In the Big Sur region of California, the Pacific Coast Highway seems made for a daring road trip: its winding roads hug the curves of the coast, and the highway is set on massive cliffs that plunge straight into the Pacific. Golden sunlight streaks through patches of fog; frothing waves ravage the shore below.
If that sounds dramatic, it’s because the drive truly is. In fact, it’s precisely why nature-loving travelers often build the longer and more challenging PCH route into itineraries between Los Angeles and San Francisco (over the shorter U.S. 101). Without any stops, the 90-mile stretch takes roughly two and a half hours to traverse, meaning it’s entirely possible to experience the highlights in a just day. But Big Sur’s elevated vistas, lush hikes, and wild beaches entice many to linger for a night or two—and make the trip a once-in-a-lifetime ambition for many. Whether you have 24 hours or a weekend, here’s how to do it right.