Post Summary: The Ultimate Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Itinerary + All The Stops Along The Way
The Pacific Coast Highway is considered to be one of the most famous road trip routes in the world!
It’s not hard to believe either. From the epic rock formations of Washington’s Cape Flattery to natural bridges in Southern Oregon to the winding roads of Big Sur, California, there is always something new to see!
We had so much fun during this road trip, and we wanted to create this comprehensive guide for iconic stops and places to see all the way up and down the Pacific Coast!
Here, we’ve created a comprehensive guide to the best stops to make your Pacific Coast road trip your most epic trip yet!
The Ultimate Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Itinerary
What is the Pacific Coast Highway?
The Pacific Coast Highway has many names.
You can also recognize it by its abbreviation (PCH), California Coast Road Trip, Pacific Coast Road Trip, Route 1, Highway 101 (through Washington and Oregon), or even just Highway 1 (in California).
All names aside, they all lead you down the same road, which is the one that parallels the Pacific Ocean and the western border of the contiguous United States.
Get ready for coastal views 24/7, amazing iconic stops, and little beach towns scattered throughout!
But Where/When Do I Begin? Northbound or Southbound?
Traditionally, the Pacific Coast Highway is considered to be the entire Highway 1 of the California coast.
However, people (like us!) have expanded this trip to span the three Pacific Coast states, Washington, Oregon, and California. (Hey, if you’re really adventurous, you could even drive down through Mexico!)
There are two directions to do a Pacific Coast road trip, driving south or driving north! Honestly, both are great options but being from Seattle, Berty and I began in Washington and made our way south.
We also began our trip in June, but this trip is good to take any time of year. Driving along the coast, the weather is more constant and usually doesn’t get cold enough to snow.
However, if you’re looking for the “windows-down, sunsets every night” kind of trip, we recommend taking this drive any time between June-September for the best chance of good weather.
Pacific Coast Highway Map
Ready To Make It A Road Trip?
Here are some of our most popular road trip planner posts to help jumpstart your Pacific Coast Road Trip:
- How To Sleep In Your Car – Camping On The Road
- Road Trip Packing List (30+ Essentials)
- Road Trip Planner Tools To Hack Your Next Trip (10+ Apps)
- 20 Car Camping Hacks To Test Out
- 101 Fun and Random Road Trip Questions To Ask Your Friends
- 10 Quick and Simple Camping Meals To Make On The Road
But What Do I Pack For My Pacific Coast Road Trip?
A good Pacific Coast Highway road trip will take you through the rainy gloom of Washington, as well as the sunny beaches of California.
It’s smart to bring a lot of layers and pack slightly on the warmer side for chilly nights of camping.
Here are some posts we’ve written about what to pack for certain parts of the Pacific Coast Highway:
- 5 Essentials to Bring On The Washington Coast
- 21 Stylish Rain Jackets To Wear In The Pacific Northwest
- 30 Necessary Things To Pack For Every Road Trip
- The Ultimate Packing List For San Francisco
- 12 Best Walking Sandals For Travel
- What To Pack For A Weekend in Los Angeles
Breakdown By State: Highlights of the Pacific Coast Road Trip
If you’re planning to experience the entire Pacific Coast Highway (including extending it to Oregon and Washington), you probably know that there is an insane amount of stops to take.
We’re going to break locations down state by state, to give you bite-sized chunks of information for each place.
Each state provides something unique and exciting for your Pacific Coast Road trip itinerary, so read below for location inspiration in Washington, Oregon, and California!
Pacific Coast Highway Stops In Washington
Washington is not all rain and gloom!
While the movies portray this evergreen state in a constant shroud of clouds and moodiness (Thanks, Twilight), its nothing farther from the truth.
Here, you can find powerful waterfalls, secret coves, and lush green forest, and amazing hikes in every corner of this beautiful state.
Keep on reading to read about some highlights along the Pacific Coast Highway in Washington!
This is where we suggest starting your Pacific Coast road trip. Seattle is a great place to stock up on all the road trip essentials, grab rental cars, and arrive by plane.
Fun things to do in Seattle, Washington:
- Visit Pike Place Market
- Go to the first ever Starbucks Coffee store
- Visit The Museum of Pop Culture
- Watch the sunset at Jose Rizal Park
- See the Space Needle up close at Kerry Park
- Have a bonfire with friends at Golden Gardens Park
- Go to A Husky Football game in the University District
Read More: What To Pack For The Pacific Northwest
Lake Crescent / Mout Storm King
From here, you will pass the cities of Kingston, Sequim, and Port Angeles. Before hitting to Pacific Coast, we recommend taking a stop by Lake Crescent for some classic PNW vibes and maybe a quick lunch break too.
