross the bridge and go to Coronado Island, where you will have an ideal view of the city’s skyline.
Where to stay in San Diego:
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 the area you are in, 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?
In my opinion, the best times of the year to drive the 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 being closed.
♥ PIN IT ♥