The Ultimate 10-Day California Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Itinerary

This 10-day California coast road trip itinerary covers all of our favorite Californian things: sunny beaches and foggy coastline, swaying palm trees and towering redwoods, playful otters and flomping elephant seals, fresh oysters and vintage wines - there's even a clothing-optional hot spring, if you're up for it. Here's everything you need to know about driving Highway One/the Pacific Coast Highway.

Psst: Please be sure to follow all local regulations, social distance, and wear a mask to keep yourself and others safe. Also: this post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through them, we may receive a small commission (for which we are deeply grateful) at no cost to you.

Barking sea lions. Salty air. Waves crashing on critter-filled tidepools. Rolling hills dusted with bright orange poppies and intersected with redwood-filled valleys. Driving Pacific Coast Highway is the most beautiful road trip in the entire world. Sure, as a born-and-raised Californian I’m definitely biased, but also – it’s true. 

Our favorite way to spend a weekend is to hop into a car and head down the Pacific Coast Highway, sea breeze whipping Lia’s hair into my mouth somehow, cheap sunglasses glinting in the sun, singing along to our Driving in California Playlist, and stopping every few minutes to take in the view. It’s one of the best parts of living here, and as Lia likes to say, we fell in love on long drives down Highway One.

Today, we’ve poured that love into creating the ideal 10-day California Pacific Coast Highway road trip itinerary, full of the best stops along Highway One.

Our itinerary covers all of our favorite Californian things: sunny beaches and foggy coastline, swaying palm trees and towering redwoods, playful otters and flomping elephant seals, fresh oysters and vintage wines – there’s even a clothing-optional hot spring, if you’re up for it.

We’re so excited to share all the things we love about this amazing journey through this incredible state. Let’s get started!

We’ve got a whole bunch more resources to help you plan your California road trip. Take a look at the posts below, or click here to see all of our California travel guides.

Psst: We’ve created a free, printable version of this Highway One itinerary! During some sections of the Pacific Coast Highway, you’ll find yourself GPS-free with no cell service. Be sure to download the itinerary to make sure you don’t miss your exit.

Printable Highway One Itinerary

This FREE printable Highway One itinerary will help guide you on your road trip! Plus, we’ve included our San Francisco walking tour, and we’ll send you some helpful tips to plan your trip.

We also have a Highway One podcast episode! A humanist cult, a Danish hideaway, a gravitational anomaly, towering trees, a spoiled rich kid’s castle, clothing-optional hot springs, and the cutest (and weirdest) animals imaginable: in this episode, we cover everything you need to plan your trip up the California Coast – and all the weird history you never knew along the way.

Listen below or just click here! Oh, and don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss new episodes.

Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip FAQ’s

We get a lot of questions about driving the California Coast, so we’ve done our best to answer the most frequently asked ones below! If you have a question about something that isn’t mentioned here, drop us a comment.

Should you drive the Pacific Coast Highway road trip north to south or south to north?

We recommend driving south to north. In our PCH itinerary, you’ll start in Los Angeles and end by taking a short detour to drive through the Avenue of the Giants.

You’ll end up in the far north of California, and we’ve included details on getting back to civilization from there.

Why do we recommend doing it this way? Honestly, it’s because the Pacific Coast Highway is at its least beautiful and exciting in Los Angeles. It’s just like, a regular road, with strip malls and fast-food joints. We recommend speeding through this part of the trip as quickly as possible.

What is the best time of year to drive the Pacific Coast Highway?

The best time of the year to drive the Pacific Coast Highway is in mid-to-late February through April. California’s rainy season typically ends in early February, turning its golden hills bright green and covering the coast with colorful wildflowers which last through April and into early May.

This time of the year also overlaps with elephant seal pupping season – yes, you’ll be seeing elephant seals during your trip – as well as whale migration season, so keep an eye out for migrating gray whales, humpback whales blowing plumes of water out at sea while you drive!

Plus, this is also the time of year where you might be able to catch a “superbloom,” a phenomenon that only happens after a particularly rainy winter. It’s also the best time of the year for gushing waterfalls and running creeks!

If you do decide to drive the California Coast during the summer, the hills will be turning golden again, but your drive will still be pleasant.

But in fall, when everything is covered in dry brush and extremely flammable, you’ll want to be wary of wildfire season (and extra-careful if you’re camping). During the winter, you can expect rain and heavy fog to make your drive more difficult – and be wary of landslides, which often block off sections of the Pacific Coast Highway.

Can you do this Pacific Coast Highway Itinerary from San Francisco or Los Angeles?

One of the most beautiful stretches of Highway One is between Los Angeles and San Francisco, including Big Sur and the Central Coast! You can absolutely focus your trip just in this area and do a shortened San Francisco to Los Angeles road trip, but you’ll be missing out on some beautiful coastline north of San Francisco.

That said, it takes a LOT less time to drive between San Francisco and Los Angeles on Highway One – it’s even doable as a weekend trip if you return home on the 5. We do it quite frequently!

In our Pacific Coast Highway itinerary, you’ll be beginning your trip in Los Angeles, driving through San Francisco, and continuing all the way up north to Eureka on the northern border of California.

Ending your road trip in Los Angeles would leave you with a less-than-ideal image of Highway One, whereas ending your road trip up north in a stretch of some of the oldest trees in the world is a much more satisfying and soul-fulfilling end to your journey!

Where does the Pacific Coast Highway start and end?

Highway One runs from southern California, at Dana Point in Orange County, all the way up the California coast to Mendocino county. Its southern terminus intersects with Highway 5 and its northern terminus merges into Highway 101.

In this PCH road trip itinerary, you’ll be starting in Los Angeles – a bit north of the southern point of Highway One – and continuing along the 101 a bit after the 1 ends.

If you feel the need to drive the ENTIRE Pacific Coast Highway, feel free to tack on those extra hours on your first day and start your trip in San Diego instead of Los Angeles – but be wary of traffic through Los Angeles. We personally prefer to skip the bottom bit through LA because it’s not very scenic.

Foggy Boardwalk in the Central Coast California on a Highway One Road Trip
One thing to know before you start your California coast road trip: most of the coast is foggy, not sunny – bring a jacket and expect daily fog before noon. Pictured: Los Osos

Things to Know Before Driving the California Coast

There are a few things you should now about Highway One that aren’t frequently asked about – we’ve included a few helpful tips below!

  • California State Route One has a lot of nicknames. You might know it as the Pacific Coast Highway, the PCH, Highway One, The One, the Cabrillo Highway, the Shoreline Highway, the Redwood Highway, and so on. One thing it’s never called is the 101, because that is a completely different highway which just so happens to overlap the 1 several times.
  • Driving times on Google Maps are typically accurate. However, you are going to stop WAY more than you think, so you’ll want to add plenty of extra time. We’ve done our best to take this itinerary as slow as possible to accommodate!
  • Watch your gas gauge! There are stretches of hours before coming across gas, and the isolated ones are understandably expensive. When it doubt, fill ‘er up!
  • This is also the case with bathrooms, so be careful with those Big Gulps.
  • We will recommend great places to eat or snack. Don’t feel like you have to loot a convenience store unless you get particularly munchy on the road (but also, same).
  • Leave no trace! This is more than just “don’t litter.” The majority of the coastline is made up of fragile ecosystems. Do your part to stop erosion and damage by not going somewhere dangerous for a picture, staying on trails, watching your kids and pets, not going somewhere dangerous for a picture, not touching animals, AND NOT GOING SOMEWHERE DANGEROUS FOR A PICTURE!
  • California is colder than you think. Several stretches of the coast get very cold, with crazy wind and a lot of fog. But just to make things more confusing, there are also odd patches of hot weather. See our what to pack section below for tips on how to prepare!
Couple in Red Car with Suitcases California Highway One Road Trip
Here’s what to pack for your Highway One road trip – matching pastel suitcases not required.

