Best Overnight Stops on Pacific Coast Highway

Overnight stops Pacific Coast Highway guide

The Pacific Coast Highway, often known as Highway 1, runs through California from the south of San Diego to Crescent City (in the north).

In this article, we have selected the best overnight stops on the Pacific Coast Highway that you should definitely visit.

Best overnight stops on Pacific Coast Highway

The Pacific Coast Highway is an iconic and breathtaking roadway that offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and coastal landscapes.

Pacific Coast Highway beach view
Stunning Pacific Coast Highway

Some popular overnight stops along the highway include:

  • The charming town of Monterey, known for its historic Cannery Row and world-renowned aquarium
  • The picturesque village of Carmel-by-the-Sea, with its art galleries, wine-tasting rooms, and white sand beaches
  • The rugged and dramatic Big Sur coastline, with its state parks, hiking trails, and scenic vistas
  • The laid-back surf town of Santa Barbara, with its Mediterranean-style architecture, wine country, and cultural attractions.

Venice Beach

Venice beach stops on Pacific Coast Highway
Venice beach

For those looking for a vibrant experience, Venice Beach is the place for you.

You can get to enjoy yourself here since there are so many outdoor activities, such as bike riding, fishing, and skateboarding, among many others.

There are great bike paths, a state-of-the-art skateboard arena, and a fishing pier.

The beach has a lively boardwalk with street performers and a great playground on the seaside.

We believe this stopover is worthwhile since it is a great tourist attraction, attracting millions of tourists every year.

Another cool place to go is the famous muscle beach.

This is an outdoor gym where Arnold Schwarzenegger and other great bodybuilders trained in the 1970s. To this day, plenty of gymnasts and weightlifters go there to work out and flex.

Malibu

Malibu visit Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu
  • Distance from Vernice beach: 20miles
  • Travel time: 30mins

One of the places that you can stop over while touring the pacific coast is Malibu.

Malibu is a beautiful coastal city in California located west of Los Angeles. It is known for its scenic coastal drive, stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, and rocky cliffs.

Some of California’s most stunning beaches can be found here. These beaches are popular spots for swimming, sunbathing, surfing, and other beach activities.

The city is also known for its exclusive luxury homes and celebrity sightings.

If you are a lover of beaches and nature activities as well as a taste of the luxurious lifestyle, then Malibu is a great overnight stop for you.

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara stop on Pacific Coast Highway
Santa Barbara
  • Distance from Malibu: 67miles
  • Travel time: 1hr 10mins

While a lot of people skip Santa Barbara and opt for more touristy spots such as Los Angeles and Big Sur, we believe it is worth visiting.

It is located approximately 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

Since the beaches here are not as crowded as those in Malibu, you will have the space to indulge in plenty of water games. Additionally, they are warmer and have amazing sunset views.

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One of the beaches you should visit is Hendry`s Beach which is popular with swimmers. It is also an ideal place to walk your cute pooch.

Apart from the beaches, the food and wine scene is also amazing.

There are plenty of wine vineyards, such as Melville Winery Tasting Room, where you can savor some local wines.

There are also plenty of natural elements to explore, such as marine life and hot springs. Lastly, the accommodation options are world-class, and you will have plenty of options.

San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo stop on Pacific Coast Highway
San Luis Obispo
  • Distance from Santa Barbara: 95 miles
  • Travel time:1hr 30minutes

A place nicknamed The Happiest City in America has to be on your travel itinerary.

San Luis exudes happiness, harmony, and health, and we highly recommend you spare some time to visit this lovely town. 

The town is so chilled out that it is nicknamed SLO (pronounced as Slow). This goes to show the pace of life here.

Since it is located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, it is the ideal place for an overnight stopover.

While it is not a coastal town, beaches such as Pismo and Piedras Blancas are less than a 15-minute drive away.

The weather here is also consistently mild, and temperatures range between 65-75 degrees F.

For adventurous souls – SLO also has some amazing hiking trails, such as Madonna Mountain, where you can catch some breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.

The dining and lodging scene here is also amazing, and we highly recommend you visit Granada Hotel & Bistro. This trendy, art-filled hotel features a cozy bar, lounge area, and a bistro style.

Hearst Castle in San Simeon

San Simeon visit Pacific Coast Highway
Hearst Castle San Simeon
  • Distance from San Luis Obispo: 42miles
  • Travel  time: 47 mins

If you plan to stop in San Simeon, you should consider visiting Hearst Castle. This world-renowned house museum was owned by newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst.

It has a whopping 165 rooms and was designed and built by architect Julia Morgan between 1919 and 1947. It features a colonnaded Roman pool and vistas of the Central Coast.

