Highway 1 – The Perfect West Coast Road Trip

Highway 1 is officially known as State Route 1. Famous for its scenic views and wonderful beach towns it runs from Legget, north of San Francisco, all the way to Orange County. It is partly overlapping with Highway 101 in some areas, but most often it running in parallel.

Construction of the first parts of what is now Highway 1 started already in 1919, but the name itself was not being used until the 1930s. Fragmented parts of what is now Highway 1 was gathered under that name from when it was first introduced in the 30¼ss until the 60¼ss when legislative route numbers were made obsolete and more or less the whole stretch of road was named Highway 1.

Highway 1 follows the coast and takes you through coastal towns such as Malibu, Carmel and Santa Cruz, through scenic landscapes and of course across the Golden Gate Bridge. It is also dotted with monuments, attractions and landmarks, some of which are listed below.

A one-way drive could have been completed in a weekend, but this gives you very limited time to spend on attractions along the road. And in addition to the great views it is actually the landmarks, attractions and coastal towns that are really the essence of a Highway 1 road trip. To have enough time to enjoy both the driving and at least some of the attractions at least 5-7 days is needed for a one-way trip. Considering the amount of time you would need to spend on other scenic highways to see the diverse landscapes and places along Highway 1, a week here is well spent vacation time.

If you do go on a one-way trip, a southward direction typically gives you better views of the ocean as you're on the right side of the road. It also makes it easier to stop at beaches or other ocean side attractions.

Recommended attractions, landmarks and towns
As already mentioned there are a lot of interesting places to see along Highway 1. Below is a list of recommended attractions, landmarks and coastal towns to visit. Please note that the list is not exhaustive, and that there's a lot more to do and see.

Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino county
Here Highway 1 is a two lane winding road known as the Shoreline Highway, starting in Leggett. In Medocino county you have both wineries and micro breweries at hand, and the nature with its coastline is wonderful.

Sonoma county is famous for its over 250 wineries, but here you will also find beaches declared the cleanest in the state as well as parks, the Quaryhill research botanic garden and several museums. The city of Santa Rosa is where most of the Sonoma county population lives.

Before crossing the Golden Gate bridge to San Francisco, Marin county will provide you with natural beauty in the ocean and the landscape, as well man-built beauty in the Marin County Civic Center. Also worth a stop is the town of Sausalito, located just before you cross the bridge, where you will find plenty of restaurants and cafes.

San Francisco
Between San Francisco and Santa Cruz, Highway 1 is a large freeway, making this part of the trip less interesting from a driving perspective. San Francisco is of course worth a stopin it self, and if you want to explore the city by car following the 49 mile drive is highly recommended.

Santa Cruz
Famous as the number one town for everyone into watersports Santa Cruz provides a laid back getaway where you can learn to surf, play volleyball on the beach or enjoy the Beach Boardwalk, a small non-admission theme park just by the ocean. Also take the opportunity to get some clothes from O'Neill if you are into sweatshirts, t-shirts or other surf / skate clothing, as Santa Cruz is where it all started.

After passing Santa Cruz an optional detour (30 min oneway) can take you to Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park, where the kids get their kicks while also learning to appreciate horticulture (industry and science of plant cultivation).

For golfers the area between Carmel and Monterey provides a lot of opportunities for high quality experiences. Pebble Beach Golf Links is one of the most famous courses, hosting several professional tournament while Del Monte Golf Course is one of the oldest courses in the country.

But Carmel is not only a golfers paradise, the town itself is a lovely place to spend the afternoon sipping on a coffee or a glass of wine. And the beaches in Carmel as well as Pebble Beach are also well worth a visit.

Monterey Bay
Monterey Bay Aquarium is the main attraction in Monterey and is highly recommended. It was founded in 1984, and uses salt water from the ocean and measures such as a wave machine to provide a suitable climate for thousands of spices including the Giant Kelp.

For restaurants and eateries head to Monterey Wharf. From here you can also go on whale and fishing trips.

Big Sur coastline
The Big Sur streach of Highway 1 is definitely the most dramatic part, with some times difficult driving, but also great ocean views and great redwood grooves. This stretch of Highway 1 is an official National Scenic Byway.

Before actually getting to Big Sur you have the possibility to visit Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, featuring a range of forest as well as an 80-foot waterfall, and Point Sur State Historic Park with the Point Sur Lighthouse.

When then heading out of Ben Sur a stop at Rugged Point Vista gives you some of the best views along Highway 1.

Finally Hearst Castle (Casa Grande) is one of the most famous landmarks along the route. Build during the 1920s-1940s Hearst Castle contains 165 rooms and has 127 acres of gardens and pools. After the death of Hearst, the castle was given to the State who ensured that it is now open to the public. During peak season it is worth to make an advance reservation.

Santa Barbara
Sometimes referred to as the riviera of the US Santa Barbara provides wide beaches, high class restaurants, shopping and accommodation. Must-sees are Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara Mission and the beaches. You can also play golf, go hiking or taste plenty of wines at any of the numerous wineries. In addition to this there are lots of different events occurring throughout the year.Local regulation ensures that all construction follows the California Mission style architecture, which makes Santa Barbara an ideal visit for the architecturally interested.

In Malibu you will find the exciting combination of great views and impressive mansions. Driving through Malibu and the surrounding areas there are several beaches and other spots worth a stop.After Malibu Highway 1 will continue as a city street through Los Angeles and Orange County, and if going southwards this is were your trip ends.

Source by Alec Sand

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