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Southern California
Pacific Coast Highway Guide

Santa Barbara marks the threshold to the southern California section of the pacific coast. From here on south, it’s miles-upon-miles of beautiful sand beaches, palm-lined streets, and thriving coastal cities. The best way to enjoy southern California is by diving straight into the beachside culture. Here are some ways to do it:

  • Grab a surfboard (and perhaps take a few lessons) and drop into a wave at any of the countless famous surfing spots
  • Put on your fancy shoes as you shop (or just stroll) along the 3rd Street Promenade or Marine Avenue
  • Spend an entire day on one beach -- places like Venice, Huntington, and Santa Monica have everything you could possibly want

Of course, there are also some spectacular hikes (most notably along the Malibu coast and at Torrey Pines), interesting attractions (like the Getty Villa), and unique breweries (don’t miss Stone Brewing!) to round everything out.

There is truly something for everyone here.

Here's what you'll find in the Southern California Highway 1 Road Trip Guide

Southern California pano

22) Santa Barbara

Spanish Missions in California

Between the years of 1769 and 1833, Catholic priests of the Franciscan order established 21 missions along the California coast from San Diego to Sonoma. These sites were a northern extension of the already established missions located in Baja California. Spain’s purpose in creating the mission system was manyfold, including:

  • To create a literate colony for New World expansion
  • To make tax-paying citizens out of their conquered civilizations
  • To assimilate indigenous populations into European culture and Catholic religion

San Diego and Monterey were the first missions established. From there, a mission site was designated according to the distance someone could ride in one day via horseback (about 30 miles). The road that linked the missions was called El Camino Real (“The Royal Highway”). Today, Highway 101 follows a significant portion of El Camino Real. In 1892, a series of 450 bells were placed along Highway 101 as road markers. This tradition of bell markers is still used today.

From 1769 to 1823, the mission system slowly worked on converting native people. Once baptized, they were forced to work and live on the mission. Over the 50 year mission period, an estimated 53,000 natives were converted and 15,000 died from disease. The missions never succeeded at become entirely self-sufficient, so they relied on continued financial support from Spain. When Mexico became an independent nation in 1821, the financial supply was cut off and many missions fell into disrepair and abandonment.

When California because a part of the United States in 1850, the missions were officially disbanded. The native tribes were stripped of their lands and most were moved into designated reservations.

These California missions are the furthest northern expansion of Spanish colonization. The original plan was to continue their progress further north and more inland, but due to funding and other foreign affairs, this plan was never realized.

The surviving missions are the oldest buildings in California, offering insight into the history of Spain’s colonization more than 300 years ago. (1)


SOME AWESOME HIKE Why you should go here Additional information FIRST Look for any TAG along your route ATTRACTIONS (Shops, Museum, and Tourism Spots) VIEWPOINTS (Free Roadside Pulloffs) EATERIES (From Seafood Shacks to Fine Dining) HIKES (Mostly Short Dayhikes) CAMPING (For Bikers, Tenters, RVers, and Yurters) LODGING (Hotels, Motels, and Bed & Breakfasts) BREWERIES (Tasting, Touring, and often Food) WINERIES (Tasting and Touring) BEACHES (Some of the Best Spots to Relax) THE ICON TELLS YOU WHAT IS THERE CLICK THE TAG FOR MORE INFORMATION

** MOBILE USERS - Zoom in for more detail **

S a n t a B a r b a r a C h a n n e l SANTA CRUZ ISLAND L a k e C a c h u m a S a n t a Y n e z L a k e C a s i t a s Hope Ranch Mission Canyon Goleta Isle Vista Montecito Summerland Carpinteria La Conchita Dulah N 2 MILES 22) SANTA BARBARA 40 minutes Drive Time 48 miles SANTA BARBARA MARITIME MUSEUM History and exhibits of the local coast $8 adults, $5 children SIMPSON HOUSE INN Elegant, antique-filled 1874 B&B $320 - $475 per night McCONNELL'S FINE ICE CREAM Outpost for artisinal frozen treats Try a bunch of flavors before you pick AMERICAN ALE Great beer, cocktails, & burgers $9 - $12 entrees, $5 - $7 beer THE WAYFARER Trendy retro-inspired hostel w/ pool $59 dorms, $130 private rooms TOMA RESTAURANT & BAR Italian fare, large wine list, harbor view $20 - $32 entrees, ~$10 glass of wine DEEP SEA TASTING ROOM Enjoy local wines on outdoor deck Relax and try an entire flight SANTA BARBARA GARDEN STATE CARRILLO C A B R I L L O EL CAPITAN CANYON Luxury cabins nestled in oak groves $155 - $795 per night for cabins GOLETA STATE BEACH Swimming, pier, BBQ grills, restrooms Free parking & nearby restaurants HOLLISTER BREWING CO. Laid-back brewery w/ upscale pub fare $7 - $14 entrees MISSION SANTA BARBARA Beautiful mission from 1786 + tours $8 adults, $3 children SUMMERLAND BEACH CAFE Victorian house w/ breakfast & burgers $8 - $14 CLIFF HOUSE INN Oceanfront hotel w/ private beach $150 - $210 per night CARPINTERIA STATE BEACH Mile-long stretch of sand & tidal pools Great for swimming & picnicking LOOKOUT PARK Viewpoint w/ playground & grills Restrooms and access to small beach RINCON PARKWAY Roadside camping right along beach $28 per night, RV camping only RINCON BREWERY Craft beers w/ casual patio seating $10 - $14 entrees

