Driving through one of the most scenic routes in the world, the Pacific Coast Highway, is a must for everyone visiting West Coast. It is as popular as the legendary Route 66, but far more picturesque. You just can’t miss these best stops along the Pacific Coast Highway! They’ll definitely leave you speechless.
Our journey started in San Francisco and led towards Los Angeles. All the best stops along the Pacific Coast Highway are located just between these two cities. Driving this route may take approx. 12 h, but well – don’t assume that you complete it in one day. No way. This is the road to explore, not to quickly move from one point to another but rather slowly discover all the best stops along the Pacific Coast Highway. We decided to spend 3 nights in motels on the way and we still felt not fully satisfied. If you want to drive quickly between theses two cities, you should rather choose less spectacular highway I-5 – it will take 6 hours only.
|Tip: Find out more how our West Coast road trip itinerary looked like and how to rent a car in the US!|
10 BEST STOPS ALONG THE PACIFIC COAST HIGHWAY
1. SAN FRANCISCO
This city needs no introduction. Unfortunately, we spent only one day here. If you are looking for ideas how to fit all must-see spots of San Francisco in one day, just click here.
2. SANTA CRUZ BOARDWALK
Leaving San Francisco and heading down under, you will get to Santa Cruz. It’s a must for all kinds of theme parks lovers, to be honest, I also became one after a visit to the US! On the Pacific shore, you will find the oldest amusement park in California with infamous Giant Dipper. This is one of the oldest roller coasters in the US and peculiar symbol of Santa Cruz – unfortunately, rides are only available on weekends. However, if you are visiting Boardwalk during the week, you wouldn’t be disappointed – you can feel like a teenager from American movie while walking along cotton candy spots, bowling centers, and video games arcades.This is definitely one of the best stops along the Pacific Coast Highway for all seeking fun!
INFO: Santa Cruz Boardwalk
3. WHALES IN MONTEREY
Monterey is absolutely splendid. Harbor is super picturesque, much more than world-famous Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. Next to marina, there is a beach where you can try your skills at stand up paddle. I really enjoyed watching a man, who took his dog, placed on a his SUP and just surfed away like in these cliché movies. So cool!
However, the main attraction of Monterey are cruises in search of whales. The trip costs about $ 35 and lasts 3 hours and usually takes place twice a day. Don’t worry, you won’t miss it – there are a lot of boats, always offering free spots. You can, however, face another problem – seasickness. The boat is small and swings really bad. I gave up after an hour of the cruise and sat at the stern, just suffering in silence. When I went to bed a few hours later, I could still see the moving horizon in front of my eyes. The only thing which cheered me up a bit was that I wasn’t the only one who had this kind of problems.
Oh yes, the whales. We sailed on the afternoon cruise and apparently most of the whales were eating lunch or had a siesta. We were staring patiently at the depths of the Pacific. And then – yes, yes – he appeared! That’s true, maybe not spectacularly jumping out of the ocean with a tail splash, but it was him – humpback! This nice creature accompanied us for about 40 minutes, occasionally releasing a fountain of water. I was so happy to see him! This wonderful picture was fulfilled by few dolphins spectacularly popping-up out of the water next to the boat. Amazing experience, which even seasickness couldn’t ruin!
4. 17th MILE DRIVE
Next to Monterey marina, there is another famous scenic route – 17th Mile Drive and definitely one of the best stops along Pacific Coast Highway. Unfortunately, you have to be prepared to pay $ 10 entry fee. Majority of the road overlooks scenic Pacific Coast, along the way you have the opportunity to see how the rich and famous live and spend their money – you will pass seaside mansions and some of the most famous golf courses in the world. Many tourists head directly to the Lone Cypress, a tree, which grew up in unfavorable conditions on the solid rock. This is the most photographed tree in the USA!
