The Best California Road Trip: From Laguna Beach To Mendocino

Start:  Laguna Beach

Destination: Mendocino 

Although we have a jam packed list of activities and attractions, don’t feel like you have to do them all or even travel the entire Highway! Choose your own start and stop destinations and remember you can always hit up the missed attractions on the way home. 

Sometimes referred to as the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), the iconic State Route 1 or Highway 1 is one of the most famous routes in the world. Although the PCH is technically only Aa southern part of the route, other sections of Highway 1 are known as Cabrillo Highway, Coast Highway, or Shoreline Highway. 

With the PCH starting off just south of San Juan Capistrano, you can start off with your toes in the Pacific at Huntington Beach, or Laguna Beach, or any one of the other scenic beaches of sunny southern California, then head north. Catch Spanish colonial architecture and sip local wines in Santa Barbara. After Santa Barbara, head north towards Pismo Beach. While there you can bum around the beach, check out the local eateries, explore Dinosaur Cave Park, and if you’re there in the colder months, you might even be able to see the clusters of Monarch Butterflies at Monarch Butterfly Grove. If you are feeling extra adventurous, Oceano Dunes at Pismo Beach is one of the few places where you can drive up and down on the beach. 

About 20 miles up the coast, you can visit the popular Bubblegum Alley in San Luis Obispo. It’s a great place to take a quick break; and if you dare you can climb to the top of Bishop’s Peak, take a moment to take in the incredible views of the Santa Lucia Mountains. 

The next leg of the drive will take you to Morro Bay famous for its ancient volcanic mound at the end of the beach known as Morro Rock. There are tons of lagoons, trails, natural spectacles, and wildlife to keep you busy. One of the most popular activities is to hike Black Hill as it gives a great view of the rock and surrounding city. 

Continuing up the coast, keep an ear out for elephant seals, an eye out for zebras, and find Hearst Castle as you travel around San Simeon. There are a couple of elephant seal overlooks heading up the coast that let you get a good look at the animals and really get a feel for how big they really are. Although you can typically catch a tour at Hearst Castle, they are temporarily closed until further notice. You can however head to Hearst Memorial Beach and hang out at the pier, do some fishing, kayaking, or hike the incredibly popular San Simeon Trail. It’s 4.3 miles that is dog friendly and full of wildflowers, breathtaking seascapes, and fantasy-like landscapes.

Next stop is Ragged Point! This next leg of the trip contains some of the most charming and beautiful scenery you could possibly ask for in a road trip. Make sure you’re awake and ready to pull over at one of the many pull offs and just take it all in. If you are in the mood for another hike, the Ragged Point Cliffside Trail has huge rewards for those you can put in the work. Rated as a moderate trail, it’s only 0.8 miles long and dogs are allowed. 

On the way to Big Sur, be sure to stop and marvel at McWay Falls with its unique, 80-foot-tall waterfall flowing onto a small beach with a short hiking trail. ( Just heard that the hiking trail is closed, but you can still look over at the falls). Keep an eye out for big coastal redwood trees if you pass through Pfeiffer Falls. They are gorgeous! Then follow the forested road through Big Sur, stopping often to marvel at mountains that end abruptly in sea cliffs. Big Sur is home to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. State Parks are some of our favorite places to go! Big Sur has 3 State Parks you can check out:

Pfeiffer Big Sur, Julia Feiffer Burns, and Andrew Molera State Park. The ferns, the redwoods, the greenery will soothe your soul. 

Then as you travel through Monterey you can stop and check out the city on some electric scooters! Totally up to you. As you approach San Francisco, don’t forget about the fog! Visitors typically expect sunny and warm California and don’t realize how chilly it can get under that foggy night sky. The fog will usually clear up after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. From there, the road thins out and feels more remote as it winds through the hills of Marin County. Grab some seafood in Tomales Bay and picnic along the Point Reyes National Seashore. 

Finish up your trip walking driftwood beaches and tree-lined trails in the sleepy coastal town of Mendocino, or if you’re feeling really intrepid, keep following the coast north. Highway 1 officially ends in Leggett, where it turns to Highway 101, but that route continues more or less along the Pacific all the way into Oregon.

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