If you want to see what this lake looks like from above, test your limits and hike Mount Storm King. The 4.7-mile round trip hike gains over 2,000 feet in elevation, including scrambling up the side of a cliff with the help of a few installed ropes.
This hike isn’t for the faint of heart, but your attempts will be rewarded with one of the most spectacular views on the Olympic Peninsula.
Read More: Test Your Limits at Mount Storm King
La Push Beaches (First, Second, and Third)
You may know these beaches from the movie Twilight but rest assured there are no vampires in sight. (Partly because it’s werewolf territory anyway, DUH) In fact, we’ve seen some of the most incredible sunsets right here on Second Beach.
When visiting, it’s important to note that there are three beaches to choose from. First Beach provides easy and instant beach access, so it’s a popular choice for families.
Second Beach requires a hike on a short trail to reach the beach, and you can also camp on this beach. Second Beach is also the most popular option for its beautiful rock formations and vast shoreline.
Third Beach requires a longer hike and is the least visited of all the beaches.
Any beach you choose, don’t forget to pack these 5 beach essentials!
Read More: La Push Beach + and Beach Camping Tips
Ocean Shores, Washington
Ocean Shores is a quaint little town on the Washington Coast, just north of Grays Harbor.
Here, you will find tons of vacation rental homes, small seafood restaurants, and tons of beach activities. Berty and I came with our friends last summer and opted to rent motorbikes on the beach, eat our weight in crab, and explore the jetty!
Restaurants to try in Ocean Shores:
Mount Rainier / Pierce County Area
Take your journey slightly inland to explore the South Puget Sound and Mount Rainier National Park. Here, you can test your limits and backpack up to the summit (training required!) or simply take a nice stroll at the base of the mountain like on Nisqually Loop Trail.
Spend some time exploring Gig Harbor and boating around the South Puget Sound. You will be able to spot wildlife all around you, whether it’s jellyfish or a pod of orcas!
Some of our favorite cities in Pierce County to explore: Puyallup (Washington State Fair), Tacoma, and Gig Harbor!
Discover More Hikes: 11 Beautiful Washington State Hiking Trails You Must Try
Cape Disappointment State Park
Cape Disappointment is located in the far southwestern corner of Washington State. Here, you can discover miles of trails, play on the beaches, and maybe even spot an orca offshore!
For a memorable photo opportunity on your Pacific Coast road trip, take the trail down to Deadman’s Cove and capture this hidden beach at sunset!
Read More: Cape Disappointment + Deadman’s Cove
Oregon Stops On A Pacific Coast Road Trip
The Oregon Coast itself is worthy of its own trip but lucky you – you get to see it all and more!
We’re sharing all the best stops along this part of the Pacific Coast Highway and what you can expect in this beautiful state.
Not enough time for the whole thing? Take an Oregon Coast Road Trip instead!
Cannon Beach is a family and dog-friendly beach located 1.5 hours west of Portland. Here, you can explore the many quaint seaside shops, take a walk on the beach, and explore the many tide pools.
There are many services available here, so it’s a great stop for camping, resting, or even getting a seaside Airbnb! (By the way, you can get $40 off your first reservation at this link!)
Read More: Spending The Day At Cannon Beach
Cape Kiwanda is a popular beach on the Oregon Coast. You can drive your car on the beach, host a bonfire, and explore the sand dunes surrounding the area.
The area of Oregon can be rainy and cloudy year round, but if you’re lucky you can experience one of its gorgeous sunsets (that is if the weather cooperates!). Make sure to pack a rain jacket!
Read More: Sunset At Cape Kiwanda
God’s Thumb Hike, Lincoln City
The hike to God’s Thumb is a moderately difficult hike along the Oregon Coast. A 4.6-mile round trip hike will bring you to a curved landscape on an oceanside cliff.
It gets its name “God’s Thumb” because it slightly resembles a thumb…but we think it kind of looks like a soft-serve ice cream swirl!
Located in Lincoln City, Oregon, this is a perfect place to get out of the car, stretch your legs, and see a beautiful area of the Oregon Coast.
Devil’s Punchbowl State Natural Area is a perfect stop on your Pacific Coast road trip. Here, you can experience the power of the ocean slamming and swirling into a carved-out bowl.
From the top, you can see down inside the “punchbowl”. During high tide, the waves swirl and crash around inside, but during low tide, you can walk down on the beach and explore inside.
Stay a while for a roadside picnic, to explore tide pools, or climb around on the rocks on the shore.
Read More: Exploring Devil’s Punchbowl
Thor’s Well in another one of the Oregon Coast’s amazing natural phenomena. You can experience the most dramatic sights at high tide, but beware – it’s the most dangerous time to visit too.
Similar to the Spouting Horn in Kauai, this sinkhole looks like water is just draining into a huge abyss, but it’s actually a natural rock tube that sucks and shoots water our according to the adjacent waves.
Don’t get too close to it though, it pushes and pulls water with a powerful force, meaning if you get too close you risk being swept off your feet into the hole!
This area is located just south of the Cape Perpetua Visitor’s Center, with lots of wheelchair accessible walkways AND walk-at-your-own-risk paths too.
Read More: Experiencing Thor’s Well
Cape Perpetua Scenic Area
Cape Perpetua Scenic Area is an amazing spot on the Pacific Coast Highway, and probably home to one of the best photo spots on the PCH!
For a quick side trip, take the drive up to Cape Perpetua Lookout, where you can see the Oregon Coast meet the winding highway below. It’s an incredible view – make sure to bring your camera!
This is also a great stop for some camping on the Oregon Coast, as well as exploring the many ocean features and scenic trails in the area.
(Bonus Side Trip!) Umpqua Hot Springs + Toketee Falls
Got an extra day to spare?
Since you’re already in Oregon, consider taking a side trip east to the Cascade Mountains. The Umpqua National Forest has a lot to see, but it’s shining stars have got to be Toketee Falls and the Umpqua Hot Springs.
Both of the trails to Toketee Falls and Umpqua Hot Springs are nearby one another, short, and easy to follow.
They can be accomplished in a morning or afternoon trip. If you haven’t visited a Pacific Northwest hot springs yet, this is the perfect chance to do it!
We would suggest that you Visit Toketee Falls first, so you can save your soak for last!
13. Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor
Of all the stops on the Oregon Coast, Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor is a MUST visit. Offshore rock formations, dramatic cliffs, and crashing waves make this place a magical stop on the Pacific Coast Highway.
To fully experience this area, we suggest scheduling your visit for sunset. The sun sets over the Pacific Ocean, and on a clear day the skies light up with beautiful colors.
There are many hikes to choose from around Samuel H Boardman Scenic Corridor. Take some time to explore a few (many trails are short), and pick your favorite spots for sunset.
Congratulations! You’ve made it to California!
This is technically the beginning of the official Pacific Coast Highway (also called Highway 1), but we all know you’ve put in too many miles on your car and see too much epic-ness for it to be just starting.
While you’ll be encountering a lot more sunshine in this section of the road trip the northern California coast can be a little temperamental! Don’t put away your rain coast just yet.
California road trip stops on the Pacific Coast Highway are some of the most breathtaking and beautiful areas of the whole trip. Read on to discover where to go and what to see below in the sunshine state.
14. Redwood National and State Parks
If your Pacific Coast Road Trip is taking you southbound, your first California stop will be at the Redwood National and State Parks.
The Redwoods are known for the spectacularly tall and beautiful trees. Furthermore, this area is home to some of the tallest trees on earth!
There are several scenic drives to take here, but the prettiest Northern California drives are through the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park (the scenic route) and the Avenue of The Giants at Humbolt Redwoods State Park.
Read More: Driving Through The Redwood National Park
15. Black Sand Beach
Have you been looking at those famous black sand beaches in Iceland? Get a taste of the beauty (without the price of a plane ticket) and come visit a look-alike on the California Coast.
Shelter Cove is a little town located in the King Range National Conversation Area. Here, there are craggy coastlines, dramatic scenery, and a black sand beach. The waves are tall and powerful here.
Warning: The road is winding and treacherous, which can be dangerous in bad weather.
This is also an extremely out-of-the-way detour, with one route going in and out from the beach. Make sure to have a full tank of gas, and be prepared to drive on narrow roads and near tall cliff edges!
Read More: Black Sands Beach
16. Point Reyes National Seashore
Love the California beach? Explore the Point Reyes National Seashore, a protected coastline of rolling pastures, historic landmarks, and even a secret docked ship!
