The Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) does start in Northern Washington and ends in San Diego. However, as we had limited time in California and wanted to see the most dramatic scenery we opted to drive the section from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Also, driving this section of the Pacific Coast Highway in a 5 litre Ford Mustang had been a dream of Mr. ESLT’s for as long as I have known him, so when we got the opportunity to do it in June his dream came true. We picked up the car in Downtown San Francisco, chucked our backpacks in the trunk (we became full on Americans whilst across the pond, obviously I mean boot!) and hit the open road! We did make a detour to Yosemite National Park for a couple of days before heading back to the coast and starting our trip down the breath-taking Pacific Coast Highway.
It would have been possible to drive directly from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 6 hours, but where’s the fun in that? We wanted to take our time to admire the scenery, pull over when we wanted to and explore and stay in some cute towns along the road. Therefore, we decided to split the drive into 6 segments, meaning 5 overnight stays in the following towns:
(San Francisco – Monterey: 1 h 56 min, 120 miles)
Our first overnight stop on the Pacific Coast Highway was the delightful town of Monterey. As I am obsessed with the TV show, Big Little Lies, I had to visit the town where it is set and filmed. We arrived around 2.00pm and spent the rest of the afternoon, wandering along Cannery Row, eating ice cream and watching the sea lions at the marina for hours. We even witnessed a sick baby sea-lion being rescued and taken away to a rehabilitation centre in San Francisco, fingers crossed the little guy made it. We spent the evening at the Monterey Bay Inn and enjoyed an amazing seafood meal at Schooners Coastal Kitchen & Bar which was reasonably priced considering the quality of the food and the views over the bay.
The following day we headed down to Old Fisherman’s Wharf and hunted down the coffee shop that is often seen in Big Little Lies, unfortunately, it was closed so we couldn’t grab a drink. We did, however, wander down the pier, have a look in some of the souvenir shops and breathed in the fresh sea air mixed with the mouth-watering aroma of clam chowder which is sold at almost every café, restaurant and stall in Monterey. If we’d had more time we would have hopped on one of the many whale watching tour boats, although it was quite choppy out at sea during our visit and I don’t know if I could have actually stomached it.
(Monterey – Cambria: 2 h 29 min, 141 miles)
We then hit the road. We knew that due to a landslide earlier this year that the Pacific Coast Highway was blocked between Big Sur and Ragged Point. However, we really wanted to see Bixby Creek Bridge, the one in the opening titles to Big Little Lies, and the Big Sur itself. Therefore, we drove as far as we could before turning around heading almost back to Monterey and taking the inland Route 101. Unfortunately, the scenery was nothing special, just fields and road, and the route only offered us either McDonald’s, Wendys or Subway for lunch. Once we arrived in Cambria, our next stopover point, we checked into our hotel the Castle Inn, dumped our backpacks and hit the beach for sunset.
We wandered along the boardwalk and watched the surfers do their thing as the sun went down. It really was a lovely and very chilled out experience. After a long day in the car, we were ready to sit, have a couple of drinks, a chat, and a great meal, however, we could not be bothered to hunt around for somewhere. Therefore, we opted for the closest place to our hotel, the Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill and what a great choice it was. It was packed to the rafters and we had to wait for a table, but that wasn’t a problem as it gave us the opportunity to grab a couple of beers at the bar. Once our table was ready we opted for another great seafood meal before retiring to one of the most comfortable beds we slept in on our month-long California trip and grabbed a much-needed early night.
(Cambria – Pismo Beach: 52 min, 46 miles)
We woke early the next morning and drove back up north on the Pacific Coast Highway to Ragged Point. Unfortunately, it was so foggy we couldn’t even see the ocean. So whilst we waited for the fog to lift we had breakfast at the Ragged Point Inn & Resort. The fog hadn’t lifted by the time we had finished eating so we decided to head back south on the Pacific Coast Highway stopping at various places along the way, including the Elephant Seal Rookery and Hearst Castle. By mid-afternoon, the fog had gone and the Californian sunshine was back out in full force. We, therefore, kept pulling over whenever we liked to take in our beautiful and dramatic scenery.
Once in Pismo Beach, we checked into the Quality Inn. After dropping our bags in the room we headed across the road to the Pismo Beach Premium Outlets to do a bit of shopping before the shops closed for the evening. Laden down with bags we headed to Brooks Burgers right next door to the hotel for the most amazing burgers we have ever eaten, seriously. The next day we headed to the beautiful beach for a few hours, it was super busy, with families who looked like they had brought everything but the kitchen sink for the day. We relaxed, we chatted, we basked in the sun and we also dipped our toe in the ocean. It was the perfect way to spend a Saturday and a great chilled out day, something we needed as we had been super busy from the second we landed in California.
(Pismo Beach – Solvang: 52 min, 53.9 miles)
We headed to Solvang mid-afternoon and straight to the laundrette, yes we really are that rock and roll! We’d been in California for 10 days by that point and we were running out of clean clothes, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to do laundry. After repacking our backpacks we headed to our hotel for the evening, the beautiful boutique New Haven Inn to check in. We then walked into Solvang village which is one of the cutest villages I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. It is a Danish style village with old-world European architecture complete with windmill. The village was buzzing with people and finding somewhere for lunch was quite difficult however we eventually found a table at the Bit O’Denmark Restaurant and indulged in Danish sausages and steins of beer!
That evening we went to a couple of bars in the village for a couple more drinks. We noticed that it became a ghost town once the sun went down, proving it’s a place people take a day trip to rather than to spend a long time, which I think is a shame as there are plenty of cute bars and restaurants to eat and drink in after the sun has gone down for the day. The following morning we got up early to explore before the crowds descended. We grabbed a pastry from the Danish bakery and some delicious fudge from the Old Danish Fudge Kitchen to snack on during our journey and hit the road to our next and final stopover destination.
(Solvang – Santa Monica: 2 h 21 min, 118 miles)
We had to arrive in Santa Monica no later than 2pm as that’s what time the car hire company closed and we needed to drop the car off, therefore, we whizzed from Solvang through to Santa Monica with a couple of quick stops in Santa Barbara and Malibu along the way. I wish we’d had more time as both are stunning, especially the beaches but alas we didn’t and arrived in Santa Monica with just minutes to spare. After dropping the car off, we jumped in a Uber and headed to the Viceroy Santa Monica which offered us complimentary champagne on arrival, which gets a massive thumbs up from me! We grabbed lunch and a couple of cocktails by the pool as the DJ played loud dance tunes. After a quick shower and change, we headed to ONYX Rooftop Bar atop the Hotel Shangri-La for a couple of bottles of wine and sunset. After spending a week on the road in seaside towns, it was actually quite nice to be back in a cosmopolitan city.
The next day we hit the beach early and spent time relaxing on the golden sand however it is a popular beach and quickly became busy. We, therefore, packed up our things and headed to Santa Monica Pier. We wandered through Pacific Park, the amusement park on the pier, although didn’t go on any of the rides, instead opting to walk to the end of the pier and also stopping by the end of Route 66 sign before grabbing lunch and a couple of beers at Big Dean’s Ocean Front Cafe, which is a cool open-air cafe bar located right next to the bike hire place at the start of the pier. After a very filling lunch, we headed back to the hotel, collected our cases and Ubered through to West Hollywood for a four-night stay, bringing the end of our Pacific Coast Highway road trip sadly to an end.
We had an amazing week travelling down the Pacific Coast Highway in the Mustang and it really was a dream come true for Mr. ESLT. Hopefully, we will be able to return in the future and drive the whole way down it when the stretch between Ragged Point and the Big Sur has reopened.