23) Malibu

5 Great Day Hikes just off the PCH

Local Advice from Casey Schreiner

The Pacific Coast Highway hugs the seaside edge of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area – the country’s largest urban unit of the National Park System. A patchwork of public and private lands provides unparalleled outdoor opportunities for Southern Californians.

Most of these trails stay cooler than their inland counterparts but summer and fall heat can be brutal. Hike early in the morning or in the evening, or wait for the winter and spring when they trails explode with native wildflowers.

Here are five great day hikes you can do without having to go too far off the PCH.

Mugu Peak

On Top of Mugu Peak

A tough climb to a prominent coastal peak, with options to explore extensive meadows in Point Mugu State Park. (2 miles RT to peak. Meadow loop 5.2 miles)

Nicholas Flat

Meadows near Nicholas Flat

A longer lollipop loop from the beach to a series of hidden meadows and ephemeral ponds overlooking the Ocean and Boney Mountain. (6.9 miles)

Charmlee Wilderness Park

Charmlee Looking towards Point Dume

An extensive system of easy trails on a coastal bluff overlooking Malibu. Great views of the Channel Islands and an excellent nature center. (2.8 miles, length may vary)

Escondido Falls

Weeping Face of Escondido Falls

The tallest waterfall in the Santa Monica Mountains – with an easily accessible lower tier and a more challenging upper for experienced scramblers. (4 miles)

Solstice Canyon

Ruins in Solstice Canyon

A classic SoCal hike to the ruins of a burned down mansion next to a trickling cascade. (3.2 miles to the house and back, with longer options)

Casey Schreiner is the founder and editor in chief of Modern Hiker, the number one hiking blog on the West Coast. Since 2006, Modern Hiker has provided hundreds of trail descriptions for hikes from Canada to Mexico and Colorado to Hawaii.

S a n t a C l a r a Oak View Ojai Saticoy OXNARD El Rio Port Hueneme MALIBU THOUSAND OAKS SIMI VALLEY CALABASAS Cornell Saratoga Hills Westlake Village Agoura Hills Oak Park Hidden Hills WEST HILLS CHATSWORTH Dulah N 2 MILES 23) MALIBU 1 hour 5 minutes Drive Time 55 miles VENTURA MAKOS SURF CAMP Learn the basics of surfing $150 for 1 person, $100 each for 2 THE TAJ CAFE Vibrantly-hued setting for Indian fare $9 lunch specials, $14 dinner specials PACIFIC INN MOTEL Budget motel near the pier and beach $78 - $88 per night THE JOLLY OYSTER VENTURA Shack w/ locally farmed raw shellfish Open weekends, $6 - $14 VENTURA PIER Newly renovated pier from 1872 Great place to watch some surfing VENTURA THOMPSON MAIN VENTURA TAVERN 1 GRILL & TAP HOUSE Casual outpost for BBQ & brews $13 - $24 MALIBU PIER CAFE Fresh American fare on pier $10 - $24 SOLSTICE CANYON TRAIL Classic hike to ruins & small cascade 3.2 miles round-trip to house & back POINT DUME SATE BEACH Rocky headland & ancient sand dunes Watch for grey whales from Dec - April MULLIN AUTOMOTIVE MUSEUM A vintage Euopean auto collection $15 adults, $8 children, purchase ahead MOQUECA RESTAURANT Get the signature moqueca Capixaba $14 lunch specials, $20 - $40 entrees NEPTUNE’S NET SEAFOOD Fresh seafood & beer on the ocean $5 - $14 CALIFORNIA WELCOME CENTER Resources and tips for local travel Open 9:30am - 8pm OXNARD BEACH PARK Well kept park w/ playground & beach A great spot for families POINT MUGU MISSILE PARK Displaying missiles over the years Free, a quick informative stop MUGU PEAK TRAIL Tough climb to prominent coastal peak 2 miles to peak, 5.2 miles Meadow loop POINT MUGU ROCK Remnant rock from highway building Great viewpoint and sunset location NICHOLAS FLATS TRAIL From beach to ephemeral pools & view 6.9 mile lollipop loop ZUMA BEACH Popular 4-mile stretch of surf and sand $3 - $10 day-use parking fee ESCONDIDO FALLS TRAIL Tallest waterfall in Santa Monica Mtns 4 miles round trip MALIBU WINES Hilltop wine tasting - bring a picnic Live music on the weekends CHARMLEE WILDERNESS PARK Extensive trail system on coastal bluff 2.8 miles with longer options MALIBU SEAFOOD No-frills seafood, amazing fish & chips $5 - $22

