23 Best Places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway

By Kay S
Last Updated

Visiting the West Coast and looking for the best Pacific Coast Highway stops for your road trip?

The Pacific Coast Highway is one of the best drives in the world!

This epic road trip promises sunshine, sandy beaches, and surf towns – but it is much more than that!

You will experience stunning natural beauty at every turn, spot marine life, hike in redwood forests, and more!

In this post, we highlight our favorite, unique, and simply the best stops on the Pacific Coast Highway.

Best Pacific Coast Highway stops along Highway 1 in California

The best places to stop along the almost 656 miles of Pacific Coast Highway combine beaches with bridges, delicious seafood, art communities, and dramatic cliffside views.

It is, after all, the #1 Road Trip in the country.

There are many excellent places of interest along the route.

We recommend starting in the northern California in San Francisco or ideally Leggett if you can.

We have listed the stops as they come while traveling north to south along the PCH1.

To plan a PCH1 road trip along these stops, check out our Ultimate Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Planner

Chandelier Drive-Through Tree in Leggett

Leggett is the northern end of the Pacific Coast Highway 1 or SR1.

Leggett’s main attraction is the Chandelier Drive-Through Tree.

This massive coastal redwood has a hole cut in its base through which you can drive for $10 per car.

The tree is located in the Drive Through tree park which also has picnic areas and a gift shop and is good for spending some time.

Leggett also has many quaint hotels and B&B’s, making it a good place to stay along the Pacific Coast Highway. 

Glass Beach, Fort Bragg

Located along the Mendocino Coast, Fort Bragg is a small coastal town that is perfect for exploring.

The town is home to the famed Glass Beach located in MacKerricher State Park.

The beach has a very interesting history.

The Great San Francisco Earthquake and the resulting fire that occurred in 1906 destroyed Fort Bragg’s buildings.

The rubble was dumped into the ocean prior to rebuilding the town.

After the reconstruction, many new people came to live in the town.

Most of the Fort Bragg residents dumped their trash, which included glass in the forms, into the ocean.

The sea waves broke the trashed glass down into small rounded pebbles over a period of 30 years, the result of which you can see at the beautiful Glass Beach. 

Coastal Bluffs of Mendocino

Mendocino is one of the most charming communities on the California Coast.

It has the most dramatic coastal bluffs with a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean.

The best way to explore Mendocino’s coastline is by hiking over the coastal, cliffside trails.

The best trails and views can be seen from both Mendocino Headlands State Park and the Russian Gulch State Park.

Another unique Mendocino attraction is the Pygmy Forest at Van Damme State Park.  

Point Arena Lighthouse

The Point Arena Lighthouse is a striking landmark on the California coast between Mendocino and San Fran.

Situated atop a high bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, this historic lighthouse has been guiding ships since 1870.

Today, the lighthouse is open to the public for tours and offers breathtaking views of the surrounding coastline.

Also Read: 15 Best Lighthouses on the West Coast

Potter Schoolhouse, Bodega

Bodega is unique from most other Californian coastal communities.

Bodega and the nearby Bodega Head peninsula in Bodega Bay were used as a filming location in Alfred Hitchcock’s famous movie, ‘The Birds’ that came out in 1963.

Since then visitors come out to Bodega, which is located 4 miles off PCH1, to see the buildings featured in the movie.

The Potter Schoolhouse, where much of the movie takes place, and the Bodega Church are both worth a visit.

The schoolhouse is now a residential building, but you can still take photos from outside the fence.

Fresh oysters, Tomales Bay

Tomales Bay in Marin County is famous for its oyster farms and freshly shucked oysters.

There are many great places to eat oysters in the area, here’s a recap of our favorites.

Nick’s Cove has great oysters and fantastic seaside views.

They also have romantic cottages where you can stay for the night.

Hog Island Oyster Farm needs no introduction; however, they are crazy crowded on weekends.

For fried or barbecued oysters, try Tony’s Seafood.

For a picnic on the beach, purchase your oysters directly from the farm at Tomales Bay Oyster Company. 

Closer to Point Reyes, stop at the Station House Cafe or Cafe Reyes for some oysters. 

