With hundreds of scenic highway drives throughout this beautiful land, an opportunity for a much-needed escape just might be around the next curve. A scenic driving vacation lets you decide where to turn off for a picnic, which winery to visit for a savory sample, and whether the world’s largest ball of twine is really a must-see like a billboard said: All you need is the ideal scenic highway.
Known as Route 1 in California and The 101 farther north, this fabled scenic highway follows the Northwest Pacific coast from the sandy beaches of Southern California coast to the rugged coastline of the Pacific Northwest and the Oregon coast. Along the way, the Pacific Coast Highway passes through quaint coastal towns, numerous national parks, and wildlife refuges, concluding around Olympic Peninsula in upstate Washington. The PCH is invented for driving as this road is where car commercials are filmed. On the Pacific Coast Highway, you don’t crack your window for a bit of air, and you roll it down all the way to feel the wind blast through your hair like a lighthearted tornado. Take windows out of the equation entirely and rent a convertible for the wind and the motor are the only two elements you’ll need.
Whether you drive up the California coast or down the Oregon coast, either direction you drive is like a movie you don’t want to end, with scenery changes and cliffhangers to keep your eyes wide at all times. Most drivers, though, begin at the Southern California coast near Santa Barbara and work their way up the Northern California coastline, where lavish resorts are harmoniously juxtaposed against pristine sandy coastal beaches.
The first major must-see attraction on Highway 1 is Hearst Castle in San Simeon, a surreal mansion with 165 palatial rooms built by eccentric billionaire William Randolph Hearst, where zebras-yes, zebras-roam the lands. Booking a tour is highly recommended for Tour No. 4, the garden tour, to spend the most time in the opulent gardens and around the extravagant Roman-themed swimming pool.
The Pacific Coast Highway north of San Simeon is truly where the scenery becomes one with the pavement, as the serpentine road twists along cliffs that drop hundreds of feet into the sea, winding through several state parks where sea lions sleep on hidden beaches. This section of the highway runs through Big Sur, where you can eat lunch at Nepenthe, a cliffside house built by Orson Welles for bride Rita Hayworth.
From Monterey Highway 1 carves past popular San Francisco and Sonoma, bringing you near some of northern California’s best-hidden inns. The Jenner Inn in Jenner is spectacularly located where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean, with specialized cottages for all tastes. Seventy miles north in the small village of Elk, the Harbor House Inn, built entirely of redwood, stands on the ocean’s front door with eternity all around, creating a magnificent. Stay for several nights and explore the heart of California’s redwood country.
Changing lanes, the Pacific scenery throughout Oregon’s coast-hugging section of Highway 101 is unrivaled, with some of the most spectacular vistas found between Florence and Lincoln City. Quite possibly the best view on the entire Pacific Coast Highway is at Cape Perpetu, a scenic area just south of Yachats where your eyes will have to stretch far to encompass all 150 miles of visible coastline.
With thousands of opportunities and unique places to stop and gaze at the natural wonders of the coast, you’ll have many chances to make the Pacific Coast Highway your own. Whichever part of The 101 you spend the most time in, remember to never drive at night, for daylight is essential to enjoying the awe-inspiring sights.
FESTIVALS & EVENTS
California Gray Whale migration — January Big Sur International Marathon — January Big Sur Experimental Music Festival at the Henry Miller Memorial Library — May
Sea Lion’s Arrival — January Berlin and Beyond Film Festival — January California Antiquarian Book Fair — February Annual Bon Appetit Wine & Spirits Focus — February Street Performer’s Festival — March San Francisco International Asia American Film Festival — March Cherry Blossom Festival — April San Francisco Bay to Breakers Footrace — May Sea Music Festival — May The Great San Francisco Crystal Fair — June Ethnic Dance Festival — June Fillmore Street Jazz Festival — July Mime Troupe in the Park — July Chocolate Festival — September Absolut a la Carte, a la Park — September Shakespeare Festival — September International Vintage Poster Fair — October