The Pacific Coast Highway is an epic journey, offering up 1,700 astounding miles to those with playful hearts and the passion for adventure.
A spirit born of earth and water breathes over the Pacific Coast: across the western edge of Washington’s glacier-carved Olympic Peninsula, along the delicately etched sea arches of Oregon, riding California’s rocky northern shore south until it softens in the warm embrace of sunny southern skies.
Curving down from the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the highway rounds Olympic National Park, where Mount Olympus casts a shadow over mystical evergreen giants. Heading south past Washington’s rough-and-tumble logging and fishing communities, the road keeps pace with cedar plank canoes used by Native Americans following the watery highway of their ancestors. The southernmost tip of Washington marks the end of Lewis and Clark’s journey; their names are carved into a tree atop Cape Disappointment.
Much of Oregon’s shoreline is publicly owned, including otherworldly features like basalt sea stacks and towering sand dunes. Wild winds choreograph the dance of colorful kites every summer, while caches of blown-glass floats gleam above the tide line.
Giant redwoods punch upward through a layer of fog at the start of California’s 1,100-mile sprawl of coastline. The tallest and most majestic line the Avenue of the Giants, alongside the kitschiest: drive-through trees, drive-on trees, and houses carved from trees. The phenomenal northern coastline is rivaled only by the drama of Big Sur farther south, beyond which stretch the endless summer beachfronts of Southern California. The land of beach boys and surfer girls really does exist.
Laced between and around these scenes lie cities built upon the dreams and the backs of those who believed. Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego are gateways to the landscapes that separate them, as well as destinations in their own right. Blue-collar ports alternate with vacation retreats along the way, adding a range of cafés, seafood grills, and bijou restaurants, as well as diverse places to stay, from lighthouse youth hostels to upscale new-age resorts.
What are you waiting for? PCH is calling.
PCH Driving Tips
The northern section of the Pacific Coast Highway endures harsh weather during winter, and gusty winds almost year-round. There can be delays even in the warmer spring and summer months due to heavy traffic or roadwork. Most of the road is a two-lane highway, but there are plenty of sections that allow for passing. It is just important to remember to take your time and enjoy the natural setting.
With the exception of Southern California, weather conditions change rapidly along the Pacific Coast. Be prepared for weather extremes from blustery rainstorms to hot sunny days. Highways can be closed abruptly with some sections impassable, typically due to heavy rains and mudslides. In the event of a road closure, be prepared with alternative routes. Winter snow is a possibility in Washington and Oregon. Carry chains and know how to use them.
When warm inland air mixes with cool coastal temperatures, shazam! Fog. It’s the most likely hazard along coastal highways. Keep your low beams on and drive very slowly. Use the pullouts as necessary.
Expect traffic delays at major cities along the route; this is especially true of California travel hubs San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego, where the rush hour commute can begin mid-afternoon and extend into late evening.
To receive reports on traffic and road conditions, call 511. If your phone carrier does not support 511, call toll-free 800/977-6368. There are also additional resources online: Washington State Department of Transportation; Oregon Department of Transportation; and the California Department of Transportation.
Locating a gas station isn’t hard throughout cities and towns en route; however, there are segments of the Pacific Coast Highway where nothing exists but trees, water, and local wildlife. Plan accordingly by knowing what time you will be arriving at your destination and whether there is a gas station available. Many stations in small towns (especially in Oregon) do not stay open late. Keep a full gas tank when you hit the road and refill whenever you have the opportunity.