Florida Man on the Run

10 Must See Pacific Coast Highway Stops

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What a daunting task it seems to create a just the ten best Pacific Coast Highway Stops. There is an absolute wealth of places to see and things to do along the Pacific Coast Highway. Driving the entire stretch of highways from Los Angeles and on into Oregon in one shot presents so many options. As a big fan of seeing all mother nature has to offer when I’m on a road trip, many of the best stops on the PCH in my opinion capture the beauty of this rugged landscape. These aren’t the only places on my Pacific Coast Highway top ten, but certainly some of my favorites. When planning your adventure, I hope this list of the must see Pacific Coast Highway stops makes your planning easier than it was for me!

10. Sonoma Coast State Park, California

Sonoma Coast State Park will be a pleasant surprise for those driving the Pacific Coast Highway. For those driving north, Sonoma Coast will be a return from a stretch that takes you far inland. The Pacific Coast Highway running through the park is wide-open and provides miles of open coastal views. There is over a dozen places where you’ll want to stop the car and drink in the views.

Looking back at Arch Rock on the Sonoma Coast

If you’ve got the time or inclination, there are quite a few beaches along this stretch as well. Though I don’t recommend swimming at any of them, getting close to the water is enough of an experience. Many of the beaches require some scrambling down the cliff sides, so please use abundant caution in reaching them. Both Portuguese and Schoolhouse Beaches are great choices that aren’t too difficult to get to. If you want a closer view of Arch Rock, then you’ll need to head down to Arch Rock Beach. You could even catch a few waves along the Sonoma Coast by heading to North Salmon Creek Beach.

No matter which direction on the coast you’re driving, Sonoma Coast State Park is something you really can’t miss. Like literally, you’re going to drive right through it. Take the opportunity and enjoy some time here on your way. It’s also a great middle point on your journey to see all the best stops on the PCH.

9. Marin Headlands, San Francisco, California

San Francisco is one of the major cities along the Pacific Coast Highway. Depending on your direction of travel, the Marin Headlands will either be your first or last sight of the City by the Bay. However, don’t just stop to grab a pic of the city. The headlands offer a number of their own hidden gems for you to explore, alongside some breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco.

The Golden Gate Bridge from Battery Spencer in the Marin Headlands

The primary viewing point for the Golden Gate Bridge is Battery Spencer. From here you’ll have the most expansive view of the bridge, city, and bay. If you’re up for a hike and a more exclusive view point you can head down to Kirby Cove. This beach also features an old battery and campground for some secluded camping just minutes from the city. Not to mention you can catch a pretty spectacular sunrise over the Golden Gate Bridge at Kirby Cove. If the hike to Kirby Cove isn’t enough for you, try out the steep trail leading down to the stunning Black Sand Beach as well.

For those who have a love of lighthouses, the Marin Headlands also feature one of the oldest on the west coast. The Point Bonita Lighthouse was the third built on the west coast and is still in operation today. From the lighthouse you can bask in the sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean which surrounds you. Point Bonita Lighthouse is a hidden little treasure which I encourage you to visit on your trip. In fact, the entirety of the Marin Headlands is a “hidden” gem which is easily one of the best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway.

8. Morro Rock, Morro Bay, California

Morro Rock was one of the many places which was better than I imagined when planning my trip. Seeking out a great place to catch our first true sunset, I had settled on Morro Rock. I’d hoped it wouldn’t disappoint but honestly didn’t think it’d be one of the best sunsets I’d catch on the entire trip. Needless to say, I’m glad that it caught my attention initially and drew me in.

Morro Rock and it's sunset is the #7 on the list of Must See Places on the Pacific Coast
Sunset at Morro Rock

The rock is a volcanic plug, one of many which stretch into San Luis Obispo from the coast. Known as the Nine Sisters, Morro Rock is the most distinct due to its prominence along the coast. It rises up over 576 feet from the surrounding water and it’s hard to miss it. The rock dominates the skyline from the city and it draws your eyes to it. The sheerness of its rise is even more striking since you can drive and walk right up to its base. Its usefulness to human has caused a great deal of damage to it from blasting, but that has completely halted today.

