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Plan the Perfect Pacific Coast Highway Itinerary 5 Days Now!

Looking for the perfect Pacific Coast Highway 5 Day Itinerary along California Coast?

If you have 5 days to drive the Pacific Coast Highway, then we recommend planning a trip from the Golden Gate City, San Francisco to Tinseltown, Los Angeles along California’s Highway 1.

This route will take you through the highlights of the Pacific Coast Highway and Coastal California. 

You can enjoy the magnificent views in Big Sur, hike the coastal trail in Monterey or Half Moon Bay, enjoy views of the Pacific Ocean from the bluffs, as well as enjoy urban attractions in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

This is one of the best California vacations and is the perfect combination of nature, wildlife, and city life.

Our 5 Day Pacific Coast Highway Itinerary is similar to the 4 Day Pacific Coast Highway Itinerary, however, we recommend spending the extra day enjoying the many attractions of Big Sur.

Big Sur is one of our favorite places to travel along California’s Coast and just incredibly romantic. 

Here’s a sample schedule for 5 Day Itinerary along the Pacific Coast Highway. 

Day 1 – San Francisco

Embark on your Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip by flying into San Francisco or any of the Bay area airports including Oakland and San Jose.

You would be surprised to know that this is California’s fourth-largest city, considering its immense popularity.

The Golden Gate city receives over 25 million visitors every year!

We recommend renting a car at the airport and staying in a San Francisco Downtown Hotel.

Golden Gate Bridge

Then begin your day early at the most iconic attraction along the West Coast, the famous Golden Gate Bridge.

Learn more about the history and engineering technology of the bridge at the Golden Gate Visitor Center.

Then walk the famous bridge and experience the thrill of being under the orange cables.

If you have the time, walk, or drive all the way across and enjoy the experience.

Did you know that California Highway 1 actually goes across the Golden Gate bridge?

That’s why the engineering marvel makes an excellent Pacific Coast Highway start point!

Palace of Fine Arts

Then see the Palace of Fine Arts. Located near the Golden Gate Bridge, this beautiful building is another renowned city icon.

It was originally built in 1915 for the Panama Pacific Exposition and has since then become one of the architectural marvels along the Pacific Coast.

It’s most famous for the Grecian style rotunda which is reflected in the shallow lagoon surrounding the building. 

Other SF Attractions

Other must-visit attractions in San Francisco are:

Lombard Street which is said to be the most crooked street in the world

Twin Peaks, from where you can see amazing views of the city and…

the San Francisco Chinatown, the second largest in the country!

Drive down Lombard Street, then up the hills at Twin Peaks, and finally make your way to the Dragon Gate on Grant Avenue, which marks the entrance to Chinatown. 

Alcatraz

If you have enough time, schedule a tour to Alcatraz Island.

This site is a premier San Francisco tourist attraction.

The federal prison once held Al Capone and today can be seen on guided tours to the island. 

Fishermen’s Wharf

In the evening, visit Fisherman’s Wharf of San Francisco.

Here you will find amazing restaurants, arcade games, and lots of people. Have dinner and people watch.

Eat the famous clam chowder soup at Boudin’s bakery. See the sea lions and shop for souvenirs.

The Ferry Building Marketplace is another great place to dine and enjoy the architecture.

Union Square & Ghirardelli Square

End your day in San Francisco shopping at Union Square or eating Ghirardelli ice-cream in Ghirardelli Square

Union Square also has many wine tasting rooms, upscale restaurants, and high end brands.

To explore more attractions in the Golden Gate City including Mission District and Haight Ashbury and plan your visit, read Best Things to do in San Francisco.

Day 2 – Half Moon Bay and Monterey

The next day, begin your Pacific Coast Highway road trip by taking Highway 1 down the coast to Half Moon Bay.

Half Moon Bay

Half Moon Bay is one of the most popular day trips from San Francisco.

This small coastal town has incredible beaches while its Main Street is a charming place to take a stroll. 

Visitors love the relaxed atmosphere in Downtown.

See the interesting and historic attractions along Main Street including Half Moon Bay Jail, City Hall, the historic bridge on Main Street, quaint beds and breakfasts, Half Moon Bakery, and more.

Step inside the cafes and diners to eat locally sourced foods or visit the boutiques and art galleries for unique souvenirs. 