What to Pack for Your California Coast Road Trip

Here are a few tips to help you pack for your Pacific Coast Highway road trip!

  • Bathing suits. Yes, this is California; of course you are going to get into the water at some point. But something to note is the water is FREEZING! That might seem strange to people unfamiliar with California beaches but prepare yourselves. The beaches may be warm (except in San Francisco – Ocean Beach is like the Arctic), but the water is always near an icy 50 degrees.
  • Rain Jacket. The further north you go, the deeper you get into redwoods and fog. The state overall is fairly dry outside of. winter, but the fog can get really heavy and wet. This is our favorite packable rain jacket.
  • Light AND heavy jackets. Californians are experts at layering; it’s not rare to need a short sleeve, sweater, and down jacket all within a matter of hours. We love these packable down jackets for chilly nights and windy days.
  • Loungewear. On our itinerary, you’re going to be in the car for a total of about 25 hours. You need some comfy clothes! Don’t get too worried though; it’s only a few hours at a time. I typically opt for my warm Merino Shifters and Lia loves her Outdoor Voices Cloudknit Sweatpants.
  • Hiking clothes. We’re talking about a few jaunts…you don’t need the heavy-duty stuff. Just make sure you have sturdy pants (like this) and shoes that can handle hikes or any outdoor activity (such as these). 
  • Portable charger. You’re going to be snapping pictures and running GPS. Even if your car has a charger, we recommend grabbing an Anker charger. It supercharges your phone AND holds a charge for days on end. We swear by it! Like to the point where Lia refuses to use her actual phone charger at home and grabs the Anker. And then I have to recharge the portable all the friggin time and then it’s like “God Lia why don’t you just use your charger” and she’s like “No I like this one better” and I’m like “that doesn’t make sense, how can a portable be better than the manufacturer’s charger” and she’s like “I don’t know Jeremy, what am I Steve Jobs” and I’m like “What does that even mean, you don’t have an iPhone!” Marriage is fun.
  • Camera. If your phone has an adequate camera, great! If not, you’re going to want to bring a camera to capture some of the views and sights you’ll see. Make sure you’ve got a decent zoom range because there are going to be wide vistas and hard to see wildlife! We recommend a GoPro to capture those sweeping views. You can even mount it on your dashboard and take a timelapse of your drive!
Kirk Creek Campground in Big Sur California
Kirk Creek Campground in Big Sur, one of our favorite places to camp along Highway One. Don’t worry: you don’t have to camp to do this itinerary.

The Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Itinerary

Before we dive into the details of our Pacific Coast Highway 10-day itinerary, we have a few more things to note.

First, while this is designed to cover ten days from the flight into Los Angeles all the way to the flight out, there are opportunities to tack on days if you have extra time – and we have a few suggestions on where to spend that extra time.

Second, most days you’ll only be driving for a few hours, but a few days of the itinerary are driving heavy. If you’re anything like me, you will stress to get to the next destination. Remember to chill and take in the good vibes. I say this while waving a shaka.

Lastly, there are a few ways to end the trip. You’ll either take a shortcut back to LAX, or you’ll return your rental car at a different airport (and incur a one-way fee). It’s your call! More details are at the end of the itinerary.

So with that, let’s jump in!

Palm tree lined street in Redondo Beach in Los Angeles, California
Welcome to Los Angeles! Today you’ll explore the area near Redondo Beach, one of the best parts of LA (and also where Lia’s dad grew up).

Day 1: Los Angeles

  • Today, you’ll be exploring Los Angeles, staying on the beach in South Bay, and soaking up the sun.
  • Drive time: None (except within LA)

Today is your chance to enjoy Los Angeles! LA is absolutely enormous – it’s like a mega-city composed of hundreds of smaller towns. It takes hours to drive from one side of the city to another, and the entire time you’ll be sitting in traffic and hating your life.

For that reason, we recommend picking one section of the city to explore and staying within that area. 

Chances are you’re probably flying into LAX, but if you landed further east in Burbank or another smaller airport, you’ve got a little bit more driving to do today to get yourself to the coast.

Our favorite part of Los Angeles is in South Bay, which encompasses the scenic coastal townships of Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Redondo Beach and is connected by a walking/bike path running along the beach called The Strand. It’s absolutely lovely, very LA, and the perfect place to base yourself during your brief time in Los Angeles. 

  • Highway One Travel Trip: If you have extra days in your schedule, Los Angeles would be a good spot to add on to. With extra time, you can head closer to downtown and check out some of the city’s best museums, like The Getty or the LACMA

To help you explore The Strand, we’ve created the perfect Beer and Bike Tour, which combines a trip to several of the breweries lining the beach with sight-seeing by bike! You can also swim or surf at the beach, or just relax on the sand.

Top off a day in the sun with a celebratory dinner at our favorite sea-to-table restaurant in the area, Hook and Plow in charming Hermosa Beach.

For accommodation, our favorite AirBNB is located right by the Hermosa Beach pier, walking distance from everything in town!

Day 1 Summary

Santa Barbara, California waterfront at sunset
Santa Barbara is one of the most “Californian” cities in southern California.

Day 2: Santa Barbara and Solvang

  • Today, you’ll be driving from Los Angeles up to Solvang, with a stop in sunny Santa Barbara. 
  • Drive Time: About 3.5 Hours

The majority of this California road trip will take place on Highway 1, AKA the Pacific Coast Highway, AKA the PCH, AKA Cabrillo Highway, AKA Shoreline Highway, AKA The Prettiest Highway in the World. But all of those are just ways to say “The 1.” 

Yes, I am from California so I say “The” before every highway. 

But something you might not realize about The 1 is that within Los Angeles, it is literally just a busy city street. It’s nowhere near as exciting as it will be soon, and it’s not a particularly interesting or pretty street.

So, for that reason, the first step of the day today is to make your way to Santa Monica – and we DON’T recommend taking the Pacific Coast Highway to get there.

Once you’re in Santa Monica, look for the Santa Monica Pier – it’s the best GPS marker, as The 1 crosses in front of it. NOW you can officially begin your Pacific Coast Highway road trip! (Unless you make a pit stop.)

Now that you are officially on Highway One, head north. The 1 will drift slowly around the coastline leading to Malibu, where the Hollywood elite have their beach homes.

You’ll gawk at the mansions mocking you from the rolling hills and then pass through Topanga State Park, Santa Monica Mountains Recreational Area, and Point Mugu State Park. All of these are chock full of places to hike and explore – feel free to take advantage. Otherwise, keep driving until you hit Oxnard.