The best sunset views don’t come from looking at the sunsetting behind the rock. Walk around the back side of the rock and venture out to the start of the jetty. From this vantage point, you’ll get a clear view of the sun as it sets directly over the ocean. The dulling orange light cast on Morro Rock makes it look even more spectacular. For the ease of reaching it, the sunset at Morro Rock is pretty hard to beat. If you’re looking for great sunsets to include in your Pacific Coast Highway stops, Morro Rock is an excellent choice. It’s also not too far from The Rigdon House which was one of my favorite places we stayed during our 2018 trip!

7. Pigeon Point Lighthouse, California

There are a plethora of lighthouses along the dangerous and rocky coast. However, I think that Pigeon Point is the one worthy of inclusion on this list of best Pacific Coast Highway stops. It’s conveniently located on the quiet and often overlooked stretch of the road between Santa Cruz and San Francisco. We stopped here on our drive along the Pacific Coast Highway back in 2018 and loved not only seeing the lighthouse but spending some time on the nearby beach as well.

Not a more iconic pacific coast lighthouse!

The Pigeon Point Lighthouse is the tallest along the west coast (tied with Point Arena). It looks just like you’d picture a lighthouse to look. That telltale white masonry outside standing guard along the rocky shore. However, visitors should be prepared to simply look at it from the outside. That’s because since 2001 the lighthouse itself has been closed to visitors. The original cast iron railing and structure at the top wasn’t made to withstand the weather. This has caused it to become unsafe. However, plans are in the works to restore the lighthouse soon. Either way, it’s still one of the iconic Pacific Coast Highway stops you have to make on any road trip!

6. Bixby Bridge, Big Sur, California

This may be one of the most well-known and photographed bridges in the entire world. When you’re driving the Pacific Coast Highway it is literally a can’t miss spot. That’s because you have to drive over it no matter which direction you’re heading. For most people who are going to make the stop here, you’ll want to do it on the northern side of the bridge. That’s where you’ll be able to capture the iconic photo we all know. Kinda like the one I snapped when I made my trip back in 2018!

How do you beat that view really?

While architecturally pleasing to view, the bridge itself is also quite an impressive feat. Considering the seismically active nature of the Pacific Coast, the bridge has managed to withstand a number earthquakes. It underwent a retrofit in the late 90s to strengthen it, while still retaining it’s distinct character. Without the bridge, most of the residents of Big Sur would lack access to the outside world due to the rough and difficult nature of traveling over the mountains.

If you choose to make this one of your Pacific Coast Highway stops, make sure that you’re respectful of the area. Residents often complain of travelers being irresponsible when trying to park. People also often go “off-trail” to take photos or do other business. Like most of our travel, be considerate of when and how you do it. By doing this, Bixby Bridge can remain one of the best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway for years to come.

5. Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles, California

Now, I know what you might be thinking here. Griffith Observatory is miles inland from the Pacific Coast Highway, and you’re not wrong. However, the Observatory is the premier spot if you want to catch amazing views of LA. Its cultural and scientific significance make it a premier attraction in the city as well. Add in its location in Griffith Park and you’ve got all the makings of the best spot in Los Angeles to include on a Pacific Coast Highway top ten. Whether you’re going for the sights of the city, or looking at the stars, Griffith Observatory has it all.

Griffith Observatory is the #4 on the list of Must See Places on the Pacific Coast
Sunset behind Griffith Observatory

Though you’ll be leaving the highway for a bit, Los Angeles isn’t a pass-thru city like many others. Since you’re sure to be staying somewhere in LA, taking the time to visit Griffith Observatory is a must. The views of Los Angeles, especially at night, are simply breathtaking. Anytime you picture that wide night time shot of the city lights, you’re probably seeing a picture taken from the Observatory. Its also a prime spot to catch the sunset as well. The late afternoon light shines brilliantly over the Hollywood hills and paints the iconic Hollywood sign in a wonderful orange glow. It’s the best place to watch sunset in Los Angeles, though certainly not the only place you can see a great sunset in LA. You can top your visit off by experiencing the Observatory itself which holds its own, especially for those interested in science or astronomy.

