The Best Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Route

places in california

With all the great things to do on a Pacific Coast Highway road trip, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t rent a 4-wheeler for an unforgettable vacation in California.

The PCH highway is one of the best route to drive in the US. With tons of unique attractions for the whole family, the sunny state is packed with kids-friendly beaches and spectacular landscapes.

Apart from Orange county and Monterey, the state has no shortage of incredible vacation places. It can even be difficult figuring out which ones to visit.

There are a lot of vacation Pit stops in California Coast Highway to explore. Here’re 11 best route to scoot around. Also, don’t forget to check the international driving permit to drive in the US.

driving the pacific coast highway

pacific coast highway road trip

Why is PCH 1 or rather the Pacific Coast Highway so famous? There are no better sceneries than those along this beautiful and winding road along the California coastline.

The Pacific highway coast may just be a road that helps you get from one place in California to another. But there’s a reason why it’s well-known for its road trip value.

The scenery that you see along the way through this amazing highway is remarkable. While driving down the highway, you’ll see many great locations to stop if you choose. This makes it perfect for a thorough short trip in California.

Morro Bay cannot be unmissable with any other coastal beach town in California. The village is a haven for visitors, thanks to Morro Rock, a huge volcanic outcrop that rises 576 feet above the sea.

Miles of pretty beaches that extend from north to south of the shoreline are ideal for strolling. You can also trek the various nearby trails or just stroll down the Embarcadero, a seafront boulevard lined with boutiques and eateries.

Best pacific coast highway route 1

  1. Los Angeles
  2. Santa Monica
  3. Oxnard City
  4. Joshua Tree National Park
  5. Laguna Beach
  6. Big Sur
  7. Santa Catalina
  8. Monterey
  9. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
  10. Yosemite National Park
  11. Lake Tahoe

1. Los Angeles

pacific coast highway road trip

Los Angeles is a sprawling metropolis and located on the Ca 1, north-south state highway that runs along the Pacific Coastline. It also has one of the most diverse sets of neighborhoods in the United States.

That’s considering the La-La Land is filled with the glamor of chic Hollywood brands and movie set backdrops. At the same time, it’s also home to renowned art galleries such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Additionally, there are architectural masterpieces like the Getty center. One of the world’s top entertainment places, LA gives tourists the behind-the-scenes looks into the world of filmmaking at studios like Paramount Pictures Studios.

Note that Los Angeles also features some of the country’s most eclectic cuisine and dozens of highly acclaimed restaurants. Apart from the revitalized downtown area, the Malibu and Santa Monica beaches provide tourists with the sun, sand and surfing.

Vernice beach on the other hand, offers close-ups on the city’s most unique residents. If you like hiking, you’ll find additional outdoor pursuits at the Griffith Park and Angels National Forest

2. Santa Monica

If you’ve been to the action-packed Los Angeles and need a short getaway, do what the locals do and head west to Santa Monica. Easily accessible from LA, this chic California beach community provides a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of its big city neighbor.

Santa Monica’s western side is where you’ll find its two main attractions. That’s the gorgeous Santa Monica beach state beach and the family-friend Santa Monica Pier.

You can then grab a bite to eat at one of the city’s highly regarded restaurants. No matter what you choose to do, Santa Monica is pretty much a cool place  for a Pit stop.

3. Oxnard City

best places to visit in california

Oxnard is one of those endearing little southern beach getaway in California that are typically overlooked by visitors on a Pacific Coast Highway road trip  to other vacation spots.

This small seaside city on the southern coast is probably one of the most charming places to go, thanks to its national parks, vineyards, scenic marina views, dolphins and fresh seafood.

It may sound like a bunch of different locations but Oxnard is one of the fun and interesting places to go visit, located just an hour drive from Los Angeles city. 

That’s the reason why you should hop on the bandwagon and visit Oxnard, where you can relax on its sandy beaches, adorable historic city center and incredible festivals.

Having said that, you shouldn’t miss out on this vacation spots because it is a perfect location for a short and savory trips for family with kids. 

4. Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Trees bring a type of magic to this otherwise lunar-like landscape. This is where giant boulders and rock formations create wild shapes that capture the imagination. This park covers 800,000 acres and provides a range of diverse sites.

The Cholla Cactus Garden will have you enjoying the view of the Chollas stretch endlessly along the hillside to the mountains beyond. You will also love the ruins of the historic Keys Ranch, the giant palms of the lost palms oasis and the vistas.

Located only a short trip outside of Los Angeles, Vegas, Phoenix and San Diego, Joshua Tree National Park is accessible year-round.

Every year, approximately 2.8 million people visit the park to engage in activities like camping and hiking. The majority of the park’s campsites require reservations only.

Site passes can be obtained from Remember not to miss Skull Rock, a huge rock that resembles an alien skull.


September through May are Joshua Tree’s peak tourist months. To ensure your safety, making advance arrangements is a good idea for taking photos, scaling rocks, or just admiring the incredible Mojave Desert landscapes.

5. Laguna Beach

Laguna beach, california

Laguna Beach is what dreams are made of if you’re looking for a day stop from your Pacific Highway Coast road trip. You will be treated to cascading waterfalls, tranquil hillsides and breathtaking coastal parks.

