slider 1


Dallas, Texas, is a place where east meets west. The metropolitan city has exploded in size as international companies move in and take advantage of a well-educated and willing workforce. Fort Worth, on the other side of the Dallas / Fort Worth Metroplex, has embraced its Texas Cowtown persona while Dallas is less stereotypical Texas than not. With a sizeable business and cultural sector, growing arts and music districts, and historic districts all mixed together, you can always find something to do in the city limits. Thanks to the milder weather, most of the sites are open year-round. Here’s a list of 30 (or more) things to do in Dallas, Texas.

If you can’t find anything to do specifically in Dallas, just look around the area. The Dallas / Fort Worth metroplex at 9,286 square miles is 31 times as big as New York City at 301 square miles. In this post, we’re just sticking to activities within the greater Dallas City Limits (and its little villages). You can find everything from national and state parks to rodeos to more shopping centers per capita than any other city in the U.S. Just choose your days wisely as traffic can vary. I chose a cloudy/rainy Sunday morning to head downtown and there were still small crowds. They were manageable though. Have fun ya’ll!

Quick Tip With the construction going on downtown, parking can be tricky. I am starting at the Sixth Floor Museum not because of the history, specifically, but rather for the parking lot. Located behind the museum, it is about $10 per day where you can park and walk to many of the nearby sites.  Be prepared for the crowds around Dealey Plaza, especially on weekend mornings during the Summer months.

The Sixth Floor Museum/Texas School Book Depository

411 Elm St, Dallas, TX 75202

Texas School Book Depository in Dallas, TX
Texas School Book Depository in Dallas, TX
Texas School Book Depository historical marker in Dallas, TX
Texas School Book Depository historical marker in Dallas, TX

The Sixth Floor Museum documents the life, times, death and legacy of President John F. Kennedy. The museum houses many facts about the tragic day, and each admission comes with a self-guided audio tour. You can stand at the corner window where the fateful shots were fired. The museum is also the former home of the Texas School Book Depository Building, a 7-story structure built in 1901 by the Southern Rock Island Plow Company. A school textbook distribution firm leased the building in 1963, and Lee Harvey Oswald was an employee of the Depository at the time of the assassination.

A short walk down Elm Street, past Houston and right on N. Record Street is the Dallas Holocaust Museum (211 N Record St #100, Dallas, TX 75202 currently). The museum is dedicated to teaching the history of the Holocaust and combating prejudice, hatred, and indifference. The museum is going to close on July 31 for moving and will be relocated to 300 N. Houston Street, which is still in this area.

Dealey Plaza

Dealey Plaza, Dallas, TX 75202

Dealey Plaza plaque. Notice the X on the road. That is the spot where JFK was assassinated. I wouldn't recommend looking any closer (speed limits are a myth around here but you can get close enough to see the grassy knoll, etc.
Dealey Plaza plaque. Notice the X on the road. That is the spot where JFK was assassinated. I wouldn’t recommend looking any closer (speed limits are a myth around here but you can get close enough to see the grassy knoll, etc.
A different historical marker at Dealey Plaza.

After visiting the museum, walk over to Dealey Plaza and see where John F. Kennedy was assassinated while visiting Dallas. Dealey Plaza is also home with several buildings in the historic district. A museum store and café about the area can be found at the Dal-Text building and Annex at 501 Elm Street.

The Dal-Text Building and Annex (501 Elm Street) sits across from the Texas School Book Depository. Constructed in 1902, a nearby three-story annex was built in 1904. The Dallas County Criminal Courts Building (501 Main Street) was built between 1913 and 1915. Dallas County Records Building (509 Main Street) is now part of the Founders Plaza to the east, and the Gothic building was completed in 1928. The Old Dallas County Courthouse (100 S. Houston Street) was constructed between 1890 and 1892. It’s also known as the Old Red Courthouse or Museum.

Old Red Museum in Dallas, TX undergoing construction.
It’s currently undergoing construction, but you can still visit the old red sandstone courthouse museum.

Old Red Museum (100 S Houston St, Dallas, TX 75202)  was formerly merely the Dallas County Courthouse. Made of red sandstone (native to the area), the structure was built in 1890. Today, you can visit the museum to learn about Dallas’ first settlement in 1841 and view other artifacts from the prehistoric to the present day. It’s currently undergoing heavy construction (again, park at the Sixth Floor Museum and walk it), but the museum itself is open.

John Neely Bryan Cabin

600 Elm St, Dallas, TX 75202

John Neely Bryan Cabin from the side.
John Neely Bryan Cabin from the side in downtown, Dallas.

John Neely Bryan arrived near this site in late 1841 from Tennessee and built a log cabin in 1842. The area’s first school and the church were built of logs in Farmer’s Branch in 1845. Many of the original settlers of Dallas came to this “Three Forks” area of the Trinity River as members of the Peters Colony after 1841. This cabin was built of cedar logs before 1850 and was moved from its original site, about 7.5 miles east, and rebuilt at several locations. It was moved to this block in 1971.

Reunion Tower

300 Reunion Blvd E, Dallas, TX 75207

Reunion Tower as seen from Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas.
Reunion Tower as seen from Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas.

One of the most well-known Dallas landmarks, the 561-feet Reunion Tower is a great place to get a 360-degree view of the city. The tower’s observation deck, called the GeO-Deck, allows you to get panoramic views from 470 feet in the air. Inside the Reunion Tower lobby, you can view interactive digital exhibits featuring Dallas landmarks, the tower, the assassination of JFK, and high-definition cameras. You can also get a meal at Wolfgang Pucks’ Five Sixty restaurant at the top of the tower, although it can get expensive. There is also a Cloud 9 café so that you can get something cheaper to eat.