While the PCH may not be the heart of LA, you’re certainly going to be making the city a stop on your journey. Griffith Observatory is simply the best spot in the city, especially if you’ve only got one day in town. For even more info, check out these local’s tips to Griffith Observatory!

4. 17 Mile Drive, Monterey, Califorina

The 17 Mile Drive might be one of the most scenic off-shoots of the massively scenic Pacific Coast Highway. It’s certainly one of the most stunning Pacific Coast Highway stops. Curving along the rocky coast of the Monterey Peninsula, it presents a number of ways to enjoy a terrific Pacific sunset. Of particular note is the Lone Cypress. While it is the subject of countless photos, its still one of those Pacific Coast Highway stops that you just have to see for yourself. If you’re arriving in Monterey at the right time, you certainly won’t be disappointed.

Hard to beat a breathtaking sunset like this

For golf aficionados, this scenic spur also happens to take you past some of the most iconic golf courses in America. Pebble Beach Golf Links is as iconic a course as there can be. Not to mention, it’s the top public course in the world (if you can afford the green’s fees). Other iconic courses include Cypress Point CC and Spyglass Hill.

If you’re not a golf fan, then luckily your cruise along 17 Mile Drive is packed with other amazing views. Though you might be feeling a bit board of rocky pacific coastlines by this point, I promise you won’t be disappointed. Every trip should include a drive along this unassuming road because it’s easily earns it’s spot on this Pacific Coast Highway top ten.

3. Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California

The Hearst Castle stands as evidence that if you truly love history and architecture, and have more money than god, that you can build the castle of your dreams. It is simply a marvel and the fact that the State of California owns it means that we can all experience its wonder. Unfortunately, it is the one place on this list I haven’t personally visited. With road closures during my trip, we had to drive around it to stay on time. If I could do it all over, I wouldn’t make that mistake again.

Who wouldn’t build a giant palace for themselves if you had the money?

The castle was built by William Randolph Hearst, but wasn’t completed during his lifetime. The palatial estate encompasses more than 90,000 square feet of building space, 127 acres of gardens and formerly a private zoo. When visiting the estate there are a wide number of tours offered. Even with these tours, you would have to visit multiple times to be able to see the entire castle grounds. Since the tours aren’t free, I recommend taking the evening tour. Its the longest tour on offer and lets you experience the castle under the gorgeous lights of the grounds.

With its location just off the Pacific Coast Highway, Hearst Castle is a great stop if you’ve got a couple hours. We didn’t have the time on our trip due to the road being closed and I’m sorely disappointed to have missed it. Make sure you see it if you can. It’s certainly worthy of it’s podium place on this Pacific Coast Highway top ten.

2. Limekiln State Park, Big Sur, California

This was my favorite stop in Big Sur. The cool and crisp air of the late morning made the journey into the park supremely inviting. With the entrance right off the Pacific Coast Highway, Limekiln is hard to miss. It is also one of the few spots on this list where camping that puts you in that ideal spot between towns and the wilds. If this was a list of best stops on the PCH for camping, it would probably be #1!

Limekiln State Park is the #2 on the list of Must See Places on the Pacific Coast
Where the two Limekiln Creeks become one

The forest contained by Limekiln SP is largely new growth redwoods. Having been nearly clear cut in the late 1800s, the forest has an openness and airiness that you can’t quite find elsewhere on the trip. It also contains three different creeks which run together in the park. These creeks provided a unique calming focus while in the park. The trails all lead you away from the highway, which means that you quickly can lose yourself in the simple sounds of the creeks or birds among the trees.

Two of the trails will lead you to waterfalls located in the park, with Limekiln Falls as a must on your visit. If the water is high from rain, they might be a harder to reach due to the water crossings. Expect to get your boots wet. The other trail you need to do is the Limekiln Trail. This one will lead you back to the remnants of the four huge kilns on site. These are what the park draws its name from. Of my entire trip along the coast, this was the only place where you could see the history of what took place here. These kilns served as a reminder that for decades these lands were used up and then left behind with no care for their preservation. Limekiln was a great start to my trip and it’ll be a great Pacific Coast Highway stop on yours as well.

1. Rockefeller Forest, Avenue of the Giants, California

The number one stop on the Pacific Coast Highway is the Rockefeller Forest. However, this definitely deserves a bit of a caveat. You’ve got to go just a little further north from the end of the “true” Pacific Coast Highway to get here. It’s located just off the Avenue of the Giants, and this stand of old-growth redwoods was a place I simply didn’t want to leave. A trip here by John Rockefeller inspired him to make a two million dollar donation (equivalent to more than $32,000,000 today) to purchase the forest which now bears his name. When you arrive, you’ll see why he was so inspired to save this beautiful forest.

Rockefeller Forest is the #1 on the list of Must See Places on the Pacific Coast
Bull Creek running near Rockefeller Forest

Taking Bull Creek Flats Road will wind you away from the highways and into a peaceful land. The main Rockefeller Loop sits between the South Fork Eel River and Bull Creek. Nestled into this alluvial plain, the trees here grow to magnificent heights. The Rockefeller Forest is the largest remaining old-growth forest of redwoods in the world. As your exploring the main trail here, take the time to understand your place in the world alongside these trees. The age and size of these redwoods really helps to place everything into perspective. If you’re lucky enough like I was to be the only people there at the time, the whole rest of the world will really slip away.

Beyond exploring the forest on the trail, take the opportunity to hike a side trail down to Bull Creek. The flowing water and flat stony outcroppings make for the perfect place to have a picnic. You might even dip your toes in the cool water. The entire area is a place where you can find a place to simply stop and enjoy nature. The trees along the trail are some of the best you’ll find and the peacefulness of the forest is hard to beat. It seemed like everywhere I turned, something better was just around the way. If you’re driving the entire PCH, you might as well put in a couple extra miles to reach the Rockefeller Forest. I promise you won’t be disappointed. Plus, you can just continue to explore the Redwood Highway now that you’re already on it! Either way, the Rockefeller Forest is easily going to be #1 on your list of the ten best stops on the PCH!

Go Beyond The Ten Best Pacific Coast Highway Stops!

This list of the best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway is really just scratching the surface. That’s because there are clearly more than just ten great Pacific Coast Highway stops. The biggest problem I found when planning is how do you pick just ten. The honest answer is, you don’t! This Pacific Coast Highway top ten should just be a starting point to help you discover all the awesome options out there.

Another awesome part about making a road trip that includes the best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway is that you’re so close to other wonderful locations. If you extend the trip north, you can follow the Redwood Highway all the way to Oregon! From there just continue on the Oregon Coast Highway to wonderful Astoria! Then finish up your trip just like I did with a killer weekend in Portland!

I’d love if you jump in and add to the conversation by dropping me a comment below. You can also follow along with my adventures in real time by checking out my Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest accounts! Thanks for reading!

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9 Responses

  1. You ALLLLLMMMOSSST, made it to San Diego. Haha, but seriously this is a great list of the Ten Must See Places to See along the Pacific Coast Highway or PCH. I do wish you had come a bit further south of L.A. cause I think you are missing out on San Clemente, it is amazing. Plus, if you can get around the San Onofre Nuclear Plant & Marine Base and reconnect in Oceanside, the final little leg of the PCH down San Diego to Torrey Pines is really cool too!
    But with that said, if you love the North, then I think the Yaquina Head Lighthouse definitely needs to be a bucket list destination. That is an amazing picture you got of it. I did love checking out parts of the Rocky PCH coastline up North.

  2. That’s a great list of 10 places on the Pacific coast! I have only visited one – the Avenue of Giants. I love that picture of the limekiln creeks. I will definitely bookmark this blog for my future visit to this region. Thank you for an informative blog!

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