By Ian Anderson
Formats and Prices
- Trade Paperback $23.99 $29.99 CAD
- ebook $16.99 $21.99 CAD
- Flexible Itineraries: Drive the entire three-week route or follow suggestions for shorter getaways to Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego
- Eat, Sleep, Stop and Explore: With lists of the best beaches, views, restaurants, and more, you'll cruise by sky-scraping redwoods, misty green rainforests, and the black sands of the Lost Coast. Slurp fresh-caught oysters, order up authentic street tacos, or kick back with a craft beer. Dance down rainbow-colored streets in San Francisco's Castro District, tour Seattle's underground old city, and see the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
- Maps and Driving Tools: 48 easy-to-use maps keep you oriented on and off the highway, along with site-to-site mileage, driving times, detailed directions for the entire route, and full-color photos throughout
- Local Expertise: Californian Ian Anderson shares his love of the open road
- Planning Your Trip: Know when and where to get gas, how to avoid traffic, tips for driving in different road and weather conditions, and suggestions for seniors, travelers with disabilities, and road trippers with kids
With Moon Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip's practical tips and detailed itineraries, you're ready to hit the road.
Looking for more scenic road trips in America? Try The Open Road.
About Moon Travel Guides: Moon was founded in 1973 to empower independent, active, and conscious travel. We prioritize local businesses, outdoor recreation, and traveling strategically and sustainably. Moon Travel Guides are written by local, expert authors with great stories to tell—and they can't wait to share their favorite places with you.
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DISCOVER the Pacific Coast Highway
Planning Your Trip
Hit the Road
You’ll find the most colorful swath of open road in America along its western coast. The Pacific Coast Highway is 1,700 miles framed by golden sands and turquoise waters, bordered by emerald rainforests and basalt rock formations, and capped off with kaleidoscopic sunsets and indigo night skies.
This road trip stokes the imagination like few other journeys. The west was the last stop of the American frontier—its untamed wild roused fortune hunters and lured romance seekers to its shores. Today, the West Coast continues to ignite a creative spark that enthralls the entire world, be it through art, culture, or technology.
In the Northwest, cosmopolitan Seattle still holds on to the heart of a small town, while the industrious citizenry of Portland has carved out its own adaptation of modern Americana. In Southern California, the glamour and glitter of Los Angeles exudes sex appeal, while the laid-back beach culture of San Diego simply basks in the perfection of its weather. Iconic San Francisco sits in the middle, the cultured pearl of the West Coast and a beacon to visitors from every nation.
But for most of this drive, the untamed wild still beckons. From the preserved rainforests of Washington’s mountainous Olympic Peninsula to the unspoiled cliffs of California’s northern coast, the Pacific Coast Highway winds through a diversity of natural treasures. There are towering, ancient trees in the Redwood National Forest; massive sand dunes in Southern Oregon; and sea lions, whales, and dolphins breaching off the shores of Southern California.
Travel the entire coast and encounter the rest of the trove. Discover moonstone beaches, enigmatic basalt sea stacks, and remote lighthouses standing sentry over volatile seas. Visit resort towns, fishing villages, native reservations, and all but forgotten Victorian seaports. Dine on local-catch seafood, world-class fare, and ethnic culinary feasts. Sip on fine wine, fresh-roast coffee, and award-winning craft beer. You’ll still end each day hungry for more.
The Pacific Coast Highway is an unlimited and unforgettable adventure. Are you ready to hit the road?
PLANNING YOUR TRIP
Steeped in natural beauty, the Olympic Peninsula contains sparkling lakes, snowy mountain ridges, emerald rainforests, and driftwood-strewn shores. Its endless supply of fresh air and meandering hiking trails could fill an entire getaway. But a visit to the Northwest is not the same without a stopover in Seattle, a cosmopolitan city where fresh seafood reigns supreme and music fills every night.
With picturesque arches and sea stacks, and seemingly endless sand dunes, Oregon’s coast often gives the sense of a prehistoric landscape, especially when the fog rolls in. Charming little seaside towns are often all that stand between the blue Pacific and endless green forest, each competing to serve the best bowls of warming clam chowder. For a taste of urban living, Oregon-style, head to Portland to soak up its independent spirit with some farm-to-table dining and craft beverages.