Half Moon Bay also has some of the best Pacific Coast Highway beaches near San Francisco.

Whether you visit Half Moon Bay State Beach, Francis Beach, or Venice Beach, you are sure to find uninterrupted stretches of soft, silvery sand and panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. 

Pigeon Point Light

Another must-visit is the Pigeon Point Lighthouse in Pescadero.

This is one of the most iconic lighthouses along California’s coast and also the most photographed one.

It stands tall and proud along the ocean’s edge and can be easily seen on a guided tour.

The hikes near the lighthouse will take you to a small beach from where you can observe plenty of wildlife including sea otters, seals, and whales. 

To read more about other Half Moon Bay attractions including the tide pools at Fitgerald Marine Reserve, read our post on Best Things to do in Half Moon Bay

Distance from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay – 30 miles
Time required for the trip – 45 mins

Half Moon Bay to Monterey Drive

After visiting the beach town of Half Moon Bay, drive south towards Monterey.

The distance is just a little over 90 miles, but this is where the Pacific Coast Highway starts getting beautiful.

The road meanders along the coast and passes the towns of Davenport and Santa Cruz famous for its Santa Cruz beach boardwalk.

You will see unique rock formations along the ocean including Shark Fin Rock.

The drive from Half Moon Bay to Monterey will take you a minimum of 2 hours, even more, if you stop at any of the roadside attractions. 

Monterey

When you reach Monterey, you will be treated to stunning views of the coast and the brightly painted Cannery Row.

This is where you should start your Monterey visit.

Cannery Row is a historic relic that goes back to Monterey’s past as a sardine canning center along the West Coast.

The factories now house restaurants, hotels, cafes, and even boutiques.

The famous Monterey Bay Aquarium is also located here and is a must attraction if you are road tripping the Pacific Coast Highway with kids. 

If you have more time, then you should drive the famous 17 Mile Drive in Monterey and see attractions such as Pebble Beach golf courses and the Lone Cypress tree.

You can also go on a whale-watching cruise in Monterey.

End your day in Monterey by taking a stroll along the Fisherman’s Wharf and dining on fresh-caught seafood.

Enjoy the sunset and the barking sea lions along the coast on your PCH road trip. 

Read our post on Best Things to do in Monterey here.

Distance from Half Moon Bay to Monterey – 91 miles
Time required for the trip – 2 hours

Optional: Carmel by the sea

Carmel by the sea is a small town located in Monterey County, California.

Carmel is known for its scenic beauty, Mediterranean climate, and arts community.

Visitors can enjoy the many art galleries, cafes, and shops that line the streets of this seaside village.

Carmel’s beaches are also some of the most beautiful in all of California.

Day 3 – Big Sur

No Pacific Coast Highway road trip itinerary is complete without visiting Big Sur.

Big Sur is wild and rugged compared to the beaches of southern California…..

….but far prettier and accessible than the redwood-covered rocky coast in northern California!

Big Sur – Top attraction of PCH trip

Big Sur is dreamy: mountains meeting the sea, striking rock formations along the coast, blooming wildflowers, dense fogs, and epic sunsets!

The nature is spectacular here.

Big Sur is the reason why you make the Coastal Highway 1 road trip in the first place!

Areawise, Big Sur is just 90 miles long and a few miles wide but to explore it, you can take anything from a day to a week and still not be satisfied with Big Sur.

Since you are spending 5 days along the Pacific Coast Highway, you have enough time to spend over 24 hours in Big Sur.

Also Read: San Francisco to Big Sur road trip itinerary

We suggest staying and dining in Big Sur Village in this Pacific Coast Highway 5 Day Itinerary. 

Take your day to explore attractions such as Bixby Creek Bridge and Pfeiffer Beach.

Bixby Creek Bridge

Bixby Creek Bridge is a Big Sur icon.

The striking arch bridge spans the Bixby Creek and has awe-inspiring views of the Pacific Ocean.

There are pullouts on either end of the Bixby bridge but the northern pullout which takes you to the cliff overlooking the bridge has the most stunning views.

From here, you can photograph Bixby bridge along with the ocean.  

Pfeiffer Beach

Then take the time to hike down to Pfeiffer Beach and admire its purple sands.

Here you will see the beautiful rock formation of Keyhole Rock – a highlight of this perfect PCH road trip.

The best time to come here is at sunset or sunrise.

