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Top Tips for Driving the Pacific Coast Highway

Pacific Coast Highway

Thinking of a California road trip? Not only is this one of the best road trips in America, it has to be one of the best in the world. Check out my top tips for driving the Pacific Coast Highway and make sure you get it right!


1. Drive North to South.

To make the most of the sea views, drive North to South. Otherwise you will be on the wrong side of the road and literally have to cross it every time you want to stop for photos. San Francisco is an ideal place to start. I would suggest that you take a transfer from the airport and wait until you are leaving to collect your hire car. You don’t need to have a car in San Francisco and parking charges are exorbitant. Make sure you book a car for collection ‘downtown’ so you don’t have to taxi back to the airport.

Top tips for driving the Pacific Coast Highway, by the Travel Expert


2 Be clever with your car hire.

I booked our car through Hertz and found them great. No sales pitches for extra insurance and no lengthy delays dropping the car back. You will need a sat nav, dont rely on google maps as many places there is no phone signal. The PCH is relatively easy to navigate but once you stop in cities such as LA and San Diego, a sat nav is imperative. Check the prices before you go, they can be up to $15 per day to rent. It is cheaper to buy one locally in a Walmart or similar store. If travelling with kids do the same for car seats, you will buy a booster seat for $15 – $20, instead of paying $13 per day to rent one. Make sure your car is adequately insured and finally don’t forget to create a playlist! Most rental cars have a usb port, there is nothing like driving the coast, listening to your favourite tunes!

Top tips for driving the Pacific Coast Highway by The Travel Expert


3. If travelling with kids – be prepared.

Tablets or iPads are a godsend on a long journey. Upload movies or games before you go. I found our media share invaluable, it creates an ad-hoc wifi network of its own so the kids can watch movies at any time, in the car, in restaurants etc. Some kids tend to feel nauseous when watching tv, try sea-bands, they worked a treat with my kids.  Research your stops beforehand. I was surprised at how many museums were child friendly. Alcatraz, Hearst Castle, the California Science centre and the USS Midway museum, were all suitable for kids. Ask at the information centre for children’s guide books, many offer a treasure hunt system where kids have to find answers to questions and receive a prize upon completion. My two particularly loved the junior rangers badges they got on Alcatraz and climbing onto airplanes and helicopters at Midway.

Top tips for driving the Pacific Coast Highway by The Travel Expert


4. Plan your stops carefully.

When driving the PCH, the journey is the destination so make sure you allow plenty of time to see it! The speed limit is 55 miles per hour on most of the journey – and people stick to it! You will also want to stop for photos so allow at least two hours per 100 mile journey. Try to plan your itinerary as much as possible and use your valuable lunch times to stop in the ‘right’ places along the way. Ask your travel agent, check tripadvisor or read travel blogs for recommendations, and try to take in as much as possible. I almost missed places like Hearst Castle ( below) which was well worth a visit. For information on my favourite stops, read my blog here.

Top tips for driving the Pacific Coast Highway by The Travel Expert


5. Fly home from San Diego.

Plan your route before you book your flights, it doesn’t have to be exact but at least plan where you will spend the last few days. Most people tend to choose San Diego to catch some rays and rest before flying home. Although google maps will tell you it’s a two hour drive to LAX – its not! Well maybe it is at 5am, but for the most part of the day there is traffic, and it can take up to four hours, allowing for one or two wrong turns! The last thing you need on your last day is the stress of thinking you might miss your flight. Trust me, flying home from San Diego is a much better option. If this isn’t possible, make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to get to LAX. There are some great restaurants in the airport, particularly 3 Forks steakhouse, their aim is to serve steak that is so tender, you don’t need a knife to cut it! Get to the airport early and enjoy a nice meal before you board.

Top tips for driving the Pacific Coast Highway by The Travel Expert


These are my top tips, have you any more to add? I would love to hear them, please comment below 🙂


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The Travel Expert Sarah Slattery

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The Streets of San Francisco – The Good, The Bad And The Ugly.

