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Courtesy of Ventana Big Sur

5 Great Ways to Experience Highway 1

5 Great Ways to Experience Highway 1
Discover your favorite way to take in this iconic drive through Big Sur and beyond

Now that repairs are complete, you can once again drive the legendarily scenic Highway 1 through Big Sur. With its redwood forests, towering cliffs, and incomparable coastal views, Highway 1 ranks among the world’s most spectacular stretches of road. Better yet, the broad range of its points of interest offers the perfect mix: rugged, posh, and historic. So gas up your car—or treat yourself to a sporty rental so you can better handle Highway 1’s serpentine course—and follow this guide to the experiences that await along the stretch from Cambria through Big Sur.

Go hiking and camping

Just off the highway, you’ll find your pick of trails—ones that wend through redwoods and those that lead to hidden coves along the coastline. While most people stop at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to grab a picture of McWay Falls, which plunges 80 feet from the cliffs above to the beach below, consider taking the one-mile round-trip Partington Cove Trail down the cliffs and through a historic tunnel. You’ll emerge in a secluded spot once used to ship tan oak and moonshine. At Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Buzzard’s Roost Trail comes out from the redwoods onto a high ridge that overlooks the Pacific. Or go camping: Kirk Creek Campground in the Los Padres National Forest is renowned for its bluff-top, coastal-view campsites and nothing beats a night under a canopy of stars. Or sleep among 40 acres of redwoods in Ventana Campground. If you decide to skip cooking one night, the campground’s new SurStream, a snack bar in an Airstream trailer, serves up wraps and barbecue.

Taste Big Sur’s big eats

At Ventana Big Sur resort, The Sur House pairs panoramic coastal views with chef Paul Corsentino’s fine-dining menu, which emphasizes locally sourced ingredients. Then, for yet another stunning vantage point, don’t miss the Sierra Mar restaurant at Post Ranch Inn. Atop the cliffs, with floor-to-ceiling windows, the restaurant seems to float over the Pacific. The menu ranges from such lunch favorites as the Sierra Mar burger, topped with smoked sun-dried tomato and Monterey Jack cheese, to a four-course prix fixe dinner menu that includes a succulent seared king salmon. Set among the redwoods, the intimate Big Sur Bakery is as much loved for its ginger scones and cinnamon bloom pastry as its inventive wood-fired pizzas. For many Big Sur visitors, no trip to the region is complete without an Ambrosia Burger at Nepenthe restaurant, where a seat along the patio rail delivers an unforgettable view from 800 feet over the ocean.

Explore the creative side of the coast

Big Sur’s blend of beauty and solitude has long drawn writers, painters, and other artists looking for inspiration. Honoring the legacy of its namesake writer and artist, the Henry Miller Memorial Library is a cultural hub for Big Sur thanks to an eclectic summer music program and the Big Sur International Short Film Screening Series. Built from reclaimed redwood water tanks, the architecturally distinctive Big Sur Coast Gallery showcases the works of leading sculptors, painters, and photographers. Find exquisite jewelry and gaze at the contemporary Big Sur–themed art of Erin Lee Gafill (a member of the family that founded Nepenthe) at The Phoenix, the shop located below Nepenthe Restaurant. And south of Big Sur, the coastal village of Cambria’s Main Street is lined with galleries, including Ephraim Pottery and The Vault Gallery, a prime spot to discover California plein air painters.

Bring the whole family

With hundreds of massive elephant seals barking at Piedras Blancas near San Simeon, as well as sea otters riding the surf, kids will love looking for wildlife along Highway 1. Starting from Andrew Molera State Park, the Ventana Wildlife Society conducts two-hour tours that scan the skies for California condors—the largest flying land bird in North America. Treat your crew with a stay in a two-family yurt at Treebones Resort, a glamping destination with a swimming pool and a sushi bar. For a family-friendly hike, try Limekiln Trail in Limekiln State Park; you’ll cross three bridges before your reach the remnants of four enormous furnaces once used to process lime for mortar.

Discover amazing architecture

While Highway 1 celebrates natural beauty, be sure to check out its landmark structures as you go. No Highway 1 trip is complete without a stop at Hearst Castle, where, in addition to its regularly scheduled tours, you can arrange intimate, private tours that can last as long as four hours. The Big Sur coast has always been a treacherous stretch for ships, and two historic lighthouses that have helped guide mariners are open for tours. Just minutes from Hearst Castle, Piedras Blancas Light Station dates to 1875. Farther north, Point Sur Lighthouse commands a volcanic outcrop that offers one of the most amazing panoramas along this stretch of coast. And don’t forget the showstopper: 15 miles from Carmel, you simply must pull over at one of the turnouts to grab a selfie at Bixby Bridge, the epic arched span, opened in 1932, that crosses over a 260-foot-deep chasm.

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Big Sur: 5 Amazing Things
With cliffs plunging hundreds of feet down to rocky coves churning with foamy surf, Big Sur is one of the most dramatic stretches of coastline anywhere in the world.
St_rm_edxnry San Luis Obispo County
Mimi Ditchie/Getty Images

Discover the Central Coast

From the epic grandeur of Big Sur to the Mediterranean-style stretch of Santa Barbara coastline nicknamed “the American Riviera,” this region of picturesque hamlets, jagged sea cliffs, and rolling wine country has long attracted—not surprisingly—writers and artists mesmerized by its dreamlike beauty.

Monterey served as California’s first capital when the state’s first constitution was signed in in the coastal city in 1849.

Take the epic Highway One drive between San Francisco and Los Angeles to discover secret beaches and soaring cliffs along Big Sur, stroll a redwood trail, spy a sea otter at the incomparable Monterey Bay Aquarium, and sip Pinot Noir at sunset in the romantic Santa Ynez Valley.

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Casa de Fruta Courtesy of Casa De Fruta

Casa de Fruta Orchard Resort

Part fruit stand, part theme park, this Central Coast stop is the perfect place to fill your belly

What started as a humble cherry stand in 1908 is now a massive roadside attraction, welcoming more than 3 million visitors each year. Located 40...

Ragged Point

Trip 3-4 days 8 stops

San Luis Obispo to Ragged Point

Venture from San Luis Obispo up Highway 1 to discover pristine coastline, small beach towns, and a fabled landmark
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Courtesy of Alisal Guest Ranch Resort

Santa Maria Barbecue

Head to California’s Central Coast to try this distinctive regional cuisine at its source

The barbecue styles of Kansas City, Memphis, and Texas are well known around the U.S., but California’s Santa Maria Valley claims a...

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Zachary Miller/Getty Images

Spotlight: Ventura County

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Absorb the relaxed vibe of this classic California destination on the coast

When it comes to places in California that feel like one big outdoor playground, Ventura County, on the south end of the Central Coast, stands out...

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San Luis Obispo’s Bubble Gum Alley is filled with more than 1.7 million pieces of bubble gum.
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Blaine Harrington III/Getty Images

Spotlight: Santa Barbara

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Mediterranean style magic and a perfect ocean breeze

Bougainvillea twining across red-tiled rooftops, birdsong mingling with the ocean breeze, islands and whale spouts on the horizon—...

SPECIAL FEATURE
See a few amazing wonders of the sea first-hand

Each year, about 20,000 gray whales make an epic 6,000-mile/9,656-km journey between Alaska and Mexico—and then back again. These whales travel from feeding grounds in the Bering Sea to mating and...

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Michele W/Flickr
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Kodiak Greenwood

Spotlight: Big Sur

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Art and nature merge on this rugged coast, one of California’s most spectacular settings

Welcome to one of the world’s most unforgettable stretches of coastline. This roughly 90-mile-long stretch of redwood- and fog-trimmed waterfront...

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Castroville produces 95 percent of the nation's artichokes. In 1948, Marilyn Monroe was crowned the town's first "Artichoke Queen."
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Follow celebrated routes to iconic vineyards and tucked-away surprises

With more than 4,000 wineries statewide, California lets you sample award-winning wines almost anywhere you go. These classic and up-and-coming wine roads—some too packed with wineries to tackle...

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Kid-friendly fun zones, special kids' menus & amazing wine for the grownups

Sure wine country is romantic, but now it’s a surprisingly great destination for families too, with a growing number of vineyards trading in elegant tasting rooms for kid-friendly fun zones that...

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John/Flickr
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Farm-fresh produce, culinary adventures

Juicy heirloom tomatoes and just-picked strawberries. Super-sweet peaches shaped like mini UFOs. Artisanal cheeses, emerald-green olive oils, local wildflower honey—California’s farmers’ markets...

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Laura Flippen
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Trip 5-7 days 10 stops

Highway One Classic

Take the trip that captures the heart and soul of the Golden State
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Discover the awesome sports scene in the Golden State

With nearly twice as many professional teams as any other state, California is big league all the way. But the state’s sports scene goes far beyond football and baseball, with a diverse line-up of...

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Christina Lauren/Flickr
July

Vampires beware: this is one garlic-infused weekend that creatures of the night may want to miss. Everyone else—go, at least once, to this unforgettably odiferous and one-of-a-kind event. See how...

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Bill Strange Photography
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Ken Lund/Flickr

Ventura County Wine Trail

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Visit vineyards in coastal hills and communities

Sip your way along the Ventura County Wine Trail, where you’ll find nearly 20 wineries and tasting rooms in settings ranging from urban...

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David McGlynn/Getty Images

Oxnard

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Discover California’s “Strawberry Coast”

Oxnard is where strawberries meet the sea. In this city 40 minutes south of Santa Barbara, you’ll find 7 miles/11.3 km of unspoiled beaches, plus...

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Big-city-worthy events liven the sleepy Central Coast

Bookended by the big cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, the Central Coast may be known for its mellow pace, but the closeness of those major gateways bring big names to relatively small...

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Courtesy of Monterey Jazz Festival
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Check these amazing experiences off your bucket list

Kiss a beluga, see cool movie props, and learn about Walt’s secret hideaway on exclusive and behind-the-scenes tours at California’s theme parks and attractions. Here’s a roundup of worth-the-...

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Michael Saechang/Flickr
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Beautiful locations, luxurious comforts

Get the starry nights, the campfire stories, the cozy sleeping bag, and all the best parts of camping in some of California’s most beautiful settings—but without the hassle of...

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Old-fashioned fun in the Golden State

Historic oceanfront playgrounds, classic city-park charmers, boisterous adventures—smaller theme parks and attractions offer an array of ways to play.  These smaller parks offer old-...

Safari West
Tai Power Seeff
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Harriot Manley/ Sunset Publishing

Solvang

A Danish stronghold makes a charming outpost surrounded by ranchlands and vineyards

Imagine a village where fresh-cut flowers and warm-from-the-oven pastries scent the air. Add gingerbread architecture, twirling windmills,...

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Tai Power Seeff

Central Coast Missions

Visit some of California’s most beautiful missions to discover the state’s Spanish roots

Strung like Spanish pearls along an 824-mile trail from San Diego to Sonoma, California’s 21 historic missions offer a wealth of treasures, from...

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Santa Barbara ranks in the nation’s top 20 counties for bicycle commuters, with nearly 5,000 residents commuting to work by bicycle.