California’s Pacific Coast Highway is one of the major must-do road trips in the United States. I’ve done the whole thing in one day, twice. While making the trip in one day can be difficult if you’re trying to see as much as possible (it took me a total of 15 hours with all stops for photos), it is totally and completely doable, just time-consuming and tiring.
When I was driving (solo, I might add) I couldn’t help but stop at every corner. Even though I knew every stop I made meant it would take me longer to reach my destination, it was worth it every time.
Whether you’re driving the whole highway in one day or breaking it up into segments here are a few tips to prepare you for the popular road trip.
Stay Hydrated and Avoid Hangry
There are not a lot of gas stations or stores along the Pacific Coast Highway. Stock up on snacks and water before you hit the road, otherwise, you’ll find yourself falling asleep at the wheel or worse, hangry.
Prepare a Playlist
Reception is limited during the drive along the highway, which I guess is a good thing because the roads are so windy anyway, you don’t want to be tempted to look down at your phone when you receive a text. Before you start, put together a road trip playlist or download your favorite podcasts. With hardly any reception, you’ll be frustrated when you realize that your Pandora or Spotify doesn’t work and all you have on your phone is that weird playlist that it somehow comes with.
Research Directions Ahead of Time
You’re only going one direction the whole time and getting lost can often be fun, but if you are the kind of person that needs to have directions when driving, definitely download these or write them down ahead of time. The wifi is limited to non-existent along the highway and will be frustrating if you realize you missed an exit 40 minutes ago. A helpful app for this is Maps.Me. If you download a map of the area while on wifi, you’ll be able to use the maps when you have no reception.
During the time that I drove, a big chunk of the PCH was still missing from a landslide during the storms back in 2016. I really thought that there would be signs for a detour around it, but no, just a million signs telling me not to continue although I did anyway. Who needs warning signs when you have your trusty gut instinct that’s probably filled with nachos? When I reached the landslide there was no such detour or instructions on where to go next and of course, no wifi to find directions on how to go around. Which brings me to my next tip…
The Route Around the Landslide
Ignore all the signs that say to hop on the 101 right away. Ignore all the signs that say not to continue. Keep going. Then, once you hit a blockade with no other route, you’ll know you’ve gone too far. Not to worry, backtrack about 7 minutes and you’ll find a small road going inland that you probably didn’t notice before called Nacimiento- Fergusson Road. The top of this route offers even more stunning views of the coast before taking you inland where you’ll then take in views of forestry. It will drop you off further down Highway 101 right before you can take the exit again to go to Hearst Castle.
There are no lane dividers on this route, so make sure you drive carefully around the curves and don’t take up the whole road. Honk your horn and turn on your headlights when going around corners to warn other drivers, even if it’s daylight.
Remember It's Not About the Destination
It’s difficult to remember this when you’re tired and drained and just want to get there to take a nap and rest. But remember the reason you are taking this trip. It’s not because you really want to get to Los Angeles, otherwise, you’d have taken a flight which only takes an hour. It’s because you want to see these sights and drive the same route that inspired musicians and writers alike (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jack Kerouac). So take your time, enjoy the view, and revel in the freedom of the road.