The Ultimate Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Itinerary & Stays

We present everything you need to know, including where to stay, what to pack, and where to stop for a romantic getaway.
The Ultimate Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Itinerary
Photo: Markue / Getty Images
james wong - the knot contributing writer and travel expert
by
James Wong
james wong - the knot contributing writer and travel expert
James Wong
Travel Writer & Expert
  • James Wong is a freelance travel writer and expert.
  • He's reported for publications including VOGUE, GQ, Time Out and Thrillist.
  • James has lived in London, Tokyo and New York; and has traveled to almost every corner of the world.
Updated Jan 08, 2024
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One of America's great journeys, a Pacific Coast Highway road trip is a bucket list activity and one that makes for a truly epic couples' getaway. Stretching from Washington State down to California, this coastline is vast, varied and beautiful. You'll drive past oceans sided by towering cliffs, surfing bays lined by golden sand, and plenty of natural landscapes that are backdropped by mountain ranges and forests. Then there are the cities, each a destination in their own right, and a chance for couples to sample different dining scenes, entertainment and, of course, iconic attractions.

For honeymoons, anniversaries or romantic weekend getaways, we've pulled together the best routes and stops to take, along with all the road-trip essentials you might need for the ultimate Pacific Coast Highway itinerary. Roll down your windows and smell that adventure.

Where Is the Pacific Coast Highway 1 and How Long Is It?

The best pacific coast highway roadtrip
Photo: Asim Bharwani / Getty Images

The Pacific Coast Highway (also known as PCH and Highway 1) has several portions, but the most popular is Pacific Coast Highway 1. This classic Cali coastal route starts at Dana Point in Orange County and runs all the way up to Leggett in Mendocino County. That's 656 miles from point to point. Stops along the way include Santa Barbara, Big Sur and Santa Cruz.

The Best PCH Road Trip Start and End Points

The Best PCH Road Trip Start and End Points
Photo: Ian Philip Miller / Getty Images

Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Itinerary — 3 Days

If you only have one long holiday weekend to spare, a three-day PCH itinerary brings together all the greats on the classic California route. Take the PCH 1 from San Diego to San Francisco, stopping overnight in Los Angeles on day two. En route, go surfing at Huntington Beach, have a photoshoot at Big Sur, and feast on your last day in San Francisco.

The below three-day itinerary is suggested:

  • Day One: San Diego
  • Day Two: Los Angeles
  • Day Three: San Francisco

Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Itinerary — 7 Days

You'll really earn your PCH badge of honor when you dedicate a full week to exploring. Fly into Seattle and work your way down to San Diego. There's a lot of driving, but the effort is rewarded with some of the greatest views on the West Coast. These range from natural wonders like the Redwoods and Hoh Rain Forest to city icons like the Seattle Space Needle, the Golden Gate Bridge and Venice Beach.

The below seven-day itinerary is suggested:

  • Day One: Seattle and Olympia
  • Day Two: Portland
  • Day Three: San Francisco
  • Day Four: Big Sur
  • Day Five: Santa Barbara
  • Day Six: Los Angeles
  • Day Seven: San Diego

The Knot List of Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Stops

Best places to stop on the Pacific Coast Highway
Photo: Alex Walker / Getty Images

We've selected the 10 best stops along the PCH, each stacked with scenic beauty, famous attractions, incredible food and oodles of entertainment. They have all the ingredients to make a romantic Pacific Coast Highway road trip one to remember.

Seattle, Washington

Seattle, Washington for your PCH roadtrip
Photo: Wonderlane / Getty Images

OK, the PCH technically starts in Olympia, but most travelers will fly into Seattle, and if you're there anyway, it'd be a crime to skip this US heavyweight. Emerald City is where to stock up on coffee for the road trip—it's the home of the original Starbucks, but be warned there are lengthy lines. Sleepless in Seattle fans won't want to miss Pike Place Market or the Space Needle. And the Chihuly Garden and Glass is so gorgeous that you'll want to get a photographer to capture every moment of your visit.

Places to Stay: The Charter Hotel Seattle, Curio Collection by Hilton, W Seattle and The Westin Seattle are all glamorous city stays. Hotel Theodore has the sexiest penthouse we've ever seen, complete with a private outdoor hot tub.

Olympic National Park, Washington

Olympic National Park, Washington
Photo: Stuart Westmorland / Getty Images

Outdoor enthusiasts will want to kick the trip off right with a visit to Washington's most famous national park. Olympic sprawls across multiple ecosystems, and the dramatic peaked mountains and ancient forests make it worthy of an entire weekend jaunt. The Hoh Rain Forest and Lake Crescent are tourist highlights. Things can get extremely muddy, so bring a pair of waterproof boots.

Places to Stay: Lodges are dotted around the park, such as Lake Crescent Lodge, but we recommend VRBO for a cozy rental such as this romantic waterfront cottage.

Portland, Oregon

PCH road trip stop at Portland, Oregon
Photo: David Gn Photography / Getty Images

Embrace your quirks and help "Keep Portland Weird." This city is home to independent https://www.vrbo.com/en-us/p280889vbboutique shopping, delicious food trucks and a thriving underground music scene. Plus, Viator offers a haunted underground Shanghai tunnels tour with brewery tastings if that's your idea of romance (this is the place to get weird after all). Scenic stops include the International Rose Test Garden and Washington Park.