Reunion Tower is only about 1000 feet from Dealey Plaza, so one suggestion is to park nearby and walk around the area. A cheaper parking garage is just down the hill, and you can park there and walk up, either way, it’s not a bad way to spend the day. If you live in DFW or are staying in a hotel near a DART station, take the train to Union Station, which connects to the Hyatt Regency by an underground tunnel that also connects to Reunion Tower.

Dallas Union Station

400 S Houston St, Dallas, TX 75202

Built in 1916, Dallas Union Station is a stunning example of Beaux-Arts style. Architectural details include original chandeliers and 48-foot arched windows. The ballroom is a popular place for private events and weddings. You can walk through the underground tunnel from Reunion Tower and the Hyatt Regency Dallas at Reunion into the station. From here, you can catch one of the DART trains throughout the city or even an Amtrak train to places unknown.

Dallas Cattle Drive Sculptures at Pioneer Plaza

1428 Young St, Dallas, TX 75202

Dallas Cattle Drive Sculptures at Pioneer Plaza
Dallas Cattle Drive Sculpture at Pioneer Plaza
Dallas Cattle Drive Sculptures following people to work at Pioneer Plaza
Dallas Cattle Drive Sculptures following people to work at Pioneer Plaza

Life-size bronze sculptures of a cattle drive surround Pioneer Plaza, the largest public park in the central business district. It’s one of the few places in downtown Dallas that has more of a Western feel than the majority of the city. Pioneer Plaza commemorates Dallas’ beginnings by celebrating the Shawnee Trail that brought settlers and Texas longhorn to Dallas.

Dallas Pioneer Park Cemetery

1201 Marilla St, Dallas, TX 75201


Dallas Pioneer Park Cemetery
Dallas Pioneer Park Cemetery

Historical marker at Dallas Pioneer Park Cemetery

Located just behind the cattle drive sculptures, the cemetery contains many of the earliest settlers of Dallas. The graves buried on this grassy hill date back between 1846 and 1850) and include six Dallas mayors, War of 1812 veterans, Texas Revolutionary heroes, judges, Civil War veterans, and more. The site initially had a view of downtown and the Trinity River to the west. The last burials took place between 1921 and 1928.

[There are parking places beside the Pioneer Plaza that have a time limit, but are free. If you park there and walk up the steps, you’ll walk through the cemetery towards the sculptures.

Majestic Theater

1925 Elm Street, Dallas, TX 75201

The Majestic Theater opened its doors on April 11, 1921. The theater hosted a variety of acts from Bob Hope to Mae West to Houdini. The theater is the last remnant of Dallas’s historic entertainment center, Theater Row.

The Texas Theatre

231 W Jefferson Blvd, Dallas, TX 75208

After visiting the Sixth Floor Museum, continue exploring the history of November 1963 by visiting this historic theatre which was the hideout of Lee Harvey Oswald and the location of his subsequent arrest for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The Texas Theater opened in 1931 and was made entirely out of concrete to be “fireproof.” Also, the theater was the first Dallas movie theater to offer air conditioning. The theater also provides authentic seating, a refreshment area, and entertainment.

Dallas Heritage Village at Old City Park

1515 S Harwood St, Dallas, TX 75215

Dallas Heritage Park is a 20-acre living history museum located on the grounds of Dallas’ first city park that was established in 1876. Explore buildings and attractions that allow you to see and experience 19th-century life during the pioneer and Victorian eras. Watch how crops were grown, how animals were cared for, and how the community functioned in Texas over 100 years ago. The collections of buildings and furnishings represent the period from 1840 to 1910.


The Adolphus Hotel

1321 Commerce St, Dallas, TX 75202

The Dallas landmark hotel was built in 1911 in a baroque, Beaux-Arts style. One of the most luxurious hotels in Texas. The hotel, which is still in use, has over 422 guestrooms in total, including 12 luxury suites and 127 executive rooms. It’s more of a short drive-by for architecture geeks like me, but it’s still a must-see in Dallas (just hard to get a picture in traffic).

Dallas Farmers Market

920 S Harwood St, Dallas, TX 75201

The Dallas Farmers Market is a 26,000-square-foot market that has been operating since 1941. The full market includes restaurants, gift stores, and a flower shop. The Market Shops are open seven days a week. On Fridays through Sundays, the weekly farmer’s market with local produce and artisanal goods can be found in The Shed, an outdoor, open-air pavilion. Vendors serve a variety of ready-to-eat cultural flavors at the market during the weekend.

Bishop Arts District

Bishop Avenue, Oak Cliff, Dallas, TX 75208

In addition to art galleries, The Bishop Arts District, in North Oak Cliff, is home to more than 60 restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and boutiques. The city’s busiest trolley stop, circa 1930, is also located in the Bishop Arts District. It’s also known for its diverse nightlife and colorful street art.

Cathedral Santuario de Guadalupe (Cathedral Guadalupe)

2215 Ross Ave, Dallas, TX 75201

Cathedral Santuario de Guadalupe
Cathedral Santuario de Guadalupe

Built in 1898, The Cathedral Santuario de Guadalupe was the second location of Dallas’s first Catholic parish, Sacred Heart Church, established in 1869. The original church was constructed in 1872 at the corner of Bryan and Ervay Streets and its congregation soon outgrew the original facilities. The cornerstone was laid on June 17, 1898. It’s also near one of the oldest churches left in that district, St. Paul United Methodist Church (1816 Routh St, Dallas, TX 75201), part of the arts district for 145 years.

Dallas Museum of Art

1717 N Harwood St, Dallas, TX 75201

In the Arts District of downtown Dallas, the Dallas Museum of Art is home to over 24,000 works of art spanning 5,000 years of humanity from different cultures. Founded in 1903, the Dallas Museum of Art is one of the 10 largest art museums in the country in its 370,000-square-feet building.