The Lighthouse at Point Reyes

Point Reyes is both foggy and windy.

In fact, it is the windiest place on the Pacific Coast and the foggiest place in the country!

The Lighthouse at Point Reyes National Seashore is the best place to enjoy both these things.

The iconic lighthouse was built in 1870 and was used to warn mariners till 1975.

Today the lighthouse and visitor center is great to learn about Point Reyes geology and to spot wildlife including whales, sea otters, and more.

You will need to climb down 300 steps to reach the lighthouse but it’s totally worth it.

The lighthouse is often closed when the winds are high, but you can always visit the Visitor Center. 

Alamere Falls

Located in Point Reyes National Seashore,

Alamere Falls is a tidal fall that plunges 40 ft into the Pacific Ocean.

Alamere Falls is one of the least famous attractions along the Pacific Coast Highway, primarily because of its inaccessibility.

To reach the Alamere Falls, you need to hike a 13 miles round trip trail.

You also need to consider low tide timings before planning a hike.

Because of its difficulty, this trail is recommended only for experienced hikers.

Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge, along with Big Sur, is the star attraction of the Pacific Coast Highway road trip.

The suspension bridge spans the one mile wide Golden Gate Strait and is considered to be an engineering marvel.

The PCH 1 actually crosses the Golden Gate Bridge (in this stretch it combines with Highway 101 – which is what you will see on the map) and the views from the bridge are amazing.

Even before you reach the bridge, we would recommend stopping at Golden Gate Bridge View Vista Point and the Golden Gate View Point near Battery Spencer.

Then cross the bridge, park at the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center, and walk back up to the bridge.

We love walking across the bridge to enjoy the views.

Coming back, visit the visitor center to learn interesting information about the bridge.

Explore the rest of the Golden Gate Park if you have the time.

Read our post on Best Things to do in San Francisco for more information on the city.

San Francisco

San Francisco has plenty of other attractions besides the Golden Gate Bridge.

Half Moon Bay State Beach

One of the most picturesque beaches along the Pacific Coast Highway!

Half Moon Bay State Beach is not just one beach but a 4 mile wide stretch of beaches along the town of Half Moon Bay.

The four beaches are Roosevelt Beach, Dunes Beach, Venice Beach, and Francis Beach.

Each of these beaches is accessible from Hwy 1 – Venice Beach is one of the most popular ones.

Not only are the beaches pretty and ideal for sunbathing but they are also perfect for bird watching, tide pools exploration, fishing, surfing, and beach-combing.

If you are camping along the PCH, then Half Moon Bay campground is a great place to stop for the night.

Read our post on Best Things to do in Half Moon Bay to learn all attractions in the area.

Want to ask us questions about your trip or just want to say hello?

Join our free Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Facebook Group now. That’s where we hang out, answer your questions, and share pictures from our most recent trip to the Californian Coast. 

Click here to join now.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Half the fun of driving the Pacific Coast Highway is in how the route weaves seamlessly in and out of natural areas.

After passing by hidden coves and remote beaches, it feels delightfully surprising to reach the crowded and popular Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

This Beachfront Amusement Park is the oldest in California and has many thrilling rides and arcade gaming areas.

The Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster and the carousel are its most iconic attractions.

Kids of all ages enjoy the boardwalk and it is one of the top places to stop along the Pacific Coast Highway with kids.

Pebble Beach golf courses

In Pebble Beach, California, golfers from all over the world come to experience one of the most beautiful and challenging golf courses in the world.

The 18-hole course hugs the rocky coastline, providing stunning views of the Pacific Ocean for players.

With its many elevation changes and tight fairways, Pebble Beach tests even the best golfers.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the best aquariums in the country and definitely worth a visit.

The aquarium places a lot of emphasis on marine research and animal conservation and has a variety of exhibits to introduce you to marine life along the Pacific Coast.

On a visit to the aquarium, you can see the sea otters, penguins, sharks, jellyfish, and more.

They have great educational exhibits as well as touch pools for the kids.

You will need at least 2 to 3 hours to see the aquarium completely.

Read post on Best Things to do in Monterey to plan your trip.

