The Pacific Coast Highway is an epic journey, offering up 1,700 astounding miles to those with playful hearts and the passion for adventure. From the north, it travels western edge of Washington’s glacier-carved Olympic Peninsula, along the delicately etched sea arches of Oregon, riding California’s rocky northern shore south until it softens in the warm embrace of sunny southern skies.

View of Malibu Beach from the PCH. Photo © Simon Whitehurts/DollarPhotoClub.

View of Malibu Beach from the PCH. Photo © Simon Whitehurts/DollarPhotoClub.

The entire trip takes three weeks. You can start in the travel hub of your choice (Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, or San Diego). The best time for this road trip is late spring to early fall, when the weather is best. The window for good weather is shorter in Washington and Oregon; it’s best June through September when it’s warm and dry with average temperatures of 80°F.

Part of California’s allure is in its relatively mild weather year-round. While the northern coast rarely hits 70°F in the summertime and can be rainy and foggy, the farther south you go, the warmer and sunnier it gets. In the San Francisco Bay Area, temperatures reach into the 70s and even 80s in summer and fall. Be prepared for the chill of fog in the evenings; even the warmest summer days often end with fog spilling over the Golden Gate into the city. From Santa Barbara south to San Diego, temperatures in the 80s are not unheard of even in January; summer temperatures can often hit the triple digits in inland Los Angeles.

If you drive PCH in the high summer season, expect heavier traffic and crowds. Hotels and rental-car reservations go fast, so make your arrangements in advance. Rates are also higher during the summer. Port towns in Washington and Oregon can be hectic. Arrive early to the ferry docks; long lines form quickly and the wait can be two hours or more. Crowds and especially traffic intensify in California, especially on the freeways. Plan extra driving time and extra time along the way, especially at popular sights in big cities.

A spring or fall road trip will be less hectic, but the weather will be less reliable, especially in the Pacific Northwest, where you’ll be certain to get some rain (and maybe even snow).

Washington Coast

Looking for new experiences? Steeped in natural beauty from emerald forests to the wild Pacific Ocean, the Olympic Peninsula has them. Explore meandering trails. Wander beneath the lush canopy of rain forests. Go storm watching. But save time for an urban stopover in Seattle, where the fish fly at Pike Place Market and you can get the perfect cup of coffee any time of day.

Oregon Coast

A spring or fall road trip will be less hectic, but the weather will be less reliable.With whimsical arches and sea stacks, towering cliffs, and seemingly endless sand dunes, Oregon’s coast is both magnificent and mysterious. Just about anything is possible, from exploring otherworldly coastal caverns to navigating wild rivers. For a taste of urban living, Oregon-style, head to Portland for some of the best farm-to-table dining and craft beers in the state.

The Pacific Coast Highway. Photo © Dreamstime.

The Pacific Coast Highway. Photo © Dreamstime.

Northern California Coast

California, here we come! Drive through giant redwoods—in some cases quite literally. Find yourself on the Lost Coast. Sip a glass or two of pinot noir. Then cross the iconic Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco. With some of the most famous sights and best dining along the entire West Coast, the City by the Bay is the heartbeat of Northern California.

Central California Coast

While it’s not undiscovered, the Central Coast is still untamed. Artists, writers, and poets find inspiration in this wild, ever-changing landscape. There’s much to do here: meet jellyfish in Monterey, tour Hearst Castle, sample the good life in Santa Barbara. But first, stand on a bluff in Big Sur and discover why—without a word—central California defines “breathtaking.”

Southern California Coast

As it continues south, California’s coastline becomes soft and sun-drenched. Here you’ll find the high times and easy living that define the Golden State’s beach culture. Spot celebrities in Hollywood and legends in their own minds on the Venice Boardwalk. Go surfing in Malibu, snorkel in La Jolla, and bike along the shore in San Diego. You can even pal around with a cartoon mouse. SoCal has no limits!

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip.