The Pacific Coast Highway has long been considered a “dream drive” and the ultimate road trip. Technically, it starts in Washington State, but it’s best known for the stretch through California from the stunning redwood forests and wild, rugged coast down to the sun-drenched beaches of San Diego. The Californian coast is one of the most scenic coastal drives in the world. It’s packed end-to-end with beaches, sea cliffs, rock formations, and more marine life than you could imagine. Below is our guide to finding the best scenic spots as you roadtrip up or down the California coast!
1. Redwood National Park
If you want to experience the world-renowned beauty of California’s redwoods, then this is a stop you cannot miss. This national park preserve is just over 5 miles south of Crescent City and provides not only some of the tallest trees on earth, but also tide pools and amazing coastline views where you can go whale watching.
2. The Lost Coast
Located off Highway 101, follow State Route 211 towards the coast and you will find The Lost Coast. This is California’s most under-developed stretch of natural coastline that one can experience. It is a famous surf spot, but also has astounding natural beauty and beautiful, untouched coastline sights. Definitely worth the side trip!
3. Glass Beach, Fort Bragg
Fort Bragg is a quiet, seaside town that has it’s own charm to it. Filled with family-owned shops and boutiques, it’s a great place to spend a relaxing afternoon. But the main attraction of this town is Glass Beach where you can find a seashore filled with small, smoothed bits of sea glass. This area used to be a city dump, but years of sea swell has broken down and smoothed out all of the glass deposited here.
4. Bodega Bay
This little fishing village is famous for being the set of Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds. The Potter Schoolhouse located behind St. Theresa’s Church was used in many shots in the film and is a popular attraction here. In addition to it’s cinematic appeal, Bodega Bay also has great wine tasting at Gourmet Au Bay winery.
5. Muir Woods
As you head towards San Francisco from the north (or pass it coming up from the south), you will surely want to stop at Muir Woods in the North Bay. It is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and is north of San Francisco. It protects, of which are old growth coast redwood forests, one of a few such stands remaining in the San Francisco Bay.
6. Moss Beach/Moss Landing
Located 15 miles north of Monterey Bay, Moss Landing is another beautiful stop you cannot miss on your California coast tour. It is home to Elkhorn Slough, one of the largest wetland preserves in the state and filled with beautiful nature walks to enjoy. Be sure to also visit the Moss Beach Distillery for stunning panoramic views of the coast and enjoy a glass of wine on their patio deck.
7. Greyhound Rock Beach
Just under 40 miles south of Moss Landing is Greyhound Rock Beach. This often-overlooked beach is a bit of a hidden gem and is usually not on most people’s list of places to stop at, but you should definitely take a detour here if you’re near it. This small stretch of beach is a beautiful place to sit down and relax and is usually quite empty. Often you will have the entire strip to yourself!
8. Monterey Bay
One of the highlights for most California coast tours, the city of Monterey has plenty to do for everyone. Most well known for it’s aquarium, there are also some very famous golf courses here such as Pebble Beach and Cyprus Point that every avid golf fan should check out.
9. Pfeiffer State Beach
Just when you thought the views couldn’t get any better, as you venture further south, winding around each bend you’ll be amazed at the increasingly beautiful scenery that includes deep gorges cutting through rugged mountains, pine forests that extend to the edge of sandy beaches and even cascading falls plunging to the sea below. You won’t want to miss this rare purple sand beach, with its purple hue derived from the manganese garnet deposits that are found in the surrounding rocks. With the azure-colored waves crashing against it, the contrast is simply stunning.
10. Hearst Castle
One of the few Castles in North America, this is a spot you cannot miss. Designed and built for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, the magnificent 115-room main house, “La Casa Grande,” is the setting for his extensive collection of European antiques and art pieces. The Moorish castle has 165 rooms all together, along with 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways. Be sure to book a tour before hand to get the full experience here.
Now you’re officially in Southern California territory. Before you get into Los Angeles, take a quick stop at Malibu to view some of the most iconic beach views in California. This is often considered to be the most quintessential beach in California and for good reason. It’s no surprise that this place is home to so many celebrities as well!
12. San Diego/Coronado
San Diego should make up the last stop on your California coast tour (or the first, if you’re headed from south to north). Many people describe San Diego as “LA at a slower pace”. If you want fun nightlife and good craft brew, head to downtown and visit the Gaslamp district here. But if you really want to slow down the pace of things, drive over the bridge to the island of Coronado and grab a drink at the Hotel Del Coronado and watch some of the most beautiful sunsets you will ever see.