Short Drives

It's not the destination, it's the road trip

Pacific Coast Highway

Less than 95 miles and a two-hour drive separates Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. Although the distance is short, the cities are a dichotomy of California living.

If you’re in the mood for a scenic, day-long or weekend road trip, driving the Pacific Coast Highway from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara is a memorable experience. The PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) hugs the California coastline most of the way and meanders through some interesting locations worth a stop.

A recommended road trip itinerary starts off in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles or Hollywood, where you can catch the Interstate 10 westbound towards to the beach town of Santa Monica.

Santa Monica is where the 10 merges into the PCH. The famous Santa Monica Pier has a vintage vibe with fried seafood, carnival rides, and a Ferris wheel. The PCH heads northbound along several miles of oceanfront homes on the left and canyon-top estates on the right. About 20 minutes into the drive, you will find yourself near Malibu and Topanga Canyon, marked by The Reel Inn Seafood Restaurant, a casual, local hangout serving fresh grilled and fried seafood.

Topanga Canyon is a favorite weekend highway for Hollywood stars since the 1920s, but locals know it best as the bohemian enclave where artists and musicians hide out. Charles Manson established his notorious ‘Manson Family’ in a nearby ranch while Neil Young recorded most of his After The Gold Rush album in his Topanga basement studio in 1970.

Just north of Topanga, the PCH gets hilly as Malibu gets more populated. Malibu is home to multimillion dollar beachfront mansions and the movie stars that occupy them. To cater to the movie star locals, the Malibu Country Mart recently renovated its outdoor mall into a high-end, shopping and dining experience. The famed, paparazzi-flocked sushi restaurant, Nobu, is nearby.

Less than 15 miles northbound on the Pacific Coast Highway you’ll find yourself in the Point Dume area. Make a left turn on Westward Beach Road and follow the signs for Point Dume. The beach is a popular film and photo-shoot location, thanks to the wide, beaches, rocky coves and cliffs. During the whale-watching season of December to March, the beach is the perfect place to spot migrating California gray whales.

Back on the PCH, the hillsides become less populated and you exiting Los Angeles County and enter Ventura County. Soon after you enter Ventura County you’ll find a giant rock named Point Mugu on your left and a sand dune on the right. Pull over for scenic views of the ocean from Mugu Rock and try hiking up the sand dune. The mysteriously high sand dune is the result of winds blowing sand up the steep hill. The steep hill is a challenging hike but offers beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean and Mugu Rock.

Northbound again on the PCH leads you past a military base and into the agricultural town of Oxnard. The PCH heads inland here and merges with the Ventura Freeway (US 101). But in another 8-10 miles, the view of the ocean on the left calls you to take exit 70 California Street, where you’ll end in the town of Ventura, in front of the pier.

Ventura has some of the best surfing in California and the pier at Surfer’s Point Park offers beautiful views of the hillsides of the town. If you arrive earlier in the day, wander around historic downtown Ventura, home of a mix of vintage boutiques, thrift stores, galleries, gift shops and cafes.

When leaving Ventura, continue north on the 101. Twenty miles north is the small beach town, Carpinteria. The Carpinteria Harbor Seal Rookery, home to nearly 100 adult seals who give birth to their pups on the local shoreline is worth a stop.

The final ten-mile stretch of the journey leads to Santa Barbara, with its gorgeous tree-lined streets, missions and red-tiled roofs typical of California’s Spanish architecture. Downtown Santa Barbara is connected to the scenic harbor and pier, offering a variety of restaurants, bars, art galleries and museums all within walking or bicycle distance.

The town is worth a weekend of discovery in itself, offering a variety of hotels and motels for every price range. The best part is you can always get back to Los Angeles in a couple of hours.

Arthur M. Sackler Museum – Busch-Reisinger Museum – The Fogg Art Museum

Arthur M. Sackler Museum

The Arthur M. Sackler Museum houses superb collections of ancient, Islamic, Asian, and later Indian art. (This excerpt provided by Arthur M. Sackler Museum)

Busch-Reisinger Museum

The Busch-Reisinger Museum is the only museum in America devoted to promoting the informed enjoyment and critical understanding of the arts of Central and Northern Europe, with a special emphasis on the German-speaking countries. (This excerpt provided by Busch-Reisinger Museum)

Busch-Reisinger Museum

The Fogg Art Museum, which opened to the public in 1895, is Harvard’s oldest art museum. (This excerpt provided by The Fogg Art Museum)

Kittery Outlets – Isles of Shoals Steamship Company

Kittery Outlets

“Whether you are here just to shop or are visiting us on vacation, the Kittery Outlets offer over one mile of famous name outlet stores filled with great savings every time you shop. Discover the Kittery Outlets and you’ll see why we are called America’s Maine street for Shopping.” (This excerpt provided by Kittery Outlets)

Isles of Shoals Steamship Company

“We’re proud of our 20 years of providing guests and local residences with “Something for Everyone”. Glide past our quaint Olde Port waterfront to the little known but historically crucial, legendary Isles of Shoals or cruise inland for a spectacular sunset over the Great Bay Wilderness Area.” (This excerpt provided by Isles of Shoals Steamship Company)

Fitchburg Art Museum – Boulder Art Gallery

Fitchburg Art Museum

“Fitchburg Art Museum is North Worcester County’s oldest and most treasured cultural institution, founded in 1925 through a bequest of artist and educator, Eleanor Norcross. Fourteen galleries house a diverse collection of American and European paintings, prints, drawings, ceramics and decorative arts as well as Greek, Roman, Asian and pre-Columbian antiquities.” (This excerpt provided by Fitchburg Art Museum)

Boulder Art Gallery

“The Boulder Art Gallery, located in Fitchburg’s historic Upper Common, features original art, vintage listed art, photography, prints and sculpture. Discover our beautiful gallery, and view one of the areas most exciting venues for period and contemporary art.” (This excerpt provided by Boulder Art Gallery)

Putnam Cottage – Bruce Musem of Arts & Science

Putnam Cottage

” This bright red house on the Boston Post Road has had a long and colorful history. It is not a static object from the 18th century, but a dynamic building that reflects the whole period of its existence.” (This excerpt provided by Putnam Cottage)

Bruce Musem of Arts & Science

“The Bruce Museum promotes the understanding and appreciation of Art and Science to enrich the lives of all people.” (This excerpt provided by Bruce Musem of Arts & Science)