California Coast Guide

The California Coastal Access Guide

One of the best California coast guides is the California Coastal Access Guide, describing the coast’s beaches, National Parks, State Parks, with many maps.

California Coastal Access Guide CoverCalifornia Coastal Access Guide Cover

We were curious about this California coast guide. Many of our website visitors told us they had bought it and found it really useful, so why didn’t we review it? So we bought a copy and took a look. And we were impressed.

The California Coastal Access Guide is an unusual book in that it is produced by the California Coastal Commission for the State of California, and published by the University of California Press. It’s been updated several times over the years, but the most recent one we could get our hands on was the 6th edition, which came out in 2003.


This review is of the 2003 edition of the guide. There is now an updated edition which we thoroughly recommend.

Not a Guidebook

Let’s start by saying this California coast guide is not a guidebook. You won’t find hotels and restaurants listed here, although they do list all the hostels you’ll find along the coast. But apart from that, it won’t tell you where to stay or where to eat. There are also only brief entries for museums and other attractions, and not every attraction in every place along the coast is listed.

Why Buy this California Coast Guide?

If it isn’t a very thorough guidebook, why on earth would you want to buy the California Coastal Access Guide? The answer is because it’s the most thorough guide to all the natural wonders of the California coast that you’ll find. By the time this edition had come out in 2003 it had sold over 100,000 copies, which is a good sign.

The Introduction

The various sections of the Introduction give you some idea who the book is aimed at. There are pages on Children and the Coast, Boating and Boating Safety, Access for Persons with Disabilities, Environmental Camping, Coastal Hostels, and several sections about the California coast’s precious wildlife: Protecting Marine Wildlife, and Marine Sanctuaries, for example

The Heceta Head Lighthouse on the California CoastThe Heceta Head Lighthouse on the California Coast

California Coast Wildlife

The guide will definitely appeal to those who - like us - love the wildlife we see on our journeys up and down the Pacific Coast Highway. Dotted throughout the book are numerous full-page features which cover subjects like the Northern Elephant Seal, Monarch Butterflies, the Southern Sea Otter, Tidepools, Clams, Shellfish, Sharks, Seabirds, Shorebirds and Waterfowl, and the California Gray Whale. All of these are in-depth looks at the creatures that live on or just off the coast, and will add a great deal to your journey through California.

Young Northern Elephant SealYoung Northern Elephant Seal

National Parks, State Parks, State Beaches

As this is an official publication, you’d expect it to be good on state facilities - and it is. It includes full details (including maps, facilities, phone numbers) for all the California coast’s National Parks, Recreation Areas, State Parks, State Beaches, Marine Sanctuaries, Natural Reserves, Natural Preserves, and Natural Refuges. For anyone who likes visiting any of these places, the book is invaluable.

Russian Gulch State ParkRussian Gulch State Park

Some Dated Details

Inevitably in a book this old, some of the information is dated. I certainly wouldn’t reply on the opening hours, for example! Very few websites are listed, of course. Places like the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Scripps Institute in La Jolla have changed a lot in ten years.

One notable omission is the place we always stop at when driving the Pacific Coast Highway: the Piedras Blancas Beach, just north of Hearst Castle. This is where the elephant seals gather, to mate and give birth, and it’s one of the most thrilling sights anywhere along the west coast of the USA. But the seals only started arriving here in 1990, and the first edition of this book was published way back in 1981. It looks like it hasn’t been updated properly, as you can’t ignore this rookery of up to 17,000 elephant seals if you’re describing the California coast.

Elephant Seals at Piedras Blancas Beach in CaliforniaElephant Seals at Piedras Blancas Beach

Photo (c) Donna Dailey

There’s no entry for Piedras Blancas in the index. There isn’t even an entry for elephant seals - you have to look under Northern elephant seals to find the page devoted to these amazing creatures, and not every reader might know they’re called Northern elephant seals.

Piedras Blancas might be excluded because it isn’t a State Beach, but the California Coastal Access Guide is so much about wildlife that this very special place ought to be in there. Next edition, anyone?

Bixby Bridge on the California CoastBixby Bridge on the California Coast

California Coast Guide Verdict

Despite some of the information being slightly dated, we still thoroughly recommend this guide for your Pacific Coast Highway drive if you are at all interested in wildlife, walking, scenery, or any other natural aspect of this fabulous stretch of coast.

