The best time to drive the Pacific Coast Highway is when you have the most time to spare, but late spring and fall is when you'll get the best weather.
Driving the Pacific Coast Highway is the road trip of a lifetime, so make the most of it. Sure, you can drive it in three or four days, if that's all the time you have, but far better if you can spare at least a week, preferably two or more.
Before you can say when's the best time to drive the Pacific Coast Highway you have to know which stretch you mean. Do you plan to drive the classic PCH between San Francisco and either Los Angeles or San Diego? Or do you want to drive the entire Pacific coast from around Seattle to San Diego, or even all the way from the Canadian border to the Mexican border?
When it comes to choosing the best time of year to drive the classic stretch of highway, it doesn't matter whether you start (or end) in San Diego or Los Angeles. Weather-wise, there's little difference. Our advice would be to choose April/May, maybe June, and September/October.
Why then? Unless you hit a short rainy spell - and they can happen - you're almost guaranteed warm and sunny weather, give or take some San Francisco mist.
So why not July and August when the weather is even more likely to be perfect? Because... school's out for summer! Roads will be more crowded with local families going to the beach, and visiting other attractions. Hotels will be busier and pricier, and eating places will be busier too.
Of course if you want to take the trip with your own children you may not have much choice, but our advice would be to try to fit it in on a spring or fall break rather than summer. We're suggesting the best time to drive the Pacific Coast Highway, not the only time you can drive it.
Avoid Winter! In the last few years even southern California has experienced bad winters. The first few months of 2023 saw torrential rain and winter storms, with muddy landslides blocking the highway from time to time. Even Los Angeles had snow, a very rare occurrence. Places were still flooded as late as March.
In previous years there have been winter storms that caused landslides, with the highway closed for weeks, sometimes months. This involves long inland diversions, and maybe missing seeing some of the most scenic stretches of the coast, like Big Sur.
Yet still we see websites and magazines saying you can drive the highway any time from February onwards. Well, you can, but you really shouldn't risk having your trip screwed up. Wait till April, if possible.
If your plan is to drive from Canada to Mexico (more or less) then that takes much more thought. We recommend driving north to south, if you have a choice. That way you're on the ocean side of the road, so get better views along the coast, and it's easier to pull off into the ocean-side viewing points.
So if you do plan to drive north to south, the best time to drive the Pacific Coast Highway is going to be early fall. That way you get the best of the weather in the Pacific Northwest as you set off, and it will still be fine by the time you get to California.
On the other hand, if you want to (or have to) drive the highway south to north, you're better doing in the late spring. That way you'll get the best of the weather at either end.
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