Places to Stay: There's no shortage of trendy hotels in Portland, like The Hoxton Portland, Moxy Downtown Portland and Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront. For pure luxe, try The Ritz-Carlton, Portland.

Redwood National Park, California

Redwood National Park, California
Photo: Nazar Abbas Photography / Getty Images

These sky-high trees are like something out of a Twilight movie, and they're a truly spectacular sight all year round. Couples can spend days hiking Redwood National Park and camping out in the wilderness. Don't forget to pack items that will encourage some romance, like wine, drinkware and a giant blanket big enough to fit you, your spouse and your dog. Maybe even fall asleep under the stars if you're here during the summer months.

Places to Stay: It's all about camping out here. TripAdvisor has the best suggestions on where to park. We're also obsessed with this adorable VRBO cabin with a hot tub and mountain views.

San Francisco, California

San Francisco, California
Photo: Alexander Spatari / Getty Images

San Francisco has long been a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community, and today it is a city for all lovers. Rent a bike together and cycle over the famed Golden Gate Bridge with GetYourGuide, or head out to Napa and Sonoma on a wine tour with Viator to take a day off from driving. Other top sites include Lombard Street, Fisherman's Wharf and the biggest Chinatown outside Asia. Our pick for the best dumplings is City View Restaurant.

Places to Stay: The Westin St. Francis San Francisco on Union Square, Fairmont San Francisco, W San Francisco and The Ritz-Carlton San Francisco are all excellent city options for couples.

Big Sur, California

Big Sur, California for your pacific coast highway road trip
Photo: Matthew Crowley Photography / Getty Images

Big Sur is the postcard shot of the Pacific Coast Highway, so there's absolutely no way you should skip it. The star attraction is Bixby Bridge—one of the most photographed bridges in America, followed closely by Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, McWay Falls and Partington Cove. Toast to incredible views at Sierra Mar restaurant in the luxury Post Ranch Inn resort, a favorite destination of honeymooners.

Places to Stay: Big Sur's big on resorts. Post Ranch Inn, Ventana Big Sur, an Alila Resort and Glen Oaks Big Sur all offer dreamy suites for couples on a romantic getaway.

Santa Barbara, California

Santa Barbara, California road trip
Photo: Alexander Spatari / Getty Images

Swanky Santa Barbara is full of Spanish architectural charm backdropped with the Santa Ynez Mountains, making it a splendid stopover for couples. Points of interest range from the Old Mission Santa Barbara to the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. And Toma Restaurant and Bar is absolutely the place to wine and dine your love. Tired of exploring? Hop on ResortPass and laze around the town's most delicious pools instead.

Places to Stay: Our favorite romantic resorts for couples are El Encanto, a Belmond Hotel, Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Inn and Kimpton Canary Hotel Santa Barbara. The new Skyview Los Alamos is a 1950s-motel-turned-boutique-hotel on the northern fringes of Santa Barbara wine country for couples wanting to be close to grapes.

Los Angeles, California

Visit Los Angeles, California on your PCH road trip
Photo: Neal Pritchard Photography / Getty Images

Where do we begin? LA's got it all. Iconic sites (Hollywood Sign, Hollywood Walk of Fame), museums (The Getty Center, Los Angeles County Museum of Art), shopping (The Grove, Rodeo Drive) and theme parks (Universal Studios Hollywood, Disneyland in Anaheim) are just the very top line of draws, not to mention the fantastic nightlife, shows, sports games, pop-ups and exhibitions that take place on the daily. One day is simply not enough in LA, so you'll want to return long after your road trip is over. (But Viator can help you check off all the greats in seven to nine hours.)

Places to Stay: Splash those Bonvoy points at Beverly Hills Marriott, The West Hollywood Edition and W Hollywood. Downtown Los Angeles Proper, The Hoxton, Downtown LA and Mama Shelter Los Angeles are sexy city stays. To get away from the lights and the noise, drive out to The Ranch at Laguna Beach and Getaway House.

Huntington Beach, California

Huntington Beach, California
Photo: Matthew Micah Wright / Getty Images

Couples who love to surf will have a ball at Huntington Beach, a.k.a. Surf City. Here, you'll find 9.5 miles of sandy beach and perfect water conditions for the sport. Simply rent a board or, if you're new to surfing, sign up for a lesson. Not keen on getting wet? Visit the International Surfing Museum or watch the pros from the comfort of Huntington Beach Pier. Remember to add "Surfin' USA" to your road trip songs playlist on the way down.

Places to Stay: Kimpton Shorebreak Huntington Beach Resort is like being at a glamorous beach house. There's also The Waterfront Beach Resort, a Hilton Hotel and the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa.

San Diego, California

Visit San Diego, CA on your PCH road trip
Photo: Jason Moskowitz Photography / Getty Images

The start or end point for many PCH road trips, San Diego is a winner on all fronts—city attractions, food and drink, and beautiful beaches. While the San Diego Zoo has long been one of its highlights, we prefer seeing free animals at La Jolla Cove and Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. Whale and dolphin watching can also be enjoyed on a four-hour Viator cruise. San Diego's vegan food is top-notch, so make a beeline for The Plot—it's so good that even non-vegans rave about it.

Places to Stay: San Diego's great for luxury stays fit for a honeymoon or anniversary. Try THE US GRANT, a Luxury Collection Hotel, San Diego or the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort Golf Club and Spa if you're celebrating a special occasion.

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