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Free Things to Do on
the Pacific Coast Highway
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
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.
Visit Balboa Park in
The Cactus Garden Is One of Balboa Park's Many Free Attractions
There's lots of free stuff to enjoy in Balboa Park in San Diego. The
Timken Museum is always free, and you can see some free outdoor displays at the
Mingei Museum, and other places.
There are several gardens to stroll around, playgrounds for kids, and other free attractions. See this page on the San Diego website, and see our own page on Visiting Balboa Park.
Get the Best Free
View of Los Angeles
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.
Walk on Santa Monica
Santa Monica Pier - It's Free!
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.
Elephant Seal Beach
Elephant Seals on Piedras Blancas Beach along the Pacific Coast Highway
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.
A Whale Breaching
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.
See Thousands of Butterflies
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!
Stroll Cannery Row
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.
See Free Museums in
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.
Take a Free Tour of
The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco
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.
View of San Francisco
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.
Where to Stay in San Francisco
Some of our California Coast pages
Encinitas is a beach city in Southern California, famous for surfing, and regularly chosen as one of the best places to live in both California and the USA.
Santa Cruz on the Pacific Coast Highway in California has its famous boardwalk, beaches, wine tastings, Surfing Museum, Mission, and Marine Discovery Center.
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.
Unique Inns on the Pacific Coast Highway include some of the best independently-owned boutique hotels, spas, and lodges in California, Oregon and Washington.
A walk around the Point Lobos State Reserve near Monterey and Carmel provides lots of photo opportunities, especially of the Harbor Seal Birthing Area.
Pismo Beach is a small beach town on California's Central Coast, a resort famous for surfing and clams.
Malibu is a beach city north of Los Angeles famous for the celebrities who live there in expensive homes and the Pacific Coast Highway runs through it and there are beaches and hikes for all to enjoy.
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.
San Simeon is a tiny town of a few hundred people close to Hearst Castle on the California coast midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
La Jolla in southern California is north of San Diego off the Pacific Coast Highway and has museums, restaurants, hotels, beaches, and the Birch Aquarium.
Of all Eureka inns, The Carter House Inns are the most romantic and historic, with one of the best restaurants in Northern California.
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.
Bodega Bay is a small California coastal town on the borders of Marin County and Sonoma County, and the filming location for Alfred Hitchcock's the Birds.
San Clemente in California is a small city on the Pacific Coast Highway midway between San Diego and Los Angeles, noted for its beaches and surfing.
The Pacific Coast Highway goes right through Laguna Beach, a relaxed artsy beach resort whose attractions include shopping, galleries, dining, and beaches.
Oceanside is a typical southern California beach town with a surf culture and with the Pacific Coast Highway running right through it.
Monterey in California is off the Pacific Coast Highway and home to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Monterey State Historic Park.
The Lighthouse Inn at Point Cabrillo is a romantic, historic guesthouse on the Mendocino California coast, on the Pacific Coast Highway.
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 Point Reyes National Seashore is an hour’s drive northwest of San Francisco on the Pacific Coast Highway and is maintained by the National Park Service.
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.
Mendocino in Mendocino County is a small but pretty California coastal town, popular with artists and with travelers. It has featured in many songs and movies.
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.
Drive the Pacific Coast Highway and you have to cross Bixby Bridge in California, ten miles north of Big Sur and 30 minutes south of Monterey.
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.
Mar 29, 23 10:55 AM
The closures will affect a part of the highway near Diamond Street in Laguna Beach, the city said.
Mar 29, 23 10:55 AM
California is famed for its sunny energy and beautiful beaches. Discover all the Golden State offers on a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway.
Mar 24, 23 12:33 PM
Pacific Coast Highway Travel's guide to Washington coast charging stations for electric vehicles along Highway 101 from Oregon and around the Olympic Peninsula.