Explore California Along the Pacific Coast Highway

After undergoing 18 months of extensive repairs and renovations, California’s signature coastal road is open for business and giving motorists what they deserve — a beautiful and exciting way to explore the California coast.

Pacific Coast Highway, officially known as California State Route 1 but goes by many other names at various points along its 649-mile stretch, runs between Dana Point in Southern California and Mendocino County near the town of Leggett in Northern California. When a 2017 landslide forced the closure of the Big Sur portion of this iconic roadway, road-trippers were sadly deprived of the breathtaking scenery and the convenience of a direct route that conveniently connects some of the state’s most incredible coastal towns.

With the re-opening of the affected portion of the roadway in 2018, the entire coastline is once again accessible to motorists, allowing vacationing families to experience some of the best stops along the way. If you’re planning a California road trip, PCH should definitely be on your agenda and there are some great stops along the way that should be on your radar.

Starting in Southern California, visit the classic boardwalk at Santa Monica Pier before driving north through Malibu to see how the rich and famous live. California’s recent wildfires took their toll on the land but the Pacific Ocean remains a beautiful site to see.

As you leave behind the city traffic and head up the Central Coast, take advantage of the opportunity to stop in coastal towns like San Luis Obispo and Cambria for excellent food and wine tasting before stopping at one of the most famous landmarks along the way, Hearst Castle.

If you didn’t get enough wine tasting during your previous stops, Hearst has a lovely wine tasting room with a fantastic café across the highway from the castle. Sit back and enjoy a glass of Hearst’s finest while you munch on fish tacos and listen to the waves crash against the rocks below.

Just beyond Hearst Castle take a few minutes to pull off the road at Piedras Blancas Beach to view a massive colony of elephant seals that calls the area home for several months of the year. The stop doesn’t take long but is well-worth the time to see these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.

Big Sur © Eugenia Lazaris

Big Sur © Eugenia Lazaris

Driving through the Big Sur area, the stretch of highway most recently repaired, you’ll find some of the most beautiful and iconic spots along the PCH. Photo opportunities are abundant and worth the effort to stop whenever you find a viewpoint to snap some shots and stretch your legs.

Once you pass Big Sur you will come to the picturesque Carmel by the Sea and the sleepy paradise of Monterey, where the beautiful scenery is truly mesmerizing. Enjoy a meal at one of the many local eateries or stop for a night to enjoy one of the many luxurious beachfront hotels.

Before you make it to San Francisco be sure to stop in Santa Cruz to visit the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Fans of the cult classic The Lost Boys will recognize this Americana attraction.

As you head into San Francisco the city traffic will burden you once again, but as you cross the iconic Golden Gate Bridge over San Francisco Bay you will not regret the effort. Once you cross the bay into Sausalito be sure to make the quick jaunt over to Hawk Hill for a hike to one of the best Golden Gate Bridge viewing points for a photo with the famous bridge in the background to commemorate your trip.

The best part about a road trip is being able to stop wherever and whenever the family desires and with a trip down California’s Pacific Coast Highway, the entire family will find things along the way that will excite and interest them.