The Pacific Coast Highway road trip was a trip of a lifetime!
Our road trip following Highway 1 in California all the way to Seattle, Washington was such an epic road trip, we had to repeat it with my sister and her boyfriend as her college graduation gift!
It won’t stop there either!
We are already planning a third road trip with our daughter in tow and hope to see even more sites we may have missed along the way.
Yes, we loved our Pacific Coast Highway Trip THAT MUCH!
I might have to add here that I was not a road trip person at all until this road trip came into my life.
Prior to our Highway 101 road trip, I traveled every year to either North Carolina or Florida by a van or plane.
Majority of the time, once we moved to North Carolina, every trip was packed to the brim with all of us crammed in a minivan going as many miles as possible before pee breaks, leg stretches, snack replenishes, and dad’s wonderful snoring stopped.
That does not mean I’m not grateful for the awesome experiences my parents provided for us. I’m beyond grateful in fact!
My love of travel most certainly did come from those experiences.
What I am saying is I’m not a fan of cramming into a car for so many hours that my body starts to feel like gumby stuck in a box and shipped overseas.
I’m not a fan of being gone so many days with so many people we have no room to breath because of the luggage and no means to stretch without stopping.
I also don’t enjoy going non stop. Traveling 10 days in a car with my hubby didn’t seem like the best plan. My grandfather even said, “That’s not healthy.” after he reminded me we worked full time together and now we were going on a 10 day Pacific Coast Highway road trip together.
I can see his point.
I will also vouch that this was the best trip I had been on with him (other than our Charleston, South Carolina weekend getaways and later on Ireland).
This Highway 101 road trip became the catalyst for making sure all trips, even overseas, were road trips!
It’s hard not to love the beautiful coast line you see out the windshield of your car the entire way.
When the road cuts off or it winds around to the countryside, there are even more beautiful landscapes and fun things to see in California.
When our journey led us to cities of California, I wasn’t sure I’d care for these spots and figured I would find some things to work on with my computer or I’d do some genealogy for fun to occupy myself while the hubby oohed and ahhed over everything he saw in the city.
San Francisco, however, was amazing!
I am not a city girl!
I never will be.
San Francisco wowed me!
I didn’t know a city could be so beautiful!
The parts that I loved about San Francisco, California were the funny troll under the bridge, that we could eat our breakfast outside overlooking the bay and watch cars whiz by at the same time and the cool way the city was built on hills.
I didn’t love the idea of driving these crazy roads, but I loved site seeing as we road around the city.
Honestly, it felt like Asheville, North Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina and New York City, New York all combined to create this really cool place.
The trip obviously didn’t stop there.
As we trekked our way on the Pacific Coast Highway road trip, we tried to stretch our itinerary out and visit a special place in Tillamook, Oregon where my grandfather was once stationed while in the Air Force.
The base is now a museum, but seeing the images he had brought home with him from the Iar Force come to life with the barracks still there and the museum and food they serve in their diner made it awesome!
It was so worth the detour!
Apparently cheese is made there too as we discovered on our trip to Ireland years later!
My grandfather was so tickled when we called to tell him we made it there.
We informed him it was still there and is now a museum, to which he said, “Well girl…I am old!” =)
There were stories he had told that came to life while visiting the hanger museum like the time he and his buddies took up smoking because it was the only way they could get breaks.
Over time, a doe had started to take to them and would show up every day to get her own smoke break.
It would eat the cigarette butts out of their hands.
Sure enough, there was photographic evidence of this in the museum!
We saw some pretty cool things there and learned so much!
It was a good thing we had made time for this.
As you can see in our Highway 1 itinerary below, we didn’t stay long in very many spots.
We wanted to see as much as possible our first time and the second time we were so excited to share what we saw with my sister and her boyfriend that it was impossible to narrow it down.
There are some repeats, take outs and add ins, but all in all, both Pacific Coast Highway road trips were the best road trips I’ve taken so far.
I mean, Ireland ranks pretty high up there too. This one was so beachy the whole time so I can’t help but rank it #1!
One more thing I must mention as a “MUST SEE” that everyone has to take time for even if not that interested is taking the route that takes you to the Highway 1 Big Sur location. This is the most gorgeous spot in all the land (or at least on the highway 101) and it’s so incredible you cannot pass it without getting a photo op like we did!
FYI…Highway 101 is also called Pacific Coast Highway or can be called Highway 1.
Just something that threw me off when we first decided to do this trip and went on to plan it.
Speaking of planning, I know most of you are here to see how much this cost and what our itinerary was.
The following is an exact break down of what we spent on this road trip going from North Carolina to flying into Los Angeles, going to San Diego our first day, Staying in Los Angeles and working our way all the way up to Seattle, Washington before flying home to North Carolina.
The second Pacific Coast Highway road trip itinerary covers pretty much the same route, except we flew into Las Vegas, Nevada much cheaper (and to let Corey see Las Vegas because he had never been before) and we rented a bigger vehicle to accommodate all of us.
PS-avoid Jeeps on road trips! I know everyone loves a good jeep, but I promise you, it’s not worth risking your life in the dessert with one!
Please note that this budget could have been lessened by skimping on some of the expenses like hotel rooms could have been cheaper and sometimes we use points from our credit cards to save money, but this was more about the fun we had with our guests and we wanted to stay in places we gained something from. For example: One hotel was right on the water so we could end our long day in the car with a sunset at the beach.
Not everyone wants to spend on that and we get it.
We hope this budget is doable and you will take the leap to try this Pacific Coast Highway road trip out yourself!
Let us know in the comments what you would like us to see the next time we go, what you enjoyed and didn’t enjoy on this road trip and where you think our next road trip should take us!
Much love and many travels,
Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip 10 Day Itinerary
This is the itinerary for our second trip which includes everything we did in the first and then some added in.
Day 1: Fly out of Atlanta via Southwest Airlines to Las Vegas, NV. Side tip: When flying out of a major airport, you can save some money on parking if you search hotels in the area with airport shuttle that offer inexpensive long term parking (whether you lodge there or not.) I only recommend this if you’re really familiar with the area and trust that your car will be safe, as some places can be sketchy or have very little security keeping an eye on your vehicle. So…why Sin City? For starters flights and car rentals in general are cheaper for Vegas, probably because they really hope you’ll blow more dough on gambling. Plus it’s only a 4-5 hour drive to San Diego from there. We also chose Vegas as a fun surprise for Corey, my sister-in-law’s boyfriend. who had never been and we didn’t tell him that was our first stop until we picked up the tickets right before boarding our flight. His face was priceless! While Las Vegas wasn’t our top priority, it was simply a fun pit stop for a half day that served as a sort of tease for Corey that made him want to go back I’m sure.
Day 2: Drive from Vegas to San Diego to visit it’s world famous zoo. This day was a bit of an adventure because the rental car we picked up wasn’t by choice but because of limited options when we arrived in Vegas. We really wanted a Toyota RAV 4, but ended up with a Jeep Compass. No offense to Jeep, but let’s just say that vehicle was not ideal for the long trek we had before us! Because the vehicle started acting up on I-15 through the Mojave Desert (that’ll make you nervous), we decided we better give the rental company a call and see what they could do for us. Luckily they understood our plight and the San Diego office hooked us up with a brand spanking new Toyota RAV 4 at no extra charge! It only ate about an extra hour of our day, but we were happy to be in a vehicle that we felt would be more comfortable and reliable for the long road ahead. We loaded up and made our way to the San Diego Zoo and arrived with plenty of time to explore it. In general, you should allow 3-4 hours to experience the zoo. And it’s also wise to purchase tickets in advance so you can stroll right in the park when you arrive. The zoo is simply one of the best in the world and was our primary focus for San Diego with it’s huge variety of unique and beautiful creatures from around the globe. From there we drove the 2.5 hours on to Los Angeles where we would spend the next two nights to experience the second largest city in the United States.
Day 3: A day at the beach! While in Los Angeles we wanted to take little time to unwind, which is a good idea on any long road trip. From our previous visits to the area, we discovered a beach that we grew fond of near Malibu (about a 30 minute drive North of L.A. Zuma Beach is open to the public and also a cool area for other sites and recreation. Keep in mind to know the water temp based on the time of year. Even in late June, the water was still chilly for us, but we still had a blast and had to fight off a few seagulls that took a serious interest in our picnic lunch! We also took time to hike up to the top of Point Dume, a bluff overlooking the Pacific that has been seen in numerous films including the setting for the fictitious home of Tony Stark in the Iron Man movies. After the beach, we did a little exploring on some side roads where some of Hollywood’s elite live and play. It’s worth it to just cruise around neighborhoods (those that aren’t gated) and gawk at the insane real estate! After cleaning up at the hotel we drove down to the Santa Monica area for dinner and to check out the famous Santa Monica Pier before crashing for the night. We had planned to visit Griffith Observatory for a fun view of the city (which we had visited before) but ended up being too exhausted to make it and settled for bed early.
Day 4: Drive from Los Angeles to Monterey via Highway 1 aka the Pacific Coast Highway. This is a long stretch of road, but one of the most epic drives on earth. Getting to see mountains that roll and plunge into the Pacific along this mostly two lane road is a roadtripper’s dream! Allow time to make stops along the way and take in the view. Big Sur with it’s rocky cliffs and teal blue surf are sure to turn your steering wheel into at least a few of the awesome overlooks. Notable stops along this route include the town of Pismo Beach, the Elephant Seal Vista Point near San Simeon, CA, McWay Falls (just South of Big Sur), and Bixby Creek Bridge. Once we arrived in the Montrerey area, it was nearing sunset and we decided to go ahead and squeeze in stops at the Lone Cypress near Pebble Beach, and Lovers Point Park & Beach just outside of Monterey. After roughly 7 hours of travel time, needless to say we were ready to crash at our hotel the moment we arrived!
Day 5: Inland drive to Yosemite National Park and on to San Francisco. We couldn’t help but include a stop inland at one of the most beautiful national parks in our country. Yosemite Valley is one of the most awe inspiring sights to see with its massive granite stone face cliffs, beautiful waterfalls, and iconic mountains like El Capitan and Half Dome. Plan to arrive early if you’re traveling during the summer, since crowds will most likely be at peak during the warmer months. Allow time for a least a short hike through one of the parks many trails and bring a picnic lunch. Pictures and words really won’t do justice to the magnificence of this jewel of a national park that everyone should visit at least once. After we spent the better part of the afternoon exploring the valley floor of Yosemite, we loaded up the RAV 4 and made the rest of the journey back towards the coast for our next 2 nights stay in the “city by the bay” and crashed after supper.
Day 6: A full day of exploring San Francisco. While our travel mates slept in, Lauren and I started the morning with breakfast and began exploring neighborhoods on the west side of town and discovered a small parking area / access point to Baker Beach with awesome views of the Golden Gate Bridge as the early morning fog was lifting. After spending a little time there we decided we would come back with Aubrey and Corey later in the day when the temp rose a bit. We then began exploring downtown with no real destination, but we did think it would be fun to find the actual house used for exterior shots of the popular sitcom Full House, and with a little help from the internet, we did find it. Kinda cool, even though we knew the show wasn’t actually filmed there. We went back to pick up Aubrey and Corey and took care of some dirty clothes at a nearby laundromat and grabbed a bite for lunch. We then ventured back out with them to explore more of the city and some of the infamous roads that go straight up and straight down and Lombard Street, one of the curviest stretches of road in the world! We made a quick stop at Coit Tower to take in some beautiful views of the area and then ventured down to Pier 39 for some awesome seafood by the bay! Before calling it a night, we thought it would be fun to take in a well known view of the Golden Gate Bridge and city that has been seen in almost every movie that is set in San Francisco. Fort Baker, also known as Battery Spencer is a great location that overlooks the bridge, bay and city and we enjoyed hanging out there as the sun set and the lights of the city began to sparkle. Be prepared for cool air though! It’s breezy and even in late June the temperatures can dip in the lower 50’s easily.
