Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip 14-Day Itinerary

Mar 11, 2024

Tags:californiaroutescaroad trip

Pacific Coast Highway road trip, coastal highway 1, california route 1 road trip, 14-day itinerary

Let's take you on a road trip adventure down the Pacific Coast Highway, starting from the towering redwoods of Leggett all the way to the sunny shores of Dana Point, 656 miles later- the start and ending points of Highway 1. This road trip is all about hitting those key spots, soaking in the stunning views, and making memories along one of the most scenic drives in the US- whether by car or motorcycle. Here's how you can make the most out of it, with stops at places that are too good to miss and some insider tips to keep your trip smooth and enjoyable.

This itinerary spans 14-days-long and will take you down the entire length of the PCH. If you’re pressed for time or have one particular spot in mind, remember that this itinerary is just an outline with travel times and key spots in mind. Rewrite it for your own custom adventure: longer, or shorter!

For a shorter trip: Opt to start in San Francisco and ride down the Pacific Coast Highway to Los Angeles (8-10 days) or even a little longer, San Diego (9-12 days).

Be mindful of closures: As of late 2023, the area between Big Sur and Cambria experienced erosion, closing this small section of the highway down. It is currently estimated to reopen in late Spring 2024. This is not the first time this area closed, so be mindful and double-check for road closures prior to setting off on your trip. 

Disclaimer The opinions expressed, including accommodation recommendations and must-see sights are NOT sponsored, endorsed, or influenced by the companies mentioned. All opinions are from Riders Share writers. 

Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) Road Trip 14-Day Itinerary:

  • Day 1: Leggett
  • Day 2: Mendocino
  • Day 3-4: San Francisco
  • Day 5: Monterey & Carmel-by-the-Sea
  • Day 6: Big Sur
  • Day 7-8: Santa Barbara
  • Day 9: Malibu
  • Day 10-11: Los Angeles
  • Day 12-13: San Diego
  • Day 13: Dana Point

Also find helpful information on getting back to your starting point with airport and travel recommendations towards the end of this blog!

Best Time to Take Your Coastal Highway 1 Road Trip

The best time for a PCH road trip is between late spring and early fall, specifically May through October, for optimal weather and clearer coastal views.

  • Spring (March to May): Enjoy mild weather and vibrant landscapes, with fewer crowds except during spring break. Watch for possible post-winter repairs in rugged areas.
  • Summer (June to August): Expect warm, sunny days perfect for beaches and water activities, but prepare for "June Gloom" fog along the coast and peak tourist crowds.
  • Fall (September to November): Experience warm days, cooler nights, and less fog, making it ideal for sightseeing with smaller crowds.
  • Winter (December to February): Cooler weather and rain, offering dramatic coastal views and the chance for quieter explorations, though some attractions may have reduced hours.

Day 1: Leggett, California

Starting Point: Leggett

Duration: 1 Day

drive thru tree park, the chandelier tree in Leggett, CA, on a Pacific Coast Highway road trip

Must See:

  • Drive-Thru Tree Park: Start your trip with something uniquely Californian—driving your car through a giant redwood.
  • Avenue of the Giants: Not far from your starting point, this detour offers a mesmerizing drive through ancient redwoods.

Stay Cozy 

Opt for a cabin or a quaint Airbnb near the redwoods to immerse yourself in nature from day one.

Day 2: Mendocino, California

Next Stop: Mendocino (Approx. 2 hours from Leggett)

Duration: 1 Day

redwoods in Mendocino, ca, during a PCH road trip

Must-See:

  • Mendocino Headlands State Park: Cliffs, beaches, and trails offering breathtaking views of the rugged coast.
  • Historic Downtown: Explore charming Victorian buildings and local art galleries.

Accommodations

Stay in a historic inn or cozy seaside lodge to capture the essence of Mendocino's coastal vibe.

Day 3-4: San Francisco, California 

Heading to: San Francisco (Approx. 3.5 hours from Mendocino)

Duration: 2 Days

golden gate bridge across highway 1 in san Francisco California

Don't Miss:

  • Golden Gate Bridge: The iconic landmark. A must-visit and a must-photograph spot.
  • Fisherman's Wharf: Dive into delicious seafood and check out the bustling waterfront.
  • Alcatraz Island: A fascinating piece of history floating in the bay. Booking in advance is key.

Find a Spot

A boutique hotel in the city center lets you experience the heart of San Francisco. One of my personal favorites is Hotel Zeppelin San Francisco

Day 5: Monterey & Carmel-by-the-Sea

Heading to: Monterey (Approx. 2 hours from San Francisco)

Duration: 1 Days

see the quaint streets of Carmel by the sea on your pacific coast highway 14-day trip!

Highlights:

  • Monterey Bay Aquarium: An underwater world of wonder.
  • 17-Mile Drive: Stunning coastal scenery, famous golf courses, and luxurious homes.
  • Carmel-by-the-Sea: Quaint streets, beautiful beaches, and unique shops.

