Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip – San Diego to Laguna Beach

Last week, I launched the Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip series on Traveling Nine to Fiver. I’m a Southern California girl who moved up North, so it seemed fitting to start down at the bottom and head up the PCH.

Not everyone starts their drive up the PCH all the way down in San Diego, but if you’re taking five days or a week to do the drive it’s worth a visit. The food in San Diego is different than you’ll find elsewhere along the coast, you’ll enjoy a different cuisine, beautiful coastline and more.

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DownTown San Diego 

Just South of the airport you’ll find Downtown San Diego. Wander the Gaslamp area, walk around Petco Park (where the Padres play), and head down to Seaside Village for wandering through cute shows and seeing more of the bay.
The Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip from San Diego to Laguna Beach. Kick off your road trip in Southern California. Where to stop, eat and stay.

What you have to eat in San Diego is the Mexican food. Down here it carries a different flavor profile for what you’ll find around the rest of the state, and in my opinion, it packs more of a wow experience. Right downtown pop into Lolitas for a casual burrito or grab a little more upscale plate and top-notch guacamole at La Puerta.The Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip from San Diego to Laguna Beach. Kick off your road trip in Southern California. Where to stop, eat and stay.

If you stay downtown, check out the Hotel Solamar, a Kimpton property.

Just a few miles away you’ll also find Old Town San Diego. If you’re looking for a creative fish taco head over to Rockin Baja where you can find the classics but also seared ahi filled tacos. Find some more of my favorite places to eat around San Diego here.

If you’ve got some time, one unique experience while you’re in the area is the San Diego Zoo. There is not another zoo that exists on this scale. Whether it is the size, the unique experiences you can have with the animals, the different animals on the property or, more importantly, their conservation efforts. Definitely worth a stop by to explore for half a day.

La Jolla

About twenty minutes up the coast you’ll find La Jolla, the home of the University of California San Diego, luxury shopping, upscale eateries and an absolutely beautiful cove. Right in La Jolla you can have fun wandering the shops and finding good spots to eat like Prep Kitchen. If you wander a little further you can find sea lions hanging out on the cove and a beautiful view up along the coast.

If you’re looking for a more casual spot consider heading down and walking the beach in La Jolla Shores, just a little further down you can grab a coffee and one of my favorite sandwiches from the Cheese Shop, and then head out to wander the long sandy beach all the way to the tide pools.The Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip from San Diego to Laguna Beach. Kick off your road trip in Southern California. Where to stop, eat and stay.

If you spend a night here I recommend the La Jolla Riveria Inn.

San Clemente

Now you’re in the OC, Orange County that is, home to beaches, Disneyland and more. While you can definitely add the happiest place on earth to your drive, that is a whole other series of posts. For now, we will stick along the coast and head to one of my favorite beach towns.The Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip from San Diego to Laguna Beach. Kick off your road trip in Southern California. Where to stop, eat and stay.

San Clemente is just enough out of the way for locals to live and commute in or even visit on the weekend that it’s kept more of a low-key feel than a lot of the surrounding areas. You’ve got some long sandy beaches to wander. A pier to catch the sunset from.

Dana Point

Right before you head into Laguna you’ll find Dana Point. Here you can explore the harbor, enjoy some more classic Southern California beaches, or even take a sailing trip.

For a chunk of the year, this is a great launching point to go whale watching or even just take sunset cruise out on the sea.

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 Laguna Beach to Santa Barbara.The Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip from San Diego to Laguna Beach. Kick off your road trip in Southern California. Where to stop, eat and stay.

About Megan

Megan MacNee is the founder of Traveling Nine to Fiver. From nine to five she works in the non-profit world in California. She focuses on exploring the world from her own backyard to across the globe. You'll find her sharing about explorations through food, books, travel, and more.