The Pacific Coast Highway gives you an up close view of the California coastline. The highway spans a large portion of the west coast, our road trip starts at Laguna Beach and ends in Monterey. We recommend 19 stops along this route including caves, beaches, scenic views, hiking, sea animal spotting, and unique architecture. We’ve also included popular places to eat and stay along the way.

Pacific Coast Highway

Overview & Map

Quick Overview

Best Time of Year to Visit:

  • Best Time to Visit: September – November
    • Still considered peak season, but the crowd numbers start to decrease with moderate temperatures.
  • Peak Season: June – August
  • Fewer Crowds: November- December
    • Good deals, but beware of road closures and rainy season

How to Get There:

  • Fly into LAX and fly out of SJC

Local Transportation:

  • To maximize your time at each location we recommend flying into LAX and out of SJC
  • Get a one way rental car (pick up and drop off near the airport)

Where to Stay:

  • Newport Beach: Hyatt Regency Newport Beach
  • Santa Barbara: Harborview Inn
  • Pismo Beach: Dolphin Resort
  • San Luis Obispo: Sycamore Mineral Springs
  • Morro Bay: Beach Bungalow Inn and Suites in Morro Bay
  • Carmel: Fireplace Inn
  • Monterey: Inn at Spanish Bay, Monterey Plaza Hotel

Navigation:

  • Download an offline Google Map before you go. Some areas have limited cell service. (How to)
  • “Follow” our Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Google Map. This will save our recommended stops directly onto your Google Maps App

Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Map

Save Google Map

Clicking on “Save Google Map” will automatically save it to your Google Maps (If you are signed in)

Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

This is our Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip of things not to miss along your Highway 1 drive. In order to see all 19 Stops, we recommend spending at least 1 week here. We have a variety of stops meant to help you plan your own trip based on your interests! If you don’t have time for all 19, make sure to experience all the “MUST SEE stops” (indicated by a star below). The stops are listed in order from South to North.

1. Thousand Steps Beach:

  • Located in Laguna Beach and known for its large white sandy beach. The north and south ends of the beach have caves you can enter at low tide. This was our favorite part!
    • South end cave: go at low tide when you can walk through the cave and reach a small cove on the other side.
    • North end cave: leads you to Totuava beach, only accessible at low tide.
  • Access: Park near 9th Ave and Coast highway. Across the street is a staircase that leads down the beach. It has 223 steps but feels like 1,000 steps when trying to climb back up them!
1000 Step Beach, Laguna Beach, CA

Cliff at Thousand Step Beach

2. The Wedge

  • Located at Newport Beach.
  • Known for its HUGE waves that can get up to 30 ft!
  • You’ll see more of bodysurfers than surfing (We enjoyed just watching)
  • Where to stay: Hyatt Regency Newport Beach
    • Has a great pool!

3. Manhattan Beach

  • Huge long beach, can get very crowded
  • Food: Highly recommend The Strand House, it has great foot and an awesome beach from VIEW!

4. Point Dume

  • Short simple hike 1/3 mile, 100 ft elevation change.
  • Popular whale watching spot Feb- April (gray whale migration)
  • Pirate Cove Beach is below if you want to hang out for a while- we saw rock climbers on the cliff near this beach!
  • Access: 2 hr parking nearby, about 10 spots available
    • Parking Access is Pinned on Google Map
    • You can also pay to park in the lot at the end of Westward Beach Rd – access to Pirates Cove Beach from here.
  • Food: Malibu Farm Restaurant (it can get crowded)
    • This place is absolutely adorable and serves farm-to-table :)
    • Has an outdoor patio and beautifully decorated dining room (it’s like Chip and Joanna Gaines decorated it!)
    • Great views of the pier and ocean
Malibu, CA 3

5. Santa Barbara
Welcome to wine country!

  • Here are a few wine tasting tour recommendations:
  • If you have time, consider visiting the Channel Islands!
  • Where to stay: Harborview Inn

6. Pismo Beach
Beautiful white beach that you can go ATV riding on through the sand dunes!

  • Monarch Butterfly Grove is a popular stop here
  • Sweet Tooth: Old West Cinnamon Rolls
  • Food: Ventana Grill for dinner – has a great view!
  • Where to stay: Dolphin Resort

7. Pirate’s Cove and Sea Cave
Short 15 minute hike! Once on the trail you’ll come to a “T-junction” left takes you to the nude beach and right takes you to the cave!

  • Smugglers Cave: On the other side of the cave there are awesome ocean views!
  • Pirate Cove: Is a nude beach (you can go to the cave without going down to the beach if that is not your thing)
  • Where to stay: Sycamore Mineral Springs

8. Madonna Inn:
Definitely an odd stop but worth seeing. It’s known for its kitschy nature. You can stay here in one of the 100 unique rooms or just stop in and visit the all pink steakhouse, café/bakery or Bar.

  • We stopped in to see the rock waterfall urinal in the men’s bathroom!

9. Morro Bay
Known for the Morro Rock, a 581 ft volcanic plug (remnant neck of an extinct volcano)!

  • Explore around Morro Rock, it’s windy but beautiful. There is also a beach to relax at.
  • Don’t miss the waterfront restaurants overlooking Morro Bay.
  • Where to stay: Beach Bungalow Inn & Suites in Morro Bay
    • Very accommodating, they upgraded us to the honeymoon suite without an extra charge!