California’s Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) AKA California State Route 1 or Highway 1 is an iconic 700 mile road trip linking one amazing Californian destination with another. The stunning scenic drive from California’s northern border with Oregon all the way down to San Diego takes about 10 hours to complete if you did it non-stop. As well as world-famous cities, it comes with breath-taking views, enchanting forests and beautiful vineyards all beckoning you to explore them, so take it leisurely and make this a 14-day holiday of a lifetime.
With this road trip always start in the north and work your way south so that the coast is on your side on the road, so San Francisco is the best place to begin. After arriving and collecting your car head for the Golden Gate Bridge and you will know your American adventure has begun! Over the bridge explore the wine districts of Napa and Sonoma and enjoy an evening meal overlooking the Bay with its incredible views.
San Francisco is a city full of Victorian charm…
and so much will be familiar from the movies. Ride a cable car, climb the steep streets, grab a coffee in Union Square and visit Lombard Street -the Crookedest Street in the World. When it’s time for sustenance, enjoy freshly cracked Dungeness crab at Fisherman’s Wharf whilst taking in the views of Alcatraz.
Make your way South towards Monterey but don’t rush it, stop lots to take in the view and break the journey at Santa Cruz. With a lighthouse, beautiful beaches and a 1920’s wooden rollercoaster on the boardwalk, this feels like Old school America.
Just an hour later you will be in Monterey Bay…
which was the sardine capital of the Western world, and also the setting for John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row – but these days it is a perfect spot for holidaying families. A must-see is the Aquarium, renowned throughout America, its 28ft high central tank contains sharks, tuna and turtle. At sunset wander around Old Fisherman’s Wharf for the best clam chowder EVER. Also visit the stunning Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, where in the Spring and Autumn you should be able to see some whales along with all the other magnificent sea life.
The next morning hit the road for the incredible drive along Big Sur, 90 miles of coastline south of Monterey. This most famous of stretches includes the ‘17 Mile Drive’ to the gorgeous seaside village of Carmel, then onto Bixby Bridge – one of the tallest single span concrete bridges in the world. The twisting road curves around the steep cliff faces and you’ll want to take regular stops at the many lookout points to enjoy the stunning views.
The Big Sur is like a rural mountain community…
it has long been an inspiration to artists, writers and musicians and has a relaxed hippy vibe. The natural hot spring baths at the Esalen Institute are definitely worth a visit. They’re well known for their healing qualities for both body and mind in the natural pools overlooking the stormy surf below.
Head on south to San Simeon where the number one attraction is Hearst Castle on The Enchanted Hill. This is the private estate of millionaire publisher William Randolph Hearst and the incredible home is complete with Romanesque swimming pool, medieval dining hall, Andalusian bell towers and packed with history and art. While you are here also visit Piedras Blancas to see the colony of elephant seals – you’ll be able to smell them before you can even see them!
Next up is the college town of San Luis Obispo (SLO)…
which has wonderful hiking trails, great restaurants, and being in the centre of the wine region there are endless vineyards to visit and fantastic wine tours.
If you want another stop before hitting the bright lights of Los Angeles, the Mediterranean style town of Santa Barbara is worth a visit. There’s Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, Lotusland and the Zoo as well as the Lobero Theatre, the Arlington Theatre and the Santa Barbara Historical Museum.
You’ll then pass through the town of Oxnard – keep going and you’ll end up on Ventura Beach in front of the pier. THIS is the spot if you want to do some surfing. Continue south down the PCH until you hit Malibu, and you have arrived in the City of Angels! Stroll around Malibu and you’ll find piers, envy-inducing weekend homes and super healthy restaurants- this has long been a favourite weekend haunt for Hollywood stars so keep your eyes open!
Los Angeles is massive and sprawling.
There’s so much to see, however the traffic is horrendous so despite having your own hire car it could be more relaxing to jump on the metro or use Ubers which are really cheap. The Getty Centre offers the best view of the city along with outstanding modern architecture and a world class art collection. Visit the Kodak Theatre, walk along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, check out the Santa Monica Pier, drive down Sunset Boulevard and stroll down Rodeo Drive. You could check out the awesome views of the Hollywood sign from the Griffith Observatory, visit Universal Studios or go on a Stars Home’s tour. Also enjoy the iconic beach areas of Santa Monica and Venice Beach, each area very much with its own identity and you can hire bikes or roller blades to cruise between the two and back again. Also see if the LA Dodgers are playing – tickets, from £10, also gives you free travel on the Stadium Express from Union Station.
When you’ve had your fill of the city, head to Laguna Beach, it’s an relaxed old town resort with loads of charm– at dawn watch the sun rise in one of the many coves where it’s often possible to see Dolphins. In town you can visit the beach, shop, dine or even take in a movie at the adorable small-town movie theatre.
Then finally fall in love with San Diego…
It’s a short drive down to San Diego along the final stretch of the PCH, so stop at the Torrey Pine State Reserve as it’s right en route. Other highlights in San Diego include Balboa Park and the world famous San Diego Zoo. Then make your way up to the Cabrillo National Monument at the tip of Point Loma and you’ll get an incredible view of San Diego and the Bay – the perfect way to end your trip.
The best way to enjoy California is part of a Multi Centre holiday, such as our Vegas, San Fran and LA itinerary. However for more options take a look at our and .