Have you ever experienced a Pacific Coast Highway road trip before? If not then you definitely should! Fall is here now and definitely the time to do so. Why? Because not only is the fall months the perfect time to go and explore, but also the beaches along your road trip and not crowded crazy so there is more beach camping spots available and less people. Yay!

There really is so much you can see on your California road trip. The California Pacific Coast Highway Road trip has become one of the most popular yet. The gorgeous coast scenery is endless and along the way you can hit the most iconic travel destinations! So really… what are you waiting for?  With the weather cooling down the best times to drive the Pacific Coast Highway is definitely in early or mid fall right now before Christmas.

Learn more below as i breakdown the perfect itinerary to get you started. We’ll mention some must-see places while your at it and definitely take advantage of these California beaches along the way. So … then let’s dive in…

The best times to take the California Pacific Coast Highway Road trip

You can practically take the California road trip any time of the year. There really is no perfect time. But if you want to push for the best weather and time then I say go in the fall. The temperatures are perfect and there is no scorching weather to deal with. With cooler temperatures you can definitely enjoy the car ride while making the most of the nicer weather. There are less crowds on the beaches which is always a plus, especially if you like to start camping. Keep in mind that temperatures are definitely cooler so make sure you bundle up for that camping trip. 

The Itinerary to taking a Pacific Coast Road Trip

Photo by Nick Baker

Depending how long you want to go, an ideal road trip can be anywhere from 3-7 days. The timing is really up to you and how many days you can give yourself. Anywhere from 3-7 days is the perfect window time. Take the time to explore and have fun along the way. Exploring all of the California coastline is the best experience you will ever have. Take the time to get through LA traffic while exploring the gorgeous weather and scenery. This itinerary I made was for 7 days.

I spent a week exploring the beaches, and stayed for a day in each beach. Of course, it is up to you to enjoy how long you want to stay in each beach. If you are taking a shorter trip then be sure to leave some beaches out. But these beaches listed below are definitely worth checking out along the way.

Day 1-2

Start your trip in southern San Diego. Some of the nicest beaches exist in San Diego County alone. You can explore anything from family beaches such as Moonlight State Beach, San Diego dog beaches such as ocean dog beach, quiet beaches, nude beaches, hiking beaches or anything in between. 

Even starting your pacific coast highway road trip in the northern beaches of San Diego may be what you’re looking for to kick start your trip. If you are bringing family then consider starting at Moonlight State Beach or even La Jolla Beach in San Diego. If you do have a dog then definitely check out any of these dog friendly beaches in San Diego. You won’t have to worry about leaving fluffy at home.  If your trip will be a camping beach trip then definitely learn the most popular camping beaches in San Diego. Anywhere you start is really up to you and how many beaches you like to see through out. 

Day 2-3

Make your way up to the Malibu Beach area. Not only is Malibu Beach known for its panoramic beach lifestyle, but it is also known for its very hip town and vibe. This beach area along with others around the LA area are well known and popular among families and celebrities. There is some nicer quieter beach areas such as Zuma Beach in Malibu. It is one my favorite places to visit!

I say spending anywhere from a day or two to really explore the nicest beaches in all of Malibu is all you need.  

Day 3-4

As you continue on your California road trip, the next stop should be Santa Barbara. Whether you want to check out this city or not it is still a perfect place to take a break from driving. The city is made of mostly retired folks and a mix of college students due to the university’s location. But don’t disregard this city because the beaches are amazing and gorgeous as they are quiet.  

Every time I stop in the Santa Barbara area, I make sure I check out the butterfly garden in Goleta, of course this place is mostly seasonal. The best time to visit the Monarch Butterfly Grove would be anywhere from November to February. It is a nice walk to the butterfly area and what is really cool is when you observe the trees. It really is a neat sight. In addition, be sure to check out the nice downtown area. It’s the perfect place to shop since there are many boutiques and local shops in the area. 

Day 4-5

Pismo Beach and Dinosaur Cave/ Morro Bay and Hearst Castle

Pismo Beach is definitely on my top list of beaches to check out along the pacific coast highway road trip. This beach is not only amazing and gorgeous but the downtown area is also neat. There is so much you can see while visiting this beach including the one and only famous Dinosaur Cave. Have you ever wondered why they call it the Dinosaur Cave? then be sure to read The Guide to Dinosaur Cave here, as we breakdown everything you need to know before visiting here.

 It is definitely a popular family-orientated beach destination, but it doesn’t matter whether you have friends, family or yourself. The scenery from Dinosaur Cave makes you really appreciate how gorgeous nature really is.

Morro Bay is practically the neighboring beach of Pismo. If you do have time to checkout one or both of these beaches then do so. Morro Bay is iconic for having a large ancient volcanic stone in the water. The cool thing about this beach is that if your a photographer then you can definitely benefit from amazing photography here. Wait for the sunset if you can. The colors are just gorgeous and if you are trying to take photography here then definitely consider it a go to destination. You don’t need a fancy camera, any phone will do too. 

