I drove from LA all the way up to northern CA in less than 24 hours. See what cool spots I hit up! – By Brendan
24 Hours Later…
The Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most popular road trips in the United States. There’s a good reason why! Driving up the coast offers beautiful ocean views and takes you through a bunch of the major California destinations. There’s ALWAYS an amazing view no matter where you stop. Let’s be honest, we’ve all daydreamed about cruising down a coastal road, sunroof down and sunglasses out just like we see in the movies. After living in California for four+ years, it was inevitable that I would take on Highway 1. It was just a matter of time.
Last summer, I worked on a project in Point Arena, CA that allowed me to finally drive up the PCH. Although I was limited on time because of work, I still got to see a lot of the great sites and beautiful coastal views. In less than 24 hours!
If you are trying to squeeze this road trip in a quick weekend getaway, planning what places you want to stop at can be overwhelming. California has a ton of sites to see so how do you pick???
Well, that’s why I decided to write about my trip and share some of the places I got to see along the way up to northern Cali. The drive is relatively easy and you can go to a lot of the popular attractions in one day of driving. From LA, past San Fran, up to Point Arena, it was a roadtrip unlike any other. Just me, my car, and some good music!
Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip
#1 – Malibu
The first destination coming from LA is the one and only Malibu! Yes, I know malibu is technically in LA and I spend a LOT of time here already. However, Malibu is just as exciting as the first time no matter how many times you go! It’s so great for those California newcomers because it offer a ton of different activities. It’s such a fun, tourist-free area that’s laid back and chill which is very much my vibe. I don’t care too much for crowds so Malibu is definitely one of my favorite beach towns.
For a quick stop, there’s a really nice viewing spot at Point Dume which is only a couple of miles off of the pch. The trail to the overlook is super easy to get to. It takes you to a large flat area at the top of a cliff offering panaramic views of the pacific. You can even take a cool staircase down to a secluded beach that has some fun rocky areas to climb around on.
If you’re looking to spend a few hours here, Malibu has tons of activites. For nature buffs, you can hike some really cool trails like Escondido Falls or Sandstone Peak. Both of which have incredible views of the mountains and ocean. For something a little more casual, you can check out the Malibu Wine Safari. You can feed zoo animals and taste some of California’s best wine. Or if you’re wanting to relax at some beaches, El Matador Beach is a neat spot.
Malibu might be a cliche destination but it never disappoints!
#2 – Big Sur
The next stop is only a 5 hour drive from LA: Big Sur. This is my favorite pch site. You’ve probably seen tons of Big Sur pictures all over instagram. Mostly becuase the jagged cliffs and raging waters create some of the most incredible natural attractions such as the McWay Falls and Pfeiffer Beach.
This is the main site I wanted to see here! It’s super easy to get to and I was able to find a parking spot right on the side of the highway. The trail down is a simple stroll that only takes about 5-10 mins. Once you make it to the overlook, you can snap some really great pictures of the waterfall and surrounding beach and cliffside. There isn’t access down to the beach itself (which is no fun I know), but seeing it from above is enough to safice!!
The waterfall spills out of the rugged mountain right onto the beach. The color of the water has a mesmerizing blue tone that makes it impossible to look away. The tide crashes onto the sand while the trees tower over the scene to creat a magical view.
It’s definitely the most viewed site in Big Sur and can get pretty crowded. Thankfully, there weren’t a lot of people when I was there so parking was easy and I didn’t have to fight anyone off for a good view. I literally sat on a railing and watched for a good 30 mins to take it all in. I never wanted to leave!
This is another popular destination in Big Sur just a short drive north of McWay falls. It’s kind of hidden and can be easily missed because of lack of proper signage. The main staple here is the giant rock formation lurking in the ocean. What’s interesting about it is not only its massive size but also the narrow tunnel opening at the bottom. When the sun is setting, the rays illuminate around the rock and shines through the opening which makes for an awesome photo. Pfeiffer beach is also known for its purple sand. It can be hit or miss though so pray that the beach gods are looking out!
#3 – Bixby Creek Bridge & Monterey
As you make your way up to Monterey from Big Sur, you’ll eventually cross the famous Bixby Bridge. Pull off to the side of the road and marvel at the size of this incredible structure!
Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to spend in Monterey but MAN I love it here. This would be the perfect town to retire in. It’s relaxing, it’s beautiful, and the local vibe is one-of-a-kind. The more north you go on the pch, the steeper the cliffs and more you feel like you’re on a different planet. The plush fields and jagged coastline scream for your attention. The natural beauty here is so great that it definitely deserves a spot of my list!
This area is very laid back and has lots to explore. If you’re looking for some local things to do, The Wharf Marketplace is great. It has a ton of local vendors, very similar to Pike’s Place in Seattle. Monterey has some great hikes as well such as The Ghost Tree and Bird Rock. You can also drive down 17-Mile Drive through landmarks that stretch from Pacific Grove to Pebble Beach. Main attractions include the Lone Cypress, Spanish Bay, and Point Joe.
Like I said I didn’t get to spend much time here but still got a great sense of what Monterey is like!
#4 – Point Arena/North Cali
No, I didn’t forget about San Fran! But that needs a little more time that a quick stop so I’ll leave that for another post.
You can see how Jill’s trip to the bay area went HERE!
I ended up staying at a cheap hotel overnight in San Fran and continued my trip bright and early! When I made it passed San Fran, everything sorta of changed. Northern California isn’t as populated as the rest because of it’s natural landscape so it REALLY feels like you’re far from home. It’s so quite up there and the air is beyond refreshing. Point Arena was only a couple hours away from San Fran so I completed my trip from LA to northern Cali just under 24 hours.
Before heading to my work obligations, I made a final stop at the Point Arena Lighthouse. There are some really cool trails to walk along that border along the edge of massive seaside cliffs. They were steeper than all of the cliffs leading up to this thus far. I wasn’t ever scared before, but boy I took major caution while exploring this area. But it’s an exciting scary, an adrenaline high that I just couldn’t resisit. As my road trip came to an end, I totally had that cliche moment screaming at the top of my lungs out into the never-ending pacific at the edge of a cliff. It was great.
If you’ve made it this far and were wondering why exactly I was driving up to Point Arena, it’s because I was shooting a project up at Oz Farm. It’s a privatley owned area where I shot a pilot presentation and it’s every campers’ dream!
There are cabins in there own separate areas throughout the land that have their own unique style. There is a main house that sits in the center of the farm that has a fully equipped kitchen and lounge area. Outside the main quarters, there is a hot tub and a campfire circle area that we chilled at every night. There are all sorts of trails that take you deep into the redwoods and these trees are so tall you can’t even see the tops of them. The night skies up here were SO clear, every single star came out to play. This was my very first nature excursion and what a great place to have it.
Overall my pacific coast road trip had some really great highlights and I hope this inspires you to take on Highway 1 and experience it for yourself! You can easily fit it into a weekend and you won’t be disappointed.
If you end up going, be sure to share all your amazing adventures with me! I would love to know what areas you go to and what places I should stop next time I head up the Pacific Coast Highway!