David H. Collier

Majestic, Magical Highway 1

Beyond the epic views, this iconic route provides an ideal way to experience the Central Coast’s abundant beauty.

Start:San Francisco
End:Dana Point
4 - 7Days,11Stops,517Miles
San Francisco
George Clerk/Getty Images
Santa Cruz
Rebecca Stunell/Alamy
Carmel-By-The-Sea
Courtesy of Visit Carmel
Big Sur
Anthony Festa/Getty Images
Hearst Castle
George Rose/Getty Images
Cambria
Tom Grubbe/Getty Images
Hotel Californian
Courtesy of Hotel Californian
Ventura
Byba Sepit/Getty Images
Santa Monica
Denise Taylor/Getty Images
SeaLegs at the Beach
Claudia Totir/Getty Images
Dana Point
BehindTheLens/Getty Images
Stop 1

San Francisco

San Francisco

Famous for grand-dame Victorians, classic cable cars, dynamic diversity, trend-defining, Michelin-starred cuisine, a beautiful waterfront, and a soaring crimson bridge, San Francisco, aka the “City by the Bay”, truly has it all and stands out as an ultimate must-see.

Pedal bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge and back, then explore the lush Presidio, a former military base that’s now a park, or head into Golden Gate Park to visit museums and row across a secret gem, Stow Lake. Continue along the flat Embarcadero to the bustling Ferry Building Marketplace, the Exploratorium science and learning museum, and colorful Fisherman’s Wharf.

Take a cable car ride to the high-end shops in bustling Union Square, with a stop for Italian pastries and cappuccino at Emporio Rulli right in the square. At night, catch a show in the theater district. For more nightlife and dining, stroll Valencia Street in the Mission, a trendy and eclectic hotbed of restaurants and bars, and awesome late-night scoops at Bi-Rite Ice Cream.

Stop 2

Santa Cruz

809 Center St, Santa Cruz

At its heart, Santa Cruz is a surf town. The sport was originally introduced to California here, and surfers know Steamer Lane is the place to be. Around town, one can still feel the influence of late resident Jack O’Neill, the legendary surfer and wetsuit pioneer. Shop at any of the three O’Neill Surf Shops in the area—one is just steps from Cowell Beach.

At the colorful Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, located beachside, rides, games, and music delight visitors. This popular destination is a summertime ritual for countless families, a wonderful way to relax and play just like the smiling locals. While there are many attractions at the boardwalk, the Giant Dipper stands out. The wooden coaster opened in 1924 and has been generating screams and squeals for decades. The boardwalk also features the 125-foot-high Double Shot tower for adrenaline lovers, and little ones will love the painstakingly restored 1911 Looff carousel.

Stop 3

Carmel-By-The-Sea

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.

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Stop 4

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.

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Stop 5

Hearst Castle

750 Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon

Designed by legendary architect Julia Morgan, Hearst Castle is positively enthralling: a collection of priceless art and antiques from all over the world, exquisitely assembled in a mountaintop Mediterranean estate that Hearst dubbed La Cuesta Encantada (The Enchanted Hill).

The castle out-Hollywoods Hollywood and is as grand as the finest palaces of Europe. And the story of its visionary owner, William Randolph Hearst, is a made-in-America fable that proves that fact is truly stranger than fiction.

Considering that the castle rambles over roughly 80,000 square feet, 165 rooms, and 123 acres of gardens and pools, no single tour can fully capture its splendor. In fact, take your pick of nine different ways to explore the castle, including seasonal evening and holiday tours. Or splurge on your very own four-hour private tour for up to six people.

Love art? The Art of San Simeon Tour looks at the priceless assortment of tapestries, paintings, and sculptures that Hearst collected for his castle. Limited to eight visitors, the tour explores a few rooms that have never been previously accessible to the public. Or for architecture buffs, nothing beats the Designing the Dream Tour, which focuses on the unique creative collaboration between Hearst and Morgan that spanned more than 30 years.

It’s just a few minutes downhill to your next stop at William Randolph Hearst Memorial State Beach.

