Planning The Perfect Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

How to plan a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway. Tips and tricks for driving PCH in California.

We’ve gone up the coast from San Diego to San Francisco, covering the different stretches in depth. Now it’s time to plan your own drive. One of the great things about planning a Pacific Coast Highway road trip is how there are no rights or wrongs, no defined amounts of time you should take, or a specific length you should cover. Whether you have one day or two weeks you can build out the perfect itinerary along the PCH.

While I wouldn’t do the full drive in one day it is possible. For us locals, we can do small stretches at a time. But if you’re coming out for the road trip itself you probably want to take your time and get in a good stretch of the drive.

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 different legs along the route.

#1 How Long Do You Have

Before you can start planning an itinerary you need to know how long you have to take your trip. This will impact the route, how much you can cover, how long you can stay in places and more. If you have an afternoon (and are in the area) you can even get a good stretch in. If you have a day you can do one of the stretches broken down here.

How to plan a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway. Tips and tricks for driving PCH in California.

If you’re hoping to travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco you probably want at least one overnight. If you’ve got two weeks you can spend a few nights in the same place or can head all the way up to Oregon. A Pacific Coast Highway road trip can fit just about any schedule but the time you have will affect your itinerary. Don’t feel that you need to do everything at once, it might be a great excuse to come back again.

#2 How Slow Do You Want To Travel?

Are you someone who likes to be in a new hotel each night, or would that drive you nuts? If you like to sleep in and you’re taking the drive in the winter you might not have a lot of daylight to work with. Do you want to spend time getting to know the different towns you stop in or is the drive itself what you’re after?

How to plan a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway. Tips and tricks for driving PCH in California.

If you’re looking to just enjoy the drive, with a good place to crash, plan three or four hours of driving each day. If you want to get to know the different towns, pick a few places to stay two or even three nights. If you’re a fan of slow travel it might be worth doing less of the drive and staying places longer on this trip. Then coming back for more.

#3 What’s Your Top Stretch or Destination?

What is it about the Pacific Coast Highway that you’ve been wanderlusting after? Big Sur is a big draw, Santa Barabara is a great city to explore, or do you want to drive across the Golden Gate Bridget. Pick one or two destinations and make sure they are the focus of you road trip. Knowing how long you have, your pace of travel and where you must go can help you to define where you start and end your road trip if you don’t have a chance to do it all at once.

#4 What’s Your Means of Transportation?

There are so many approaches to doing this drive. If you’re based in California, many of us fly to the other side of the state, rent a car and then drive back toward home. If you’re flying up and down California you’ll almost always find the best deals with Southwest.

You can also do the trip both ways, speed up or down I-5 and then slowly take PCH back. Working it into a bigger road trip, driving out specifically for it, or rent a car round trip.

How to plan a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway. Tips and tricks for driving PCH in California.

Another unique option is RV relocation. You’ll often find companies trying to get their RVs, campervans or cars from Los Angeles to San Francisco or the opposite. They offer some crazy deals like $1 a day rentals and even sometimes gas reimbursements. These tend to come up only a couple weeks before a trip but can be an affordable way to do the drive. Check out iMoova or Jucy for options.

#5 Set Up Your Itinerary Around The Four Above

The above four questions will help you set your itinerary. You now know when, where and how quickly you’ll travel. Use my guides to help you further plan the details but you can now start booking your tickets, rentals, and rooms.

#6 Find Cute Places To Stay, Stop & Eat

Now come the fun part of planning your Pacific Coast Highway road trip. Start with my guides for the different segments of the drive right here. Since there is always more to explore another great resource is searching Pinterest, where you can find tips from locals, bloggers and tourism boards.

You can find places to stay that meet your style whether it’s campsites, bed and breakfasts or luxury resorts. Each town has different styles of local food so make sure to eat fish tacos in San Diego and Italian food in San Francisco.

How to plan a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway. Tips and tricks for driving PCH in California.

Also, make a list of random places you might want to stop off along the road. From vistas to beaches to little towns. You will lose cell reception on certain routes and you’ll want to have a backup so you don’t miss the must go places.

#7 Get on the Road

That’s it! Now it’s just time to jump on the road. Book everything or just a little of it, and start out on your own Pacific Coast Highway road trip. Once you’ve taken the trip come back and let me know your favorite stops, especially if they’re ones we didn’t include here.

Thank you for joining me for The Dream Road Trip – Pacific Coast Highway series. It’s been a blast to dig in and focus on one of my favorite places in the world. It’s inspired me to extend the road trip as I’ll be working my way further up the coast later in the spring.

If you’re looking for a specific stretch of the drive you’ll find it here:

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.