45 Of The Best Pacific Coast Highway Stops
Despite the many ways you can experience a classic Road Trip USA, driving up the west coast has to be my all-time favorite. From breathtaking views to mouthwatering food and thrilling adventures, below are all of the best Pacific Coast Highway stops for your next road trip.
If you’d like to skip the days of research and pricey travel agents involved in planning a trip of this length, grab the 14 Day West Coast Road Trip Mobile Itinerary. For the price of a coffee, you can have all of your adventures planned to the minute, recommended nightly accommodation from California to Washington and one simple document to text to your friends and family in order to avoid the daily “Are we there yet?”
Pacific Coast Highway Stops In California
1. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
This state park has a $10 day use fee. If the front ranger station is not open, you will use the self-pay machines to get a pass and park down below. Follow the signs from the parking lot to the waterfall overlook trail heading along the river. You’ll go through a tunnel, then be greeted with an ocean view and McWay Falls (a waterfall that flows down onto the beach). It’s a short, 1.2 mile loop. Read this for more information about the waterfall hike.
2. Bixby Bridge
You may have already seen Bixby Bridge as it’s featured in many movies, as well as the popular series ‘Big Little Lies.’ This scenic bridge is one of the easiest Pacific Coast Highway stops to make, as you’ll be driving right over it anyway! The city of Monterey itself is a relaxing area to explore. Wave Street Cafe has an ocean view and an extensive menu, complete with mimosas and bloody marys for those ready to celebrate their successful roadtrip along the Pacific Coast Highway.
3. Pigeon Point Lighthouse
Pigeon Point Lighthouse was built in 1871 and is the tallest lighthouse on the West Coast. It may or may not be visible in the fog depending on the weather, however, if you are looping the Pacific Coast Highway instead of just riding it one way, you will have two opportunities for the clouds to align without going out of your way.
4. Harley Farms Goat Farm
Harley Farms is a fun stop in Pescadero, just before Half Moon Bay. They have over 200 alpine goats and a ton of dairy products, including award-winning cheeses, milks, yogurts, desserts and salamis to pair on the farm. It’s a great place to stock your cooler with local snacks on the way up the coast or build your own charcuterie board for the night in Half Moon Bay.
5. Gray Whale Cove State Beach
Gray Whale Cove is a cliff side beach in Half Moon Bay. To get down to the beach, follow the steep trail. Otherwise, enjoy the picnic area atop the cliff or take some nice photos on the beach swing hidden in the trees.
6. Half Moon Bay
This is a small town just south of San Francisco and one of the best Pacific Coast Highway stops to spend the night in. Though they’re most well-known for their annual pumpkin festival in the fall, summer is a wonderful time to visit as well. If you’re staying the night, you can check a bike out from Half Moon Bay Lodge and ride downtown for shops and good eats. Otherwise, drive up to Moss Beach for a hike and check out the tide pools for interesting species. For more information on how to spend a day in this coastal fantasyland, check out this guide.
7. Pillar Point Harbor
Pillar Point Harbor is a gorgeous place to watch the sunrise from. However, if you are visiting during a foggy spell, I would say that this stop could be skipped, as you won’t see much of anything in the cloudy mornings, especially if it’s summer.
8. Mendocino Headlands
The Mendocino Headlands are full of spiraling coastal trails, private beaches and historical homes. The coastal hike here will give you a snapshot of all three of these. If you are running short on time, just take the coastal hike as far out as you’d like and turn around at any point. There will be views every step of the way.
9. Fort Bragg’s Glass Beach
The Glass Beach in Fort Bragg is home to a toppling supply of smooth sea glass. The colorful shoreline is just a stroll away from the parking lot, making for as quick of a stop as you need.
Fun Fact: This glass actually came from years of nearby trash-dumping in the mid-1900s. Since this dumping is now clearly illegal, so is the collection of the rainbow glass.
10. Avenue Of The Giants
Avenue of the Giants is a 31-mile scenic drive through the Redwoods. It’s an exciting way to begin your entrance into the Redwood Forest and is on your way up (or down) the coast.
11. Redwood Creek Overlook
Watch the best sunset of your life above the ocean as the clouds roll through the enormous forest below you. You might need to check online about having a pass for parking beforehand if you are visiting during the busy season. Otherwise, just make sure to bring mosquito spray and a camera!
12. Ladybird Johnson Grove
Ladybird Johnson Grove is one of the most iconic trails in the Redwood Forest. However, if you get there during earlier morning, it’s possible you could have the entire magical trail to yourself. It’s an easy, 1.4 mile loop through the old-growth trees.
13. Fern Canyon
You may remember Fern Canyon, as this is where Jurassic Park was filmed. It’s an 80-foot deep canyon covered side to side with ferns. Depending on the time you go, you may need to get a parking permit online first in order to reserve your spot. Once in, you can either drive your car across a 3-inch deep river (like most) or park at the overflow camping sites beforehand (like me) if you don’t want to risk it. Keep in mind, you are walking up a river through a canyon and, though there are many boards lined up for the trail, you may need to get your feet wet every once in a while.