24) Los Angeles

One Day along the Venice Beach Boardwalk

Local Advice from Evan White
Boardwalk App

Start your morning with a cup of coffee, and a stroll down the Santa Monica Pier. You'll get a fresh perspective on the city, and an amazing view of the Santa Monica Mountains... As well as some great angles to snap pics of the surfers!

Next up, get your shopping fix on the 3rd Street Promenade, and Main Street. Both venues offer different shops and vibes, from a traditional mall in an outdoor setting to small boutiques and mom and pop shops on Main Street.

Heading south, check into your hotel along the World Famous Venice Boardwalk. We recommend either the Venice Beach Suites and Hotel, or Breeze Suites. Both offer amazing views of the ocean, and a rooftop deck for taking in the rays.

After check in, rent a Segway or tandem bicycle (don't forget your helmets) and head down the bike path just a short 3 miles to Marina Del Rey. On your way, stop off on Abbot Kinney for some window shopping in the coolest neighborhood in the US.

Just south of Santa Monica & Venice Beach is another LA gem, Marina Del Rey! Get yourself over to Fisherman's Village for amazing views of the many sail and motor boats that fill this area. Then, push your ticket for a fun filled ride 75 feet in the air under a parasail!

This trip up the beach (over the water) will take you north back to the Santa Monica Pier, and then back to Marina Del Rey... just in time for a sunset drink at the Venice Whaler! With views of the Venice Pier, and a stellar dinner and drink selection, you'll be good to go!

A short walk back to the hotel of your choice, then before you leave town don't miss a bloody marry at the Terrace Restaurant with perfect view of the beach and early morning surf clubs!

Enjoy your trip!

Evan White, CEO of the Venice Boardwalk App where you can find all of the amazing offerings from Marina Del Rey to Santa Monica. From local murals, bars, restaurants, famous attractions, and more.