Find a Quaint Inn:

A charming inn in Carmel-by-the-Sea offers a romantic retreat. Check out the Cypress Inn!

Day 6: Big Sur, California

Next Destination: Big Sur (Approx. 1 hour from Carmel)

Duration: 1 Day

bixby bridge along California Route 1 in Big Sur

Can't Miss:

  • Bixby Bridge: Iconic architecture meets dramatic landscapes.
  • Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park: Home to the stunning McWay Falls.
  • Pfeiffer Beach: Unique purple sand and towering rock formations.

Stay in Nature

A lodge or cabin in Big Sur brings you closer to the stars and the sound of the ocean.

Day 7-8: Santa Barbara, California

Heading to: Santa Barbara (Approx. 4 hours from Big Sur)

Duration: 2 Days

Visit the Santa Barbara Mission on your PCH trip to Santa Barbara

NOTE: Heading south of this area from Big Sur to San Diego is closed until Cambria. Reroute temporarily to Route 101 for about 178 miles until you reach Avila Beach, which will carry you back down South on Highway 1. 

Must See:

  • Santa Barbara Mission: A piece of California's history, set against a backdrop of beautiful gardens.
  • State Street: The lively heart of Santa Barbara, perfect for dining and shopping.
  • Local Wineries: Explore the nearby vineyards to taste California's finest wines.

Overnight

A beachfront hotel or a downtown B&B in Santa Barbara offers comfort and style.

Day 9: Malibu, California

Heading to: Malibu (Approx. 1.5-2 hours from Santa Barbara)

Duration: 1 Day

Malibu, California view from the Pacific Coast Highway

Must-See:

  • Zuma Beach: Renowned for its wide sands and excellent surf, Zuma Beach is a quintessential Malibu spot for sunbathing, surfing, and beach volleyball.
  • Malibu Pier: A historic landmark offering picturesque views, dining options, and a glimpse into the local surf culture. Perfect for a leisurely walk or a sunset view.
  • Pepperdine University: Not just an educational institution, its campus offers stunning architecture and panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. Great for a quick drive-through.

Overnight

While Malibu offers fewer overnight options than Santa Barbara, there are luxury hotels and cozy beachfront rentals that provide a serene escape. Consider staying in a nearby area like Santa Monica for more accommodation choices, just a short drive away. Make sure to check out the Santa Monica Pier as you’re driving into LA on California State Route 1!

Day 10-12: Los Angeles, California

Next Up: Los Angeles (Approx. 45 min- 1 hour west of Malibu)

Duration: 3 Days

Los Angeles, California birds eye view. Visit LA on your PCH road trip

The Pacific Coast Highway Los Angeles stretch is one of the most traveled sections of this Coastal Highway 1, showcasing an incredible mix of urban excitement and serene coastal beauty. 

Highlights:

  • Griffith Observatory: Stunning city views and a closer look at the cosmos.
  • The Getty Center: Marvel at art collections, architecture, and gardens. The museum’s location and design offer another vantage point for city views and artistic inspiration.
  • Venice Beach and Boardwalk: As the day winds down, stroll through Venice Beach to enjoy street performers, skate parks, and the eclectic Muscle Beach gym.
  • Hollywood Walk of Fame and TCL Chinese Theatre: Start your second day exploring Hollywood’s legendary landmarks. Find your favorite celebrities’ stars and immerse yourself in cinema history.
  • The Broad and Downtown LA (DTLA): Visit The Broad for contemporary art. Then, explore DTLA for architectural gems like the Walt Disney Concert Hall and historic sites like Olvera Street.
  • LACMA and La Brea Tar Pits: In the afternoon, head to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) to see Chris Burden's "Urban Light" installation and visit the nearby La Brea Tar Pits for a unique prehistoric experience.
  • Sunset Strip and West Hollywood: End your trip with a night out on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, known for its vibrant nightlife, music venues, and comedy clubs. Enjoy dinner at a trendy restaurant before checking out a live show.

Place to Stay

 A hip hotel in Hollywood or a cozy spot in Santa Monica caters to all tastes. Check out Hotel Normandie or Short Stories Hotel

Day 12-13: San Diego, California

Next Up: San Diego (Approx. 2 hours south of LA)

Duration: 2 Days

san diego california on coastal highway road trip

Must-See:

Day 12: Explore the Heart of San Diego

  • Balboa Park: Begin your adventure in Balboa Park, the nation's largest urban cultural park. Home to 17 museums, beautiful gardens, and the renowned San Diego Zoo. Don't miss the Spanish Village Art Center for local artisan crafts.
  • Gaslamp Quarter: For lunch, head to the historic Gaslamp Quarter. This lively downtown neighborhood is filled with Victorian-era buildings housing some of San Diego's best dining, shopping, and entertainment options. Enjoy a leisurely meal at one of the many restaurants with outdoor seating.
  • Seaport Village: Spend the afternoon at Seaport Village, a waterfront shopping and dining complex right on San Diego Bay. Enjoy a stroll along the boardwalk, shop for souvenirs, and maybe catch a live street performance.
  • Sunset at Coronado Beach: End your day with a short ferry ride or drive over the Coronado Bridge to Coronado Island. The expansive beach with its iconic Hotel del Coronado is the perfect spot to watch the sunset over the Pacific.

