Though Route 66 might be America’s most famous road trip, the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) is hands-down the most scenic. California’s State Route 1 zips along sandy beaches and curves along clifftops, providing jaw-dropping views of the Pacific Ocean for over 650 miles.
From the north to south, we handpicked the PCH’s best pit stops to enjoy and recharge before getting back behind the wheel.
SANTA CRUZ, CA
Sunshine and fun rides on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is California’s oldest amusement park, with vintage rides like the Giant Dipper promising old-school thrills and incredible views of the beach. The coastline brings in surfers from around the world and is home to incredible geological formations like Shark Fin Cove. After a day at the beach, explore shops and restaurants along Pacific Avenue to soak up the city’s famous laid-back vibe.
The Dream Inn Santa Cruz sits right across from the famous boardwalk and is only steps from the city. This incredible location is matched only by its ocean-inspired decor. Also, every room includes its own private balcony or patio looking out over Monterey Bay.
Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row give a glimpse into Monterey’s past
Monterey sits at the southern edge of the incredible bay it shares its name with. The surrounding nature is as beautiful as the city’s rich history, which remains visible to this day. The Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo was built by the Spanish in 1795 and is the state’s oldest parish. Then, along the waterfront, is Cannery Row, which gives a glimpse into Monterey’s past fishing industry. Today it’s populated with houses, restaurants, hotels, and shops.
The Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa is right next to Cannery Row, but it’s a luxurious step up from its neighbor’s rugged history. The combination of world-class service and stunning ocean views make it the perfect place to rest up before hitting the road come morning.
BIG SUR, CA
The iconic Bixby Bridge on the Big Sur coast
Continuing south from Monterey, you’ll be cruising along Big Sur, where the Pacific Coast Highway takes some of its most dramatic turns along seaside cliffs. The entire way promises hours of jaw-dropping views of the ocean and the Santa Lucia Mountains. Along the way, don’t forget to make a pit stop for photos at the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge and McWay Falls, and 80-foot cascade leading to a beautiful cove.
While camping in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is popular, the Ragged Point Inn is a cozier alternative. It’s at the halfway point along the Big Sur stretch and less than 3 miles from Hurst Castle, with an excellent on-site restaurant and ocean views.
SANTA BARBARA, CA
Sunset over Santa Barbara and the Santa Ynez Mountains
Santa Barbara has something for everyone, from history buffs and foodies, to surfers and outdoor explorers. The downtown area is famous for its striking Spanish-colonial architecture, with whitewashed facades and bright red roof tiles. Nearby Rincon is one of California’s best surfing beaches, and a few miles off the coast is Channel Islands National Park, considered the Galapagos of the North and great for hiking and snorkeling.
The courtyard and rustic aesthetic of the Spanish Garden Inn will both transport you back in time while pampering you before the last leg of the road trip.
Chic beachside bungalows and modern mansions line the Malibu coast
Malibu is the last pristine hold-out before the Pacific Coast Highway gets swallowed by the urban sprawl of Los Angeles. Despite its reputation as an exclusive enclave of beachside mansions, there’s still lots for visitors to experience. Whether you want to surf, relax, or hike, Zuma, Point Dume, and Robert H. Meyer Memorial Beaches are Malibu’s best. For some world-class shopping and possible celebrity sightings, head to Malibu Country Mart, an outdoor boutique mall.
Luxury isn’t limited to the rich and famous. Book a room at the Malibu Beach Inn to treat yourself to fresh, locally-sourced seafood or an indulgent massage at their on-site restaurant and spa.