Cities National parks

Pacific Coast Highway : discover one of the most beautiful roads in the world from Santa Cruz to Big Sur

17 February 2016
Pacific Coast Highway Highway 1

This is one mind-blowing picture, right ? What if I tell you there is a road following this beautiful seaside ? You surely cannot go on a road trip in California and not drive along Pacific Coast Highway ! This 1000-kilometer road is going from the North end of California (border with Oregon) to San Diego and goes the length of the state from from top to bottom. Highway 1California Dream Road… This road has many (nick)names and is part of the 27 All-American roads, that are recognized for their archeological, cultural, historical, natural, touristic and/or panoramic riches. And this distinction is well deserved, the trip is amazing and you will be able to fill up your camera and memory with splendid shots of those craggy coasts and turquoise ocean. It is definitely possible to drive along the whole way, but the most visited part usually goes from San Francisco to Los Angeles. I am going to show you around Santa Cruz, Monterey and Big Sur today ! Honestly, it is very hard not to stop every 5 minutes, but if you consider those few stops, you will have a pretty good base 🙂

Pacific Coast Highway Half Moon Bay

» First stop in Santa Cruz

And we started our discovery of this beautiful coast with the small town of Santa Cruz ! From San Francisco, you will have to drive down around 1H30 to reach Santa Cruz, and you will firstly go through Half Moon Bay (pictures above) : with its nice beaches, its surfing waves, its (almost) Irish or Scottish lookalike cliffs. For us, this day also marked the outing of shorts and flip-flops, even in the middle of April (enough to start our leg tan) !

Pacific Coast Highway Santa Cruz

Getting to Santa Cruz, we firstly went to the boardwalk. You will have a view over this nice ocean, but also over the surroundings : the city’s beaches, the moored fishing boats, and also the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. It is an amusement park created in 1907, in order to build the Western Coney Island (from New-York City). You can also say hi to the numerous sea lions chilling on the seaside, like in San Francisco. To go shopping in the vintage shops, go on Pacific Avenue.

Pacific Coast Highway Monterey

» Halt in Monterey

After an hour ride along Monterey bay, you will reach the city named the same (almost homonym, but it is not Monterrey in Mexico). In the meantime, you surely have stopped quite a few times next to the road to admire the view from the numerous spots dedicated to this activity (called vista points on the signs). Head for Fisherman’s Wharf first. On this pontoon, you will find small shops (for tourists yes) and some restaurants (same but we ate well !). Take a walk around the city to discover the Spanish architecture of the houses, for which you will have an explanation on street signs along the way. You can also go on Cannery Row, a street parallel to the ocean. The name of the street is due to the presence of old sardine canning factories (the last one closed in 1973). In this area of the city you can also find the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We have not have the chance to visit it, but it comes highly recommended ! (We actually almost can say that we took that tour thanks to the thousands Snapchats we received haha)

Pacific Coast Highway 17-mile drive

Once you have visited the city, take your car back to go along the 17-mile drive between Monterey and Carmel. It is a 27-kilometer panoramic road that is worth the detour. We only drove a part of it, and have not paid to go through, but it seems like it usually costs $10 per vehicle. You can plan a stop on the way, to have a picnic for example, it will be worth the small investment. It is also worth the detour to watch the sun going down over the sea ! We simply unfolded our camping seats facing the ocean and could enjoy the view with a small glas of white wine (in our amazing glasses from Napa Valley).

Pacific Coast Highway Big Sur

» Big Sur

Back on superb Pacific Coast Highway, you will reach one of the best places of the route about 1 hour after Monterey : Big Sur. This part of the coast is about 140 kilometers long starting from Carmel. This place is really amazing and deserves a bit of time for you to discover all the vista points over the sea. I can only recommend stopping as much as you want to – extending the length of the trip a bit, but definitely worth it ! One of the most famous spots is Bixby Creek Bridge (picture on the left), about 20 kilometers away from Carmel. It was built to cross Bixby Creek, and the view over the bridge is splendid. Another place to visit is McWay Fall in the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (picture on the right) ! We actually found out about it thanks to a tourist met on the way; it is about 40 minutes away from Bixby Bridge. After walking for a few minutes, the view is amazing : palm trees, turquoise water, white sand beach, a 25-meter high waterfall… Who has it better than us ? After that, to see some elephant seals chilling in a idyllic setting, go to Elephant seal vista point, further down the road.

Pacific Coast Highway

I am only presenting you the major spots on this beautiful road called Pacific Coast Highway. But as I was saying earlier, you will have to make numerous stops to fully enjoy the landscapes  ! We originally wanted to go till Santa Barbara but we ended up stoping earlier to keep up with our schedule : we had been late by half a day because of bad weather earlier in the trip (hazards of the road trip !). Do not hesitate to comment with your tips on the rest of the potential trip (Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, Malibu…) or even share your pictures on the Facebook page !

PS : The last picture was taken on our way to the campground we stayed at for the night. A bit further away from the coastline, we also found beautiful landscapes and a nice sunset ! 

PPS : I actually went twice on this side of California during the road trip. First with the girls and we had the chance to have perfect blue sky and warm sun, allowing us to fully enjoy the experience and take the nice pictures you see here. The second time was when we joined the guys in their van, and unfortunately we were not as lucky with the weather… Not gonna lie, you should make this trip according to weather forecasts as it is a day (or more) you will spend outside and you should have the perfect setting to admire the view(s).

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