Surprisingly, in spite of all these investments, the whole road has protected its natural, raw scenery of the wild coast. There are even Bambi running between residences 🙂 It is fascinating to look at trees shaped by the wind in the unusual forms. Part of the road leads through the woods, which combined with the fog streaming from Pacific makes a creepy impression. Oh, it would be so great to have few million dollars… I have to stop buying shoes, maybe I’ll save enough to buy a modest hut here!
5. BIG SUR
Big Sur is a vast region, which doesn’t really have specific boundaries – it is assumed to extend for 140 km between the Carmel River in Monterey County and San Carpoforo Canyon in the San Luis Obispo County. This is the place where one can experience the most spectacular views of the whole Pacific Coast Highway – the cliffs of Santa Lucia Mountains literally grow out of the Pacific. Due to the rocky terrain, this area is not densely populated, so all letters to residents are addressed simply “Big Sur” 🙂
The greatest symbol of this region is the Bixby Creek Bridge – what a breathtaking view! The whole structure is perfectly integrated with rocks. While standing on the edge of a cliff, you can feel the power of the mountains – the ocean is so surprisingly down low… It is also worth to stop at a waterfall McWay Falls, which falls directly into the ocean. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough luck as Pacific fog obscured the view.
6. PIEDRAS BLANKAS ELEPHANT SEAL ROOKERY
Imagine the beach. Beautiful beach with fine sand and a perfect view of the Pacific Ocean. The only thing you want is to stretch your towel and soak up the sunshine. Well, apparently not only you liked this place… Hundreds, nay! thousands of elephant seals sprawl everywhere – on the beach, on the rocks, playing in the water like naughty children. They do it in a really charming way, even though they look like they skipped the gym for a couple of years – the largest known male weighed 5 tons, and measured nearly 7 meters!
7. MORRO ROCK
Spectacular volcanic rock, which pops up directly from the ocean in Morro Bay. We, as usual, were not surprised to have foggy weather again… After all, it was pleasant to sit in one of the pubs in the harbor and watch the mist moving slowly on the in front of the monumental rock.
8. HEARST CASTLE
Do you like the atmosphere of The Great Gatsby? Splendor, glamour, stunning wealth and endless party? You have to stop by the Hearst Castle. This unusual place was supposed to be a temple of isolation for media potentate William Randolph Hearst. As every modest property built for spending time alone, this one had only 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, swimming pools, cinema, airport and the world’s largest private zoo … Pride is before a crash. Finally, the fate of this richy-rich ended up as bad as Gatsby’s. He went bankrupt and was unable to complete the masterpiece of his lifetime. However, it’s still one of the best stops along the Pacific Coast Highway!
INFO: Hearst Castle
9. SANTA BARBARA
A popular place for weekend gateways for LA residents, offering a mild climate, beaches and broad variety of high culture facilities. Especially music fans won’t be disappointed, both of classical (several very good orchestras) and pop music (Kate Perry was born here!). When it comes to fine art, we decided to visit the cinema to watch “Bridget Jones’ baby’ 🙂 Needless to say, again ubiquitous fog prevented us from enjoying views of the Pacific coast here. This town is an interesting option for those who want to relax a little and run away from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles. This place is maybe not as popular as other mentioned earlier, however I would still include it as one of the best stops along the Pacific Coast Highway.
10. VENICE BEACH
And so we arrived at the end of the Pacific Coast Highway – to Los Angeles. Venice Beach is the legend. This is where Pamela Anderson ran to the ocean in Baywatch TV series, and there is also Muscle Beach, the outdoor gym, where Arnold Schwarzenegger was preparing himself to Mr. Universe contest… with a good outcome – he won! The wide beach filled with fine golden sand stretches to the horizon, from time to time you can spot distinctive blue huts of water rescue. The promenade is located nearby, where teenagers race on bikes and skate. Another picture-perfect place – you just have to sit down in the sun and relax.
Do you recommend other best stops along the Pacific Coast Highway? For more our adventures in the US, click here!
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