So you’re thinking about doing a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH)? Well do it! It was the single best (and toughest) part of our West Coast road trip last year but you 100% won’t regret it. Coming from Northern Ireland I thought we had the best coastline but the Americans may just have us beat!
I’ve blogged about our stops but here’s a quick overview; We traveled BA from Dublin – London – Las Vegas where we stayed at the New York New York for 4 nights (blog here), we then picked up a hire car at McCarran airport and drove to Mammoth Lakes where we stayed 2 nights at Juniper Springs Lodge and did a day trip to Yosemite. We then drove to San Francisco where we stayed at the Hotel Zephyr for 4 nights (blog here) before doing our gigantic FIFTEEN HOUR drive down the PCH to Los Angeles where we stayed at the Regency Hyatt Huntington Beach 5 nights (blog here) before flying back out from Las Vegas again.
Hands up – we made a mistake in doing the PCH in one day. It was a killer and I wish we had stayed overnight in 2 locations to fully appreciate what was around us. Though in saying that, we decided to do it right and take as long as we needed to, stopping off for breakfast a couple of hours into our journey and anywhere else we wanted to on our way. It’s worth mentioning that there were a couple of stops we wanted to make but due to forest fires and filming in various locations we couldn’t.
Top Tips and Locations For Your PCH Road Trip
1. Get an early start
We left San Francisco at 7am to make our way down to the PCH as traffic in major American cities can be unbelievable. Technically the Pacific Coast Highway doesn’t start until Monterey so we made that our first stop for a walk about and breakfast. We really wished we’d stayed here as Monterey is truly beautiful and has a proper Colonial feel about it. I’d recommend at least a one night stay here if you can.
2. Big Sur
The Big Sur runs 90 miles down the PCH and plays host to Pfeiffer Beach, McWay Falls, Point Sur State Historic Park and Ragged Point. We’d planned to stop at the first two but due to forest fires and filming locations we were cut off and couldn’t get to them, which was a huge disappointment but an excuse to go back soon! I’d recommend adding these to your list if you have the time. You’ll also cross Bixby Bridge which stands at 280 feet tall over crashing waves. You will see it coming up, make sure to slow down to get into the ‘Vista Point’ (American term for photographic area).
3. Hearst Castle in San Simeon
Pretty much smack bang between San Francisco and LA is Hearst Castle in San Simeon. Perched on the hillside it was built for William Hearst and must be seen to be believed. It has 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms and the world’s largest private pool and wait for it… a private zoo.
4. Elephant Seal Beach
Rock out with the seals at Piedras Blancas Beach, better known as Elephant Seal Beach, just outside of San Simeon. You cannot get a better view of seals anywhere along the coast and it is a tourist hot spot that’s well worth a visit. These guys are adorable and the noise is incredible! Thousands of seals visit here throughout the year to breed and hang out. Watch out for cheeky chipmunks too, they’ll be after your food and aren’t afraid to take what isn’t theirs!
5. Vista Points
Photographic hot spots are called ‘Vista Points’ and you will see a sign when you’re near one. Be careful, along the PCH there are a lot of these but as it is a single lane for most of the way, a lot of these parking spots are tight so go slow and park as tightly as possible to let others in and out. It’s worth noting once on the motorway (closer to LA or San Francisco) that the inside lane is usually (but not always) for car share during certain times of the day. If there’s more than one of you in the car you’ll be able to use this lane which is really handy during heavier periods of traffic.
6. Plan Your Time Wisely
There is a lot to see and do along the Pacific Coast Highway. Take the time to appreciate the views and plan your trip well in advance. I’d recommend creating a Google Map of all the places you want to visit which you can then download to view offline if needs be. Know where you want to stop and roughly how far apart everything is so you won’t miss turn offs or parking areas which can be easily missed, especially throughout Big Sur. Traffic does move a lot more slowly in this section as it is mainly visitors admiring the views so allow yourself a little extra driving time.