Driving California’s Iconic Pacific Coast Highway
California’s famous Pacific Coast Highway 1, winding around the coast and hillsides of central California, brings one face to face with some of the most impressive beauty in all of the United States.
On a California vacation with my daughter, Taylor, we had the chance to drive the 17-Mile Drive (Point Lobos State Reserve). We took the Pacific Coast Highway (the All-American Road or PCH) from Carmel to San Luis Obispo, all 123 miles of it. 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.
Making the Iconic Drive
Point Lobos State Reserve allows you to wind your way through the Del Monte Forest along the dramatic Pacific coast. The charge is $10 per car. Point Lobos was the nation’s first undersea ecological reserve with points of interest allowing you to take in the scenery along the way.
Huckleberry Hill, the Inn at Spanish Bay, and Cypress Point Lookout were my favorites along the way. The Monterey cypress trees were gorgeous and only grew here and in Carmel. Of course, the Lone Cypress, dating back 250 years, is impressive, too, and great for photo-ops.
Make sure to stop at some of the locations 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 the parks system.
If I had to pick one thing about the coastal PCH California drive that really wowed me, it would be the torrential waves crashing against huge jagged rocks, repeatedly. 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! It became apparent from the hundreds of photos I took of the same scene, just in a different location.
Driving PCH is a great way to get your feel of adorable harbor seals lining the beaches. It is mesmerizing watching them do the simplest tasks, inching their way across the sand with their fat bodies. The white-sand beaches, jagged black rocks, layered blue waters, and crashing waves set the perfect scenery to admire along the way. California’s colossal redwood trees will put you in touch with your nature, as well. Roll down the windows to take advantage of the fragrant trees.
A Side Trip to Another Iconic Gem
The famous Hearst Castle is another attraction along the Pacific Coast Highway. Located in San Simeon, it is one of the few castles in the United States and former home of magnate William Randolph Hearst. There are a few tour choices at Hearst Castle, but we chose the Grand Rooms Tour. This allows an in-depth look at the immaculate grounds, grandiose furnishings, and ornate architecture.
Another great stop further South is the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, located in Simi Valley. It is about 10 minutes off of the highway and is the most extensive Presidential Library in the country. The Reagan Library is also home to the Air Force One Museum. The ticket for both museums is included in one fee. Guided or self-guided tours are available at this state of the art museum. You can even also have your photo made at Reagan’s Inauguration Address podium. Of course, we did not miss that touristy moment.
Food Along the Way
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 and perfectly prepared. Taylor chose Pancakes and Bacon and me, the Poached Egg Hash, with sautéed onions, peppers, and tomatoes. It was a smart stop on this long and windy road.
Pay close attention when driving this beautiful scenic beauty because there are sharp drop-offs plus the roads that 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. It is a highly popular site for photographs just north of the Hearst Castle.
A Very Memorable Experience
Wherever your journey takes you, the drive along California’s Pacific Coast Highway is like a vacation. The sights are so impressive and for the most part, they are free—nature at its finest.
Please tune in to our epic road trip playlist along the way and, by all means, roll down the windows. Enjoy!
Entrance to both museums mentioned above was complimentary. As always, all opinions and reviews are uniquely mine and 100% unbiased.
Pacific Coast Highway Photo Gallery
Pin This Post For Later
Check out our other California posts: