Originally posted on December 12, 2023 @ 6:11 pm
Driving the Californian Coast is for those seeking sun, surf, wine, beautiful scenery, and amazing Redwood forests.
For those who like holidays full of laid-back idyllic scenery and traveling at their own pace, a drive along the Californian coast is ideal. It’s not all plastic surgery and health farms – the scenery is naturally beautiful and beats anything you’d see in a Hollywood movie.
Driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco
From San Diego to San Francisco, it’s two full days of driving, while Los Angeles to San Francisco will take one very long day. Of course, you’ll want to take longer for maximum enjoyment. Car hire is surprisingly cheap in the U.S.A., and insurance isn’t compulsory. With very little public transport along the main section of the route, driving offers a slower pace and the chance to stop and appreciate the scenery. A GPS or Sat Nav is a must as the route is tricky to follow at times.
Star Spotting, Swimming, and Surfing in Malibu
An hour north of Los Angeles is the seaside town of Malibu. This tiny, hilly town is home to many big-name celebrities and also to some of California’s best beaches. It’s well worth a half-day stop to relax, go for a swim, do some star-spotting, and explore the mountains. There are quite a few mid-priced motels around, especially as you head out of town.
Driving Highway 1 Offers the Best Scenery
Head north (a couple of hours from L.A.) and hit Highway 1, also known as State Route 1, for the journey’s most scenic section. It’s an almost unspoiled 102-mile stretch – there’s barely a town or gas station along here, so it’s advisable to fill up at Cambria, before starting. Glide high above the ocean on a precipice road that winds along towering cliffs, with the blue of the Pacific on the left and green hills cascading away on the right. There is plenty of viewing points to stop at, so a decent camera is a must. This section takes 2 ½ hours non-stop, but it’s advisable to go at a cruising pace, taking at least 4 hours. There’s plenty of places to stop, pause, and bask. Good maps of the region are hard to find, but try Google maps, or this one is quite detailed as well.
Top Things to See Driving Highway 1
The late billionaire William Randolph Hearst, newspaper magnate, and prolific Hollywood investor built Hearst Castle, his dream home, a mansion so opulent even the best imagination would struggle to fathom. Tours are mostly by appointment, and a little pricey between $24 – $30 so check the Website first. About ½ hour from San Luis Obispo, the closest main town. Further along Highway 1, there’s the chance of Elephant Seal viewing at Piedras Blancas. About 12 miles north of Cambria is the cove of Piedras Blancas, where hoards of Elephant Seals come to sunbathe and pose for tourists. Best sightings are around spring and summertime and viewing is free.
Explore the Secluded Big Sur and go Camping
Nearing the end of Highway 1’s unbroken 102-mile run is the area known as Big Sur, where the ocean views are magnificent, and civilization starts to reappear. There are a few blink-and-you’ll-miss-them hotels, general stores, and gas stations around here, so when they appear, that’s pretty much Big Sur (it’s not particularly well signed). Motel/Hotel rooms and camping spots are scarce and thus expensive, so book well in advance. And a little further down the road is Pfeiffer Big Sur, State Park. Filled with towering Redwood trees, the Park can be found at the heart of Big Sur and is great for hiking, camping, and wildlife viewing. There are a few camping spots, and only 61 cabins available, so again, book well ahead.
Finish the Drive with Wine Tasting at Napa Valley
California’s leading wine region may be off the coast a bit, but it’s the perfect way to finish the coastal drive. Located about 65 miles North West of San Francisco, there are plenty of high-quality wineries to scour and appreciate. Afterward, head back to San Francisco to get reacquainted with society.