California is a dream destination, brimming with natural beauty. Choosing only a few places to visit for your Pacific Coast road trip, because of limited time, is tough. So, here is a curated list of places along the Highway 1(CA1/US1), starting from Crescent City in the north to San Diego in the south! These places have been recommended by top travel bloggers.
This list is in the order of spots from the northern tip to the southern tip of California.
Must Visit spots along the coast of California:
1. Crescent City
Best place to stay: Lighthouse Inn
Close to the border of Oregon, Crescent city is a unique destination on the California coast with abundant natural beauty. This is the northern-most spot to add to your road trip in the golden state, and has plenty of interesting things to experience.
Usually foggy, Crescent City has a romantic feel to it, with its coastal redwoods and pleasant greenery around. When the fog clears, you can see the majestic Battery Point light house from the B Street Pier, peeking out to welcome you. You can visit this light house only at low tides as this resides on an island.
Crescent City is the starting point for the scenic Redwood Highway drive. Check out Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park to be amazed by the ancient giant redwoods!
Of course, its namesake beach, Crescent beach is a must visit. It is famous for its crescent shaped beach area with soft sands.
Recommended by Shreeyeh Rajan
Best place to stay: Historic Requa Inn
Klamath is a small town in northern California, located on the Pacific coast between the cities of Eureka and Crescent City. It’s a great place to stop off on an extended road trip along Highway 101. It has scenic views of the ocean and mountains, hiking trails, and beaches. Klamath is known for two things: The Drive-Thru Tree and Trees of Mystery.
Walk or drive through a redwood tree and then visit a tree-themed amusement park that features some of the most unique redwood trees in California. Trees of Mystery is a wonderful place for families and a great place for photographers who love nature.
3. Redwood National and StateParks
Recommended by Karen Ni Eadbhard
Best places to stay:
• Orick Getaway
• Stylish Cabin at Orick
• Redwood Coast Cabins and RV Resort
• Mystic Forest RV Park
Redwoods National Park is one of the least visited national parks in the United States making it perfect to avoid the crowds and experience nature at its finest. It may be due to its location, as there is so many other things to do in California.
Ancient tall trees dominate the area dwarfing everything in site. Some tree have been made into attractions depicting exactly how big redwoods grow. Visitors can quite literally drive through a redwood!
Fern Canyon is also known as one of the sets for Jurassic Park Il.
Redwood provides all-year-round access. Summertime is an ideal time for hiking, camping and tons of activities, while spring and autumn for cooler weather and challenging hikes. Winter months are the quietest. Despite the stormy and rainy weather, lower prices attract budget travelers.
Compared to other national parks, Redwood does not operate a shuttle service, therefore having a vehicle to get around is required. There are no restaurants at Redwood National Park. However, the nearest towns, Eureka and Crescent city are 40 minutes only 40 minutes away .
Redwood National Park does not charge an entrance fee, a permit is required to camp. America the Beautiful Pass is accepted as well as 2000 other locations across the US.
4. Fort Bragg
Recommended by Cynthia Matthews von Berg
Best place to stay: Beach House Inn: spacious rooms with lake views and balconies, close to Glass Beach.
A small town with a population under 10,000- Fort Bragg, California often gets overlooked for the more famous town of Medocino, just down the coast. In Fort Bragg you’ll find all the charm of a California coastal town- complete with cafes, independent bookstores, bakeries, gift shops and more, without all the crowds.
Grab lunch at Headlands Coffeeshop, then try a delicious French macaron at A Sweet Affair Patisserie across the street. If you visit on a Wednesday, stop by the Farmer’s Market on East Laurel to pick up some local produce and delicious road trip snacks.
After you’ve meandered around Main Street, make sure to visit Glass Beach, so named for all the sea glass washed ashore among the pebbles here. This is a great beach for exploring the tide pools, just please don’t bring the glass home!
Fort Bragg is also known for the “skunk train” an old-fashioned train that’s been chugging through the redwoods for more than a century.
