Pacific Coast Road Trip: Ultimate Must-See Stops on the Pacific Coast Highway

A Pacific Coast road trip is not only one of the best road trips found in the world, but it finds its way to the top of most road tripper's bucket lists.

Scenery varying from sunny beaches and swaying palm trees to foggy coastlines with towering redwoods, the Pacific Coastal Highway has countless stops that would leave even the most traveled tourist in awe.

Whether heading out to hit up all the amazing beaches on the West Coast or the historic missions of California, I guarantee you will have the best Pacific Coast road trip ever!

We have curated a list of the top sites to see along the Pacific Coastal Highway on your Pacific Coast road trip that you can read about below!

Stinson Beach

Located a little less than an hour north of San Francisco, you will want to visit one of Northern California's most popular beach tours on your Pacific Coast road trip.

Famous for its long, scenic, sandy beach, Stinson offers a nostalgic surf-town vibe with a perfect, walkable, atmosphere. San Franciscans frequent this tiny town often to enjoy the Pacific Ocean. Plus, if you are into nude beaches, you can find one here!

When you are ready to dry off, head on over to The Siren Canteen which is at the base of the lifeguard tower. Here you can enjoy a delicious post-beach snack (ice cream, tacos, and nachos are just a couple of options) before continuing on your Pacific Coast road trip.

Pacifica

The next must-see stop on a Pacific Coast road trip is located along the southern peninsula found near San Francisco, Pacifica is locally famous for offering the most gorgeous Taco Bell in the world.

Other than loading up on tacos and burritos at Taco Bell, Pacifica is also quite famous for its phenomenal surfing at Linda Mar Beach. Before hopping into the refreshing ocean waters, make sure to check that you are not visiting during the Great White Shark migration season!

Later, head over to the unique McCloskey Castle. Built on a tall hill overlooking the ocean, over the years the purpose of the castle has varied between an underground abortion clinic, an exhilarating party palace, and a brother. Today, the castle is host to a weird assortment of furnishings and decor. Definitely stop in for a tour during your Pacific Coast road trip to check it out for yourself.

Santa Cruz

As another must-see stop located just south of the Bay Area, Santa Cruz is known as a relaxed, unique hippie town.

From a scenic boardwalk stroll along the coast to hiking through the lush redwoods, Santa Cruz is definitely one of the top locations to visit along the Pacific Coast Highway. This spot will be hard for you to miss as you will be driving right through.

Keep an eye out for roller coasters along the roadside, that is one of the clear signs you are entering Santa Cruz country. Also, Santa Cruz is home to the famous gravitational anomaly known as the Mystery Spot. Later, hop of the Roaring Camp Railroad that loops around the redwoods to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

Monterey

Many known Monterey to be home to John Steinbeck's novel Cannery Row and its awe-inspiring aquarium, however, you can find a lot more to do in this coastal town.

Whether you decide to rent kayaks, take a refreshing ride of bikes, or go tide-pooling, there are countless ways to explore this coastal oasis. First, stop at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Here you will discover a countless number of marine animals, an interactive museum, an animal conservation facility, and a world-famous research lab.

Later, head on over to the kelp forest and rent kayaks or some paddleboards. Here you will find your way to close vicinities to seals, otters, and other common Monterey Bay wildlife.

Big Sur

While Big Sur may be a highly popular tourist town, when most are talking about this spot, they are referring to the 90-mile stretch of the Pacific coast found between Carmel and Hearst Castle. There is no better way to explore the beautiful coastline than a Big Sur road trip.

The biggest appeal of this awe-inspiring spot is the exhilarating, jaw-dropping scenery you will discover. Big Sur offers mountains, redwoods, and valleys on one side of Highway One with the Pacific Ocean on the other. The only way to reach this beautiful area of the United States is through the Pacific Coast Highway as the only things you will find in the area are a few expensive homes and a small collection of businesses.

Arguably one of the most popular stops along Highway One, Big Sur is known as the most historic stretches offering a glimpse at plenty of famous artists (Jack London, John Steinbeck, Ansel Adams, Jack Kerouac, and many more).

Muir Woods

Muir Woods, found in Mill Valley, California, is a scenic place to explore California's world-famous, old-growth redwoods.

Named after naturalist John Muir, the grandfather of the modern conservation movement and National Park Service, the Muir Woods National Monument offers some trees over 200 feet tall! Originally home to the Indigenous Miwok Tribe, Muir Woods has hikes for all skill levels.

For a quick stop, check out the loop that has an estimated one hour time of completion. If you are planning on visiting Muir Woods, make sure to make a reservation in advance before your Pacific Coast road trip!

Cannon Beach

Stroll on down to the sandy beach by Haystack Rock (an Oregon icon) at Cannon Beach found in Oregon.

Named as one of the world's top 100 most beautiful places to visit (National Geographic), this remarkable spot will simply take your breath away. You will experience some awe-inspiring coastline views with stunning natural areas. At low tide, you can even walk out to the rock! Make sure not the scale the steep slope of the landmark as climbing is prohibited to protect the wildlife that calls Haystack Rock home.

