Driving the Pacific Coast Highway had been at the top of our list since living in California. We had seen beautiful pictures of the coast and endless recommendations from travel blogs and knew we had to drive it one day.
We had in mind that we’d drive from LA to the bay area since it seemed more convenient, but for our 10 year anniversary we decided to do a last minute trip to San Francisco. At the conclusion of our trip we drove back home from San Francisco to LA.
Lets start out by saying that this has been one of the most beautiful road trips we’ve done! The Pacific Coast Highway leaves you mesmerized and it’s hard to keep your eyes on the road! We made quite a few stops along the way that we highly recommend. Some we skipped because we were on a time crush to get back home but here they are, starting from San Francisco:
Starting with the obvious, San Francisco is such a romantic, classy, and beautiful city. Here you will fall in love with the views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the colorful and Victorian style houses, the bay, and the city views. San Francisco offers many places for a romantic date with your loved one, plenty of places for eating, and fun places to shop at. By far, San Francisco has become one of our favorite cities in California.
Next stop: Santa Cruz 1hr 43 mins
We weren’t sure if to stop at Santa Cruz given the fact that my partner does not like rides, but we decided to stop anyways to see what the fuss was all about. We started with a pedi-cab from our car to the boardwalk. Here we found the most colorful atmosphere with fun games, rides, and food. A quick stop here is nice for grabbing lunch and enjoying rides, that’s if you’re into them!
Next stop: Bixby Bridge near Monterrey 1hr 13 mins (note: we skipped Monterrey due to a time crunch but it seems worthy of a stop)
You’ve probably seen this bridge in many pictures and there’s great reasons why! The views here are amazing. Though the whole coast offers great views, Bixby Bridge adds a nice contrast to the scene. An alternate way to see the bridge is from behind. All you need to do is drive into the dirt road next to bridge and find a small trail that leads to great photo opportunities. Plus, few tourist do this so you might have this view all to yourself.
Next Stop: Big Sur-McWay Falls 38 mins
Big Sur: McWay Falls
After leaving Bixby Bridge, you will begin the curvy ride through Big Sur. Pay attention to signs as this one can be missed. Just park along the side of the road and then follow the trail down that leads to McWay Falls. Now, many places take our breath away, but few do it the way McWay Falls at Big Sur did. The water was incredibly blue and the sound of the waves crashing against the shore made this our favorite stop along the Coast. I did not want to leave! I’m sure you will love it to, so do not skip this one.
Next Stop: Solvang, CA 3hrs (we skipped notable mentions-San Simeon Hearts Castle and San Luis Obispo)
This isn’t exactly next to the coast but a small detour from Highway One onto the 101 is well worth it. When you arrive in Solvang it feels you have left California and arrived in a Danish Village. With an abundance of wine tasting tours, to delicious food, shopping, windmills, and horse trolley rides, you are sure to enjoy this peaceful and relaxing city. Seriously, make a stop here!
Next Stop: Santa Barbara 44 mins
This is one of the most beautiful cities in California! With beautiful mountain backdrops and amazing ocean views, this place is one we’ll be going back to. Don’t miss Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, more wine drinking, and simply siting back to enjoy the beach. This place is all about relaxing and only a short drive away from Los Angeles.
Next Stop: Santa Monica and Venice Beach 1hr 47 mins
Santa Monica Pier and Venice Beach:
I put these two together because they are only a short bike drive away from each other and both worth seeing. Both are tourist central, yet still a fun experience. The Santa Monica Pier is the end of route 66 and offers some great rides, games, and fun. The food? Not so great. But this is a place to enjoy a beautiful sunset on the pier while capturing the lights and the fun. Venice Beach on the other hand is extremely fun for people watching and for boardwalk entertainment. You can walk to, ride a bike, or drive a short distance to get here.
We were left hooked after driving the Pacific Coast Highway. We will surely return one day but will take at least three days to enjoy it. Have you ever driven the Pacific Coast Highway? What were your favorite stops?
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