Picture it: Driving down the scenic California coast, in the awesome car of your choice, windows (or top) down, blasting your favorite tunes…sounds like the perfect road trip, right? Well, the Pacific Coast Highway, formally known as California State Route 1, is the ultimate road trip route. It’s designated an All-American road for its scenic views, and it packs one heck of a path that takes you past some pretty rad attractions and places. Here’s a guide to the must-see spots while road tripping the PCH!
Starting south at San Diego, this is Southern California at its SoCal-iest. The beaches, the museums, the food scene, and more make it the ultimate vacation city. Explore the Gaslamp District for the nightlife and Balboa Park for the culture.
850 Coast Blvd, San Diego, CA, US
The Children's Pool is the best place on the Pacific Coast to get up close and personal with seals! Back in the 1930's a seawall was built in the ocean at this beach to make it safer for kids to swim without the danger of strong waves...but as it turns out, the beach proved to be even more popular with harbor seals than human kids. You're allowed on the beach, but discouraged from getting into the water, or from getting too close to the seals...but it's still pretty wild to see them this close.
3702 Via De La Valle, Del Mar, CA, US
Then, get a taste of California at MARKET Restaurant and Bar in Del Mar. From local grapefruit and avocado salad to flash seared local wahoo tortellini, the fresh fare here will please just about any palate.
2802 Carlsbad Blvd, Carlsbad, CA, US
Only in California would something like "artisan water" from a historic site fly. Whether you visit Carlsbad Mineral Water Spa for a soak in their mineral water baths, or you're just picking up some water (it's 70 cents per gallon) it's definitely a unique place to stop. The mineral water is alkaline, and is said to be the most healthful mineral water in the world (actress Shailene Woodley is a fan).
Pacific Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, CA, US
After getting refreshed, pull over at Laguna Beach's Moro Ridge. This hike along a canyon ridge has picnic areas and epic views of the coast (on a good day, you can see clear to Catalina Island!). Plus, the canyon is home to tons of adorable rabbits, which are always fun to watch.
1 Main St, Huntington Beach, CA, US
When you're hungry grab dinner at Ruby's Diner. It's a local chain located right on the Huntington Beach Pier, which means insane views of the Pacific while you nosh on burgers, milkshakes and fries in a fun, 1940's-style atmosphere.
1126 Queens Hwy, Long Beach, CA, US
Since you're driving along the coast, why not go all in and spend the night on a boat? And this isn't just any ol' boat...it's the RMS Queen Mary, which is a historic luxury ocean liner that sailed the seas between the 1930's and the 1960's. It's now a tourist attraction, museum, and hotel... and it's reportedly haunted.
5755 Palos Verdes Dr S, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA, US
The next stop is Rancho Palos Verdes and the Wayfarers Chapel. Built by the son of Frank Lloyd Wright, who was named Lloyd Wright, this chapel is a great example of the "organic architecture" for which both the Wrights were so well known. It enhances the already-stunning landscape of the California coast with lots of wood and glass.
1148 Manhattan Ave, Manhattan Beach, CA, US
If you're hungry, head to Manhattan Beach's Fishing With Dynamite restaurant. Whether you go for the raw bar, a massive platter, or just something off their brunch/lunch/dinner menu, you're sure to enjoy the fresh seafood here. Their menu is divided into "old school" and "new school" dishes, depending on how adventurous you feel...plus they've got awesome cocktails and tasty dessert.
200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA, US
Then finish up your day at the historic Santa Monica Pier. Take a spin on the historic carousel, sit at the soda fountain, see some fishy friends at the aquarium or just enjoy the beach and the people-watching. This is probably the most iconic and historic pier along the coast! From the rollercoaster and Ferris wheel to the arcade, and the signs noting that it was the official end of Route 66, there's tons of old-school fun to be had here.
7401 S Birdview Ave, Malibu, CA, US
Once you reach Malibu, pull over at Point Dume State Beach. Here, you can spot dolphins, explore tidepools, and swim in the relatively calm water...or just sit on the beach and soak it all in!
3900 Pelican Way, Oxnard, CA, US
The next town you'll reach is Oxnard. Here, the harbor at Channel Islands Beach has a marina, shops, attractions, and tons more. You can just hike along the shore, find a place to rent kayaks, or book a tour out to the awesome Channel Islands National Park.
668 Harbor Blvd, Ventura, CA, US
Nothing says "PCH" quite like fish tacos. Beach House Tacos in Ventura is a walk up window by the pier that serves cheap meals, and even has mimosas and beer.
113 Harbor Way, Santa Barbara, CA, US
From old ships, the fishing industry, and lighthouses to displays on sailor tattoos, scuba diving, and surf artists, the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum covers every aspect of beach living. Plus, it's right on the marina, so the ambiance is perfect.
2717 De La Vina Street, Santa Barbara, CA, US
The coolest hotel in Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Auto Camp, isn't even a hotel! These old-school Airstreams have been artfully decorated ad fully tricked out. Think, full kitchens, complete bathrooms with clawfoot tubs, and beds to fit a family...all done up in simple retro awesomeness. Seriously, you might be too busy Instagramming everything to get any sleep.
5735 Hollister Ave, Goleta, CA, US
Forget In 'n' Out! The Habit Burger Grill makes a truly crave-worthy charburger. And not just that, but you can order it "Teriyaki Style" with pineapple and grilled onions, or "Santa Barbara Style" with cheese and avocado. Don't forget sweet potato fries, onion rings, and a rich malt to complete the meal.
10 Refugio Beach Rd., Goleta, CA, US
While in Goleta, visit Gaviota State Park. The consistently mild weather and lovely beach make this park worth a visit. It's also got hiking, boating, camping, and plenty more to see and do. And, it was a filming location for the movie "Sideways!"
9th St, Lompoc, CA, US
Once you reach Lompoc, prepare for some serious wine-tasting. The laid back vibes at Palmina Wines make the experience of tasting their outstanding varietals (which they pair with cheese, charcuterie, bread, and olive oils) even more incredible. They do lots of European (mostly Italian) wines, and get their grapes from vineyards across the county.
135 E Clark Ave, Orcutt, CA, US
You won't find a better place for breakfast/lunch along the route than Kay's Orcutt Country Kitchen in Santa Maria. This quaint little cafe serves scrambles and omelettes as well as burgers, sammies, and more, along with booze and other refreshing beverages.
364 N2nd St, Pismo Beach, CA, US
During the winter, majestic Monarch butterflies come to Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove to wait out the cold weather. Scientists aren't sure what keeps the beautiful butterflies returning to this location each year, but between November and February, the place is filled with hibernating Monarchs.
The best time to travel the Pacific Coast Highway: It should be noted that June, July and August are particularly foggy months. If you're looking for a time of year with the clearest views and best weather, October is generally the best time to road trip down the PCH. Also, the summer months can get very crowded at many of the attractions along the route, plus since it's high tourist season you'll experience higher rates at hotels and longer waits at restaurants (many of which are also seasonal and closed in winter).