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.
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.
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.
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 of 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.
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.
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.
If you’re going to take some time exploring the area check out these great places to eat in Los Angeles.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Learn more about exploring the Channel Islands here.
Stopping in Ventura can be a great option, it tends to run a little more affordable than so of the other cities but still with great options including ocean views. Make sure to check out staying in Ventura on your road trip.
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.