Day 7: On the road again, this time further up the coast to our next stop in the small town of Arcata for the night. This was going to be one of our longer drives and included the final stretch of the official Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway.) We made a stop at Muir Beach Overlook with its amazing views up and down the coastline. From there we trekked northward and arrived just in time for lunch at Nick’s Cove, a fun little seafood restaurant (that Lauren and I had visited previously) situated right off Highway 1 and right on the water along Tomales Bay. After a tasty lunch, we continued up the road until we came to one of those really cool redwoods that’s big enough to drive a car through! The Chandelier Tree located near Leggett, CA is a fun experience for any road tripper and a great place to get out and stretch after a long drive. Just a couple more hours up the road and we finally arrived in the town of Arcata just north of Eureka at our hotel and grabbed some dinner before calling it a night and resting up for journey into Oregon!
Day 8: Redwoods and a new state! We started the morning with a great complimentary breakfast at our hotel and then ventured up the road into Redwoods National Forest. Words alone do not really do these towering trees justice. You simply need to stop at the visitors center (be on the lookout for Elk also) and get some quick info and then explore on! You could spend days in this forest, but if you’re time is limited, at minimum you need to find a good pull off along the route and take one of the many trails for a walk in the woods. Even if it’s just a short walk in, you instantly feel like you’re transported to another world! (Probably why George Lucas used a similar forest for scenes in Return of the Jedi.) The serenity and beauty of the woods is awe inspiring to say the least! We would have loved to stay longer, but Oregan was calling our name and within a couple hours we crossed into the Beaver State. Oregon’s coastline is an extension of the beauty of Northern California’s coast but with some of its own unique features. A great place to stop for a picnic lunch along this route is Whales Head Beach located a short distance North of Brookings, OR. With a huge rock that does look like the head of a large humpback whale flying out of the ocean along the rocky beach, it’s quite the setting for some lunch and a little shell and gem hunting to take place. Our stop for the night was a unique but nice lodge named Windermere On the Beach located in Bandon Beach, OR. With gorgeous views of the Pacific, it was a perfect setting to relax for the evening and order some pizzas to crash and watch the sun sink into the ocean. On a side note, one of the pictures taken of that sunset was deemed worthy of printing on canvas and hanging in our bedroom!
Day 9: Portland and on to Mount Rainier Washington. While you would think we would be completely road weary at this point, I personally was really excited for this next leg of the journey. Since Oregon is a much shorter state than California, this would be our last day as we made our way to the beautiful Cascade Mountains of Washington for our next stop at the Paradise Inn located at the foot of a 14,000 foot volcano named Mount Rainier! But before leaving Oregon we had to make a couple more stops. The first being the Air Museum in Tillamook, OR. What might seem obscure to some, is a cool piece of family history for Lauren and her sister Aubrey as it’s one of the bases that their grandfather served at during his time with the air force. Now a museum that pays tribute to the role it played during World War II for the Navy as a massive hangar that housed their blimp program. Hangar B, where the museum is located is still listed as one of the largest wooden structures on Earth. After a quick visit at the museum and lunch we rolled on into Portland. We hadn’t really made any major plans for Portland, but Corey had suggested we check out the original Voo Doo Doughnut shop located in the middle of the city. If you’re looking for a serious sugar rush (and let’s face it, we needed it for the hours of driving) then OMG! These doughnuts are awesome! They have some very unique concoctions and ingredients for their doughnuts that will definitely satisfy anyone’s sweet tooth. I personally recommend the signature Maple Bacon Doughnut… just try it! After our sugar fix, we hit the road towards Washington, and enjoyed the views the weather provided as we could see Mount Hood in the distance another volcano with snow still on it. Upon arriving at the entrance to Mount Rainier National Park, we paid our park admission fee and began the winding drive up to 5400 feet to the base of Rainier to stay at the old school mountain lodge called Paradise Inn. Keep in mind this lodge was built in 1916 and designed to endure some of the harshest winters you can imagine with annual snowfall totals that average 50+ feet! Some might call it “rustic” but it should not come as a surprise that it might lack some of the modern amenities we’re used to at a Holiday Inn. With the sun fading and our sugar rush from the doughnuts waning, we headed to bed for the night.
