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See the Best of the California Coast Along Highway One

Highway One road trips in the US banner

If you've ever looked at a list of the most scenic highways in the United States, chances are you are familiar with the iconic Highway One. The Pacific Coast Highway stretches from San Diego to San Francisco, covering many miles of dramatic coastline and passing through quirky towns along the way.

If you're planning on making the trip, make sure you allow yourself plenty of time to take in all the beautiful views. Not only does the route include San Diego and San Francisco, it also covers glitzy Los Angeles, meaning you will not be short of famous sights to see. VroomVroomVroom has put together a great itinerary for your next road trip to make sure you don't miss any of the attractions along Highway One.


Day One - Start your trip in San Diego

Sunny San Diego is the perfect introduction to the California coast. Located just 15 miles from the Mexican border, the Spanish architectural influence is obvious in the city. From the impressive Balboa Park to Victorian Gaslamp district, you'll find a mix of cultures and influences throughout the region.

What attracts many visitors to San Diego is its stunning coastal location. Go for a stroll along the Mission Beach Boardwalk and enjoy the relaxed, beach vibes. With a rental car, you can visit Point Loma, where you will get one of the best views of the city. If you're traveling with children, San Diego Zoo is one of the best in the country.

San Diego aerial bridge view

Day Two - See the flower fields in Carlsbad

Start heading north along the Pacific Coast Highway toward nearby Carlsbad. If you're looking to enjoy a swim in the ocean along the way, pull in to La Jolla. The beaches here are popular among surfers, kayakers and snorkelers. It's also a great place to spot wildlife like whales and seals.

In spring, the Carlsbad flower fields are one of the most popular attractions in the area. If you're visiting outside of spring, you'll still find plenty to see in the area. Kids will love the Legoland California Resort, and there are some great ocean views you can enjoy from the pier in nearby Oceanside.

Carlsbad flower fields

Day Three - Visit Newport Beach

On your way to popular Newport Beach, you'll discover plenty of other fantastic coastal towns along the way. Make sure you stop at luxurious Laguna Beach. The area also has a love of the arts, which you'll be able to discover at the various galleries and museums. With a number of protected coves and popular surfing beaches, you'll be able to find your own stretch of coast to enjoy a few hours.

It's all about outdoor activities in Newport Beach. Whether you want to enjoy surfing along the region's famous beaches, or exploring some of the hiking trails - you'll find plenty to keep you entertained.

Laguna Beach cove

Day Four - Follow the coastline to Los Angeles

On the way to Los Angeles, visit some of the other charming coastal towns. Stop in at Long Beach and take a tour of the historic Queen Mary ship. Enjoy a meal on the old Redondo Beach Pier, and follow the famous boardwalk at Venice Beach. A great place to stop for the night along the route is popular Santa Monica, home to many high-end shops and of course the famous Santa Monica Pier.

You could spend weeks exploring everything Los Angeles has to offer, however,  if you only have a short time, make sure you visit the glamorous Beverly Hills with its palm-tree lined streets and exclusive stores. You also can't miss stopping by Hollywood Boulevard, where everything is an over-the-top dedication to the rich and famous.

Los Angeles city view

Day Five - See California's historic sites in Santa Barbara

Continue driving along the Pacific Coast, visiting some of California's famous beachside communities along the way. You'll pass by Malibu, where you can visit the iconic Zuma Beach and try your luck at surfing. When you get to Santa Barbara, you'll have plenty of historic sites to explore - including the Old Mission which features many historic artworks.

While you're in Santa Barbara, you'll need to pay a visit to Stearns Wharf, from which you'll have a great view of the Pacific Ocean - and the Santa Ynez Mountains in the other direction. If you want to extend your time in Santa Barbara, you may also like to take a tour out to the stunning Channel Islands National Park, located just a short distance offshore.

Santa Barbara Mission

Day Six - Detour to Hearst Castle

Stop at the popular Pismo Beach before following the highway to San Luis Obispo. Like Santa Barbara, the town has its own share of Spanish-inspired architecture and historic sites. It's here that you'll find one of the stranger attractions of the Pacific Coast Highway - the unique Bubblegum Alley. The bubblegum-lined alleyway stretches for more than 70 feet!

You can't drive along Highway One without stopping at the magnificent Hearst Castle. The historic estate is now a museum, providing tours for visitors through the lavish rooms and magnificent gardens on La Cuesta Encantada (the Enchanted Hill).

Hearst Castle

Day Seven - Follow the rocky coastline through Big Sur

Take your time driving north along Highway One, as some of the most beautiful views can be found just along the side of the road. You'll find plenty of lookouts, and various sections of the highway where you are able to walk down to the beach. By the time you get to Big Sur, you'll already have visited a number of waterfalls and scenic viewpoints - but even more hiking trails await in this area!

Stop by the famous Bixby Bridge, and make sure you visit the scenic Point Lobos Natural Reserve as you head toward the colorful town of Carmel-by-the-Sea. The town has a very unique architectural style, which in some places feels like it is a page straight out of a fairytale. Try some of the delicious European cuisine at one of the many restaurants in town.

Crossing Bixby bridge

Day Eight - Explore 17 Mile Drive

Detour from Highway One to visit some of the sights along 17 Mile Drive, including the world-famous Pebble Beach golf course, the photogenic Lone Cypress Tree and Pacific Grove.

When you arrive at Monterey, make sure you enjoy a walk along the historic Cannery Row. The unique building facades are the remnants of the old sardine canning factories that once lined the shoreline. From the town beaches, you'll still be able to watch as the fishing boats head out into the bay.

Lone Cypress Tree Monterey

Day Nine - Head for San Francisco

Just north of Monterey, make sure you stop in at Santa Cruz and explore the popular boardwalk and wharf. Another popular stop along the coastal road to San Francisco is the picturesque Shark Fin Cove. You'll find many little coves and beaches along the way as you head toward the famous City by the Bay.

San Francisco is your final destination - but there is plenty to explore here! Choose to take a tour of one of the world's most well-known prisons - Alcatraz. Alternatively, listen to some of the great street performers at Fisherman's Wharf or window shop in the unique Haight Ashbury district. Make sure you cross the iconic Golden Gate Bridge to finish your Pacific Coast road trip.

Golden Gate Bridge

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