Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip – Laguna Beach to Ventura

I’m a little bias since this stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway is an area I’ve been lucky to explore over the past two decades, but this may be my favorite part of the California Coast. You’ve got breathtaking views from California Cliffs in Laguna, places to paddleboard and kayak, easy access to the Channel Islands, quirky characters and delicious places to eat. From Laguna Beach to Ventura you’ll find a dozen or so unique cities worth stopping in.

You can easily spend a week, or more, exploring this area, and I wanted to share a diverse range of stops and activities along the through. But don’t worry if you just pick a few as you drive up Highway 1.Things to do on the Pacific Coast Highway from Laguna Beach to Ventura. Including Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica, Malibu and more.

If you’re just joining us in this series focusing on the Pacific Coast Highway don’t miss out on our earlier pieces including the overview and first leg. Make sure to sign up to receive the rest of the series right in your inbox here.

Laguna Beach

Whether you’re interested in exploring tide pools or art galleries you can find just about everything in Laguna. Make sure you fit in a long walk along the main beach where and head north at low tide to explore the variety of creatures that call the pools home.

Once you’ve wiped off the sand, wander into town and explore the quaint shops and art galleries. From me, Wyland’s Gallery is a must visit where he captures the beauty of life underneath the ocean’s surface. For additional unique places to visit check out my post on things to do in Laguna other than the beach.

Don’t forget to take in the view with a good meal from one of the many restaurants overlooking the coast. Walk up to The Rooftop, where you can see all the way across town and on a good day Catalina Island.Things to do on the Pacific Coast Highway from Laguna Beach to Ventura. Including Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica, Malibu and more.

Newport Beach

Just north of Laguna, you’ll find Newport Beach. Two unique experiences here are taking the ferry over to Balboa Island and getting out on the water in the Harbor.

Balboa Island is a cute spot where you can wander around between some of the smallest multimillion dollar homes you’ll find outside NYC. Hop into the arcade and play a couple games or grab an ice cream cone for your walk.

If you’re looking to get out on the water the Newport Harbor is a perfect place to rent a paddleboard or kayak and explore the marina from a different point of view.

Manhattan Beach

At one of my favorite getaway destinations, you’ll find a variety of delicious places to eat and cute places to stay like the Sea View Inn. You can find my favorite things to do in the area in my city guide here, but a great activity, especially if you’re spending a lot of time in the car is renting a bike and riding along the Strand.Things to do on the Pacific Coast Highway from Laguna Beach to Ventura. Including Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica, Malibu and more.

A 22-mile bike trail that takes you along the beach and rides all the way from Redondo Beach  to Santa Monica. Manhattan Beach is the perfect spot in the middle to pick up the trail for a little and explore the long sandy beaches and piers. If you want to stay a while in Manhattan Beach check out my weekend itinerary.

Venice Beach

Possibly the best place in California to people watch. From the vendors to street performers to street art, and of course, just others wandering around, Venice Beach is one of the unique areas in the state. You’ll have a chance to see a variety of local artists as well.

Things to do on the Pacific Coast Highway from Laguna Beach to Ventura. Including Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica, Malibu and more.

By Laurie Avocado

On top of the people, the homes are an eclectic combination worth exploring. One you can’t miss is the Mosaic Tile House. Either wander by or if you get a chance, set up a tour where you can better explore this quirky property.

Santa Monica Pier

Take a stroll down the pier. You won’t see anything like it, well until you make it to Santa Cruz that is. Enjoy the chaos of a mini-amusement park with a beautiful view. Grab a carnival treat while you hop on the Ferris wheel for some breathtaking views.

If you’re hungry go put your toes in the sand and enjoy some classic diner food at Back on the Beach. This cute cafe sits right on the beach and you can either eat inside or right out on the sand.

Malibu

Now you’re at the edge of LA and where surfing was made famous. Take in the beautiful views as you drive along the Pacific Coast Highway and make sure to stop and look for the surfers. Zuma Beach is a favorite of surfers, as well as providing some relaxing views all the way down the coast.

If you’re looking for a different type of sand, head up to Mugu’s Sand Dune, also known as the Great Sand Dune. This long sandy hill is just across the PCH from the beach. You’ll watch locals getting a workout hiking up the dune and others having a blast sledding down it. You might even want to give it a try.

