California’s Pacific Coast Highway One, known as one of the most scenic roads in the world, is the ultimate road trip. From San Francisco and the Golden Gate, to beautiful Big Sur, to Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, and everything in-between, a drive down the California coast is a must on any traveler’s bucket list. This stunning stretch of land starts from the southern tip of Baja Mexico and winds over 700 miles long all the way throughout Northern California. It is one of the most spectacular coastlines in the world, but the views aren’t all it has to offer.
Whether you have a weekend, or a few weeks, to travel this stretch of paradise, your road trip will be filled with a wide array of unforgettable California experiences. Here are 10 things you absolutely cannot miss on California’s Highway One, from California-born travel blogger Jetset Christina.
1) THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE, SAN FRANCISCO
Visiting the Golden State’s world-famous Golden Gate Bridge is an amazing experience for every traveler. You can walk across, drive across, or you can make a day of it by parking at Fisherman’s Wharf, renting a bike from Blazing Saddles, and biking all the way across to Sausalito for a delicious lunch at Bar Bocce. If you’re shorter on time, drive north toward the Point Bonita Lighthouse and the Marin headlands for a spectacular viewpoint of the bridge.
2) PEBBLE BEACH AND 17-MILE DRIVE
Pebble Beach is one of the most stunning – and most challenging – golf courses in the world, but it is so much more than a golfer’s paradise. Pebble Beach lies on the tip of the Monterey Peninsula, on the famous 17-mile-drive, and is full of breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, as well as some of the most expensive houses in California. Take a drive along the coast and finish it off with a meal or a drink at the lodge on the 18th hole, before staying the night at one of the many adorable Bed and Breakfasts in downtown Carmel-by-the-sea.
3) A BIG SUR PICNIC
The cliffside coastline of Big Sur is full of jaw-dropping (and stomach-dropping) views at every winding turn. But what good is taking in a beautiful view while you’re driving? I love to pack a roadside picnic and pull over at the viewpoint by Bixby Bridge for a perfect afternoon break from driving.
4) GLAMPING IN BIG SUR
The most memorable parts of a road trip are often the unplanned ones you don’t expect and don’t plan for. I found this fabulous Ventana Inn glampsite the night-of when I needed a place to stay in the Big Sur area, and it was the most amazing experience of my entire trip. The luxury resort – which owns the glamping sites – takes care of everything for you: a s’mores kit, a cooler, a luxury bathhouse, a heated comforter, the best mattress and safari tent you could possibly imagine, and a fire pit complete with firewood and matches. Glamping in Big Sur is all of the beauty of spending the night in the stunning redwood wilderness, without any of the hassle or planning of camping.
5) MCWAY FALLS, BIG SUR
On your way out of Big Sur, make sure you stop at one of the most beautiful – and most photographed – waterfalls in the world, McWay Falls. You can take in the views of the waterfall and dramatic coastline from many lookout points scattered along the walking trails off of Highway One. But the best viewpoint is about a half-mile hike from the road in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park on Waterfall Overlook Trail. It’s here you can see the 80-foot waterfall splash onto the inaccessible and isolated beach. It is one of the most magical sights on all of Highway One.
6) SANTA BARBARA’S FUNK ZONE
Santa Barbara, with all its California-cool charm and beachside beauty, is definitely one of the best towns to stop for a night or two on Highway One. I recommend planning to spend a night here and heading straight to the Funk Zone – a central area off the beach known for its surplus of funky wine-tasting rooms from all of central California’s best wineries. The Funk Zone feels like a more relaxed version of Napa… on the beach. Check out the Santa Barbara Wine Collective or Les Marchands for wine and definitely have a gourmet wood-fired pizza at Lucky Penny.
7) MALIBU FARM
On your way down south to LA, the picture-perfect California beach town of Malibu is a must-stop. Known for being a haven for movie stars and millionaires, there’s nowhere quite like Malibu. Head to Malibu Farm for an all-organic seaside brunch with some of the best food, coffee, and views you can imagine. Malibu Farm is located at both the front and end of the pier and hosts a full restaurant & bar with delicious food, cocktails and coffee.
8) SANTA MONICA PIER
The iconic Santa Monica Pier and its beachfront ferris wheel have been one of LA’s most popular attractions for over 100 years. Since 1909, tourists and locals alike come here to wander around the shops, eat at the cafes and restaurants, check out the aquarium, ride the carousel, and indulge in carnival games and cotton candy. I recommend walking the pier and heading South on the boardwalk to nearby Venice Beach, soaking up every ounce of sunny Southern California culture, and people-watching, on the way.
9) VENICE BEACH
Stretching along the beach south of Santa Monica, Venice Beach or “The Coney Island of the Pacific” is full of vibrant and unique charm. Whether you’re checking out the world-famous skate park, watching street performers entertain on the boardwalk, working out in Muscle Beach’s outdoor beach gym, or going shopping on Abbot Kinney Blvd, a day in Venice Beach is always chock-full of art, music, and character.
10) IN N’ OUT BURGER
No California road trip is complete without trying California’s freshest, most delicious, and most beloved fast food chain. If you’ve never had In n’ Out burger before, do yourself a favor and order the secret-menu option of a double-double, animal style. You can thank me later.
Have you ever driven on California’s Highway One? We’d love to hear your stories, tips or questions in the comment section below!
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