To access the property, a basic package will cost you $35 for adults and $17 for children.

There are different tours to choose from, such as:

  • Grand rooms tour
  • Upstairs suites tour
  • Cottage & Kitchen tour
  • Julia Morgan tour

Big Sur

Big Sur
Big Sur
  • Distance from Heart castle: 178miles
  • Travel time: 3hrs

Any West Coast road trip must include a stop on the Big Sur Coast.

There is something to do for every visitor in Big Sur, thanks to the many state parks, beaches, and coastal regions to discover!

The name signifies the untapped wilderness that lay along the coast south of Monterey. It is situated approximately 120 miles south of San Francisco.

Due to its vastness and the views it offers, it is one of the most beautiful sections on the PCH.

You can appreciate the beauty and take countless pictures because there aren’t many obvious traces of development, and there are lots of parking pullouts.

You can spend the night at the spectacular Ventana glamping and enjoy a luxurious camping experience.

Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel-by-the-Sea
Carmel-by-the-Sea
  • Distance from Big Sur: 26miles
  • Travel  time: 40 minutes

Carmel by the sea is a fantastic overnight stop in the PCH. It has a beautiful beach with white sand.

If you are a dog pet owner, be sure to come with your dog since the beach here is regarded as the most dog-friendly beach.

There is a wide range of outdoor activities that you can do here.

These include hiking, beach combing, playing golf, and going wine tasting, among many others.

The town is home to historical museums and galleries. Some of them include the following:

  • Tor-House Foundation
  • Carmel Mission Basilica
  • The Whaler`s Cabin Museum
  • Gallery 21
  • Jo Mora Chapel Gallery  

You can also take a stroll through the town and visit some of the local boutiques that are found there.

Lastly, Carmel by the sea is home to some amazing inns and hotels that are also pet friendly.

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz stops on Pacific Coast Highway
Santa Cruz
  • Distance from Carmel-by-the-Sea: 47miles
  • Travel time: 1hr

Santa Cruz, or Surfers` paradise, as it is commonly referred should be another addition to your itinerary.

The town is known for its beautiful beaches, redwood forests, and lively surf culture. It basically offers you a unique blend of natural beauty and urban lifestyle.

Also, just like San Luis, Santa Cruz also has a laid-back vibe that is just inviting.

If you are a lover of nature, you will get to enjoy hiking and biking in the nearby redwood forests, such as:

  • The Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
  • Big Basin Redwoods State Park

The town also has a vibrant downtown area with a variety of shops, restaurants, and bars.

Overall, Santa Cruz offers a great mix of outdoor activities, beach culture, and urban amenities, making it a great overnight stop along the Pacific Coast Highway.

Half Moon bay

Half Moon Bay visit Pacific Coast Highway
Half Moon Bay
  • Distance from Santa Cruz: 48miles
  • Travel  time: 55 minutes

Half Moon Bay is a coastal city located in the Bay Area of San Francisco, California.

It is known for its scenic coastal drive along Highway 1, which offers stunning ocean views and cliffs.

The city also boasts several picturesque beaches, such as:

  • Half Moon Bay State Beach
  • Mavericks Beach
  • Francis Beach

These beaches are popular spots for swimming, sunbathing, and surfing.

In addition, Half Moon Bay is also home to several parks and hiking trails, as well as a thriving art and dining scene.

You can also stop at the Ao Nuevo State Park, which is a few miles south of Half Moon Bay, to watch the elephant seals.

Thousands of them congregate there every winter to breed there, but you may also see them at other times of the year.

Need more inspiration on what you can do in Half Moon Bay? Read our guide on the Things To Do In Half Moon Bay.

What is the best month to drive the Pacific Coast Highway?

The best month to drive the Pacific Coast Highway depends on personal preference and the type of experience you’re looking for.

Drive Pacific Coast highway view
Drive Pacific Coast Highway

May to September is considered the peak months for tourism, and the weather is generally warmer and sunnier during this time.

However, this also means that the roads and popular stops along the route will be busier.

If you prefer mild weather and fewer crowds, October to April may be better.

The coastline can be especially dramatic during winter, with powerful waves and dramatic skies.

Keep in mind that some road closures may occur due to weather conditions during the winter.

Where do you stay when driving on the Pacific Coast Highway?

Many hotels along the pacific highway offer accommodation.

@booking.com Stanyan Park hotel
@booking.com Stanyan Park hotel

These hotels include:

Depending on your budget, you can choose which hotels to stay in, as they range from the most expensive luxury hotels to pocket-friendly hotels.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, the best overnight stop along the Pacific Coast Highway depends on your preferences. Still, these cities all offer a mix of natural beauty, culture, and a variety of accommodation options.

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