It is here in Oxnard where you’ll experience one of the highway’s more annoying patterns. Occasionally, The 1 gets absorbed by The 101. It’s incredibly confusing because the highway names sound exactly the same to everyone who isn’t from California.

In fact, on her very first Highway One road trip, Lia accidentally took the 101 the entire way from San Francisco to Los Angeles and couldn’t figure out why everyone made such a big deal out of The One until she realized her mistake – years later. Whoops.

From Oxnard, stay on the highway – which is both Highway 1, and Highway 101 – and you’ll pass through Ventura. Depending on timing, you might want to stop and check out Surfer Point and the Ventura Pier.

Your next destination – and first official road trip pit stop – is not too far up the highway: Santa Barbara. 

PCH Pit Stop: Santa Barbara

When people who aren’t from California think about what the state looks like, more often than not they’re imagining Santa Barbara. When I think of this stretch of Southern California, I imagine long stretches of coastal views, tall palm trees, Spanish architecture, and morning fog lifting to reveal the sun. It’s a beautiful area!

We recommend taking a break here in Santa Barbara to stretch your legs and eat lunch (seafood, of course). 

No trip to Santa Barbara would be complete without a trip to East Beach, followed by a walk to the end of Stearns Wharf. The wharf has plenty of lunch options, but our choice is the famous Santa Barbara Shellfish Company.

If you’ve got extra time, here are a couple more suggestions for things to do in Santa Barbara:

  • Ganna Walska, the famed late opera singer, had a bit of a green thumb and created the sprawling Lotusland – a 37 acre botanical garden considered to be one of the best gardens in the world! It’s a bit out of the main hub, but worth a stop.
  • Visit the Old Mission Santa Barbara. Historic Spanish missions like this one pepper the California coast. When visiting, keep in mind what these structures were for – converting Native Americans to Catholicism. They weren’t happy places, but they tell an important piece of the complex history of California.

After lunch and some sunshine and leg-stretching, hop back on The 1 (which is still also the 101 at this point)

After about an hour, you’ll hit Buellton. This will later be the setting for dinner, but for now take a detour on the 246 East. After about 3 miles, you might be confused and think you drove into Denmark…and you sort of did!

PCH Pit Stop: Solvang

Allow us to explain why there is a random slice of Denmark in the middle of Southern California. In the late 19th-Century, a large number of Danes moved to the United States – specifically the Midwest – for new economic prospects. They brought with them the Danish approach to education, which involved Lutheran schools with an emphasis on creativity and poetry. 

One of these Danes, Benedict Nordentoft, dreamt of a Danish school on the emerging American West Coast. Once the opportunity presented himself, he bought land in the Santa Ynez Valley. Other Danes moved out west, tired of the frigid Midwest winters. 

And thus, Solvang was formed: a charming Danish Village in the middle of California.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a town that is begging to be photographed as much as Solvang; it’s adorably European, complete with gingerbread architecture and Danish windmills.

Our vote for where to stay in Solvang is The Wine Valley Inn. The rooms are affordable and the place is cute AF. 

After checking in and exploring the town, take the short drive back to Buellton and get dinner at the famous Pea Soup Anderson’s. If you need help deciding what to order, just look at the name of the restaurant. Trust me; I hate peas but I love their soup!

  • Highway One Travel Tip: For more ideas on making the most out of your stop in Buellton, our friends at Happily Ever Adventures have a fantastic Buellton weekend getaway guide!

Day 2 Summary

Morro Bay, California is a tiny coastal town along California's Central Coast and one of the best places to stop on a California road trip down Highway One/the Pacific Coast Highway! Here are all the best things to do in Morro Bay.
Morro Bay, California is a tiny coastal town along California’s Central Coast and one of the best places to stop on a California road trip down Highway One. Oh, and it’s where Jeremy grew up!

Day 3: Pismo Beach & Morro Bay

  • Today, you’ll be driving from Solvang to Morro Bay, with a stop in Pismo Beach.
  • Drive Time: 2.5 hours

Start your day with the most Danish thing possible: jam-filled aebleskiver from Solvang Restaurant.

Once you’ve had your fill of delicious fluffy balls, take the 246 back to Highway One and head north all the way to Pismo Beach. 

PCH Pit Stop: Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach, and the surrounding beaches, are a fantastic place to spend the day – there’s so much to do! If you’re up for surfing, this is the best place to try it – or, rent bikes or boogie boards.

Pismo also has huge sand dunes, so if you’re up for an adventure, go dune buggying! Dune buggying is basically like being on a roller coaster, only there’s no track and you’re the one controlling the wheel. Ahhh! You can rent an ATV made to careen gracelessly over the sand dunes at Sun Buggy.

  • Highway One Road Trip Tip: We’ve got more suggestions for things to do in Pismo Beach (and nearby) in our Central Coast getaway guide.

After working up an appetite, it’s time for lunch at Brad’s or Splash Cafe. These competing restaurants are a point of contention with visitors: some swear by one and hate the other. The fact is, they’re both solid options and for me the only deciding factor is the wait time (But don’t tell my family that…they’re Brad’s stans).

The best offerings at either spot are the clam chowder (in a bread bowl of course), tri-tip sandwich, and fish and chips.

After lunch, you’ll need dessert! Head to Old West Cinnamon Rolls for some, well…cinnamon rolls. Locals-only tip: if you get the icing on the side, they give you a little more than usual.

After you’ve stocked up on cinnamon rolls, get back on The 1 and head north. Soon you’ll reach San Luis Obispo!

San Luis Obispo – locally known as SLO – is one of the major Central Coast towns; it is also home to Cal Poly, and home to a lot of college students.

  • Highway One Road Trip Tip: SLO isn’t one of our recommended stops, but if you have the extra time, I do suggest checking out the Madonna Inn to see the interior design. It’s like if Dolly Parton designed a Barbie Dream House. That’s what we’re working with, and yes, it’s as amazing as it sounds. The famous hotel is right off the highway, and you don’t have to be a guest to visit (or order a slice of delicious cake from the bakery).

North of San Luis Obispo, the driving directions get a little dicey. The 1 sort of disappears then reappears as a main street.

Basically, you’ll get off at the Santa Rosa exit and go north on Santa Rosa. Santa Rosa soon becomes a highway and life makes sense again. Alternatively, you can just punch your next Pacific Coast Highway stop, Morro Bay, into your GPS.

Lia and Jeremy in Morro Bay, California along California's Central Coast.
Welcome to Morro Bay, aka my hometown!

PCH Pit Stop: Morro Bay

Welcome to my adorable little hometown: Morro Bay! I grew up here! Even though I’ve since moved up north to San Francisco, we come down to visit frequently because Morro Bay is one of the best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway.

The centerpiece of Morro Bay is definitely Morro Rock, a giant volcanic plug sitting at the edge of the coast along the bay. The rock has acted as a natural beacon for seafarers as early as the 1500s, and was considered sacred ground to the Chumash and Salinan native tribes. To me, the rock was where we took our lunch breaks at school or surfed on weekends. #JustCaliforniaThings

Morro Bay is a tourist destination, and the town frequently has just as many visitors as it does locals. Which means if you ask a local something incredibly obvious like “where is the rock?” – the giant rock you can see from absolutely everywhere in town – you might just get a sassy answer like “Oh, it’s seasonal! You just missed it.”

