The PCH is one of America’s most thrilling rides, with spectacular ocean views on one side and sweeping landscapes on the other.
Due to the many attractions located on this route, you will need this Pacific Coast Highway 7-day itinerary to ensure you get the most out of your trip.
The highway runs from Port Townsend near Olympic National Park and culminates at Dana Point in Orange County.
Get Ready for Pacific Coast Highway 7-Day Itinerary
To cover most of the essential attractions, we will start our drive in Seattle and end in San Diego.
We will take it slow, stretching the trip to 7 days to include a fair amount of pit stops for refreshments, adventure-seeking, and sightseeing.
Before you hit the motorway, here are a few things you should know about the Pacific Coast Highway.
The route is 1,255 miles. While you can cover the entire PCH in a day, you’ll miss out on the fun and attractions along the way.
You will be driving through 3 states, Washington, Oregon, and California, so abide by the local speed limits.
Signage along the highway and Google Maps come in handy, keeping you on the PCH even when you take detours.
While the driving times on Google are fairly accurate, add a significant chunk of time to it since you’ll make stops more often to take in the scenery. Wear comfy clothes since you’ll be in the car for 3-6 hours.
Besides, keep an eye on your gas gauge to avoid being stranded between stops. If you can fuel in major towns, the better since highway gas stations tend to mark up the prices.
The roads are smooth with multiple lanes but expect traffic jams as you approach the major towns.
While most of the jams are manageable, Los Angeles traffic is a nightmare for most of the day due to its flurry of activities.
The routes can get foggy most mornings but dissipate as the day continues. Watch out for mudslides around the Big Sur stretch during the rainy seasons.
Although they happen occasionally, they are known to cause disruptions or closure of the Pacific Coast Highway.
Best Month To Travel
The best time to go on a road trip on the PCH is late February to April. These months offer the best views of the scenic Pacific coastline and surrounding landscapes.
The hills turn bright green and yellow as the flowers blossom while the waterfalls are at full throttle.
In the ocean, it’s whale migration season, and plumes of water are a common sight as you drive. Moreover, you’ll be in time for the elephant pupping season.
While you can start the trip in any direction, we recommend starting your road trip from north to South (Seattle to San Diego).
It gives you the best views since you will be driving on the ocean side of the road.
Besides, most scenic viewpoints are on this side, making it easier to pull over. Carry a decent zoom range camera to experience all the lovely views and sights.
The conditions along the drive will change sporadically from foggy mornings, sunny afternoons, icy coastal breezes, and occasional showers.
Your suitcase should have bathing suits since you’ll definitely get into the water, and a heavy and light jacket to keep you insulated.
Proper gear and rain jackets are essential if you plan to go hiking during the trip.
Day 1: Seattle To Newport
Now that you fully understand the journey ahead, this 7-day itinerary will highlight the best things to do and see, including the best places to stay overnight.
On the first day, you’ll be driving from Seattle to Newport with a stop at Portland.
- Drive time- 5 hours
- Distance- 305 miles
Top Attractions Between Seattle and Newport
- Point Defiance State Park
- Mount Rainier National Park
- Cannon Beach
- Devil’s Punch Bowl
- Beverly Beach State Park
- Cape Foulweather
While on the route, we highly recommend you visit Portland and Newport. Newport is great if you want a place to spend the night.
Make a stop in Oregon’s largest city- Portland.
Some cool places to explore in Portland include:
- The International Rose Test Garden
- Washington Park
- The Grotto
- The 68,000 square feet Powell’s Books.
Besides, the Saint John’s neighborhood also provides a good evening stroll for shopping for antiques and jewelry.
Newport provides one of the best stopovers along the Oregon stretch.
It has a mixture of outdoor and indoor activities that will delight any traveler. Go kayaking at Yaquina Bay, wild watching at the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, or tide pooling at Cobble Beach.
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You can even spend the afternoon touring Oregon Coast Aquarium, Hatfield Marine Science Centre, Discovery Zoo, or Cape Perpetua, where Thor’s Well is.
