3 Days along the Pacific Coast Highway

Traveling the Pacific Coast Highway

3 Days on the Pacific Coast Highway

From Los Angeles to San Francisco and everywhere in between. The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) is well known as one of the most scenic drives in the world. Plan your trip with a flexible itinerary of several days. Take a ride with us on the Pacific Coast Highway!

My dear friend Misty, who I’ve been friends with since high school, was planning to be in Lake Tahoe and wanted to extend her trip to include a leisure road trip up the PCH. She mentioned it to me and of course, I was in!  We jotted down tons of things to do, places to see and eat, and everything else based on recommendations we’d received, however, didn’t pre-book anything except the rental car. This post will give you ideas and opinions based on our experience. One thing is for sure- make sure your camera battery is fully charged. There are so many great photo ops along the way.

3 days along PCH at a glance-
The evening we arrived in Los Angeles
– Evening out in Manhattan Beach
Day 1: in Los Angeles
Griffith Park Observatory
Venice Beach
Santa Monica Pier
– Spent the night in Santa Barbara
Day 2:
– Breakfast in Santa Barbara
– Stop off at a beach
Morro Bay

– Photo ops along Big Sur
McWay Falls
Bixby Bridge

Monterey (where we spent the night)
Carmel By the Sea for dinner then drinks
Day 3:
Cannery Row for coffee
Half Moon Bay for lunch
Golden Gate Bridge
Lombard Street
Chinatown
– Flight back to Houston

**Helpful hints- make sure you pack both clothes for warm weather and cold.  You’ll definitely need the colder weather clothes the farther north you go.

We arrived in Los Angeles, CA (LAX) in the late afternoon Friday. That evening we met a friend, a former Houstonian turned Californian, in Manhattan Beach and did a bit of bar hopping. It was great to see him and fun to show Misty that area of the city.

Day 1 (Saturday):
Luckily Cali is 2 hours behind Houston time so waking up at 8am is like waking up at 10. 🙂 First thing we did was hit Starbucks. We knew we had limited time in L.A. so we needed to get going (though I know L.A. has some amazing breakfast/brunch spots). Based on ratings and reviews, we decided to go to Griffin Park Observatory. I have to admit, this was our least favorite thing we did. The traffic getting up the hill and trying to find a place to park was ridiculous…sort of surprised us since it was still so early. And the views of the city, meh. Got to see the Hollywood sign a bit closer though not sure the hassle was worth it.
Hollywood Sign Got back in the car, and since it was on our way out, did a drive-by down Hollywood Blvd. Next stop was Venice Beach.
Venice Beach CASkaters in Venice Beach CAAfter that we met a good friend of mine and some of her friends at Blue Bottle Coffee. It was very nice coffee but the highlight was that we spotted Ron Livingston with his baby and family. THAT was major excitement. No, I didn’t have the nerve to ask for a photo. But he smiled at us. I will never forget it. #lifetimefanofronlivingston

Departed the friends and headed north to Santa Monica Pier.
Santa Monica PierAfter a bit of sightseeing there we Yelped a good place to eat within walking distance. Ended up at the Misfit. There was a bit of a wait (good indication, right?) It was awesome. And we were pleasantly surprised to see the type of hot sauce they serve. 😉
Texas Pete Hot SauceIt was getting late at this point and we were running behind on schedule. So in the car we went and headed for Santa Barbara to lay our heads for the night. This ended up being a rather pricey decision as the hotels in SB were, during our visit, astronomical. That’s what we get for winging it. I would recommend doing research on where the more affordable hotels/areas would be along your route.

