When to drive the Pacific Coast Highway?
The beauty of the Pacific Coast Highway road trip is that California has mild weather year-round and you can complete the drive during every season. The stretch from San Francisco to Los Angeles is especially gorgeous any time you go. The landscapes along the Pacific Coast Highway look different in every season.
Pacific Coast Highway in Spring
Looking for our recommendation on when to go? That’s easy, March to April! Our favorite season to drive the Pacific Coast Highway is spring.
In spring, you will find beautiful spring wildflowers along the way. Entire stretches alongside the highway are carpeted in a variety of wildflowers. Our most recent road trip along PCH 1 was this spring, and the wildflower super bloom in many places made the trip really spectacular. Which flowers?
Wildlife viewing is also good in spring. Elephant seals numbers? Pups? Mottling? Whales? All of them!
Spring break and around Easter are crowded.
Weather-wise, it can get pretty cold and windy in spring especially near the Bay area. Pack in layers and do not forget sweatshirts or jackets. In spring, there is also a chance of rain showers so carry along a waterproof anorak and / or umbrella especially for the northern half of the drive.
Pacific Coast Highway in Summer
Summer attractions. Wildflowers. Wildlife. Fog? You bet.
Summer is one of the busiest seasons to drive the Pacific Coast Highway. Locals as well as tourists head for the road and visit several state parks along the way. You can encounter full parking lots at several popular attractions including McWay Falls, Bixby Creek Bridge, etc.
If you plan to complete the Pacific Coast Highway road trip in the summer, then we would recommend starting early and basing your plan around higher crowds and corresponding delays. Also, if you are driving south beyond Los Angeles, then the weather can get quite hot and unbearable in the summer – and you need to pack for temperatures over 90 degrees.
In the fall, wineries? Fall colors? Weather? Wildlife?
In the winter, the clouds come low and the entire coast looks foggy and beautiful. However, this is also one of the trickiest time to drive through the twisting curves in Big Sur. Certain stretches of the Pacific Coast Highway may also be closed due to winter storms and resulting landslides.
In spite of that, the time around the holiday season is one of the busiest times of the year on the PCH. You need to book your accommodations well in advance if traveling during this time.
Winter is also great for whale watching on the coast. October through February, monarch migration at Pismo Beach monarch butterfly Grove.
Considering all the above, the best time to drive the Pacific Coast Highway is from early spring to late fall; more so if you are aren’t accustomed to driving in the USA.
However, if you want to go on an epic West Coast road trip, then you will also have to consider the weather in both Oregon and Washington.
In the winter, it can rain and snow in both Oregon and Washington. So the ideal time to go on the trip is from late Spring to early Fall.
Each season cover: Flora and fauna. Wildlife. Events and festivals. Crowds. Weather. Packing. Advance planning necessary? Etc.