California's Highway One - Top 10 Things to Do + See
You've got a few days to do the Pacific Coast Highway? No problem. Here's my highlights of where to stop, what to see and what to do on a quick trip up the US-1.
Where did I go?
Pacific Coastal Highway, also known as the US-1 is the coastal route that leads from San Diego all the way up the California Coast past San Francisco to the Oregon border. Known to be one of the most beautiful drives in the world... which we had the opportunity and didn't do a few years back when driving from Seattle to San Diego. At that time we took the inland route and went to places like Crater Lake and Multnomah Falls which was all amazing, however each time the drive from Seattle to San Fran was mentioned people would always exclaim "oh my goodness, you drove down PCH... it's so beautiful isn't it!". Well, we didn't do it so we wouldn't know... but it became clear that it was something we should do. The amount of people who spoke so highly of the drive just got longer over the years. So having a few days spare... we decided to finally see what PCH was all about and stick to that coast line like glue - well, with a little involuntary diversion here or there...
Here is our route...
1 - Los Angeles
We were in Los Angeles after Coachella so this was the start of our trip. We were only here for a few short hours and had been before. Cool city, I imagine its an awesome place to live... aside from the traffic, OMG the traffic!
We followed a GPS route we'd found online and took some cool photos up in a residential area with great views of the Hollywood sign... we took these right on here on Deronda Drive, Los Angeles. Click here for map. After a few pics we met a friend for lunch downtown. This was pretty much the extent of our visit this time around.
Visiting the the Hollywood Walk of Fame is a fun stroll, drive down Sunset Boulevard and stop by Rodeo Drive. I've done all of these things on a previous trip with friends back in 2010 or 2011. What I've never done is a Tour of the Hollywood homes but if that's up your alley theres plenty to choose from.
2 - Manhattan Beach
We stopped here at night and experienced the most beautiful sunset. Its a cool quirky little town with amazing beach houses and small winding streets you can wander through. Theres a bunch of bars and restaurants, we stopped at The Strand House. Beautiful modern bar/restaurant with great views, an awesome cocktail menu, wine and the pizza was perfect.
3 - Santa Monica Pier
There's one thing to be said about the US-1, there is no shortage of Piers! Santa Monica being one of the more famous with the iconic entrance and Ferris wheel. The beach is beautiful, with cycle paths, people on scooters, roller skates and bicycles.
4 - Malibu
The coastline driving through Malibu is stunning... I was reading up the list of celebrities that live and have lived there and it was endless! Its pretty apparent too as you drive through and see all of the huge homes. The area was beautiful. Here is a view of the beach a little up the coast from Malibu.
5 - Santa Barbara
Beautiful little town, so full of character. The foliage they have along the California coast is amazing. I'm a big succulent fan, and I'm not sure what all of the plants were but there were amazing big succulent looking things everywhere. Shopping was great here, lots of stores and cafes and restaurants. Lovely place to saunter through.
After being in town we drove over to Hendry's Beach, Boathouse bar and restaurant which was right on the beach. The food, drinks, location and views were amazing... definite recommendation if stopping for food in the area.
6 - San Luis Obispo Drive-In Sunset Cinema
This was one of my favourite stops of the trip that was outside of the highways coastal views. The whole Drive-in Cinema concept being from the UK is pretty much only something you see in movies. I think they have actually started in the UK now but with our forever likelihood of rain it just wouldn't be the same. A big old soda pop, sunset and a massive popcorn - the experience was really cool and definitely recommended if you're passing through this area in an evening.
7 - Ragged Point
This place was really an accidental find. We were getting really confused as to why the GPS kept sending us inland and wouldn't allow us to stay on highway 1. Well it turned out that there had been landslides last year and there are still parts of the highway that are not clear. Ragged Point was pretty much the furthest north we could go before going inland and looping back around to Big Sur.
Anyway, Ragged Point was beautiful.The views were stunning, what we did find was just south of there at San Simeon was interesting. We hit the area just at the time when hundreds of Elephant Seals were gathered right along the coast line. We were there towards end of April which is when the baby seals are molting and getting ready to go off to sea. There were so many! They were loud and rowdy and fun to watch as a random addition to the trip.
8 - Big Sur
So unbeknownst to us until literally half way up the coast, a large chunk of HWY 1 is still closed from the landslides in 2017. (I didn't even know there had been landslides) Typical. Anyway just a little word of warning, it's still closed now in Mid July so just a heads up to check on that when planning your route.
After going inland and looping back down we got to view the beauty of the coast that is Big Sur... definitely the most beautiful part of the costal drive for me. We drove over the famous bridge and soaked up the amazing scenery before staying in Monterey.
9 - Monterey
Another beautiful little town with a marina area and a pier. Amaaaazing big succulent things and cacti everywhere, always a winner with me. The place just had a really good vibe about it. Cool buskers on the pier, good seafood, beautiful views. I really enjoyed waking up and wandering around this small seaside town.
10 - San Francisco
The pièce de résistance! San Francisco is one of the most amazing cities. I absolutely love this place. There's something about getting toward the northwest for me in the US. I spent a lot of time during my years on ships sailing out of Seattle which is one of my utter favourite places. Sometimes I think that its the climate, the foliage, that fog and rain and evergreens that warms with me. I just have this connected feeling thats difficult to explain.
I'm going to do a separate post on San Fran as I love it so much it deserves some special attention but here's a few photographs. Wine tasting, amazing coffee, postcard row, relaxing in parks, lunch with friends, beautiful scenery, amazing sky line dinner, trolley rides, fresh oysters... love love love SF!