7 Places to Visit on a Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip
Signing up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.INSIDER SECRET: The Pacific Coast Highway in California makes for an incredible road trip, especially if you save a ton of money by using miles and points along the way.
If you are looking for a great road trip on your next vacation, consider California’s famous Pacific Coast Highway (PCH).
Officially known as State Route 1, the PCH runs for about 650 miles between Dana Point on the southern end and Legget (in Mendocino County) on the northern end. Here are seven terrific places to visit.
The list is in order from north to south, but you can hit them all going the opposite direction, too.
1. Muir Woods
Beautiful Muir Woods National Monument is located just north of San Francisco. With towering redwood trees and frequent marine-layer fog, the park often feels like a shaded oasis from the hot California sun.
Muir Woods is open to the public and is a popular destination for tour groups from nearby San Francisco. If you are getting there on your own, be sure to arrive early. Parking is limited and you may be forced to park far from an entrance if you arrive later in the day.
Monterey served as a setting for several John Steinbeck novels, but the city’s beauty is far from a work of fiction, with incredible views of the sea along its famed 17-Mile Drive.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a great attraction, particularly if you’re travelling with kids. The aquarium is right next to Cannery Row, home to numerous hotels, shops and restaurants worth visiting.
Finally, even non-golfers should visit Pebble Beach Golf Links, host of numerous US Open tournaments. It’s worth a stop to walk around the clubhouse and shopping area, take in the wonderful views or grab a bite in the dining room.
Just five miles south, Carmel (officially, Carmel-By-The-Sea) can easily constitute a one-day stop with Monterey. But Carmel’s quaint, small-town feel will make some visitors want to stay longer. With shady, tree-lined streets next to ocean views, Carmel is a unique destination.
The town is home to countless shops and restaurants, with an upscale, classy feel. There is also a decent art scene with many shops selling paintings and books from local authors.
If you are visiting in the evening, try to find a restaurant near the beach that offers views of the sunset or venture down to the beach and relax while the sun drops over the Pacific Ocean.
4. Santa Barbara
Farther down the coast you’ll come to Santa Barbara. Home to the University of California, Santa Barbara, this beautiful beach destination doubles as a college town. If the weather is nice, you’ll want to spend some time on the beaches, which are some of the nicest in the state.
State Street, the main road through Santa Barbara, has tons of restaurants, coffee shops and ice cream parlors, along with some great night life. Also check out the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, a great example of the influence of Spanish architecture on the city. You can also climb to the top of the clock tower for a photo op.
Malibu is yet another beautiful coastal town. Though the 2018 wildfire damaged the area, regrowth and rebuilding is well underway. If you’re looking for another magnificent ocean sunset, you can check out the view from Pepperdine University or the adjacent Malibu Bluffs Park. Zuma Beach is great for sunbathing.
Malibu is home to a number of great shops and restaurants, and you may just spot one of the many celebrities who live in the area. The Malibu Country Mart has a wide variety of shops and restaurants, but be prepared for high prices. If designer shops are not your style, you can check out the Getty Villa, formerly the home of billionaire J. Paul Getty and now a museum that houses over 40,000 ancient artifacts and over 1,200 pieces of art. The grounds of the villa are gorgeous, so be sure to take a walk.
6. La Jolla
La Jolla is just north of San Diego and easily accessible from the city if you are starting or ending your trip with a stay there. La Jolla Cove is a great place for swimming or snorkeling. You’ll likely also encounter some seals lying around on the beach.
La Jolla is also home to Torrey Pines Golf Course, host of numerous major championships and one of the best public courses in the country. Be sure to book a tee time well in advance if you want to play. La Jolla has great restaurants and shopping near the beach and you can easily spend most of a day shopping, dining and taking in stil another sunset on a beach.
7. The Big Cities
Your road trip should include a stop in one or more off California’s bigger cities that are also on the coastal route. You could spend a week or more exploring San Francisco, Los Angeles or San Diego.
California’s Pacific Coast Highway makes for a great road trip. Using miles and points for hotels and rental cars is a great way to save money. As is using one of the best gas credit cards to fill up your tank. These tips and tricks might also allow you to stay in hotels that you normally could not afford. Here are guides to some of the top hotel chains where you can use points for stays during your trip:please subscribe to the Million Mile Secrets daily email newsletter.
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® CardAPPLY NOW
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card
Earn 125,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points with the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card after you use your new Card to make $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
Earn a Weekend Night Reward from Hilton Honors after you spend $15,000 on purchases on your Card in a calendar year.
Earn 12X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged on your Card directly with a hotel or resort within the Hilton Portfolio.
Earn 6X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases on your Card at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations.
Earn 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for all other eligible purchases on your Card.
Spend $40,000 on eligible purchases on your Card in a calendar year and you can earn Hilton Honors Diamond status through the end of the next calendar year.
$95 annual fee.
Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)