Carmel By the Sea

Carmel by the sea is an enchanting little town located on the central coast of California.

This beach community is known for its gorgeous white sand beaches, lovely weather, and quaint shops and restaurants.

Visitors to Carmel can enjoy a variety of activities such as swimming, sunbathing, fishing, kayaking, and windsurfing.

There is also a great selection of art galleries, boutiques, and cafes to explore.

Point Lobos

Point Lobos is a breathtaking state park near Carmel-by-the-Sea in California.

With its rocky coastline, evergreen forests, and marine life, Point Lobos is a coastal paradise.

Visitors can explore the trails, see the tide pools, and even spot whales!

Bixby Creek Bridge & McWay Falls, Big Sur

Big Sur along California’s central coast is by far our favorite part of this road trip.

The scenery in Big Sur is spectacular and at every turn, you will see panoramic views, beautiful beaches, and lots of marine life.

There are so many things to do and see in Big Sur, that it is really hard to come up with just a few.

However, you cannot really see Big Sur without admiring the Bixby Creek Bridge or the McWay Falls.

Bixby Creek Bridge is one of the most photographed bridges in California; we recommend stopping at the pull-out points before the bridge.

McWay Falls, located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, is an 80 ft waterfall that plunges directly into the ocean.

There is a small hike from where you can see the McWay Falls.

For more attractions in Big Sur including Point Lobos and Keyhole Rock, read our post on Best Things to do in Big Sur.

Elephant Seal Rookery, Piedras Blancas

The Elephant Seal Rookery at Piedras Blancas is a must stop for those who love to watch wildlife.

The rookery has a boardwalk along which you can walk and spot the elephant seals lying on the beach or swimming in the water.

The Rookery is free to visit and has ample parking.

You can see pups, juvenile seals, and adults from the boardwalk – bring a good telephoto zoom lens to take photos and binoculars to watch the animals.

While you will be able to see the seals year-round, their population at the rookery peaks in January, April, and October. 

The elephant seals are another reason why spring is our favorite time of the year to drive the Pacific Coast Highway.

For more information on when to visit, read our article now

Hearst Castle, San Simeon

While Hearst Castle is not located on Highway 1, it is undoubtedly one of the top attractions in the region.

Hearst Castle is an enormous mansion commissioned by William Hearst, the publishing tycoon.

Work on the castle continued from 1919 to 1947 and famous California architect Julia Morgan designed the castle to resemble a Spanish Colonial Cathedral.

It has been designated a National Historic Landmark and can be seen on ticketed tours.

On a tour of the mansion, you can see the famous Olympic sized outdoor swimming pool and visit some of the Grand rooms. 

San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo, better known as SLO, is one of the hippiest towns on the Central Coast of California.

Being a university town, it is great for younger tourists who like to enjoy the nightlife, cafes, and unique attractions like the Bubble Gum Alley.

SLO also has many cultural attractions including the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, a historic downtown district, Madonna Inn, and the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art.

Being midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, SLO makes a great pitstop on the Pacific Coast Highway road trip. 

Read our post on the Best things to do in San Simeon to plan your trip.

Pismo Beach and Morro Bay

Pismo Beach and Morro Bay are two laid back communities on the central coast where you can surf, eat seafood, drink coffee in quaint cafes, and browse local art.

In Pismo Beach, check out the Pismo Reserve and watch the sunset from the Pier.

Pismo State Beach is great to drive on, though make sure that you have a 4WD vehicle.

Morro Bay became more popular after it was mentioned in the Finding Dory movie – but the film isn’t actually based here so, don’t go around looking for the Marine Life Aquarium.

One of the major attractions of Morro Bay is Morro Rock, a volcanic rock that juts out of the ocean.

Both the towns are great for spotting seals, sea lions, otters, and for going on whale-watching expeditions.

Dune Bashing at Oceano Dunes

South of Pismo Beach, you will find another interesting stop – Oceano Dunes.

At Oceano Dunes, sand dunes of various sizes extend as far as the eye can see.

This is the largest coastal dunes area in California.

The Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area is great for dune bashing, horse riding, and camping.

A variety of quad bikes, dirt bikes, and dune buggies are available to rent in the area.

If you plan to camp in Oceano Beach, advance reservations are highly recommended.

Danish architecture, Solvang

Solvang is one of our favorite spots to stop along the Pacific Coast Highway.

While the area up to Pismo Beach is mostly considered central California, Solvang is often considered to be in southern California.

To reach Solvang, you need to leave the PCH and drive inland.

Why is then Solvang must visit?

Two reasons: it’s a Danish town that reminds you of being in Europe and it’s located in the Santa Ynez Valley, which is famous for its wineries.

Strolling through Solvang is a delight.

You will see Danish architecture, windmills, Danish restaurants, and shops throughout the town.

We recommend checking out the Elverhoj Museum of History and Art, eating Danish pastries, and visiting Old Mission Santa Ynez.

You should also visit the nearby wineries and do a tasting. 

Mission Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara has beautiful Spanish Colonial revival architecture and many historic buildings.

The most iconic building in the city is, however, the magnificent Mission Santa Barbara.

The mission also houses a museum displaying colonial art and sculptures and is beautiful inside out.

Other things to do in Santa Barbara include whale watching, visiting the Santa Barbara Zoo, exploring Stearns Wharf, shopping, and hiking.

Channel Islands National Park

Ventura on Hwy 101 is the base for exploring Channel Islands National Park, one of the most remote national parks in the country.

The national park comprises of a group of 5 archipelagos in the Pacific Ocean.

The islands have unique flora and fauna and you can spot sea lions, island fox, barn owls pelicans and other wildlife.

Other activities to do on the Channel Islands include kayaking, camping, scuba diving, etc.

The Park Visitor Center is located in Ventura itself and is worth a visit, even if you can’t visit the islands. 

Santa Monica Pier

Another kid-friendly attraction along the Pacific Coast Highway!

Santa Monica Pier is a Los Angeles icon and contains everything from an amusement park to fishing areas.

The amusement park, Pacific Park, has a variety of attractions including a solar-powered Ferris wheel, roller coaster, carousel, the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, a video arcade, etc and is fun for the whole family.

The Santa Monica Pier is also the end of the famous Route 66 and taking a photo with the End of Road sign is one of the most popular things to do.

The Pier also has many restaurants and eateries and is great for spending an entire day. 

Dana Point

Dana Point is the official end of the PCH1.

This dreamy beach town in Southern California has amazing views of the Pacific Ocean and is great for a romantic getaway.

Visit the marina to take a whale watching or dolphin cruise into the Pacific.

Alternatively, take a champagne sunset cruise with your loved one.

Dana Point also has many good restaurants and resorts and makes for a great end of the road vacay.

Orange County Beaches

With its 40 miles of sandy shores and crystal-clear waters, Orange County has some of the prettiest beaches on the entire West Coast.

Popular OC beach towns include Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, and Newport Beach.

La Jolla

If you are driving south beyond the Dana Point, then make a stop in La Jolla.

La Jolla is San Diego’s wealthy seaside community.

There are many beaches in La Jolla including La Jolla Shores, La Jolla Cove, and the Children’s Pool.

La Jolla Cove is the most popular one with beautiful views of the Pacific, blue water, and white sand.

For water activities, visit La Jolla Shores beach, which is perfect for surfing, stand up paddleboarding, kayaking, and scuba diving.

For families, La Jolla Children’s Pool is a great beach with shallow, gentle water and lots of seals and sea lions lying on the clean sand.

San Diego

San Diego is an amazing city with a rich history and culture.

There are so many things to do in San Diego, from exploring the downtown area to spending time at one of the city’s beautiful beaches.

As the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean and the city of San Diego comes alive, visitors and locals alike are drawn to its many restaurants, bars, and attractions.

From the iconic Hotel Del Coronado to Balboa Park, San Diego makes the perfect end to this epic road trip.

We hope you liked our favorite stops along California’s Dream Drive.

Other useful posts to plan your Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

Pacific Coast Highway 4 day Itinerary
Pacific Coast Highway 5 day itinerary
Pacific Coast Highway 7 day itinerary
Pacific Coast Highway 10 Day itinerary
All PCH Itineraries

Leave a Comment