When you are ready for dinner, head south to the harbor of the Noyo River, where seafood is the main attraction. If you’re looking for fine dining, head to the wrap-around deck of Noyo Harbor Inn. They’ll wow you with both the food and the views. Looking for something more casual? Noyo Fish Company serves terrific fish and chips, complete with newspaper wrappings underneath.
Recommended by Nina and Garett
Best place to stay: Mendocino Grove
Mendocino, California is a picturesque coastal town with awe-inspiring views of the Pacific Ocean, a rugged coastline, majestic redwood forests, and a charming historic town. You’ll find plenty of things to do in Mendocino to keep you entertained, from hiking and kayaking to wine tasting and whale watching (November-April).
Mendocino Headlands State Park is a favorite if you want spectacular coastal views and a nice wander to the edge of the cliffs. Keep your eyes out for wildlife! For experienced surfers, try riding the waves at Big River Beach or just watch from up above at the viewpoint.
If surfing isn’t your thing, you can still enjoy the water at Big River, just rent a canoe or kayak and take the river trail as far as you’d like. It goes for about 16 miles! You can also walk or bike along the path if you’d like instead. There’s a rental stand just under the bridge here for all the sports equipment you may need.
With its abundance of activities, Mendocino is the perfect place to stop while on a California road trip. Experience the beauty of the Mendocino Coast and discover why this small town is considered one of California’s best-kept secrets (shh!).
6. Bodega Bay
Recommended by Sierra Schmidt
Best place to stay: The Inn at the Tides
Bodega Bay is a truly special spot on a California coastal road trip. This Northern California beach town has a population of only 1,000, but has so much to offer. The area boasts beautiful beaches that are perfect for picnicking, tide pooling, flying kites, and walks on the beach.
Be cautious of playing in the water when on the beach in this area due to large waves, cold water and dangerous currents. Doran Beach is the safest beach to play on as the bay provides some protection, but it still requires caution. Head to the far end of the shore along the jetty to explore the rocks for sea life. A short drive out to Bodega Head will reward you with stunning views and hiking trails along the bluffs. Campbell’s Cove is also a great spot nearby to experience.
For a local favorite, don’t miss Spud Point Crab Company for some fresh chowder. Patrick’s Salt Water Taffy with its pink and white striped building along the cliffside is also a great place to stop for some sweet treats to take home with you!
7. Point Reyes
Recommended by Kassidy Olson
Best place to stay: Cottages at Point Reyes Seashore
Located just over an hour north of San Francisco, the beautiful Point Reyes National Seashore is a must-visit destination when you’re on the California coast.
Famous for its fantastic views, thousands of plant and animal species, and rocky cliffs, there are endless things to do and see here.
One of the most popular things to see at Point Reyes is the Point Reyes Lighthouse, which you can reach at the bottom of 313 stairs. From here, you’ll have fantastic views of the ocean, and the chance to watch for whales out in the water.
Many species of wildlife call Point Reyes home, including elephant seals, which can best be seen between October and May. Other wildlife includes harbor seals, sea otters, and tule elk.
Spending time at Drake’s Beach is a popular activity, which is a beautiful stretch of coastline with sandstone cliffs and gorgeous views. Or, hike on some of the trails around the seashore. But because it’s in California, be sure to dress for the warm weather!
If you’re planning a visit, try your best to visit during the morning hours, because other times tend to get pretty busy. Also, check for low tide, because it’s fun to go tide pooling during this time.
8. San Francisco
Recommended by Anu Agarwal
Best place to stay: San Francisco Marriott at Fisherman’s wharf is in a great central location on fisherman’s wharf and you can walk to several tourist attractions.
San Francisco is a great base and starting point for a coastal road trip along California’s coast. Visiting the Golden Gate bridge is the most popular thing to do here. San Francisco has a lot of great neighborhoods to explore like Fisherman’s Wharf, Haight-Ashbury, Chinatown, Pacific Heights, Japantown, etc. Ocean beach is great for watching the sunset on the San Francisco coast.
Visit Union Square for some shopping and ride the historic cable car at Powell Street. Alcatraz prison and island is a famous tourist attraction here. San Francisco is also home to many museums and art galleries. Using public transport or Uber is a great way to explore the city, as parking can be hard to find in popular tourist places.
