Drive the Pacific Coast Highway

Here are the basic facts if you plan to drive the Pacific Coast Highway, including which is the best direction and when is the best time to go driving.

Red car pulled over while driving the Pacific Coast HighwayDriving the Pacific Coast Highway in Style

If you want to drive the Pacific Coast Highway then you can do it in half a day. Officially it's less than 130 miles long, running between Dana Point and Oxnard in southern California. This is the stretch of Highway 1 which has been legally designated the Pacific Coast Highway by the California state legislature.

It's not unusual, of course, for the American people and the legislature to disagree, and many people would tell you that the highway runs from San Francisco to Los Angeles, or from San Francisco through to San Diego.

Even more people know that the real Pacific Coast Highway, regardless of what anyone in an office – or even the road signs – will tell you, is made up of the various roads that run all the way down the west coast of the United States, from the Canadian border to the Mexican border.

Far from being under 130 miles in length, the real Pacific Coast Highway is at least 1800 miles long, and some say nearer 2000 if you take the long way round wherever you can. It's even been dubbed Route 2066, in homage to Route 66, which winds from Chicago to LA and meets the Pacific Coast Highway when it gets there.  

DRIVING THE HIGHWAY: THE BASIC FACTS

Do you drive north to south? How long will it take? Where should we begin? Can we do it in a rental car? Those are the basic questions most folk want to know about driving the Pacific Coast Highway. And the answers are: 

Which Direction to Drive the Pacific Coast Highway?

The correct answer is that it depends. There's no right or wrong direction. A lot depends on the season you're traveling. If it's heading towards summer you might want to drive towards the north, to give it time to warm up in Oregon and Washington. If it's past the peak of summer, maybe do the north first and drive towards California, where you know the sun will linger longer.

Driving north to south does put you on the ocean side of the road, giving better views and making it easier to pull off into scenic viewpoints over the ocean... and there are a lot of those!

We turned this advice into a fun short YouTube video:

Best Time of Year to Drive PCH

If you're planning to do the whole route then slightly off-season is best. The beach resorts of southern California get packed with people in mid-summer, and the Pacific Coast Highway goes right through or right by many of these places. Who wants to get stuck in traffic? So avoid July and August. Otherwise any time is a good time, but it also depends on the direction you plan to travel in (see above).

How Long Will It Take to Drive the Pacific Coast Highway?

As long as you want it to. If you want to do the full 2000 miles, then if you're happy averaging 200 miles a day, it's obviously going to take ten days. But you'll want some down time too, especially if one person's doing all the driving.

So figure on two weeks. If you can spare more than two weeks, you'll be fine. You'll do the whole trip and have fun along the way. Of course, if you can spare two years you might just get to see everything.

We turned the advice above into a little YouTube video:

For details on the drive from Los Angeles to Hearst Castle, go to our LA to Hearst Castle page.

Where Should We Begin the Drive?

If you've got your own wheels it's kind-of nice to think of starting at either the Canadian or Mexican border, and driving all the way to the other end. It's a nice notion but it's not always practical.

If you're flying into Seattle why drive almost to Vancouver only to turn round and come back again? Likewise if you arrive in San Diego, don't feel you need to drive to Mexico before you can begin your journey. By all means do it if you want to, if that's your personal goal, but don't feel guilty if you can't make it. You get extra time to enjoy the real fun bits, and that's more important to our way of thinking. 

Can You Drive PCH in a Rental Car?

Sure, no problem. Fly into San Diego or Seattle, pick up a rental car and hit the road for two-three weeks. You will have to pay extra for a one-way drop fee, and one of our website visitors reported a charge as high as $500 for a one-way rental. It would be cheaper to drive back the fast Interstate route, which can be done in 2-3 days, and return your car to the same place. Even two nights in motels and the gas won't come to $500!

Or there's another alternative: take the train. If you can get a good return flight deal flying in and out of the same airport, why not drive one way and catch the Amtrak back again? Or do the train journey first, pick up a car, and drive slowly back? The Amtrak Coast Starlight is one of the USA's most beautiful train rides, and it goes between Seattle and Los Angeles every day. 

Some other driving pages

  • When to Drive the Pacific Coast Highway

    When to Drive the Pacific Coast Highway depends on whether you want to drive in Oregon and Washington as well as California, and on the weather.

  • 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.

  • Ways to Go

    Here are links to the different ways you can go along the Pacific Coast Highway, one of the most popular drives in the world but you can also cycle it.

  • San Francisco to San Diego

    Driving from San Francisco to San Diego has two main options, the fast way on I-5 or the scenic route along the Pacific Coast Highway.

  • The 17-Mile Drive between Carmel, Pacific Grove, and Monterey

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel takes the 17-Mile Drive from Carmel to Pacific Grove and Monterey, stopping to see the Lone Cypress and beautiful coastline views.

  • Route 66 Meets the Pacific Coast Highway

    Historic Route 66 winds from Chicago to LA, going through Los Angeles, meeting the Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica, California, at the Santa Monica Pier.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Stops

    Pacific Coast Highway stops include big city vacation destinations like Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, and smaller places like Monterey.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Road Trips: Lonely Planet Guidebook Review

    Review of the Pacific Coast Highway Road Trips book from Lonely Planet, which includes a California Driving Guide, by the Pacific Coast Highway Travel website.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Guide

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel reviews the Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Guide book covering the drive from Vancouver to San Diego.

  • Pacific Coast Highway in California

    The Pacific Coast Highway in California book shows in historic photos the building of the Pacific Coast Highway from its earliest beginnings in 1911.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Driving Tips

    Pacific Coast Highway driving tips for this great American road trip include finding cheap gas, watching the speed limits, and allowing plenty of travel time.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Drive Times and Distances

    Drive times and distances on the Pacific Coast Highway or the quickest routes from Seattle to San Francisco to Los Angeles to San Diego.

  • Maps of the Pacific Coast Highway: Free Driving Maps of the PCH

    Road maps of the Pacific Coast Highway or PCH are essential for anyone planning to drive the trip, and detailed routes are available for free.

  • LA to Hearst Castle

    Pacific Coast Highway travel offers advice on driving from LA to Hearst Castle, including distance, journey time, and route.

  • Epic Drives of the World

    Epic Drives of the World from Lonely Planet describes 50 of the world's most exciting road trips, including, of course, the Pacific Coast Highway.

  • Driving the Pacific Coast Highway

    Driving the Pacific Coast Highway is made easier with Road Trip USA by Jamie Jensen, a good handbook for the west coast drive.

  • Driving the Pacific Coast Highway in Two Days

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel's advice on driving the Pacific Coast Highway in two days, including the best places to stay, and the best things to do and see.

  • Driving the Pacific Coast Highway in Three Days

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel's advice on driving the Pacific Coast Highway in three days, including the best places to stay, and the best things to do and see.

  • Driving the Pacific Coast Highway in Four Days

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel's advice on driving the Pacific Coast Highway in four days, including the best places to stay, and the best things to do and see.

  • Driving the Pacific Coast Highway in Five Days

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel's advice on driving the Pacific Coast Highway in five days, including the best places to stay over, and the best things to do and see.

  • Coastal California Guidebook

    Lonely Planet's Coastal California guidebook is the ideal travel guide for driving or cycling the Pacific Coast Highway from the Oregon border to Mexico.

  • California Driving Laws

    If visiting California and planning to drive the Pacific Coast Highway it's important to know California driving laws in case they differ from your own state.



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