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Pacific Coast Highway

If you’re in need of California trip ideas, consider driving up the iconic Pacific Coast Highway. It’s renowned as one of the most scenic road trips in America, and of course there are dozens of fun places to stop and check out along the way. These are just ten of the many places off Highway 1 that you’ll want to experience.

1. Solvang

Wish you could explore Europe, but don’t want to pay for a flight and hotel? Solvang, California has everything you need and more, just outside of Santa Barbara in Santa Ynez Valley. The charming little town proudly shows off their Danish roots everywhere from the building architecture to the authentic pastries in the downtown bakeries. Try tasting the local wine, shopping in the many boutique shops, and learning more about their Danish culture at the Elverhøj Museum of History and Art.

2. Hearst Castle, San Simeon

Some people will tell you to skip this overrated stop in San Simeon, but really, how often do you get the chance to walk around an elegant hilltop mansion? Hearst Castle isn’t just a stunner from out front, but you can tour inside for a first-hand look across the lavish grounds.

Plus, if you opt to see the upstairs suite, you can take a peek inside rooms where icons have stayed, like Charlie Chaplin and Joan Crawford. It’s worth the splurge and experience, most definitely.

3. McWay Falls

Ahh, McWay Falls. This coastal waterfall has to be one of Big Sur’s finest hidden gems. Visitors aren’t actually allowed to go down to the pristine beach where the water lands, to help keep the area naturally beautiful (and if you are seen trying to go down there, you’ll get hit with a big fine). But you can still get perfect photo ops from an overlook just off the highway. It’s a short, 0.6-mile walk round-trip, leading along cliffs to the final viewpoint. If you are looking to stop and explore for longer, you can also pull into Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (there is an entrance fee) and hike other trails in the area as well.

4. Bixby Creek Bridge

You can’t pass over Bixby Bridge without stopping to get photos of the beautiful overpass itself. It’s an icon of the PCH near Big Sur, and has been used as the backdrop in many car commercials and movies. Most people will pull off into a small area on the west side of the highway, north of the bridge to capture their Instagram-perfect shot. But you can also turn up Old Coast Road, a dirt route on the north side of the bridge for more dramatic views. See related: Famous Bridges of California.

5. Santa Cruz Boardwalk

Cheaper than Disneyland, this amusement park in Santa Cruz is set along a mile-long stretch of sandy coastline. Admission is free, but if you have a little to spend you can enjoy a wide range of carnival rides, games, and food options. Go for a round of mini golf, score points in the Casino Arcade, or shop around for a variety of souvenirs.

6. Half Moon Bay

Just south of San Francisco, Half Moon Bay lies between forested hills and the beautiful Pacific Coastline. The small Bay Area community is packed with fabulous lodging and local dining options. We recommend trying a hearty cup of chowder from Sam’s Chowder House (which overlooks the ocean), and staying in the lovely Mill Rose Inn, where the cozy accommodations are less than a mile from the beach.

7. Golden Gate Bridge

Don’t just cross the Golden Gate Bridge – stop in Golden Gate Park (or by the Vista Point overlook) to really marvel over this world-famous San Francisco landmark. If you’re traveling northbound, Vista Point can be found by taking the first exit off the bridge, to the right. It’s a nice stopping point to get a quick photo before heading back up the highway. Or if you’re looking to explore for a bit, pull into Golden Gate Park and check out the views from the clothing-optional Baker Beach (as pictured). See related: Photographing the Golden Gate Bridge.

8. Point Bonita Lighthouse

Also set in the Golden Gate area, Point Bonita is the only lighthouse you can reach by crossing over a suspension bridge. Built in 1855, the light still remains active on the southwest tip of the Marin Headlands and getting out to it is an adventure of its own. The trail winds for about a half-mile, past rock formations and through a 118-foot-long man-made tunnel.

9. Muir Beach Overlook

An easy hike with big rewards, Muir Beach Overlook will give you wide open views of the ocean without even going a full half-mile. The trail starts just north of Muir Beach, leading down steps along a rocky promontory. It eventually comes to a platform, where you can stop and soak in the views of the Pacific, and find some of the area’s top whale watching opportunities.

10. Point Reyes

In Northern California, Point Reyes offers a quiet day trip out of San Francisco with hiking trails, sandy beach and panoramic ocean views. The nature preserve is also home to an abandoned shipwreck near Inverness that’s popular with photographers. Try taking on the Chimney Rock Trail for about 1.6 miles to a scenic overlook – it’ll not only give you fabulous views, but the opportunity to see adorable elephant seals.

Where are some of your favorite places to stop off the Pacific Coast Highway? We also recommend stopping in all of these charming seaside communities.

