We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.
We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

Pacific Coast Highway

Which California hotels are on sale?
mm/dd/yyyy mm/dd/yyyy
See hotels
sault Ste. Marie, ON
posts: 54
Pacific Coast Highway

My other half and I are going to San Francisco in September. Our plan is to fly in on hte 22nd, and spend until the 25th, then first thing in the morning to leave by car and drive down the PCH. We have two days to do this, the 26 and 27, then flying home on the 28. I am aware that there are many sites to see, however, our main objective is to see San Francisco and to see the sights along the PCH, therefore are only alotting two days for this. My plan at this time is to drive to San Diego and fly out from there. My questions are the following:

1. If our purpose is only to drive the highway, do we need to drive as far as San Diego to get the best experience.

2. If not, how far should we drive, and then fly home from.

3. Where should we spend our night, and divide our two days of driving.

4. What other suggestions given our constraints does everyone have.

Thank you in advance!

Washington State
Destination Expert
for Yosemite National Park
posts: 43,944
reviews: 80
1. Re: Pacific Coast Highway

Hi evernew

I think just focusing on the section of Hwy 1 between Santa Cruz & Cambria might be enough. San Diego is actually too far for your limited time.

Sept 22: Arrive SFO, transfer to SF

Sept 23-25: SF

Sept 26: pick up the rental car and drive I-280 to Hwy 101 all the way to Cambria. Enjoy a bit of time in this community.

Sept 27: drive north on Hwy 1 thru Big Sur. There are several articles describing this drive linked to the Top Questions in the upper right. Here is one of the articles that is relevant: tripadvisor.com/Travel-g28926-c182762 Stay in romantic Carmel or friendly Monterey.

Sept 28: drive to SFO, drop the car, fly home

sault Ste. Marie, ON
posts: 54
2. Re: Pacific Coast Highway

thank you so much for your reply, but on the night of the 27, we want to have d/o the car, and be in a hotel close to the airport, because any flight we have will likely be at 7am. So realistically we have one night, which is the night of the 26 when we will be staying overnight on this two day trip on the coastal highway. Also, in my readings, everyone seems to recommend travelling south when driving on the PCH, so that you are right on the edge, the above plan has us driving North. The whole point is to drive the PCH, I know that there are many things to see, but unfortunately, unless we want to limit our time is SF, it is impossible to see all. We just want to drive the highway when we are there. Keep in mind, we are from Northern Ontario, where a 3 - 4 hour drive in a day is peanuts.

Washington State
Destination Expert
for Yosemite National Park
posts: 43,944
reviews: 80
3. Re: Pacific Coast Highway

Some folks recommend driving south, but if you drive north (from L.A. to SF), the scenery and views just get better & better. Also northbound drivers don't get the sun in their eyes as much. So not everyone recommends southbound.

I don't think you have time to get down to the southern part of Hwy 1 nor to the warmer water beaches of the Pacific Ocean, even if you choose to spend all of both days driving. But this is your trip, so you get to arrange it in a way that suits your travel style best.

Idea 1: drive to Monterey for your one night and spend the 27th enjoying some of the best bits before heading back up to the airport. You can drive all day on the 26th, stopping where you'd like along Hwy 1 from SF to Monterey, and sleeping in Monterey or Carmel. Then drive all day on the 27th, perhaps including Point Lobos, Bixby Bridge, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park or Pfeiffer Beach.

Idea 2: race to Monterey on the 26th and then enjoy the scenic drive down to Cambria for your one night. The next morning repeat the slow scenic drive back up Hwy 1 or wait till afternoon and take the faster inland drive on Hwy 101.


Are there coastal towns that interest you? Particular scenic state parks? Hikes? Restaurants? What kind of driving trip do you want?

sault Ste. Marie, ON
posts: 54
4. Re: Pacific Coast Highway

thank you so much for the time and advice that you are offering. If I am reading right, if we drive from SF to Monterey, we will get the best part of the PCH, that of course includes Big Sur, which if I have done my research right, is the 17 mile part that is highly recommended, and then to just concentrate on that drive, taking in the sites in between SF and Monterey..... As I said, its not so much the towns that we are interested in, we just want to say we have been and seen the highlights of the PCH,,,,San Francisco is our main objective, but while we are there, we want to take part in the drive as well!!!

Avila Beach...
posts: 936
reviews: 8
5. Re: Pacific Coast Highway

Big Sur is South of Monterey and the 17 mile drive. Skip the 17 mile drive. Best part of Highway 1 (not called PCH up here) is between Carmel and San Simeon. This is about 90 miles of coastline, all of which is called Big Sur. You won't have time to see anything else. It's not a huge deal which way you drive it, it's a narrow road and you can see the cliffs and ocean well no matter which way you're going. There are lots of areas to pull over as well. Carmel to San Simeon and back is at least a five hour drive without stopping. That does not include SF to Carmel and back.

Grover Beach, Ca
Destination Expert
for Pismo Beach, Cambria, Big Sur
posts: 16,361
reviews: 9
6. Re: Pacific Coast Highway

The most dramatic parts of the California coastline are between Carmel and Cambria. The parts further south, while nice in their own right, just don't compare. With the limited amount of time you have, the loop trip suggested by PacificNWFamily would allow for a trip that does justice to the drive. Otherwise you'll be making a mad dash to get down the coast just to say you've "seen" it.

And zebracruiser is right.... it really doesn't matter which direction you drive Highway 1. Some say drive it south because it's easier to use the pull outs since you don't have to cross over southbound traffic to access the pull outs. I say balderdash! I've never had a problem crossing the southbound lane while traveling north to access the turn outs. If you're that concerned about, then reverse the loop trip:


Cambria: 26 via Monterey/Big Sur (Expect this to be at least a 10 hour drive. Without stops, it's a 6 hour drive!)

SF: Return via Highway 46/101/85/280/380

SF to San Diego is 600 miles and well over 12 hours of driving WITHOUT stops!! There is just too much to see/do en route to do the drive justice with so short a time. SF to SD really needs a minimum of 3 nights, which you don't have.

Edited: 8:20 am, February 09, 2013
Los Angeles
Destination Expert
for Los Angeles
posts: 15,157
reviews: 58
7. Re: Pacific Coast Highway

Another way would be to drive down to LA and fly home from LAX, instead of looping back to San Francisco, but the best part of the drive is indeed between Monterey and Cambria. There are airports in Monterey and Santa Barbara which could shorten the trip one way or the other, but these are small airports basically with commuter planes only, usually expensive flights and they don't really have any non-stop flights to most places.

8. Re: Pacific Coast Highway

-:- Message from TripAdvisor staff -:-

This topic has been closed to new posts due to inactivity. We hope you'll join the conversation by posting to an open topic or starting a new one.

To review the TripAdvisor Forums Posting Guidelines, please follow this link: http://www.tripadvisor.com/pages/forums_posting_guidelines.html

We remove posts that do not follow our posting guidelines, and we reserve the right to remove any post for any reason.

Removed on: 12:16 am, February 11, 2014