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Coast with the Most: Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

5 min read

California’s Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most stunning scenic drives in the world. Also known as PCH, California State Route 1, Highway 1, or even “The One,” the California coast route will take you on the adventure of a lifetime. Treat yourself to spectacular ocean views, ancient and towering trees, hidden gems, charming towns — and some of the best seafood to be found —when you take a Pacific Coast Highway road trip.

This California coast trip guide will help you prepare for your best road trip and provide a list of must-see California coastal towns to visit.

Preparing for Your California Coast Road Trip

Before you head off, set yourself up for success by reviewing and following a road trip safety checklist, including getting a vehicle checkup. Also, be sure to add roadside assistance to your policy if you’re not already covered, just in case.

Plan for spotty cell coverage: Pacific Coast Highway winds and wends, stretching all along the Golden State’s coastline. Cell service is inconsistent in some regions, so plan to download some podcasts, audiobooks, and music playlists, and bring along a guidebook, just in case.

Pack some warm clothes: Non-natives are often surprised to discover that California is not always warm. Some locations on a California coast trip can get quite cold, with strong winds and thick fog. Plan to dress in layers for convenience and bring a jacket. February is typically the end of the rainy season in California. April and May see an explosion of tender grasses and colorful wildflowers. This ideal travel time also overlaps the season when you’ll spot cute otters and elephant seal pups cavorting near the coast. Keep an eye out for migrating whales as well.

Bring your mindful self: Your Pacific Coast Highway road trip will take you along some of the most beautiful and precious ecosystems to be found, but they’re also fragile. Treat them with extreme care, take precautions not to litter, and always use reef-safe sunscreen if you plan to swim in the ocean.

We started our road trip in the north, but of course, the reverse drive from the south is fun too. Now, let’s help you plan your route:

California Coastal Towns to Visit


Where: Mendocino is an enchanting town located 167 miles north of San Francisco. It’s the northernmost spot on this guide to your California coastal trip.

What to Do: Known for wineries, farm-to-table dining, and marine life, Mendocino has it all. If shopping’s your thing, you’ll find a plethora of cute boutiques and art galleries in the village. If the outdoors beckons, rent a kayak or canoe, and paddle the coastal byways. Or explore the hiking and biking trails bordering the ocean and through the forests of Russian Gulch State Park.

Golden Gate Bridge

Where: The Golden Gate Bridge spans the mile-wide strait that connects San Francisco Bay with the Pacific Ocean.

What to Do: Your Pacific Coast Highway road trip will take you across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. But take the time to park on one side and walk or bike the 1.7-mile length of the bridge for extraordinary views of the bay and bridge. Then, relax and enjoy the picturesque town of Sausalito with its fun shops, restaurants, and galleries.


Where: Carmel-by-the-Sea is situated on the Monterey Peninsula and is located about 100 miles south of San Francisco

What to Do: Carmel-by-the-Sea is a European-style village overlooking white sand beaches with art galleries, renowned restaurants, and shopping all within walking distance. Carmel is consistently rated a top 10 travel destination in the United States and a must-see for your California coast road trip. Don’t miss the scenic 17-Mile Drive that connects Carmel to Pacific Grove.

Hearst Castle

Where: Hearst Castle is nestled in the hills above San Simeon and located halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

What to Do: The dazzling estate built by publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst spans 127 acres. You’ll marvel at the luxurious gardens, extravagant architecture, and extraordinary opulence. Named one of Time Magazine's 100 Greatest Places in the World, Hearst Castle offers tours of the magnificent grounds. (Book in advance!) This historic attraction makes for a memorable stop on your Pacific Coast Highway trip.

Santa Barbara

Where: Santa Barbara is located on the southward-facing coastline at the base of the Santa Ynez mountains, nearly 100 miles north of Los Angeles.

What to Do: Known for its broad, sandy beaches, world-class wineries, and laid-back vibe, Santa Barbara is the quintessential beach town. Spanish-style architecture, picturesque hiking trails, stunning mountainscapes, gorgeous ocean views, and award-winning dining combine to make Santa Barbara an ideal California coastal town to visit.

San Clemente

Where: San Clemente is an Orange County beach town halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego.

What to Do: San Clemente is a hidden gem. It pairs a small-town vibe with world-class beaches, ocean-view hiking trails, and myriad restaurants serving a variety of cuisines, including sushi, Mexican, and, of course, fresh seafood. The surfing culture and boutique style make this a charming weekend getaway spot and a perfect place to visit along your Pacific Coast Highway road trip.


Where: Coronado Island sits just across the bay from downtown San Diego and 15 miles north of the Mexican border.

Drive over the bridge or take the ferry to the white sand beaches of Coronado, which are a permanent fixture on the top 10 American beaches list. Rent a Segway and explore the island, stopping off for world-class dining at the historic Hotel del Coronado on the bay. If you visit in September, be sure to check out the annual Surf Dog Competition. If you’re looking for an elegant and relaxing California coastal town to visit, this is the place.

The quirky towns, amazing food, and extraordinary beauty found along the California coastline cannot be fully documented in a single article. There’s so much to see and experience, so be sure to allow extra time for serendipitous side trips on your Pacific Coast Highway road trip.

Planning a road trip is always exciting, but remember to check that your vehicle is in good shape for the trip. Contact Wawanesa today to verify that your car insurance coverage is up-to-date and meets with California’s requirements.

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