Beaches on this list

  • Muir Beach

    Muir Beach (the beach) is part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area and located in the small town of Muir Beach, California. Redwood Creek flows down to the ocean here, […]

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  • San Simeon City Beach

    San Simeon Beach is the sandy beach that spans the waterfront of the town of San Simeon. Here you’ll find a collection of hotels and resorts that support visitors to […]

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  • Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

    Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park on the Big Sur Coast is home to iconic McWay Falls. It’s just a short walk out on a trail to an overlook where many […]

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  • Bixby Creek Bridge Beach

    The land behind Bixby Bridge south of Carmel is private property and the beach below is inaccessible due to cliffs north and south of the bridge, but don’t let that […]

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  • Santa Cruz Main Beach

    Santa Cruz Main Beach is known as Boardwalk Beach because of the popular boardwalk and amusement park at the beach on the Santa Cruz waterfront. Main Beach is a south-facing […]

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  • Roosevelt Beach – Half Moon Bay State Beach

    Roosevelt Beach, a.k.a. Naples Beach is the northernmost beach in Half Moon Bay State Beach. The signed Roosevelt Beach parking lot is located at the end of Youngs Road off Highway […]

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  • Redondo Beach on Half Moon Bay

    Redondo Beach is just south of downtown Half Moon Bay and just north of the Half Moon Bay Golf Links in the Ocean Colony community. It’s a long sandy beach […]

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  • Francis Beach – Half Moon Bay State Beach

    Francis Beach is the southernmost beach in Half Moon Bay State Beach. Francis Beach has a nice grassy park with many of picnic tables and barbecues on the bluff above […]

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  • Elmar Beach – Half Moon Bay State Beach

    Elmar Beach is a section of Half Moon Bay State Beach between Francis and Venice Beaches. Pilarcitos Creek pools up and sometimes breaches to the ocean at Elmar Beach (at […]

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  • Dunes Beach – Half Moon Bay State Beach

    Dunes Beach is one of the northern beaches in Half Moon Bay State Beach. To reach the parking area turn onto Youngs Road just north of Half Moon Bay on […]

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  • Point Bonita Lighthouse

    Point Bonita Lighthouse is out on the rocky point on the north side of the entrance to San Francisco Bay. There is no beach access from this point, but there […]

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  • Point Reyes Lighthouse

    Point Reyes Lighthouse is perched on a ledge at the Point at the farthest distance from the park entrance. Unfortunately there is no beach access from the lighthouse, but Point […]

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  • Point Reyes North Beach

    North Beach at Point Reyes Beach is the northern access point to an 11-mile long beach on the west side of Point Reyes National Seashore. Beachcombing is probably the biggest […]

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  • Point Reyes South Beach

    South Beach is the southern access to Point Reyes Beach, an 11-mile long strand nicknamed “The Great Beach” in Point Reyes National Seashore. This vast expanse of shoreline is excellent for beachcombing. Walk […]

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  • Baker Beach

    Baker Beach is a large popular beach not far from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. On sunny weekends both parking lots could be full and all the spaces along […]

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Related Hotels

  • Mill Rose Inn

    From its luxurious suites to its charming floral gardens, Mill Rose Inn invites upscale accommodations in Half Moon Bay. This boutique style B&B supplies a half-dozen suites, each richly adorned […]

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Related Restaurants

  • Sam’s Chowder House

    This classic seafood house has an appreciation for fresh, local ingredients and is known for New England style clam chowder, lobster rolls and patio dining overlooking the Pacific.

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Related Attractions

  • Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument

    On a hilltop overlooking the Pacific Ocean in the Santa Lucia Mountains five miles inland and 1,600 feet above San Simeon Bay, is the magnificent Hearst Castle which is now […]

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  • Santa Cruz Boardwalk

    Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk offers more than 30 amusement park rides from roller coasters to kiddie rides, four arcades with both vintage machines and hundreds of modern video games, a […]

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  • Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center

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  • Golden Gate Park

    If you are planning a trip to San Francisco, you might have heard about Golden Gate Park from friends and family or even found it via an internet search of […]

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  • Golden Gate Bridge Vista at Battery Spencer

    The Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point is up in the Marin Headlands high above the bridge deck of this famous suspension bridge. While there are many places to photograph the […]

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  • Muir Beach Overlook

    Muir Beach Overlook is on a hidden prominence north of Muir Beach, California in Marin County. It’s an attraction that most travelers drive right by without noticing. From the trailhead […]

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  • Point Reyes Shipwreck Site

    The Point Reyes Shipwreck is an iconic wooden boat stuck on a sandbar in the town of Inverness on Tomales Bay in Marin County. Pro photographers and tourists alike have […]

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  • Solvang Danish Bakeries

    Solvang Danish Bakeries are popular with everyone who stops in the Central Coast town of Solvang. While many come to dine on a tasty roll, butter cookie, Aebleskivers topped with […]

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  • Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

    Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is right in the heart of Big Sur. It’s a perfect base camp for many days of exploration on the Big Sur Coast. They have […]

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  • Pfeiffer Falls

    Pfeiffer Falls is located in Los Padres National Forest near the small town of Big Sur. These 60 foot waterfalls are up a trail that begins near Big Sur Lodge. Stop […]

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