Pacific Coast Highway Holidays
Whilst the Pacific Coast Highway does run along most of the state's coastline, the most popular section is from Monterey to Santa Barbara. Driving the route from north to south is ideal, as you'll be on the ocean side of the road the entire way, giving unobstructed views of the coastline below. There are many major stops along the way as well as numerous scenic lookouts for soaking up the jaw-dropping views.
It's well worth stopping over for a night or two in Monterey, which is wrapped by the Pacific on three sides. See the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium or stand on the deck nearby and watch the otters floating in the dense beds of sea kelp. Take a stroll around the quirky shops of Cannery Row, made famous by author John Steinbeck, or perhaps rent a bike and follow the coast around the peninsula.
We also recommend detouring for a drive along 17 Mile Drive to picturesque Pebble Beach and its famous golf course.
On Monterey Peninsula's south side, you'll find the artsy enclave of Carmel. The streets of the main village are lined with galleries, cosy gastropubs and welcoming inns. The Carmel Mission is one of the state's most beautiful and the white sands of Carmel Beach are a great place for a stroll.
Driving on from Carmel, you reach perhaps the most iconic landmark of the route, Bixby Bridge. There are several places to stop for a treasured photograph and to soak up the sight of one of the country's most admired bridges.
Bixby Bridge lies within the stretch of coastline known as Big Sur. Wild and incomparably beautiful, Big Sur is fabled for mountains that plunge to the crashing surf and majestic redwood forests cloaked in ocean fog. Take a peek at Point Sur Lighthouse, which has guided mariners along this coast since 1889 or enjoy the scenic splendour of Andrew Molera and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Parks. Further along the coast is Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park where an 80 foot waterfall cascades from the granite cliffs onto the beach.
Continue south and you'll discover one of the best wildlife experiences in the state at Piedras Blancas. Here, up to 17,000 elephant seals pile up on the narrow strip of rocky beach literally steps from where cars whizz along the highway.
Five miles on and you reach San Simeon, best known for lavish Hearst Castle, the former residence of publishing magnate, William Randolph Hearst. It's an extraordinary temple to opulence and excess, with 165 rooms, 127 acres of terraced gardens and wraparound views of the Central Coast.
Pismo Beach is a delightful vintage beach town crammed with beach cottages, surf shops and clam chowder joints. Don't miss the historic Pismo Beach Pier, which dates back to 1928, and is the closest thing to a town square in Pismo Beach. Here you can walk out over the waves to watch the surfers or maybe try your hand at fishing. From the pier, stroll along the oceanfront boardwalk, or just hike along the broad, flat expanse of beach.
Towards the end of the route, head slightly inland to fascinating Solvang. Founded by Danish immigrants in 1911, this charming village has gingerbread architecture, twirling windmills and a mix of bakeries selling tempting pastries, chocolatiers and kitschy souvenir shops.
The coastal enclave of Santa Barbara is the place to experience Mediterranean-style magic as Spanish-style architecture is adorned with red-tiled rooftops and trailing bougainvillea. Hire a bike and pedal along the famous seafront to Stearns Wharf, where you can sit and enjoy a portion of fish and chips. Take a stroll along State Street for some fabulous shopping or splash around the waterfront in a kayak.
- Exhilarating driving experience
- Unobstructed views of the coastline
- Charming towns
- Beautiful beaches
- Dramatic scenery
- Celebrated Highway One