Northern California Coast
Much of California’s north coast still feels like a frontier. You may drive through giant redwoods—in some cases literally—and lose yourself marveling at craggy, undeveloped coastlines. But then you’ll cross the iconic Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco, the frontier city that once stood as a beacon to adventurers and fortune seekers going west; now it offers the most famous sights, storied culture, and finest dining of the entire West Coast.
Central California Coast
Artists, writers, and poets have long found inspiration along California’s central coast, where breathtaking pockets of unrefined natural beauty buffer a string of distinctive beach towns, each profiling its own unique sense of character. Funky Santa Cruz looks across a bay teeming with sea life at historic fishing center Monterey, which shares a peninsula with the elegant, upscale Carmel-by-the-Sea. To the south, Mediterranean-styled Santa Barbara soaks in sunshine, culture, and wine. And in between, the stunning and untouchable Big Sur provides a gorgeous setting only nature could dream up.
Southern California Coast
As it continues south, California’s coastline adopts the care-free, sun-drenched beach culture best known to the world, mostly thanks to 100 years of films produced in Hollywood. Greater Los Angeles yields many thrills, including people-watching at the Venice Beach Boardwalk and celebrity-spotting in Beverly Hills. Further south, enjoy snorkeling in La Jolla followed by fish tacos and craft beer in San Diego. With an unparalleled sprawl of beaches stretching from Malibu to Coronado, SoCal offers unlimited recreation throughout an almost endless summer.
When to Go
The best time for this road trip is late spring to early fall, when the weather is best.
The window for good weather is shorter in Washington and Oregon; it’s best June through September when it’s warm and dry with average temperatures of 80°F.
Part of California’s allure is in its relatively mild weather year-round. While the northern coast rarely hits 70°F in the summertime and can be rainy and foggy, the farther south you go, the warmer and sunnier it gets. In the San Francisco Bay Area, temperatures reach into the 70s and even 80s in summer and fall. Be prepared for the chill of fog in the evenings; even the warmest summer days often end with fog spilling over the Golden Gate into the city. From Santa Barbara south to San Diego, temperatures in the 80s are not unheard of even in January; summer temperatures can often hit the triple digits in inland Los Angeles.
If you drive the PCH in the high summer season, expect heavier traffic and crowds. Hotels and rental-car reservations go fast, so make your arrangements in advance. Rates are also higher during the summer. Port towns in Washington and Oregon can be hectic. Arrive early to the ferry docks; long lines form quickly and the wait can be two hours or more. Crowds and especially traffic intensify in California, especially on the freeways. Plan extra driving time and extra time along the way, especially at popular sights in big cities.
A spring or fall road trip will be less hectic, but the weather will be less reliable, especially in the Pacific Northwest, where you’ll be certain to get some rain (and maybe even snow).
Before You Go
Each region has a convenient travel hub in a metropolitan city: Seattle in Washington, Portland in Oregon, San Francisco in Northern California, Los Angeles and San Diego in Southern California. Smaller regional airports may also be helpful, including Eugene and North Bend in Oregon; Oakland and San Jose in Northern California; Monterey and Santa Barbara in Central California; and Burbank, Long Beach, and Santa Ana in Southern California.
Choose your travel hub based on which leg of the Pacific Coast Highway you want to explore. If you want to drive the entire almost 1,700-mile route, it’s convenient to fly into Seattle at the north end and fly out of San Diego at the southern end. You can also drive the route south to north; however, it’s worth noting that driving north to south keeps the ocean on your right, making it easier to pull over and enjoy the scenery.
If you want to drive the entire coastal highway, you can return to your starting point via I-5. This roughly 1,300-mile route between Seattle and San Diego is quicker (20 hours of driving) but less scenic, with far fewer points of interest. You can also divert from the coast to I-5 at various points along the way to make up time.
High-season travelers should plan ahead to visit big-name attractions. For example, if you have your heart set on visiting Alcatraz in San Francisco, purchase tickets at least two weeks in advance. You’ll save money buying advance tickets for Disneyland online as well. Reservations are pretty much essential at hotels and campgrounds, especially in and around the popular resort towns, and at the limited number of lodges within Olympic National Park, which tend to sell out summer weekends several months in advance. Reserve a rental car ahead of time, too.