Surfers catching waves with Morro Rock in the background.
Surfers catching waves with Morro Rock in the background. Just pretend this is me (it isn’t).

When you arrive in town, head to the Embarcadero to stroll and visit the shops and restaurants along the waterfront, as well as meet our friendly sea neighbors.

Morro Bay is a marine wildlife sanctuary, and there are always tons of sea lions and harbor seals who make the docks their nap spots. They’ll greet you with a wave and a BWAAAAAAH.

  • Highway One Travel Tip: If you see tourists throwing food to the animals, please don’t join in! It might be cute, but it’s harmful to our animal friends.

One stop you absolutely must make as you walk along the Embarcadero is the dock outside of Great American Fish Company. If you look to the left of the dock, you’re likely to see a pack of otters being the cutest animals in existence. During the spring, you might even see up to 30 of them – along with their babies!

There are plenty of delicious places to eat a sunset dinner in Morro Bay overlooking the water. My personal favorite is Tognazzini’s Dockside; do yourself a favor and order the barbecued oysters! Dorn’s Breakers Cafe is my second choice, but reservations are encouraged since they have the best view in town.

Windows on the Water is also phenomenal, but it is on the pricier side. If you’re looking for a much cheaper option, Dutchman’s Seafood House is a local favorite. No matter where you choose, clam chowder, fish and chips, and oysters are pretty much mandatory!

Where to Stay in Morro Bay: There is no shortage of hotels in the area. Our pick for a budget Morro Bay hotel is The Sandpiper Inn, while the Marina Street Inn is a super cute mid-range option.

  • Highway One Travel Tip: For more fantastic things to do in Morro Bay, check out our detailed Morro Bay travel guide.

Day 3 Summary

Watching the fog roll in over the hills on a California Highway One stop
Your drive today passes by Green Valley Viewing Point. Pull over to watch the fog roll in over this incredible view.

Day 4: Morro Bay & Paso Robles

  • Today you will be exploring more of Morro Bay, and then taking a little detour into wine country!
  • Itinerary Option: If you prefer, you can turn this into a day trip instead of an overnight and continue staying in Morro Bay. Or, skip it and spend this day elsewhere if wine country isn’t your thing!
  • Drive Time: 1 hour

Start your morning with a hearty breakfast at Frank and Lola’s Front Street Cafe. Expect a bit of a wait, as this place is very small and popular. If you need to pass the time, the otters are located right across the street.

The rest of the morning is a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure! We have a whole post dedicated to the plethora of activities in Morro Bay, but here are some ideas:

  • Hike Black Hill, a moderate 2.5 mile out and back trail right outside town. For more info, check out AllTrails
  • Rent a kayak at A Kayak Shack and get up close and personal with our sea life
  • Go surfing at Morro Rock or Cayucos Pier (check out our guide to Cayucos).
  • Drive to the neighboring town of Los Osos for a breathtaking view. Set your GPS for Alamo Drive to see the view that the locals call “The Top of the World”
  • Hike Montaña de Oro State Park, also in Los Osos. There are a lot of trail options for different people, but most people opt for the super easy Bluff Trail (4.6 miles of flat terrain).

After working up an appetite, it’s time for lunch! Our votes are the famous roast beef french dip from Hofbrau, fish and chips from Dutchman’s Seafood House, or clam chowder in a bread bowl and fresh crab legs from Giovanni’s. Not hungry yet? Don’t worry. The next town has plenty of options as well.

Sadly, it’s time to say goodbye to Morro Bay. Get back on The 1 and head up the coast.

Paso Robles scenic road in California's Central Coast
Let’s take a brief detour from Highway One and head inland, because you just can’t have a California road trip without stopping wine country.

After 16 miles or so, You will see a sign for Paso Robles/CA-46. Turn right to head inland, into wine country and Paso Robles.

The 46 is a beautiful stretch of highway that cuts through chaparral and grass-covered rolling hills all the way to Bakersfield. But don’t worry; you will NOT be venturing that far.

About 6.5 miles down the road, you’ll reach the apex of the hill; look to the right and you’ll see Green Valley Viewing Point, an observation point that offers a breathtaking view of the surrounding hills.

PCH Pit Stop: Paso Robles

Continue on the 46 as you pass through wineries and rolling hills. Paso Robles is one of the best wine countries in California, and it’s both stunning and surprisingly budget-friendly!

As you drive past the wineries, you’ll meet The 101. Take it north a bit and you’ll enter the town of Paso Robles. If you haven’t eaten yet, we recommend Thomas Hill Organics, The Hatch, Fish Gaucho, or Orale Taqueria. All of them are right off the town square and absolutely delicious.

Regardless of where you choose to eat, you MUST stop at Brown Butter Cookie Company and sample…well, everything. Lia likes the original recipe, and I like almond…and espresso…and chocolate…and the original. 

Finally, it is now officially time to taste ALL OF THE WINES! There is no shortage of tasting rooms within walking distance right in downtown Paso, so you can honestly take your pick.

Our favorite is LXV (get the spice pairings!). Seriously y’all, we love LXV so much that we actually signed up for their wine club. Other good options nearby are Diablo, Indiginé, and Cypher. But pretty much any tasting room in that area is likely to be a hit.

If you have a driver, the world opens up. Paso has literally hundreds of places to taste wine! We have a full write-up of the best wineries in Paso Robles. A few of our top picks are Niner Wine Estates (look for the giant heart), Shale Oak, Zenaida Cellars, and Barton Family Wines.

  • Highway One Road Trip Tip: Because we’re responsible adults, we have to say it: sample wine responsibly! Do not drink and drive, especially since you are on a highway where people tend to drive recklessly. We have a few suggestions for getting around from winery to winery in our Paso Robles wineries guide.

There’s much more to do in Paso Robles than drink wine (although that is our favorite thing… well, other than the natural hot springs). We’ve got all the details in our guide to the best things to do in Paso Robles.

After an afternoon of wine tasting and exploring charming downtown Paso Robles, head to dinner – again, our recommendations are Thomas Hill Organics, The Hatch, Fish Gaucho, or Orale Taqueria.

You’ll be sleeping in Paso tonight. Our vote? The Paso Robles Inn! It is located in the center of downtown Paso Robles, just off the central plaza and around the corner from our favorite coffee shop in town, Spearhead Coffee. It’s the perfect location to walk to the best restaurants & tasting rooms in Paso Robles!

Plus, the rooms are winery themed – and come complete with a hot-springs fed jacuzzi tub on the balcony, which is as romantic as it sounds.

Can you think of a better way to end your day than soaking in your own private mineral hot spring? We can’t either.

Day 4 Summary

Day 5: Paso Robles, San Simeon, & Big Sur

  • Today you’ll be driving from Paso Robles to Big Sur, with a stop at a famous mansion and a visit to see California’s most famous marine residents.
  • Drive Time: 2.5 Hours

Today is one of the most packed days of the trip, so wake up early for a cup of delicious brew from Spearhead Coffee and breakfast at whichever restaurant you didn’t already visit for lunch or dinner.

After you’re fueled up, take The 46 West (which is the way you came in yesterday) all the way until it meets The 1; turn right onto The 1 North. 