The neat thing about Morro Bay is that you have the beaches to check out which include over six miles of sand to play in. And you have the harbor side of it. Here you can find a lot of fisherman looking for the catch of the day, which makes up a lot of the local seafood found in restaurants. Let’s not forget the sea otters that love basking in the sun. And finally, you have the bay where you can do some paddle boarding and kayaking through the calm waters. One of the best activities you can do is bike ride. Whether you brought your bike or you have to rent one, it is definitely on the top things to do while here.  

If you also love incorporating some cool traveling along your California road trip then I highly suggest you also check out some cool area sightings along the way. As you make you way up the 1- North. This highway is the most scenic you can take when you road trip the California coast. 

One of the nice places to check out with a small detour along the way would have to be Hearst Castle! This neat location is a museum and an iconic mansion where one’s mans dreams started on a hill. I have definitely been here several times and I love to hear the story of William Hearst. If you view the mansion you will definitely see the place he had always dreamed of building.The iconic view of the ocean is just spectacular.  

Day 5-6

Big Sur/ Monterey Bay/ and Bixby Bridge

As you make your way past Hearst castle you will end up in Big Sur! If you have not heard of Big Sur just yet, then you are in for a treat! Not only is Big Sur, one of the most well known beach areas in all of California but the panoramic view has made it even more popular and amazing. As you drive you will notice just beaches and mountains on either side. If you love the beach camping then definitely do not pass up the opportunity to do it here! Although keep in mind that you decide to go in the summer, the camping sites may be booked well in advance! I suggest you go in the fall, since their is more availability! 

Monterey Bay is the next beach area that has everything from nice beaches to a hip village called fisherman’s wharf. You can experience Monterey State Beach, Mcabee beach, Carmel River State Beach, Jade Cove. If you enjoy doing some whale watching then be sure to look out for beaches like Marina State Beach and Lovers Point Beach. 
If you are bringing your fur baby then don’t forget to check out some friendly dog beaches such as Del Monte Beach and Carmel Beach.

As you finish Monterey Bay then be sure to make your way a wee bit further up north where you can see Bixby bridge. Not only is it the iconic bridge that is found pretty much all over magazines and other places, but it is also a perfect place to catch the amazing scenery and pull over to take some nice pictures!

Tips for yourself and your car when taking any California coast highway road trip

The first thing to remember when taking a long road trip is that you want to make sure your car is up for it. There are a couple of maintenance things you should keep in mind before plunging into a long road trip. I personally learned this and I also taught myself. Be sure you check:

  1. Oil Levels – bring an extra with you on the trip because i did when i came
  2. Make sure you check the air filter
  3. Make sure your spark plugs are running good
  4. Bring an extra coolant- i have learned this the hard way
  5. Check for cracks in the belt 
  6. Check your brakes

 if you are not familiar with working on your car, then let the experts handle. Take it to your local trusted auto shop to make sure everything is running smoothly. Have them do a quick inspection and if possible get a new oil change and tires rotated. 

Conclusion

Photo by Mark Tuzman

All in all there really is no better time to plan a beach vacation road trip up the pacific coast highway of California. You will find that the weather temperatures are mild and more comforting and the beaches are less crowded.  Fall weather is the perfect time to road trip to California to take advantage of the nice beach destinations to see. 

Anywhere from a 3-7 time frame is just enough to take time to really spend time in each beach while enjoying the city life and other well known sightseeing along the way. 

After taking the pacific coast highway road trip a couple times I have learned to map out my favorite stop destinations along the way. The best thing you can do is start in the south beaches of San Diego. These beaches have so much to offer including dog beaches, nude beaches, a fun hiking beach and beaches with villages such as Carlsbad Village. You can easily spend 1-2 days here. 

Next on the list is the well known area of Malibu Beach. Here you can find all kinds of beaches. Some parts of Malibu are indeed super crowded and very popular. Yet there are some beaches that are more on the quieter side.

Don’t forget to give yourself a break and stop in the Santa Barbara area to not only stretch out your legs but give yourself time to explore the neat little downtown area of SB. It is really a cute treat if you go. 

Then follow your road trip with landing in Pismo Beach and Morro Bay, these are some of my favorite beaches to take a hold of. It is the perfect place to take some pictures and visit the famous ancient volcanic rock in the water. There is too much to see and do. 

I also highly recommend Hearst Castle as you make your way out of the beach area. It truly is a gem and after hearing Williams Hearst dream to build his mansion atop a mountain you’ll quickly learn why he choose that area. 

On your last couple days be sure to check out Big Sur and Monterey bay! These beach destinations will definitely make you feel like your in a movie. These popular places are perfect for camping, and winding down. Why ask for more? Don’t forget to check out Bixby bridge which sources say it was built in 1883 . This iconic bridge is something to really live for!!!

Remember those important tips to getting your car up and ready for its long road trip. Remember to always practice safe and have an expert check out your car in case it needs anything before you take off. 

So tell me… have you ever taking the Pacific Coast Highway Trip! What was your favorite sightseeing stop while you there?