In the past 2 years, I traveled across much of the Pacific Coast Highway in the United States, and mainly on the coastal highway (road 1 and 101).
In this article, I want to share 11 stunning places that I saw which are all located on the coast, that you also need to see, especially if you’ve been considering taking your own road trip through this area. My estimate tells me I traveled over 1,000 miles on this beautiful stretch of coastal highway:
While the map above shows San Diego as the start, I actually began my journey in Big Sur, and went all the way up to Cape Flattery. I’ll detail the 11 most beautiful spots I traveled through during this trip.
Here are the 11 places I recommend you see on the Pacific Coast Highway:
- All of Big Sur.
- Glass Beach.
- Northern part of the California Coastline on route 1.
- Redwood National and State Park.
- Whaleshead Oregon (Route 101).
- Natural Bridges in Samuel H. Boardman Park.
- Thor’s Well (Oregon).
- Cannon Beach.
- Hug Point.
- Deadman’s Cove in Washington State.
- Cape Flattery (Washington coast).
This list begins from the south and heads north, so if you start from the north, just work your way backwards from this list. Now I will be adding more to this list as I explore more of the Pacific Coast Highway, but these 11 gems are a great start to see the beauty of the Pacific West Coast and I will be showing you photos of each spot so you can see this for yourself.
This is one of the most beautiful spots I saw off the Pacific Coast Highway:
I’ll be giving you the details of where EXACTLY this spot is in this article so if you’re still reading this, believe me, this isn’t the only crazy spot I saw.
The other 10 are also truly spectacular.
How my trip through the Pacific Coast came to be:
You’re welcome to skip this part and get to the 11 destinations, but if you’re interested in knowing my traveling background and how this trip even happened, here’s the story:
I did a trip to Las Vegas in late January for business purposes and while this trip happens annually, being that I love nature and the west coast (something I never saw until this year), I finally decided to take an extra 7-8 days and just travel many of the spots you’ll see on this list.
Hence this became known as my west coast road trip and in 2020, I took another one where I covered even more spots, to give you this list.
I had been doing research and looking up various places in the Pacific west coast through Instagram posts and bookmarking them in hopes that one day, when I’d get the chance to do it, I could cross them off the list of all the beautiful places I saw.
And let me tell you, in hindsight, the places I saw were even more beautiful than the way they were pictured in the posts I bookmarked, even though they were edited to look even prettier!
The Pacific Northwest, the Pacific Coast highway, and the west coast in general is truly one of the most spectacular places I’ve seen in my life so far and in addition, while there’s many beautiful destinations I’ve visited over my lifetime, most of them were one time stops, being that they were nice, but not nice enough to return to.
This is not the case for the Pacific Northwest as I am already brainstorming the next chance to see it (and other spots there) again.
If you want to do a Pacific Coast highway road trip, know this:
When most people talk about this particular area, they are referring to the coastal road which is known as highway 101 and highway 1 (they are the same, but labeled differently depending on which state it’s in).
If you start at the southern most tip of the Pacific Coast Highway, it starts all the way down in San Diego, California and goes all the way up through and around Washington state. This totals to over 1,600 miles of coastal road.
You can elect to travel this entire road from the bottom up, or vice versa and see tons and tons of nature spots, rest areas and even camp out on many of them.
Now since this article focuses on the northwestern part of the Pacific Coast, and I don’t really know where exactly that begins on the map, I’ll include Big Sur, which started on the mid coastal part of California and work my way up, which is exactly how I did this trip.
1) Big Sur (all of it)
Big Sur is in California (between San Jose and San Francisco), stretches for over 20 miles and basically takes you across what is considered the most beautiful coastal road in the state (if not the entire west coast depending on your taste).
Most notably, the places that are most popular within Big Sur are:
- Mcway Falls. A literal waterfall on the beach.
- Bixby Bridge. A 200+ feet high bridge you can cross and take awesome shots from nearby.
- China Cove.
- Sea caves.
- Camping spots.
- The 17 mile route.
- Pfeiffer beach.
- And more
And these destinations are all along the same road, so you literally cannot miss it. Here are just some pictures I took of these 2 spots:
That’s Bixby Bridge. And now for Mcway Falls:
Again, both these spots are along the same main road (part of the 101 highway). Just make sure to plot your GPS to one of them because the reception in that whole area is terrible.
2) Glass Beach, Fort Bragg.
If you want to step onto a beach and collect “jewels”, Glass Beach is where you want to go.
It’s located a few hours north of San Francisco, is accessible to the public, has great views, but the crown “jewel” of this place is it’s actual glass pieces that are scattered all along the beach that you can collect and take with you.