Day 10: Mount Ranier to Seattle: If you happen to be fortunate with the ever changing weather and step outside on a cool clear morning to look up and see Rainier in it’s snow covered beauty, it makes the lack of a few lodging comforts well worth it! We were fortunate. I actually woke a little earlier than the others and grabbed some coffee and ventured outside the lodge for a bit as the sun was rising and the mountains were showing off their majesty. Things were pretty quiet around the parking area and as I roamed around taking pictures I stepped around the corner of the visitor center to find a group of deer enjoying their breakfast in the shrubbery. It truly was an enjoyable and peaceful moment to myself. After an hour or so the rest of the gang began to wake and get ready. Had we more time, we would have taken in the miles of hiking trails around the area, but we wanted to venture on to our next destination of Seattle which was only about 2 to 3 hours away. With the shorter distance, we took our time driving around the eastern side of the park to take in all the waterfalls, overlooks and jaw dropping views of Mount Rainier as we made our way northward to our final stop. We stopped for a quick lunch and arrived in Seattle mid afternoon and checked into our hotel. After a short rest, I was already excited to venture into the city and explore. This being my third time in Seattle, I easily get excited to explore the area and share some of the knowledge I’ve gained from previous visits. Our first stop was the Pike Place Market. Even if you’re not really shopping, this market is one of the coolest in the country and you aside from all the fresh foods and unique items available, you may also have heard this is where they literally throw the fish when filling seafood orders for customers! While you’re in this area, if you’re the least bit of a coffee fan, you should also visit the original Starbucks located just across the street from the market. Depending on your timing, there’s pretty good odds it will be really busy and lined out the door, but the employees are super professional and efficient. Both times I’ve been we were able to grab our souvenirs and a cup of our favorite coffee and be out within 30 minutes. We ventured around the downtown area a bit more before crashing at our hotel to rest up for our last day.
Day 11: Our last full day before flying home. We slept in a bit since we didn’t have any major ground to cover in the car and used some chill time to get our laundry done at the hotel (one less thing we’d have to do when we got home.) For the afternoon we traveled back into the city to explore a bit more. Taking in the sights we made sure to swing by one of Seattle’s more unique attractions… the Freemont Troll located under the north end of the George Washington Memorial Bridge. This huge troll is something to behold as it sits ominously under the bridge with a Volkswagen Beetle sculpted into its clutches. That evening, to celebrate a close to our trip, we got dressed up and dined at one of Seattle’s finest seafood locations… Ivar’s Salmon House. We opted to sit outside since this location is right on the water and has great views of the Space Needle and Seattle skyline across Lake Union. Definitely some of the best seafood I’ve ever tasted and it never disappoints since all three times I’ve been, I made it a point to stop and try something new. This time, I had to give the legendary King Crab a try, and once again I was not disappointed in the least! After dinner, we made our way over to the Kerry Park Viewpoint to take in the city as well as Mount Rainier standing out in the background, one last time before calling it a night and returning to the hotel to rest before our early flight out the next morning. We flew home the next day with one last amazing view out our plane’s window. Mount Rainier bid us farewell surrounded by a soft blanket of clouds that made for the perfect way to end our unforgettable trip up the West Coast.