Passports and Visas
Coming to the United States from abroad? You’ll need your passport and possibly a visa.
What to Pack
Be prepared for foggy, rainy weather on the northern section of the route and hot, sunny weather more likely the farther south you drive. Fog and the chill that comes with it are possible anywhere along the coast. Bring layered clothing. No matter what, bring (and use!) sunscreen; that cold fog doesn’t stop the sun’s rays from burning unwary beachgoers.
The northern section of the Pacific Coast Highway endures harsh weather during winter and gusty winds almost year-round. There can be delays even in the warmer spring and summer months due to heavy traffic or road work. Most of the road is a two-lane highway, but plenty of sections allow for passing. It is just important to remember to take your time and enjoy the natural setting.
With the exception of Southern California, weather conditions change rapidly along the Pacific Coast. Be prepared for weather extremes from blustery rainstorms to hot sunny days. Highways can be closed abruptly with some sections impassable, typically due to heavy rains and mudslides. In the event of a road closure, be prepared to take alternative routes that may add hours of driving. Winter snow is a possibility in Washington and Oregon. Carry chains and be prepared to use them.
Wherever there’s coast, there’s a chance of fog—even sunny San Diego experiences fog so thick you can’t see more than a car length ahead. When it comes up, keep your low beams on and drive very slowly.
Expect traffic delays at major cities along the route; this is especially true of San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Seattle, where afternoon rush hours begin midafternoon and extend into late evening.
To receive reports on traffic and road conditions, call 511. If your phone carrier does not support 511, call toll-free 800/977-6368. There are additional resources online: Washington State Department of Transportation (www.wsdot.com/traffic/trafficalerts), Oregon Department of Transportation (www.tripcheck.com), and the California Department of Transportation (www.quickmap.dot.ca.gov).
Locating a gas station isn’t hard throughout cities and towns en route; however, there are segments of the Pacific Coast Highway where nothing exists but trees, water, and local wildlife. Plan accordingly by knowing what time you will be arriving at your destination and whether there is a gas station available. Many stations in small towns (especially in Oregon) do not stay open late. Keep a full gas tank when you hit the road and don’t let it drop below a quarter tank.
HIT THE ROAD
Check your tire pressure, change your oil, and fill up the tank. This world-class road trip will take you through nearly 1,700 miles of captivating scenery.
The full drive takes about three weeks, if you don’t dawdle—plan on 3-5 hours of driving each day. Take more time if you have it—there are enough destinations in this book to keep you busy for three months! But if not, consider flying into one of the coast’s main travel hubs (Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, or San Diego) and splitting the drive into four- to seven-day region-specific trips. Whichever section of this legendary highway you drive, the memories will last a lifetime.
For driving directions all along the way, see the Getting There sections in later chapters. All mileage and driving times are approximate and will vary depending on weather, traffic, and road conditions.
Washington in 4 Days
Spend two days in Seattle, a city of lakes and sounds. Stunning mountain views from every direction are best spied from the top of the soaring Space Needle. Explore rock-and-roll history at the Frank Gehry-designed Experience Music Project (EMP). Then ride the Monorail downtown to Pike Place Market for lunch, shopping, and people-watching. Spend the afternoon exploring the city’s past at Pioneer Square, where a popular underground tour begins. Enjoy dinner in Capitol Hill, then maybe drinks and a band in Fremont before retiring to the Paramount Hotel downtown. For more ideas on how to spend your time in Seattle, see click here.
SEATTLE TO LAKE CRESCENT
139 miles / 224 kilometers / 4 hours
Cross Puget Sound on the Seattle-Bainbridge Island Ferry (depart from Pier 52). Take WA-305 North to WA-104 West, crossing the Hood Canal Bridge to connect with US-101. Spend the first half of your day exploring cute villages. Amble through Port Gamble, stop for lunch in Port Townsend, and go wildlife-viewing in sunny Sequim.
Spend the rest of your afternoon enjoying spectacular panoramic views while hiking along Hurricane Ridge. Then continue on US-101 to end your day in Port Angeles. Enjoy a hearty dinner before spending the night at charming Colette’s Bed & Breakfast.
