Picture it: Driving down the scenic California coast, in the awesome car of your choice, windows (or top) down, blasting your favorite tunes…sounds like the perfect road trip, right? Well, the Pacific Coast Highway, formally known as California State Route 1, is the ultimate road trip route. It’s designated an All-American road for its scenic views, and it packs one heck of a path that takes you past some pretty rad attractions and places. Here’s a guide to the must-see spots while road tripping the PCH!
Off Highway 1, South on Windsor, Cambria, CA, US
Next you'll reach Cambria. The PCH bisects the Fiscalini Ranch preserve, which features some of the best hiking in the area. A total hidden gem, you can see wildflowers, forests, and dramatic ocean views from the 400-foot bluff. Several well-maintained and short-ish trails offer plenty of ways to experience the ranch.
750 Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon, CA, US
With natural scenery as fabled as that of the California coast, is it any wonder that one of America's richest newspaper moguls chose to build his legendarily opulent estate here? The Hearst Castle in San Simon is actually a collection of luxurious mansions built by William Randolph Hearst between the 1920's and the 1950's. Here, he entertained the most fabulous movie stars and other members of the social elite at the time. Today you can tour the buildings, which are kept up by the California State Park Service. Tickets might seem pricey at $25 a pop for adults, but once you see the massive, gorgeous pool, you'll realize that it's worth it.
Dinner with a view is required when driving through Big Sur, and the menu at Ragged Point Restaurant befits the million-dollar view. Consomme, filet, and creme brulee make for a meal that's just a lovely as the scenery.
Since those views of the coast are one of a kind, finding a place to spend the night immersed in nature isn't a half bad idea. Splurge for a yurt with a view at the Treebones glamping resort; a yurt is basically a pimped out tent with a queen bed, a deck, and running water. Or, if you're feeling extra adventurous, book a stay in their human nest. I seriously can't make this up.
When you need to unwind and unplug, visit Esalen Hot Springs. This retreat has hot springs with incredible views...and they open them up to the public, but only between 1AM and 3AM. Book online and make the trip up to soak in the mineral rich waters and stunning views of the night sky!
One of the most famous views in all of Big Sur is that of McWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. You can't get too close to them, but it's doesn't matter, because they look fabulous from this particular angle.
While much is made of how lovely the wild, rugged coast of Big Sur is, the rocky cliffs made it super hard for sailors to navigate during the olden days. Thankfully, a lighthouse was built on this outcropping, now called Point Sur Historic Park, to guide the way. The rough terrain meant that the lighthouse keeper and his family here lived a pretty isolated life, and it wasn't even automated until the 1970's. Tour the property to take in the views and learn about the human history of this special landscape.
17 Mile Drive, Pebble Beach, CA, US
It'll cost you about $10 to take the majestic 17 Mile Drive, but it's worth it-- and it's a lot cheaper than playing a round on what is commonly accepted as one of the most beautiful golf courses in the world: Pebble Beach. Keep a lookout for otters, golfers, the gorgeous mansions, and, of course, the famed Lone Cypress tree, which is begging for a photo op.
700 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA, US
Named after the John Steinbeck novel (also called "Cannery Row") which took place in Monterey, the real-life Cannery Row is a waterfront street that was once home to numerous sardine canneries. In what might be one of the most enchanting opening sentences of any book ever, Steinbeck described it by saying, “Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream." Today, it's more of a tourist attraction, but there are tons of shops for browsing, restaurants and bars, and things to see and do.
State Route 1, Pescadero, CA, US
Pomponio State Beach is another lovely beach right off the highway! Rocky bluffs and stretches of sandy beach, plus a secluded lagoon, make this beach pretty typical of the ones you'll find on the California coast... but don't pass it up! It's especially lovely at sunset.
140 Beach Way, Moss Beach, CA, US
Today, people come to the Moss Beach Distillery for the freshly-made food and views, but back in the 1920's, celebs flocked here for illegal hooch! The private beach located below the restaurant was the perfect place for bootleggers to land their boats loaded with booze so that it could be carried into the restaurant under the cover of night. This restaurant was featured on Unsolved Mysteries for their resident ghost, The Blue Lady, who, according to legend, was a married woman having an affair with the piano player at the eatery. The two were attacked, and she was killed, while they walked on the beach below. Diners and employees alike have reported mysterious happenings, which they think were caused by her spirit.
Point Lobos, San Francisco, CA, US
It may not look like much now, but back in the early 20th century, these crumbling ruins were once the largest indoor swimming pool in the world, called the Sutro Baths. Seven massive pools could hold up to ten thousand swimmers, and there was even a museum, amphitheater, and ice skating rink inside as well. But the huge attraction proved hard to maintain, especially as its popularity waned, and it caught fire shortly after it closed in the 1960's. The remains are pretty fun to explore, though!
Hotel Tomo, located in San Francisco's Japantown, naturally has hip Asian accents. Plus, the rad Kinokuniya Bookstore, the Asian Art Museum, and loads of bars and delicious Japanese restaurants are within walking distance, and you're not to far from San Francisco's other awesome attractions, either!
15479 Highway 1, Petaluma, CA, US
The Tomales Bay Oyster Company is an oyster farm, but if you bring condiments and tools (you can borrow knives and hot sauce from them if you plan to use their grill but forget the essentials) you can have a picnic here, as well! And if oysters aren't your jam, they sell mussels and clams too-- bring along a loaf of baguette and some garlic and butter to eat with your bivalves, and you've got the perfect picnic.
Most people know that California has a strong Spanish heritage... but Fort Ross State Historic Park features a fort that was actually founded by Russian fur traders! The southernmost point in a Russian colonization of America between the 1810's and 1840's or so, it's been restored and buildings have been recreated. Plus, besides being on the coast, you can also explore the nearby redwood forests, too.
45500 Lighthouse Rd, Point Arena, CA, US
The Point Arena Lighthouse has a fascinating history. Originally built in 1870, it was damaged in a 1906 earthquake, and had to be razed and rebuilt entirely in 1908, helping to pioneer methods to build more earthquake-proofed lighthouses. Oh, and if it looks kind of familiar, don't be surprised: it's the finishing point for the race in the 2014 movie "Need for Speed".
The Didjeridoo Dreamtime Inn is located in a historic, 19th-century home was once owned by artist Emmy Lou Packard, assistant to Diego Rivera, and the current owners have kept the artsy, relaxing vibes. They feature pieces from local artists, a great organic and locally-sourced breakfast each morning, and awesome gardens to explore.
The best time to travel the Pacific Coast Highway: It should be noted that June, July and August are particularly foggy months. If you're looking for a time of year with the clearest views and best weather, October is generally the best time to road trip down the PCH. Also, the summer months can get very crowded at many of the attractions along the route, plus since it's high tourist season you'll experience higher rates at hotels and longer waits at restaurants (many of which are also seasonal and closed in winter).