Across the street is the Nasher Sculpture Center (2001 Flora St, Dallas, TX 75201), a 2.4-acre site with a collection of modern and contemporary sculpture.

Crow Museum of Asian Art

2010 Flora St, Dallas, TX 75201

The Crow Museum of Asian Art includes exhibits dedicated to the arts and cultures from individual Asian regions from 1000 B.C. to the 20th century. The museum is always free, although donations are appreciated. One permanent exhibition includes Fierce Loyalty: A Samurai Complete, a collection devoted to the art and culture of the Japanese samurai.

Katy Trail

3505 Maple Ave, Dallas, TX 75219

A popular walking, jogging, bicycling trail for Dallas residents, the Katy Trail follows the path of the old Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (MKT). On the northern end of the trail, the best place to park is near Knox Street (cattycorner to Travis Street). Closer to downtown on the Southern end of the trail, you can park at Reverchon Park near the baseball fields.

White Rock Lake Park

E Lawther Dr, Dallas, TX 75218

White Rock Lake is a relaxing park with a large natural area of over 1,254 acres set in an urban setting. Construction of the lake began in 1910, and the park itself was developed in the early 1930s. Over 9 miles of hiking and bike trails circle the area, along with picnic areas, wetlands, a dog park, and benches to sit and enjoy the water. You can walk off into a section of woods for a picnic or take your dog to the on-site dog park.

Dallas Arboretum & Botanical Garden

8525 Garland Rd, Dallas, TX 75218

The 66-acre gardens of Dallas’s beautiful Arboretum and Botanical Garden offer plenty of activities for outdoor enthusiasts year-round. The Arboretum is located on the shores of White Rock Lake and feature events throughout the year. One new exhibit is the fresh vegetable and herb garden called A Tasteful Place, which allows you to get a free seasonal snack. Go ahead and buy your parking ahead of time and plan your itinerary as well.

Half Price Books Flagship Store

5803 E Northwest Hwy, Dallas, TX 75231

Book lovers unite! You can easily spend hours in this flagship store, one of the biggest bookstores in the Dallas / Fort Worth metroplex. Half Price Books buys and sells secondhand books, movies, and music of all types. Entertainment is available on the first Fridays of each month, and the café serves great pastries and coffee.

Highland Park Village

47 Highland Park Vlg, Corner of Preston Road and Mockingbird Lane, Dallas, TX 75205-2727

Shops at Highland Park Village in Dallas, Texas
Shops at Highland Park Village in Dallas, Texas

Highland Park Village is a luxurious, Mediterranean Spanish-style shopping plaza with a legacy as the first open-air shopping center of its kind. Historic architecture, premiere retail, and fine dining can be found in this small center. Typical of Spanish plazas, the central fountain is surrounded by ten acres of brick paths and walkways, landscaping, trees and benches, and timeless architecture. The center opened in 1931 and deteriorated for a few years before being redeveloped in 1976 into a luxury shopping destination. The landmark Village Theatre opened in 1935 and was the first luxury suburban theater in Texas—the theater is still open and has been renovated.

George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum

2943 SMU Boulevard, Dallas, TX 75205

Located on the Southern Methodist University (SMU) campus, the 14,000 square foot George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum showcases the career of former President George W. Bush. Exhibits include themes and subjects relevant to the early 2000s, such as the financial crisis, education reform, the global war on terror, and the HIV/AIDS crisis. White House exhibits also showcase what life was like for the first family and visit an exact replica of the Oval Office in scale and design. Freedom Hall is a one-of-a-kind, massive 20-foot tall LED screen showcasing various multimedia clips. The Dallas museum is also located next to a 15-acre, prairie-inspired urban park, with Native Blackland Prairie grasses and seasonal wildflowers.

Freedman’s Cemetery

2525 N Central Expy, Dallas, TX 75204

Freedman’s Cemetery was established in 1861 as a burial ground for Dallas’ early African American population. A memorial was built in late 1990 to commemorate the site and significant contributions made by African Americans to the growth and development of Dallas. One bit of advice is to park at Walmart and walk across the street.

Frontiers of Flight Museum

6911 Lemmon Ave, Dallas, TX 75209

From early flight to modern space exploration, the Frontiers of Flight Museum has over 30 aviation and space flight exhibits in 13 galleries with over 35,000 artifacts. Included at the 100,000-square-foot museum is a full-size model of the Wright brothers 1903 Wright Flyer, along with exhibits detailing the stories of trailblazers such as Amelia Earhart, Bessie Coleman, and Charles Lindbergh. Artifacts cover the eras of World War I, World War II, Cold War, and space flight, including an Apollo pod. The site also includes a Living History program and a STEM education program.

Zero Gravity Thrill Amusement Park

11131 Malibu Dr, Dallas, TX 75229

For something different, head over to the Zero Gravity Thrill Amusement Park for some thrilling adventure. For over 25 years, the Zero Gravity Thrill Amusement Park’s goal has been to be the most extreme amusement park in the world. The Bungee Jump is a seven-story platform designed for bungee jumping. The Skycoaster is a 100-foot hang-gliding/flying simulator reaching speeds up to 60 mph. If that isn’t enough action, try out the towering propeller Skyscraper that pulls 4Gs or the freefalling Nothing’ But Net that works from a 16-story tower.

Fair Park

1300 Robert B Cullum Blvd, Dallas, TX 75210-2364

Fair Park is a historic 277-acre recreational and educational complex that is the location of the State Fair of Texas. The site was initially built in 1889 as an 80-acre fairground for the Dallas State Fair and was also host to the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition. The landmark also contains the largest collection of 1930s Art Deco exposition style architecture in the United States. Five museums and ten performance and sporting events are also held at the park. These include the Texas Discovery Gardens, Music Hall, Gexa Energy Pavilion, Band Shell, and the Cotton Bowl Stadium. Fair Park is also home to five museums and ten performance and sporting venues. A 700-foot-long reflecting pool called the Fair Park Esplanade is capped with three fountains, that often give shows set to music.

Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park

1462 1st Ave, Dallas, TX 75210

Opened in 1936 as part of the Texas Centennial Exposition, the Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park has six exhibits and interactive, kid-sized zones. Kids can visit and pet the stingrays, stand in awe at the two shark tanks, and view everything at eye level.

African American Museum of Dallas

3536 Grand Ave, Dallas, TX 75210

The African American Museum is an art museum founded in 1974 and houses a rich heritage of African art and history in four vaulted galleries. Permanent collections include African art; African American art; and magazine, historical, political, and community archives.

Perot Museum of Nature and Science

2201 N Field St, Dallas, TX 75201

Home to five floors of 11 permanent exhibit halls, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science offers educational state-of-the-art interactive and multimedia exhibits for kids of all ages. The Museum was a merger of the original Dallas Museum of Natural History, founded in 1936, the Science Place, and the Dallas Children’s Museum at Fair Park. It relocated to its current facility in 2012. The children’s museum morphed into the Moody Family Children’s Museum, which includes terrarium animals, a Mini Dallas Farmer’s Market, and a Dallas Skyline Climber that allows kids to climb a playground of tiny Dallas landmarks. Other exhibits include dioramas of Texas ecosystems, exploration exhibits called Being Human, information about engineering and innovation, weather simulations, and so forth.

Klyde Warren Park

2012 Woodall Rodgers Fwy, Dallas, TX 75201

Kylde Warren Park is a 5.2-acre public park that sits over the Woodall Rogers Freeway. The unique park sits in the middle of uptown Dallas and has an amphitheater, storytelling tree, putting green, chess, and ping pong area, and dog park. Food trucks and restaurants line the perimeter. The park hosts concerts and dance lessons. The Dallas Yoga Center occasionally hosts Yoga classes in the park.

Trinity Skyline Trail / Continental Bridge Gateway Plaza West

Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, Dallas, TX 75207 / Continental Bridge Gateway Plaza West, Dallas, TX
[Spur 366 Over the Trinity River, Dallas, TX ]


Continental Bridge Gateway Plaza West
Continental Bridge Gateway Plaza West
View from Continental Bridge Gateway Plaza West introducing a coming Texas rain storm.
View from Continental Bridge Gateway Plaza West introducing a coming Texas rain storm.

The Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge and Trinity Skyline Trail are fairly new. The site is slowly becoming an outdoor mecca for people in the area to walk and get a fantastic shot of the Dallas skyline. The bridge opened in March 2012 and connects Dallas’ two riverbanks for easy passage between the downtown area and the neighborhoods of West Dallas. You can park and walk along the bridge to see the skyline and the Trinity River below. Several trails also extend from the parking lot. Great eating places can also be found on the west side of the bridge.

Quick TipLook for the Trinity Skyline Bridge or something other than the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. If you head West on Highway 366 (referred to as the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge), you’ll find that the road turns into Singleton Boulevard. At the first light (Gulden Ln), turn right. When the road starts turning to the left and turns into Canada Drive, follow a little road to the right. It will take you to the free parking lot beside the trails and the walkway. It can get very confusing if you don’t know what you are looking for.

What are your favorite things to do in the Dallas city limits?

Map It

Help others find interesting things to do in Dallas. Pin it.

From the dazzling and rocky seascapes of the Northern Coast to the sun-drenched beaches of Southern California, this road trip is filled with scenic vistas, sandy beaches, majestic cliffs, and ancient forests. Pacific Coast Highway, California State Route 1, runs north to south along the coast through (sometimes unnerving) twists and turns that curve through seascapes, mountain roads, and redwoods. SR 1 starts near Interstate 5 (I-5) near Dana Point, California up to its northernmost part near Leggett as its intersections with US Highway 101.

Quick TipAt times, parts of the road are closed by frequent landslides, especially during seasonal rains. Check the weather and to see if the route along SR 1 is open. [Want to try something different? Take Amtrak’s Coast Starlight up the coast and avoid the traffic issues.]

This road trip is broken up into three parts—Northern California, Central California, and Southern California. I recommend heading north to south as you get closer and better views of the water. Feel free to mix it up! The endpoint is Dana Point, where Highway 1 ends.

Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip — Northern California Itinerary

This portion of the Pacific Coast Highway focuses on northern California and works its way down to the Marian Headlands and San Francisco.

How long? 200 miles, around 5 hours without stops. If you plan on stopping for camping or trails, make it a two-day trip.

When to go? Without much winter weather, it’s popular all year long. Winter, spring, and fall are optimal as summer can bring in fire season. Summers are also really foggy going down the coast.

Fort Bragg

MacKerricher State Park

24100 Mackerricher Park Rd, Fort Bragg, CA 95437

MacKerricher State Beach [J.smith [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]]
MacKerricher State Beach
Start at this spectacular 2,200-acre preserve, with more than 10 miles of ocean frontage, cliffs, beaches, and headland. Playful seals bask on the rocks below Laguna Point, and you can find fields of tall grass, and poppy in the park as well. For people interested in preservation, you can find a wetland ecosystem and native dunes at the Ten Mile Dunes complex. The park is also home to more than 90 species of birds. Walk down the Haul Road Trail, which hugs the coast for several miles.

