5 Ways to Explore the Pacific Coast Highway in Orange County, California

Located in the heart of Southern California, Orange County boasts so much to do along the famous Pacific Coast Highway.

From the Laguna Beach Trolley to a Duffy Boat Ride in Newport Beach, an Orange County vacation will guarantee some of the best coastal sightseeing anywhere in California. 

Let’s take a look at five favorite ways to explore the California coast along Orange County’s stretch of PCH:

#1 Drive PCH starting in Huntington Beach and Ending in Dana Point

The legendary Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) was first started in the 1930s, and remains a marvel of human engineering hugging over 600 miles (900 kilometers) of California’s ruggedly stunning coastline. It is one of the most astoundingly scenic roads in the world. A large chunk of PCH – 42 miles – stretches through Orange County from Dana Point in South OC to Huntington Beach and onward north. PCH also affords travelers an unparalleled opportunity to dip into many things that Southern California has to offer like coastal outposts, surfing villages, farm-fresh eateries and water activities. visitheusa.com

#2 Discover Coastal Downtowns On Foot

Dana Point Harbor

Known as the “Whale Capital of the World” Dana Point Harbor offers a variety of recreational amenities, boater facilities, dockside dining, and unique shopping experiences that cater to visitors, locals and boating enthusiasts. Activities abound both in and out of the water from watching migratory gray whales that frequent the coastline to enjoying the stunning sunsets and picturesque harbor views. Discover Dana Point Harbor and set sail on a historic and unforgettable seaside adventure. danapointharbor.com

Lido Marina Newport Beach

Artisans, tastemakers, chefs, curators and collectors come together to share their wares and draw inspiration from the sun and the sea. Enjoy al fresco dining waterside, explore a mix of charming boutiques and stylish shops, and experience a delightfully scaled village ambience inviting you to stroll and discover creative details at every turn. Lido Marina is Newport Beach at its best—casual, comfortable and chic in equal measure. lidomarinavillage.net

Downtown Huntington Beach

With blocks of shops and plenty of eateries offering a break from browsing, Main Street and Fifth Street blend convenience, selection, and Downtown’s always-vibrant atmosphere. There’s something for everyone, including charming souvenir stores, family-run surf shops, trendy women’s boutiques, enchanting vintage collections, as well as bicycle and motorcycle supplies. A short walk south of Main Street you’ll find Pacific City, a retail and dining hub offering even more unique and trendy shopping options. surfcityusa.com

Situated right on Pacific Coast Highway with unobstructed beach views, Surf City USA’s newest shopping, dining, and lifestyle destination Pacific City is now open. Inspired by modern craftsman beach bungalows, Pacific City features patio dining, outdoor movie nights, and inviting spaces to hang out and simply enjoy the oceanfront view. One such space, LOT 579 (named after the nearby lifeguard towers), boasts an artisan market inspired by California cuisine, with locally sourced food experiences, demonstration offerings, and unique retail all under one roof. Whether you’re looking for somewhere to do some quick shopping or somewhere to spend an entire day, Pacific City’s one-of-a-kind stores and restaurants as well as their exciting on-site events will appeal to visitors of all ages. surfcityusa.com

Downtown Laguna Beach

Among all the stretches of sand in Laguna Beach, none is more iconic, more recognizable, or more accessible to the masses than Main Beach. Its famous lifeguard tower often appears in TV and movies. Olympians are known to show up to play pick up volleyball. Michael Jordan once spent a few hours dominating the shockingly scenic basketball court.

This is one of America’s truly “must visit” beaches. It’s bucket list worthy—a beach destination along PCH you really ought to experience for yourself. visitlagunabeach.com

#3 Mission San Juan Capistrano and Downtown San Juan Capistrano

The Mission San Juan Capistrano, considered to be the birthplace of Orange County founded in 1776, created a Heritage Tourism Association to provide the Mission’s 300,000 annual visitors with information about the history and culture of the city’s historic district, which lies just outside the Mission gates in Downtown San Juan Capistrano. The historic districts are home to unique historic assets, a notable Native American history, the Legend of the Swallows, a historic train depot, an equestrian heritage, a renowned library and many outstanding community curated adobes and historic buildings. The culture is strengthened with festivals, concerts and art shows—all within walking distance from one another and just minutes from the coast. missionsjc.com

#4 Laguna Beach Trolley

Free Coastal and Downtown Trolley

Exploring Laguna Beach on the trolley is one of the best ways to experience the city. It runs every weekend throughout Laguna Beach and is perfect for optimal sightseeing. Check hours of operation as they change seasonally.

For more information on the free trolley, please call Laguna Transit at (949) 497-0766 or download the Visit Laguna Beach app to use the “Trolley/Bus Tracker” function to see real-time locations of all of the trolleys. You can also search the hotel, restaurant and shopping guide, as well as find the current weather, tide tables, parking information and an events calendar. 

Charter a Trolley

Charter a Laguna Beach Trolley for your group! Charters are available from September through mid-June. Blackout dates for 2019 charters are from June 9th to September 8th.


#5 Tandem bike ride with Wheel Fun Rentals (Dana Point, Huntington Beach, Irvine)

With locations in Dana Point, Huntington Beach and Irvine, Wheel Fun Rentals is a company that provides outdoor recreational fun across Orange County. The Tandem Bicycle built for two is a must for any two-person expedition. This option is a great choice for couples looking for a low-key way to travel or view the coast together, or a great option for younger or less-experienced cyclists.

Wheel Fun Rentals is always a great place to visit for bike and specialty cycle rentals. wheelfunrentals.com

Duffy Boat Ride (Newport Beach)

Renting a Duffy electric boat is the perfect way to enjoy a sightseeing afternoon or evening with your friends and family while slowly and safely cruising Newport Bay. Duffy boats are famous for allowing kids and adults alike to drive! All Duffy Electric Boats can comfortably accommodate ten people (children of all ages included) and has a maximum of 12.  Each boat has a full canopy top, window enclosures, and a full stereo with an iPod and iPhone hookup. So, don’t forget to bring along your favorite music! The best part is, you may bring your own assortment of food and beverages on board. 

Reservations are highly recommended for a Duffy boat ride. They take reservations up to three months in advance and group bookings up to six months in advance. Last minute and walk-up customers are always welcome (subject to availability). duffyofnewportbeach.com