It’s the stuff the American Dream is made off: rolling surf, blue skies, sunshine and natural beauty all around. The Californian Pacific Coast has got it all, and the best way to see it is to get out in the open air and explore under your own steam. Hire a car and hit Highway One – also known as the Pacific Coast Highway – for an easy route into some of the most amazing destinations in the USA.
The route runs from the redwood national parks of northern-most California down to the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. In places, the road is carved right out of the cliffs and in other parts, it runs through (yes, through) living trees. Running through the cities of San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles, Highway One will also lead you to deserted beaches, remote hikes and quiet whale-watching look-outs. Where you choose to stop depends on what you’re looking for.
Most travellers focus on the 380-mile stretch between San Francisco and Los Angeles – beautiful scenery leading the way between these two sparkling cities.
After hopping on and off trams and exploring history in San Fran, cruise over the Golden Gate Bridge to Big Sur, high in the mountains, where there’s plenty to see and do for a pit stop of a day or more. The drive gets a little hairy around Big Sur but it is worth it for the views. Deetjen’s is an unusual inn worth calling in at and just up the road is Nepenthe, a restaurant-cum-shop built on the cliff with fantastic views. The Henry Miller Museum is also a great place to check out.
The section of Highway One which leads through the wine country in the Paso Robles area is another beautiful part of the route. Just take a day off driving for wine tasting before getting back on the windy roads!
For many, Malibu is the epitome of the Californian lifestyle, bursting with surfer dudes and beach babes to rival the stars of Baywatch. Muscle Beach is the spot to see the locals pumping iron and Zuma Beach – where the hills meet the ocean – there are some great spots to eat freshly caught seafood. The Malibu Family Wines vineyard is open for tastings, yours and food for something a little different.
Meaning ‘the jewel’ in Spanish, the little town of La Jolla is one of California’s prettiest seaside retreats. There are lots of beaches to relax upon – La Jolla Shores is often said to be California’s most beautiful – and there are lots of brilliant restaurants to cater for all the visitors.
Los Angeles has plenty to offer in the way of entertainment to round off this stretch of Highway One. Hand back your hire car and head out for a few days on the town. Check out the mansions of Bel Air, shop the hippy street markets of Venice, take surf lessons from the beach, and sip cocktails in Hollywood. Film lovers should go on a tour of Universal Studios, and look for their favourite actors on the Walk of Fame.
There are lots of cultural attractions throughout the city too, which often get overlooked. Pay a visit to the amazing Getty Centre Museum, or chill out with a wander around the Huntington Library’s botanical gardens.