These remarkable spots blend perfectly with the seaside village where you can find local eateries. Located just about 90 minutes from Portland, Oregon, you will not want to miss this must-see stop along the Pacific Coast Highway on your favorite Pacific Coast road trip.

Devil's Punchbowl

As a popular whale watching and home to fascinating geology, Devil's Punchbowl is another must-see stop along the Pacific Coast Highway on a Pacific Coast road trip.

During winter storms, you will notice restless ocean waves slamming with a thunderous roar into the hollow rock formation displayed above. Created most likely by the collapse of the roof over two large sea caves, Devil's Punchbowl attracts intrigued tourists from around the world.

Head over to the beach trail to the north to start your journey as there is no access to the Punchbowl from the south. This is a scenic picnic spot atop the rocky shoreline for you to explore on your road trip along Highway One. Make sure to check the tide tables before visiting, but if you can work your schedule around them, you will not regret exploring this gorgeous sea cave!

Thor's Well & Spouting Horn

If you are a big fan of geysers and geological anomalies, this stop on a Pacific Coast road trip will not disappoint!

After millions of years of pounding waves crashing into rocks, a cave formed. When the top of the cave collapsed, Thor's Well, seen above, formed creating a natural attraction many seek to discover. At high tide, you may see the Pacific Ocean participate in fascinating actions, as you observe crashing waves, saltwater explosions, and the magic sinkhole Thor's Well swallowing gulps of seawater.

After, head over to the nearby Spouting Horn where you will discover a playful, coastal ocean geyser. Here you will see the ocean's true power as it sends large bursts of built-up pressure through a deep hole. While hiking the round-trip Cook's Cook Trail (0.75 miles), you can see exhilarating tide pool animals and creatures at low tides and large amounts of mussel shells left by the Alsea Indigenous people who occupied the region.

Olympic National Park

Boasting a beautiful lake with soaring pine trees and towering mountains, Olympic National Park in Washington is a must-see along the Pacific Coast Highway on your Pacific Coast road trip.

Encompassing almost a million acres of land, the part aims to protect their wildlife and vast wilderness. Just of the few amazing sites, you can check out are glacier-capped mountains, temperate old-growth rainforests, and over 70 miles of scenic coastline along the Pacific Ocean. With care, research, and planning, you will have a great experience at Olympic National Park.

Native Americans call the area home as they boast about the beauty and mystique found in the park. This diverse land makes for a variety of outdoor adventures, including backpacking, river rafting, hiking, biking, and more. You can also head over to Puget Sound and hopefully catch glimpses at marine life at the popular whale watching sight!

Sol Duc Falls and Lake Crescent

Since we want to emphasize the importance of visiting Olympic National Park which boasts miles on miles of land, we decided to split it into two parts.

For this Pacific Coast road trip stop, you are going to want to check out the beautiful Sol Duc Falls. As an awe-inspiring waterfall, Sol Duc Falls splits into four channels as it cascades over 48 feet into a narrow, rock-ridden canyon. Head over to the 1.6 miles, heavily trafficked trail located near Port Angeles, Washington. Primarily used for walking, camping, hiking, and nature trips, it is best visited between May and October.

Nestled in the northern foothills, Lake Crescent can be found around 18 miles west of Port Angeles. You will discover pristine waters of a deep, glacially-carved lake that makes a perfect destination for those looking to be one with nature.

Isolation from Lake Sutherland began approximately 7,000 years ago because of the ginormous landslide. Today, visitors notice two uniquely adapted trout species in the lakes that you should make sure to investigate for yourself!

Seattle

Home to the end (or start) of your journey, Seattle offers a wide array of activities for you to enjoy on the Pacific Coast Highway during your Pacific coast road trip.

Head on over to the world-renowned Pike Place Market to experience the cornerstone of Seattle culture. While touristry, you will not regret stopping in at this local marketplace. You will find a gold mine of tasty food, activities, and local personas. Later, take a trip up the famous Seattle Space Needle. Here you will be able to take in the amazing views of the city from 605 feet in the air.

Next, stop in at the Seattle Aquarium found right on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. Here you will see the world's largest octopus and other marine life found in the Seattle waters. Finally, take a ride on the Seattle Great Wheel which is a huge gondola sitting right on the coast of the Pacific Ocean.

Enjoy a slow, relaxing ride up into the sky as you take in the one-of-a-kind views. If you are visiting in April, check out one of the popular Seattle April festivals! As the last (or first) stop on your journey, make sure to fully enjoy the offerings of scenic Seattle, Washington on your Pacific Coast Highway road trip!


That completes our list of the top must-see stops along the Pacific Coast Highway that you should see on your next amazing Pacific coast road trip. Make sure to pack your bathing suit and camera before you head out on the road on your Pacific Coast road trip!

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