One of the most scenic drives in the country is along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH)—a 1,650-mile stretch from Seattle, Washington, to San Diego, California. But besides the actual drive itself, where coastal communities, beachfront cliffs, and endless ocean present themselves in a panorama of scenic beauty, there also are many places along the way well worth a visit from any group.

Start in the Evergreen State

A person today can only imagine what it must have been like for explorer Juan Perez, who, on Aug. 10, 1774, laid eyes on what has since been called the North Olympic Peninsula. It was a pristine location untouched by humans except for the Indigenous tribes that lived here for thousands of years. The only other non-native person known to visit was Juan de Fuca, who, two centuries before Perez, described the area in a 1596 report of his exploratory voyage to the area four years prior. Now, more than 200 years after Perez, there still is much that seems pristine about this place where water and land coalesce into a sort of emerald-embossed dreamscape.

Here lies the Strait of Juan de Fuca—yes, named after that Juan de Fuca—which connects Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean. You can see it from Port Angeles, Washington, described as a “smallish seaside-meets-mountain town,” according to Visit Port Angeles, with “nuggets of history, hints of fame, bewitching beauty, and adventure waiting to be discovered.” It is the perfect place for groups to begin their Pacific Coast Road trip.

Start with an urban adventure in the walkable downtown and waterfront to experience vintage shops and local eateries, or enjoy a seaside stroll to explore waterfront parks, whale trails, and tide pools teeming with sea life. Your group might also consider taking a whale-watching tour with Puget Sound Express to see gray and humpback whales and orcas. Here also is the Port Angeles Underground & Heritage Tour, which gives insight into the history of the community. There’s also plenty in the way of arts and museums.

To experience more of the area’s outdoors, explore Olympic National Park, specifically Hurricane Ridge. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve, almost 95% of the picturesque park is designated wilderness. The park also is home to about 26 endemic species.

Capital cities are rarely boring, and your group will find plenty to do in Olympia, Washington. Why not start at the capitol building itself? Here, guests will get an up-close and personal look at the building’s renowned architecture, including its centerpiece—the largest freestanding masonry dome in the United States. Several tours are available for groups.

A stop at the capitol is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to things to experience in Olympia. There is enough to do in Olympia to fill an itinerary for days, says Jeff Bowe, vice president of sales and development for State of Washington Tourism. “Olympia is the beating heart of the state,” he explains, “not only because it’s the capital of Washington, but it’s also a great hub with a vibrant downtown for those looking to explore one or both national parks that neighbor us—Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier National Park, where lodging and experiences … can be challenging.”

For those in your group who enjoy a cup of joe, a must-stop is the Dancing Goats Coffee Roasters, where, from Friday through Sunday, its Tasting Room offers a variety of free organic coffee samples—from Africa, Indonesia, and Latin America. Groups can tour the roastery while learning more about the myth of the dancing goats from the friendly baristas. And yes, just in case you’re wondering, there is a statue of a pair of dancing goats outside the establishment.

For a different kind of brew experience, follow the path of a hop as it goes from farm to beer at Well 80 Brewhouse, featuring the original 1964 Olympia Beer recipe brewed using local artesian spring water. Groups can visit the historic Schmidt House on the old brewery property and explore the origins of the Olympia Brewing Co.

Astoria, Oregon;
Credit: Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce
Stop in the Beaver State

Oregon is full of scenic wonders and plentiful activities for tour groups. One of the more iconic locales is the coastal community of Astoria and Warrenton, depicted in several famous movies. “Nestled on the banks of the Columbia River where it flows into the Pacific Ocean, the communities of Astoria and Warrenton combine rich history, stunning scenery, and delicious cuisine,” says Regina Willkie, marketing director and assistant executive director of the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce. “Astoria and Warrenton provide a plethora of museums, outdoor recreations, events, and attractions for visitors to enjoy all year long. Visitors may recognize the photogenic Astoria-Megler Bridge or Peter Iredale shipwreck, or perhaps scenes from fan-favorite movies filmed in our area, such as ‘The Goonies’ and ‘Kindergarten Cop.’”

