We can’t do a series of road trip ideas without including a road - or series of roads - that has been named America’s Most Beautiful Drive and America’s Best Free Attraction. The Pacific Coast Highway is officially less than 130 miles long from Dana Point and Oxnard in Southern California, but many consider the "real" Pacific Coast Highway to be a series of roads running up the entire west coast of the United States. All in all, the entire length runs no less than 1800 miles, taking about two weeks if you include time to enjoy the sights of the trip.

If you don’t have the time or energy to take in the full length of the trip, there are various parts of the Pacific Coast Highway that can be utilized as shorter trips. Of course, you may want to avoid July and August because the traffic can be a killer.

Hit the jump to check out the many highlights of the Pacific Coast Highway, including the shorter routes and entertainment.

Pacific Coast Highway: Broken Down

Road Trip Ideas: Pacific Coast Highway
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  • Dana Point to Oxnard
  • Oxnard to San Luis Obispo
  • San Luis Obispo to Monterey
  • Monterey to San Francisco
  • San Francisco to Legget


Whale Watching

Road Trip Ideas: Pacific Coast Highway
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One of the biggest activities on the Pacific Coast Highway is whale watching. Whale season depends on the type of whale you are looking to spot, but Newport Landing Whale Watching does year round whale watching.

Blue Whale Season: May to October
Gray Whale Season: December to May
Farallon Island Whale Season: May to November

Of course, there are many other animals to spot during the trip including seals, elephant seals, sea lions, and dolphins. Land animals are also present and include hummingbirds, golden eagles, bald eagles, chipmunks, raccoons, deer, and elk.

Hearst Castle

Road Trip Ideas: Pacific Coast Highway
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William Randolph Hearst is an American newspaper magnate and leading newspaper publisher, starting his career in 1887. His castle - oh yeah..castle - is a National Historic Landmark in the hills at San Simeon. It takes about five hours from San Francisco or Los Angeles which is a great little weekend trip for anyone looking to experience a small piece of the Pacific Coast Highway.

Big Sur

Road Trip Ideas: Pacific Coast Highway
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Big Sur is a popular destination because of its beautiful landscape and winding roads. It is located right where the Santa Lucia Mountains meet the Pacific Coast. The only downside with this destination is that there are many closures when the weather gets bad, especially in the Spring and Winter seasons.


Road Trip Ideas: Pacific Coast Highway
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There are many gardens along the way and if you are a plant lover than the Pacific Coast Highway is the way to go to see some of the best gardens in the United States.


  • Bainbridge Island
  • The Bloedel Reserve
  • Bellevue
  • Bellevue Botanical Garden
  • Federal Way
  • Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection
  • Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden
  • Lakewood
  • Lakewold Gardens
  • Seattle
  • Dunn Gardens
  • University of Washington Medicinal Herb Garden
  • Washington Park Arboretum
  • Washington Park Arboretum Japanese Garden
  • Woodland Park Rose Garden
  • Tacoma
  • Point Defiance Park
  • W. W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory


  • Coos Bay
  • Shore Acres Gardens/Shore Acres State Park


  • Arcadia
  • The Arboretum of Los Angeles County
  • Berkeley
  • Berkeley Rose Garden
  • Regional Parks Botanic Garden
  • University of California Blake Garden
  • University of California Botanical Garden
  • Beverly Hills
  • Virginia Robinson Gardens
  • Claremont
  • Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden
  • Corona Del Mar
  • Sherman Library and Gardens
  • El Cerrito
  • The Harland Hand Memorial Garden
  • Encinitas
  • Quail Botanical Gardens
  • Fort Bragg
  • Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
  • Fullerton
  • The Fullerton Arboretum
  • La Cañada Flintridge
  • Descanso Gardens
  • Laguna Beach
  • Hortense Miller Garden
  • Long Beach
  • Rancho Los Alamitos Historic Ranch and Gardens
  • Los Angeles
  • Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden
  • Menlo Park
  • Sunset Gardens
  • Oakland
  • Morcom Rose Garden

Palo Alto

  • The Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden Center
  • Palos Verdes Peninsula
  • South Coast Botanic Garden
  • Ross
  • Marin Art and Garden Center
  • San Diego
  • Balboa Park
  • San Francisco
  • Golden Gate Park
  • San Francisco Botanical Garden
  • San Marino
  • The Huntington
  • San Simeon
  • Hearst Castle Gardens
  • Santa Barbara
  • Ganna Walska Lotusland
  • Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
  • Santa Cruz
  • University of California at Santa Cruz Arboretum
  • Santa Rosa
  • Luther Burbank Home and Gardens
  • Saratoga
  • Hakone Gardens
  • Villa Montalvo
  • Sausalito
  • Green Gulch Farm Zen Center
  • Walnut Creek
  • The Ruth Bancroft Garden
  • Woodside
  • Filoli Gardens

Other Attractions

Road Trip Ideas: Pacific Coast Highway
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  • Monterey Bay Aquarium
  • Santa Monica Pier
  • Golden Gate Bridge
  • Point Reyes National Seashore
  • Redwood National Park
  • Oregon Dune National Recreation Area
  • Florence Sea Lions
  • Olympic National Park

Big Cities Along the Way

  • Seattle
  • San Francisco
  • Los Angeles
  • San Diego

Smaller Cities Along the Way


  • Aberdeen
  • Forks
  • Hoquiam
  • Ilwaco
  • Long Beach
  • Port Angeles
  • Seattle
  • Sequim
  • Westport


  • Astoria
  • Bandon
  • Brookings
  • Cannon Beach
  • Depoe Bay
  • Florence
  • Gold Beach
  • Lincoln City
  • Newport
  • Pacific City
  • Port Orford
  • Reedsport/Winchester Bay
  • Seaside
  • Tillamook


  • Big Sur
  • Bodega Bay
  • Cambria
  • Carlsbad
  • Carmel-by-the-Sea
  • Coronado
  • Crescent City
  • Dana Point
  • Del Mar
  • Eureka
  • Fort Bragg
  • Half Moon Bay
  • Huntington Beach
  • Laguna Beach
  • La Jolla
  • Long Beach
  • Los Angeles
  • Mendocino
  • Monterey
  • Morro Bay
  • Newport Beach
  • Pacific Grove
  • Pismo Beach
  • San Clemente
  • San Diego
  • San Francisco
  • San Luis Obispo
  • San Simeon
  • Santa Barbara
  • Santa Cruz
  • Santa Monica
  • Ventura
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