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We are planning a California road trip, and we want to include most of the Pacific Coast Highway (State Route 1). Currently, our plan is to travel in it from south (coming for Los Angeles) all the way to San Francisco.

We are a bit worried that since we will be driving on the side of the road farther from the sea, we will miss out on many scenic stopping points since we might not be able to pull-over/stop the car or cross the road.

Is this a valid concern or should this not be a problem?

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This should not be a problem. It might be a little more inconvenient to cross the road sometimes, but you won't miss anything you want to see and I can't see it making a huge difference. Some people prefer going northbound, as they like driving away from the cliff edges.

For much of the route, Highway 1 is a two-lane undivided road, and the northbound side is just a few feet from the southbound side. There are plenty of areas to stop in the northbound direction, though not all areas have matching turnouts in the same places on both sides, but if you use reasonable judgement, avoid blind curves, and wait until it is safe to do so, you can cross the road as needed. If safety precludes you from getting to a particular spot, you can always drive ahead and turn your car around where it's safe to do so. Traffic tends to naturally slow (and parking areas increase) at common scenic stopping points, simplifying the process.

For some portions of the route, the road is a divided freeway. Many of these areas are less scenic to begin with, but there will be some way to get where you want to go. I wouldn't worry about missing anything going north.

If you're unfamiliar with the state, it's big, traffic on this route doesn't move all that fast, and it will take longer than you think. Plan your schedule accordingly. Sometimes people think of this trip as something to do in a single day, and while that's not physically impossible, there are inland routes if your goal is speed; you're taking the scenic route for a reason.

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    Oh, will it! Definitely listen to Google Maps' advice regarding transit times. It ain't the I-5. The good news is, if you run late, you can switchover to the 101 at any of the numerous places 1 meets or runs concurrent with 101. 101 is a semi-freeway that is much faster. Or at Santa Cruz you can hop over the hill on CA-17 and take I-280 to catch up (17 and 280 are also scenic). – Harper Mar 30 at 22:57
  • Thank you for your answer. I'm actually not worried about safety as much as I'm worried about getting in trouble for crossing the road in certain areas, and for pulling over on the east side where sometimes there isn't a very organized place to do so. In general, I wasn't planning to rush the PCH and I am planning to take my time. – Dean Gurvitz Mar 31 at 5:42
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Descending opinion: This is indeed a valid concern and if that drive is a major part of the trip, I'd reverse the order.

In my experience, this primarily depends a lot on how comfortable you are with driving this type of road and doing "spontaneous" left and right turns. The PCH isn't a particular difficult drive, but it's not an easy drive either and it's long and can get tiring for the driver.

Most of the good turnouts and view points are naturally on the west side, which is an easy right turn if you are driving south bound. There are some very cool ones the other side too, but it requires a bit more planning. If you just want to cruise and stop when you see something spectacular, it's easier to do this when you are driving south bound.

  • Thank you for your answer. I don't mind the spontaneous turns on their own, I am scared that I might get in trouble for them. – Dean Gurvitz Mar 31 at 8:25
  • Note that unlike some states, you may turn left across a double yellow line into a driveway. My recollection is that the turns into scenic overlooks are marked, but I have only done this drive southward. – Andrew Lazarus Apr 1 at 4:35

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