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16 Sights You Gotta See Along The Pacific Coast Highway

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The Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most scenic drives in the world and stretches along the stunning coastline of California. From rugged cliffs to pristine beaches, this iconic highway offers a journey with breathtaking sights at every turn (provided you can afford the gas!).

Here are 16 must-see attractions along the Pacific Coast Highway that you won’t regret stopping to see (if you like beautiful beaches, other-worldly landscapes and a host of exciting things to do, that is).

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

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Everybody has seen the Golden Gate Bridge in pictures, but if you haven’t seen it in person, it’s worth the trip. Standing as an emblem of engineering brilliance and architectural beauty, the Golden Gate Bridge is an iconic landmark that marks the beginning of the Pacific Coast Highway journey.

Spanning the Golden Gate Strait, this suspension bridge offers panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay and the city skyline. Whether shrouded in fog or basking in the sunlight, the bridge never fails to mesmerize visitors with its grandeur and charm.

Big Sur

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One of my favorite places to visit, the rugged cliffs of Big Sur are a must-see with their dramatic beauty. Here, sheer rock faces plunge into the Pacific Ocean, creating a landscape that is both awe-inspiring and humbling.

The Bixby Creek Bridge, with its graceful arches, provides a perfect vantage point to admire the sheer magnificence of this coastal paradise. Visitors can also explore the hiking trails that meander through redwood forests, offering glimpses of hidden waterfalls and panoramic ocean views.

Pfeiffer Beach

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Tucked away along the rugged coastline of Big Sur, Pfeiffer Beach is a little-known oasis known for its stunning natural beauty and purple-hued sands. Framed by towering sea stacks and dramatic cliffs, this secluded beach offers a peaceful retreat away from the crowds.

Wander along the shore, explore sea caves carved by the relentless waves, or simply relax and soak in the breathtaking scenery. Sunset is a particularly magical time at Pfeiffer Beach, as the sky erupts in a riot of colors, casting a golden glow over the rugged landscape.

McWay Falls

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One of the most photographed spots along the Pacific Coast Highway, McWay Falls is a breathtakingly beautiful waterfall that cascades directly onto the sandy shore below. Inside Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, this hidden gem can be accessed via a short hike from the parking area.

As visitors emerge from the forest onto the overlook, they are treated to a postcard-perfect view of the waterfall plunging into a turquoise cove framed by towering cliffs. Whether shrouded in mist or bathed in sunlight, McWay Falls is a sight that will leave a lasting impression on all who behold it.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

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In Monterey Bay, this world-class aquarium offers a fascinating glimpse into the diverse marine life that inhabits the Pacific Ocean. From playful sea otters to graceful jellyfish, the exhibits here showcase the beauty and biodiversity of the underwater world.

You can wander through giant kelp forests, marvel at mesmerizing jellyfish displays, and even catch a glimpse of hammerhead sharks. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is not just a place of entertainment but also a center for conservation and education, inspiring visitors to protect and preserve our oceans for future generations.

17-Mile Drive, Pebble Beach

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Winding its way through the exclusive enclave of Pebble Beach (you might know it from the pristine golf course), the 17-Mile Drive is a scenic route that offers unparalleled views of the California coastline.

Along the way, visitors can marvel at the iconic Lone Cypress, a solitary tree clinging to a rocky promontory against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean. The route also passes by pristine beaches, majestic mansions, and world-renowned golf courses, making it a must-see destination for those seeking luxury and natural beauty.

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

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Just south of Carmel-by-the-Sea lies Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, a priceless wilderness teeming with natural beauty and wildlife. Check out the rugged cliffs that give way to secluded coves and sandy beaches, while the beautiful blue waters of the Pacific are filled with marine life.

Explore a network of hiking trails that wind through coastal forests and along rocky shores, offering opportunities to spot sea lions, harbor seals, and seabirds in their natural habitat. With its unspoiled beauty and tranquil ambiance, Point Lobos is a hidden gem along the Pacific Coast Highway.

Santa Barbara

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Known as the “American Riviera,” Santa Barbara is a charming coastal city situated between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. With its unique Spanish colonial architecture, pristine beaches, and vibrant cultural scene, Santa Barbara offers a perfect blend of relaxation and sophistication.