Jug Handle State Reserve

CA-1, Fort Bragg, CA 95437

Jug Handle State Reserve [Miguel Vieira [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]]
Coastline at Jug Handle State Reserve
The next stop on the Pacific Coast Highway, Northern California Itinerary journey is Jug Handle State Reserve, another dream for geology-geeks (like me). Coastal erosion and shifting land masses have led this 776-acre park to have five marine terraces of sediment. Each terrace has its own history, and each layer of sediment is 100 feet higher and about 100,000 older than the one beneath it. The lowest terrace supports prairie, followed by a redwood forest, followed by a pygmy forest of cypresses and pines. You can walk along a well-marked 2.5-mile Ecological Staircase Trail that explores flora and fauna at three wave-cut terraces. There is also a sandy beach where you can stop and view both the terraces and the ocean.


Russian Gulch State Park

CA-1, Mendocino, CA 95460

Russian Gulch State Park [© Frank Schulenburg from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Waterfall_in_Russian_Gulch_State_Park.jpg]
Waterfall at Russian Gulch State Park
South of Point Cabrillo, you’ll cross the Russian Gulch Bridge, where you can stop and view the bridge, take the North Trail Trailhead or visit Russian Gulch, State Park.  Beaches, coves, tide pools, and woodland forests make this park. You can find 15 miles of trails, with five miles open to bicycles, with the Headlands Trail offering different views of the Pacific Ocean and the Devil’s Punch Bowl sinkhole. This point of interest is a 200-foot-long sea cut tunnel that collapsed at its inland end. Going deeper into the park, you can find woodlands of pine, maple, alder, and laurel trees along with a 36-foot waterfall. Swimming is allowed from the beach at the mouth of Russian Gulch Creek, along with SCUBA diving and tide pool exploring.

Little River

Van Damme State Park

8001 CA-1, Little River, CA 95456

Van Damme State Park [Jimmy Coupe [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]]
Van Damme State Park
Van Damme State Park is a 1,831-acre park where the forest meets the sea. The park offers a lush fern-filled forest, scenic beach, and ten miles of hiking trails that lead into the mature forest with Douglas firs, Pacific hemlocks, and redwoods. Walk along the Fern Canyon Scenic trail, into Fern Canyon with its growth of assorted wildflowers, rhododendrons, and trees. The trail itself is east of the beach while the parking lot is to the west. Don’t try to swim at this beach, however, as like most of the northern coastal beaches, the waves are cold and swift. Also, it gets fairly chilly and foggy even during the summer, so bring a light jacket.

If you only have an hour at this stop, the state park suggests taking Airport Road out to the pygmy forest. A 5-mile walk through the redwoods and ferns is another amazing trail with beautiful views.

Point Arena

Point Arena Light Station

45500 Lighthouse Rd, Point Arena, CA 95468

Pointe Arena Lighthouse [Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/12019-12019/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=1599168">David Mark</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=1599168">Pixabay</a>]
Point Arena Light Station
Point Arena Lighthouse is two miles north of Point Arena, once a busy logging port. The 115-foot Lighthouse Tower and its 1896 Fog Signal Building can be toured by climbing up its 147 steps. You’ll also take in stunning views of the sea and coastline, including the 23 acres of coastline nearby. Museum and tower tours are currently $8 per person for ages 12 and up, $1 for ages 5 to 11, and free for those under 5.


Gualala Point Regional Park

42401 CA-1, Gualala, CA 95445


Gualala Point Regional Park

Gualala Point Regional Park is where the Gualala River meets the sea. You can stop and walk the 2.9 miles of trails that connect the beach to the coastal bluffs and estuary. Rarely ever crowded, this beach is popular for whale watching, beachcombers, and day hikers.


Fort Ross Chapel [By User:Introvert - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=525364]
Fort Ross Chapel

Salt Point State Park

25050 CA-1, Jenner, CA 95450

Salt Point State Park is a 6,000-acre state park with over 20 miles of hiking trails and 6 miles of rocky coastline. It’s a beautiful place to stop on the ride for a (stony) walk along the shore. Stump Beach is a great little beach with lots of driftwood and mountains on both sides. You will also have limited cell service, so be sure to print out directions when going in. It’s also close to the next stop, Fort Ross State Historic Park.

Fort Ross State Historic Park

19005 Coast Hwy, Jenner, CA 95450

This 3,400-acre park offers unspoiled natural landscapes in addition to a reconstruction of an Imperial Russian-era fur trading outpost. Surrounded by redwood forests and sandy beaches, the park was established in 1090. Fort Ross itself was active from 1812 to 1841, built by representatives of the Russian-American Fur Company. The park includes the 1836 Rotchev House, the Kuskov House, a weathered redwood blockade, a commander’s headquarters, and a Russian Orthodox chapel, crowned by two towers.


Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve

17000 Armstrong Woods Rd, Guerneville, CA 95446

Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve
Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve

One of the first virgin redwood preserves, Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve preserves 805 acres of coastal redwoods. Twenty miles of trails with varying difficulty lead you dense forests of pine and oak into the slopes of McCray Mountain, and fields of wildflowers. The tallest tree in the park is the Parson Jones Tree, which is more than 310 feet in height and is less than a mile from the park’s entrance. Also, less than 0.5-mile from the park entrance is the Colonel Armstrong Tree, estimated to be over 1400 years old. One of the easiest one-mile is the Pioneer Nature Trail that leads from the park entrance to the Armstrong Tree and Forest Theater.

Bodega Bay

Sonoma Coast State Park, Bodega Head Trail Beach

3799 Westshore Rd, Bodega Bay, CA 94923

Sonoma Coast State Park on Pacific Coast Highway Roadtrip [Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/abalboa-8748544/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=3335157">Angelito Balboa</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=3335157">Pixabay</a>]
Coastline at Sonoma Coast State Park
Moving through the village of Bodega Bay, famous for its seafood and harborside views, you’ll find Bodega Head, which marks the start of the Sonoma Coast State Beach. This chain of parks spans 17 miles from Bodega Head down to Vista Trail. Bodega Head itself is the rocky headline that forms the entrance to the harbor. There are many hiking trails on the ocean side. Picnicking beneath the cliffs of Schoolhouse Beach is another great option.


