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Pacific Coast Highway FAQs

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about the Pacific Coast Highway. 

What and where is the Pacific Coast Highway?

Pacific Coast Highway is the coastal route that follows the West Coast of the country. It starts at San Diego, California near the southern border with Mexico and ends north of Seattle near the Canadian border in the Pacific Northwest. 

The entire route is not officially named the Pacific Coast Highway but has always been called so since it parallels the Pacific Coast. It is also called the Pacific Highway. 

The major routes that comprise the Pacific Coast Highway road trip include Highway 1 in the south and central California and then Highway 101 in north California, and the states of Oregon and Washington.

Is Pacific Coast Highway the same as 101?  

Well, that depends on what part of the coast you are referring to.

In California, Pacific Coast Highway usually refers to Highway 1. While it does overlap with the 101 in certain areas, for the most part, it is a distinct and separate road.

However, if you are talking about northern California or the Pacific Northwest, then yes Highway 101 is the Pacific Coast Highway. 

How long is the Pacific Coast Highway?

It is really hard to calculate how long the Pacific Coast Highway is because it is really comprised of many different routes and scenic drives. In some areas, you will need to take detours to access attractions. 

Here are basic driving distances on the Pacific Coast Highway:

Highway 101 in Washington starts at the Astoria-Megler Bridge and ends in Olympia. It is 366 miles long. 

From the northern border with Canada to Olympia it’s 180 miles while from Seattle to Olympia it is 70 miles.

Highway 101 in Oregon starts south of Brookings and ends in Astoria at the Washington border. It is 363 miles long. 

In California, things get confusing. To drive closest to the coast, you will need to take the following roads:

Highway 101 between Leggett to the Oregon border is 192 miles long. This part is known as the Redwood Coast and the road Redwood Highway. 

Highway 1 between Leggett and Dana Point is 656 miles long. The road is alternatively called US Highway 1 / California Route 1 / Shoreline Highway / Cabrillo Highway. 

I-5 from Dana Point all the way to the Mexican border is 80 miles. However, if you want to end your trip at the San Diego city center then you will be driving 65 miles. 

By summing up these distances, 

The Pacific Coast Highway from Seattle to Olympia is 1712 miles long. 

But if you want to drive it all the way from the Canadian border to the Mexican border, it is 1837 miles.

Just for reference, the coastline of the USA West Coast is 1293 miles long. Per state coastline is as follows:

California – 840 miles

Oregon – 296 miles

Washington – 157 miles

What is PCH1? What are its different names?

California’s legendary coastal route is officially named the Pacific Coast Highway 1 aka PCH1. Work began on the construction of this beautiful road in the 1930s. 

It remains a marvel of engineering in the way it was designed to dramatically hug every curve of the coast, particularly in central California. It bridges including the Bixby Creek Bridge in Big Sur and the Golden Gate Bridge delight road trippers. 

The Pacific Coast Highway 1 is also known by several other names. It is called Route 1 / Highway 1 / shoreline Highway / Cabrillo Highway.

How long does it take to drive the entire Pacific Coast Highway? 

How long is the drive up the PCH? If you are talking about Highway 1, it takes 10 to 12 hours to drive the road between Dana Point and Leggett. However, considering the most beautiful attractions along the way, you should keep aside at least 4 to 6 days for the trip. 

How long does it take to drive the West Coast? The entire West Coast road trip from border to border is over 1800 miles long. You should not attempt to see this in anything under 10 days. However, the route has plenty of natural and urban attractions and you should ideally plan a 2 or 3 week trip along the West Coast.

How long does it take to drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles on the Pacific Coast Highway? There are roughly 400 miles of Highway 1 between San Franciso and Los Angeles and it takes about 10 hours, especially if you hit traffic in Big Sur. We recommend spending at least 4 to 7 days on the PCH here. 

How long does it take to drive the Pacific Coast Highway from Los Angeles to Seattle?  Los Angeles is about 1300 miles by the Pacific Coast Highway and needs about 7 to 10 days at a leisurely pace. 

How long does it take to drive Highway 1 California? As we answered before, it takes about 10 hours to drive the entire 656 miles of Highway 1. 

What is the speed limit on Pacific Coast Highway? 

The posted speed limit on the Pacific Coast Highway between Carmel and San Simeon ie in Big Sur is 55 mph. However, for the several hairpin turns in this region, you might need to go even slower. All the turns will have posted speed limits, but in general, we recommend driving at around 30mph unless the posted speed limit is lower to enjoy the views and stay safe.

For other areas, it varies and you can even drive at 55mph or 65 mph when applicable. If you are in doubt, always go with the flow of traffic.  

Is it better to drive north or south on the Pacific Coast Highway? 

One of the most commonly asked questions is which direction should you drive the Pacific Coast Highway. 

This is a bit tricky and depends on personal preferences. 

We personally love starting in the north and driving south for multiple reasons. Cars in the USA are left-hand drive cars, meaning you will be always driving on the right side of the road. 

That means, when you are driving south you will be closer to the coastal side of the road. That means you will be having great views of the Pacific Ocean and the headlands and bluffs and your road trip companion will have an excellent shot at taking scenic photographs right from the car!

Also, most state parks and attractions will be on the right side so you will have easy access to parking lots and viewpoints. 

Driving northbound is not all that bad, you will be rewarded with the most scenic sites towards the end of your trip.

Is the Pacific Coast Highway dangerous to drive? 

People often wonder, Is California Highway 1 dangerous? 

Compared to other highways in California, Route 1 is dangerous in certain ways. The main reason is that in Big Sur, the highway turns and twists continuously. It is narrow and a single lane road in each direction for most parts. 

