Scenic Spots on the Pacific Coast Highway

Pacific Coast Highway Travel's guide to the most scenic spots on the Pacific Coast Highway in California with Big Sur, Bixby Bridge and Pfeiffer Beach.

The Big Sur coast in CaliforniaBig Sur

Choosing the most scenic spots on the Pacific Coast Highway is a difficult task, even if you limit it, as we've done here, to the California stretch of PCH. However, we've given it a try, and here's our personal and totally biased list in alphabetical order.

Scenic Spots on the Pacific Coast Highway

Big Sur

The Big Sur coast in CaliforniaBig Sur

We start with a bit of a cheat because Big Sur isn't one scenic spot but a series of them, running for miles through the stretch of the Central California coast between Carmel and San Simeon. Little wonder this has been called one of the most scenic stretches of coastline in the world.

The dramatic nature of the coastline here, with mountains tumbling right down to the sea, also makes it vulnerable to landslides during winter storms. It often gets closed for repair, so if you really want to see the best of Big Sur, travel in summer or fall. See our separate page on Big Sur.

Bixby Bridge

Bixby Bridge on the Pacific Coast Highway in CaliforniaBixby Bridge

Ten miles north of Big Sur and 30 minutes south of Carmel and Monterey, Bixby Bridge must be the most photographed bridge along the Pacific Coast Highway after the Golden Gate Bridge.

Pull in at the viewpoint on the ocean side of the highway, just north of the bridge, for great shots of both the bridge and the Big Sur coastline beyond. See also our full page on Bixby Bridge.

Greyhound Rock Beach

Greyhound Rock Beach near Davenport in CaliforniaGreyhound Rock Beach

Greyhound Rock Beach is an unusual and less-well-known beach, about a 10-minute drive north of the tiny town of Davenport on the Pacific Coast Highway. Davenport is itself about 20 minutes north from Santa Cruz.

The beach is within the Greyhound Rock State Marine Conservation Area, which is a marine life protection area. Look for a small path to the north of the parking lot to get to the beach. We've included it in our scenic spots list for the Pacific Coast Highway as it's a quieter beach and it gets its name from the unusual rock formation just offshore. We're not sure that it looks like a greyhound, more like a gray whale to us, but it's certainly different.

The Best PCH Guide
We've read lots of guides to the Pacific Coast, and easily the best one is the Moon Handbook. You can read our review here, or buy it through the Amazon link below.

Moon-PCH_road-trip-guide-cover.jpg

It's a great beach if you're traveling with a family as it's a very safe place, secluded, and there are lots of tide pools to explore. You can also go beachcombing here, and there's a family picnic area. Fishing is also popular, and there are some nature trails too. We definitely recommend this, especially if you were spending a day or two in Santa Cruz.

McWay Falls

McWay Fals on the Pacific Coast Highway in CaliforniaMcWay Falls

McWay Falls is an 80-foot-tall (24m) waterfall on the coast of Big Sur in central California that flows year-round from McWay Creek in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. The park is about an hour's drive south of Carmel. Look for a turning on the east side of the highway marked McWay Canyon/Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, which leads you round to the parking area..

During high tide, it becomes what's called a tidefall, which is a waterfall that empties directly into the ocean. You'll have to be content with a distant view of the falls, though, as it's illegal to hike down to McWay Falls.

Morro Bay

Morro Bay and Morro Rock in CaliforniaMorro Bay and Morro Rock

Morro Bay is one of our favorite scenic spots along the Pacific Coast Highway. We like to either spend a night there, or at least pull in, walk round, have a coffee or a bite to eat, and walk round to see what the sea otters are up to, swimming and playing in the bay itself. They're wonderful creatures.

A good scenic photo is anything that shows Morro Rock in it. See our main Morro Bay page for more information.

Pfeiffer Beach

Pfeiffer Beach in CaliforniaPfeiffer Beach

With its purple-tinged sand, cliff faces, and offshore rock formations, this is one of the prettiest little beaches you'll find. Scenic? Certainly! Read more on our page on the Best Beaches in California.

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Blue Flower on the Point Lobos North Shore TrailOn the Point Lobos North Shore Trail

We were sent to Point Lobos by a colleague when we were staying in Monterey and asked him for recommendations for a good walk. We're so glad that he did. You can read our page about our visit here, and see our YouTube video here. Also check out the official website here.