Head to Nye Beach for dinner at one of the beachside restaurants to witness one of the most spectacular sunsets on the Pacific coast.
You can also choose to end the day at the nearby Newport Performing Arts Center to watch local musical and cultural performances before retiring for the night.
Where to Stay in Newport
Day 2 and 3: Newport to Fort Bragg
We set off from Newport, an overnight stop at Crescent City, and head south to Fort Bragg.
- Drive time- 9 hours 10 minutes
- Distance- 448 miles
Top Attractions Between Newport and Fort Bragg
- Seal Rock State Park
- Devil’s Churn
- Sea Lion Caves
- Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint
- Humboldt Redwoods State Park
- Prehistoric Gardens
- Skunk Train
- Glass Beach
- International Sea Glass Museum
Due to its laid-back nature, Crescent city is the perfect place for an overnight stay.
Crescent city got its name from its beautiful crescent-shaped bay.
Due to its laid-back nature, it will provide an ideal oceanfront stop for the night. The city has excellent outdoors, so there is plenty to do before dusk.
Explore the gorgeous Redwoods Parks or go rafting and kayaking in the Smith River. Surf in Pebble Beach or take picturesque sunset strolls along Crescent Beach.
Lastly, end your evening by tasting the incredible local cheese and fresh seafood while drowning it with a pint of kombucha, the local beer.
Where to Stay in Crescent City
If you are an outdoor enthusiast and nature lover, you will love the stop at Fort Bragg. The serene coastal town has jaw-dropping landscapes, oceanside parks, unique beaches, and vibrant marine and bird life.
The Glass Beach is its most famous attraction, featuring glittering sea glasses that wash up from the Pacific. Pudding Creek is another favorite vacation beach with its picturesque wooden trestle bridge and lagoons.
The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens is another great place to visit due to its breathtaking displays of plants and flowers that extend over the canyons and wetlands.
Last but not least, Laguna Point in McKerracher State Park provides the perfect setting to spot migrating whales, harbor seals, anemones, sea stars, and other marine creatures.
Where to stay in Fort Bragg
Day 4: Fort Bragg to San Francisco
Today’s drive will explore sights between Fort Bragg and San Francisco, with a pit stop at Santa Rosa.
Drive time- 3 hours 20 minutes
Distance- 164 miles
Top Attractions Between Fort Bragg and San Francisco
- The Chandelier Tree (Drive Through Tree Park)
- 1909 Point Cabrillo Light Station
- Dry Creek Vineyard
- Russian River Kayak Tours
- Golden Gate Park
- Mendocino Art Center
- Pier 39
- Lindsay Wildlife Experience
- Fisherman’s Wharf
If you want to relax before going on with your journey, you can stop at Santa Rosa before heading to San Francisco.
Santa Rosa is a quaint town 110 miles south of Fort Bragg. Explore its vibrant downtown for delicious culinary delights, wine tasting, and local boutiques.
Ensure you pay a visit to Charles M. Schulz Museum and experience a taste of an African safari at Safari West.
If you want to relax, take a tour of Luther Burbank’s Home and Gardens. This place brings out a Scandinavian vibe with the green rolling hills dotted with blooming wildflowers.
If you are an art lover, stroll through the funky South A Street Art District and peek in the numerous studios and galleries full of art exhibits.
The iconic Golden Gate Bridge ushers you into this bustling metropolis with tons of unique attractions and cool neighborhoods.
If you have the time, venture inland into the legendary Yosemite National Park. Alternatively, stay along the coast and hit Ocean Beach for a refreshing swim in the Pacific.
While we need to get back on the PCH, an overnight stay at SF doesn’t do the city justice; make sure to plan for another 3-day trip to enjoy visits to the CityPass, Alamo Square, and Palace of Fine Arts.
Where to Stay in San Francisco
Day 5 and 6: San Francisco to Santa Barbara
You’ll be driving from San Francisco to Santa Barbara with stops at the Big Sur and San Luis Obispo.
