English (UK)
David H. Collier

Pacific Coast Highway South

If there was ever a reason to hire a convertible, this road-trip is it: imagine the sun on your face and wind in your hair as you cruise 'the PCH'.

Start:Santa Barbara
End:San Diego
3 - 5Days,10Stops,242Miles
Santa Barbara
Blake Bronstad
Ventura
Byba Sepit/Getty Images
Channel Islands National Park
Benedek/Getty Images
Santa Monica
Denise Taylor/Getty Images
Long Beach
P. Eoche/Getty Images
Huntington Beach
Huntington Beach Pier
Corona Del Mar
Odi Lippel/Getty Images
Crystal Cove State Park
Richard Wong/Alamy
Laguna Beach
Stephanie Starr/Getty Images
San Diego
Balboa Park
Stop 1

Santa Barbara

735 Anacapa St, Santa Barbara

Perfect architecture, and a perfect setting. Santa Barbara, aka 'The American Riviera' enjoys a dreamy Mediterranean climate, with plenty of sunny days and mild winters. Add a wine country producing award winning vintages, outdoor adventures on land and sea, and big city arts and entertainment, and you have a city that’s a poster child for the Californian good life.

Stroll along State Street for excellent shops and dining, launch a kayak from East Beach to paddle under Stearns Wharf, visit the classic Old Mission Santa Barbara and tour the 1782 Presidio for a look at original adobes like El Cuartel, the second oldest surviving building in the state. Then explore the city’s forward looking neighbourhood, the refurbished warehouses of The Funk Zone, now home to urban wine tasting rooms, artist’s studios and cool boutiques.

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California Dream Eater visits Empty Bowl gourmet noodle bar in Santa Barbara
Stop 2

Ventura

501 Poli St, Ventura

Total relaxation finds a perfect home in this appealing coastal town roughly 65 miles/105 kilometres north of Los Angeles. While antique hunters have long been known to pull off the PCH to poke around Ventura, a new generation has started to discover the town’s microbreweries, smart restaurants, cool clothes boutiques and live music scene. The good news is that the revival of central Ventura has smartened things up while preserving the town’s sun and surf charm, where family run cafes with two table balconies serve espresso and an ocean breeze. (After all, the Pacific is only a couple of streets away and it seems as if locals are required to have surfboard racks on top of their cars.) Down by the water wander along the historic Ventura Pier. You can also catch the Island Packers boat to Channel Islands National Park.

Plan your visit

Stop 3

Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park, Ventura

Five islands off of the Southern California coast, Santa Cruz, Anacapa, Santa Rosa, Santa Barbara and San Miguel comprise the Channel Islands National Park, one of America’s most remote and utterly magical national parks. Visitors arrive on the islands by boat (boats depart regularly from Ventura and Oxnard) or small plane, then use their hiking boots or kayaks to get around. Revered for its endemic plants and plentiful wildlife, the 'Galapagos of North America' has no accommodation (there are campsites), shops or restaurants—it's a place that draws you in for its simplicity. On this ocean sanctuary, it’s all about wrap-around beauty, solitude and the chance to totally and completely unplug.

Stop 4

Santa Monica

3205, 1685 Main St, Santa Monica

This idyllic oceanfront city, bounded by a 3.5-mile/5.6-km-long beach, feels more like a weekend getaway spot than a city just a few minutes west of central Los Angeles. Relax on the city’s broad beach or lively Pacific Pier (complete with its own amusement park). Or hire bikes to follow the Marvin Braude Coastal Bike Trail, aka 'The Strand'. The paved, multi-use path follows the oceanfront for roughly 22 miles/35 kilometres, from Santa Monica south to Torrance.

Santa Monica is also a place for serious shopping. Pedestrian only Third Street Promenade is lined with big name brands, galleries, cinemas and comedy shows, including the open-air Santa Monica Place. Or visit one of Santa Monica’s outstanding farmers’ markets, which pop up weekly on the city's streets.

Stop 5

Long Beach

333 W Ocean Blvd, Long Beach

With beaches and marinas along its waterfront and a busy dining and shopping scene on the city centre’s Pine Avenue, Long Beach blends big city sophistication with resort town fun. Tour the legendary, permanently docked ocean liner, the Queen Mary, then relax with a drink in the ship’s Observation Bar—you can even stay overnight in one of the ship’s cabins. Special exhibits are on display throughout the giant ship, and wandering through the various levels to see them feels like a journey through a time warp, you can almost imagine a bygone time of ladies in velvet and lace coming down the ship’s main staircase for dinner with the ship’s captain.

Also on the waterfront, the outstanding Aquarium of the Pacific has huge tanks and displays featuring coral reefs, funky Magellanic penguins and other ocean habitats. For beach town style, head to the Belmont Shore neighbourhood. East Village, home of the Museum of Latin American Art, has an edgier, more hipster feel.

Stop 6

Huntington Beach

2000 Main St., Huntington Beach

Plan to allow at least a day to hang out and enjoy the surf vibe in this classic beach town, where the main street heads straight to the beach. Southern California’s beach culture thrives along this city’s curving shoreline, where you can cycle down an oceanfront path, play volleyball, and, of course, surf. Surfing definitely sets the tone in Huntington Beach and even if you never grab a board, there’s the chance to shop at leading surf retailers and enjoy great views of some of the local dudes riding the waves alongside the landmark Huntington Pier.

From the pier, it is just a short walk to Main Street’s stylish boutiques and restaurants, many with pavement tables or decks that let you bask in Huntington Beach’s fresh ocean breezes and sun soaked afternoons. You can get a taste of the Surf City life with a stay at a Huntington Beach luxurious oceanfront resort. Discover a more natural side to the town by trying horse riding in the 354-acre/143-hectare Huntington Central Park or bird watching and exploring the paths in the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, a restored wetland and one of Southern California’s most vital coastal habitats.

Next, head south-east to Costa Mesa, the hub for some of the state’s best shopping destinations.

Stop 7

Corona Del Mar

3001 Ocean Blvd, Corona Del Mar

The name of this upmarket Newport Beach hamlet translates to 'crown of the sea', and it’s a fitting moniker—this is where the gilded life meets classic Southern Californian beach culture. Corona del Mar is loaded with coastal gems, from the popular Big Corona beach (the spot to paddle out to for a surf session) to the parade of shops and restaurants (head to Gulfstream for fresh oysters) lining the Pacific Coast Highway. Check out the nearby Fashion Island, a shopping, entertainment and culinary destination, before heading to Little Corona beach to explore the rockpools. Cap your day off with the epic sunset views at Inspiration Point.

Plan your visit

    Stop 8

    Crystal Cove State Park

    8471 N Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach

    In 1912, an early Laguna Beach artist described finding a rugged coastline 'with cove after cove and headland after headland, golden cliffs and deep blue and purple ocean and clear emerald pools, lazy sea and pounding surf.' More than 100 years later, that’s the world you can still experience at this 2,400-acre/971-hectare coastal parkland. Explore winding trails leading into the foothills on foot or mountain bike. Walk along the park’s 3 miles/5 kilometres of coastline to find your own perfect sandy crescent with family-friendly waves.

    Another find here: Crystal Cove State Park Historic District, where you can order an ahi tuna burger at The Beachcomber at Crystal Cove or pick up a creamy milkshake from Ruby’s Shake Shack to take back to your beach blanket. There is also a charming collection of vintage beachfront cottages, rustically restored and available for overnight stays. Note: reserving one of the 21 extremely popular cabins takes patience and perseverance; check the website for details.

    Plan your visit

      Stop 9

      Laguna Beach

      505 Forest Ave, Laguna Beach

      Laguna Beach is a coastal paradise, from its bright hillside cottages to its central streets which come together at the edge of a sparkling blue sea. This is a magical place, with romantic hideaways, rooftop restaurants perfect for toasting the sunset and a coastline dotted with protected crescents of sand, some attracting the local surfer crowd, some family favourites and some perfect for a peaceful escape.

      The town was first settled as an artist’s colony which mean it's now filled with excellent galleries. Painters often perch their easels along the cliffs and watch them create a pretty seascape before your eyes. Dip into the hushed galleries of the Laguna Art Museum, with its excellent collection of contemporary works by Californian artists such as Wayne Thiebaud and David Gilhooly. Laguna Beach is also home to the summer’s remarkable Pageant of the Masters, a one-of-a-kind event where classic artworks are recreated using brilliantly painted tableaux, all populated by real people done up to replicate the figures in the original paintings. The festival is wildly popular and performances always sell out, so get tickets well in advance.

      Plan your visit

      Stop 10

      San Diego

      202 W C St, San Diego

      End your trip in this sunny, waterfront city. In the city centre, shop at the many independent boutiques throughout the historic Gaslamp Quarter, or catch a baseball game at Petco Park. See the giant pandas at San Diego Zoo. Next, explore one of the city’s diverse neighbourhoods, Little Italy, North Park, South Park, East Village—pedestrian-friendly areas are the epicentre of San Diego’s burgeoning culinary movement, progressive art scene and craft beer boom. Start your own sampling in North Park, the neighbourhood bordering Balboa Park’s north-east side. Along 30th Street and University Avenue, enjoy farm to table cuisine and boutique wines at Urban Solace, or wing it at local favourite Carnitas’ Snack Shack (the menu changes daily depending on the fresh produce and other ingredients available that day). Work off lunch by heading down to San Diego’s sparkling Mission Bay to hire stand up paddleboards or kayaks. Finish with dining and dancing after dark in the lively Gaslamp Quarter. Splash out on a night at one of California’s iconic lodgings, the Hotel del Coronado, on idyllic Coronado Island, connected to the city by an arcing bridge that makes you feel like you’re a million miles away.

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      Road Trip Snapshot

      Find out more about the amazing locations featured in this road trip. Ready to plan your trip? Print the itinerary or map your adventure to get started.

      Stop 1Santa Barbara
      735 Anacapa St, Santa Barbara
      Stop 2Ventura
      501 Poli St, Ventura
      Stop 3Channel Islands National Park
      Channel Islands National Park, Ventura
      Stop 4Santa Monica
      3205, 1685 Main St, Santa Monica
      Stop 5Long Beach
      333 W Ocean Blvd, Long Beach
      Stop 6Huntington Beach
      2000 Main St., Huntington Beach
      Stop 8Crystal Cove State Park
      8471 N Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach
        Stop 9Laguna Beach
        505 Forest Ave, Laguna Beach
        Stop 10San Diego
        202 W C St, San Diego

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