California’s famous Pacific Coast Highway 1, winding around the coast and hillsides of central Calfornia, brings one face to face with some of the most impressive beauty in all of the United States. On a recent trip, my daughter, Taylor, and I drove the 17 Mile Drive (Point Lobos State Reserve) and then took the Pacific Coast Highway (referred to as All-American Road or PCH) from Carmel to San Luis Obispo, all 123 miles. What we saw was spectacular! I was in love with all of the sea life and could hardly tear myself away from the stopping points to move on to the next.
Point Lobos State Reserve charges $10 per car and allows you to wind your way through the Del Monte Forest along the dramatic Pacific coast. It was the nation’s first undersea ecological reserve with points of interest that allow you to take in the scenery along the way. Huckleberry Hill, the Inn at Spanish Bay, and Cypress Point Lookout were my favorites. The Monterey cypress trees are gorgeous and only grown here and in Carmel. Of course the Lone Cypress, dating back 250 years, is impressive, too. Make sure to stop at some of the locations along the drive for epic views of sea otters and sea lions, as well as migrating gray whales between December and April. You will soon see why this is identified as California’s “crown jewel” of their parks system.
If I had to pick one thing about the coastal California drive that really amazed me, it would be the torrential waves crashing against huge jagged rocks, over and over again. The sight is captivating and each location, though very similar, will lure you in as if it were the first time you had ever seen it. I could sit and watch the surf roll all day and that was obvious by the hundreds of photos I took of the same scene just in a different spot.
Driving PCH brings you to see the harbor seals lining the beaches and you will be mesmerized watching them do the simplest tasks, hopping across the sand with their fat bodies. The white sand beaches, black jagged rocks, layered blue waters, and crashing waves set the perfect scenery to admire along the way. The impressive huge redwood trees will dazzle your nature side as well. Roll down the windows to take advantage of the fragrant trees.
A fun attraction along PCH in San Simeon is the iconic Hearst Castle, one of the few castles in the United States and former home of magnate William Randolph Hearst. There are a few tour choices to choose from but the impressive grounds, grandiose statues, and ornate architecture can be seen on the Grand Rooms Tour. Another great stop further South is the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, in Simi Valley, about 10 minutes off of the highway. It is the largest Presidential Library in the US and home to the Air Force One Museum. The ticket for both is included in one price. Guided or self-guided tours are available at this state of the art museum. Not only is it highly savvy, but you can also have your photo made at the Inauguration Address podium, just the way it was when Reagan gave his.
Taylor and I had a lovely breakfast during our drive at the Big Sur River Inn & Restaurant, on Highway 1 at Peneger Creek, 25 miles south of Carmel. The restaurant has a gorgeous stone fireplace (which was needed on our cold morning) and the food was delicious. Taylor chose pancakes and bacon and I, the poached egg hash, with sautéed onions, peppers, and tomatoes. It was definitely a good stopping choice on this long and windy road.
Pay close attention when driving this scenic beauty because at times there are sharp drop-offs plus the roads are incredibly windy in places. It is hard to concentrate on the highway lanes when the fabled landscape is beckoning you from every direction. Be on the lookout for the famous Bixby Bridge, a single span concrete arched bridge, highly popular site for photographs just north of the Hearst Castle.
Pacific Coast Highway Photo Gallery:
Wherever your journey takes you, the drive along California’s Pacific Coast Highway is like a vacation in itself. The sights are so impressive and for the most part, they are free. Nature at its finest. Tune in to our epic road trip playlist along the way and by all means, roll down the windows. Enjoy!
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