The parking lot here is pretty crowded, but since you are staying in Big Sur you can visit late in the day or early in the morning to have the beach to yourself. 

McWay Falls

And off course, you must visit McWay Falls, one of our favorite Pacific Coast Highway stops.

With its 80-foot drop and stunning ocean views, it’s easy to see why this is one of the most popular hiking destinations in the state.

Located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, the waterfall can be seen from a platform accessed via a short hike.

Julia Pfeiffer state park also has many other great hikes.

Point Lobos

Another great place to visit is Point Lobos.

Located near Carmel, this state reserve is excellent for hiking, seeing wildflowers, birdwatching, and learning the area’s whaling history.

Read our post on Best Things to do in Point Lobos for more information.

Distance from Monterey to Big Sur Village – 30 miles
Time required for the trip – 45 mins

Day 4 – Big Sur and San Luis Obispo

Rise to another beautiful day along California’s central coast in Big Sur.

Have a hearty breakfast and feel rejuvenated in the ocean air.

Then see the rest of Big Sur and its highlights including…

the stunning McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park – essential stop on the PCH road trip….

… the groves of redwood trees along the coast and the pretty Silver Dollar Beach

Tour the Point Sur lighthouse, visit Hearst Castle, and tour the elephant seal rookery at Piedras Blancas!

If you go at the right time, you will be able to see the baby elephant seals too.

To see all attractions in Big Sur including the famous Hearst Castle in San Simeon and Limekiln State Park, read our post Best Things to do in Big Sur

San Luis Obispo

After exploring Big Sur to your heart’s content, drive down to the trendy college town of San Luis Obispo.

Nicknamed SLO, this has often been called the Happiest Place in the USA.

While the city is famous for its nightlife and restaurant scene, San Luis Obispo also has many historic and cultural attractions. 

One of the main stops in San Luis Obispo is the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa.

This beautiful mission located in the busy downtown is one of the most beautiful in California.

Take a tour of the interior too.

Outside the mission, you will find a sculpture with the bears: the area surrounding SLO is named Valley of the Bears on account of the large number of bears found here at the time of the mission’s founding. 

Other major attractions in SLO include the Bubblegum Alley, San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, Historic Downtown area, and the famous Madonna Inn.

Enjoy SLO’s happening vibe, the night scene, and then stay in the city before continuing your Pacific Coast Highway 5 Day Itinerary along the coast.

To read all about the major attractions in SLO, nearby Pismo Beach, and Los Osos, read our post on Best Things to do in San Luis Obispo County

Optional: Central California Coast Towns

No need to rush down the coast!

Stop and enjoy the laidback life at Central California beach towns like Morro Bay and Pismo Beach.

Follow Highway 1 inland as it meets Highway 101 to attractions such as the Danish town of Solvang and Paso Robles in the Santa Ynez Valley as you head south!

Morro Bay

Morro Bay is a quaint Central Coast surf town with a rich history and plenty of fun activities.

It is most famous for its geological formation, Morro Rock.

While you are in town, visit Morro Rock and watch sea lions at play.

Take a walk or bike ride on the Embarcadero.

Stroll through Downtown Morro Bay or enjoy kayaking and fishing.

Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach is a beautiful beach town and home to one of the most popular beaches in California.

Visitors can enjoy miles of sandy beaches, great restaurants, unique shops, and plenty of outdoor activities.

It also makes a great stop for exploring the nearby wine country.

Solvang

Solvang is a Danish town is nestled in the Santa Ynez Valley.

The small town is decked out in traditional Danish architecture and there are shops and restaurants selling all sorts of Danish food and goods on Main Street.

Take a photo with a windmill, enjoy the cute feels, and sip some wine while spending a few hours in Solvang.

Distance from Big Sur Village to San Luis Obispo – 110 miles
Time required for the trip – 2 hours 30 mins

Day 5 – Santa Barbara and Los Angeles

On the final day of your Pacific Coast Highway road trip, head your way down along Highway 1 to Santa Barbara and Los Angeles.

In this stretch, Highway 1 often leaves the Pacific Coast.

You might find yourself on top of a mountain and even be able to see the coast far away in the distance in some areas.

Rest assured, this part of the PCH road trip is still worth the time and has fantastic views!

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is pretty pretty pretty! In spite of being so close to Los Angeles, it has a charming and relaxed vibe.