14. Natural Bridges State Park
Natural Bridges State Park is nextdoor to Santa Cruz and it’s a lovely beach with a naturally formed rock bridge nestled within the ocean.
15. Santa Cruz Boardwalk
The boardwalk was my favorite place in Santa Cruz. It’s walking distance from the recommended accommodation and is full of great places to dine. At sunset, you can watch the waves turn orange while the sea lions bark and play beneath the pier.
Pacific Coast Highway Stops In Oregon
16. Oregon Vortex
If you look the Oregon Vortex up online, you’ll probably just be greeted with a cool, slanted house. However, the vortex is so much more than that. Back in the day, miners reported a weird feeling in this area of the forest, bringing a scientist in to help explain it. No where within this vortex can you stand completely upright. There’s an eerie feeling, as if someone is watching you and even wild animals avoid the circle. They do tours on the hour, however, if you don’t have time for a tour, even a quick stop in the area is mind blowing.
17. Del Rio Winery
Del Rio Winery is just down the road from the Oregon Vortex and has beautiful vineyards lining the hills. You can do a tasting here, grab a snack, get a nice bathroom break or simply hop on the WiFi before heading to your accommodation for the night.
18. Crater Lake
Crater Lake is the deepest lake in all of the United States and it was formed by a volcano eruption almost 8,000 years ago. Now, it’s most well-known for its cobalt blue coloring and clear water (though no one swims in it). Hiking is a fun way to explore the park, with the possibility of sighting some wildlife. However, there are some nice overlooks right from the parking lots that will give you just as wonderful of a view.
19. Thor’s Well
Thor’s Well is a large sinkhole or, in other words, a giant rock with a hole in it on the coast. To get here, park at the Cook’s Chasm pull-out nearby the Visitor Center and walk down the steps to the coast. You can catch a sight of it from the many viewpoints, or go all of the way down to the shore to watch it in action up close.
20. Yaquina Bay Lighthouse
Yaquina Bay Lighthouse is the only lighthouse left in Oregon that has living quarters attached and the only historic wooden lighthouse still standing. You can park at the Visitor Center and stroll down the coast for a gorgeous view the entire time. Keep an eye out for whale spottings.
21. Devil’s Punchbowl
The Devil’s Punchbowl in Newport is similar to Thor’s Well, in that it’s a giant hole in a rock just off the coast. You can watch the ocean swirl the bowl of punch together as waves crash within it. This is another popular whale-watching spot.
22. Cape Foulweather
If you haven’t spotted any whales yet, Cape Foulweather is your best bet. If the small shop is open, you can borrow a pair of binoculars and search the ocean for spouting beauties. It’s best for viewing when the weather is not foggy, but, don’t worry, you will have plenty of chances for whale-watching on your road trip.
23. Willamette Valley
Willamette Valley is essentially the Napa Valley of Oregon. You will find tons of wineries with breathtaking views of Mount Hood just outside of Portland.
24. Voodoo Donut House
Voodoo Donut House in Portland is known for their insane flavors of donuts. They’re almost too pretty to eat! This is a great place to grab a quick breakfast-to-go before leaving Portland.
25. Three Capes Scenic Loop
The Three Capes Scenic Loop is a 40-mile drive up the coast that consists of Cape Kiwanda, Cape Lookout and Cape Meares. Start at Cape Kiwanda and follow the signs along the road up the coast, stretching your legs with some short hikes along the way if desired. You’ll end the route in Tillamook, famous for its ice cream, where you can stop at the factory and enjoy a sweet treat.
26. Cannon Beach
Cannon Beach has been featured in many movies, most prominently Twilight and The Goonies. You’ll find a giant rock dramatically nestled in the shore when you arrive.
27. Fort Stevens State Park
The Peter Iredale Shipwreck at Fort Stevens State Park is worth a quick stop. This four-masted steel barque sailing vessel got caught in a bad storm back in 1906 and the remains of this abandoned ship still stand proudly on the beach.
Astoria used to be a sleepy little town, but more people have begun to catch onto its beauty. Explore the foodie paradise, grab a pint at the local brewery and watch the sunset from the pier.
29. Multnomah Falls
This is probably the most iconic tourist stop in all of Oregon. At 620 feet high, Multnomah Falls a gorgeous sight. You can also take a trail up to the top of the falls, but, I’ll be honest, you won’t be missing much more than some calorie burning if you opt out of this. Either way, make sure to book your parking permit beforehand in order to visit.
Pacific Coast Highway Stops In Washington
30. Hall of Mosses
Hall of Mosses is an easy, 0.8 mile loop from the Hoh Rainforest Visitor Center. This is one of the most distinct trails in Olympic National Park, known for its prehistoric forest with vibrant, green moss convering nearly every surface along the way.
31. Marymere Falls
It’s an easy, 1.8 mile loop to see Marymere Falls. This is a very popular trail in the park, probably due to it being the tallest waterfall in the park, as well as easily accessible.
