California Route 1 – Where to Start
California Route 1, or the Pacific Coast Highway, or the Coastal Discovery Route, or whatever name you want to call it, is a long stretch of highway that parallels the Pacific Ocean and all the glory that it provides. The distance varies depending on your destinations (from 160-300+ miles) and depending on how many side streets, forest trails, or quiet nights under the stars you plan for, this trip could be a long day or a month long. With so much to do, it’s hard to know where to get started, so here is some places, from north to south, to start your California road trip adventure:
San Luis Obispo
The true route starts south of San Luis Obispo, but this isn’t a bad place to start, especially if you are looking for ocean views. Just a short drive away is the town of Morro Bay, where you can find all the touristy items and fine dining you could ask for. And from there, head to Cambria, where you can find culture, great natural landscapes, and enough seaside inspiration to consider moving away from home indefinitely. Just north of Cambria, Hearst Castle provides a nice detour to a popular destination. Hearst Castle, or “La Cuesta Encantada” (Enchanted Hill) is a 165 room mansion with 127 acres of gardens, all sitting on 250,000 acres of beautiful property. Belonging to William Randolph Hearst, this mansion is open for tours and displays some of the most beautiful art on the west coast.
The Beach Boys have a song dedicated to this portion of the Pacific Coast Highway, and for good reason, once you enter the Big Sur area; a sudden elation is easy to overcome you. Blanketed by beautiful forest and jagged coastline, Big Sur is a popular destination that thankfully has yet to be over developed. Instead of big tourist markets, you can expect crowded campsites and scenic pullovers along the route. While you are curving your way on the highway, some good stops to consider are Henry Miller Library, Piedras Blancas Lighthouse, and of course, Pfeiffer Beach State Park. And if you’re lucky, and traveling between the months of December and February, you’ll get to see a huge colony of Elephant Seals on the shores.
One of the most photographed bridges, the Bixby Canyon Bridge, is along the northern end of the Pacific Coast highway. And with the arches of this bridge spanning across a canyon gap, with brilliant ocean waves beneath and miles of coastline in view, why not take a picture? Alongside the route to and from Monterey are also some good California towns to stop by including Carmel-by-the-Sea, Pacific Grove, and Monterey itself. Stop by the aquarium, grab a bite to eat, and enjoy all the Pacific Coast has to offer.
The Coastal Discovery Trail leaves the seashore after San Francisco, but the city has enough things to see to not fret over finishing your road trip there. Visit national landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area which includes Muir Woods. In town, check out anyone of the thousands of restaurants, museums, and attractions that San Francisco has to offer.