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Driving the Pacific Coast Highway from California to Washington

Love a road trip? Love spectacular views and wildlife? You need to drive the Pacific Coast Highway. From California to Washington, you can’t ask for better scenery, beaches, and great eats.

For sheer beauty, epic views, and amazing attractions, nothing beats the Pacific Coast Highway. On some road trips, the journey is about going somewhere. Maybe it’s to go visit relatives or moving to a new city, but the PCH is all about the road and what you discover along the way.

I’ve been driving on parts of the Pacific Coast Highway pretty much my whole life. Starting with family trips around southern California visiting the different beaches, and later on exploring the coast on my motorcycle with friends. But I had never driven the whole length of the Pacific Coast Highway system from its start in Dana Point, California to the end in Olympia, Washington.

Until now that is. We drove the entire length of it on a two-week road trip in our Jeep Patriot, and loved every minute of it.

We had time to explore the beaches in all three states and, even though I’m betraying my SoCal roots, I think the Oregon beaches are the best. I’m looking at you Ariya’s Beach! Though to be fair, I don’t really go to beaches for sunbathing and swimming, anymore.

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Big Sur is one of the most awe-inspiring parts of the PCH.

What is the Pacific Coast Highway

The Pacific Coast Highway system is made up of two highways, California Route One and US Route 101. It starts with the “official” PCH from Dana Point to Santa Barbara. From there you’re driving on the Cabrillo Highway to San Francisco. After that it’s the Shoreline Highway to Legget. It’s all Route 101 from here through the rest of California, Oregon and Washington all the way to Olympia.

The Pacific Coast Highway is the way to drive and enjoy the many views, whereas you may have driven I-5 and through California, especially, it can be a bit barren.

So, we’re ready to go. We’ve got our GPS, our camera, bathing suits, and plenty of snacks. We especially love bringing along some homemade M and M cookies when we road trip.

Beaches, beaches, beaches, like this one in Pismo will keep smiles on your face along the entire PCH route.

For the complete article with full descriptions and recommendations, check out Planning the Perfect Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip on our sister site, Roving Vails.

What to See and Do on the Pacific Coast Highway

Of course, we can’t pass by a traditional roadside attraction like Confusion Hill or the Drive-Thru tree, and there are plenty of those types of quirky stops along the highway. But for the more traditional, family fun stops there’s Santa Monica pier, the Monterey Aquarium, and Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

Heceta Head in one of most beautiful things to see along the Pacific Coast Highway (Oregon).

You want scenic views? Most people would agree Big Sur is the winner. Bixby Bridge, McWay Beach, or pretty much any pullout along the road offers the most stunning vistas. But don’t discount the views in northern California and Oregon, either.

Listen to these two podcasts for some road trip tips: Types of Road Trips and Lots More Planning Tips.

Stopping at some of the California state parks will give you a little respite along the PCH.

Best Food on the Pacific Coast Highway

If you’re like us, food has to be part of any road trip and the Pacific Coast Highway doesn’t disappoint. With so many iconic choices like the clams in Pismo Beach, sourdough in San Francisco, oysters from Tomales Bay, or marionberry anything pretty much anywhere in Oregon, there’s so much good food for road-tripping.

Other must-stop food joints include a cinnamon roll from Old West Bakery in Pismo Beach, the pie at Pie Ranch in Pescadora, cheese samples at the Tillamook Creamery in Tillamook, and fresh fruit Ice Cream at Welly’s in Port Angeles.

Pigeon Point lighthouse is one of the many things you can visit along the Pacific Coast Highway.


Whether you have three days for a drive between San Francisco and Los Angeles, or a week or two for a longer trip, you’re going to have an amazing time exploring the Pacific Coast. Drive it north to south or south to north, pretty much any time of year, there will always be something new and amazing to see on the way.

Show Notes

03:45 – What is the Pacific Coast Highway?
06:15  – Which direction should you drive the PCH?
09:30 – Where can you see elephant seals along the PCH?
12:00 – Pacific Coast Beaches
14:25 – Some of our favorite stops on the Pacific Coast Highway
18:00 – What kind of car do you need to drive the PCH?
19:45 – Lighthouses along the Pacific Coast
23:00 – San Francisco and highlights to the north
26:15 – Attractions along the Oregon coast
33:00 – Astoria, Oregon
38:30 – Things to do driving the Pacific Coast Highway in Washington
44:00 – Where to overnight and how much time do you need for the PCH

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Podcaster Bios for Jim and Corinne: Jim and Corinne are a married couple who love everything travel. Having met and married in Germany, they’ve never stopped. Along the way, they have raised two kids, visited over 90 countries (including every country in Europe), and have plenty of stories and travel tips to share. Read more about them on our About page.