Soon you’ll hit Cambria, a sleepy town perpetually covered in fog and coastal pines. If you’re a sucker for dessert, like we are, stop here to pick up a slice of famous Ollalieberry Pie from Linn’s (we won’t judge you if you don’t save it for later).

  • Highway One Road Trip Tip: For more things to do in Cambria, our friend Kristen from Travels and Treats has a fantastic guide to things to do in Cambria.

Continue along Highway One through Cambria until you start seeing signs for San Simeon. That’s when you – er, whoever’s not driving – should start to look to the hills to the right to catch a glimpse of gaudy, palm-tree-covered Hearst Castle off in the distance, perched atop the hills. 

PCH Pit Stop: Hearst Castle

A brief history of Hearst Castle: famed newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst owned stole most of this land to build an over-the-top estate. His inspiration for building his ridiculous Castle was a family trip to Europe, where he spent months pointing at castles and saying “Daddy, I want that one.” His goal was to have exotic animals roam the property, and his zebras are still spotted (err…striped) on the hills.

By the time Hearst moved away from the castle in 1947 due to frail health,  his mansion had 165 rooms and 123 acres of gardens….and it still wasn’t done. Hearst was a quirky guy, to say the least.

The famous  movie Citizen Kane is loosely based on his life, but he tried to block production of the film and disliked it so deeply that he banned it from being played at the castle for the duration of his life and 7 DECADES after he died. So yeah, he held a grudge. 

If you, like us, are obsessed with judging ostentatious rich people and their frivolous grandeur (think Versailles, The Biltmore Estates, etc), Hearst Castle is perfect. It is absolutely, supremely over-the-top. Everything in Hearst Castle exists just for show, and it is a mish-mash of truly confusing design decisions driven entirely by the desire to appear as fabulously wealthy as possible.

While we’re clearly on our judgmental high horse about the over-the-top wealth of Hearst Castle, the castle itself is not. Everything from the welcome video to the tour guides to the Alex Trebeck narrated bus ride video (yep) paint Hearst as a rugged pioneer or some kind of hero, when in reality he was more like the grown-up version of one of the kids from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Anyway. We’ll let you decide for yourself if Hearst was a hero, a visionary, or just another wealthy white dude. But either way, we highly recommend visiting – and booking a tour in advance.

  • Highway One Travel Tip: In our opinion, Hearst Castle is a must-see California icon! That said, if you aren’t interested in the opulence of Hearst Castle, you can take things a little more leisurely today.

After you feel nice and poor the tour, exit the Hearst parking lot and turn right back onto The 1 North. 

San Simeon Elephant Seal Rookery
We love these derpy little flompmuffins SO MUCH!

PCH Pit Stop: The Elephant Seal Rookery

About ten minutes up the road, you will see signs for The Elephant Seal Vista Point. Turn left into the dirt parking lot and prepare to meet my patronus.

The cliff here overlooks an elephant seal rookery. These majestic beasts can be seen throughout the year at this sanctuary. Between December to March – our favorite time of year to drive Highway One – you’ll see mostly pups on the beach, which is as cute as it sounds!

  • Note from Lia: Elephant seals are NOT majestic. They are the doofiest, oddest looking animals in the world. They sound like howler monkeys and they are the roundest, blubberiest things you’ll ever see. Pups are truly adorable, but only for like a month and then they hit puberty and start horrifically shedding their skin like an episode of The Flopping Dead. And yet for some reason, we are obsessed with them. If you think “ugly” dogs like Frenchies and Bulldogs are adorable (like Jeremy does) you’ll probably love them too!

After you’ve fallen in love with our unironic favorite marine animal, head back up the highway to enjoy the most scenic part of the route. 

Mcway Falls in Foggy Big Sur California Highway One Road Trip
Must-stop view: these are the iconic McWay Falls, one of California’s two tidefalls – waterfalls that spill directly into the ocean.

PCH Pit Stop: Big Sur

Throughout your drive today you’ll be doing a lot of “WOW! Pull over, I want to take a picture!” 

Ostensibly, you only have a 90-minute drive ahead of you. In reality, it will take much longer because you will be stopping for pictures every few minutes. The stunning scenery here along the Big Sur coastline is absolutely jaw-dropping, and arguably the best coastline along the entire Pacific Coast Highway.

Honestly, any amount of words would never do this stretch of California’s coastline justice. Just roll the windows down, put on some good music – like our favorite Driving in California Playlist – and let the prettiest highway in the world (literally, it’s ranked) speak for itself. 

Be sure to stop at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and to see the iconic McWay Falls, one of California’s two tidefalls – waterfalls that spill directly into the ocean. There’s no hike needed to see the falls, which are perfectly in view right off the side of the highway (although you can’t get any closer to them than that) but if you have time you can hike into the redwoods for even more stunning coastal views on the Partington Cove trail, which leads through a tree-lined canyon and a tunnel to a beautiful rocky beach. 

You should arrive in Big Sur pretty close to dinner time. Restaurant options are scarce here, but we recommend local barbecue spot Big Sur Smokehouse.

Where to Stay in Big Sur: It is not easy to find a budget-friendly place to stay here, so expect to pay a little more for this night – unless you plan to bring camping gear, that is!

We recommend a cabin at the Big Sur River Inn. Book early though; Big Sur is a bucket list destination.

Day 5 Summary

Whale Breeching in Monterey on a California Highway One Road Trip
If you drive Highway One during the spring, there’s a good chance you’ll see whales migrating in the Pacific ocean in places like Monterey!

Day 6: Monterey & Santa Cruz

  • Today you’ll be driving from Big Sur to Santa Cruz, with a stop in Monterey for more adorable sea life. 
  • Drive Time: 1.5 Hours

There’s something truly magical about waking up in Big Sur. Maybe it’s the coastal fog, or the smell of salt and redwoods. It could be the quiet stillness of the surrounding forest. 

Wait, actually it’s the fact that you get to go to Big Sur Bakery! This wonderful bakery and restaurant fills up quickly and sells their baked goods out before noon, so if redwoods and salty air wasn’t enough to get you out of bed early, their almond croissants should. 

After breakfast, take a short hike on The Pfeiffer Falls & Valley View Trail, an easy 2-mile hike filled with waterfalls and sweeping vistas.

After your hike, it’s time to get back on the road. 

Bixby Bridge on California Highway One Road Trip
One of my favorite stops along Highway One is at the Bixby Bridge for this stunning view.

PCH Pit Stop: Bixby Creek Bridge

Head north on The 1 for about 11 miles and you will notice a ton of people pulled over on the north side of a bridge. You should join them and look south to find out why. This is the Bixby Creek Bridge (or Bixby Canyon Bridge if you’re Death Cab for Cutie), one of the area’s most iconic photo spots. 

Here’s the deal though. Erosion is a thing; do not be the person who plummets to their death for a picture. Growing up, I had heard one group went down the canyon for a party, got stuck, and had to be rescued when the tide got too high. Stay near the top where everyone else is, please.

Continue north! After about 20 miles you might hit some traffic. It’s totally normal: you’re about to hit Carmel-by-the-Sea.

