The last post we wrote about the Pacific Coast Highway, included our suggestions about where you should stay overnight if you want to take your time when driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles or vice versa, of course. Route 1 is more commonly know as the Pacific Coast Highway and has so many attractions, both natural and man-made that you should definitely check out along the way. It is important to note that due to a massive landslide in early 2017 when we visited the section of road between The Big Sur and Ragged Point was closed to all vehicles. It is due to reopen Summer 2018.
We spent 6 days exploring this famous road running through the Golden State, which is beyond perfect for road tripping along, to see what it has to offer. Here are our top 10 picks:
Sea lions in Monterey
Even though they woke me up in the middle of the night with their incessant barks, growls, and grunts outside my hotel window, they were still a highlight of the road trip for me. Even though we had stood and watched the sea lions at Pier 39 for hours in San Fransisco, I had to visit the Monterey sea lions whilst I was in Monterey too. We found them hanging around the marina, which is a short 5-minute walk from the town centre and also around Old Fisherman’s Wharf and you can certainly hear them before you see them.
They really are delightful creatures and ever so mesmerising, again we watched them for hours, jumping in and out of the water, climbing all over each other and sleeping on the rocks. They are well worth making the effort to see, just remember not to get too close though, especially the babies if you are lucky enough to see any – they are so cute!
Bixby Creek Bridge
If like me you watched the TV series Big Little Lies then you will recognise Bixby Creek Bridge instantly. It is the bridge shown in the opening credits. So when I found out that it is part of the Pacific Coast Highway I couldn’t wait to visit it and take a few photographs. Having now seen it, I must say it is definitely the most beautiful bridge on the route and extremely popular.
Even though the weather wasn’t that great on the day we visited, it had not put people off heading to see it. In fact, the pull over point was almost full and we struggled to find a spot to park the car. Once we did we then struggled to find a spot to take photos from without getting other people’s heads in the way. I don’t know if it is because it’s the bridge from Big Little Lies or because it a lovely looking bridge that attracts so many people but what I would advise is heading there early when there are fewer people there.
The Big Sur
Even on a chilly, foggy day, the Big Sur is still breathtaking. Even though we knew that the road was closed at the Big Sur and it would mean us turning around, heading back to Monterey and then taking the inland road before rejoining the Pacific Coast Highway, therefore adding approximately 2 hours onto our journey, we did it away. We headed as far as we could to see as much of it as we could and we are very glad we did.
Even though the Big Sur doesn’t have definitive boundaries, it stretches around 71 miles meaning there is plenty of opportunities to pull over and take in as much of the rugged coastline as possible. We had been informed that this stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway as a particularly popular one and pull over points were often full, however, when we visited it was super quiet, we assume because of the road closure meaning we had the choice of where to pull over and didn’t feel under pressure to move on quickly.
Elephant Seal Rookery
After spending hours watching the sea lions in San Fransisco and Monterey, I was so happy to find out that there was an elephant seal rookery for us to pull over at and see the magnificent, if odd-looking, creatures in their natural habitat. The weather was not the best when we visited, in fact, it was raining and was the most miserable day during the whole month we were in California but it did not stop us, and plenty of other people, stopping by to admire them.
The elephant seal rookery spreads over 6 miles of shoreline around Point Piedras Blancas and the viewing areas are open every day of the year, are wheelchair accessible, and free. No reservations required. The peak season for elephant seals is December to March but even when we visited in June there were hundreds of them chillaxing on the beach and frolicking in the sea.
Located near the seaside town of Cambria where we spent an evening, it is somewhere held in high regard in the local area and is a California Historical Landmark (CHL) therefore somewhere we wanted to see for ourselves. Hearst Castle, in the true sense of the word, is not, in fact, a castle but actually a mansion designed by architect Julia Morgan, between 1919 and 1947 for newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst.
In 1954 it became a California State Park and the site was opened to visitors in 1958. The mansion is located on the top of a hill and is only accessible by bus, which is included in the admin fee and you are only allowed in the mansion (also known as “the ranch”) on an organised tour. The decor is certainly a mish-mash with evident influences from different periods from different countries around the world. Also, the views from the top of the hill, on a clear day are phenomenal.
I’ll be honest, this may not feature in many people’s top attractions list, however, I loved it and believe that no trip down the Pacific Coast Highway is complete without taking a slight detour through downtown San Luis Obispo to this gross, yet fascinating attraction. It is exactly what it sounds like. It is 70 foot (21 m) long alley lined with chewed gum left by visitors. Mr ESLT could not believe that I wanted to visit it and wouldn’t even step food down the alley, instead, he simply stood at the top of it looking at me disapprovingly. I loved it, in a weird sort of way. Some of the gum had been stretched out and made into patterns and words – an interesting take on street art.
The alley started back in 1950, although why is very unknown and there are a number of stories of how it came to be. Regardless, it has been a tourist attraction since the 1970s and even though it has been fully cleaned on a number of occasions it has always been restored and is now one of the most popular attractions in San Luis Obispo and is steam-cleaned once a month to try to appease the haters who brand it “unsanitary and disgusting”.
Driving through Santa Barbara felt like we were driving through a movie scene, with its palm tree-lined, über clean streets and the star-spangled banner flying proudly from most buildings. We had driven through the Santa Ynez Mountains, foolishly with the roof of our convertible down – it was super cold, so when we arrived in Santa Barbara we decided to hit the beach as the sun was shining and we needed to warm up and as Santa Barbara is often called the “American Riviera” it seemed the perfect place in town to head.
We parked up the car near the beach and after nearly being knocked over by at least half a dozen inline skaters, we managed to cross the pavement and take a walk along the Stearns Wharf pier, adjacent to the harbour. Along the pier we found restaurants, shops and so many people fishing – watch out as they cast their lines. We enjoyed wandering up and down the pier and watching people on their boats and relaxing on the beach. I really wish we’d had more time in Santa Barbara to explore further. It really is a beautiful place.
Our visit to Malibu was a quick one, but I’m so glad we did visit, we would have kicked ourselves if we hadn’t. Located 30 miles west of Downtown Los Angles and known worldwide as being a place that the rich and famous, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Miley Cyrus and Jack Nicholson amongst others, live or have holiday homes, we knew that we had to pull over, at least for a little while and explore. Also known to have some of the best beaches in California, we pulled over at Nicholas Canyon County Beach and had the pleasure of visiting when it was relatively quiet, meaning we almost had it all to ourselves.
With beautiful golden sand and the Pacific Ocean crashing gently on the shore it was the perfect place to chill out and relax for a little while, especially before we hit the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles. If surfing is your thing then the beaches in Malibu are perfect. Nicknamed “the ‘Bu” by surfers and locals, it’s popularity is evident if the number of people trying to catch a wave was anything to go by.
Santa Monica Pier
We loved Santa Monica, especially Santa Monica Pier. There was so much to do on the pier, we spent nearly a full day there and could have quite easily spent longer there. Home to Pacific Park – a theme park complete with iconic big wheel, Playland Arcade – an arcade full of retro arcade games and the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium plus others, there really is something for everyone on the pier.
The end of iconic Route 66 also sits on the pier and there is a sign to celebrate the fact, it is the perfect place to get an awesome photo. We visited on a Monday in June and the pier was jam-packed with people all having a good time, it was a great place to spend a day. If you are interested in the history of the pier then free historical walking tours are offered every Saturday and Sunday at 11.00am and noon, starting at the Pier Shop at the historic Merry-Go-Round Building, no reservation required.
Venice is amazing and probably my most favourite spots along the Pacific Coast Highway. Venice has a laid-back, bohemian vibe with plenty of funky shops, street performers, colourful murals and colourful characters too. The boardwalk at Venice Beach is really a sight to behold and is home to Muscle Beach Venice, loads of souvenir shops and Venice Skate Park, where watched people showing off their skills and pulling all kinds of crazy stunts on skates and skateboards.
The beach itself in Venice was surprisingly not that busy and we found a spot to chill out on with no problem at all away from the hustle and bustle of the boardwalk. There are also plenty of restaurants, cafes and bars in Venice to grab something to eat or a drink at including the High Rooftop Lounge at the Hotel Erwin which is the only rooftop bar in Venice and the perfect place to enjoy sundowners.
We had an amazing time driving the Pacific Coast Highway and we are so lucky that we have been able to tick it off our bucket list, it really was a once in a lifetime experience especially because of all the awesome attractions along the way.
Have you ever driven the Pacific Coast Highway? What was your favourite attraction?