Driving the iconic Pacific Coast Highway in California

California's Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) is a portion of State Route 1 (SR 1) running along the Pacific coastline of the U.S. state of California, from Los Angeles to San Francisco. It’s heralded as one of the most scenic drives in the USA.

Pacific Coast Highway

How long is California's Pacific Coast Highway?

Part of State Route 1 (SR 1), the road is totally paved. It runs along some of the most beautiful coastlines in the world, leading to its designation as an All-American Road. The road is 997km (620-mile) long, covering almost the entire California coast from Los Angeles to San Francisco. It is also part of the larger Pacific Coastal Highway that extends along the Pacific coast of the entire Americas.

Where does California's Pacific Coast Highway start and end?

Construction of the road began in 1919 and was completed in 1930. The road (PCH) runs south-north from Orange County (near Dana Point, south of Los Angeles) to Mendocino County (just above San Francisco, in Leggett). Traveling above waves crashing into windswept cliffs, over dramatic bridges anchored in rugged outposts, the spectacular drive that hugs the California coast is a journey like no other.

Is California's Pacific Coast Highway safe?

It’s kind of dangerous because while the views get better and better, the road takes sharper and sharper turns with it. And travelers who are driving slowly or have stopped entirely, directly on the highway, to admire the view can pose hazards to other drivers. It’s a road to avoid if heights are an issue. The drive is known for its stunning coastal views and steep drop-offs from the California cliffs into the ocean. The drive is very intense in parts because there are no guardrails at the edge, and there is little room for error if oncoming traffic swerves in your direction. The winding two-lane highway also traverses numerous bridges, including the Bixby Bridge, which soars 280 feet above the Bixby Creek Gorge in Big Sur. The road often takes hairpin turns with narrow shoulders and steep drop-offs, so you must be alert at all times. Don't forget to pull over in safe places to really enjoy the vista. If you're hurt in an accident on the PCH, then make sure you get help from a car accident lawyer familiar with California law.

Is California's Pacific Coast Highway busy?

The drive hugs one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. So it can get crowded. It's advised to drive this trip outside the regular holiday season and especially not during weekends to avoid those snails-on-wheels. The highway sees the most traffic in July and August. Avoid these times if you want to take a leisurely drive. In the winter seasons, drivers must be aware of the danger from mudslides as well. Always check local advisories before embarking on your journey. Because gazing at the views while driving is not a good combination, the highway features many strategically placed vista points allowing motorists to stop and admire the landscape.

How long does it take to drive California's Pacific Coast Highway?

Starting from northern California and stretching all the way down to San Diego, the route takes around ten hours to complete at a leisurely pace with no stops. The drive, especially on sunny days, is a privilege, with wild beauty, small-town charm, and big city sights. Along the way, you can have a look at some of America's most dramatic coastal vistas. Drive north to south if you're able to choose. That way you're on the coast side of the highway, which means better views, and it's much easier to pull off into the best viewpoints. The Pacific Coast Highway is a state of mind. It’s one of the most beautiful road trip drives in the United States, so do as much of it as you can in the time you've got available. There are some great beaches and seaside towns that require you to get off the highway and explore them. Likewise, there are some state parks and gorgeous areas. Don't run out of gas. They tend to get less frequent the further north you go. Even in one of the most famous and most beautiful stretches of the road, Big Sur, gas stations are pretty spread out. Don't take chances.

Is California's Pacific Coast Highway worth it?

This is a classic American road trip that should be on everyone’s bucket list. It’s the longest state route in California, running along most of the Pacific coastline, so you won’t be surprised to hear that it has glorious sea and beach views. Make use of the trip by stopping off as much as possible. There are plenty of great restaurants, beaches, and attractions to choose from. Academics will enjoy a trip to the Henry Miller Memorial Library, whereas animal lovers will enjoy the Elephant Seal Rookery at San Piedras Beach. As you drive along the PCH, make time for stops. You'll pass through Big Sur, a rugged stretch of California’s central coast, with its majestic redwoods. In Monterey Bay, lucky visitors will get a peek at sea otters playing in the water. It's one of the most beautiful coastal drives in the world.

Image credit: Depositphotos