Start your journey in the town of Inverness, where you can stock up on food, gas, and even camping gear if you choose to spend the night in one of their many campgrounds.
Some of the best things to do in Point Reyes National Seashore are visiting the historic lighthouse (make sure to pay attention to its hours of operation!), driving down the canopy of Cypress trees, and even whale watching if you come at the right time of year!
17. Bolinas Ridge
If you have a scheduled stop in San Francisco on your Pacific Coast Highway itinerary, make sure to make a sunset stop just north of the city, on Bolinas Ridge.
This area of golden, glimmering rolling hills is located on the edge of Mount Tamalpais State Park in Marin County, California.
Our favorite scenic road to drive is Ridgecrest Boulevard, which includes pullouts ever so often to quickly park your car and enjoy the beautiful and consistent sunsets on this piece of the California coast.
Read More: A Golden Sunset At Bolinas Ridge
18. Mount Tamalpais
Keep the spirit of adventure alive, even in a bustling city like San Francisco!
If you’ve got a pit stop in the Golden City, journey just north of the Golden Gate Bridge and experience Mount Tamalpais State Park for a quick break from city life.
Here, you can take many amazing trails with stunning views of big city buildings across the bay. Some of our favorite trails for city views are the East Peak Hike (to a stone lookout tower) and the Verna Dunshee Trail.
Going when it’s cold outside? Read our San Francisco Winter Packing List.
19. Golden Gate Bridge
No trip to San Francisco is complete without seeing the iconic Golden Gate Bridge!
On either side of the bridge, there are several incredible viewpoints to check out. Some of the best places to view the Golden Gate Bridge are from Battery Spencer, Kirby Cove, and the North Vista Point.
Remember: The Golden Gate Bridge is a toll bridge. Motorcycles and regular cars will get through and be billed $8.00 to the address your car is registered at.
20. San Francisco, California
If you’ve been driving southbound on your Pacific Coast road trip, San Francisco will be the first large city you will encounter.
Here, you can experience many iconic and famous landmarks. Here are some places to see while in San Francisco:
- See the sunrise at the Golden Gate Bridge
- Visit Fisherman’s Wharf
- Stop By The Painted Ladies
- Wander through the neighborhoods and see the beautiful Victorian-era houses
Need a place to stay in San Francisco? Click here and get $40 off your first booking on Airbnb!
21. Shark Fin Cove
Shark Fin Cove is a beautiful California coast beach located south of San Francisco – in Davenport, California. It’s named for its rock formation just off the shore that resembling a shark’s top fin.
You aren’t able to see this cove from the road, which makes finding access a little difficult. There are no signs indicating the location, so you must rely on Google Maps to help guide to you the parking lot off the California Coast Highway 1.
This place provides absolutely stunning views from above AND below. Start your visit at the top and walk along the trails near the cliffs (but be careful!). Finally, climb down into the cove via a steep trail to find beach access.
On a weekday, it’s very likely you will get this beach all to yourself!
22. Big Sur, California
When you think of driving down the California Coast, Big Sur is the making of dreams. Sunny coastline, winding roads, dramatic cliffs, and beautiful bridges are scattered along 90 miles of this beautiful West Coast drive.
Some of the highlights on this part of the PCH include:
- Pfeiffer Beach
- McWay Falls
- Bixby Creek Bridge
- Pebble Beach
- 17-Mile Drive (Monterey/Pacific Grove)
Pro Tip: A day trip to Big Sur, California is absolutely the most quintessential activity of any good Pacific Coast Highway road trip. Don’t miss this.
23. (Detour Off Highway 1) Yosemite National Park
While you’re in the area, might as well take a little detour to one of the greatest national parks in America!
Yosemite is home to the tallest waterfall in North America, home to giant Sequoia trees, and has more than 800 miles of trails for hikers to enjoy.
Only have 24 extra hours to spare for Yosemite? Click here for our 24-hour guide to Yosemite National Park.
Pro Tip: If you are hoping to spend a few days in the park, make camping reservations extremely early in advance.
Camping spots generally get full six months before the reservation date. A trip to Yosemite National Park requires a lot of pre-planning.
24. Los Angeles, California
Another major city on your Pacific Coast road trip will be Los Angeles California. For many going northbound, this is a common starting point (as well as San Diego).
If you’re like us and coming to LA on a southbound PCH trip, this is a fun pit stop to take a few days and recharge from all that driving.
Again, if you are looking to book a place on Airbnb, click here to get $40 off your first booking!
