Complete Highway 1 Road Trip - California’s PCH | Budget Car Rental

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Where does the Pacific Coast Highway Start and End?

California State Route 1, often known as the Pacific Coast Highway, begins in Leggett at an intersection with U.S. 101 and continues south for almost 656 miles until it ends at Interstate 5 in Dana Point. Your PCH road trip can include all or part of this road. You may even want to go farther north or south on connected roads so you can see all of California’s stunning shores.

Pick up a long-term rental car in the Bay Area for an epic road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway. To really take in all the delicious food, picturesque beaches, and quirky landmarks, give yourself at least 3 to 4 weeks for a leisurely road trip down highway 1 in California. 

How long does it take to drive the Pacific Coast Highway?

It takes about 16 hours to drive the entire length of the PCH, but that number doesn’t include any stops for dining, exploring, resting, or refueling. Plus, you’re almost certain to encounter traffic on the busier parts of the road in San Francisco and Los Angeles. If you wish to make the most of a PCH road trip, you need at least a week. 

 

This basic PCH road trip itinerary includes most of the well-known stops you’ll find along the California coast. They’re presented in order from north to south so that if you follow this plan, you’ll be driving as close to the ocean as you can get. Of course, you can make the trip the other way as well by picking up a car rental in San Diego.

Now pile into the car. Let’s go!

 

Alcatraz Island

San Francisco, CA 94133

Located just about a mile offshore from San Francisco, this small island was once a military fortification and federal prison. Don’t skip the eerie and informative audio tour!

Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center

Coastal Trail, San Francisco, CA 94129

Start your trek across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge with a stop at the welcome center, where you’ll find helpful maps, a gift shop, and historical background.

Devil’s Slide Trail

5929 California Coastal Trail, Pacifica, CA 94044

Devil’s Slide Trail is the perfect place to hike on your Highway 1 road trip. The path covers just 1.3 miles, so all ages and fitness levels can enjoy the journey.

Mavericks Beach

Half Moon Bay, CA 94019

Mavericks Beach is a world-famous surfing destination just outside Pillar Point Harbor. Take a surf lesson—or just watch the pros while you sunbathe!

Pigeon Point Lighthouse

Pigeon Point Road, Pescadero, CA 94060

Built in 1871 to guide ships along the Pacific Coast, this lighthouse is still actively operated by the Coast Guard. Public visitors cannot tour the lighthouse itself due to ongoing restoration efforts, but the surrounding grounds offer many picturesque views.

Shark Fin Cove

Davenport, CA 95017

Shark Fin Cove is famously known as one of Northern California’s best beaches, so don’t miss this beautiful stop on your Pacific Coast Highway drive. Be sure to snap a photo of the shark fin rock just offshore.

Natural Bridges State Beach

2531 W Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

This California state park used to have three natural bridges, but only one still stands today. Even so, this wildlife haven is well worth a visit. In fall and winter, thousands of monarch butterflies make this area their home.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

400 Beach Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

The Santa Cruz Boardwalk is heaven for kids and adults alike. Stroll the boardwalk with corn dogs and cotton candy, then take a ride on the wooden coaster.

Santa Cruz Mystery Spot

465 Mystery Spot Road, Santa Cruz, CA  95065

This tourist attraction feels like a natural magic show. Experience interactive optical illusions set against a backdrop of glorious redwood trees. 

Monterey Bay Aquarium

886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940

Get up close and personal with marine life at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where you’ll find sea otters, stunning fish, jellyfish, and fun for the whole family. Rent a minivan in Monterey to keep the group together. 

Pebble Beach Golf Links

1700 17 Mile Drive, Pebble Beach, CA 93953

Golf on one of the country’s top-ranked courses at Pebble Beach. Whether you’re a golf pro or not, you’ll be delighted by the ocean views!

Bixby Creek Bridge

Monterey, CA 93940

Bixby Creek Bridge is one of the most iconic sights along Highway 1 in California. Stop off to take pictures just before crossing this architectural wonder.

