The Golden State, known for it’s sandy beaches in the south and its sequoia’s in the north. California has a vast variety of sites along its golden coast.

Having done several trips along the Highway 1/PCH, these are my top 10 places to add to your California coast road trip itinerary.

  • Santa Monica Pier

The famous end of route 66, Santa Monica pier features several restaurants, a fairground and amazing views of the coastline. Santa Monica 3rd street promenade is a great place to shop and find unique bars & eateries.

  • Malibu Pier

The Malibu Pier is one of my favourite spots along the PCH. There are some great views of the coastlines from the end of the pier and a fantastic place for lunch. Malibu Farm Pier Cafe offers locally sourced American cuisine. Spend the rest of your afternoon tanning at one of the many beaches along Malibu’s 21 miles of scenic beauty.

  • Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach is a laid-back beach town with plenty of activities to keep you occupied. Things to do in Pismo Beach include surfing, kayaking and Stand up paddle boarding. Or simply take time out to watch the sunset from the beach.

The Monarch Butterfly Grove is a great place to get your wildlife fix. If visiting in late October through to February you may be lucky enough to witness thousands of vibrant monarch butterflies gather on the eucalyptus trees.

  • The Madonna Inn, San Luis Obispo

The crazy Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo is an awesomely unique and somewhat bizarre place to not only stay for the night but to visit on your way through. They have an amazing bakery selling the biggest brightest cakes I’ve ever seen.

  • Hearst Castle, San Simeon

The former residence of newspaper tycoon, William Randolph Hearst, this Gatsby-esque mansion is now a National Historic Landmark. The mansion hosted many of Hollywood’s elite and important political figures such as Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill, Clark Gable and Franklin Roosevelt. Keep your eye out for the zebras that are kept here on the ranch.

  • Elephant Seal Vista

Just north of Hearst Castle you’ll find the Elephant Seal Vista, a protected beach full of Elephant Seals. While you cannot access the beach, there are several viewing areas. It’s great fun watching the seals interact with one other.

  • McWay Falls, Big Sur

Big Sur is home to some spectacular sights, McWay Falls being one of them. The beach itself is inaccessible due to the unique flora and fauna that grows there. But you’ll find fantastic views from the designated walkways above. This is a popular stop and parking is sparse.

  • Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Beach

Just north of McWay Falls is Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Beach. This beach is accessible by car, there is a parking lot at the entrance, but not accessible to camper vans. This beach is a nice place to take a moment from driving and find relaxation. You may even spot some purple sand on this beach.

  • Bixby Bridge

One of the most photographed bridges in California, Bixby Bridge is located along the coast of Big Sur. There are some amazing views of the coastline from here.

  • Monterey Bay

Monterey Bay is the place to go for nature, wildlife & beaches. If you do one thing in Monterey, it has to be whale watching. I took a whale watching tour here and managed to see a wild pod of Orcas, a humpback whale and a sea otter.

While the Monterey Aquarium is one of the best in the US, at $50 per person, I found it to be overpriced for what it was. The main attraction here are the sea otters, and while I enjoyed seeing them at feeding time, I found it much more interesting seeing them in the wild out on the bay.

Cannery Row is a quaint little street featuring gift shops, bars and cafes.

Have you ever taken a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway? What are you your must-see places?