If that name sounds fancy, it’s because it is. These homes are no joke and I envy all of them. What do you expect, if Pebble Beach (yes, THAT Pebble Beach) is your backyard?

Monterey Bay Aquarium on a California Highway One Road Trip
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is hands-down the best thing to do in Monterey, and one of the best aquariums in the world. Photo Credit

PCH Pit Stop: Monterey

Just past Carmel is Monterey, your next stop. Monterey was made famous by the local darling, literary giant, and one of my favorite authors, John Steinbeck, in his novel Cannery Row. Which is highly relevant, because that’s where you’re going. 

Arguably the centerpiece of Monterey is the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Y’all, I have to be honest. Aquariums have been RUINED for me because of this place. This world-class aquarium is not only at the forefront of scientific research & conservation efforts, it’s also a wildlife refuge! 

Our favorite thing to see – other than the giant walk-through aquarium hallway, which is epic – is an otter feeding! The resident otters are all rescues and will be released when they are healthy enough to return to the wild.

This is also why you have a really high chance of seeing otters while out kayaking or diving in the bay near the Aquarium: the kelp forests are full of healthy, happy otters who frequently come to visit their old home!

After you’ve dragged your companions away from watching the otters forever, pick up lunch at Mundos, a beloved sandwich spot with killer Argentine steak sandwiches, and get back on the road.

After about 30 minutes, you’ll start to see fruit stands pop up along the highway. The answer to the question on your mind is, “Yes you should stop for a snack.” 

Continue on for another 20 minutes and you will reach the very quirky and unique city of Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz Boardwalk, California
Welcome to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk! If it looks like Disneyland, that’s because Disneyland’s Pixar Pier is designed to look like it! (To be clear: Santa Cruz did it first.)

PCH Pit Stop: Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is weird, y’all – and proud of it. If you’ve ever heard something that sounds really granola and you’ve rolled your eyes and thought “Pssh, California,” you’re probably thinking of Santa Cruz without realizing it.

Honestly, though, it’s adorable. The town stretches from the redwoods to the beach and has a lovely mix of both – including a cute little steam train to take you in between!

You’ll also notice a strange phenomenon when you’re in Santa Cruz, and we’re not just talking about the gravitational anomaly and kitschy fever dream that is the Mystery Spot, which by the way, is a blast to visit.

No, we’re talking about banana slugs! These neon yellow slimy friends are the mascot of UC Santa Cruz and the patron saint of the area. You’ll see them all over the place, and if you can get past the fact that they are giant slugs, they’re actually kind of cute!

Something that you cannot miss in Santa Cruz is the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. If you’ve ever seen the movie Us then the boardwalk should look familiar. Not to worry though, there are no Tethered to speak of (but then again…why would I tell you if there were…?). 

  • Note from Lia: No one gets your references, Jeremy.

After a few hours of fun on the boardwalk, grab some dinner on the pier and watch the sunset.

Where to Stay in Santa Cruz: Santa Cruz is super quirky, so it’s no surprise the accommodations are as well. One of our favorite places to stay in Santa Cruz is at this quirky redwood treehouse next door to the Mystery Spot! For another truly Santa Cruz experience, try staying in this surfer van tiny house.

Day 6 Summary

Giant arrow statue along the Embarcadero south of Market Street in San Francisco, California.
Welcome to San Francisco! Today, you’ll be exploring my 2nd hometown.

Day 7: San Francisco

  • Today you will be exploring the greatest city on earth: San Francisco. Yep, we’re biased. Welcome to our home!
  • Drive Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Wake up early in your quirky accommodation and make a pit stop at Verve Coffee Roasters before hitting the road – you’re headed to the City by the Bay!

This is where we’ve called home for the past decade, so welcome! As long as you don’t call it Frisco, we promise everyone will be nice (locals hate that).  

You should be reaching San Francisco by mid-morning, and the first place we recommend is a visit to the San Francisco Ferry Building, which is the epicenter of the city’s Embarcadero, or waterfront. 

The Ferry Building is where the city’s many daily ferries to surrounding cities like Oakland, Alameda and Marin County arrive and leave from. It’s a famous spot because it was the main route in and out of San Francisco before the  Golden Gate Bridge was built in the 1930s. It also happens to be a massive marketplace full of delicious food. Win-win! 

The Ferry Building in San Francisco, California.
You’ll start your day at the San Francisco Ferry Building, a gorgeous indoor food hall and working ferry station.

The Ferry Building has tons of local restaurants and food stalls inside and is the perfect place to compile a little picnic lunch, eaten outside overlooking the Bay. We recommend picking up cheese at Cowgirl Creamery, stopping at the iconic Acme Bread for a loaf of San Francisco sourdough, and grabbing a few empanadas from El Porteno.

And don’t forget dessert: try a chocolate chip cookie from Dandelion or ice cream from Humphrey Slocombe. 

If you’d rather a casual seated lunch, head across the street and for delicious hot clam chowder in a bread bowl from Boudin, San Francisco’s other famous sourdough bread company. We take our bread seriously, y’all. 

Once you’re full and ready to continue your adventure, you’ll spend the next few hours exploring San Francisco on foot with our self-guided San Francisco walking tour, which will take you to iconic spots like Ghiradelli Square, Coit Tower, and Pier 39. Fair warning: there are a few hills.

On the tour, you’ll make a stop in San Francisco’s Chinatown, which is the largest outside of Asia and the oldest in North America! It’s a pretty special place, and not just because of the incredible food. 

San Francisco's Chinatown, signs and lanterns
San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest outside of China is an important part of the rich, complex history of San Francisco’s Chinese residents.

Chinatown has unique Chinese-inspired architecture, herbal medicine shops, and art and jewelry galleries that all highlight San Francisco’s rich Chinese history and heritage. The first Chinese immigrants arrived in San Francisco during the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s, and they faced segregation and discrimination for decades. San Francisco’s Chinatown is a testament to the resilience of the city’s Chinese community. 

To really enjoy Chinatown, you have to sample some Chinese cuisine! For dinner, make your way to Hunan House or  Z & Y (fun fact: Chinese presidents have eaten there!). Both are fantastic for authentic and delicious Chinese dishes. If you have room for dessert, find literally any Chinese bakery for a pastry – Golden Gate Bakery’s custard tarts are popular, but Lia prefers the coconut buns.

The night’s not over yet! During baseball season, we definitely recommend going to see a Giants game at Oracle Park on your night in the city. But during the rest of the year, make your way to a classic San Francisco cocktail spot for drinks instead.

Bourbon & Branch is a fun, themed speakeasy bar with unique cocktails–but fair warning, it’s unmarked. If you manage to find it, you’ll need a password to enter the library (here’s a hint: what you find inside a library?) and be sure to turn your phone off – you’ll be asked to stay “in character.” 

Another of our favorite bars in San Francisco is the Tonga Room, an amazing and unique Tiki Bar in the Fairmont Hotel in Nob Hill. Sneak out onto the rooftop garden for an incredible view – this is where I proposed to Lia!

Where to Stay in San Francisco: For your short stay in San Francisco, we recommend staying at The Hayes Valley Inn in beautiful Hayes Valley, or The Washington Square Inn in North Beach. For (a lot) more information, we have a long, detailed guide about where to stay in San Francisco!