9. Half Moon Bay
Recommended by TriJit Mallick
Best place to stay: Ritz Carlton Hotel and Spa
Located in San Mateo County, California, United States, Half Moon Bay is a coastal city popular for its weather and sunny beaches. It is approximately 40 km south of San Francisco and 80 km north of Santa Cruz.
Half Moon Bay offers a variety of activities for its visitors to enjoy. One popular activity is visiting the beach, where you can sunbathe, swim, or take a walk along the coast. The area is also home to several state parks, such as Montara State Beach and McNee Ranch State Park, which offer great hiking trails with stunning ocean views. You will find here many dog-friendly beaches in Half Moon Bay. So, if you are a pet owner, don’t forget to visit Surfers beach and Maverick beach.
The Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival is a must-see event where you can see the giant pumpkins on display, enjoy live music and entertainment, and indulge in delicious food. For foodies, Half Moon Bay offers a wide variety of restaurants that specialize in fresh seafood, such as fish and chips, crab cakes, and clam chowder. If you want to stay here, the Ritz Carlton Hotel and Spa is a great place to relax and rejuvenate. All in all, Half Moon Bay has something to offer everyone.
10. Santa Cruz
Recommended by Kristel Flores
Best place to stay: Sea & Sand Inn
Santa Cruz is one of California’s top beach destinations and a must-stop on any road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco. The main attraction is the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, with its famous wooden roller coaster and fair-style concessions.
This is just the start of the fun, as this beach town is famous for surfing at the county’s 29 miles of shoreline, which includes 14 different beaches. You can check out the surfers shredding some waves at Steamer Lane and follow it up with a visit to the adjacent Santa Cruz Surfing Museum to learn about the sport’s history.
Other top attractions include a ride on the historic Roaring Camp Railroad through the coastal redwoods and a cruise to see the migrating Grey Whales. If you just want to catch some rays and play in the sand, visiting Natural Bridges or Seabright state beaches is a must for any trip to Santa Cruz.
All this fun combines to make Santa Cruz one of the top beach destinations in the state and a perfect stop for any California road trip.
Recommended by Jina Lee
Best place to stay: InterContinental The Clement Monterey
Whether you’re traveling from San Francisco to LA or vice versa, you won’t want to miss a visit to the historic city of Monterey. Monterey is the namesake city located in Monterey County, right off Highway 1 near Big Sur.
The city is the home to the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium and the inspiration for John Steinbeck’s novel Cannery Row. Spend the day surrounded by marine life at Monterey Bay Aquarium, home to vibrant kelp forests, sea lions, and otters.
After your museum visit, explore Cannery Row and walk among the old sardine canning factories that have been redeveloped into restaurants, cafes, and souvenir shops.
Near Monterey, you can kayak in Elkhorn Slough, hike in Big Sur, or explore the charming town of Carmel by the sea. If you’re spending the weekend in Monterey, stay in Monterey City Center at The InterContinental The Clement Monterey to get a good night’s rest before starting your next day’s adventure.
Recommended by Cassie Yoshikawa
Best place to stay: The Hotel Carmel
Carmel-By-The-Sea is a cozy beach town situated just north of the wild Big Sur region of the coast and is just a few minutes’ drive south of Monterey. What makes Carmel unique is its storybook atmosphere. Cobblestone streets and thatched roofs will make you think you are in a village in Europe while being right on the Pacific Coast.
Don’t be surprised if you find Hollywood stars like Clint Eastwood taking up residence here. Walk along the beach beneath the huge coastal beechwoods, try fresh cuisine, including locally grown artichokes, and wind down with a glass from a local winery as you cozy up by a firepit.
Because Carmel is so quaint, plan to spend at least one night here to explore every magical alleyway and recharge before you move on with your road trip
13. Point Lobos
Recommended by Candice Wood Steele
Best place to stay: Tickle Pink Inn, The Sandpiper Inn, La Playa Carmel, Carmel Green Lantern Inn, Briarwood Inn, Carmel Resort Inn
Point Lobos, located along the California coast, is an idyllic destination for a road trip. It features miles of stunning shoreline with plenty of opportunities to explore. From breathtakingly beautiful coves and headlands to lush forests and open meadows, Point Lobos is abundantly serene and alluring.
• Insider Tip: If you have them, bring binoculars or a spotting scope. Point Lobos is a great location to view wildlife.
Point Lobos boasts beautiful coastline views and hikes that are great for every level. You will love the Cypress trees, sea lions, and abundant trails. For those looking to get a greater workout, this is also a fine location for trail running with multiple easy and intermediate routes.
14. Big Sur
Recommended by Alisha Mansfield
Best place to stay: Big Sur River Inn
Nestled along the winding and rugged central coast of California is the popular destination, Big Sur, CA. Big Sur is a must for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers. It is known for its scenic hiking trails, sweeping coastal views, lush redwood forests, and beautiful beaches.
One of the best things you can do during your coastal road trip is to visit Big Sur’s one of a kind beach, Pfeiffer Beach. Pfeiffer Beach is famously known for its unique purple sand beach. Tip, it is best to see the swirls of purple hues after a recent rainstorm. Pfeiffer Beach also offers views of epic rock formations and tucked away sea caves and tide pools to explore along the shore.
Another popular attraction in Big Sur is McWay Walls, a gorgeous 80-foot waterfall that cascades into the pacific ocean. You can view this picturesque waterfall and beach from the cliffs above.
A tip for visiting Big Sur is that cell service is very limited. Before your trip, download your maps and directions so you know where to go and what you want to do in advance.
Stay at Big Sur River Inn. It has everything you need for a relaxing and fun family vacation. It is situated among the giant redwoods and along the scenic Big Sur River. They offer numerous amenities, including a restaurant, pool, and a general store.
Recommended by Pafoua Her Pistoresi
Best place to stay: The Cambria Pines Lodge is the perfect place to stay during your visit, with easy access to all the local highlights found in the coastal town of Cambria.
Cambria is nestled on California’s central coast, a picturesque town offering beautiful scenery and plenty to explore, making it one of the best stops on a California coastal road trip. One of the top things to do in Cambria is to take a walk along Moonstone Beach, featuring beautiful tide pools and amazing sunset views.
Visitors can also explore the historic sites in town, including Hearst Castle, or the poor man’s version Nitt Witt Ridge, and the Cambria Historical Museum. On the Main street of Cambria, visitors can seek treasures and trinkets at the local antique shops.
One thing you cannot miss is the olallieberry pie found at Linn’s Easy as Pie Cafe. This classic treat is a must-have for any Cambria visitor. For those looking to explore nature, you find several hiking trails at Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, which provides coastline views of the Pacific Ocean
Overall, Cambria is a great destination for anyone looking for some rest and relaxation by the beach or an adventurous outdoor getaway!
16. San Luis Obispo
Recommended by Daria Bachmann
Best place to stay: Madonna Inn
Located along Central California Coast, San Luis Obispo is a town nicknamed “The Happiest City in America,” where you can enjoy the laid-back atmosphere, hike the dormant volcanoes (aka Seven Sisters) and take in the panoramic views of the ocean.
Downtown San Luis Obispo is a perfect starting point for your trip. Here you can check out the Bubblegum Alley, learn about the history of the area at Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, one of the city’s top historic landmarks, and check out some restaurants.
After exploring the downtown, head to nearby beaches. Whether you want to surf at Avila Beach or explore Pismo Beach where you can ride a dune buggy and enjoy a wide sandy beach, you will have a great time along the Central California coastline.
17. Avila Beach
Recommended by Rina Baraz Nehdar
Best place to stay: Avila Lighthouse Suites
Arrive on a Friday night after 4pm to start off your weekend at the Avila Beach Farmer’s Market. Vendors line the boardwalk promenade with stalls selling fresh produce. Restaurants offer bite-sized portions of their regular offerings.
