Driving Southern California on the Pacific Coast Highway

The SoCal megalopolitan area is blessed with a car-crazy culture, soft sandy beaches, and the “happiest place on Earth.”

It’s also inhabited by movie stars. You’ll see their names embedded in the ground beneath your feet in the Hollywood Walk of Fame—and you may even catch them shopping in Beverly Hills or clubbing in Hollywood.

Drive Southern California’s coast via PCH (that’s what cool people call CA-1) and you’ll encounter some of the best beaches and most fashionable hubs in the state, from Malibu’s glorious El Matador Beach to Venice Beach and its boardwalk spectacle.

View of Malibu from the Pacific Coast Highway. Photo © Simon Whitehurst/Dollar Photo Club.
View of Malibu from the Pacific Coast Highway. Photo © Simon Whitehurst/Dollar Photo Club.

Continue south past vibrant seaside towns that lap up the Orange County sunshine. Join the mix of locals and tourists surfing, snorkeling, and kayaking in places like Newport, Laguna, and La Jolla. You reach the end of the road—or at least CA-1—in San Diego, which boasts sparkling waters, historical sites, and a rich cultural scene.

Planning Your Time

Though seven days is adequate, give yourself extra time to journey down the splashy Southern California coast. The plethora of sights and activities combined with a warm, sunny disposition is best experienced in a state of flexibility.

SoCal has vast overnight options, but it is necessary to make reservations at popular hotels at least a month in advance during late spring and summer. This is especially important in areas with concentrated attractions such as Los Angeles and San Diego. In off-season months, two-weeks prior to stay is sufficient.

It’s just over 60 miles from Oxnard to Los Angeles, and another 125 miles to San Diego. Driving times are dependent on the infamous Southern California traffic. Following scenic CA-1 is typically a much slower drive, but keep in mind that traffic can grind to a halt on the major freeways (US-101 and I-5) as well.

La Jolla Sea Caves. Photo © Jon Bilous/Dollar Photo Club.
La Jolla Sea Caves. Photo © Jon Bilous/Dollar Photo Club.

Southern California Highlights

  • Venice Beach Boardwalk: From the freaky to the fantastic, the Venice Boardwalk has it all. Prepare yourself for people-watching of fantastic proportions.
  • TCL Chinese Theatre: This Hollywood icon opened in 1927 and hosts the footprints of the stars, along with premieres of their movies.
  • Hollywood Walk of Fame: Since 1960, entertainment legends have wished for a spot on this iconic three-mile sidewalk of the stars.
  • Griffith Park: A welcome expanse of greenery, “L.A.’s Central Park” includes the Griffith Observatory and the L.A. Zoo.
  • Rodeo Drive: Though the price tags along this famed Beverly Hills boulevard may be bigger than your zip code, window-shopping and celebrity-spotting is free.
  • The Getty Center: High on a hilltop above L.A., this free museum is home to eclectic art pieces and stunning views of the skyline.
  • La Jolla Cove: With its white sand and deep blue water, this beach north of San Diego is a refuge from the road, and its sea caves are a refuge for diverse marinelife.
  • Balboa Park: This sprawling urban park includes Spanish colonial architecture, lush gardens, multiple museums, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo.
Southern California travel map
Southern California

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