Day 7 Summary

The Point Arena Lighthouse and coastal flowers in Mendocino, California.
My favorite stop along the way to Mendocino is the Point Arena Lighthouse. Be sure to stop for a photo and look closely at the rocks below for napping sea lions!

Day 8: Muir Woods, Point Reyes & Mendocino

  • Today you will be crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and following the coast north, with a couple of quick stops for redwoods and oysters. Timing is tight today but we believe in you!
  • Drive Time: 5.5 hours

Today is packed to the gills, so wake up early! There is no shortage of excellent coffee nearby to help you with this task – here’s a guide to the best coffee shops in San Francisco.

First things first: no road trip through San Francisco is complete without a stop at the Golden Gate Bridge. While the bridge is visible all over the Bay Area, my personal favorite viewpoint is from Battery Spencer on the north side of the bridge. The wind here can be intense, so make sure you’ve got a jacket on!

After taking plenty of pictures, set a course for the Muir Woods Visitor Center.

Muir Woods North of San Francisco California  on a Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip
Just north of San Francisco, Muir Woods is one of the most popular places to hike through an old growth redwood forest. (Stock Image from Unsplash)

PCH Pit Stop: Muir Woods

Muir Woods is named after famous naturalist John Muir, who is known as the grandfather of the modern conservation movement and the National Park Service. But Muir Woods has been an important Bay Area landmark since long before Muir’s movement – it was home to the Indigenous Miwok Tribe for generations. 

Muir Woods is a beautiful place to explore California’s famous old-growth redwoods, some of which are absolutely huge: the tallest tree in the park is over 250 feet high!

Muir Woods has hikes for all skill levels, but we recommend doing a shorter one to allow more time for stress-free driving. There is a loop that takes about half an hour which you can do right from the park entrance.

  • Highway One Travel Tip: Muir Woods can get crowded and in order to manage impact on the park, the NPS enforces a cap on visitors. So you will need to make a reservation in advance.

After you’re done taking in the awe and wonder of the redwoods, consider making an optional pit stop. It’s only a short drive from Muir Woods to Stinson Beach, one of Northern California’s most famous beach towns. Stinson has a long, wide beach, which is unusual in NorCal, where we usually have smaller rocky beaches.

Also, if nude beaches are your thing, Stinson has one. If not, there’s plenty of beach space where you can keep your clothes on! 

Everything in the town of Stinson has a nostalgic surf-town vibe, including Parkside Cafe, which is a beachside lunch option if you’re craving burgers and milkshakes.

From either Muir Woods or Stinson Beach, keep heading north to Point Reyes.

Delicious fresh oysters at Bodega Bay Oyster company in Northern California.
There is nothing more Northern California than fresh oysters. Except like, redwoods. And vineyards.

PCH Pit Stop: Bodega Bay & Point Reyes

If you stay on Highway One, you’ll drive through charming Bodega Bay. But across the Bay is the coastal peninsula known as Point Reyes National Seashore, a mecca for backpackers and hikers all over the world thanks to its wildlife and amazing views. There’s also a cute town, a beautiful lighthouse, and a resident herd of Tule Elk.

  • Highway One Travel Tip: If you take a detour off of Highway One to explore the National Seashore, add several extra hours to your route: the roads on the peninsula are slow and winding. But you’ll be rewarded with beautiful scenery, charming small towns like Inverness and, if you have time, a stunning Cypress Tree Tunnel. Our favorite hike in this area is to Tomales Point, but it will take all day – plan accordingly!

This area has some of the best farm to table food in California, and is best known for fresh oysters! You know how you’ll find clusters of roadside lobster shacks in Maine? That’s the vibe of this stretch of Highway One, known as the Point Reyes Oyster Trail.

Our favorite places to stop for fresh oysters on or right off Highway One are Bodega Bay Oyster Company, The Marshall Store or Hog Island Oyster Co. You don’t need to try them raw if that’s not your thing – they’re also delicious grilled, barbequed, or smothered in cheese and butter.

Fresh seafood at Wild Fish restaurant in Mendocino, California! Arrive early or make a reservation - there are only a handful of tables.
Save room for your dinner tonight: fresh seafood at Wild Fish restaurant in Mendocino, California!

From Point Reyes, you’ll be completing a nice long stretch of stop-free driving. Put on your California playlist, roll down the window, and enjoy the view! You’ll be passing through a few charming coastal towns and past one picturesque lighthouse (for what it’s worth, Point Arena is well worth a stop for a lighthouse photo).

You should reach Mendocino by early evening. We recommend an intimate, romantic, local and sustainable (and yes, a lil’ pricey – but well worth it) dinner at Wild Fish.

Where to Stay in Mendocino: We love the quirky Andiron Seaside Inn & Cabins, an independently owned boutique hotel complete with funky themed cabins, a daily happy hour, and 3 resident goats!

Day 8 Summary

Mendocino, California is located a few hours north from San Francisco along the scenic Highway One/Pacific Coast Highway. It's the perfect destination for a weekend getaway!
Snapshots from Mendocino, one of our favorite stops along the Pacific Coast Highway!

Day 9: Mendocino & Avenue of the Giants

  • Today you’ll be exploring Mendocino before driving the Pacific Coast Highway all the way to its end – and then continuing on the 101 to the most jaw-dropping stretch of redwoods in the world.
  • Drive Time: 1.5 Hours

For your final full day of California adventure (see what I did there? °o°) you’ll be exploring one of our favorite coastal towns and wine countries north of San Francisco – and then taking a detour to one of the most jaw-dropping drives in the world through ancient groves of massive redwoods. 

To put it mildly, if you haven’t fallen in love with California yet, you will today! (But also, how have you not yet? Are you ok??)

Brunch at Circa 62 in Mendocino, California.
Brunch at Circa 62. Not pictured is the menagerie of adorable critters out front snacking on seeds and nuts.

First things first: delicious breakfast at Circa 62! Aside from having the best breakfast in the area, the restaurant puts feed out so you can watch woodland creatures snacking, like California quails and bunnies. It’s basically a Disney movie! Also, the restaurant has a dog menu, so there’s a high chance of making a furry friend-o.

Continue north on Highway One until you reach Mendocino proper. Mendocino is an adorable coastal town known for wine, marine life and adventure!

One of the best things to do in Mendocino is to rent a kayak at Catch a Canoe and take a calm, self-guided kayak trip down the Big River Estuary. Keep an eye out for otters and sea birds!

Mendocino’s coastline is also dotted with stunning natural sea caves – you can explore them on the Kayak Mendocino Sea Cave Nature Tourled by Kayak Mendocino.

After you’ve worked up an appetite, spend some time exploring charming downtown Mendocino and make a stop for lunch at Good Life Bakery, which we are obsessed with. They have two kinds of bread pudding custard, blueberry and espresso, and they are both incredible. Try both! 

If you have some room in your suitcase for goodies, stop at Mendocino Jams and Preserves to pick up (and sample) some amazing chutney, jam or nut butter. YUM.

After your morning in Mendocino, head north on the Pacific Coast Highway until you arrive at Glass Beach in Fort Bragg. This famous beach gets its name from its sand-like colorful glass stones, created by a natural phenomenon: Glass Beach was actually once a dump, but the trash was turned into treasure by the pounding waves. Cool, right??

