Northern Highway 1/ PCH Road Trip Stops – Leggett to Marin
– Cowlick’s Ice Cream Cafe / Food in Fort Bragg
– Glass Beach
Mendocino Botanical Gardens
Point Cabrillo Lighthouse
Russian Gulch Bridge + State Park
Mendocino + Headlands
Van Damme Beach + State Park
Point Arena Lighthouse – Views
Bowling Ball Beach, Schooner Gulch
Fort Ross State Park
– Point Reyes Station
– Cyprus Tree Tunnell
Point Reyes Lighthouse + Headlands + Beach
Mt Tamalpais + Muir Woods
Slowly becoming one of those girls who does yoga poses all over the pace… but it’s a cool photo, right? Right?!
View of SF from Battery Spencer
Point Bonita Lighthouse
Mid-Northern Highway 1/ PCH Road Trip Stops: San Francisco to Big Sur
– Land’s End Labyrinth
– Golden Gate Park
Another outcropping of nature within a bustling city, Golden Gate park has lots of secluded trails, open fields, massive forests, gardens, lakes, and even museums. A lot of events are also held here so mane sure to check up on what’s going on. You can also do a self-guided bike tour of Golden Gate Park if you need a quick adventure!
– Haight + Ashbury
If I had to stop in one place in the city of San Francisco on a highway 1 road trip, it would probably be here. It’s not too far off PCH, and is one area that gives off the true hippie SF vibe. Do some window shopping through psychedelic stores, go thrifting, grab a couple craft beers, or a bite to eat as one of your lunch or dinner time PCH road trip stops.
– Twin Peaks
If there was a classic San Francisco viewpoint, it would be Twin Peaks! You can hike up this hill (and through surrounding canyons as well) or you can simply drive to the top to take in a fantastic SF city view on your way up or down the coast.
Devil’s Slide Trail + Bunker
Half Moon Bay/ Princeton-By-the-Sea
– Maverick’s Beach + Break
Pidgeon Point Lighthouse
Pidgeon Point is another very old California Lighthouse that is being restored by state efforts. It’s wind-blown and rusty, but full of character, and stands a white sentinel over the surrounding coast. The old lighthouse buildings are now a hostel, and there are a few viewpoints and trails in the area too.
Año Nuevo State Park + Berry Farms
Santa Cruz itself (and the wharf and beach boardwalk) are not off the beaten path, but are cool to check out if you have not already. Grab an ice cream, play some arcade games, and ride the rollercoaster on the beach if it’s your first time! If not, these two ideas below may be new for you. There are also lots of Hotels in Santa Cruz if you wanted to stay the night here.
– West Cliff Walk + Steamer Lane Surf Break
A more unknown view of Santa Cruz is a lovely walk along West Cliff to Point Santa Cruz. This point looks out over another famous surf break of California, Steamer Lane. At the point you can visit a surf museum that looks like an old lighthouse, and watch (possibly famous) surfers at the base of the cliff.
– Natural Bridges State Beach
This beach has a famous natural bridge, or rock arch, that’s super photogenic! It’s pretty to check out if you have not had the chance to see many on your Highway 1 road trip yet.
– The Mystery Spot
While passing through Santa Cruz it would be a shame not to experience a bit of its thick forested mountains, and what better way than visiting the Mystery Spot?! This is an extremely strange yet intriguing tourist attraction that claims to be a ‘gravitational anomaly.’ When you go inside the building, you are standing at an extreme angle to the way the house is oriented. They either built it this way, or there really is a strange electromagnetic anomaly going on in the Santa Cruz mountains.
Fort Ord Sand Dunes
Just before you get to Monterey, you will pass Fort Ord Dunes State Park outside the town of Marina. You would almost miss it if I didn’t tell you it was there! It’s not very visible from the road, but it’s a strip of beach with pretty large sand dunes which are slowly inching their way toward the highway. This place would be fun for a photo op!
