The Pacific Coast Highway (or PCH) is a collection of highways and interstates that snake up the entire west coast of the United States from southern California to Washington.
What most people refer to as the Pacific Coast Highway, though, is Highway 1 in California.
The scenic drive goes right along the coast, overlooking cliffs above the Pacific Ocean most of the route, with plenty of spectacular places to stop.
Whether you want gorgeous nature views, historical sites, or fun activities, the PCH is the perfect road trip to take.
26 Top-Rated Pacific Coast Highway Stops
Here are just a few highlights of the best places to stop on a full PCH road trip.
1. Venice Beach
Venice Beach is a laid-back beach town with plenty of shops, restaurants, dispensaries, street art, and street performers. The town also has a skate park, multiple gyms, and top-rated sandy beaches.
Venice is definitely worth a stop, and even spending more than a few days here won’t let you see or do everything.
2. Pacific Star Winery
Pacific Star Winery lies on the northern coast of California and is the perfect place to stop in for a tasting. You’ll find the winery atop rocky cliffs, and you can sit and enjoy the view of the waves crashing while you taste local wines.
3. Natural Bridges State Beach
Two minutes from Highway 1 in Santa Cruz lies Natural Bridges State Beach.
The natural rock arch, which is the park’s main attraction, stands fifteen feet above the water along a protected coastline. You’ll also find that multiple rock bridges have been eroded away by the tides and offer some fantastic photo opportunities.
4. Point Arena Lighthouse
The lighthouse sits on the end of a long bluff and stands 115 feet above the water. You can pay to go to the top for amazing views of the Pacific or take a tour to learn about the lighthouse’s history.
The lighthouse also has an incredible museum detailing the history of Mendocino County.
5. Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree
The three drive-through trees in California offer some great photo moments, but the best and biggest is the Chandelier tree. The tree is well over a hundred feet tall and is still alive despite sporting a gap large enough to drive a car through.
6. Glass Beach
Glass Beach gets its name from the plentiful sea glass that covers its shore. The glass comes from people dumping garbage into the ocean, where the waves and currents then grind the pieces of trash into a pretty, smooth glass.
Also, while you’re there, don’t forget to stop by the beach’s many tide pools to look for sea life.
7. Queen Mary
Located in Long Beach, the Queen Mary is an old decommissioned cruise liner that has become a huge tourist attraction. According to local reports, ghosts supposedly haunt over 50 of the ship’s 375 rooms.
You can take a standard tour to check out the ship or take a spooky ghost tour at night to search for proof of the supernatural.
8. Huntington Beach
Huntington Beach is a Pacific coast surf city, and the area has some amazing wave action that makes it a paradise for surfers. You can stop in for lessons or just walk along the boardwalk to watch others catch the waves.
9. Pigeon Point Lighthouse
Pigeon Point Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse on the west coast. Though it dates to 1871, the Coast Guard still uses it as a navigation landmark.
The building is an hour outside of San Francisco and is worth a stop during your road trip. You can even rent a hotel room there to soak in a relaxing cliffside hot tub.
10. Monarch Butterfly Grove
The Pismo Beach Butterfly Grove is one of the best places to stop and see the annual migration of monarch butterflies. An estimated 30 million butterflies stop in the park each year, and it’s the biggest of the known stops for butterflies.
The prime times to stop are usually between November and January, and the best part is that the grove is free to enter.
11. Lone Cypress
Standing alone at the end of a sandy cliffside, the famous Lone Cypress tree is known for its photogenic qualities and epic views. It takes a bit of driving to reach the destination from the highway, but the scenic vistas of the coastline and stunning views from the cliffs make up for the long drive.
12. Madonna Inn
The Madonna Inn hotel is one of the most famous in California, and no two rooms in it are the same. Anything you can think of to decorate a room, the hotel’s probably got it, from rock walls to trippy 80’s inspired decor.
If you’re on a multi-day road trip, you should make reservations at this hotel for at least a night.
13. Pismo Beach
Pismo State Beach is a laid-back area near San Luis Obispo with famous landmarks like the Splash Cafe, known for the best clam chowder in California. The little town also has a beautiful sandy beach where you can let your huge meal settle while soaking up some rays on Pismo Beach.
14. Pfeiffer State Beach
Pfeiffer Beach is perhaps one of the best beaches in California. It has stunning and picturesque spots like the Keyhole Arch and usually isn’t as busy as other beaches along the California coast.
Interestingly, thanks to the cliffs along the beach, the sand is sometimes purple due to the cliff heads’ erosion.
15. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
The boardwalk is home to plenty of amusement rides, snacks, and activities you can enjoy. The Santa Cruz Boardwalk is a great place for people-watching, and after you’ve stuffed yourself with delicious salt water taffy, you can walk it off with a pleasant stroll down the beach.