Tomales Bay State Park, Heart’s Desire Beach

"Adam Derewecki</a> from <a href=

Protected by winds by Inverness Ridge, this park covers the 13-mile inlet that separates Point Reyes from the mainland. The park is divided into three distinct park areas, with Heart’s Desire Beach which offers a gently sloping, surf-free relaxing seashore that is the heart of the state park. Hiking trails lead to Indian Beach, Pebble Beach, and Shell Beach. In addition to the beaches, you will also find forests, grassy meadows, and marshes with a variety of trees, wildflowers, and wildlife.

Point Reyes National Seashore

1 Point Reyes-Petaluma Rd, Inverness, CA 94937

The Point Reyes National Seashore extends around the Point Reyes Peninsula, a craggy stretch of shoreline that extends for some 70 miles. Expansive sandy beaches, open grasslands, grassy hillside, and forests cover this park. You can also walk a short paved loop that explores the San Andreas Fault Zone. Take a leisurely drive through Inverness Ridge to the beaches and wildlife viewing areas. Whale watching is a popular activity as you can watch gray whale migrations from the Chimney Rock and Lighthouse areas. It is a huge park, so stop by the Bear Valley Visitor Center to get different itineraries for your stay.

Quick Tip In 2019, the National Park Service is restoring the Lighthouse so there will be closures. Check the state website for specific dates.

Mill Valley

Muir Woods National Monument

1 Muir Woods Rd, Mill Valley, CA 94941


Muir Woods National Monument [PictorialEvidence [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
Inside the Muir Woods National Monument
The last remaining strand of redwoods in the Bay Area, Mui Word’s Cathedral Grove soar up to 250 feet above the forest floor. Over six miles of trails lead visitors along the banks of Redwood Creek and into the heart of the grove. The trails include a 1/2 hour loop, a 1-hour loop, and a 1 1/2 hour loop. Longer trails lead up into surrounding Mount Tamalpais State Park. Climb up the Ben Johnson and Dipsea trails for views of the treetops, Mount Tamalpais and the Pacific Ocean.

Quick TipThere is no cell phone service or WiFi at or around the monument. Be sure to print your directions (or Atlas), reservation or shuttle ticket in advance. What shuttle? You might want to get a hotel in Sausalito and then take the shuttle up to Muir Woods. Will save you the headache of getting a reservation for personal vehicles. Plus you’ll already be in town for the next and last stop. Also, reservations are now required for private vehicles and shuttle riders going into the park, so plan ahead.

After visiting Muir Woods, you’ll head south on SR 1 to where it merges with 101 down into Sausalito.


Marin Headlands

Fort Barry, Building 948, Sausalito, CA 94965

View of San Francisco from Sausalito on Pacific Coast Highway Roadtrip [Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/fortechsol-391099/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=859244">Kathryn Fortin</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=859244">Pixabay</a>]
Marin Headlands overlooking San Francisco Bay
Just north of San Francisco, lies the Marin Headlands, a 5-mile stretch of coastal basalt headland, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. White sand beaches, rounded hills, and seaside cliffs. Before you head to the coastline, stop at the Marin Headlines Visitor Center at the intersection of Field and Bunker Roads. Take in the astonishing views of the Pacific Coast and drive along Conzelman Road to the northern foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. You can access the Marin Headlands off Highway 101 from Rodeo Avenue Exit and Trailhead. While in Sausalito, check out some of the area’s other attractions.

  • Vista Point (Us-101, Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito, CA 94965) or Battery Spencer (Conzelman Road, Sausalito, CA 94965). With magnificent views of the bridge, these are two of the places to get a fantastic view of San Francisco. It does get very crowded at the Vista Point so Battery Spencer may be the better bet.
  • Sausalito Boardwalk (Sausalito Yacht Harbor, Sausalito, CA 94965). Walk along the harbor and enjoy the beautiful boats along with restaurants, shops, parks, and cafes.
  • Sausalito Ferry (Anchor St & Humboldt Ave, Sausalito, CA 94965). Wanting to venture into San Francisco (without the drive)? The Sausalito Ferry drops you off at the end of Market street within walking distance of Fisherman’s Wharf and Union Square.

Pacific Coast Highway Pinterest

Ready to keep going? Here are the two other itineraries for following the Pacific Coast Highway.

How long does the full route take? From MacKerricher State Park in Northern California to the southern point in Dana Point, the drive takes just a little over 12 hours without stopping. I highly recommend breaking this up into three portions and taking your time. The dramatic sweeping views of the ocean to the West and the mountains to the east are meant to be traveled slowly. This portion covers the Northern California part from Fort Bragg down to San Francisco.

What time of year? Summers are the busiest time of year, and you can honestly spend half of the day on the road going between Malibu and Santa Monica as everyone heads to the beaches. Spring and the Fall are the best time of years, especially with the weather. Winter is the rainy season and is more likely to have mudslides and other issues along the route.

Pacific Coast Highway - Like it? Pin it.

Finally, What to Pack?

Disclosure: The links below contain affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

Ready to hit the road? Be sure to pack along some must needed items for your trip.

Road Trip Essentials - Cooler Weather

Road Atlas



Light Jackets

First Aid Kits

Roadside Assistance Kits


Travel Camera




Backup Battery Chargers

Looking for national and state parks in California? Click here

Going hiking (or during the rainy season)? Check out some ideas for rain gear

Central California, often called the Big Sur Coast, stretches between beautiful Monterey and San Luis Obispo. Wave-battered cliffs, shady forests, sandy beaches, and rich history make up this portion of the Pacific Coast Highway.

