Wondering what places to visit along the California Coast?
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If you’re looking for vacation spots in California, or are planning a road trip along the California coast, allow yourself a few days to properly enjoy the scenic Pacific Ocean views and attractions that the California coast boasts. Most people that take a road trip of the coast of California start in Dana Point (southern California) and finish in Leggett (northern California). There are two popular routes that run along the California Coast that you can drive along: the U.S. Route 101 and California Highway 1.
However, if you’re planning a scenic drive along California coast, California Highway 1 (also known as California State Route 1) is the best route to take, as it literary runs along the coast. One of the most popular sections of the scenic drive along the California coast, it’s between Dana Point, Oxnard and San Francisco, along the Pacific Coast Highway.
Alternatively, you could also drive from Dana Point, Oxnard and San Francisco through Los Angeles if you wish to check out LA’s downtown attractions. If you do decide you want to drive through Los Angeles, take Interstate 5 from Dana Point along Route 101 to get to Oxnard. Also, I would also structure the trip along the California coast in two legs to make it more manageable. If you’re driving between Dana Point, Oxnard and San Francisco along the Pacific Coast Highway, here it is a list of places to visit along the California Coast:
Dana Point - Oxnard (1st leg)
During the 1st leg, you’ll be driving mostly along the popular Pacific Coast Highway, and some of my favorite places along the California coast include:
- The Pilgrim in Dana Point is the replica vessel of the famous Brig Pilgrim ship. This landmark is for me one of my favorite places to visit along the California coast.
- Balboa Island Museum boasts many photographs and memorabilia on Balboa’s fascinating past
- Newport Harbor Nautical Museum boasts many interactive exhibits such as one where you can experience the feeling of being submerged.
- Huntington Surfing Museum in Huntington Beach is a great place to learn about surfing legends. Exhibits here change periodically but they're always interesting.
If you have time along the way, the Long Beach Aquarium and the Museum of Latin American Art are worth checking out.
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Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica is a great place to visit, especially if you’re traveling with kids. There are pier attractions and arcade games for everyone to enjoy.
Leo Carrillo State Beach in Malibu offers beach camping and boasts lovely beaches. This a great stop-over point, if you need to spend the night.
Emma Wood State Beach in Oxnard also offers beach camping and it’s another great stop-over point during your trip along the California coast. (see places to visit in Oxnard CA)
Oxnard – San Francisco (2nd leg)
After spending the night in Malibu or Oxnard, you can start the 2nd leg of the trip which will be mainly along California Highway 1. Here are some of my favourite places along this leg:
- Santa Barbara Botanic Garden in Santa Barbara is a nice place to visit with the family and relax along the beautiful flower trails.
- Santa Barbara Courthouse is another place you should add on your list of places to visit along the California coast, simply because of the stunning beauty of the courthouse.
Oceano Dunes is another of my favourite places to visit along the California coast, mainly because it is the only California State Park that allows you to drive on the beach. If you’re driving a 4x4 you’ll have a blast here!
Museum of Natural History in Morro Bay is a nice little museum with top notch interactive exhibits, and since the museum is located on a bluff, you’ll enjoy spectacular views of Morro Bay.
Pfeiffer Big Sur and Andrew Molera state parks
Pfeiffer Big Sur and Andrew Molera state parks boast a few campgrounds and are great places to enjoy the outdoors and spending the night.
- Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in Santa Cruz (near San Jose) is one of my favorite places to visit along the California coast, and it has to be one of the best vacation spots in Western US.
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- Santa Cruz Surfing Museum is another attraction worth checking out. It is housed in an old lighthouse and since entry is free that’s got to be a bonus!
Once you get to "The City by the Bay", you’ll certainly be spoiled by the array of attractions on offer. There are certainly many fun things to do in San Francisco but a few of my favorite places to visit are San Francisco Cable Car Museum, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Grace Cathedral.
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