Here are some fun things to do in Los Angeles:
- Santa Monica Pier + the Amusement Park on the boardwalk.
- Venice Beach
- Griffith Observatory
- The Getty Museum
- Hollywood Boulevard
- Hike to the Hollywood Sign
25. Orange County, California
Orange County California is just south of the city of Los Angeles. With a slower lifestyle, less traffic, and a lot more beach space, this place is a perfect getaway for sunshine lovers and surfers alike.
There are a few opportunities to camp on the coast, like RV sites in Huntington Beach and tent sites at Crystal Cove State Park. Either way, it’s definitely worth it to spend a few days in Orange County and experience all it has to offer!
Must-see spots in Orange County:
- La Tour (Secret Oceanside Castle in the cliff)
- Huntington Beach (Sur City, USA)
- Newport Beach Harbor and Balboa Island
- Laguna Beach
26. San Diego, California
You did it!
San Diego will be the likely the end (or the beginning!) to your Pacific Coast Highway itinerary. Stay tuned for more images of this amazing part of the coast!
Pacific Coast Road Trip Itinerary Examples
Wondering if you can see all these iconic landmarks in one trip?
To accommodate different trip lengths, we’re sharing some example itineraries for a five-day trip, one week trip, and two week trip down the Pacific Coast. Read below to find your perfect one!
Five Day Pacific Coast Highway Itinerary
Five days to drive down the Pacific Coast is absolutely doable! During these days, you have time to experience the highlights of the coast, and whet your appetite for another future trip!
- Day 1: Seattle, WA to Coos Bay, OR
- Day 2: Coos Bay OR, to Redwood National Park, CA
- Day 3: Redwood National Park, CA to San Francisco, CA
- Day 4: San Francisco, CA to Los Angeles, CA
- Day 5: Los Angeles, CA to San Diego, CA
One-Week Pacific Coast Highway Itinerary
One week on the Pacific Coast Highway will allow you to see the best of the best! One week is great for travelers who want to fit in the entire trip during a school break, or only have so many days to take off of work.
A one-week Pacific Coast road trip itinerary will allow you to see the highlights without feeling rushed. Let’s get going!
- Day 1: Seattle WA, to Forks, WA
- Day 2: Forks, WA to Cape Kiwanda, OR
- Day 3: Cape Kiwanda, OR to Redwood State Park, CA
- Day 4: Redwood State Park, CA to San Francisco, CA
- Day 5: San Francisco CA, to Big Sur, CA
- Day 6: Big Sur, CA, to Los Angeles, CA
- Day 7: Los Angeles, CA to San Diego, CA
Two-Week Pacific Coast Highway Itinerary
If you have two weeks to spare, this is the ideal amount of time for a Pacific Coast road trip!
Two weeks gives you ample time to see all the highlights, take some day hikes, and even some off-coast detours like Yosemite or Toketee Falls! You will be able to see everything you want and more, and not feel rushed in your process.
- Day 1: Seattle, WA to Port Angeles, WA
- Day 2: Port Angeles, to Forks, WA
- Day 3: Forks, WA to Astoria, OR
- Day 4: Astoria OR, to Cape Kiwanda, OR
- Day 5: Cape Kiwanda OR, to Brookings, OR
- Day 6: Brooking OR, to Redwood State Park, CA
- Day 7: Redwood State Park, CA to Mendocino, CA
- Day 8: Mendocino, CA to San Francisco, CA
- Day 9: San Francisco, CA to Santa Cruz, CA
- Day 10: Santa Cruz, CA to Big Sur, CA
- Day 11: Big Sur, CA to Santa Barbara, CA
- Day 12: Santa Barbara, CA to Los Angeles, CA
- Day 13: Los Angeles, CA to San Diego, CA
- Day 14: End in San Diego
Some of our Pacific Coast Road Trip Inspiration
Creating this Pacific Coast road trip itinerary was quite the workload! Lucky for us, this is the kind of work we live for, and it was fun, inspiring, and most of all helpful!
We hope this helps in your own Pacific Coast Highway trip and makes planning a little bit easier for you.
Here are some of our pins we’ve created to share with our followers on Pinterest. Feel free to save some too for your own inspirational road trip!
Pinterest (Find us at @themandagies)
Thank you to everyone on Instagram and our Facebook page for suggesting so many great stops! We’ve tried our best to include them in our itinerary and are grateful to learn from experienced travelers like you!
Have you taken a Pacific Coast Road Trip? What were some of your favorite stops?
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