Published on April 3rd, 2022
The Pacific Coast Highway is one of America’s ultimate road trips, stretching for over 600 miles along the coast of California. Along the way, road trippers are treated to sensational views, natural gems, and charming towns where they can spend the night or stretch their legs. In this travel guide, we’ll explore a Pacific Coast Highway itinerary for driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles or vice versa.
I’ve cruised up and down California State Route 1, better known as Highway 1 or the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) on several occasions, most recently on a five-week road trip in America’s southwest. I’ve always been amazed at this engineering marvel and how the road manages to traverse such an imposing coastal terrain at times. Combined with the California vibe of perpetual vacation, there’s an overpowering sense of freedom on the PCH, without a doubt one of the world’s best scenic drives.
This Pacific Coast Highway itinerary covers the distance from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Of course, you can drive in either direction but this Highway 1 itinerary will follow the route from the City by the Bay to the City of Angels. You can continue cruising north past San Francisco and south from Los Angeles toward San Diego.
The PCH’s crown jewel poses a challenge for drivers as they must carefully weave around sea cliffs while attempting to enjoy the sensational views. Luckily, there are plenty of road side viewpoints and hikes to interesting sites.
The PCH is dotted with charming towns to spice things up with. Notable mentions include Pacifica and Santa Cruz in the north, Carmel and Pacific Grove in “the middle”, and Santa Barbara, and Morro Bay in the south.
On the PCH, freedom is often the word used to describe one’s feeling. Perhaps due to the road’s depiction in popular culture or perhaps it’s the scenery. Whatever the case may be, the PCH brings out the “young self” in every road tripper.
This itinerary spans a little over 450 miles (725 km) and 9 hours of driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles. While some short sections deviate from the PCH, most of the driving is along the coast. You can shorten this plan to 3 days by skipping some of the mentioned sites and spending one night in Carmel and one night in or around Morro Bay.
Before planning your road trip, be sure to go through the essential PCH travel tips guide. For a quick read of the top things to see and do along the Pacific Coast Highway, check out the top 10 list. If you’re looking for a shorter road trip from San Francisco to Big Sur and back, check out this travel guide.
This itinerary calls for three overnights, though you can shorten the trip to just two nights and three days (see pro tip above). I recommend spending the first night in Carmel or nearby Pacific Grove, the second night in Big Sur, and the final night in Santa Barbara. Since there are not many accommodation options in Big Sur, I highly advise booking as early as possible.
This map contains all the places mentioned in this Pacific Coast Highway itinerary. Simply click on the image to open it in Google Maps