How to Plan Your Pacific Coast Highway Roadtrip

Planning Ahead

Note: none of the links in this post are affiliate links, but rather my own personal recommendations based on my experience

You’re planning the perfect road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), but have no idea where to start. Am I right? I was in the same boat – I know it can be overwhelming, so I’m here to help.

My best friend, Taylor, and I set out to drive the California Coast via Highway 1 for Spring Break this year. We’re from Iowa and only had a week for the trip, so we decided to fly to San Francisco, rent a car, make our way to San Diego, then fly home from there. We were worried one week wouldn’t be enough time and we’d feel rushed, because that’s what nearly every other blog post or forum I read told me. Well I’m here to tell you, it can be done in a week and still be amazing!

If you’re like us and plan to book a flight and rent a car, I highly recommend you shop around before making any purchases. I used Google Flights and Skyscanner to find the best deals on flights and ended up spending less than $300 round trip! Google Flights was ultimately the platform I used to book my flights, but it’s always worth it to compare prices from other sites before buying. With Google Flights, you can choose to receive email alerts when ticket prices change for your itinerary, which is especially useful if you’re planning months in advance and want to wait it out to book with the best prices. Another nice feature is Google Flights will find you the lowest priced options by using multiple airlines, plus you can search nearby airports. My grandparents live in Omaha, and it was cheaper to fly out from there than from Des Moines, which is the nearest airport to us. I ended up flying Delta from Omaha -> Minneapolis -> San Francisco, then Alaska from San Diego -> Omaha. Taylor had a conference in Denver before our trip, so she met me in San Francisco, then we flew home together from San Diego.

We didn’t have any sort of plan whatsoever, other than knowing how long we had to get to San Diego. We rented a Nissan Versa from the airport through Dollar, the cheapest option. The base price was somewhere around $200-300 for the week, but because we’re under 25 and were dropping the car off to a different location than we picked it up, it ended up costing us $500 – which breaks down to $250 a piece. The car was by far the most expensive part of our trip, so if you live close enough to drive your own, I would do it to save some cash.

And that was it. Honestly, that was the extent of our pre-planning for this trip. Everything else was decided along the way, which turned out to be the best way (in our opinion) to do it. But, if you’re looking for some sort of timeline to start with, here’s how our trip played out.

The Itinerary

Day  1:

Arrive and spend day in San Francisco

  • Explore the city

Sleep in San Francisco

Day 2:

Spend day in San Francisco

  • Walk along the Bay
  • Fisherman’s Warf
  • All piers
  • Golden Gate Bridge

Sleep in San Mateo

Day 3:


  • Lunch

Pebble Beach

  • Scenic 17-mile drive


  • Downtown

*Big Sur

*Sleep in San Simeon

*Note: this is what we did, but if you want a full day at Big Sur, you could stay in Carmel this night and do Big Sur on Day 4.

Day 4:

San Simeon

  • Elephant seals

San Luis Obispo

  • Lunch

Pismo Beach

Santa Barbara


  • Dinner
  • Sleep

Day 5:


Los Angeles

  • Lunch

Manhattan Beach

Huntington Beach

  • Dinner and sleep

Day 6:

Laguna Beach

Dana Point


San Diego

  • Afternoon exploring
  • Dinner
  • Sleep

Day 7:

San Diego

Day 8:

Return home


Obviously, you can change or rearrange this anyway you want – it is your trip, after all! I would suggest using this as an outline and the bones of your schedule, but customize it as you please. It would be super easy to adjust! For example, if you don’t want to spend two days in San Diego, simply sleep in Laguna Beach or in the surrounding area on Day 6 and move on to San Diego on Day 7. Have fun with it and don’t over plan – it takes the adventure out of it!

If you want to read more about my trip and everything we did at each stop, you can find it here.






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