Wanderlust America

The Perfect Pacific Coast Highway Guide

Pacific Coast Highway is easily considered to be one of the most legendary road trips in the world. From the moody beaches in Washington to the spectacular natural bridges in Southern Oregon to the winding roads of Big Sur, California, there is something here for everybody. Thus, we have created this comprehensive guide for you to explore the Pacific Coast Highway

Pacific Coast Highway Bixy Bridge

About Pacific Coast Highway

The Pacific Coast Highway has many names. It is often referred to as the California Coast Road trip, Pacific Coast Road trip, Route 1, Highway 101, or even just Highway 1. These names aside, they all will lead you down the same road which is the route that parallels the Pacific Ocean and the western border of the adjacent United States.   

The traditional Pacific Coast Highway (Route 1) is 655 miles long. The full Pacific Coast Highway (Orange County to Seattle) is about 1,700 miles. 


There are basically two directions to drive to do a Pacific Coast Highway Road trip – driving south or north.  

  • Southbound (Seattle to Orange County) – It is driven during spring break; you will be able to escape the Pacific Northwest rain and enjoy the warm sun of Southern California.   
  • Northbound (Orange County to Seattle) – If you drive north, it will help you escape California’s hot weather in fall and summer.  

The traditional starting point in Washington is Seattle and the traditional starting point in California is San Diego.   

Pacific Coast Highway Directions

State-by-state stops


  • Seattle – It is a great place to stock up on your road trip essentials and grab a rental car. Some of the fun things to do in Seattle are visit the Pike market, go to the first ever Starbucks Coffee store, visit the Museum of Pop Culture, watch the sunset at Jose Rizal Park, see the Space Needle at Kerry Park, have a bonfire with friends at Golden Gardens Park.   
  • Sol Duc Falls – It is located in the Olympic National Park and along Highway 101. The short trail to Sol Duc Falls leads to one of the most gorgeous waterfalls in Washington State.   
  • Cape Flattery – This includes beautiful sea stacks just offshore and expansive views of the Pacific Ocean and the Strait of Juan De Fuca.   
  • Ocean Shores, Washington – This is a charming little town on the Washington coast. You will be able to find tons of vacation rental homes, small seafood restaurants, and tons of beach activities. You should try Murphy’s Candy & Ice Cream Shop, Galway Bay Irish Pub, Ocean Beach Roasters and Bistro, and Oyhut Bay Bistro.  
  • Mount Rainier National Park – Take your time to explore this beautiful national park. It is best explored if you spend 2-3 days in the park. You can hike the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail, see Silver Falls, hike the Skyline Divide Trail, and visit the Longmire Museum.   
  • Cape Disappointment State Park – It is located in the far south-western corner of Washington State. You can discover miles of trails, and beaches, and it is a great spot for taking memorable photos on your Pacific Coast Highway Road trip.   
Mount Rainer National Park


  • Cannon Beach – It is a family-friendly beach located just 1.5 hours from Portland. You can explore here the many attractive seaside shops, take a long walk on the beach, and explore the many tide pools. It is a great stop for camping, resting, or even getting an Airbnb.   
  • Cape Kiwanda – Cape Kiwanda is a popular beach on the Oregon Coast. This area of Oregon can be quite rainy and cloudy all year round, but if you are lucky, you will be able to witness one of its gorgeous sunsets.  
  • God’s Thumb Hike, Lincoln City – It is a moderately difficult hike along the Oregon Coast. A 4.6-mile round-trip hike will bring you to a curved landscape on an oceanside cliff. It is located in Lincoln City, Oregon, and is a perfect place to get out of the car, stretch your legs, and see the beautiful area of the Oregon Coast.  
  • Devil’s Punchbowl – It is a perfect stop on your Pacific Coast Highway Road trip. You can experience here the power of the ocean slamming and swirling into a carved-out bowl. During high tide, the waves swirl and crash inside out, but during low tide, you can walk down on the beach and explore inside.   
  • Thor’s Well – It is another one of the Oregon Coast’s natural phenomena. You will be able to experience the most dramatic sights at high tide. Remember not to get too close to it, as it pushes and pulls the water with a powerful force. This area is located at south of the Cape Perpetua Visitor Centre.  
  • Cape Perpetua Scenic Area – It is an amazing spot on the Pacific Coast Highway and one of the great places to take a picture on the way. This is also a great spot for camping on the Oregon Coast, as well as exploring the many ocean features and scenic trails present in the area.   
Thor's Well


  • Redwood National and State Parks – If your Pacific Coast Highway is taking your trip southbound, your first stop in California should be Redwood National and State Parks. They are known especially for their spectacularly tall and beautiful trees and are home to some of the tallest trees on earth.   
  • Fern Canyon – Fern Canyon Trail in the Redwoods is a very short route; it is just a 1.1-mile-long walk to revel in the 50-foot-tall fern-covered walls and lush surrounding the forest. The hike is pretty easy, but getting there is a different story. The trip requires that you cross a few creeks and winding, narrow dirt roads to reach the trailhead.   
  • Point Reyes National Seashore – Explore the Point Reyes National Seashore, which is a protected coastline of rolling pastures, historic landmarks, and a secret docked ship. Some of the best things to do here are visiting the historic lighthouse, driving down the canopy of Cypress trees, and whale watching.   
  • Bolinas Ridge – If you have scheduled a halt in San Francisco on your Pacific Coast Highway Road trip, then make sure you make a sunset stop just north of the city, on Bolinas Ridge. It is an area of golden, glimmering hills and is located on the edge of Mount Tamalpais State Park in Marin County, California.  
  • Golden Gate Bridge – No Pacific Coast Highway trip is complete without seeing the Golden Gate Bridge. There are several incredible viewpoints on either side of the bridge. Some of the best places to view Golden Gate Bridge are Battery Spencer, Kirby Cove, and North Vista Point.   
  • San Francisco – Some places to visit in San Francisco are to see the sunrise at the Golden Gate Bridge, visit the Fisherman’s Wharf, and stop by the Painted Ladies.   
  • Shark Fin Cove – It is a beautiful California coast beach situated just south of San Francisco. It is given its name for its rock formation just off the shore which resembles a shark’s fin. This place provides absolutely stunning views from above and below. You should start your visit at the top and walk along the trails near the cliffs. Finally, you should climb down the cove via a steep trail to find beach access.   
Sharks Fin Cove

We hope this helps you in your own Pacific Coast Highway Road trip and makes planning it a bit easier

You can also read: Yellowstone National Park 

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