LAKE CRESCENT TO LAKE QUINAULT
164 miles / 264 kilometers / 4 hours
Rise early to continue your journey on US-101. Stop at the sapphire waters of Lake Crescent for an easy hike to Marymere Falls. Follow this with another easy yet beautiful hike to Sol Duc Falls, a quick detour off the 101. Alternatively, skip the hikes and take a steamy dip in Sol Duc Hot Springs. Return to US-101, which will turn south as you round the peninsula. Plan on lunch in the old logging town of Forks.
After lunch, set out to experience the highlight of your day: the Hoh Rain Forest, 18 miles east when you reach Upper Hoh Road. Easy hikes on the Hall of Mosses and Spruce Nature Trails reveal a lush, canopied wonderland. Or stroll driftwood-strewn Ruby Beach, taking in views of its sea stacks.
Head south on US-101 to Lake Quinault and the Quinault Rain Forest, exploring more trails and seeing the world’s largest spruce before checking in at historic Lake Quinault Lodge for a relaxing evening.
Oregon in 5 Days
LAKE QUINAULT TO CANNON BEACH
146 miles / 236 kilometers / 3.5 hours
Get an early start, following US-101 south along Willapa Bay before taking four-mile Astoria Bridge across the Columbia River into Oregon.
Stop in Astoria for lunch before climbing the 164-step spiral staircase to the top of the Astoria Column for the perfect view of the river and coast. Check out the Columbia River Maritime Museum (one of the state’s best). Explore Fort Clatsop, the centerpiece of sprawling Lewis and Clark National Historical Park.
Continue past the little towns of Gearhart and Seaside before arriving at artsy Cannon Beach—home to impressive Haystack Rock. Check in at enchanting Stephanie Inn, then finish the evening with a fine meal and local craft beer.
EXCURSION TO PORTLAND
80 miles / 128 kilometers / 1.5 hours
From Cannon Beach, you can continue south down the coast toward Newport or head east on US-26 for an inland excursion to Portland.
Take two days to explore this unique city. Stop at famed Powell’s City of Books and enjoy a one-of-a-kind treat at Voodoo Doughnut. Sip tea in the Japanese Garden (most authentic outside of Japan) and ramble along the manicured trails in Washington Park. Ride a bike along the banks of the Willamette River and drink some local craft beer before winding up downtown for dinner. End the day at the well-appointed Sentinel hotel. For more ideas on how to spend your time in Portland, see click here.
To return to where you left off at the coast, take US-26 West back to Cannon Beach. Or to save time, depart US-26 on OR-6 West straight to Tillamook (74 miles/118 kilometers, 1.5 hours) and continue on US-101 South to Lincoln City, as described in Day 8.
CANNON BEACH TO NEWPORT
125 miles / 202 kilometers / 4 hours
Set out early from Cannon Beach for a morning packed with memorable views. Begin just south of town at Hug Point State Park before exploring the beautiful beaches at Oswald West State Park. Continue south to the Three Capes Scenic Route. Try to spot migrating whales from the Cape Meares scenic viewpoint. Farther on, follow the trail at Cape Lookout State Park through the forest. Or wander mammoth-sized dunes at Cape Kiwanda.
Back on US-101, drive south past Tillamook to Lincoln City, a good stop for lunch. If you’re here during June or October, head to the beach to watch colorful soaring kites. Otherwise, continue south, making stops at Otter Crest Loop for 360-degree views of the coast and Devil’s Punchbowl, where sea and rock engage in an inconclusive battle.
Continue south to Newport, where you should bypass the tourist traps in favor of renowned Oregon Coast Aquarium, Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, and Yaquina Head Lighthouse. Head to quaint Nye Beach for dinner, followed by live music at Nana’s Irish Pub, and a stay at the literary-themed Sylvia Beach Hotel, where a lack of electronics promotes reading and great conversations.
NEWPORT TO GOLD BEACH
192 miles / 310 kilometers / 4.5 hours
Fill up your tank and get back on the road, driving between the forested mountains of the Coast Range and the Pacific Ocean. Just past the historic Heceta Head lighthouse, spectacular windswept sand takes shape along the stretch of Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, which stretches 47 miles from Florence in the north to North Bend in the south. Stop at Old Town in Florence for a bite to eat. Then put on a pair of goggles to surf the dunes riding an ATV.
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- On Sale
- Dec 20, 2022
- Page Count
- 424 pages
- Moon Travel