This isn’t exactly off-the-beaten-path either, but Monterey is terrific to try some fresh clam chowder or maybe stay the night in a more popular place for hotels. There are lots of hotels in Monterey – we stayed at the Best Western Da Anza Inn. While passing through you must go to the wharf to sample all the different recipe’s of clam chowder – for free!
17 Mile Drive
Garrapatta State Park
Garrapatta is known for its colorful wildflower blooms, surf, and walking trails. It’s nice to have a look if you are driving leisurely and not in a rush.
It will be hard to avoid this one as it is actually a part of PCH, but I would recommend pulling over for a photo of this scenic bridge. The best views are from the northern part of the bridge, both on the sea-side and the mountain side (right and left side going south) of the bridge.
Andrew Molera State Park
Just north of Big Sur, Andrew Molera SP has a great campsite and park full of beautiful coastlines and walking trails (surprise, surprise!). The campsite is often full in the summer. I once did an 8 mile loop hike here up through forests and cliffs and back along grassy secluded shorelines, and would highly recommend it as a PCH road trip stop for anyone staying a while.
Middle Highway 1/ PCH Road Trip Stops: Big Sur to Santa Barbara
Although I have already covered some must-see northern Big Sur PCH road trip stops above, there are still MANY more in this breathtaking area. Big Sur is probably one of my favorite places in the world, and I would allot quite a lot of time to explore it fully. Hotels in Big Sur won’t be cheap, but you can almost guarantee they will be quaint, cozy, and surrounded by amazing nature or forests. If you can swing it/afford it I would recommend spending a night in Big Sur on your highway 1 road trip, or maybe Ragged Point or Cambria. If you are just passing through, I think McWay Falls and Nepenthe should be the stops of choice in this area.
Remember to look for scenic overlooks and pullout points as you drive PCH in this area. There are many PCH road trip stops here that don’t have actual names (and are rather just little dirt areas on the side of the road) but will have amazing views of PCH and the coast.
You can’t exactly road trip through Big Sur without checking out the actual tiny town of Big Sur, can you?! There isn’t much here but a few inns, a campground, and an expensive gas station, but there are some good places to eat. I wouldn’t recommend getting gas here, however; it’s twice the price of anywhere else!
Coast Gallery + Cafe
McWay Falls + Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
If you must stop at any state park, make it this one! The view here is famous, and rightly so! After walking through a little tunnel to a beach overlook, you will see the iconic McWay falls – a waterfall landing right on the beach! The surrounding cliffs and rocks are seemingly out of a painting, with turquoise water at all times and Cyprus trees dotting the rocks.
If you are so inclined, there are also lots of camping spots (reserve early!) and hiking trails up into the mountains in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park as well.
Limekiln State Park
Limekiln is another great place to camp. It also has four very old (late 1800’s) lime kilns and a beautiful waterfall. Great if you have extra time.
Sand Dollar Beach
This is a lovely beach in the southern Big Sur area with great surf and views. Maybe you’ll even find a sand Dollar!
This cove is just around a point from Sand Dollar beach and is better known for its surf breaks. It also gets its name because it’s not uncommon to find real jade in the area. You will see lots of green stones – see if you can tell if it’s real!
Jade cove is right across from another great campsite of the area, Plaskett Creek.
Ragged Point is home of one of my (many) favorite views in Big Sur. There are a few viewpoints around an inn right on the point where you can take in even more amazing cliffy views.
Hearst Castle + San Simeon
Morro Rock + Bay
San Louis Obispo
Avila Beach + Avila Valley Barn
If you are passing through SLO, I would definitely make a point to see Avila area on your Highway 1 Road Trip. On the way from PCH to Avila Beach, you can stop at Avila Valley Barn to taste some breshly made baked goods and sweets, try some locally grown produce, and check out some farm animals and local farms. Once you have a trinket from Avila Valley Barn, head out to Avila Beach.
