The great American road trip is making a come-back in our post-Covid world. The best asphalt adventure in America is traveling the Pacific Coast Highway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. You always want to drive it in this direction so you are in the outside lane closest to the ocean and the views. My advice is to rent a convertible. No feeling can compare to the sunshine on your shoulders and the salt air blowing through your hair. Grab a visor and some aviator shades and get ready for the most heart-pounding, cliff-curving, white-knuckle drive of your life! The entire 400 mile route will take you ten hours so it is best to break it up with several overnight stops.
Heading south from San Francisco, you will first encounter the great surfing beaches between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz. Take a break for some rides on the boardwalk and to watch the antics of the sea lions on Santa Cruz’s pier. Forging on, you will hit the trifecta of Carmel-by-the-Sea (home of Clint Eastwood), Pebble Beach’s 17 mile drive (home of the Lone Cypress), and Monterey (home of the hands-down best aquarium).
South of Monterey you will cross the iconic Bixby Bridge, made recently famous by appearing in the opening credits of “Big Little Lies.” You will now be in the most famous portion of the PCH, the 90 mile stretch of rugged and redwood-lined coastline known as Big Sur. There are many photo-worthy views along this stretch you will want to pull over for.
Next you will want stop at the Piedras Blancas Friends of the Elephant Seal rookery, where crowds of these 8,000 pound creatures gather to rest, mate and fight. A visit to Hearst Castle is also a must, This marvel of modern architecture constructed over 30 years was the retreat for publishing giant William Randolph Hearst. Each of the structures inside the sprawling property, from the spectacular Neptune Pool to the magnificent Casa Grande will take your breath away. Visitors can explore the property and a stunning collection of Hearst’s private artwork through one of the guided tours offered by the visitors center.
Also known as SLO, this quaint town is home to Cal Poly and the comically gaudy Madonna Inn, a national treasure since 1958. It is worth an overnight or at the very least, a visit. Each themed room is uniquely decorated. I have stayed in the San Francisco and Mount Vernon rooms and have enjoyed peaking into many others like the Caveman and the Showboat during maid service. You don’t need to stay there to enjoy the outrageous interior, which features Western murals, chandeliers, and pink, pink and more pink. Order a slice of pink cake at the bakery counter and make sure you check out the women’s bathroom in the lobby/restaurant area- it’s like walking into a powder puff.
More than 100 years ago, a group of Danes settled this area and named their charming town “Sunny Fields.” Indulge in authentic Danish pastries at world-famous bakeries. Stroll through the village and admire the old-world European architecture and windmill, plus find the perfect souvenir at a variety of boutiques and shops. A ride on the Solvang trolley is a must for families. This historic, wooden, horse-drawn streetcar, is just one example of Solvang’s rich cultural heritage and offerings.
Drive 30 miles south, and you will encounter “America’s Riviera” aka “The Home of the Rich and Famous.” Whether you enjoy hiking, fine-dining, water sports, lazing on the beach, culture, or a great night-life, Santa Barbara has something for you. Its beautiful beaches, majestic mountains, and colorful culture make Santa Barbara a premier resort destination with world-class accommodations and dining. With nine distinct wine trails, you can explore Santa Barbara Wine Country for days and never have the same experience twice. Spend a day puttering on unexplored country roads dotted with estate vineyards, stroll through charming towns poking into boutiques and art galleries along the way, or have a city experience sampling small-batch producers on the Urban Wine Trail.
It’s just two hours to Los Angeles now, and you have photos galore and a lifetime of memories of your trip down the most famous drive in America.
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