The top things to do on a Pacific Coast Highway road trip

Roll the windows down and take one of most scenic drives in the U.S.

  • 48
  • 24:01
  • 1,058 mi
  • $160
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Created by Steven & Amanda Nisbet - May 13th 2021

Picture it: Driving up the scenic California coast, windows (or top) down, blasting your favorite tunes—sounds like the perfect road trip, right? 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 amazing path that takes you past awe-inspiring attractions and places. Here’s a guide to the must-see spots while roadtripping the PCH.

Starting at San Diego in the south, this is classic Southern California. The beaches, the museums, the food scene, and more make it the perfect vacation city. Explore the Gaslamp District for the nightlife and Balboa Park for the culture.

1
13mi 00h 17m
Children's Pool
4.0

850 Coast Blvd, San Diego, CA, US

Children's Pool

1

The Children's Pool is the best place on the Pacific Coast to get up close and personal with seals. Back in the 1930s, a seawall was built in the ocean at this beach to make it safer for kids to swim without the danger of strong waves. As it turns out, the beach proved to be even more popular with harbor seals than human kids. Today’s visitors are allowed on the beach, but they are discouraged from getting into the water or from getting too close to the seals. Observing wild seals from this vantage point is an unforgettable experience.

2
13mi 00h 20m
MARKET Restaurant + Bar
4.5

3702 Via de La Valle, Del Mar, CA, US

MARKET Restaurant + Bar

2

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.

3
15mi 00h 18m
Carlsbad Mineral Water Spa
4.3

2802 Carlsbad Blvd, Carlsbad, CA, US

Carlsbad Mineral Water Spa

3

Only in California would you find something like "artisan water" from a historic site. Whether you visit Carlsbad Mineral Water Spa for a soak in the 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 it is said to be the most healthful mineral water in the world (actress Shailene Woodley is a fan).

4
34mi 00h 38m
Moro Ridge
4.3

Pacific Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, CA, US

Moro Ridge

4

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 plenty of wildlife.

5
20mi 00h 38m

1 Main St, Huntington Beach, CA, US

Ruby's Diner

5

When you're hungry, grab dinner at Ruby's Diner. This local chain restaurant sits right on the Huntington Beach Pier, which means epic views of the Pacific while you nosh on burgers, milkshakes, and fries in a fun, 1940s-style atmosphere.

6
41mi 00h 59m
Wayfarers Chapel
4.8

5755 Palos Verdes Dr S, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA, US

Wayfarers Chapel

6

The next stop is Rancho Palos Verdes and the Wayfarers Chapel. Built by the son of Frank Lloyd Wright, named Lloyd Wright, this chapel is a great example of the "organic architecture" for which both the Wrights were so well known. It complements the already-stunning landscape of the California coast with the use of wood and glass.

7
14mi 00h 31m
Fishing With Dynamite
4.5

1148 Manhattan Ave, Manhattan Beach, CA, US

Fishing With Dynamite

7

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 the regular menu, you're sure to enjoy the fresh seafood here. The menu is divided into "old school" and "new school" dishes, depending on how adventurous you feel. Don’t miss the great cocktails and tasty desserts.

8
17mi 00h 26m
Santa Monica Pier
4.0

200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA, US

Santa Monica Pier

8

Finish up your day at the historic Santa Monica Pier. Take a spin on the vintage carousel, sit at the soda fountain, see marine life at the aquarium, or just enjoy the beach and the people-watching. This is one of the most iconic piers along the West Coast. From the roller coaster and Ferris wheel to the arcade, there's tons of old-school fun to be had here. Look around for the signs noting this as the official end of Route 66.

9
20mi 00h 33m

7401 S Birdview Ave, Malibu, CA, US

Point Dume State Beach

9

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.

10
30mi 00h 42m
Channel Islands Beach
4.5

3900 Pelican Way, Oxnard, CA, US

Channel Islands Beach

10

The next town you'll reach is Oxnard. The harbor at Channel Islands Beach has a marina, shops, attractions, and more. You can just hike along the shore, find a place to rent kayaks, or book a tour out to the stunning Channel Islands National Park.

11
9mi 00h 14m
Beach House Tacos
3.9

668 Harbor Blvd, Ventura, CA, US

Beach House Tacos

11

Nothing says PCH quite like fish tacos. Beach House Tacos in Ventura has a walk-up window by the pier that serves cheap meals and mimosas and beer.

12
28mi 00h 30m
Santa Barbara Maritime Museum
4.5

117 Harbor Way Ste A, Santa Barbara, CA, US

Santa Barbara Maritime Museum

12

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.

13
9mi 00h 15m
The Habit Burger Grill
4.5

5735 Hollister Ave, Goleta, CA, US

The Habit Burger Grill

13

Forget In-N-Out. The Habit Burger Grill makes a truly crave-worthy charburger. The toppings are even more unique than the burger. Order yours "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.

14
15mi 00h 18m
Gaviota State Park
3.9

10 Refugio Beach Rd., Goleta, CA, US

Gaviota State Park

14

While in Goleta, visit Gaviota State Park. The consistently mild weather and lovely beach make this park worth a visit. It also offers hiking, boating, camping, and plenty more to see and do. And, it was a filming location for the movie Sideways.

15
31mi 00h 35m
Palmina Wines
2.0

9th St, Lompoc, CA, US

Palmina Wines

15

Once you reach Lompoc, prepare for some serious wine tasting. The laid-back vibes at Palmina Wines make the experience of tasting some outstanding varietals (paired with cheese, charcuterie, bread, and olive oils) even more incredible. The winery produces dozens of European (mostly Italian) wines using grapes from vineyards across Santa Barbara County.

16
21mi 00h 26m
Kay's Orcutt Country Kitchen
4.3

127 East Clark Ave, Orcutt, CA, US

Kay's Orcutt Country Kitchen

16

You won't find a better place for breakfast/lunch along the route than Kay's Orcutt Country Kitchen in Santa Maria. This quaint cafe serves scrambles and omelettes as well as burgers, sammies, and more, along with alcohol and refreshing beverages.

17
28mi 00h 31m
Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove
4.5

364 N2nd St, Pismo Beach, CA, US

Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove

17

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.

18
13mi 00h 17m
Firestone Grill
4.7

1001 Higuera St, San Luis Obispo, CA, US

Firestone Grill

18

If you're not tired of eating fish tacos, make a stop at Firestone Grill in San Luis Obispo, which serves up BBQ ribs, tri-tip sandwiches, burgers—and yes, fish tacos, too.

19
35mi 00h 43m
Fiscalini Ranch
5.0

Off Highway 1, South on Windsor, Cambria, CA, US

Fiscalini Ranch

19

Next you'll reach Cambria. The PCH bisects the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, which features some of the best hiking in the area. At this hidden gem, you can see wildflowers, forests, and dramatic ocean views from the 400-foot bluff. Several well-maintained and easy trails offer plenty of ways to experience the ranch.

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 roadtrip the PCH. Notably, the summer months can get crowded at many of the attractions along the route. 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).