Avila Beach is one of SLO’s best beaches, with a lovely stretch of sand and shops and eateries on a boardwalk just along the sand. This would be a great place to stay for the night as well, in that there are many beautiful inns and suites.
A view of Morro rock from a little oyster eatery
State Street Santa Barbara
This one is quite a ways off Highway 1 and not exactly convenient, but I think it’s one of the most fascinating places to visit on a PCH road trip. Solvang is an entirely Danish settlement in California, and has the architecture and even a windmill to prove it. If you have time, check it out!
Sant Barbara + State Street
From where PCH arrives safely back to the coast, the drive will be beautiful yet slightly uneventful (save for a few vista points and state beaches, feel free to check them out) until you arrive in central Santa Barbara.
State street is the town center of Santa Barbara. Here you will feel a distinctly old style vibe, as it is next to one of California’s many historic missions. This is yet another great place to stop for a drink or a meal and have a nice little walk around town.
Southern Highway 1/PCH Road Trip Stops: Santa Barbara to Dana Point
And now, we have finally made it to the south! These PCH road trip stops are more my stomping ground – I lived in LA for 4.5 years and grew up in Orange County. This does mean more of a local’s perspective, but it also means there’s no way I’m telling you ALL my secret spots ;). Sorry, you know I love you… or I wouldn’t be writing this in the first place, would I?!
Just south of Santa Barbara you will find the Ventura, with a small town feel, historic buildings, many shops and restaurants, a lovely harbor, surf spots, and more.
Malibu has, hands down, the best beaches in LA. There are many more secluded beaches and coves than in Santa Monica or Venice, and some pretty good surf too! If you have time, there are also some amazing hikes. Check out Malibu Creek or Escondido Falls if you have extra time on your Highway 1 road trip.
– Point Mugu
– Point Dume
Point Dume is the northern tip of Maibu, and is comprised of Big Dume and Little Dume. Big Dume is a populated beach with lots of people and a few restaurants, and Little Dume is more secluded.
– Paradise Cove
Paradise Cove is the cutest little beachy restaurant near an old rickety pier in Malibu. You can sit on comfy chairs on the sand, order a meal with an ocean view, or just explore the amazing setting.
– Wine Tasting
Malibu is also known for its wine, like many places in California. Wineries and estates are a little ways off of PCH, but if you have time it is lovely to see a wintery. This Malibu wine tour lets you harvest your own produce, walk through the hills, and taste local wine!
If you are staying in LA for a while, check out my comprehensive LA post, 50 Los Angeles Day Trips to satisfy every travel craving. This will help you to see what kind of areas are best for you to explore. There’s too much to go into here!
I would mention Santa Monica, but I do think it’s overly touristy. If you want to do the whole LA thing, check out the Santa Monica Pier for some views and an old theme park, and Third Street Promenade for some of the best shopping in the area.
– Venice Beach
Another PCH road trip stop that isn’t exactly unknown but it important to name just the same! Venice is a must-see in LA. Walk down the beach boardwalk, watch the street performers, look at the art vendors, and see if anyone tries to sell you a medical marijuana card 😛
The Venice Canals are absolutely beautiful also and many people don’t actually know that there are canals in the LA version of Venice!
The Venice Canals
Manhattan Beach on a cloudy day
Sunset on Venice Beach
– South Bay Beaches
If you want, you can actually ride a bike down the same boardwalk all the way from southern Malibu through Santa Monica and Venice and past Manhattan, Hermosa, and Redondo beaches. It goes all the way! I love Manhattan Beach area for its great little eateries, shops, views, and pier. Hermosa Beach is similarly beautiful, and Redondo Beach Pier is a more unknown yet lovely place to visit.
