Home Instagram & Photography Spots 13 Instagram Stops Along the Pacific Coast Highway

13 Instagram Stops Along the Pacific Coast Highway

by Tami Benedict
Bixby Creek Bridge in Monterey, CA

Bixby Creek Bridge in Monterey, CA on January 19, 2019. Photo by Peter Stringer for Amazing America.

The legendary Pacific Coast Highway hugs the shoreline of California and is filled with over 650 miles of beaches, jagged coastlines, mighty redwoods, and picturesque towns. Sure, 650 miles might seem daunting, but we promise there are plenty of must-see stops along the PCH that will warrant a photo or reel for your Instagram feed.

Here are 15 Instagrammable spots along the Pacific Coast Highway that you must stop and see.

Monarch Butterfly Grove in Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach features beautiful beaches, a stunning downtown, and tasty food, but the true must-see is Monarch Butterfly Grove. During the wintertime, the orange and black beauties travel to the California coast to relax in eucalyptus trees before continuing their journey north into Canada.

The Monarch Butterfly was recently designated as an endangered species. The best time to view the butterflies is from late October through February.

The Presidio of San Francisco

The Presidio sits about a mile and a half from the historic Golden Gate Bridge (more on that later). What once served as a military outpost for Spain, Mexico, and the United States, is now a historic park with golf courses and scenic overlooks. You’ll also find the Walt Disney Family Museum and the House of Air, a trampoline park erected in a converted airplane hangar. While here, you’ll actually get two Instagrammable areas for the price of one, because Crissy Field is a fantastic location for a panoramic shot of the Golden Gate Bridge. From there, you can also follow a path that will lead you to the base of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

The Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California on January 24, 2020. Photo by Peter Stringer for Amazing America.

If you’ve never been to the Bay Area, the Golden Gate Bridge is the classic American tourist destination that you need to see up close. The Golden Gate Bridge was completed in 1937 and, at the time, was the tallest and longest suspension bridge in the world.

The bridge spans over 4,200 feet and held the record for the longest bridge until 1964. The iconic orange color almost didn’t happen—it was originally set to be black and yellow. Irving Morrow, the bridge’s designer, chose the orange color to better fit its surroundings. In retrospect, Mr. Morrow made the right choice.

You can drive, walk, or bike across this glorious bridge and end your trip in Golden Gate Park, the perfect spot to snap a photo. Studies show that the bridge has been tagged in over two million pictures on Instagram, making it one of the most popular Instagram destinations in the United States. Once across the bridge, you can spend some time in the city enjoying the beaches, piers, and unique food.

Tips Icon
Unfortunately, the parking lot at Golden Gate Park is one of many tourist spots in San Francisco that has become notorious for daily smash-and-grab robberies. Do not bring luggage or valuables here. Thieves work in teams, target tourists and need only seconds to rob vehicles. You’ll likely see broken glass in the parking lot. Don’t leave anything of value unattended in your car, even for a minute.

McWay Falls in Big Sur

McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Stock photo by Y S on Unsplash

Sitting in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is the iconic McWay Falls. This 80-foot waterfall flows year-round and can be viewed from an overlook right off the Waterfall Trail. The waterfall spills onto a beach, which is not accessible to the public, but the overlook gives you plenty of space to snap a photo and enjoy the stunning ocean view.

Try to visit this waterfall later in the afternoon, so your view isn’t blocked by fog. After viewing the falls, continue exploring the park, hiking along other trails and taking in more of the Big Sur waterfalls.

Cannery Row in Monterey

Cannery Row is a prime destination along the PCH because it’s filled with delicious restaurants and unique stores that you can spend the entire day exploring. The area used to be a set of buildings that were used for sardine canning and today plays host to top-notch attractions, like the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Fisherman’s Wharf is right off Cannery Row and is jam-packed with delectable seafood restaurants. You can also hang at the end of the pier and watch for sea otters or whales.

Hearst Castle in San Simeon

You won’t be able to take enough photos inside of Hearst Castle. This 165-room house was built by William Randolph Hearst and sprawls across 127 acres. The home features three guest houses, two pools, and an impeccable garden. Each room has a unique design, and the castle is incredibly extravagant. If you know you’ll be traveling along the PCH, we suggest grabbing tickets since the tours sell out fast.

Point Sur Lighthouse

There’s a bunch of lighthouses along the California coast, but one of the best is in Point Sur. The Point Sur Lighthouse was built in 1889 on top of volcanic rock to help prevent shipwrecks off the coast. It sits just off the PCH, about 15 miles south of the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge. There are daily daytime tours, and sometimes they offer moonlight experiences. If you love this lighthouse, there are at least two more you can visit while traveling along the PCH.

Bixby Creek Bridge in Big Sur

The Bixby Creek Bridge is an iconic landmark in Big Sur. It’s the only way to get into Big Sur from the Monterey area and is one of the most photographed bridges in the United States. On one side of the bridge is a stunning mountainside, while the other has the ocean. Stop right before or after the bridge and snap a photo before continuing your Pacific Coast Highway trip.

The bridge is one of the best spots in the United States to capture an incredible sunset photo and you’ll find scores of tourists all with the same idea pretty much 365 days a year. It’s a can’t miss stop and it’s hard to take a bad photo here.

Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica

Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica, California on November 7, 2017. Photo by Peter Stringer for Amazing America.

Get some classic photos over at the Santa Monica Pier, built in 1909 and the iconic landmark of Santa Monica. Known as the end of Route 66, Santa Monica Pier spans 1,080 feet into the ocean, where you can walk around, grab lobster rolls, and stop in the aquarium. End your day on the giant Ferris wheel and snap a photo under the iconic pier arch.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Stock photo by Ian Mackey on Unsplash

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk opened in 1907, and it’s California’s oldest amusement park. Enjoy nostalgic carnival games, delicious boardwalk food, and vintage rides while visiting the boardwalk.

The Giant Dipper, a 1924 wooden roller coaster, is designated as a National Historic Landmark. Aside from incredible rides, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has an arcade, mini golf, as well as free concerts and movies on the beach.

Elephant Seal Vista Point in San Simeon

Head into the Piedras Blancas State Marine Conservation Area to view the stunning Elephant Seals from the aptly-named Elephant Seal Vista Point. This area is a protected coastline and an annual migration destination. Six miles of beach are dedicated to the Elephant Seals. There is no fee to visit the vista points, and they are wheelchair accessible.

The best time to go and catch a glimpse of the Elephant Seals is between November and March, when the seals arrive at the beach. On average,18,000 seals make the journey each year; don’t be shocked to hear some fighting or bellowing.

Muir Beach Overlook in Mill Valley

If you’re traveling from destination to destination on your PCH adventure, make a quick pit stop at the Muir Beach Overlook. The staircase leads to a small overlook of the beach and gives you a stunning view of the water and city. There isn’t anything fancy about the overlook, but spending a few moments enjoying the sun, fresh air, and ocean might be all you need.

Muir Woods in Mill Valley

Muir Woods National Monument

Muir Woods National Monument. Stock photo by Caleb Jones on Unsplash.

There’s nothing quite like being surrounded by towering redwoods. Muir Woods National Monument is filled with hiking trails and majestic forests as far as the eye can see. Relive your favorite Return of the Jediscene in the redwood forest; no it wasn’t filmed here, but looks strikingly similar.

Tips Icon
Be forewarned: Muir Woods is extremely popular, so you’ll want to make parking reservations online. Be sure to grab a map at the entrance since cell service can be spotty on the trails. Or, before you go, download an offline map to your Google Maps so you can navigate the park even when your phone can’t pick up a signal!