History abounds here, including at the Columbia River Maritime Museum where groups can learn about humankind’s earliest journeys on the Columbia River, from the days of dugout canoes to modern watercraft and beyond.

Visit the Liberty Theatre, originally built in 1925. The building underwent restoration with it reopening in 2005, according to the facility’s website. The second phase of restoration was completed in 2020. For the price of a ticket, tours of the theatre are available from noon-1 p.m. on most Saturdays. While here, why not catch a show?

No historical stop in Oregon is complete without a visit to Fort Clatsop, where Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and members of their Corps of Discovery Expedition camped during the winter months of 1805-06. Groups can tour a replica of the fort, see its rooms, and chat with costumed guides who will share history about the site. There are also nearby trails to explore, and a visitor center where guests can view a short film and purchase books or other souvenirs.

Explore the Golden State

Welcome to California, home to the longest stretch of Pacific Coast Highway. Sometimes, depending on the context, the PCH is mentioned as being only a California highway, stretching from Orange County to Mendocino County, or some 655 miles in length. But sticking with the longer 1,655-mile, multistate route, begin your group’s California journey in San Francisco, where members can get immersed in all things Chinese, learn about the journey of LGBTQ+ rights in America, and experience many other cultural highlights. Here, in the shade of the Golden Gate Bridge, is an incredible range of cultural and heritage tours, according to Lori Lincoln, vice president of global public and media relations for the San Francisco Travel Association.

Take the Chinatown History & Art Tour offered through the Chinese Cultural Center. This guided tour encourages guests to “immerse” their senses at different art activation sites in the neighborhood and deepen their understanding of the many stories of Chinatown. Visitors will deepen their artistic literacy by engaging with contemporary art and murals in our visual arts gallery and throughout the streets of Chinatown.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California;
Credit: Unsplash/Ragnor Vorel

San Francisco Love Tours is a big hit with visitors, Lincoln says. There’s also the Cruisin’ the Castro, which offers a walking tour of the Castro District. This two-hour tour is the most comprehensive cultural tour available and offers twice as many historical sites that entail the past, present, and future LGBTQ+ civil rights in America.

Two hours away is Monterey County, which boasts an enriching display of historic sites; aerial, agriculture, and wine tours; and scenic drives. There’s something for every group, including the Monterey Bay Aquarium, 17-Mile Drive, Cannery Row, and Fisherman’s Wharf, as well as lesser-known gems such as MY Museum, Pacific Monarch Butterfly Grove Sanctuary, and National Steinbeck Center.

Los Angeles has been described as the hub for all things arts and entertainment. To catch a glimpse, plan a group visit to The Grammy Museum. For the artsy folk in your group, there are several other places in LA they will appreciate. Among them is the Museum of Contemporary Art. To broaden culture within the artistic palette, there’s also the Chinese American Museum, Japanese American National Museum, and the museums at the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, which, according to a description on its website, is the “birthplace of Los Angeles.” Here, your group will be able to explore the historic district and see impressive architecture from times now passed, eat and shop at famous Olvera Street—which originally opened in 1930—and learn about the interesting history that makes up this part of Southern California.

At nearby Exposition Park is the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, where visitors get a different perspective on the area’s past. Let the dinosaurs, dioramas, and life exhibits tell the story of LA and California’s earliest beginnings. At the California Science Center, your group can explore the exhibits that demonstrate scientific explorations and the history of innovation. Other options include the California African Museum and Fisher Museum of Art, both at the University of Southern California.

Lastly, in San Diego, visit the Hotel del Coronado, the area’s centerpiece hotel with a 136-year history and amenities that will please any group. It also is the hub for other nearby attractions—amusement parks, golf courses, zoos, and venues for an active night life.

To experience San Diego by water, try Triton Charters. Offering fully customizable trips for groups of up to 1,000 people, this yacht experience is unlike any other. With modern aesthetics and open seating, there’s also a bar, dance floor, and built-in waterslide.

Another option is the San Salvador, which is both a museum and working sail ship that visits cities and towns “as a floating education platform for California’s school children, and all who come to see her.” It offers group tours of 10 or more guests.

By Andrew Weeks

Main Image: Marymere Falls Trail, Port Angeles, Washington; Credit: Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau