Pacific Coastal Highways of California

Pacific Coastal Highway

This is part four in our Summer Road Trip series. We have already talked about road trippin’ Maine, Maui, and Florida.

Recommended Time: 7 to 10 days

Sand, sun, surf, and scenic drives: the stuff California dreams are made of. California’s coastal highways allow you to escape the bottle-necked freeways of the crowded cities, and live life in the slow lane. So, put the top down, feel the ocean breeze in your hair, and let the ribbons of highway take you on an adventure.

Although the Pacific Coast Highway only encompasses the stretch of road through Orange and Los Angeles counties, technicalities don’t seem to matter when you’re cruising down the California coast. Start your journey near the Oregon border with a visit to Redwood National & State Parks, home to the tallest trees on earth.

Photo: Wonderland

Continue down the coast and jut just a bit inland to the famed wine region of Napa and Sonoma counties. With more than 400 wineries to choose from, it’s an oenophile’s paradise, and a casual taster’s classroom. Scenic doesn’t even begin to describe the rolling hill and sundrenched vineyards found in the region. Each winery has its own flair and set of experiences—from a gondola ride to a hillside tasting room, to a tractor tour through the endless rows of grapes. Make time to take a bike ride to a few wineries, or even splurge on an early-morning hot air balloon ride over the vineyards.

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Next it’s on to San Francisco, driving into the city in the best way possible: over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. Plan to spend a few days here, exploring the mystery of Alcatraz, the allure of Fisherman’s Wharf, and the serenity of Golden Gate Park. Be sure to take a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of the city by day for an easy way to see the highlights, and go back for more at night to see the city lights and hear stories about this beautiful city by the Bay. Make time for an unexpected highlight: the California Academy of Sciences, which is a natural history museum, rain forest, aquarium, and planetarium all in one. Soak up San Fran! It’s one of my favorite cities on earth!

Iconic Pier 39

Iconic Pier 39

Monterey comes next along the coast, with the popular Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the beautiful galleries in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Here begins the most scenic day of driving, as the two-lane highway winds lazily along the mountains of Big Sur, offering sprawling ocean views. There are plenty of scenic stops along the way from McWay Falls to Pfeiffer Beach. Get out, stretch your legs, and take in the stunning scenery—and share your pictures to Instagram to instantly get thousands of likes!

Photo: Howard Ignatius

Make a pit stop near San Simeon to explore Hearst Castle, a beautiful hilltop mansion that stands as a testament to wealth and ambition. William Randolph Hearst, a 20th-century newspaper tycoon, built the estate in 1919. It included a grandiose main building, three guesthouses, and 127 acres of gardens, pools, and fountains. Today, you can tour this National Historic Landmark.

Photo: Cocoabiscuit

For quintessential California beaches blended with fantastic red wine, stop in Santa Barbara next. Dubbed the American Riviera, the climate has been described as “Mediterranean.” Come for the weather and the views, but stay for the film and art festivals!

Photo: Damian Gadal

Next up is Malibu with its 27 miles of scenic beauty, and gated homes of celebrities living merely meters from the coastline. Take a look inside one of the most beautiful mansions—the Getty Villa, housing the very best artifacts of the ancient Greek and Roman worlds. This hilltop oasis takes you back in time, allowing you to not only see the art, but explore four gardens inspired by Roman models.

Photo: nicoleversetwo

End your trip down the California Pacific highways with visits to bustling Los Angeles and San Diego, if you so choose. From the big-screen fame and fortune of Hollywood to sparkling beaches of San Diego and its surrounding area, these two sprawling cities are about as eclectic as they come. Dedicate a few days of exploration to both.

Photo: peasap

What spots do you recommend on a Coastal California road trip?

Places

Redwood National & State Parks

Redwood National and State Parks, CA, United States

Places

Napa & Sonoma Counties

Napa Valley, Napa County, CA, United States

Places

San Francisco

San Francisco, CA, United States

Places

Monterey

Monterey, CA, United States

Places

Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA, United States

Places

San Simeon

San Simeon, CA, United States

Places

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara, CA, United States

Places

Malibu

Malibu, CA, United States

Places

Los Angeles

Los Angeles, CA, United States

Places

San Diego

San Diego, CA, United States

Redwood National & State Parks

Redwood National and State Parks, CA, United States

Napa & Sonoma Counties

Napa Valley, Napa County, CA, United States

San Francisco

San Francisco, CA, United States

Monterey

Monterey, CA, United States

Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA, United States

San Simeon

San Simeon, CA, United States

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara, CA, United States

Malibu

Malibu, CA, United States

Los Angeles

Los Angeles, CA, United States

San Diego

San Diego, CA, United States

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