How long? 158 miles, about 5 or more hours without traffic or stopping for much. Roundtrip? It is around 313 miles, or 7 hours without traffic (coming back up 101 rather than Rte 1). Traffic is key—this stretch can get CROWDED during the summer months.

When to go? Optimal all year long. Be sure to watch out during the rainy season of mudslides. Summers are also really foggy going down the coast, and hotel and flight costs are also highest during this season. Offseason is considered December to March, although April and September can also offer great prices. Be sure to bring a sweater or jacket as the weather can be changeable and windy along the shore.

This itinerary will start in Monterey. The closest airport is Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC), but flights from Oakland (OAK) or San Francisco International (SJC) may be slightly cheaper. This Pacific Coast Highway Central California style starts up north and heads south along the highway so that you are driving closer to the ocean. Either way, have fun!


Cannery Row. [Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/12019-12019/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=71836">David Mark</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=71836">Pixabay</a>]
Cannery Row at Night

Cannery Row / Monterey Bay Aquarium

886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940

Start this section of the Pacific Coast Highway in Monterey, a beautiful seaside community south of San Francisco. Festivals can be found year-round, and most of the city can be tracked by foot. Cannery Row is a picturesque street that offers restaurants, shops, waterfront hotels, a wax museum, and the top-notch Monterey Bay Aquarium. The seaside marine park is full of over 35,000 animals in 2.3 million gallons of water. Parking can be tricky, so the afternoon is a good time as there are usually more spaces than first thing in the morning.

Pacific Grove

Asilomar State Beach

Sunset Dr, Pacific Grove, CA 93950

Follow Ocean View Boulevard along the shores of Monterey Beach, where you’ll see Lovers Point Park and Point Pinos Lighthouse in what has been called Butterfly Town USA, Pacific Grove. Next, go to Asilomar State Beach, a narrow, one-mile strip where you can go for scenic walks along the beach and through the Asilomar Dunes Natural Preserve. The preserve has several boardwalks that provide panoramic views of the beach and the Pacific Ocean.

17-Mile Drive

Pebble Beach and 17-Mile Drive Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/skeeze-272447/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=1650666">skeeze</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=1650666">Pixabay</a> []
Pebble Beach and 17-Mile Drive

Pebble Beach

17 Mile Dr, Pacific Grove, CA 93950

After Asilomar State Beach, Sunset drive intersections with 17-Mile Drive, a scenic road which hugs the Pacific coastline. Going down this short road, you can see 1920s mansions, rocky headlines, and the Pacific Ocean. There is an admission fee of $10.50 per vehicle, and the drive is open to the public from sunset to sunrise. You can find tour maps online or at the entrance tollgates. This route helps you avoid some of the traffic that occurs on the Pacific Coast Highway as you head into Carmel-by-the-Sea.


Point Lobos [Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/PicsByJana-2753358/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=2282950">Jana Last</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=2282950">Pixabay</a>]
Point Lobos State Park

Carmel River State Park

26478 Carmelo St, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923

Once in Carmel-by-the-Sea, follow Scenic Road down to Carmel River State Beach, one of the less crowded sandy beaches. The beach features a 1-mile-long protected beach with a lagoon. Monastery Beach is popular with scuba divers. History lovers should also stop at the Mission San Carlos Borromeo del río Carmelo or Misión de San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, first built in 1797.

Point Lobos State Reserve

62 CA-1, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923

Continue down the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) toward Point Lobos State Reserve, a scenic coastal area with trails that wind around steep paths to land’s end. You can see down to the inlets and watch the surging waves crash onto the inlet and sea lines on the small island that fringe the mainland. Walk down to Whalers Cove, a small cabin from the turn of the century.

Garrapata State Park,  Soberanes Point

Whale Peak Trail, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923

In the southern portion of Carmel-By-The-Sea lies Garrapata State Park, a 2,939-acre park with rocky headlands in the north and sandier beaches to the south. Highway 1 passes for four miles through the borders of the park. If you’re interested in pulling over, gates 13, 15, and 16 offer some of the best scenery in the park and cross Soberanes Point. This is a 1.8-mile loop trail with wildflowers and a rocky shoreline. You can pull over into any of the other trailheads (such as Soberanes Canyon Trailhead) in the

Point Sur State Historic Park

CA-1, Monterey, CA 93940

The Pacific Coast Highway continues down the coast across the famed Bixby Bridge, and you’ll find turnouts for dramatic overlooks. Five miles to the south of the bridge, the drive nears the 92-acre Point Sur State Historic Park, with an 1889 Point Sur lighthouse (which is currently closed for tours).

Big Sur

Big Sur [Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/466654-466654/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=1008190">D Thory</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=1008190">Pixabay</a>]
Big Sur

Andrew Molera State Park

45500 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920

Heading down Highway 1, the road then navigates through Andrew Molera State Park, with wind-sheltered beaches, stark cliffs, meadows and rivers, and a 3,450-foot mountain. This park is officially in Big Sur and is still relatively undeveloped. Pull over and go hiking on the Andrew Molera Loop (ridge/coast loop) and beachcombing in this beautiful park. You do have to pay $10 to park, but you can use the receipt at the next stop, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Pfeiffer Big Sur Rd, Big Sur, CA 93920

The Pacific Coast Highway then curves inland a little and passes through the town of Big Sur and along the valley of the Big Sur River. On this river lies Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, which covers approximately 1,006 acres of land on the western slope of the Santa Lucia Mountains. Trails lead through a redwood grove to waterfalls and up to pools edge with smooth boulders. The trails are fantastic, with lots of wildflowers and trees. Just be sure to check the trails as they have seasonal hours and may be closed. About a mile south of the entrance, you can also take Canyon Road for Pfeiffer Beach. It’s a small privately-owned beach, which charges a separate entrance fee, where small batches of the beach can be found among caved rocks. While heading through the parking area down Route 1, you’ll also find a couple of gas stations on the side of the highway to buy gas and snacks.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

52801 California State Route 1, Big Sur, CA 93920

After leaving the Big Sur State Park, you’ll follow Pacific Coast Highway as it descends nearly 1,000 feet above the sea into the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Due to severe storm damage, the park has been closed during the week but is still open on the weekends. Otherwise, I’d highly recommend taking the Overlook Trail that navigates cliffs high above the ocean. These ragged cliffs here are incredibly high and hazardous; there is also no beach access. Redwood trees grace the park’s interior. You can still see the McWay Cove Waterfall near mile marker 36, which is an 80-foot waterfall.