32. Olympic National Park Visitor Center Observation Deck
You will likely have to type Hurricane Ridge into your maps to reach the Olympic National Park Visitor Observation Deck. Here, you’ll find breathtaking mountain views, as well as the gift shop and restrooms. If you’re lucky, you may see some wildlife (like a marmot) running along in the valley below.
Sequim is most well-known for their Lavender Festival. The town is in close proximity to Olympic National Park, making for a peaceful place to stay the night on your way to or from the forest.
34. Port Townsend
If you’re staying the night in Sequim, it would be a shame to skip this beautiful, little town nearby. Port Townsend is a city of less than 10,000 people with over 300 Victorian-style homes. It’s a dreamy little place, great for whale watching, strolling downtown or simply checking out the co-op for local goods.
35. Kingston Ferry
Kingston Ferry is a fun, scenic way to get a break from driving before landing in Seattle. You don’t need to book in advance, just pull up to the Kingston Ferry Terminal, hand over $20 and you’ll be on your way. It’s about a 30 minute ride across Puget Sound and the captain will likely point out any wildlife spottings (like whales) for you.
36. Fremont Troll
The Fremont Troll is an art installation under a bridge in Seattle. It’s been featured in many movies, most famously in 10 Things I Hate About You.
37. Pike Place Market
You can’t go to Seattle for your first time and not visit Pike Place Market. Street parking may be difficult here, but there are plenty of structures to park in nearby. Grab lunch or a drink here and don’t forget to check out the famous fish market and the Gum Wall. Keep in mind, this market has hours like any other place and you won’t necessarily want to be walking around in this area of Seattle at night anyway.
38. Sky View Observatory
Most people focus on the Space Needle and don’t even know the Sky View Observatory exists. You’ll ride up 73 stories in a matter of seconds for a 360 degree view of Seattle and Mount Rainier in the distance. The best time to visit is around sunset when you can see the daylight, the sunset and the city lights come to life. There is parking in the building with discounts as well. Book your ticket online in advance.
39. Washington Park Arboretum Gardens
The gardens are a nice way to start your day in Seattle. Grab a coffee and stroll as far as you’d like through the peaceful scenery.
40. Theo’s Chocolate Tours
If you’d rather do something less ordinary in Seattle, Theo’s (near the Fremont Troll) does chocolate tours. If you don’t want to watch the chocolate get made and would rather cut straight to the chase, the gift shop alone will have tons of sweet treats that will make your eyes wide. Make sure you book a tour in advance if you plan on exploring Theo’s.
40. Snoqualmie Falls
Snoqualmie Falls is a beautiful waterfall that is worth a stop. It’s easy to access right from the parking lot (if you park across the street it’s free). However, if you’d like to do more of a hike, you can take the trail down to the shore below.
41. North Cascades National Park
This spectacular national park is one of the most iconic places on this road trip, although I can’t technically call it one of the Pacific Coast Highway stops because you’ll have to go a bit out of your way to get here. You’ll find cascading waterfalls, bright turquoise water and beautiful forests nestled within the jagged rocks. The Blue Lake Hike was my favorite, although you are walking uphill the entire first portion of the hike. Once up top, you’ll be greeted with serene beauty.
42. Reflection Lakes Loop
The Reflection Lakes Loop in Mount Rainier is exactly what it sounds like. When the wind is calm, you’ll be able to see the clear image of the mountains reflected on the ponds. Though views stem along the entire hike, you won’t necessary miss the best view if you decide not to do the hike and just check out the lakes from the parking lot. If you visit during summer, make sure to bring insect spray to keep the flies off of you.
43. Myrtle Falls
Myrtle Falls is located just next to the Mount Rainier Visitor Center, so you can check both off with one stop. The Visitor Center will have tons of food, drinks, restrooms and gifts, as well as a fabulous view of Mount Rainier and the valley below.
44. Bungee Masters
Are you ready to jump off the highest legal bungee jumping bridge in North America? The true professionals here will make your experience one of your most unforgettable Pacific Coast Highway stops. However, if you’re not quite ready to take the plunge and check bungee jumping off of your bucket list, they have a great zip lining experience through the trees, where you can watch other people jump from the bridge. Make sure you book online beforehand for either experience.
45. Backwoods Brewing Company
Backwoods Brewing Company was the most unexpected, delicious place to eat while nearby Multnomah Falls. Not only did they have an entire menu of local beers and sampling trays, there were also SO many good food options. For the healthier ones, the vegetable crudite and gluten free pizza was to die for. If you’re looking to treat yourself, get the beer cheese appetizer and s’mores flavored beer.
No matter which Pacific Coast Highway stops you end up going with, I know one thing for sure: You are about to embark on one of the most epic adventures of your entire life. If you’d like to save time on planning the logistics, grab this complete West Coast Itinerary for the price of a coffee and easily share it with any friends or family that may be joining the trip with you. Enjoy!