Point Loma

This Old Postcard Shows the View of San Diego from Point LomaThis Old Postcard Shows the View of San Diego from Point Loma

The last of our favorite scenic spots along the Pacific Coast Highway (alphabetically, that is) is Point Loma. It's not one spot but a scenic peninsula west of San Diego and easily missed if you were headed north out of the city in search of that Pacific Coast drive. We like to point out places that are easily missed, though you can't miss out the must-sees like Big Sur.

To get to Point Loma, head north out of San Diego on North Harbor Drive as if you were going to the airport. Pass the airport and when North Harbor Drive ends, make a left onto Rosecrans Street and keep going. Then take a drive around the peninsula, as like out first entry for Big Sur this is also a cheat as it's not one scenic spot but many.

Among the things you can enjoy are the Point Loma tide pools, nature trails, the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, and the Cabrillo National Monument.

Other California Coast pages

  • 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.

    Bixby Bridge

    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.

  • 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.

    Mendocino

    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.

  • 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.

    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.

  • 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

    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.

  • PCH Travel picks the best time to visit Mendocino, with a monthly summary of the weather, plus hotel prices and special events to help plan a visit.

    Best Time to Visit Mendocino

    PCH Travel picks the best time to visit Mendocino, with a monthly summary of the weather, plus hotel prices and special events to help plan a visit.

  • 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.

    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.

  • Oceanside is a typical southern California beach town with a surf culture and with the Pacific Coast Highway running right through it.

    Oceanside

    Oceanside is a typical southern California beach town with a surf culture and with the Pacific Coast Highway running right through it.

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

    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.

  • 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.

    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 free museums.

  • 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 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.

  • Pacific Grove is a small city on the California coast, next to Monterey and close to Carmel, with attractions including its historic Victorian houses.

    Pacific Grove

    Pacific Grove is a small city on the California coast, next to Monterey and close to Carmel, with attractions including its historic Victorian houses.

  • 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.

    Monterey, on the Pacific Coast Highway in California

    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 Pacific Coast Highway goes right through Laguna Beach, a relaxed artsy beach resort whose attractions include shopping, galleries, dining, and beaches.

    Laguna Beach

    The Pacific Coast Highway goes right through Laguna Beach, a relaxed artsy beach resort whose attractions include shopping, galleries, dining, and beaches.

  • A walk around the Point Lobos State Reserve near Monterey and Carmel provides lots of photo opportunities, especially of the Harbor Seal Birthing Area.

    Point Lobos State Reserve near Carmel and Monterey, with photos

    A walk around the Point Lobos State Reserve near Monterey and Carmel provides lots of photo opportunities, especially of the Harbor Seal Birthing Area.

  • The Pelican Inn and Suites in Cambria on California's Central Coast has oceanfront views, swimming pool, gardens, and is right on the beach near Hearst Castle.

    Pelican Inn and Suites in Cambria on the Central Coast of California

    The Pelican Inn and Suites in Cambria on California's Central Coast has oceanfront views, swimming pool, gardens, and is right on the beach near Hearst Castle.

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

    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.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Travel's list of the best beaches in California with beaches in Santa Monica, Big Sur, Malibu, Carmel, Cambria, La Jolla and Coronado.

    Best Beaches in California

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel's list of the best beaches in California with beaches in Santa Monica, Big Sur, Malibu, Carmel, Cambria, La Jolla and Coronado.

  • 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.

    La Jolla, in southern California

    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.

  • Carlsbad is a beach city north of San Diego in southern California famous for its flower fields, LEGOLAND resort and water park, surfing and SEA LIFE Aquarium.

    Carlsbad

    Carlsbad is a beach city north of San Diego in southern California famous for its flower fields, LEGOLAND resort and water park, surfing and SEA LIFE Aquarium.

  • 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.

    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.

  • 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

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

  • 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.

    San Clemente California

    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.

  •  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.

    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.

  • 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.

    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.

  • The Lighthouse Inn at Point Cabrillo is a romantic, historic guesthouse on the Mendocino California coast, on the Pacific Coast Highway.

    Lighthouse Inn at Point Cabrillo

    The Lighthouse Inn at Point Cabrillo is a romantic, historic guesthouse on the Mendocino California coast, on the Pacific Coast Highway.



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