Now these aren’t actual jewels, and be careful not to pick up sharp ones, but they are still beautiful and the beach is accessible right off the 101 road.
They are mixed in with the rocks and the sand on that beach, so you do need to scavenge for a bit, but trust me, they are everywhere, so you won’t miss them:
3) The California coastline in general (the northern part).
While Big Sur is a must see when it comes to California, trust me, the 101, Pacific Coast Highway is loaded with beautiful places you can stop at, camp out in and enjoy the views from. Places like this are COMMON:
This particular spot was about 1 hour north of Fort Bragg (where Glass Beach is) and it is beautiful to visit this place when the sun starts to set. I don’t think I need to explain why.
4) The Redwoods.
The Pacific Coast Highway doesn’t just take you along the shore, it also has side roads you can enter and in this case, before you finish up California (if you’re doing the South-North road like me), you’ll run into the famous Redwoods forest, a place where the trees are literally several times larger than normal trees.
Now for those who wonder, there also exists another park in California with large trees, it is known as Sequoia National Park, and I did try to visit it on this trip, but it was too snowed in to access and I had to skip it unfortunately.
The trees in this forest are actually much bigger than the Red Woods, but do not think that the Red Woods are a joke, they are HUGE:
While you can view them from a distance by going though the 101, a much better option is to actually enter a parallel road that takes you into the heart of this forest (it stretches for about 10 miles or more). Here is info.
I really enjoyed it and there’s a bunch of trails and places to stop you car at to enjoy the silence and all the beauty of this place.
5) Whaleshead, Oregon.
One of the most unforgettable spots on my trip across the Pacific Northwest was in a place called Samuel H. Boardman State Park (also known as the scenic corridor). In this park, that is all along the 101 road are many destinations, and one of the 2 that truly mesmerized me was Whaleshead:
It is off the 101 road (and they recommend you have an all wheel drive vehicle to get there), and takes you to a parking where the beach is accessible. On that beach are gigantic mountains and beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean.
When I got there, I had to stop and take my time with enjoying the view (I was in a hurry all day to see the next spot on this list) because it was breathtaking. I cannot describe how amazing this place so I’ll just show you this picture of this place (or you can view my Instagram account for more of these):
There is no picture I could take to describe how it feels to be in this spot, so you’ll just have to mark it down when you go on your Pacific West coast trip and see for yourself 🙂
6) Natural Bridges, Samuel H. Broadman Park.
As astounded as I was by Whaleshead, it couldn’t compare to the beauty of what I saw at Natural Bridges. This was one of the most important destinations on my trip and I was truly floored by this place.
It was easily the #1 spot on my whole trip and this is a small sample of why:
That’s actually me in the photo and the way this shot was taken was via a drone I had on me. I even took a shot of this place with the drone that is, as of this time, going viral.
This place is easy to see from a distance but hard to hike down to (where I am in the photo, but here are directions to find Natural Bridges in Oregon). Be careful, but know that it is extremely beautiful.
Here is why this is my favorite place to visit on the Pacific Coast Highway:
7) Thor’s Well (Northern Oregon)
There is a beautiful naturally made hole on the rocks of a beach known as Thor’s well. If you stand close to it during low tide periods, you’ll see water go into it from the bottom and make a large splash over and over again. It’s stunning:
8) Cannon Beach
Cannon Beach was one of the destinations along the Pacific Coast Highway I wanted to stop in, but didn’t have time to (I had to choose between this and #2 and I went with 2). It is a beach with a giant mountain in it that you can go to (be careful), and it’s beauty is also well known.
9) Hug Point, Oregon.
Another jewel along the 101. This is a beach with a waterfall on it (like Mcway falls in Big Sur). Here is a beautiful photo of it:
Now you may have a hard time getting to this place during high tide, but you should be able to reach it from the beach at low tide periods. Otherwise, you’d need to hike to this place from behind the beach to reach it.
Note: These last few spots covered Oregon and this state itself deserves it’s own top 10 list of places to see, especially on the coast, so I wrote an article on the top 10 coastal spots in Oregon 🙂
10) Deadman’s Cove, Washington.
This was also a major destination I set on my list. It was one of the spots I saw in Washington (I didn’t go through the entire coast). This place was inaccessible to the public when I went there, but there was an official trail from which you could get a good look at it:
11) Cape Flattery
Cape Flattery is the last one this list and considering it’s at the tip of Washington State (the north western end), it is a fitting way to end (or start) your Pacific Coast highway trip. This location is magnificent, and it holds a lot of potential adventures you can take if you know what to do.
If you’ve been in the Pacific Northwest coast and traveled across it’s beautiful coastal highway, and can relate to these 11 spots or recommend others I may have missed, do let me know!