Note that it’s a pretty short getaway from San Diego and Los Angeles. You’ll find Laguna Beach along the Pacific coast highway, making it a perfect stop on a road trip.

Laguna Beach is such a beautiful destination that you have to see it to believe it. When you do, you’ll be in total awe of its splendor.

But apart from its beautiful vacation spot, there’s a lot more to Laguna Beach. The town has a palpable penchant for the arts that can be found inside the many galleries that line PCH.

Laguna Beach has more than 100 public art pieces spread throughout the town. There’s a deep appreciation for flora and fauna in this town as well.

The headquarters for the rescue and rehabilitation (Orange County Coast) is also located here. The town is also home to a lot of wildflower-filled coastal parks, including the coastal canyons in Southern California.

While in Laguna Beach, remember to immerse yourself in the local culture. Soak up the coast as much as you can and take a lot of photos along the way.

But considering how unforgettable the scenery is, you’ll probably not have a hard time remembering Laguna Beach’s impressive beauty. 

6. Big Sur

This beautiful stretch along the central coast of California will take you back to nature. Camping and hiking at Gerrapata State Park and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park will give you an experience of a lifetime.

Big Sur begins four miles-south of Carmel in Yankee point. It then stretches along Highway No. 1 as far as Salmon Cove, some 17 miles North of San Simeon.

This scenic road will give you splendid views over the picturesque coastline. To the east stretches a true wilderness that’s the Santa Lucia Mountains and Ventana Forests.

 Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is great for hikers, sunbathers, including the visitors looking for a nature escapade.

The park also has camping facilities but if you’re looking for a little more comfort, the Big Sur Lodge will give you a peaceful retreat.

7. Santa Catalina

Santa Catalina lies about 22 miles Southwest of Los Angeles. The island is a popular destination with boaters, including day trippers. The main popular locale is the Avalon, where most of the actions are centered. On the other end of the island, you’ll find a much smaller village of Two Harbors.

 A lot of people visit Santa Catalina Island to wander around and enjoy a day of leisure. However, there are other things that you can do. They include:

  • Parasailing
  • Kayaking
  • Scuba diving
  • The glass bottom tours 

8. Monterey

The Monterey Peninsula is different compared to other parts of California. Here, the terrain is rugged, except for the homes in pebble beach. The lifestyle here is a perfect synthesis of SoCal laidback and NorCal sophisticated.

Monterey draws most of the tourists on the northern side of the Peninsula as Carmel-by-the-sea lures the easy going wealthy set farther south.

The tremendous price tags on real estate have helped to maintain the small community atmosphere along Monterey’s coastline. This area is perfect for an ideal road trip stop or a romantic weekend stay. Have we mentioned the golf courses yet?

Monterey’s jaw dropping coastline boasts of some of the most coveted fairways in the world. There’s also whale watching, home to some of the best places to go in California.

A trip to this locale will also wow you with an abundance of natural wonders, luxury resorts and restaurants. Monterey is certainly the perfect destination for your next vacation. 

9. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Have you ever wanted to lay by the pool in the morning and make snow angels in the afternoon? If you have, you need to take a ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway on your to-do-list in California.

California’s desert regions are all about elevation and the higher you go, the cooler it becomes. That’s because the pool and snow combination is easily accomplished during spring.

The tramway runs for two miles and ascends up to an elevation of 8,516 feet. The tramway is also unique in its design and each of the trams rotates as they ascend.

This allows for uninterrupted views across a 360 degree panoramic views. At the top, choose to be active by either walking or hiking on the 50 miles of trails. This area gives its visitors some of the best hiking experience around Palm Springs.

10. Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is one of most formidable natural landscapes. It features nearly 1,200 square miles of sheer awe with towering waterfalls and millennia-old sequoia.

A short trip to this park will have you amazed by some of the most unique rock formations in the United States. Despite its enormous size, most of the tourist activities in this park take place within the 8-square-mile area of Yosemite Valley.

Yosemite Valley feature most of the park’s top attraction including the Tunnel View and some of the most famous waterfalls like the Nevada Fall. You’ll also enjoy viewing the park’s most famous landmarks, the Half Dome and El Capitan. If you love hiking, you’ll certainly enjoy the trails around the natural monuments.

Not to worry if you’re an inexperienced hiker. That’s because you’ll enjoy Yosemite with the help of guided tours. The available climbing lessons from local adventure outfitters will also come in handy.

Like other tourist destinations in the United States, crowds are the biggest obstacles to enjoying your visits. But if you go at the right time, starting your day earlier than usual, mother nature’s wonders will reveal in a miraculous way. 

11. Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is incredible, extraordinary and mind-boggling. The magic about Tahoe is that it’s difficult to explain the sheer beauty of this landscape.

Resting on the California-Nevada border, the lake has long been a favorite location for many. Tourists are drawn here by the steep granite cliff sides and the towering mountaintops.

There are also the crystal-clear waters that have earned the lake the reputation of being the most beautiful water body in the US.

While the stunning blue lake is worth a trip, its surrounding area boasts of hiking trails and dozens of picture perfect vistas. 

With its lively towns, epic fusion food, lush vineyards and incredible national parks, Lake Tahoe does not only provide a ton of fun places to go, it also offers unparalleled wonders to be discovered.

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