Quick TipYour cell service will be spotty in this area. You’ll lose your access to directions on your smartphone. Be sure to print out your directions or take an Atlas just in case.

Limekiln State Park

63025 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920

Heading further south on Highway 1, you’ll pass through Limekiln State Park, a 711-park with a sandy beach, redwood forest, and 100-foot Limekiln Falls. Four historic kilns, used in the making of mortar and cement in the late 1880s, can be reached by an easy 0.5-mile trail through the redwoods and footbridges. None of the trails are too long or difficult. After finishing the inland trails, take the road that goes under Highway 1 and out to the beach.

Sand Dollar Beach (plus Jade Cove)

CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920

Continuing on the Pacific Coast Highway south, you’ll meander past Sand Dollar Beach in San Padres National Forest. It’s a great stopping point if you want picnics, viewing the ocean, or looking for Jade-filled rocks along the beach. Look for the Jade Cove Parking Lot signs and park there and follow the trail down to Jade Cove. The beaches themselves are hemmed in by cliffs, with semiprecious bits of jade rocks. Here’s the trick. The beach itself is down a steep escarpment (and you’ll need to take the bottom half via rope), so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for a day trip. If you decide to walk down the side, be sure to wear hiking boots and sturdy footwear as the worn paths can get slippery. However, the views from the top of the bluff are stunning. (I’m afraid of heights so I stay “upstairs.” LOL) Here is a great blog from Monterey Farmgirl called Sand Dollar Beach & Jade Cove in Big Sur with a lot of extremely useful information from someone more local (it was extremely helpful for the trip).

San Simeon

Hearst Castle [Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/sarangib-37542/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=1043075">Bishnu Sarangi</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=1043075">Pixabay</a>]
Hearst Castle

Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument

750 Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon, CA 93452

Built between 1919 and 1947, Hearst Castle San Simeon State Historical Monument is a palatial estate holding a treasure trove of paintings, mosaics, tapestries, and statues. The 250,000-acre spread was conceived by William Randolph Hearst and architect Julia Morgan as La Cuesta Encantada—Spanish for “Enchanted Hill.” The estate, which includes the gardens, terraces, pools, and walkways encompass 123 acres. Choose from one of the different types of tours at the Hearst Castle Visitor Center, where you can also grab a bite to eat. Prices start at $25 for adults, $12 for children ages five through twelve, and free for children five and under. Nearby, take a tour of San Simeon’s 70-foot, 1874-era Piedras Blancas Light Station or visit one of the area beaches, including the William R. Hearst Memorial Beach or Hearst San Simeon State Park.

Morro Bay State Park

60 State Park Rd, Morro Bay, CA 93442

Morro Bay, California

Morro Bay State Park on the Morro Bay lagoon features a marina, natural bay habitat, lagoon, and the Morro Rock landmark. A saltwater marsh can be found on the northeast edge of the park. You’ll find ample opportunity for hiking, sailing, fishing and bird watching. A museum features the ecological and cultural history of the area. While in Morro Bay, feel free to take the time to visit Morro Rock, the Museum of Natural History, and the Morro Bay National Estuary. Interested in visiting the beach? The Morro Strand State Beach is a protected beach that is not as busy as many of the other state beaches.

Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach [Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/comuirgheasa-3235861/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=3598669">Ciarán Ó Muirgheasa</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=3598669">Pixabay</a>]
Pismo Beach

Dinosaur Caves Park

2701 Price St, Pismo Beach, CA 93449

Perched atop oceanfront bluffs sits Dinosaur Caves Park in Pismo Beach. This 11-acre park includes a grassy area for picnics, an amphitheater, and a large play area with a dinosaur-based theme. You can also see the caves in the cliff-faces once you move beyond the playground and start walking through the gardens. It sits at the end of Shell Beach and is just a little fun distraction just right off the freeway. Nearby are Pismo State Beach (399 S Dolliver St, Pismo Beach, CA 93449), Margo Dodd Park (Shell Beach), Eldwayen Ocean Park,  and the Monarch Butterfly Grove (400 S Dolliver St, Pismo Beach, CA 93449).

Pismo Beach Pier at Sunset
Pismo Beach Pier at Sunset

That’s it for this stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway Itinerary!

Ready to go back to Monterey? Once you’re finished, take Highway 101 back up through San Luis Obispo, San Miguel, and it will take you up to outside of Salinas, CA. Highway 68 will take you back east into Monterey or you can continue north into San Francisco and go up the coast for the Northern portion of the Pacific Coast Highway.

Keep going south? If you want to continue on with the Southern California portion of the highway, follow Highway 1 down through Santa Maria and down into Santa Barbara.

Finally, What to Pack?

Disclosure: The links below contain affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

Ready to hit the road? Be sure to pack along some must needed items for your trip.

Road Trip Essentials - Cooler Weather

Road Atlas



Light Jackets

First Aid Kits

Roadside Assistance Kits


Travel Camera




Backup Battery Chargers

Looking for national and state parks in California? Click here

Going hiking (or during the rainy season)? Check out some ideas for rain gear