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Where Should I Stop Along My Pacific Coast Hwy Road Trip?

A road winds around a mountain on Highway 1 in California at sunset

California is famous for its incredible landscapes, stunning views, sandy state beaches, and amazing weather. People from all over the world make visits to this golden state in hopes of scoring time in the sun, surf, or several other stunning vacation spots. While a plethora of activities is accessible from the border to the beaches, several noteworthy and unforgettable locations are found along the Pacific Coast Highway, leading family, friends, and fun-seeking folks to trek out on their memorable California road trip.

Yoga or Meditation at Sunrise by the Ocean

Pacific Coast Highway is the legendary north-south state highway that stretches from San Francisco to San Diego. Hugging the west coast of this charming state, it’s the view of the pacific ocean and rugged coastline is breathtaking, bringing a bundle of beach town enthusiasts to its 600-mile long road.

You may be one of these beach town enthusiasts, looking to have a good time with fellow fun-loving friends, which is why we highly recommend planning a Pacific Coast Highway road trip for your next getaway. As your stoke surfaces, you may be asking one of our most frequently asked questions, where should I stop along my Pacific Coast Highway Road trip?

Whip out your highway 1 trip planner because we’ve got a doozy for you. Road trips on this stellar highway are nothing less than spectacular. Whether you start your California road trip from the north or south end of PCH, you’ll want to stop in at the handful of places we have up our sleeve.

San Francisco

If you’re trekking out from the San Francisco area, start with a visit to the Golden Gate Bridge. This bay area golden orange-colored suspension bridge has been a remarkable sight to see since its opening in 1937. Stop along one of its lookout spots for a gram-worthy shot, or cruise along its almost two-mile-long stretch for a California road trip worthy time.

Golden Gate Bridge at sunrise

Half Moon Bay

Your next pit stop during your Pacific Coast Highway road trip may land you at Half Moon Bay. Situated just south of San Francisco, this small city sits on the California coast and has locals and visitors enjoying pristine views, famous surf spots such as Mavericks, and exceptional golf courses. It’s quaint, cool, and crisp surroundings will have this as a killer place along your California road trip.

Rock formation on beach at Half Moon Bay

Santa Cruz

The next stop takes us to Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is well known for its lengthy wharf which is speckled with shops, foodie dine-ins, water recreation, and night-life activities. The fun and play found along this wharf add to the joy found in its natural scenery, mild climate, and liberal feel among locals. So whether you choose to spend the day sunbathing on the beach, dolphin and whale watching, or shopping, your California road trip stop will be a sure win in this stunning city.

Santa Cruz boardwalk and amusement park at night

Big Sur

Our next recommendation for your Pacific Coast Highway road trip is in Big Sur, California. This breathtaking stretch of coastal scenery is spellbinding. From hiking, camping, and beachcombing in its state parks, to surfing, cruising isolated winding switchbacks, and simply enjoying the scenery, this beautiful length of land is absolutely lovely. Stop by for a few hours or maybe a few days for an amazing time in this California road trip destination.

Aerial view of Big Sur, Highway 1, and coastline

San Simeon

Further down the road in San Luis Obispo County is situated a town called San Simeon. San Simeon is one of the prime destination hot spots while sporting up a California road trip. Known for the Hearst Castle tourist attraction, its incredible beaches, a large variety of local birds, and rare northern elephant seals, this PCH hotspot is a golden option for your California road trip.

Elephant seals on the beach at San Simeon

Pismo Beach

Make your way a bit more south during your California road trip and stop in at Pismo Beach. A city on California’s Central Coast, this ‘Clam Capital of the World’ is beloved for its beaches and wineries, along with the Monarch Butterfly Grove shelter, Dinosaur Cave Park, and phenomenal ocean views. You can’t go wrong with this coastal city.

Two wood surfboards hanging from Pismo Beach pier

Santa Barbara

Our next Pacific Coast Highway road trip landing place has us in Santa Barbara, California. This sensational sea-side escape is rich with Spanish colonial heritage, along with restaurants, shopping, magnificent mountains, vineyards, and of course those beautiful beaches. Its views, vistas, and vacation spots have visitors elated to touchdown in this terrific destination spot.

Drone view of beach at sunrise near Santa Barbara, California

Los Angeles

One of the most well known and visited locations on our list is located in Los Angeles. Whether you stay close to the coast and be a beach bum for the day, or go more inland to check out the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, this city is both captivating and jam-packed full of fun and festive things to do while on your California road trip adventure.

The Hollywood Sign in Los Angeles

Long Beach

Not far south of Los Angeles is the picturesque town of Long Beach, California. This SoCal city is a crowd-pleaser when it comes to attractions for passersby on a Pacific Coast Highway road trip. Gorgeous beaches, urban art scenes, and a slew of sports and recreation options to choose from, it’s no wonder why this famous beach town is spruced up with sun-loving spectators.

RMS Queen Mary docked at port in Long Beach, California

Dana Point

Just down the road at our absolute favorite California road trip location is the Dana Point Harbor. This destination is filled with delicious eateries, fun shops, and endless activities. Although you won’t find any swimming with dolphins excursions in this neck of the woods, a vast array of ventures still await. From paddleboarding, sailing, and swimming, to surfing, sunbathing, and sandcastle building, this romantic harbor never fails to impress its visitors.

Not only will the on-land amenities spruce up your day, but this location is world-famous for its Dana Point whale watching season which runs all year round. With almost ten species of whales seen along our coast along with five dolphin species, the wildlife in our waters is astounding. Whale and dolphin sightings abound making Dana Point, California, the Dolphin and Whale Watching Capital of the World™ and a prime location to spot whales in California.

If in the area for a few hours or maybe a few days, the whale watching Southern California trips with Captain Dave’s won’t leave you disappointed. Hop on board for a morning, afternoon, or evening trip as we take you aboard comfortable, eco-friendly, and never overcrowded vessels that may have you looking into the eyes of a fin-wearing friend or scoring a chance to see a blue whale’s size.

With trips that go out daily, all year round, your decision to hop off and spend a day here will be a grand one.

Humpback Whale jumping out of the water in front of Dana Point, CA

 

San Diego

If you’re still in the mood for more, make sure to say hello to the awesome attractions in San Diego. This sunny paradise is adored by almost all who pop in for a visit. With one of the most well-known zoos in the world, surf spots that will have even the most avid surfer stoked, and eateries that will leave you counting down the minutes until your next meal, this coastal getaway location is one for the books. Your Pacific Coast Highway road trip may begin or end in this city, but either way, make sure to take part in the exciting activities it has in store.

Skyline of San Diego after dark

Whale, there ya have it, folks. Our California road trip summer guide is complete and we hope you found our recommendations to be just what you were looking for. Feel free to stop by any or all of the spots listed above, and don’t forget to swing by and say hello while you’re in the Dana Point Harbor area. We’d love to ‘sea’ you!

Until then,

Your Friends at Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari