Pacific Coast Highway is a must-see bucket list drive

The PCH or Pacific Coast Highway is probably the most scenic highways in the entire country. It runs from  San Diego California to Olympic Park In Washington. The mostly two lane highway is about 1650 miles that has everything from temperate rain forests to desert-like areas. Traveling on this unique stretch of road takes you back to a time of golden era automobile travel with it’s scenic views and quint little beach towns. The best way to make the trip is to go from north to south that way you are always on the right side of the road closest to the ocean.

Once you cross the Oregon-California border your first stop should be the Redwood Forest. The Redwood Forest covers almost 132,000 acres on the Northern California coast. The town of Leggit has a 315 foot tall Redwood tree with a large cut-out opening big enough to drive your car through. This iconic photo-op location has been here since the early 1920’s but the tree is a few years older….ok maybe about 2400 years. The forest celebrates it’s 50th anniversary with a number of events scheduled this year.

The next stop about a two our drive south of the Redwood Forest along hwy 1. If you are an avid backpacker the 25 mile long Lost Coast Trail is on the must-do bucket list of many trekkers. Because of the rugged terrain, PCH was diverted inland so there are very few paved roads in and around this area. To get to the coast here is a bit of work but well worth the troubles. Black Sand Beach is a great place for surfing or hiking. Not a great place for sunbathing or swimming due to the rough terrain and often foggy conditions but certainly worth the stop.

About 3 1/2 hours south of the Lost Coast is the town of Mendocino. One of the most unique beaches in the entire world can be found here called Glass Beach which is covered with small real glass pebbles. An old legend said that every time a sailor lost his life at sea a mermaid cries and her tears turned to glass. The truth is a little less romantic however.

Just south of Glass Beach is the areas most famous landmarks, the Point Arena Lighthouse. You can hike to the top of the lighthouse and take in complete 360 degree views of the entire beach surroundings. It is the tallest lighthouse on the west coast and has 145 steps to get to the top.

Heading south on PCH about  2 1/2 hours south of Mendocino is Bodega Bay. It’s probably most famous for being the location where the 1963 Alfred Hitchcock movie, The Birds was filmed. You can travel around the small town and see the Potter School House and the St. Teresa of Avila Church. Of course this is wine country so if vineyards and wine tasting is in your travel plans there are more than 425 wineries scattered throughout Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

About 25 minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge is the Muir Beach Overlook. Muir Beach overlook is a great place for spotting the migratory gray whales, the perfect photo-op or enjoying a sunset. The overlook was originally used us a viewpoint for the military during World War 2 to watch for enemy ships. Over time these viewing overlooks became obsolete as the war ended and now are enjoyed by everyone. 

The next hour or so of your journey will take you off the coast but it’s well worth it to get to the other side. What awaits you is the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge. This famous landmark has been seen in dozens of movies and TV shows in it’s 80 plus years since it opened. It spans 4200 feet long making it the 9th longest expansion bring in the world.

Two hours south of the Golden Gate Bridge is the city of Monterey. If you have the time, it’s worth spending a couple of days here in my opinion. Yes San Francisco gets a lot of attention and there is plenty to do there to keep you occupied for several days but if you are an outdoors kind of person then this is a great choice. Some of my favorite things to do is the Monterey museum, walking cannery row, the 17-mile drive and many more cool finds. The museum alone is worth a day trip. 

Just past Monterey is Carmel and Big Sur. Big Sur has some of the most photographed areas along PCH. Julia Pfeiffer State Park is an amazing location for hiking and taking some really great pictures. McWay Falls is a short hike from the parking lot and worth every minute getting there. The falls drop 80 feet from the rock cliffs into the ocean or on the beach depending on the tide level. One of the most famous pictures of Pacific Coast Highway is the Bixby Bridge taken in Big Sur. It was built in 1932 and reaches over 260 feet above the Bixby creek below making it one of the highest bridges of it’s kind in the world.

The next stop is San Simeon where you can pretend to live like the ultra rich and visit the Hearst Castle. The castle was the dream of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst who owned the San Francisco Examiner and the New York Journal. Although he lived there for many years, it was never completed before he was forces to move due to his poor health. The castle has been featured in several movies. 

Traveling farther south is the town of Malibu. Famous for it’s quiet beaches, surfing, rolling hills and it is home to many famous residents. Actors like Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Ellen Degeneres and many others have taken residence here. Don’t forget to stop at Escondido Falls, this is one of the largest waterfalls in Southern California plunging about 150 feet.

The PCH runs all the way to San Diego with stops in Ventura, Los Angeles and Long Beach which are great stops for those looking for more touristy kind of places. For those looking for the ultimate Instagram pics, the Redwoods area all the way down to Malibu is by far the most picturesque.

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