After you’ve checked out Glass Beach, continue north to MacKerricher State Park, one of the best spots for tide-pooling on the northern California coastline. We recommend driving to the Seal Watching Station to visit the tidepools at Laguna Point!

When you’ve had your fill of tide-pooling, it is time to drive the very last stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway… and bid it goodbye. But don’t worry! This isn’t quite the end of your California Coast road trip just yet.

Avenue of the Giants on Highway 101 California
The Avenue of the Giants is a stunning stretch of road running through a redwood forest. It’s a bit of a detour, but well worth it and the perfect way to end a Highway One road trip.

Highway 101 Pit Stop: Avenue of the Giants

At the very end of Highway One, you’ll merge onto Highway 101 and head to the Avenue of the Giants. You will hop off the 101 onto the Avenue, which runs parallel to the 101.

Avenue of the Giants is one of the most beautiful and humbling stretches of road in the world. The 31-mile route winds directly through a dense forest of old-growth redwoods. These incredible trees are hundreds of years old, incredibly tall, and ridiculously thick (or thicc, if you’re hip and with it, which I’m definitely not according to my students). There’s even a tree so large you can drive right through it – kitschy and campy, yes, but also one of those things you can only do in California.

Our favorite way to experience the Avenue of the Giants is a slow, awe-filled drive with the sunroof open, gazing all the way up until the trees seem to bend together to form a canopy.

We even have a favorite song to listen to along the route: Holocene by Bon Iver. “and at once I knew, I am not magnificent” is the lyric that perfectly encapsulates the way that the redwoods make us feel.

At the end of the day, you’ll start your journey home. There are two options–you can head north, toward Eureka, and fly out from there, or you can go on 101 South toward Sacramento.  

Day 9 Summary:

  • Big breakfast at Circa 62
  • Spend the morning in Mendocino
  • Continue on the 1 to Leggett, where the 1 sadly ends
  • Continue north on the 101
  • Take a detour off the 101 to Avenue of the Giants
  • (Option 1) Take the 101 South to the 20 to the 5 and stop in Sacramento for the night
  • (Option 2) Take the 101 North to Eureka and stay in Eureka
Couple Looking at View Central Coast California Highway One Road Trip
Wave a sad goodbye to views like this! California will miss you.

Day 10: Returning Home

Today you’ll be sadly leaving behind the California coast and heading back home.

Depending on which option you picked yesterday, you’ll either wake up in Sacramento or Eureka.

You have several options for returning home. Before your trip, research flight deals as well as one-way rental car prices to see which option is right for you!

Option 1: Fly home from Eureka

  • Fly from Eureka to LA, SF, or Denver
  • Connect from there to get home

If you opted to stay in Eureka for the night, you’ll catch a connecting flight through LA, SF or Denver.

This option definitely has the least amount of driving, but it’s also the smallest airport on our list – meaning it may be the priciest option!

Option 2: Fly home from SAC, SFO, SJC, or OAK

If you drove south and stopped in Sacramento for the night, it may be easiest to return your car and fly out straight from there.

But Sacramento is also just 1.5 hours away from the Bay Area, which has 3 airports: San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose.

Between those 4 airports, you should be able to find a decent flight back home!

Option 3: Drive to LAX & fly home

  • Take the 5 South all the way from Sacramento to LA
  • Fly home from LAX

There’s a good chance that the cheapest option is to return your car to LAX – or another regional airport within LA – and fly home from there. Luckily, there’s a shortcut in the form of California’s fastest and least scenic highway: the 5.

This shortcut will take about 6 hours, and unfortunately, we don’t have any fun stops to recommend, other than In ‘N Out. Put on a podcast episode or 3 (may we recommend the Practical Wanderlust podcast?) and just get it done.

That’s it – you did it! Wave goodbye to California’s sunshine and palm trees (and fog, and elephant seals) but don’t worry – we’re sure you’ll be back again someday. California will miss you until next time!

Highway One Itinerary Summary

We’ve created a free, printable summary of this Highway One itinerary! This will come in handy as you drive, since much of the Pacific Coast Highway has awful cell service.

The 7-page PDF also includes a printable version of our San Francisco Self-Guided Walking Tour for your day in the city. Plus, we’ll also send you our favorite tips to help you plan your California road trip!

You can get it all sent straight to your inbox by filling out the form below:

Printable Highway One Itinerary

This FREE printable Highway One itinerary will help guide you on your road trip! Plus, we’ve included our San Francisco walking tour, and we’ll send you some helpful tips to plan your trip.

We hope you enjoyed every second of your California Coast road trip! Which stop are you most excited about? Where are you thinking of extending or shortening our itinerary? Drop us all of your questions and comments below!

Psst: We’ve got a whole bunch more resources to help you plan your California road trip. Take a look at the posts below, or click here to see all of our California travel guides.

We also have a Highway One podcast episode! A humanist cult, a Danish hideaway, a gravitational anomaly, towering trees, a spoiled rich kid’s castle, clothing-optional hot springs, and the cutest (and weirdest) animals imaginable: in this episode, we cover everything you need to plan your trip up the California Coast – and all the weird history you never knew along the way.

Listen below or just click here! Oh, and don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss new episodes.

Until next time,

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Our Top Travel Tips & Resources

Here are our favorite travel tips & resources for saving money and planning travel logistics! For more tips, check out our complete guide to trip planning.

  • Face Masks: Scientific consensus demonstrates wearing face masks protects both yourself and those around you from viral spread! We love these reusable face masks because they’re ethically made with sustainable materials and budget-friendly.
  • Booking Flights: To score flight deals, search on Skyscanner or Kayak. Money-saving tips: fly mid-week or on the weekend; fly carry-on only on a budget airline; and take red-eyes or early morning flights.
  • Accommodations: We usually stay in mid-range boutique hotels or private rooms in hostels. We use to book hotels (we love their flexible cancellation policy) and Hostelworld to book hostels (low deposit, easy change/cancellation, and excellent reviews). Depending on the destination, we also love staying in AirBnBs. We’ve also used TrustedHousesitters as both hosts and travelers.
  • Travel Insurance: We always, always, ALWAYS buy travel insurance for international trips, and we STRONGLY suggest it – visit our Travel Insurance Guide to find out why. We recommend either World Nomads or SafetyWing for international travel insurance.
  • Vaccines & Meds: We use the travel guides on the CDC website to research recommended medications and vaccines for international trips. We always recommend getting every vaccine recommended by the CDC! You can get them at your primary care doctor’s office or a walk-in pharmacy.
  • Tours: We love booking guided tours, especially food tours and walking tours, to get a local’s perspective and a history lesson while sight-seeing! We book our tours using Viator and GetYourGuide.
  • Transportation: We use Rome2Rio to figure out how to get from place to place using public transit. When we book a rental car, we use to find the best deal.
  • Luggage Storage: Checking out early or taking advantage of a long layover? Use Stasher to safely store your luggage while you’re running around. Be sure to use the code PW10 for 10% off your booking!
  • What to Pack: Here are the travel essentials that we bring on every trip. We also have packing lists for hot weather, cold weather, and many more. Take a look at all of our packing guides!

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