16. La Purisima Mission State Park
Catholic missions are integral to the history of California, and this missionary is no different.
La Purisima Mission is near the small town of Lompoc and is a perfect place to take in what life used to be like there. You can tour the mission courtyard, chapels, and museum detailing the area’s past.
17. California Redwoods
The PCH heads inland in northern California for a few hours, right through the coastal redwood forests. Redwoods National and State Parks, Humboldt Redwoods, and Muir Woods are all amazing places around San Francisco and the Oregon-California border to see giant redwoods.
Many of these trees are hundreds, if not thousands, of years old and can stand nearly 400 feet tall.
18. The Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is part of California Highway 1, and while you have to drive over it on the PCH route anyways, it is still worth a stop. Golden Gate dates to 1933, and the suspended bridge gives excellent views of San Francisco Bay.
Noted as a national historic landmark, Golden Gate is a must-see for any visitor to the area.
19. Bixby Creek Bridge
Known as the landmark denoting the rough northern end of Big Sur on California’s central coast, Bixby Canyon Bridge is an iconic photo location. Bixby Bridge spans a wide gap above a river mouth between cliffs and has impressive ocean views.
20. Elephant Seal Beach
If you want to see some wildlife in its natural habitat, it’s worth stopping by Elephant Seal Beach, where these massive mammals gather in huge numbers. It’s also a great spot to watch big seals battle it out to determine the king of the sand dunes.
21. Monterey Bay Aquarium
The aquarium in Monterey Bay is home to over 80,000 plants and animals and is one of the biggest and best aquariums in the United States.
Monterey Bay is the perfect place to see sea lions, otters, fish, sharks, dolphins, and penguins. Researchers also use the building for scientific research and conservation of marine species.
Situated between San Diego and Los Angeles, Carlsbad is a place you simply must stop on your road trip.
Carlsbad was put on the map thanks to mineral deposits that made it a famous spa resort, but today there is still plenty to do. For example, it’s home to Legoland, the Carlsbad Caverns, and a vast park full of flowers.
23. Hearst Castle
Located near the quiet city of San Simeon in Big Sur is Hearst Castle. Originally built by William Randolph Hearst, the building was designed by architect Julia Morgan who also helped design structures in the Women’s Grove of Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
You should stop by for the Grand Rooms tour and check out the famous outdoor pool while you’re there.
24. Laguna Beach
Located in Orange County, Laguna is perhaps one of the prettiest beaches on the California coast. You can waste the day bumming it on the beach, or you can check out any of the 70-plus art galleries, go snorkeling in Diver’s Cove, or visit the Pacific Marine Mammal Center.
25. The Devil’s Punchbowl
This natural rock formation on the Oregon coast is worth a stop if you make it that far north. You’ll want to go at low tide when the entire rock formation is out of the water, and you can walk around the hole.
26. Cape Disappointment
Cape Disappointment in Washington is a stunning area in the far northwest that offers excellent hiking trails and beautiful northern-pacific beaches. You can hike eight miles of trails and visit a lighthouse that helps guide ships into the Columbia River.
There are too many great Pacific Coast Highway stops to list them all out in one go, but here are some honorable mention candidates.
- Muir Beach Overlook
- Santa Barbara
- Santa Monica
- Mendocino Headlands State Park
- Point Reyes Lighthouse
- Point Bonita Lighthouse
- Morro Bay and Morro Rock
- Carmel Beach
- Golden Gate Park
- Natural Bridges Monarch Trail
- Half Moon Bay
- San Diego
- Pebble Beach
It’s hard to narrow down the best Pacific Coast Highway stops. Pretty much anywhere you go on the Pacific Coast Highway, from Santa Barbara to Seattle, there’s a fantastic view to soak in or a fun location to check out.
So, be sure to spend some time at these stops the next time you take a road trip up or down the Pacific Coast Highway.
Table of Contents
- 26 Top-Rated Pacific Coast Highway Stops
- 1. Venice Beach
- 2. Pacific Star Winery
- 3. Natural Bridges State Beach
- 4. Point Arena Lighthouse
- 5. Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree
- 6. Glass Beach
- 7. Queen Mary
- 8. Huntington Beach
- 9. Pigeon Point Lighthouse
- 10. Monarch Butterfly Grove
- 11. Lone Cypress
- 12. Madonna Inn
- 13. Pismo Beach
- 14. Pfeiffer State Beach
- 15. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
- 16. La Purisima Mission State Park
- 17. California Redwoods
- 18. The Golden Gate Bridge
- 19. Bixby Creek Bridge
- 20. Elephant Seal Beach
- 21. Monterey Bay Aquarium
- 22. Carlsbad
- 23. Hearst Castle
- 24. Laguna Beach
- 25. The Devil’s Punchbowl
- 26. Cape Disappointment
- Honorable Mentions