Must-Sees Along the Southern California Coast

coastal signs in California
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Must-Sees Along the Southern California Coast

California’s Pacific Coast is full of beautiful views, miles of sandy beaches, and iconic attractions. Whether you start north or south, the famous PCH (Highway 1) will take you where you need to go for the perfect family vacation.

views of the San Diego coast

San Diego

Start in San Diego, the southern-most point of California and nearly at the border of our neighbor to the south, Mexico. San Diego is a waterfront city that is only a couple hours’ drive from Los Angeles. It is often overshadowed by Hollywood’s glamor, but this city arguably has more to offer in terms of family activities. 

panda at the San Diego Zoo

San Diego’s Balboa Park is home to the famous San Diego Zoo, voted the #1 zoo in the world. It is a great place to learn about various species, including the ever-popular pandas! With over 3,500 animals, the zoo’s mission is to save species worldwide with their expertise in animal care and conservation.

Downtown, you will find the USS Midway Museum at Navy Pier. Tour the historic naval aircraft carrier and learn about one of San Diego’s family favorite attractions. Not far away is Kansas City Barbeque, which is nostalgic for parents who are fans of the movie Top Gun and a fun stop for the kids, too.

San Diego sea lions

Before you leave, make sure to drive through La Jolla to see San Diego’s sea lions in their natural habitat as you head North. These playful and photogenic friends can be seen year-round. Then, follow the 5 freeway for an ocean-view drive until you get to the Pacific Coast Highway in Orange County.

*Parents – keep in mind that Temecula isn’t too far out of the way between San Diego and Orange County. Cruise through Southern California’s wine country for lunch and to pick up a bottle of California wine on the way.

beach views in Southern California

Orange County

The PCH will take you through several beach towns, including Laguna Beach, where you can take photos at the iconic Laguna Beach Lifeguard Tower. Drive past stunning Crystal Cove (passing by a Shake Shack for a snack) as you head to Surf City.

Huntington Beach pier

The Huntington Beach pier is the perfect place to watch surfers catch waves in the heart of Surf City.

inside Disneyland
Photo Credit: Get Away Today

Anaheim is a quick drive inland from the beach and home to Disneyland, the original Disney theme park. If you don’t have time for a full Disney park experience, you can stop at Downtown Disney to pick up a pair of Mickey ears at one of the giftshops, and enjoy dinner with a great view of the nightly fireworks. Anaheim is the perfect spot to stop overnight, with a number of family-friendly hotels to choose from.

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the Hollywood sign in Hollywood things to do Southern California

Los Angeles

Park at the Griffith Observatory and enjoy the best view of the city and Hollywood sign. From here, you can take the short drive to Hollywood for some of the state’s most prominent attractions, like the Walk of Fame and TCL Chinese Theater. If you have time to spare, take the Warner Bros. studio tour or schedule a live taping at one of your favorite shows.

pier in Southern California things to do Southern California

Drive back to the coast to land at one of LA’s many beaches. Just beware of the traffic, even if the trip only appears to be a short distance. The most famous of these beaches is Santa Monica, which is known for its acclaimed pier. Stop for ice cream, hop on one of the rides, and enjoy the performers in this fun tourist area.

Malibu written in the sand

The last stop for most Southern California visitors is Malibu. While there aren’t many attractions in this quiet beach town, it is one of the best views in the drive along the PCH. It is a great place to enjoy the beach if you can find parking since crowds are usually minimal compared to Santa Monica.

End your trip in Los Angeles, or continue to take your journey north. The PCH will take you through Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo before heading to more of California’s cities in Central California.

Southern California highway

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