Day 2 (Sunday):
Awoke in SB, had a delicious breakfast at Jeannine’s Restaurant, did a quick drive by of Sterns Wharf, then made our way north. We were behind and needed to make it to Monterey by dusk so we didn’t stop again until we reached a beach… a lovely beach and the name I can’t seem to remember…maybe Pismo Beach? It was quite nice.  I’d never seen so many beautiful sand dollars.
California Beach Then back in the car again and on to Morro Bay. Lots of great restaurants and fun activities in the area such as kayaking, whale watching, fishing… and a large rock sitting at the edge of the harbor.
Morro Bay CaliforniaThere’s a beautiful photo op just passed Cayucos but before Estero Bay, that was quite lovely.  Not sure where exactly it is but I noticed a sign that said we were 13 miles south of Cambria.
Pacific Coast Highway SceneryNext stop was lunch in San Simeon.  Then we drove to the welcome center at Hearst Castle but as it turns out, there was a 2-3 hour wait to get the bus up to the castle.  So unfortunately, we were not able to do this.  Definitely allow for time if this is something you want to do. Here it a picture from the welcome center. 🙂
Hearst Castle CaliforniaBack in the car for about 1 hour 20 mins north to McWay Falls, but lots of photo ops along Big Sur.
Big Sur California on the Pacific Coast HighwayBig Sur California on the Pacific Coast HighwayAnd then there it was- McWay Falls.
Big Sur California on the Pacific Coast HighwayTraveling the Pacific Coast Highway…and a stop at Bixby Bridge.
Bixby Bridge on our Pacific Coast Highway tripArrived in Monterey just as it was getting dark. We checked into our hotel and then popped over to Carmel-by-the-Sea for a lovely dinner.  We ended up at this really fun Mediterranean restaurant called Dametra Cafe.  The food was delicious, the band was lively and the owner was lovely.  He visited every table and just really gave people a very friendly vibe.  After that we walked down the street to this restaurant called Vesuvio, that had a fun rooftop bar.  Obviously, the bar was what we were after.  It wasn’t too busy at the time we got there (late), but you could tell this bar had seen it’s share of fun.  The drinks were great and the ambiance was really nice.  Afterwards it was back to the hotel and to bed. Day 3 would be another early start. 🙂

Day 3 (Monday):
We awoke in Monterey and had breakfast on Cannery Row, the waterfront street in town.
Cannery Row Monterey, CAThen on to San Francisco with a stop to Half Moon Bay along the way.  Unfortunately, it was quite cloudy in HMB so we were not able to see much of the beach.  However, lunch at San Benito Deli (also called Garden Deli Cafe) was quite delicious.
San Benito Deli on our Pacific Coast Highway tripAfter lunch we drove on to San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge on our Pacific Coast Highway tripthough it was incredibly windy and nearly blew us over a few times.
Golden Gate Bridge on our Pacific Coast Highway tripThe views are breathtaking.
San Francisco on our Pacific Coast Highway tripOnward…
Golden Gate Bridge on our Pacific Coast Highway tripto Lombard Street.
Lombard Street on our Pacific Coast Highway tripFrom Lombard Street looking east toward Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower.
Lombard Street on our Pacific Coast Highway tripA view of Alcatraz Island from the top of Lombard Street.
Alcatraz Island on our Pacific Coast Highway tripOnward to Chinatown.
Chinatown on our Pacific Coast Highway tripThen on to the airport for a flight back to Houston.
San Francisco bridge on our Pacific Coast Highway tripMisty & I had a really great time exploring the Pacific Coast Highway. I’m looking forward to doing this trip again, perhaps next time starting with the north and heading south.  This way you feel a bit safer pulling off to the right, for photo ops, as opposed to stopping traffic while waiting to turn left so many times. 🙂  I’d also take a day or two more to see some things missed and relax a bit more.

Places I’d like to visit next time-
– Various wineries
– Hearst castle in San Simeon
– Painted Ladies
– Alcatraz
– Julia Pfeiffer State Park
– Redwoods National Park
– More time in Carmel
– Coit Tower
– Glass Beach
– Hiking at various spots
– More beach time

Click to check out the top beaches along California coast.

Disclaimer

The 3 Day Traveler is proudly ad-free. All opinions and suggestions are my own. Anything I recommend on this site is based on my opinion and personal experience. Information should be current as of the posted date, however, I really encourage you to double-check facts, places, rates, and companies before you count on them being there when you visit.

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