You might find cars parked along the road near tourist spots and sometimes even visitors standing on the road to take photographs. Apart from cars, you will also find RVs, campervans, cyclists, and bikers on the road.

Weather also impacts the safety along Highway 1. Rainfalls cause erosion and landslides make the cliffs unstable. Entire sections of Highway 1 can be closed off at a time cutting access to the regions.  

There can be strong gusts of winds especially at places like Hurricane Point and when the fog rolls in, it’s thick and dense and can cause poor visibility.

However, if you take the usual precautions of driving slowly with fog lights on if needed, braking slowly, avoiding night drives in Big Sur and other hilly areas, then you should be safe. 

What is the best time of the year to drive the Pacific Coast Highway? 

Wondering when to drive the Pacific Coast Highway? There are different advantages to making this road trip in different seasons.

If you plan to road trip only PCH1 in California, then you can road trip year-round. Summers can be rainy and foggy near the central coast, spring will be gorgeous with wildflowers, fall will be nice and warm, and winter will be mild. 

However, if you are planning to drive further up in Oregon or Washington, then you need to plan from spring to fall. 

Read our post on Best Time to Visit the Pacific Coast Highway for more information.

What should you not miss on the Pacific Coast Highway? 

This question is often interchangeably asked with Which part of Highway 1 is best? Or What should you not miss in Big Sur? Or Which part of California should I visit?  

We get it, for most visitors the Pacific Coast Highway road trip is once in a lifetime trip and you definitely don’t want to miss the most beautiful parts of the coast. 

So, exactly What is the most scenic part of the Pacific Coast Highway? Or Where should I go on the coast of California? 

The answer is – Big Sur!

Here you will find dramatic landscapes, abundant wildlife, stunning views, lighthouses, pristine beaches, hiking trails, redwood trees, and more! 

Where should I stay along the Pacific Coast Highway? 

There are several best places to stay along the Pacific Coast Highway. From romantic resorts to glamping locations, you can find everything in between along the highway. 

There are also several campgrounds along the PCH and you can easily do this trip in a campervan if you desire. 

What should I pack for a Pacific Coast Highway road trip? 

You will need layers of clothing. Bring along full-sleeved and half-sleeved shirts and T-shirts, shorts, jeans, and hiking pants. You will need a waterproof travel jacket to stay safe against the ocean sprays and winds along the coast. 

Bring a hiking day pack, water bottle, and hiking maps. We also recommend binoculars, beach gear, cameras, sunscreen, and a hat. 

Where should I eat on the Pacific Coast Highway?

There are many amazing restaurants located along the Pacific Coast Highway. Here, you will find every kind of food including the sourdough clam chowder in San Francisco, California style burritos in Los Angeles, original Starbucks coffee in Seattle, and voodoo doughnuts in Portland. 

However, the food is not restricted to the big cities. Try the Danish aebleskivers in Solvang, the fresh oysters in Tomales Bay, and breakfast pizza at Big Sur bakery. Go wine tasting along the Sonoma Coast and fresh fish on the Olympic peninsula. 

Big Sur FAQs

Many visitors are specifically interested in visiting the Big Sur region and have tons of questions about the central coast of California. Here are answers to some of the common questions:

Is Big Sur worth visiting? What is Big Sur known for? 

Big Sur is the most beautiful part of the coastline of California. Located in the central part of the state, Big Sur is about 3 hours south of San Francisco. The region stretches for 90 miles and for most of it, Highway 1 hugs the dramatic curves and cliffs. It is known for its natural attractions and sheer beauty. 

Apart from its wild and rugged beauty, there are many things to do in Big Sur. You will find plenty of hiking trails in the region and any state parks including the famous Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Attractions like Bixby Creek Bridge and McWay Falls are visited by millions of people every year. 

How many days do you need in Big Sur?

To enjoy Big Sur at a relaxing pace, you need to spend at least 2 to 3 days here. We recommend staying in Bug Sur Village or camping in the state parks and enjoying the hiking trails. See the highlights of Big Sur, enjoy the foggy mornings, and colorful sunsets along the coast. Go birding or whale watching and spot the elephant seals at San Simeon. Big Sur is incredible and romantic and truly one of the best places to visit in California.

Is Big Sur dangerous? 

Because of its dangerous cliffs, overlooks, slippery trails, craggy rock formations, and secluded beaches, Big Sur can be dangerous to hikers, bikers, and road trippers. However, it is not more dangerous than any other wilderness area and we recommend practicing the usual precautions.

Carry enough water on hikes and a trail map. Refer to tide charts if the trail can be covered at high tide. Do not go near cliff edges and on unmarked trails. Always carry a compass, GPS, and safety whistle.

Do not go near wildlife or feed any wildlife. Observe the tidepool creatures, seabirds, and whales from a safe distance. 

Always keep kids near you on the beach and follow posted signs and warning related to swimming and entering the water. 

Fill up your car at regular intervals on gas and keep a car safety repair kit and first aid kit handy.

What is the most scenic route from San Francisco to Los Angeles?  

Wondering What is the scenic route to San Francisco? And Where should I stop between LA and San Francisco?

Of course, it is Highway 1. Highway 101 between LA and SF is also pretty however, it is nothing compared to Highway 1. The main reason for this is the beautiful, gorgeous Big Sur. 

The other roads are Highway 101 and I-5. I-5 is the fastest. You can reach the city in just 5 hours without traffic but there is nothing to see. Highway 101 while scenic, does nothing compared to Highway 1.

Other useful posts to plan your Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Planner
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
Best Places to Stay along the Pacific Coast Highway
Best Pacific Coast Highway Stops