Few roads in the world can compare to the jaw-dropping scenery that you’ll find on America’s number one classic roadtrip: the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). Travel down this historic road and you’ll see iconic architecture, breathtaking mother nature, cute beach downs and bustling cities. It has great food, friendly people, and I’m slowly working my way along most parts of it it seems (just not at once) – no mean feat, considering it runs the length of the state. Here are a few of my favourite places along PCH – travel along, from North to South. Though be sure to take your time on this journey – these are highlights, for sure, but it’s the little unknown places and one-off stops that often provide the best treasures. If you see a scenic point, stop. Bring a picnic. Stop a second time for coffee. Life is good.
The Pacific Coast Highway officially starts near Fort Bragg in northern California. This budding PCH travel town is known for some fantastic sea views, as well as favourable weather. It’s long been a military fort (founded prior to the US civil war); if you’re here during summer and want a break from driving, check out the old Skunk Train, otherwise just poke around the little shops and cafes here.
Golden Gate Bridge
Hey, that iconic bridge, the Golden Gate? It’s also the PCH! Travel across it at some point during any San Francisco visit, as you’ll definitely want to see the view from both sides. It’s also kind of fun to watch those pillars pass by above your heads – so beautiful and vibrant. Keep your eyes on the road, but the view on the bridge is also quite nice.
Half Moon Bay
Half Moon Bay is popular as a daytrip from San Francisco bay as it’s only an hour or so (pending traffic). The PCH travel route takes you right down into the area, and there are tons of beaches, so it really depends on what you’re looking for. More quieter beaches are the ones that you have to walk a little ways to or have a steep staircase to access (like Cowell Ranch). Montara is the easiest to access and thus is also the most popular. Pescadero Beach is quite scenic. Loads of great restaurants have also made a home here, so you won’t go hungry.
Oh Santa Cruz, how I love thee, a true gem on the PCH. Travel here if you can only go to one place, because it is spectacular. They have one of those old-fashioned seafront roller coaster parks, lovely beaches and walks, a very pedestrian-friendly city centre with shops and cafes. Last time I was here we just pedalled beach cruiser bikes up and down the coast. It is simply brilliant. Santa Cruz. Go – you haven’t seen California if you haven’t been.
We recently stopped in the Monterey Peninsula to check out some of the best trees around the world, so extend your PCH travel and hop onto the 13 mile drive. It costs to get in, but it’s some of the most beautiful areas of central California so its well worth the fee. This is where the famous Pebble Beach golf course is, and lots of the rich and famous can be seen on the streets here.
Hearst Castle in San Simeon
Arguably one of the most lavish castles in the United States, Hearst Castle is a must see in San Simeon just off the PCH. Travel here and travel through the mind of William Randolph Hearst and see what he spent his newspaper riches on. Park at the Visitor’s Centre and take the bus up – it’s on a hilltop with the perfect views of the ocean, of course.
For some reason, every time I write the words Santa Monica, I can’t help but heard the lyrics to the Savage Garden song in my head. Anyway, we all know my feelings about things to do in Los Angeles, but the PCH travel trail does take you here, and the one beachfront community in LA worth visiting is Santa Monica. The promenade is always bustling and “vibrant” with activity: weird food, weird people selling ‘legal’ drugs, and a miscellany of shops and restaurants. It certainly is a sight to see, so check it out, and don’t miss a walk out onto the pier as well as getting some sand between your toes.
The Shake Shack, Crystal Cove
What’s a road trip without a stop for fantastic ice cream with a view? Well look no further than the Shack Shake, previously featured in our roundup of the best places to eat in Orange County (or drink, as the case may be). After all your PCH travel you’ll be ready for the this dairy delight and calorie explosion. But look at that view? Ice cream and ocean views just go together.
Bixby Creek Bridge at Big Sur
As your PCH travel tour heads further south, the cliffs get more dramatic, and so do the views. The most famous is probably the Brixby Creek Bridge, which is just stunning. There are other bridges in a similar single-arch style, and some you can easily get down to the beach for photo opportunities. So don’t hesitate to pull over for postcard shots – it is well worth it around these parts.
La Jolla (pronounced la “hoy-ya”) is an honourable mention here – you see, PCH travel does technically end at Dana Point, quite a ways north of San Diego. But this northern suburb of San Diego is one of my favourite places along the California coast to watch the sea splash against the shore, and I’d be remiss not to mention it, since if you’re roadtripping south, you’ll likely head on down to San Diego anyway. I love San Diego, and I love La Jolla more.