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
– 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
– Cannery Row for coffee
– Half Moon Bay for lunch
– Golden Gate Bridge
– Lombard Street
– 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.
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.
After 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.
After 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. 😉
It 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.
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.
There’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.
Next 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. 🙂
Back in the car for about 1 hour 20 mins north to McWay Falls, but lots of photo ops along Big Sur.
And then there it was- McWay Falls.
…and a stop at Bixby Bridge.
Arrived 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.
Then 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.
After lunch we drove on to San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge…
though it was incredibly windy and nearly blew us over a few times.
The views are breathtaking.
to Lombard Street.
From Lombard Street looking east toward Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower.
A view of Alcatraz Island from the top of Lombard Street.
Onward to Chinatown.
Then on to the airport for a flight back to Houston.
Misty & 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
– 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.
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