- Drive time- 5hr 15 min
- Distance- 325.2 miles
Top Attractions Between San Francisco and Santa Barbara
- Pigeon Point
- Pebble Beach
- Bixby Creek Bridge
- Point Sur State Historic Park
- Elephant Seal Rookery
- Hearst Castle
- Pismo Beach
- Avila Hot Springs
- Danish Village in Solvang
The Big Sur is probably the best place to take in the view of the Pacific coast. We highly recommend you stop here before heading to San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara.
The Big Sur
A PCH road trip is only complete with a stopover at the Big Sur. It is famous for its breathtaking views of the Pacific, stretches of golden sand, and mammoth picturesque bridges.
You can’t help pulling over after a few miles to catch a glimpse of the stunning scenery, especially at the iconic McWay Falls, as it spills directly into the ocean.
The Big Sur coastline is absolutely scenic, and we can confidently say the 90–mile stretch is the best coastline along the PCH.
Have your camera at hand to capture amazing snapshots for your Instagram account. Spend the night in Big Sur to watch the sunset over the magnificent rugged coastline.
Where to Stay in Big Sur
San Luis Obispo
San Luis Obispo, or SLO is a great pit stop due to its gorgeous sandy beaches, rejuvenating hot springs, and cool Mediterranean climate.
While there ensure you explore the exquisitely decorated San Luis Obispo de Tolosa church or the 3 museums (Art, Children, and Railroad).
Lastly, the 65-foot-long Bubblegum Alley is a rather odd but popular attraction in the town you might want to visit before resuming your trip.
Santa Barbara is a great coastal town with great food, shopping outlets, and tons of adventurous activities. While in town, you can go to the harbor for whale-watching tours or visit the Santa Barbara Zoo.
The El Presidio, Lotusland, Arroyo Burro Beach County Park, Stearns Wharf, and the 17th Century Old Mission Santa Barbara are other top attractions worth your while.
Where to Stay in Santa Barbara
Day 7: Finally, Santa Barbara to San Diego
It is the final day of our Pacific Coast Highway road trip, and we will be driving from Santa Barbara to San Diego with stops at Malibu and Los Angeles.
- Drive time- 4 hours
- Distance- 219 miles
Top Attractions Santa Barbara And San Diego
- Santa Monica Pier
- California Legoland
- Venice Beach
- Point Dune
- International Surfing Museum in Huntington Beach
- Ventura Beach
- Zuma Beach
Before ending your road trip to San Diego, spare some time and visit Malibu and LA.
A one-and-a-half drive from Santa Barbara, Malibu is a sparse suburban beach city synonymous with celebrities, posh boutiques, and great seafood.
Restaurants and coffee shops line up the 21-mile coastal strip with beautiful beaches.
Make a short visit to the Adamson House for stunning architectural displays overlooking the Malibu Lagoon State Beach before you get back on the road.
The ‘City of Angels’ is a top educational, cultural and recreational city with world-famous attractions and home to A-list celebrities. It is enormous (the largest city in California).
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However, we will make our pit stop in the South Bay to stick to our itinerary and avoid being caught in the notorious Los Angeles traffic.
The South Bay is a charming location covering beautiful coastal towns, including the sandy Manhattan, Hermosa, and Redondo beaches.
At the beach, slip on your flip-flops and take a short walk on the Strand, a beachside pathway for walking or biking.
Have some refreshments at a local cafe and return to the PCH for its final stretch.
Congrats! You have made it to the end of the Pacific Coast Highway.
While it is the last stop, it is no short of attractions, with the San Diego Zoo being the most famous. Explore the charming city for historical, cultural, adventure, and fine dining experiences.
The USS Midway Museum, SeaWorld San Diego, bay cruises, and La Jolla provide plenty of activities for couples and families.
Where to Stay in San Diego
The Pacific Coast Highway boasts many iconic landmarks, breathtaking sceneries of the coastline, and surrounding landscapes. With so much to offer, you need to take this incredible road trip at least twice to marvel at all the Pacific Coast has to offer.
Hopefully, this Pacific Coast Highway 7-day itinerary will help you prepare adequately to maximize on the road trip with your partner, family, or friends.
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