I recommend taking a stroll along the palm-lined streets of downtown, explore the historic Santa Barbara Mission, or simply soak up the sun on one of the city’s beautiful beaches. With its Mediterranean climate and laid-back vibe, Santa Barbara is a must-visit destination along the Pacific Coast Highway.

Channel Islands National Park

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Just off the coast of Ventura lies the Channel Islands National Park, a beautiful rugged wilderness that offers a glimpse into the extreme terrain of California. Comprising five rugged islands, this remote park is home to a wealth of biodiversity, including endemic plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth.

While you’re there, check out sea caves, snorkel in crystal-clear waters, and hike through pristine wilderness, immersing themselves in the unspoiled beauty of the California coastline. Whether you spend a day or a week exploring the islands, Channel Islands National Park is sure to leave a lasting impression.

Malibu

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Famed for its wealthy residents and pristine beaches, Malibu is a coastal paradise that screams luxury and charm. Stretching along 27 miles of coastline, this exclusive enclave offers endless opportunities for relaxation and recreation.

If you surf, this is a great place to do it. Or, hike through scenic canyons, or simply soak up the sun on one of Malibu’s beautiful beaches. The Malibu Pier is a popular spot for fishing and sightseeing, while the Getty Villa offers a glimpse into the art and culture of ancient Greece and Rome. With its stunning natural beauty and laid-back vibe, Malibu is a must-see destination along the Pacific Coast Highway.

And if you like walking along piers, you’ll love the next spot…

Santa Monica Pier

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Stretching out into the beautiful blue waters of the Pacific Ocean, the Santa Monica Pier is a beloved landmark that has been entertaining visitors for over a century. From its iconic Ferris wheel to its historic carousel, the pier is a treasure trove of nostalgic charm and seaside fun.

Take a walk along the boardwalk, enjoy a ride on the roller coaster, or simply soak up the sun on the sandy beach. With its vibrant atmosphere and stunning ocean views, the Santa Monica Pier is a must-visit destination for travelers of all ages.

Venice Beach

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Known for its bohemian spirit and eclectic vibe, Venice Beach is a vibrant coastal community that attracts visitors from around the world. Here, colorful murals line the boardwalk, street performers entertain passersby, and eclectic shops and cafes beckon with their unique offerings. Visitors can soak up the sun on the sandy beach, explore the iconic Venice Canals, or simply people-watch along the bustling boardwalk.

With its laid-back atmosphere and creative energy, Venice Beach is a must-see destination along the Pacific Coast Highway.

Crystal Cove State Park

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Nestled between Laguna Beach and Newport Beach, Crystal Cove State Park is a coastal gem that offers a glimpse into California’s natural beauty and history. With its pristine beaches, rugged cliffs, and historic cottages, the park is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and history buffs alike. Visitors can hike along scenic trails, explore tide pools teeming with marine life, or simply relax and soak up the sun on the sandy shore.

Whether you spend a day or a weekend exploring its hidden coves and secluded beaches, Crystal Cove State Park is sure to leave a lasting impression.

Dana Point

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Perched atop dramatic cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Dana Point is a picturesque coastal town that offers a perfect blend of natural beauty and small-town charm. Visitors can stroll along the scenic blufftop trails, explore tide pools teeming with marine life, or simply relax and soak up the sun on one of Dana Point’s beautiful beaches. The harbor is a hub of activity, with fishing charters, whale-watching excursions, and boat rentals available for those looking to explore the coastline.

With its stunning ocean views and laid-back vibe, Dana Point is a must-visit destination along the Pacific Coast Highway.

La Jolla Cove

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Tucked away along the rugged coastline of San Diego, La Jolla Cove is a pristine marine sanctuary that offers some of the best snorkeling and diving in Southern California. With its crystal-clear waters, abundant marine life, and stunning underwater scenery, the cove is a paradise for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.

If you love being in the water, you can snorkel among colorful fish and playful sea lions, explore sea caves carved into the cliffs, or simply relax and soak up the sun on the sandy beach.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

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Perched atop towering cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is a pristine wilderness that offers some of the best hiking and birdwatching in San Diego County. With its rare Torrey pine trees, dramatic sea cliffs, and panoramic ocean views, the reserve is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.

Don’t forget to check out the network of hiking trails that wind through coastal chaparral and along sandy beaches, offering glimpses of native wildlife and stunning vistas at every turn.

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