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Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip: Things to do and see along Hwy 1

Scenic water views along the PCH California

Mike and I just returned from a fabulous roadtrip up the California coast. The Pacific Coast Highway is an amazing drive – beautiful scenery and fantastic attractions along the way. From the beaches to the ocean views to the redwood trees, everything was fantastic! We will definitely be planning a longer trip the next time around.

The Pacific Coast Highway, officially named Highway 1, is frequently rated amongst the best drives in the country. This comes at no surprise as the entire drive is breathtakingly beautiful. The drive starts in Orange County near Dana Point and continues up the coast until you reach Hwy 101 near Legett, California in Northern California.

Beautiful views along California's Hwy 101

We drove portions of both the PCH and Hwy 101, as the 2 roads frequently merge. After reaching Fort Bragg (on Northern California’s Mendocino coast), you will need to drive on Hwy 101 to continue up the coast. Hwy 101 runs from Los Angeles all the way up to Olympia, Washington.

The PCH is the more scenic drive of the 2. I recommend driving the PCH until you reach Ft. Bragg. Then you can switch over to the 101 to see the gorgeous redwoods! Below, I have listed a few of the highlights along both routes.

Top attractions along the Pacific Coast Highway

Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach is one of Orange County’s most photographed beaches. The dramatic cliffs and mansions of the area lead way to fabulous photo opportunities. This charming coastal town offers 20 miles of public beaches along its’ 7 miles of coastline. Laguna is well known for its’ thriving art community. Be sure to take a walk around town after your visit to the beach. Here,you will find art galleries, unique shops, and plenty of enticing restaurants.

Southern California's gorgeous Laguna Beach

Crystal Cove State Park

Perhaps one of the most beautiful and hidden secrets in Orange County is Laguna Beach’s beautiful Crystal Cove State Park, home to 2400 acres of pristine nature and 3.2 miles of gorgeous coastline. Hiking trails offer tremendous views of the Pacific coast and beautiful views of the natural hilly terrain. Watch out for mountain lions – they have been spotted on the El Morro trails!

Crystal Cove State Park in Laguna Beach, California

Huntington State Beach

Huntington Beach, one of Orange County’s most beautiful beaches, offers a little something for everyone. Whether you enjoy surfing, biking, jogging, volleyball, or just relaxing…Huntington Beach has it all! Did you know that Huntington Beach is the “Surf Capital of the World?” On any given day, you are bound to see dozens of surfers out perfecting their skill. The beautiful pier is a great place to catch all the action. Or, you can always sign up for a lesson yourself!

Be sure to check out the 8 mile pedestrian path, a great place to jog, bike, or walk. On this stunning oceanfront path you will be treated to endless incredible views of the Pacific. A great workout and great views at the same time? I’m in!

Huntington Beach State Park - California

Manhattan Beach

One of the best LA area beaches, with a gorgeous pier and plenty of opportunities for playing and/or watching volleyball games. The wide, sandy beaches combined with a year-round comfortable climate draws many athletes to the area. Both the Manhattan Beach Open Volleyball Tournament and the International Surf Festival are held here each year.

Manhattan Beach Pier - California

Santa Monica Pier

A drive up the California coast would not be complete without a visit to the historic Santa Monica Pier, one of the most iconic attractions in all of Southern California. Amusement rides, crazy shows, restaurants, carnival games…you just have to see it. The rollercoaster ride is a great time, not to mention the fantastic views!

Santa Monica Pier - Southern California

Seaside State Beach

Seaside State Beach is a stunning beach located in Monterey County, California. Being an avid SeaGlass collector I just had to stop at this beach as it is ranked as one of the best in the country! Not only did we find plenty of beautiful SeaGlass, we also enjoyed the beautiful scenery and quiet atmosphere. What a relaxing beach to take a break from driving – few crowds, clean sand, and nice waves!

Seaside State Beach - Monterey, CA

Seaside State Beach - Monterey, California

Golden Gate Bridge

One of the most unique ways to experience the majesty of the Golden Gate Bridge is to take a walk across it! The pedestrian path is a great opportunity to take photos of yourself/family walking across the bridge! You will also have great views of the San Francisco skyline, the ocean, and the surrounding landscapes. The bridge itself is even more stunning in person than in photographs! In addition, the parking lot by the bridge is an excellent spot for taking gorgeous photography of the bridge.