The festive mood vibrates through the ocean venue with live music and open-air bar seating lining the walkway. Dogs, kids, and free spirits welcome! Leave your car in town and take the free trolly. Don’t miss the wine-tasting room at Sinor-LeVallee where you might end up helping in the wine-making process!
Kids of all ages will love the Point San Luis Lighthouse where volunteer docents take visitors through the history and introduce them to the wildlife that make this area home, including thousands of elephant seals who have their rookery a few hundred feet south of the lighthouse.
Stay at the Avila Lighthouse Suites directly across the Pacific Ocean to wake up with the sound of crashing waves.
18. Pismo beach
Recommended by Anjali Wadhwa
Best place to stay: Inn At The Pier, the best oceanfront hotel in Pismo Beach.
Located 13 miles south of San Luis Obispo along the Central Coast is the quaint Pismo Beach. This lovely coastal town lures visitors with its easy access to water sports and the wonderful waterfront. Wander out onto the iconic pier of Pismo Beach and soak in the spectacular views of the coastline. The views become even more enchanting during the sunset hour.
You can also sit back and relax on the soft sand beach near the pier. Head to Tastes of the Valleys wine bar in the downtown area to taste delicious wines. If you are visiting Pismo Beach between November and February, make sure to visit the Monarch Butterfly Grove to see thousands of migrated Monarch butterflies.
This town is not only about beaches, it caters to adventure seekers as well. It is a perfect Californian summer destination. Visit Pismo Preserve and you come across various hiking trails leading to exceptional views of the pacific ocean. You can go surfing in the waters of Pismo State Beach, rent an ATV in Oceano Dunes or go on a cave excursion to see marine life and grottos up close. Participating in such adventurous activities will be an exhilarating experience for you.
19. Santa Barbara
Recommended by Janelle Axton
Best place to stay: The Ritz-Carlton Bacara (Luxury) or Brisas del Mar, Inn at the Beach (More Affordable)
Santa Barbara is a must-visit destination for anyone looking to experience some of the best that California has to offer. Aside from its stunningly beautiful beaches and ocean views, this city offers amazing activities like wine tasting, sightseeing at landmarks such as the Old Mission Santa Barbara, indulging in delicious locally sourced seafood, and exploring unique boutiques and specialty shops.
With some of the best weather in California, Santa Barbara provides the ideal conditions to be out and about discovering incredible natural scenery such as hiking to Inspiration Point, rock climbing and bouldering around Lizards Mouth, and kayaking or SUPing in the harbor. Or, simply enjoy the sun and panoramic views from atop the historic Santa Barbara Courthouse.
Make sure to wander along State Street and down to the Funk Zone and Stearns Wharf to find some of the best dining (such as Zaytoon) and coffee shops (such as Cajé). And if you have kids, make sure to check out the one-of-a-kind MOXI Museum of Exploration. No matter what you decide to do in this fantastic city, you will find it to be a truly exceptional stop on your California coastal road trip.
Recommended by Catrina McGrail
Best place to stay: Malibu Beach Inn
Located along the Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu makes for one of the best places to visit on a California road trip! There are many things to do in Malibu, with the first stop being of course – the beach!
Malibu has some of the best beaches in California, including the long and wide Zuma Beach and El Matador Beach – a small and secluded beach known for its stunning rock formations. For a lesser known spot, head to the Leo Carrillo Sea Cave at low tide – one of Malibu’s best photo spots and hidden locations!
And head to Malibu Lagoon Beach if you wish to visit the lagoon, the historic Malibu Pier and the beautiful Spanish revival house Adamson House. All of the beaches in Malibu are great for surfing, swimming, relaxing and enjoying the sunset.
Whilst in Malibu you should also do a hike in the Malibu Hills. The Solstice Canyon Trail and Malibu Creek State Park provide stunning ocean and mountain views!
Also make sure to fit in a wine tasting session – Malibu is home to several wineries that offer tastings, with Saddlerock Ranch and Malibu Family Wines being two of the most popular.
21. Santa Monica
Recommended by Chelsea Espinoza
Best place to stay: Hotel Carmel – Santa Monica is clean and competetively-priced
One stop that shouldn’t be missed on a California coastal road trip is beautiful Santa Monica.
