California native or out-of-town visitor, the drive up the Pacific Coast Highway is bucket-list worthy. Miles and miles of winding roads, cliffs and beaches, and sunshine with the ocean breeze blowing through your hair (you’re nuts if you don’t find a convertible for this trip). With summer officially here there’s no better time to plan a trip along the coast. Starting in Orange County and stretching all the way up to San Francisco, without any stops or traffic the drive tallies up to ten hours. But with so many stops between points A and B, you can easily take your time and stretch it out over 5 or even 10 days. To help you decide just how to chart your trip, here are 5 stops we recommend…
Dana Point, near San Clemente, where PCH begins (in our case) to Malibu is roughly 85 miles. Depending on the time of day and traffic, that drive comes out to 2.5 – 4 hours in traffic. Perfect for a morning drive to lunch on the beaches, dine on the Pier at a less touristy area than Santa Monica. Plus, there are hikes like Solstice Canyon featuring waterfalls and a little castle.
A mere hour without traffic from the Malibu Pier, this beautiful ocean-side city is the perfect place to park it for the night. You can take advantage of any number of ocean-side hotels and fine dining, or rough it out on the Channel Islands National Park.Time your trip right and you can make a pitstop in Oxnard for the Strawberry Festival. Or just stop and grab some fresh berries to snack on during your last leg of the drive.
Santa Barbara, CA
While you shouldn’t pass up the chance to go to Napa, stopping in Santa Barbara is a must along the way. This little slice of wine paradise is home to many a vineyard, as well as the quaint little Dutch town of Solvang. Worthy of being a full-day experience, this is the best first full stop to break up the driving, especially if you don’t have a whole lot of time. Only an hour and a quarter from Ventura, you can arrive early, check into your hotel and roam the vineyards.
San Luis Obispo, CA
Also near vast vineyards, this city is home to the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, the state’s fifth-oldest mission. After a trip to the Mission, stop by the Museum of Art, shop the downtown Farmer’s Market, or enjoy the scenery with Pismo Beach, Bishop Peak, or Lopez Lake. Enjoy nightlife with the Fremont Theatre or the Madonna Inn.
Dealers Choice: San Simeon, Big Sur, Monterey
For the final big stop, if your time is limited, before hitting the final San Francisco destination, choose any of these three locales. If you can stop at all three, go for it. For more surf and beach, Big Sur is calling your name. Explore a Hearst Castle developed by William Randolph Hearst in the city of San Simeon. Monterey offers up an array of attractions like the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row, Old Fisherman’s Wharf, and missions, parks, and a jazz festival in September, there’s plenty to do to keep you occupied for at least a day before crossing the finish line in San Fran.
There are more stops than this along the way, no doubt. Find a bar and hit up the locals for their favorite eats around town. Take as much time as you can or want and enjoy the ride.