Santa Barbara’s whitewashed Spanish colonial architecture, blue waters of the Pacific Ocean, the popular waterfront area of Stearn’s Wharf all feel more European than American!

Add in the wide streets such as State Street and swaying palm trees, and you might easily forget where you are.

A must-visit attraction in Santa Barbara is the Mission Santa Barbara.

Along with the architecture and bell tower, the mission is also famous for its art collection and botanic garden.

Also must visit is the Santa Barbara County Courthouse.

The view from the clock tower of the courthouse is stunning.

Also, the 18th-century clock is also amazing to look at. 

For other Santa Barbara attractions including the many museums, and the zoo, read our post on Best Things to do in Santa Barbara. 

Distance from San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara – 120 miles
Time required for the trip – 2hrs 15 mins

Optional: Channel Islands National Park

Add Ventura to your road trip itinerary if you want to see California’s famous Channel Islands.

Channel Islands National Park, consisting of five main islands and their islets, is located off the coast of Southern California.

The park’s marine environment is rich in biodiversity and visitors can easily spot marine life including sea lions, dolphins and also humpback whales on a visit.

The channel islands are accessible via ferry from Ventura Pier.

Los Angeles

Finally, time to head down to Tinseltown on the Pacific Coast Highway 5 Day Itinerary!

Be assured – if this is your first time visiting the city, then you are going to be awestruck.

Los Angeles LA is home to Hollywood and both glamorous and overwhelming!

It is huge, the largest city in California and the second-largest in the country.

The city is home to hundreds of tourist attractions and it is not easy to see the highlights in a day. 

Needless to say, many of the major attractions in Los Angeles are geared towards Hollywood fans.

You can visit the Hollywood Walk of Fame where you will find the names of celebrities embedded in the pavement at Hollywood Blvd or see their wax statues at Madame Tussauds.

To see some real-life celebrities, take a behind the scenes movie tours at Sony or Paramount, or Warner bros. 

And then there are the Orange County theme parks – a highlight of the Pacific Coast Highway trip for families!

Whether you visit Universal or Disney in Anaheim or want to ride the scary roller coasters at Six Flags, Los Angeles has enough thrills for anyone.

For a budget theme park, visit Pacific Park amusement park on Santa Monica Pier as well as the canals in Venice on your California road trip.

Los Angeles also has amazing museums and is a cultural destination for many travelers.

Art lovers should visit the LACMA or the Broad while natural history enthusiasts should visit La Brea Tar Pits or the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

However, you chose to spend your day, Los Angeles offers the ultimate destination for your Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip.

To read about all of Los Angeles attractions including Walt Disney Concert Hall and Malibu, read our post Best Things to do in Los Angeles.  

Distance from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles – 100 miles
Time required for the trip – 2 hrs

This San Francisco to Los Angeles road trip makes a perfect California vacation for road trippers.

It combines stunning natural attractions along the Pacific Coast Highway route with the urban charms of San Fran and Los Angeles.

Needless to say, it is one of our favorite road trips along the Pacific Coast.

Optional: San Diego

While Highway 1 ends at Dana Point, you can still drive further south!

With more days in hand, you can extend this California Coast road trip all the way to San Diego.

The LA to San Diego road trip along the Southern California Coast has many great stops: Long Beach, Huntington Beach, Redondo Beach, Newport Beach, La Jolla, and also Laguna Beach!

At the end of this Pacific Coast Highway drive, you can enjoy the pretty beaches and year round sunshine of San Diego.

Travel Tips

Here are some tips for your drive:

Be sure to check road status before you go. Landslides often close the route. For example, Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge collapsed in 2017 and made Big Sur accessible for nearly 18 months!

Also, amenities are limited in Big Sur. Make sure to fill up on gas whenever you spot a gas station.

Avoid driving at night as fogs can make the road treacherous.

You can also follow the itinerary in reverse: head north from Los Angeles or San Diego to San Francisco.

Did you like our Pacific Coast Highway 5 Day Itinerary? Let us know!

Other useful posts to plan your Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

Pacific Coast Highway 4 day Itinerary
PCH 7 day itinerary
Pacific Coast Highway 10 day itinerary
All PCH Itineraries
Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Planner
Best Places to Stay along the Pacific Coast Highway
Best Pacific Coast Highway Stops