Santa Monica is located on the coast of Los Angeles county. It’s known for the amusement park on its pier, road sign that marks the end of Route 66, and iconic Muscle Beach which was established in the 1930’s.
Spend your time here soaking in the sun and cooling off in the ocean. Stroll along the pier and go on a ride or two at the amusement park. In the evening, be sure to find a good spot on the south side of the pier to watch the sunset, and then head to Third Street Promenade for dinner and a night out.
Enjoy your time in beautiful Santa Monica!
22. Los Angeles
Recommended by Victoria Heinz
Best place to stay: AIR Venice
Los Angeles, is a must-visit destination on any California trip. It is home to some of the world’s most iconic landmarks and attractions, such as the Hollywood Sign, Griffith Observatory, and the Walk of Fame. Visitors can also take a stroll down the famous Rodeo Drive and shop at high-end boutiques and designer stores. Additionally, LA is renowned for its diverse and delicious food scene, with options ranging from street tacos to fine dining.
One insider tip for visiting LA is to explore the many vibrant neighborhoods that the city has to offer. Each neighborhood has its own unique character and charm, from the trendy and hipster vibes of Silverlake to the beachy and laid-back atmosphere of Venice. One such neighborhood to visit is Little Tokyo, where you can find authentic Japanese restaurants, shops, and cultural events.
23. Laguna Beach
Recommended by Victoria Watts Kennedy
Best place to stay: Surf & Sand Resort
Laguna Beach, around an hour down the PCH from Los Angeles, is a laidback beach town, famed for its gorgeous beaches and plethora of art. It’s a perfect place to take a beach vacation with a dose of culture too. Do the city’s self-guided walking tour to get a taste of what’s on offer or drive down Laguna Canyon Road to see amazing murals and some of the city’s best galleries.
Or, even better, time your visit with one of the city’s art events such as the Sawdust Art Festival or the Festival of Arts and Pageant of the Masters. When not exploring the art, there are plenty of beaches to relax on, including the gorgeous Treasure Island Beach, which has spectacular views and pretty coves to explore. Another of the popular things to do in Laguna Beach is explore Crystal Cove State Park where you can hike, surf, scuba dive and more.
24. La Jolla
Recommended by Jody Phifer
Best place to stay: La Valencia Hotel
La Jolla is a perfect beach town & a great place to include in your California road trip! Whether you’re traveling as a couple or with kids, there are so many fun things to do in La Jolla.
Spend the day exploring and hiking Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve on your own or on one of their guided walks (offered daily). There are 2,000 acres of natural beauty, including the rare Torrey pine, miles of beaches (best to go at low tide), sandstone canyons, and plenty of sea birds.
La Jolla Village is cozy & walkable. It is packed with posh restaurants (many with an ocean view) and boutique shops that will keep even the most experienced shopper busy all day (don’t forget to pack your most comfortable walking shoes)!
Feel like doing some snorkeling or scuba diving while in the area? Head to Point La Jolla on the south end of La Jolla Cove, part of an ecological reserve. Visibility can reach up to 30 feet when conditions are good. This is one of the area beaches that has a lifeguard on duty, so you can feel more at ease if you have little swimmers with you.
25. San Diego
Recommended by Kristin Lee
Best place to stay: The Sofia Hotel
An absolute must-visit stop on your next California coastal road trip is the beautiful city of San Diego! Not only is this beach town easy to navigate around but also it has so much to offer that you’ll never run out of things to do.
For starters, San Diego has some of the best surf and weather conditions in the entire United States! And, with plenty of beaches to choose from, you can always find one that suits you best.
But, if you’d rather spend your time walking around, head to the charming Seaport Village. It’s full of restaurants, boutique shops, and galleries that make for a lovely afternoon stroll!
In short, San Diego is a must-visit on any California coastal road trip and makes for an unforgettable getaway!
With so many beautiful places along the pacific coast in California, there is no shortage of ideas to plan an epic road trip! Have a great time in golden California!!