The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), also known as State Route 1, or Highway 1, begins in Southern California at Interstate 5, just south of San Juan Capistrano, and heads north to end up at Leggett, Mendocino County. It offers spectacular ocean views, as well as passing through some of the major coastal towns between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Within a few short miles of the starting point, it winds through Long Beach and the southern Los Angeles area, before continuing through West Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and on to San Francisco. For a road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco, the point that you join the PCH will depend on your starting point within LA, and for the tourists who prefer a car rental from Los Angeles; it’s likely the International Airport will be the starting locale.
Once you’re behind the wheel, make your way to the main intersection at the entrance to the airport, and head north on South Sepulveda Boulevard, turning West on Lincoln Boulevard to take you along the northern edge of the airport. From this point on, there’s very little navigation to be done, merely stay on the highway, and you’ll pass through a mix of commercial, industrial and residential suburbs, before connecting with the Santa Monica Freeway to the west of Beverly Hills. Whilst there’s little of a scenic nature in the drive up to this point, you may want to take a break at Marina Del Rey, shortly after the airport, or head inland on the Santa Monica Boulevard to investigate Beverly Hills, Hollywood or other tourist spots in North Los Angeles.
Leaving Los Angeles, the PCH hugs the coastline for much of the leg to Oxnard, with only a slight detour inland to bypass Malibu. With the highway passing right through the centre of Oxnard, this might form a good refreshment stop, or, if you want to stick to the coast, an opportunity to branch off the PCH and investigate the harbour area, or coastal attractions such as the Mandalay County Park or Santa Clara Estuary Nature Preserve. Shortly after, in quick succession, come Santa Barbara, Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo. Whilst the PCH goes through the centre of Santa Barbara, it misses out on the main thoroughfare, State Street, and again, you may want to branch out for refreshments, or investigate the shopping on offer in this beautiful town.
Bear in mind that the PCH can become extremely busy, especially in high summer. At its starting point in the south, only 38,000 people use the highway, but in Los Angeles County, more than 78,000 people are on the road every day, and in the Monterey and San Francisco areas, this number can easily pass 85,000. Whilst the views in many areas are spectacular, the tendency for drivers to watch the view, rather than the road, can often lead to accidents. Keep your wits about you, and don’t become a statistic.
Whilst the PCH offers great ocean views, it also passes many vineyards and agricultural areas, and there are ample opportunities to venture a short distance inland for a change of scenery. Depending on where your onward journey takes you, it may also be worth going slightly north of San Francisco to Napa, a popular centre of wine production.
After San Luis Obispo comes a stretch of some 40 miles or so with no major towns until it reaches Monterey, and from here the highway curves around Monterey Bay, through Santa Cruz, and on to San Francisco. Depending on your exact destination point, your journey could well take you across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, connecting the northern suburbs of San Francisco to Santa Cruz.