Golden Gate Bridge

I don’t think I have ever heard anyone say they didn’t like San Francisco. In fact every time I mentioned to anyone that I was going, I was told I was going to love it. So it was safe to say my expectations were at an all time high. I guess there was only one way this was going to go…


Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed my few days there, but other than the the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, it didn’t have the wow factor I was expecting. I felt almost honoured to be there, there is an air of grandeur about San Francisco. There are opulent houses on immaculate streets, where no two look alike. Everywhere looks familiar somehow, the when you see the ‘Streets of San Francisco’ you almost expect Steve Mc Queen to come flashing by in his green mustang. The crooked street, the painted ladies and of course Alcatraz and the Golden Gate bridge are all easily visible.  Even their public transport is cool, the trams, or cable cars as they are called, are so much more appealing than buses, albeit $7 for each one way ride! The tech billionaires have all moved in, but to the detriment of the native San Franciscans, who are all living in the suburbs. You can’t help but feel that if you can manage to afford a house there, (average 1 bed apartment rents for $3500 per month) you would be living in a somewhat utopian society.

“It’s an odd thing, but anyone who disappears is said to be seen in San Francisco. It must be a delightful city and possess all the attractions of the next world. OscarWilde”

The streets of San Francisco by The Travel Expert

I did however, absolutely LOVE biking the Golden Gate bridge, it was honestly one of the best experiences I had in my three week trip of California. It is something that I would recommend anyone visiting San Francisco to do, regardless of fitness levels. My 5 and 8 year olds loved it too and although its only 8 miles (from Fisherman’s Wharf to Sausalito) you really feel like you have accomplished something, and for me, one off my bucket list! I would suggest cycling one way across the bridge and downhill into Sausalito. Sausalito is a picturesque town to have lunch in and there are regular ferries back to the wharf. For more information on biking the bridge, you can read my blog here.

The streets of San Francisco by The Travel Expert

Alcatraz is another highlight. Make sure you book tickets in advance online as it is not something you can just ‘rock’ up to without a prior reservation. The self guided audio tour is excellent, given by ex prison guards and inmates, you really feel like you were in the prison when it was in operation. My husband and kids loved it too. You are able to access the prison cells and most parts of the prison, and on a clear day the views from the island are stunning. Looking across the bay you can’t help but wonder how the inmates must have felt, knowing that they were so close and yet so far from freedom.

View from Alcatraz, the streets of San Francisco, by the Travel Expert

We stayed at the Suites at Fisherman’s Wharf, which are centrally located and can be booked via airbnb. Situated only minutes from the wharf and Lombard Street (the crooked street) and the tram stop is only one block away. I loved that they had a kitchenette so we could make breakfast each day. Incidentally eating out in San Francisco, in fact most things in San Francisco, are expensive. Breakfast for four of us at a local café was $70. Hence the kitchenette was handy! The complimentary tea and coffee at reception was also a nice touch.

The streets of San Francisco by The Travel Expert

Fisherman’s Wharf however, was a big let down for me, a purpose built street lined with arcades, teeshirt shops and over priced restaurants. Pier 39 which I had heard so much about, is a major tourist trap, complete with fast food outlets and it even had performing seals! There was one exception, Ghiradelli Square, at the end of the wharf, is well worth a visit. Founded in 1852, Ghiradelli chocolate is famous worldwide, their marketplace in the heart of the square is a chocolate lovers paradise. Try one of their ice cream sundaes – trust me, they are amazing.

The streets of San Francisco by The Travel Expert

Union Square is much more authentic. It is like the centre of any city really, no real wow factor but filled with locals rather than tourists and has a much nicer vibe than Fisherman’s Wharf. This is where you will find Macys, Bloomingdales and pretty much all the high street shops. O’Farrell Street has some great bars and restaurants, Johnny Foleys in particular. They serve great pub grub and the best Guinness in San Francisco (so I’m told). It was also nice to see ‘proper’ food on the kids menu. Grilled organic chicken breast with mashed potato and veggies was a welcome surprise from the usual burgers, pizza, mac and cheese that was on every other kids menu!

If you are travelling without kids, go at night time and enjoy it’s piano bar, it is a great night out. The Mission and the Castro (gay neighbourhood) districts are the other best places to hang out at night time if you are over 21. Remember if travelling to anywhere in the States with kids, you cannot go into ANY bars after 9 pm, even in some hotels.

The streets of San Francisco by The Travel Expert

For great views of the city go to Coit Tower, its only $8 to get to the top. Try to time it for the afternoon, a cloud or even fog seems to descend on San Francisco in the morning. An alternative to Coit tower is the Cheesecake factory at the top floor of Macys. You can get a great view of the city and of course some amazing cheesecake!

So there you have it, San Francisco – the good the bad and the ugly! Seeing the iconic Golden Gate bridge and visiting Alcatraz were some of the highlights of my California adventure. But now that I have seen them, will I go back? I don’t think so.


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