If you have time, plan a visit to Marin Headlands, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation area. The hiking and biking trails here offer the best views of the bridge.

golden gate

Walking across the Golden Gate Bridge - San Francisco, CA

golden gate bridge 2 blog

View of San Francisco from the Golden Gate Bridge

SeaGlass Beach

There is a beach in Northern California’s Ft. Bragg, which is known for its’ abundance of SeaGlass. In fact, it is one of the top beaches in the US for avid SeaGlass collectors. The former location of an old dump, SeaGlass Beach is now shining with hundreds of thousands of pieces of the tumbled frosted glass.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with SeaGlass, here is the story: SeaGlass is simply the result of plenty of time and tumbling. Old bottles and other forms of glass are tumbled smooth over time from years of tumbling along the rocks. Walking along this beach is a truly memorable experience as all the glass shimmers in the sun; it feels as though you are walking across jewels!

Seaglass Beach - Ft. Bragg, CA

Handful of seaglass at Seaglass Beach in Ft. Bragg, CA

Beautiful views of the waves at SeaGlass Beach in Ft. Bragg, CA

Top attractions along Hwy 101

Redwood National Forest

The most beautiful and worthy stop along the Hwy 101 is the Redwood National Forest in Northern California. Located in Crescent City, this national park is a fantastic place for photography. The Redwood Trees are a magnificent sight – many are 100s of feet tall! The coast redwoods found in this park are the tallest on Earth. Redwood National Forest is a great place to stop and picnic and hike before getting back on the road. I recommend staying overnight somewhere in Humboldt county to allow yourself enough time to see everything!

Redwood Tree at Redwood National Forest in California

Trees of Mystery

Taking a gondola ride through the Redwood Trees is a once in a lifetime experience that should be added to everyone’s to do list! This tourist attraction located in Klamath, CA, near the Oregon border, was an absolute blast! For only $15, you can take a scenic gondola ride over 1500 feet up above the redwoods. The observation deck provides gorgeous views of the surrounding landscapes and Redwood Trees. The walking trail is an excellent way to learn more about the various Redwood Trees. This is also the location of the famous 49 foot tall statue of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.

Trees of Mystery gondola ride - Klamath, CA

Views from the overlook at the Trees of Mystery in Klamath, CA

Paul Bunyan statue at Trees of Mystery in Klamath, CA

To see more photography we took during our PCH drive, visit the following post!

Attraction Address & Pricing Info:

Laguna Beach
Address: Coast Hwy and Broadway Laguna Beach, CA 92652
Price: Free!

Crystal Cove State Park
Address: 8471 N Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Price: Free!

Huntington Beach State Park
Address: 21601 Pacific Coast Hwy, Huntington Beach, CA 92646
Price: Free!

Manhattan Beach
Address: 2 Manhattan Beach Blvd Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
Price:
Free!

Santa Monica Pier
Address: 100 Santa Monica Pier Santa Monica, CA 90401
Price:
Free to enter the pier, various prices for amusements.

Seaside State Beach
Address: Hwy 218 Seaside, CA 93955
Price: Free!

Golden Gate Bridge (pedestrian walk)
Address: 201 Fort Mason San Francisco, CA 94123
Price: Free! (to walk across – parking meters will run a tiny fee)

SeaGlass Beach
Address: Elm Street & Old Haul Rd. Ft. Bragg, CA 95437
Price: Free!

Redwood National Forest
Address: 1111 Crescent Street Crescent City, CA 95531
Price: Free!

Trees of Mystery
Address: 15500 US 101 Klamath, CA 95548
Price: $15 per adult

2 comments

  1. Thanks for your suggestions. Unfortunately, we did not have time to check out everything due to time limitations. I have heard that the Hearst Castle is beautiful, so hopefully we can get around to it next time! Monterey & Morro Bay were both incredible, however, there is so much more to do on the Central Coast as you mentioned above. I guess this means another road trip in the near future!

  2. I was surprised there was very little mention of the Central Coast (Pismo, Shell, Morro Bay, Cayucos, etc.) or Hearst Castle. Check them out on the way back down if you are headed that way.

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