Ventura

While you’ll find more of Southern California’s beautiful sandy beaches that you can walk for days. In Ventura, you should wander to the beautiful Mission San Buenaventura and take in a piece of California’s history. While there are twenty-one missions stretched along California’s coast, Buenaventura is one of my favorites. From the interior to the courtyard it is an impressive place.

Things to do on the Pacific Coast Highway from Laguna Beach to Ventura. Including Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica, Malibu and more.

By Aaron Zhong

If you’re looking for a day trip, Ventura is the perfect launch place to visit some of the lesser known channel islands. Anacapa Island is just an hour from Ventura. On the island, you can see a bit of the California coast untouched by people. Take a hike along the island, or kayak around it. Anacapa also has some of the best snorkeling and diving in California.

If you’re ready to stop your drive in Ventura spend the night just off that sand at the Inn on the Beach for a relaxing evening.

Did I miss any of your favorite spots on this stretch of the drive? If so, let me know in the comments below. If you’re looking for more tips on driving the Pacific Coast Highway head over to the series homepage. And sign up for the Traveling Nine to Fiver newsletter to follow the series as it comes out! Next week we’ll cover Santa Barbara to Cambria.Things to do on the Pacific Coast Highway from Laguna Beach to Ventura. Including Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica, Malibu and more.


About Megan

Megan MacNee is the founder of Traveling Nine to Fiver. From nine to five she works in the political world in California, but on evening and weekends spends time exploring the West Coast and more. All while encouraging others to join in on the adventures.
  • Brittany from Boston

    This is great! I always knew that it would be cool to road trip the west coast, but this puts it all together! Thanks 🙂

    http://www.brittanyfromboston.com

    • Definitely a bucket list item. Hope you get the chance to soon.

  • Wow! The Pacific Coast Highway looks incredible! I’m wondering if it’s possible to hitchhike there…

    • I don’t think it’s technically legal but we saw more people than normal (for CA at least).

  • Nice post! I did the route nr 1 nine years ago and loved it. Still missed some of the places you mentioned here, so gotta go again I guess one day 😉

  • Lovely post, I would definitely go on this trip if I ever have the chance to visit California!

    • Hope you have the chance to visit sometime soon.

  • Ventura looks like quite a find! For such a well-traveled route down the Pacific coast, it’s good to know about places that might be a bit more untouched. Would love to hike and explore the channel islands. Thanks for sharing!

    • They belong to the National park which I’m sure is why development has been so limited. It’s a unique experience to visit.

  • Backroad Planet

    As a roadtripper I have longed to drive the PCH. Thanks for stoking the fire!

    • Awesome! That’s my goal. Hope you get to sometime soon.

  • Laura Lynch

    Growing up in Oregon, I’m used to driving the Oregon Coast part of the Pacific Coast Highway but I’m only done a small part in California. It is one the most beautiful drives!

    • I need to get up and do the Oregon part as well.

  • london_unattached

    That looks so wonderful! My experience of the US is very limited and I really do need to get out there and do this kind sort of thing!

    • California is definitely a unique place to explore and you’ve got to spend sometime exploring the coast.

  • Buddy The Traveling Monkey

    Such beautiful views! I’d really like to check out The Rooftop. Great food and great views? Can’t beat that! 😉

  • Holly

    I love the beautiful views that California offers on the drives. I have never took a road trip to see them all at once. May have to give that a go.

    • I did LA to San Jose over four days and while you can definitely take longer it was a good amount of time. Well worth the trip.

  • Mags

    Excellent tips. I just bookmarked this. One of my best friends just moved to San Diego and we’ve been planning a Pacific Coast Highway road trip for later this year.

  • Joe Ankenbauer

    I love this highway! Great tips for this leg too! I would add checking out the Venice Canals in Venice and little corona del mar when in Laguna! Awesome post!

  • Amanda

    Great. From the OC myself, I spend a lot of time Laguna and Newport…eating! Haha. I love visiting missions, but I’ve never visited Buenaventura. I’m putting it on my list the next time I’m headed north!

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