VISTA DEL MAR Adds 15 minutes Same distance PALOS VERDES Adds 20 minutes Adds 12 miles P V D R I V E V I S T A D E L M A R CALABASAS SEAL BEACH HUNTINGTON BEACH LONG BEACH LOS ANGELES GLENDALE MONTEBELLOO PICO RIVERA WHITTIER DOWNEY SOUTH GATE NORWALK LA MIRANDA MTN VALLEY HUNTINGTON PARK SANTA MONICA REDONDO BEACH Manhattan Beach EL SEGUNDO LAX HAWTHORNE INGLEWOOD VENICE LAKEWOOD COMPTON Stanton Hacienda Heights City of Industry Baldwin Park Monterey Park N 2 MILES 24) LOS ANGELES 2 hour 5 minutes Drive Time 60 miles ROE RESTAURANT Try the raw mahi mahi fish tacos $10 - $16 BELMONT BREWING CO. Ocean view brew pub + sit outside Happy hour 3-6, $4 pints, $5 cocktails THE QUEEN MARY 1936 ocean liner-turned-hotel + tours $34 adults, $22 children CATALINA EXPRESS Day trip to Catalina Island $72 adults, $56 children - round trip BATTLESHIP USS IOWA Storied Navy warship with tours $17 adults, $9 children ABALONE COVE SHORE PARK Search for sea critters in tidal pools Plus two beaches & bluff trails PORTUGUESE BEND RESERVE Hike from ocean to peak & back 6 miles out-and-back, 1200ft gain/loss POINT VICENTE Scenic vista spot without the crowds Lighthouse open one day per month POINT VICENTE INTER. CENTER Exhibits on Palos Verdes peninsula Natural and cultural history ROESSLER POINT Quiet gazebo with views up the coast Southern terminus of 22-mile beach GREEN TEMPLE Earthy cafe for meat-free meals $10 - $13, get veggies w/ tofu sauce REDONDO BEACH HOTEL Refined rooms w/ marina views + pool $194 - $209 per night MANHATTAN BEACH Sandy beach with a neighborhood vibe Enjoy the pier and coastal trail THE STRAND HOUSE Farm-fresh dining w/ unbeatable views $12 - $38 SEA VIEW INN AT THE BEACH Modern ocean-view hotel near coast $175 - $375 per night DOCKWEILER STATE BEACH Chill beside a bonfine on the beach Arrive early to secure a fire pit THE GETTY VILLA Manor on a bluff w/ Roman artifacts $15 for parking, admission is free SANTA MONICA PIER Tons of attractions, restaurants, shops The official end to Route 66 3RD STREET PROMENADE Upscale shopping and dining on closed off streets - live performers VENICE BEACH BOARDWALK Iconic walkway with bodybuilders, performers, drum circles, and more KILLER SHRIMP Get the original “killer shrimp” bowl $9 - $17 + dockside drinks SANTA MONICA BEACH Popular long & wide sandy beach Bike rentals, concessions, swimming THE VENICE WHALER Good spot for a sunset drink $6 beer, $13 cocktails THE STANDING ROOM Amazing burgers the size of your head $8 - $17 GRIFFITH OBSERVATORY Interactive astronomy exhibits - FREE Plus amazing views of Los Angeles HOLLYWOOD WALK OF FAME Over 2500 stars w/ names of artists, musicians & directors - FREE

25) Orange County

Orange County Beaches: Which One to Visit?

Local Advice from Pepe Avila

Each Orange County coastal community has their own very distinct personality, landscape, flavor, and offerings. If you only had to visit one, here’s how I would describe each city in one word to let you decide the best destination for yourself: Seal Beach: charming; Huntington Beach: laid–back; Newport Beach: sophisticated; Laguna Beach: eclectic.

Seal Beach

Seal Beach and Pier

Photo via Visit Anaheim

Driving on PCH from one end of Seal Beach to the other takes just three-minutes, passing through three stoplights. Seal Beach is everything you want a SoCal surf community to be - casual and sleepy with plenty of sand and surf. Beach cruisers and drying wetsuits are outside almost all the beach bungalows and charming Main St. has mature trees lining the sidewalks giving ample shade to stroll leisurely into one mom and pop shop, café and local business after the next.

Huntington Beach

Sunset Surf at Huntington Beach

Photo by Pepe Avila

The go-to destination for surf lifestyle, Huntington Beach has 10 miles of uninterrupted coastline with plenty of spots to surf or just watch the pros. With the most consistent waves on the West Coast and surfing as a way of life, this is the only place that can be called Surf City USA.

Newport Beach

Newport Beach Attractions

Photo by Pepe Avila

Newport Beach is where sophistication, luxury and SoCal beach lifestyle all meet to form one idyllic seaside city. Newport Beach is widely celebrated for its vibrant yachting community alongside stylish accommodations, coastal cuisine, and upscale shopping. PCH travels straight through the heart of Newport Beach, but if you blink you could miss some of the area’s most popular and pristine beaches. Balboa Peninsula and Corona del Mar beaches are accessed by traveling a very short distance off PCH.

Laguna Beach

The Stunning Laguna Beach

Photo via Visit Anaheim

Laguna Beach was established as an artists' colony in the early 1900’s, and much of its artistic past has remained in the present. There are more than 75 art galleries today and is home to many celebrated art festivals. In addition to its art scene, this bohemian-meets-affluent city also has more beachfront hotels than any other city in California and 20,000 acres of wilderness perfect for hiking and biking. Quaint, walkable downtown pours right into more than 30 scalloped beach coves along PCH, all with public access.

Pepe Avila is Visit Anaheim’s Tourism Director, promoting tourism to Anaheim, Garden Grove and the greater Orange County. A local industry expert for nearly 15 years, Pepe travels around the world educating the tourism industry on what makes Anaheim and Orange County the ultimate vacation destination.