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 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.

  • Rand Blimes

    I have to agree with you about Mexican food in San Diego. So good! Thanks for the series.

  • Mags

    Great post. I have some good friends that just moved to San Diego and I’m planning to go visit them and do a Pacific Coast Highway trip soon.

    • Awesome! Looking forward to hearing about your trip.

  • I’ve only done the central and north parts of the pacific coast highway and it was wonderful! One the best things I’ve done so far in the California.

    Need to go back to do the rest!

    • The was the part I’d been missing for to long. It’s definitely worth heading down and doing SoCal too. A perfect excuse to get back.

  • Brianna @ The Casual Travelist

    The PCH is one of he best road trips in the country. I’m looking forward to seeing the other posts as you head north!

  • Currently living in Germany, that was just cruel to post such good photos and tips for eating Mexican food! Oh, how I crave REAL mexican food (and not something that is bland with broccoli in it called, “An enchilada!”) CA is one of the first places we want to travel to when we return state-side

    • I feel your pain! When I spent five months in Europe the first thing I did when I got off the plane back home was find Mexican food. The thing I missed the most for sure.

  • Carol Perehudoff

    So that’s where La Jolla is! You’ve named so many interesting places to visit, I could be travelling here for weeks. A sunset cruise from Dana Point sounds lovely.

    • Yes, La Jolla is one of those places that most people have heard of but don’t necessarily know where it is. A great town to visit in San Diego.

  • Lovely roadtrip I bet you had a lot of fun all the way, the views must be so beautiful. and the food 🙂

  • Great idea for lazy weekend, to move a bit and know area. Nice views and fresh air 🙂 I liked La Jolla picture, I wonder how all area looks like 🙂

    • It would be a perfect weekend trip! Who doesn’t love driving up the coast.

  • Himanshu Barsainya

    La Jolla… it has something in its name. I am following your this series. All the best. Explore at your pace as road trip is all about that.

    • It so does! And you’ll feel it when you get there too.

  • Buddy The Traveling Monkey

    I’ve always wanted to visit the San Diego Zoo! I have yet to visit California, and there is so much I want to see, but the zoo has always been high on my list. I think whale watching would be pretty cool too 🙂

    • You so have to go when you get here. I was so spoiled growing up with it. Also check out the Safari Park, where the animals are in much larger enclosures and you get a little more up close and personal.

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  • I love this series!