A California road trip along the coast is the quintessential road trip with its breathtaking views, footloose feeling, and the many attractions, cities, and towns to visit along the way.
Everyone agrees – from travel writers to average road trippers – that a California road trip that includes Route 1 (the Pacific Coast Highway) along the coast is one of those lifetime must-dos. The most spectacular section of this famed road is between Morro Bay and Monterey, particularly in the Big Sur area. The road was blasted into the side of the sheer cliffs that dominate this area and is completely created by man – a work of engineering, persistence, and ingenuity. You can visit areas unreachable before this amazing road and its many bridges were built, and take in sweeping views of the Pacific.
Where should you go while on this road trip?
Start your California road trip in this charming town. The best place to stay is in one of the hotels that dot the coast near Moonstone Beach. Moonstone Beach has well-tended boardwalks and walkways that wind along the beachfront to explore. The town itself is quaint and worth a visit as well. If you enjoy wine, take a fifteen minute drive to nearby Paso Robles and sample wines at the 170-plus wineries located in this picture perfect area that boasts an ideal climate for wine-making.
This spectacular ode to excess is only six miles north of Cambria and a must-see. William Randolph Hearst’s enormous castle (165 rooms and it still wasn’t “finished”) provides a peek into this publishing titan’s ridiculously lavish lifestyle. You’ll recognize the Neptune Pool from many movies and advertisements that have used it as a backdrop. Keep your eyes peeled when you’re in the area – which is extremely barren and hardly hints at the glorious house on the hilltop – you may see one of Hearst’s zebras from when he had a zoo; they run wild and still live in the area.
With the crashing waves of the Pacific on one side and mountains on the other, this portion of the road trip is the most spectacular. Stop at every turn-out that appeals to you after Hearst Castle to take in views of the ocean as well as of the beautiful bridges necessary to string the pieces of road together. In Big Sur, visit Nepenthe, a family owned restaurant established in the late 40’s. Their patio, which hangs suspended far above the surf, offers gorgeous views and the restaurant itself is very good with an excellent selection of wines. This was one of my favorite stops of the road trip – just sipping wine and looking out at the amazing views.
Point Lobos State Reserve
Stop at this gorgeous park and hike if you’re able. The tree-topped rocky outcroppings that compose the majority of this park are beautiful and a large population of sea lions cavorts on the offshore rocks, their barking calls heard throughout the park.
Go back in time to Steinbeck’s day when this city was known for its sardine canning – hence Cannery Row – and visit the shops and other businesses located there today. Over forty buildings in this city date back to when Monterey was the state capital before 1850. One of the best aquariums in the world, Monterey Bay Aquarium, is here and worth taking a day out of your road trip to visit. Entire underwater environments are perfectly reproduced here in this home to 550 species of marine animals.
Continue to follow Route 1 on your California road trip as it hugs the coastline through Santa Cruz, ending at your final destination: the incredible city of San Francisco. There is a lot to see in San Francisco – but that’s another article!
This road trip is famous for many reasons, ones I had the pleasure of experiencing recently on my California road trip along the coast. Discover your own favorite attractions, vistas, and experiences as you travel this route and find out for yourself why it’s so well-loved.