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Ryan Donnell

Call Of The Coast

This highlight-filled drive from Santa Cruz to Big Sur showcases some of the most iconic views and attractions on Highway 1.

Start:Lighthouse Field State Beach
End:Post Ranch Inn
1 - 2Days,8Stops,107Miles
Robert Harding/Getty Images
Kerrick James/Getty Images
Ryan Donnell
Simon Watson/Getty Images
Courtesy of Visit Carmel
Vicki Jauron/Getty Images
Anthony Festa/Getty Images
Kodiak Greenwood/Post Ranch Inn
Stop 1

Lighthouse Field State Beach

Lighthouse Field State Beach, Santa Cruz

On Santa Cruz’s three-mile-long West Cliff Drive, runners and cyclists wind along the water from the city’s neon boardwalk to Natural Bridges State Beach. Take a break at Lighthouse Field State Beach to watch surfers dance atop swells at the famous Steamer Lane, learn about 100 years of surfing history at the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, then descend from the bluffs to wiggle your toes in the sand. Keep an eye out for Monarch butterflies and migrating whales during the winter months.

Stop 2

Elkhorn Slough

1700 Elkhorn Rd, Watsonville

Extending seven miles inland off Monterey Bay, Elkhorn Slough is a tidal estuary where wildlife sightings are all but guaranteed. Kids will love clambering aboard a 27-foot open-air pontoon boat with Elkhorn Slough Safari to poke around the slough, learning why sea otters thrive in this protected habitat. Binoculars are hardly needed to spot herons, egrets, white pelicans, and other interesting birds—more than 300 species are found here.Rent a sit-on-top kayak—no experience necessary—and paddle past sea lions sunbathing and Southern sea otters romping alongside your boat like aquatic puppies. Just be sure to save some energy for the way back; the onshore breeze makes the return trip a workout.

Stop 3

Cannery Row

700 Cannery Row, Monterey

Home to a booming sardine canning industry in the early 1900s, Monterey’s Cannery Row—immortalized in the John Steinbeck novel Cannery Row—is now a lively destination with a heavy nod to its historic roots. Many old cannery buildings have been reborn as restaurants, galleries, and shops, where you can peek into shacks that once housed factory workers. With more than 60 tasting rooms in surrounding Monterey County, you could easily spend a day visiting nearby wineries, or you could simply taste your way along Cannery Row. Try the award-winning Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs at the waterfront Carmel Ridge, or visit the Wine Experience to create your own custom wine blend, complete with a personalized label.

Also: No trip to Cannery Row is complete without a trip to the world-class Monterey Bay Aquarium, where visitors can get an up-close look at more than 35,000 marine creatures.

Stop 5


316 Ocean Ave #157, Carmel-By-The-Sea

The petite Monterey County city of Carmel-by-the-Sea is home to an ensemble cast of charms that make it an enchanting destination. Officially incorporated in 1916, Carmel has long exerted a magnetic pull on artists and authors. Today Carmel Village, filled with garden cottages,Mediterranean estates, and modern ranches, is home to nearly 100 art galleries. Builder Hugh Comstock created the fairy tale aesthetic in the 1920s and 21 of his originals remain, including the Tuck Box, a quaint café that specializes in afternoon tea. For those in search of heartier fare, there’s Cultura Comida y Bebida, where Oaxacan dishes like smoked pork mole and chapulines (toasted grasshoppers seasoned with lime and salt) are best paired with one of 39 mezcals. At La Bicyclette the vibe is pure French bistro while special occasions warrant a stop at Aubergine, a tasting-menu splurge inside L’Auberge Carmel resort. Along with restaurants, Carmel Village is stocked with wine-tasting rooms and boutiques. Sip a Pinot Noir from Central Coast Wine Country or browse fancy pens at Bittner, a shop dedicated to the art of writing.

Plan your visit

Stop 6

Point Lobos State Reserve

62 CA-1, Carmel-By-The-Sea

Walk a poppy-trimmed path to the tip of this Carmel park’s dramatic, limestone point to scan for sea otters, harbor seals, sea lions, or spouting whales (from December through March) in the turquoise-blue waters below. The Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, often called “the crown jewel of the state parks system,” is a favorite among wildlife lovers, photographers, hikers, and divers. Stroll the 0.8-mile Cypress Grove Trail through one of only two surviving Monterey cypress stands in the world. Or learn while you hike: Check the Point Lobos Foundation calendar for free docent-led walks with various themes, from birds and tide pooling to “Artists of Point Lobos,” which highlights notable painters and photographers who have captured the state park in their work.

Stop 7

Big Sur

Pfeiffer Big Sur Rd, Big Sur

Welcome to Big Sur, one of the world’s most unforgettable stretches of coastline. This roughly 90-mile-long expanse of redwood- and fog-trimmed waterfront between Carmel-by-the-Sea and Hearst Castle draws you in with a magic allure. This is, quite simply, a place you want to be.

Drive Big Sur via twisting Highway One. One favorite photo op: McWay Falls, a silvery cascade falling some 70 feet from the cliffs to a remote beach in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. You can see it from the open sections of the park’s Overlook Trail. Look up to see endangered California condors, or look down to scan the swells for migrating whales or sea otters floating among dense beds of kelp.

Try the famous Ambrosia burger on the deck of Nepenthe, then nurse your beer to watch the sunset. Campgrounds abound around Big Sur, as do rustic cabins at Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn. The region’s beauty also makes it a magnet for splurge-worthy hotels like the cliff-hugging Post Ranch Inn, or Ventana Big Sur, which combines traditional luxury accommodations with fabulous glamping options.

Plan your visit


Post Ranch Inn

47900 CA-1, Big Sur

Splurge on a night at the Post Ranch Inn, where Big Sur–style pampering means morning yoga, nighttime stargazing, and infinity hot tubs that look out over the Pacific.


Tag #VISITCALIFORNIA on Instagram to have your trip featured on our page.

Road Trip Snapshot

Learn more about the amazing locations featured in this road trip. Ready to plan your trip? Print the itinerary or map your adventure to get started.

Stop 1Lighthouse Field State Beach
Lighthouse Field State Beach, Santa Cruz
Stop 2Elkhorn Slough
1700 Elkhorn Rd, Watsonville
Stop 3Cannery Row
700 Cannery Row, Monterey
Stop 5Carmel-By-The-Sea
316 Ocean Ave #157, Carmel-By-The-Sea
Stop 6Point Lobos State Reserve
62 CA-1, Carmel-By-The-Sea
Stop 7Big Sur
Pfeiffer Big Sur Rd, Big Sur
47900 CA-1, Big Sur

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