There are a lot of lists on the web talking about the most scenic road trip you can take in America. Their choices vary, but there is one that appears on every one of the lists. The Pacific Coast Highway through California.
The official designation is California State Route 1, and it also goes by Cabrillo Highway, Shoreline Highway and sometimes just Coast Highway depending on the section of the state you are in. Large sections of it have been designated as a Scenic Highway meaning it has a memorable landscape with no visual intrusions (billboards, buildings etc). It runs a total of 659 miles varying from 2 lane highway with winding turns to freeway sections with most of that directly on the coast. You could probably drive it in one day, but why would you? It’s too beautiful to rush it.
The photos in this post are where it Pacific Coast Highway once again returns to the coast near the Santa Monica Pier after having diverted inland through much of Los Angeles. An interesting note, is where it returns to the coast at the Pier is also the official ending point of the historic Route 66.) This is probably the section with the heaviest traffic, yet it still manages to be a beautiful highway even here.
The stretch from Los Angeles up to Malibu is lined with inviting beaches and you might want to take time to stop in Malibu and stretch your legs and grab lunch on the Malibu Pier. I drive a sports car built for the open road and it always tells me thank you one I pass Malibu. Traffic lightens considerably after Malibu and it’s a nice stretch of road with gentle curves and beautiful scenery.
The road moves inland when it cuts across Point Dume but only for a bit and you’re back on the coast. Just after it does you’ll see a small sign indicating El Matador Beach. You won’t be able to see it from the road, but if you are up for a hike turn off and hike down to the beach. It’s hands down one of the most beautiful beaches you’ll ever see. There are lots of caves, arches carved in huge rocks by the surf and pristine beach.
After you pass Point Magu, demarked by the piece of mountain that has been sliced in half to allow the road to go through, there is a beach where the photo on the top of this post was taken. The PCH moves inland here for a short stretch through Oxnard where it joins the 101 freeway and returns to the coast. Ventura is next up and has a great pier if you need to stretch your legs again.
The 101 hugs the coast until you get to Santa Barbara, another great place to stop and enjoy what the town has to offer. It will veer inland again not long after that and returns to the coast at Pismo Beach. It moves inland again at San Luis Obispo and then separates from the 101 and returns to the shore as SR 1 in Morro Bay.
Here is where you will start finding some of the most breathtaking views as it works its way up to Big Sur and the famous Bixby Bridge. It keeps hugging the coast up through Carmel By the Sea, and Monterey. All of these are places you will want to spend some time if you can. These towns are beyond beautiful.
It manages to hug the coast for the most part up though San Francisco where it shared the Golden Gate Bridge with the 101 and then soon returns to the shore. For the most part it hugs the coast on up through the state. I’m not familiar enough with this part of the road to advise you on how it looks but I’m sure it’s beautiful every inch of the way.
It does continue into Oregon and Washington but at this point it’s become US Highway 101 once again.
South of Los Angeles it returns to the shore at Long Beach and hugs the shore through Sunset Beach, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and Dana Point. After Dana Point it gets sucked into the 5 Freeway which has taken to the coast on down to San Diego.
I’ve always wanted to drive the entire length of it. So far I have only managed to do sections but I can tell you this. If you’re looking for a great road-trip, the iconic Pacific Coast Highway is the one you want to take.
See more photos after the break….