Stop 6

Cambria

767 Main St, Cambria

Browse the many craft and fine art galleries in the heart of town, including The Vault Gallery, specializing in works by acclaimed West Coast artists and located in a one time bank building. A piece of Olallieberry pie at Linn’s Restaurant is a Cambria tradition, as is lunch on the trellised patio at Robin’s Restaurant, a Central Coast favorite since 1985.

The Black Cat Bistro takes full advantage of San Luis Obispo County’s local and seasonal bounty in such dishes as an appetizer featuring Cayucos-raised abalone. During the day, discover premium varietals from boutique Central Coast wineries at Madeline’s Restaurant’s tasting room; by night, pair your new favorites with such tantalizing entrees as a lamb tenderloin topped with dried fig in a Zinfandel reduction.

But before dinner, you’ll want to catch sunset. Take your pick of two memorable Cambria spots: Moonstone Beach’s mile-long boardwalk or Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, where trails connect into pine forests in the hills above the ocean.

Stop 8

Ventura

501 Poli St, Ventura

Kickback relaxation finds a perfect home in this appealing coastal town roughly 65 miles/105 kilometers north of Los Angeles. While antique hounds have long known to pull off the PCH to poke around Ventura, a new generation has started to discover the town’s microbreweries, smart eateries, cool clothes boutiques, and live music scene. The good news is that the revival of downtown Ventura has buffed things up while preserving the town’s sun-and-surf charm, where family-run cafes with two-table balconies serve espresso and an ocean breeze. (After all, the Pacific is only a couple of blocks away, and it seems as if locals are required to have surfboard racks atop their cars.) Down by the water, stroll the historic Ventura Pier. You can also catch the Island Packers boat to Channel Islands National Park.

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Stop 9

Santa Monica

3205, 1685 Main St, Santa Monica

This idyllic oceanfront city, bounded by a 3.5-mi/5.6-km-long beach, feels more like a weekend getaway spot than a city just a few minutes west of downtown Los Angeles. Hang out on the city’s broad beach or lively Pacific Pier (complete with its own amusement park). Or rent cruiser bikes to follow the Marvin Braude Coastal Bike Trail, aka “The Strand.” The paved, multi-use path follows the oceanfront for roughly 22 miles/35 kilometers, from Santa Monica south to Torrance.

Santa Monica is also a place for serious shopping. Pedestrian-only Third Street Promenade is lined with big-name brands, galleries, movie theaters, and comedy shows, including open-air Santa Monica Place. Or visit one of Santa Monica’s outstanding farmers’ markets, which pop up weekly on city streets.

Stop 11

Dana Point

33282 Golden Lantern, Dana Point

The beach town of Dana Point has been wooing whale-watchers and water lovers for decades. In the 1950s and 60s, the right-breaking waves that tended to form here could produce 12-foot surf breaks known as Killer Dana and Doheny. A few blocks away, California’s first surf shop was opened in 1954 by Orange County local Hobie Alter. Today, you’ll still find a Hobie Surf Shop, boutiques, and eateries along this stretch of Highway 1, as well as nearby Salt Creek Beach, Baby Beach, and Doheny State Beach. Otherwise, the town very much revolves around the harbor, which, when it opened in 1971, tamed Killer Dana. The quieter waters, though, created abundant options for kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, sports fishing, and a lot of whale-watching. Many of Dana Point’s hotels and eateries sit on cliffs above the harbor (like the Monarch Beach Resort and the Blue Lantern Inn) or on the water itself (including Waterman’s Harbor and TheHarbor Grill).

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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 1San Francisco
San Francisco
STOP 2Santa Cruz
809 Center St, Santa Cruz
STOP 3Carmel-By-The-Sea
316 Ocean Ave #157, Carmel-By-The-Sea
STOP 4Big Sur
Pfeiffer Big Sur Rd, Big Sur
STOP 5Hearst Castle
750 Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon
STOP 6Cambria
767 Main St, Cambria
STOP 8Ventura
501 Poli St, Ventura
STOP 9Santa Monica
3205, 1685 Main St, Santa Monica
STOP 11Dana Point
33282 Golden Lantern, Dana Point

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