This review is of the 2003 edition of the guide. There is now an updated and improved edition.

Some other books pages

  • San Luis Obispo

    San Luis Obispo in California is half-way between Los Angeles and San Francisco, on the Pacific Coast Highway and with lots of things to do and see.

  • Your Insider's Guide to San Francisco

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel's book review of Insider's Guide to San Francisco guidebook by Jill Loeffler, publisher of the San Francisco Tourism Tips website.

  • Moss Beach Hotel

    For a Moss Beach hotel just off the Pacific Coast Highway, the Seal Cove Inn offers good accommodation north of Half Moon Bay, minutes from the ocean.

  • Whale Watching in California

    Whale watching in California is one of the most popular things to do along the Pacific Coast Highway, in places like San Diego, San Francisco and many more.

  • Newport Beach

    Newport Beach is a small city on the Pacific coast of southern California, right on the Pacific Coast Highway and noted for its beaches and surfing.

  • West Coast RV Parks

    One of the best guides to West Coast RV Parks, covering campgrounds in California, Oregon, and Washington, is West Coast RV Camping from Moon Guides.

  • Washington State Travel Guide

    The Washington State travel guide from Frommer's covers hotels in Seattle, driving the Pacific Coast Highway, Olympic National Park, where to eat and more.

  • Visiting Hearst Castle

    This Visiting Hearst Castle page gives all the practicalities including location, types of tour, length of tours, how long to allow, and much more information.

  • Vintage Hollywood

    Vintage Hollywood in Los Angeles is an extract from the Lonely Planets book Culture Trails.

  • Vagabond's House Inn

    Historic and romantic Vagabond's House Inn Bed and Breakfast in Carmel is a great place to stay with free wine and cheese and generous breakfast.

  • Unique Inns on the Pacific Coast Highway

    Unique Inns on the Pacific Coast Highway include some of the best independently-owned boutique hotels, spas, and lodges in California, Oregon and Washington.

  • Top Wildlife Spots on the California Coast

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel recommends some of the top wildlife spots along the California coast.

  • Dana Point

    Dana Point in California is the official start or end of the Pacific Coast Highway, and its attractions include whale watching, and Doheny State Beach.

  • Cycling the USA West Coast

    Lonely Planet's Guide to Cycling the USA West Coast is a bicycling guidebook for anyone touring California, Oregon and Washington by bike.

  • California Camping Book Review

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel's California Camping book review rates the 20th anniversary edition of Moon's complete guide to over 1400 tent and RV campgrounds.

  • Santa Catalina Island

    Santa Catalina Island, or Catalina Island, is off the shore of Southern California and reachable from Long Beach, San Pedro, Newport Beach, and Dana Point.

  • The Best Coast Book Review

    The Best Coast is a west coast travel guide, sub-titled A Road Trip Atlas it doesn't use photos but instead has hundreds of beautiful illustrations.

  • Stanford Inn by the Sea Mendocino

    The Stanford Inn by the Sea in Mendocino on the California coast is an eco-resort with yoga classes and the award-winning Ravens Restaurant.

  • Soul of Los Angeles

    Soul of Los Angeles from French publishers Jonglez is a travel guide to 30 Exceptional Experiences in California's largest city.

  • Santa Monica Pier

    Santa Monica Pier is just off the Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica near Los Angeles, with an amusement park, an aquarium and many other attractions.

  • Santa Monica, California

    Santa Monica in California is famous for its pier, and beaches, and is one of the best west coast vacation spots, with hotels, restaurants, surfing, museums.

  • Santa Cruz

    Santa Cruz on the Pacific Coast Highway in California has its famous boardwalk, beaches, wine tastings, Surfing Museum, Mission, and Marine Discovery Center.

  • Santa Cruz Downtown Wine Tastings

    There are plenty of Santa Cruz downtown wine tastings including Beauregard Vineyards,Storrs Winery and Pelican Ranch Winery,all with tasting rooms.

  • Santa Barbara

    Standing on the Pacific Coast Highway in California, Santa Barbara is an attractive resort with a historic downtown, sandy beaches, a mission, and good museums.

  • Santa Barbara Guidebook

    The Santa Barbara Guidebook from Moon Handbooks also covers California’s Central Coast with Ventura, San Luis Obispo, wine country, and Hearst Castle.

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