Big Sur

Big Sur might just be the most awe-inspiring California vista of them all. This stretch of coastline features miles of dramatic seaside cliffs alongside wide open ocean. When visiting Big Sur, don’t miss stunning McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. If you need to stretch your legs, take the family on the hiking trails in Limekiln State Park. Just be aware that crowds can be big and amenities are few in this pristine natural area.

Elephant Seal Vista Point

San Simeon, CA 93452

Be sure to stop off at this fun spot along the PCH. You’ll be amazed at how long the famed elephant seals of Vista Point can keep you entertained!

Hearst Castle

750 Hearst Castle Road, San Simeon, CA 93452

Now a National Historic Landmark, Hearst Castle was the one-time home of media magnate William Randolph Hearst. Julia Morgan, one of the first female architects in the U.S., designed the massive home, which partly inspired the film Citizen Kane.

Nitt Witt Ridge

881 Hillcrest Drive, Cambria, CA 93428

Nitt Witt Ridge is the handiwork of artist Arthur Harold Beal, who used only a pick and shovel to carve out terraces for this unique multi-level residence. The home’s owners still offer tours for a small fee.

Morro Rock

Morro Bay, CA 83442

The cliffside overlooking this beach formed 23 million years ago from hardened magma of now-extinct volcanoes. Make a short stop for a walk in the sand, or camp overnight at nearby Morro Strand State Beach.

Bubblegum Alley

733 Higuera Street, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

There’s nothing like a wall of chewed bubblegum to bring a crowd! Snap a picture and add to the wall at this quirky tourist attraction in a quiet seaside town.

Madonna Inn

100 Madonna Road, San Luis Obispo, CA 93405

Each of the 110 guest rooms at this resort hotel has a distinct look, making every visit is a unique experience. If you have a sweet tooth, stop into the bakery for a slice of cake or pie.

Old Mission Santa Barbara

2201 Laguna Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93105

Explore the stunning gardens and picturesque setting of this historic mission, founded in 1786 by Spanish Franciscans.

Channel Islands Maritime Museum

3900 Bluefin Circle, Oxnard, CA 93035

The whole family will love learning about maritime history and sailor culture at this museum in Oxnard, CA. After your visit, take a walk along the harbor and grab dinner.

Point Dume

Malibu, CA 90265

Get an incredible view of the northern end of Santa Monica Bay at Point Dume. If you want to extend your time in the area, take a trip down to Zuma Beach or nearby Catalina Island.

Santa Monica Pier

200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA 90401

Visit Santa Monica Pier to relax on the beach, play at an amusement park, pig out on concession food, fish, enjoy the sunset, and people-watch.

The Venice Beach Boardwalk

1800 Ocean Front Walk, Venice, CA 90291

Venice Beach is known for its quirky mix of street performers, bodybuilders, and fun shops and restaurants. Spend a day wandering along this long stretch of California sand.

Balboa Island

Newport Beach, CA

Check out the chic boutiques and restaurants of this fun man-made island. (Though it’s technically an island, you can drive to Balboa Island across a public bridge.)

Wayfarers Chapel

5755 Palos Verdes Drive S, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA 90275

This Christian church sits on a breathtaking cliffside spot along the coast. Inside, the modern architectural design features glass walls that invite the grand outdoor setting into the serene chapel. 

California Surf Museum

312 Pier View Way, Oceanside, CA 92054

The California Surf Museum is a must-stop for surfing aficionados. Check it out to see many old and new surfboards on display, as well as to enjoy surf art, videos, and interactive displays.

USS Midway Museum

910 N Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA 92101

A great stop for all ages, this naval aircraft carrier now operates as a museum. On board, see various military aircraft, pretend to doze off in former sailors’ bunks, and see what life was like on this floating city.

Reserve a Car Rental For Your PCH Road Trip

The only way to experience all that the California coast has to offer, is with a car rental from Budget. You’ll love the flexibility, freedom, and luxury that comes with having your very own rental car.

 

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