Our research is editorially independent but we may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Nothing quite compares to the classic American road trip, and cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most exhilarating of them all.
The Pacific Coast Highway, also known as the PCH, is one of America’s most scenic road trips, particularly the coast-hugging stretch through California.
Driving down Highway 1, you’ll encounter the world’s tallest trees in the Redwood National and State Forest, the rugged cliffs of the Lost Coast, charming coastal towns like Mendocino and Bodega Bay, and iconic landmarks such as San Francisco’s Gold Gate Bridge and the Santa Monica pier. And let’s not forget the miles and miles of pristine beaches.
Ready to hit the road? We’ve narrowed down a list of some of the top spots to stop during your California road trip.
Redwood National and State Park
On Highway 101 along the Northern California coastline, stop near Orick at the Redwood National and State Parks. Home to the tallest trees on earth, a walk among the towering redwoods is humbling as most trees stand about 350 feet tall.
If time allows, take a side trip off Highway 101 following State Route 211 toward the Lost Coast, California’s most undeveloped stretch of shoreline. One of the best things to do in Northern California, its breathtaking beauty and solitude are well worth the detour.
Take Highway 1 to Mendocino, a charming coastal town with Victorian buildings, saltbox cottages, and art galleries. It’s also the only city on the California coast to be designated as a historical landmark.
Another two-hour drive will take you to the picturesque fishing village of Bodega Bay. Film enthusiasts will love this stop, as it was the setting for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 film “The Birds.”
Continuing south on Highway 101, you’ll find yourself crossing the iconic Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco. Plan ahead and give yourself enough time to ride a cable car, visit Golden Gate Park and enjoy the city.
Just when you thought the views couldn’t get better, you’ll arrive at Big Sur on California’s Central Coast. Big Sur is home to Pfeiffer State Beach, one of California’s best beaches with its rare purple sand and azure-colored waves.
About an hour and a half south, stop in San Simeon for a tour of Hearst Castle, the 165-room European-style estate built for newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst. Daytime tours explore the landmark’s gardens, pools and suites.
Head south for a few hours for a stop in Malibu, the famous beach town that’s home to a number of celebrities, as well as beautiful beaches, outstanding eateries, and fun shopping.
A 30-minute drive will bring you to Santa Monica. Visit the 100-year-old Santa Monica Pier after dark to see it lit up with over 160,000 lights and a ride on the iconic Pacific Wheel is a must.
Your final destination is San Diego, home to Coronado Beach, one of the nation’s best beaches. Be sure to visit Balboa Park, home to the renowned San Diego Zoo, museums and a rose garden.