Between the popular cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco stretches the Pacific Coast Highway, a scenic route through some of America’s greatest views.
One of the best vacations you could take this year requires a car, a thirst for adventure, and one week out on the open road. While sitting in a car for hours normally isn’t great for your health, the amazing outdoor adventures you’ll encounter on this trip call for activities like hiking, swimming, and taking in deep breaths of fresh coastal air.
This road trip isn’t on the average American highway. This is the Pacific Coast Highway, or PCH, a strip of asphalt that hugs the West Coast, connecting well-known destinations like Los Angeles and San Francisco. If you want to travel this beloved road, then here is your itinerary for one unforgettable week along what may be America’s most beautiful highway.
DAY 1: Set out from Los Angeles
LAX may be your airport of choice to arrive in Southern California and rent a car nearby for the week. Los Angeles alone deserves a dedicated must-see guide, but be prepared for its infamous traffic congestion.
Take Interstate 10 west out of Los Angeles to Santa Monica, which features a famous pier and one of the state’s most popular (and busiest) beaches. This active SoCal community is one of the southernmost sites on the PCH and the ideal start of your weeklong route.
As you depart Santa Monica headed north on the highway, the hilly coast drive offers Pacific views that are both peaceful and exhilarating. Make your first stop off the PCH at Carpinteria State Beach, a peaceful shore that is dog friendly and, like many of the parks you’ll encounter during your trip, allows overnight camping. Continue north to the beautiful town of Santa Barbara, which is rife with Spanish architecture and excellent parks. Spend a night at one of this town’s charming boutique hotels, and enjoy the local Spanish-inspired fare.
DAY 2: Deep in the Santa Ynez Valley
Start your morning with a breezy drive to Gaviota, where you can take a refreshing hike through the sculpted, picturesque Wind Caves. Then you’ll head inland through the Santa Ynez Valley, a popular refuge that sits between the Santa Ynez and San Rafael Mountains.
This is one of California’s main wine regions, offering plenty of tours and charming shopping locales. Check out Solvang’s quaint Danish architecture, which references the town’s roots, then consider trying a California favorite, glamping, at the nearby Flying Flags resort. Or just stop by for some photos of the lavish campgrounds. If you’re interested in more refined accommodations, continue up the PCH to the attractive Central Coast towns of San Luis Obispo and Cambria.
DAY 3: The big deal with Big Sur
Wake up to unbelievable mountain views on the Central Coast, and then make the short drive to Ragged Point, one of the many hotspots where elephant seals bask on the beach. For some indoor entertainment along the way, consider making a quick inland stop at the exorbitant and eccentric Hearst Castle, built by the storied media mogul William Randolph Hearst.
Your next stop is Big Sur Village, one of the finest examples of Mediterranean climate in the United States. This charming community beside a 1,000-acre park hosts long, dog-friendly hiking trails and signature rocky beaches. Stop for photos of the crashing waves and some of the many year-round blooms.
Consider treating yourself at one of the spa-like accommodations near Slates Hot Springs, or make time to hike along the thrilling McWay Falls. Spending a night in Big Sur is a must, especially if you can land a room or glamping spot at the elegant Post Ranch Inn. Check in before sunset, and then explore the surrounding redwood forests for some unbelievable sights.
DAY 4: Luscious Carmel
Spend a second day checking all of Big Sur’s sights off your list, or continue the sweeping, dramatic highway drive to Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Past Big Sur is one of the most iconic and breathtaking sights of this entire trip: the Bixby Bridge. You may not know its name, but you’ll probably recognize it. Take a breath of fresh sea air as you coast across this 280-foot-tall concrete bridge, and then stop at the Castle Rock viewpoint just north of its span for some keepsake photos.
Just beyond this landmark may be the most inspiring stretch of highway on this trip, which includes jagged mountainsides, vast beaches, and charming stops like Calla Lily Valley,
a coastal meadow of painterly blooms. After a short but certainly eventful drive, you’ll reach the elegant beach town of Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Carmel, as it’s locally named, offers a paradise village atmosphere and features a lovely mix of galleries and fine dining along tree-lined walkways. Book a reservation in advance to enjoy a game of golf along Pebble Beach, or get up close with wildlife like sea stars along Pescadero Point.
DAY 5: Cruising through the hills to Santa Cruz
About fifteen minutes north of Carmel up the PCH, make a stop in charming Monterey, known for its unbelievable seafood eateries and bars with airy Pacific Ocean views. The Old Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row are peaceful and cozy stops where you can pick up souvenirs.
One can’t-miss activity is a visit to the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium, where you can observe a variety of wildlife like octopi and sharks, learn about global conservation efforts, and even greet families of otters.
Upon departing Monterey, circle north around the bay for about an hour until you reach Santa Cruz, a bustling beach town with famous sights you may recognize from TV and movies, like the Beach Boardwalk’s giant roller coaster and the long, colorful rows of beachfront shops.
DAY 6: Beyond the central coast to San Francisco
There are about one hundred more miles of Pacific Coast Highway beyond as you venture north from Santa Cruz all the way to San Francisco. While the beaches become significantly colder and the vibe can be less sunny, this final stretch hosts can’t-miss sights like the rock formations of Natural Bridges State Beach and the crashing waves of Half Moon Bay.
Take plenty of photos at each hiking destination, but be sure to leave time to spend a luxurious evening in your final destination: San Francisco. After several days of outdoorsy ventures, why not spring for a stay at one of this metro area’s finest accommodations, like the Fairmont or Chancellor Hotel?
DAY 7: If you’re going to San Francisco
Like Los Angeles, the city of San Francisco deserves a weeklong trip of its own. However, your final day of this journey can include stops at three major attractions: the Golden Gate Bridge, which you can photograph from the nearby Golden Gate Park; downtown’s signature Transamerica Building; and the coastal Fisherman’s Wharf, where sea lions flock as if for adoration.
You may feel the urge to return for a closer look at this pristine city, but the same can be said of just about any locale along the unforgettable Pacific Coast Highway.
For more info, go to visitcalifornia.com
This article was prepared by ReminderMedia.
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