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Secret Spots Along California’s Pacific Coast Highway

a view of the side of a mountain

If you’re looking for secret, undiscovered spots, you may want the road less traveled. However, there’s plenty to discover even on a strip of highway as famous as California’s Highway 1, known officially as the Pacific Coast Highway and affectionately at PCH.

What Is it Like To Road Trip PCH?

Driving up PCH is the ultimate road trip. When you go, you’ll feel like making a movie of your life. Every mile will have you oohing and aahing from the iconic historical sites to the gorgeous views and abundant wildlife. Parts of the Coast Highway are more heavily trafficked than others. Even if you hit traffic, you’ve got a beautiful view. You should be able to pull over and enjoy it until the congestion clears up.

Planning Your Roadtrip Along the California Coast

Summer in Southern California can be hot, even along the coast. On the other hand, the farther north you go, the more likely you are to encounter “June gloom,” especially in the mornings. In fall and winter, you’re more likely to get rained on (which is cause for celebration in California), but you probably won’t have cold weather. If you try to take PCH up to Big Sur in winter, there’s a good chance the road will be closed between San Simeon and Ragged Point since it often washes out, and you’ll have to detour inland. If you hope to see a lot of the ocean on your trip, plan your dates accordingly.

There is so much to see along PCH. Decide in advance what you want to see most. Confer with your trip mates, rank your list from “must see” to “would like to see.” Expect detours, allow plenty of time, and plan to make the trip again to catch the things you’ll inevitably miss.

Secret Natural Attractions

Heading north to see Natural Bridge State Beach in Santa Cruz, popular among migrating monarch butterflies. Closer to San Francisco, check out the Devil’s Slide Trail, which used to be part of Highway 1 but kept washing out. The glass beach at Fort Bragg, nearly 200 more miles up the coast, demonstrates the power of nature over everything else. There, in what used to be a garbage dump, the rhythm of the ocean has turned old glass bottles into little gems known as sea glass.

North of Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, you’ll find natural treasures in the form of anemones and crabs at the tidepools on Cayucos State Beach. Between Cayucos and the Monterey County Line, visit San Simeon to see the elephant seals that were once thought extinct but now hang out on the beach. Farther north at Big Sur, you can go jade hunting at Jade Cove if the tide is low.

Last but not least, San Diego tide pools are a must-see for those traveling through PCH. Places such as Sunset Cliffs to Cardiff Beach, you won’t be disappointed by these fascinating organisms. 

Secret Historic Attractions

In Cambria, not far from the well-known Hearst Castle, you’ll find Nitt Witt Ridge, a historical landmark built over five decades from traditional materials as well as abalone shells, beer cans, and car parts. Near Cannery Row in Monterey, look for California Historical Landmark #1, California’s first governmental building. In the Los Angeles area, check out Point Fermin lighthouse in San Pedro, home to the first female lightkeepers in American history. From the top, you can see all the way to Catalina Island. Then visit the Korean Friendship Bell at Angel’s Gate Park and spend a night at the onsite South Bay hostel, converted from old military barracks.

More Hidden Gems To Discover

The San Diego area has some of the best hidden gems. There’s the Spruce Street Swing Bridge, Sunny Jim Cave, and a bunch of swings hidden around La Jolla. Whether you start or end your road trip in San Diego, don’t miss your chance to take a whale-watching trip for the complete California Coastal experience.