Day 13: Coastal Wonders and Neighborhood Charms

  • La Jolla: Start your day in the upscale neighborhood of La Jolla. Visit La Jolla Cove to see seals and sea lions up close on the beach, explore the caves by kayak, or simply enjoy the ocean views from Ellen Browning Scripps Park.
  • Old Town San Diego: For a taste of history, head to Old Town San Diego State Historic Park after lunch. As the first European settlement in California, it offers a glimpse into the past with its historic buildings, museums, and Mexican markets.
  • Sunset Cliffs Natural Park: Conclude your San Diego visit with a trip to Sunset Cliffs Natural Park in Point Loma. The dramatic cliffside views and ocean vistas offer a serene and breathtaking backdrop for reflecting on your journey.

Staying Overnight

Find a unique Airbnb for your 2-night stay in San Diego. 

Day 14: Dana Point 

Final Destination: Dana Point (Approx. 1-1.5 hours from San Diego)

Duration: 1 Day

Dana Point seabridge, visit Dana Point during your highway 1 road trip

Must-Visit:

  • Dana Point Harbor: Charming marinas, great seafood, and water activities.
  • Salt Creek Beach: A beautiful spot for a final stroll along the beach or a relaxing day in the sun.

Final Rest

A hotel with ocean views in Dana Point offers a serene conclusion to your PCH road trip.

Getting Back to Your Starting Point

Well, there are a few considerations here, depending on if you rented a motorcycle or a car, if you flew in somewhere specific, or if you need to drive/fly back home. While this road trip starts in the North, it may be more feasible to begin at Dana Point and travel up, depending on your starting point and where you need to end up.

Closest Airport to Leggett, California: 

The closest airport to Leggett is Arcata/Eureka (ACV), in Eureka, California, about 2 hours north of Leggett.  Buses from San Francisco can take you anywhere from 6-7 hours, making it not always a feasible option. 

Optional: Begin your trip in San Fransico and fly into San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

Closest Airport to Dana Point, California:

The closest airport to Dana Point is John Wayne Airport (SNA) in Santa Ana, California, about 34 minutes east of Dana Point.  San Diego International Airport (SAN) is also around an hour drive, which may be a better option for international flights or cross-country. 

Optional: End your PCH road trip at San Diego and fly home from San Diego International Airport (SAN)

Timing Your PCH Trip

For navigating between locations on the Pacific Coast Highway, timing can significantly affect your experience:

  • Early Morning (around sunrise): Start your drive to enjoy lighter traffic and stunning sunrise views. This time is perfect for long stretches, allowing you to reach your next destination before noon.
  • Late Afternoon (2-4 PM): If you're not a morning person, starting your drive in the late afternoon can help you avoid the midday sun and traffic. You'll arrive at your next stop in time for dinner, with the added bonus of potentially catching a beautiful sunset along the coast.

Avoiding rush hours, especially in urban areas like San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, is key. Early mornings or late afternoons also offer the best light for photography, adding a magical touch to the scenic views along the PCH.

Motorcycle Rentals or Slingshot Rentals for your PCH Road Trip in California with Riders Share

For those planning a Pacific Coast Highway road trip in California, Riders Share offers an exciting way to experience the scenic route with its motorcycle and Slingshot rentals. This platform connects you with a wide range of options, allowing you to choose the perfect ride for cruising down the iconic PCH. Whether you're seeking the thrill of a motorcycle or the unique open-air experience of a Slingshot, Riders Share provides an easy and accessible way to enhance your journey along California's breathtaking coastline, ensuring an unforgettable adventure through some of the most picturesque landscapes the West Coast offers.

  • A motorcycle license is required for motorcycle rentals
  • No motorcycle license is required for Slingshot rentals

FIND MOTORCYCLE RENTALS IN LOS ANGELES

FIND MOTORCYCLE RENTALS IN SAN FRANCISCO

FIND MOTORCYCLE RENTALS IN SAN DIEGO

Pack Your Bags.

Concluding your 14-day Pacific Coast Highway road trip, from the towering redwoods of Leggett to the sunny shores of Dana Point, encapsulates the essence of California's breathtaking diversity. Each stop along this iconic route unveils a unique facet of the state's natural beauty, vibrant cities, and quaint coastal towns, making every moment a discovery. 

Whether you're drawn to the serene majesty of Big Sur, the historic charm of San Francisco, or the laid-back allure of Southern California's beaches, this journey offers memories to last a lifetime. Remember to consider your travel logistics for a seamless return, utilizing nearby airports and timing your drives to capture the PCH's scenic beauty at its finest. As you reflect on the experiences and landscapes that have marked your journey, it's clear this isn't just a road trip—it's an adventure into the heart of California's soul.