There are lots of free things to do on the Pacific Coast Highway and here's our list of ten of them including wildlife, the best free views, and free museums.
We're not including obvious free things like going to the beach, visiting the Point Reyes National Seashore, driving the coast of Big Sur, or stopping to look at Bixby Bridge, as you'll be doing those anyway. But here are ten things you can do that are all free of charge.
Go to Griffith Park and head for the Griffith Observatory. Here you get a sweeping panorama of Los Angeles that is the best free view in the city. It's also free to visit the Griffith Observatory itself, though donations are welcomed.
There's no charge to go on Santa Monica Pier and walk around, to get good views out to sea from the end. See our full page on historic Santa Monica Pier.
A five-minute drive north of the entrance to Hearst Castle is Piedras Blancas Beach, better-known as Elephant Seal Beach. We always stop here when driving the Pacific Coast Highway to see the amazing sight of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of elephant seals on the beach. See our full page about Elephant Seal Beach.
Of course you can pay to take a whale-watching trip, which we've done several times, and they're always good value for money. However, it costs nothing to watch for whales from the coast. See our page on Whale-Watching in California for the best times and places, and our page on Whale-Watching from the San Diego Shoreline.
Visit the free Monarch Grove Sanctuary in Pacific Grove where thousands of monarch butterflies take their annual winter vacation from about November to February. You can look but you'd better not touch as disturbing the butterflies can turn your free visit into one with a fine of $1,000!
It costs nothing to stroll along Monterey's Cannery Row, made famous by writer John Steinbeck, who was born about twenty miles (32 kms) away in Salinas. Fisherman's Wharf is also free and it's fun to watch the sea-lions that gather there.
Santa Cruz may be best known for its boardwalk and amusement park, but there's a cultural side to the city too. What's more, many of its museums are free including the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, the San Lorenzo Valley Historical Museum, the Capitola History Museum, and the Aptos History Museum.
Whether you want to see the Golden Gate Bridge or Chinatown, or any of the other 80 free tours they offer, check out the website of San Francisco City Guides for the full list of the free city tours they offer.
In Golden Gate Park, the de Young Museum is only free to everyone on the first Tuesday of each month, but access to its Hamon Observation Tower is free. Just take the elevator from the lobby and you'll be whisked to one of the best free views of San Francisco that you'll find.
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