– Palos Verdes
Highway 1 actually cuts inland south of Redondo Beach, but if you have time, Palos Verdes peninsula is a very unexplored and secluded area of Los Angeles that many people miss out on. There are lots of hikes, views, and secluded coves that will make you feel like you are actually on a remote Caribbean island and not just outside the bustle of LA! Check out Abalone Cove for a beach, Point Vincente Lighthouse for a cliffy park, and Del Cerro Park for a viewpoint.
Fish Market in San Pedro
Just past Palos Verdes you will enter the Long Beach area. If you love fresh seafood, check out the San Pedro fish market for literally freshly caught seafood.
Long Beach – Naples Island
The most sought-after PCH road trip stops in Long Beach are definitely the Queen Mary or the Aquarium of the Pacific… BUT, since I am recommending more off-the-beaten-path destinations, I will tell you about Naples Island instead! 😉 This tiny little island has a few canals running through it in south Long Beach and is another rather unknown yet beautiful spot to take a few photos.
Naples Island Canals
A little corner of Balboa
Balboa Peninsula Newport
Going south, you will follow Highway 1 past Seal and Huntington Beach, which are both nice beach towns to check out in their own right, but I would more highly recommend Newport Beach. The Balboa Peninsula is famous for surfing, beach houses, and great little beach bars and eateries. It’s a popular place to rent a bike or rollerblades and glide along the beachfront houses.
You can also ferry from Balboa Island to the “Balboa Fun Zone’ and Balboa Pier, which are on the outer part f Balboa Peninsula and have amazing old-style arcades, a few rides, and an absolutely amazing frozen banana stand you should not miss!
On your way up or down, make sure to try one of the Bear Flag Fish Co’s in the area. They have amazing poke, fish burritos TO DIE FOR, and much more.
Laguna might be one of my favorite places in the world, and it really deserves its own guide. But, I’ll save that for later. Below I will recommend two of my favorite beaches in Laguna for PCH road trip stops, an eatery, and a viewpoint. Keep in mind I haven’t recommended the biggest and most obvious beaches (that you can see from the road) because they tend to be crowded and touristy – these are a bit harder to find but are amazing.
Downtown Laguna is still lovely to explore and see many art galleries and shops. Laguna would be another great place to stay overnight – the sunsets are phenomenal and its simply gorgeous. There are some fancier hotels such as the Surf & Sand and Montage (that I sometimes go to just for a drink!) and some more affordable ones as well.
Laguna Secret Pools
Victoria Beach Lighthouse
More secret pools
– Top of the World Viewpoint + Hike
If you drive all the way up Thalia Street, you get to what is called “Top of the World” viewpoint which looks out over Laguna. It’s a beautiful sight to see!
– Victoria Beach
Victoria beach is a bit more secluded of these PCH road trip stops. You must turn on Nyes Place and drive down to any of a few different beach entry points – if you can find parking close enough, that is! This beach is where you can find the massive lighthouse/Rapunzel tower which is a lovely photo op.
– Papa’s Tacos
This place in south laguna has the BEST Mexican food and meat (shredded chicken/beef) around!
– Thousand Steps Beach
You would miss this Highway 1 road trip stop if you blinked! Right across from 9th Ave in Laguna you will see a steep staircase, and this is the only public entry to Thousand Steps Beach. (In reality there are over 300 steps. It’s not a thousand, but it’s still a lot!). This is one of the most lovely beaches in Laguna that is bordered by high cliffs, and really gives you a remote feel.
Dana Point Harbor. One of my favorite views!
Surfers in the lineup at my hometown beach, Salt Creek
Dana Point Harbor and Headlands
This is my home! Turn off PCH on a street called Green Lantern by the headlands, so you can pull over and get a sweeping view of the massive harbor and hundreds of boats. After driving down a very steep hill you will be near The Ocean Institute. Check it out if you are interested in learning all about our oceans, what is in them, what sails them, and what it takes to preserve them! You can also visit the Pilgrim, which is a replica of a very old boat that sailed here in the 1800’s as part of the hide trade that brought Dana Point to life.