How to Explore California Cruising the Pacific Coast Highway

Written by Faisal | Last modified on:

Have you always dreamed of cruising down the  California Pacific Coast Highway (PCH)?

In your dreams, it’s an open road without traffic. In reality, it’s a little different.

But there are definite ways to get around the worst of it and actually enjoy your trip along the Pacific Coast Highway. And if you plan well, you’ll get to see some of the best of what California has to offer.

California Pacific Coast Highway
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Cruising on California Pacific Coast Highway

Here’s how to explore California cruising the Pacific Coast Highway.

Start in Northern California

When you start your adventure from Northern California (or Seattle), you’ll be driving along the southbound side, which means you’ll be along the coast. The Pacific Coast Highway (or State Route 1) ends in Leggett in Mendocino County, but this is a great place to start.

Or if you want to explore the entire coastline, feel free to begin in Seattle and drive through Oregon before you make it to the PCH in Leggett. It all depends on how much exploration you want and how much time you have. From the vicinity of Olympic National Park down to the Southernmost point of PCH, you can cover about 1,650 miles.

Rent the right car

When you rent a car for this trip, you have two options. You can opt for a one-way rental or return the car to the same location. In most cases, people opt for the one-way rental. It’s more expensive but making a loop along the Pacific Coast Highway is often too much driving for most people. Remember, your drive can span 1,650 miles depending on where you start. If you return the car to the same spot, you’ll double the miles.

Search around the budget rental companies to find the best deal, and get an upgrade if possible. You’ll want a balance of space and fuel economy for this trip.

Make a list of pitstops

You’re not going to want to stray too far from the PCH because this is a significant trip as is. But if you’re going to be in the area, you may as well check all the activities you want to do off your list. Go ahead and add hot air ballooning to your Napa Valley adventures and enjoy the dips that take you away from the ocean and into the Humboldt Redwoods.

Before you do anything else, just know where you want to spend some time. This will help as you plan how much time it takes to get from point A to point B.

Create a loose itinerary

Now that you have a list of pitstops, you can start planning out your actual itinerary. Make a note of your start time and estimate how much time it’ll take to get to your first stop. Add up all the driving time, adding for traffic, and how much time you’ll want to spend at each stop.

For example, you’re probably going to want a day or two in San Francisco and a day in Napa Valley and Big Sur. And if you find you’ve gone over your time budget, you may have to start cutting pitstops.

If you do end up cutting things off of your list. Keep those on the backburner. If you run ahead of schedule, you can easily add them back in.

Know the speed limit

Along the Pacific Coast Highway, the speed limit is almost always 55 mph. There are a few exceptions, but you’ll want to stick to the restrictions on this trip. You’ll notice most others do as well, and you don’t want to be the odd one out speeding. A speeding ticket would really put a damper on any vacation.

Spend a few days in San Diego

If you’re going to book a one-way rental (which is recommended), you’ll end the journey in San Diego. And if you’re going to book your flight in advance, you’re going to want to leave yourself some wiggle room. You don’t want to run late and miss your flight. So, plan to spend a minimum of 1.5 to 2 days in San Diego. It’s a great spot to rest and relax before your flight. You’ll appreciate the downtime after such a busy trip.

On this trip, the journey is the destination, so be sure to enjoy the views as you’re driving. With a little planning, you’re sure to have an amazing trip.

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