Coastal Road Trips: Exploring Scenic Shorelines

Coastal Road Trips: Exploring Scenic Shorelines – The best way to discover the California coast is to hit the road. Following this popular road trip will take you through California’s bustling cities, small coastal towns, redwood forests, and sandy beaches.

For the most part, you’ll cover this incredible 850 miles following the historic Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) and the U.S. 101. You can switch back and forth between the two paths depending on your pace and interests. Highway 1 is usually more scenic; The U.S. 101 is fast. A few detours are needed to cover the entire coast (for example, you will drive I-5 between San Diego and Los Angeles).

Coastal Road Trips: Exploring Scenic Shorelines

The daily routes below start in Southern California, but you can easily start in Central or Northern California, or change the route (from driving north to south) if that works best for you. Combine all three itineraries to create a 16-day beach tour. If you are pressed for time, choose one or two trips.

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Easygoing San Diego is a great place to start any vacation. Upon arrival, familiarize yourself with a drive to the top of Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial, a small mountain with views of the entire city. Then, head to La Jolla Cove to go kayaking or snorkeling; or just lie on the beach.

In the afternoon, visit Balboa Park, where you will spend most of your time at the San Diego Zoo. Finish your day with a craft beer at one of San Diego’s many breweries, such as Stone Brewing Co., followed by a meal in the Gaslamp Quarter. Try the historic Grant Grill or nearby Café Chloe.

The quickest way to get to the North County beach towns of Encinitas, Carlsbad, and Oceanside is to take I-5 north out of San Diego. Or, for a coastal cruise, choose North Coast Highway 101 (also known as Camino del Mar, San Elijo Boulevard, and Carlsbad Boulevard as it runs from Torrey Pines State Beach to Oceanside). Make sure you stop to surf or swim because the sea temperatures cool as you go up the beach.

Continue north on I-5 to visit Huntington Beach before turning toward Long Beach for a cruise.

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, a cruise ship that now houses restaurants, hotels, shops and a museum. If you’re brave enough, book a room for the night on a haunted ship.

Jump on I-405 to save time and drive about 30 miles north, exiting toward Venice Beach. Park your vehicle and take a short walk along the Venice Boardwalk to take in the wildlife that includes bodybuilders, street performers, and other cultural types. Without getting back on the freeway, take local coastal roads 10 minutes north to Santa Monica. Enjoy rides at the Santa Monica Pier amusement park or just take a break at Santa Monica Beach. For dinner, get a taste of the Caribbean at Santa Monica’s casual but popular Cha Cha Chicken or return to Venice for a delicious Italian meal at C&O Trattoria.

Consider heading inland for a day of culture (and pop culture). To inspire beauty, visit the world-famous Getty Center or the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Not to be outdone is to stroll down the star-studded Hollywood Walk of Fame and stop at the historic TCL Chinese Theater, where you can find handprints of your favorite movie stars. Ending the day in downtown Los Angeles with tacos from B.S. The Taqueria is followed by a cocktail with views of the city at the Upstairs Bar, the rooftop area of ​​the Ace Hotel.

Take the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) out of Santa Monica west as you travel from Los Angeles to Malibu. Stop by Malibu’s Surfrider Beach to watch surfers compete for their famous waves (or catch one yourself). After a morning outside, feed your mind with ancient art at the Getty Villa in Malibu. (Entry is free, but you’ll need to reserve a ticket in advance.) End the day by watching the sun set over the Pacific from Neptune’s Net’s outdoor deck while enjoying fresh seafood.

The Classic Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

If you want to spend more time in the Los Angeles area, you can easily fill a few days to enjoy the Disneyland Resort.

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Wake up early and drive north along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway. Thirty-five miles from Malibu, Oxnard, join the U.S. or take a boat ride to Santa Cruz Island or Anacapa Island. (Make boat reservations in advance.) Return to Ventura and have dinner at one of the seafood restaurants, such as Lure Fish House or Spencer Makenzie’s Fish Company. Or have an Italian meal and a cocktail at the hip Café Fiore.

Take US 101 north half an hour (28 miles) to Santa Barbara. Get a historical fix at Mission Santa Barbara, possibly the most beautiful of the 21 Spanish missions in California. Then taste some of Santa Barbara’s wines on the Urban Wine Trail, which includes six tasting rooms on Lower State Street, or head north for a day at Palm-lined Refugio State Beach, 20 miles west of Santa Barbara on the U.S. 101.

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If your schedule is flexible, you might consider another full day in Santa Barbara, another day of wine tasting in the nearby Santa Maria Valley, or a day on the Gaviota Coast. Whatever you do, stop by Santa Barbara Street for a delicious meal or cocktail at a restaurant like your local favorite, Opal. Or head to State Street for excellent Mexican food at La Super-Rica Taqueria.

Drive 1.75 hours (92 kilometers) north of Santa Barbara on US 101 to the Madonna Inn of San Luis Obispo, where you can take in the kitschy decor while relaxing and stretching your legs.

Outdoor enthusiasts will want to get off the highway and head west on Los Osos Valley Road just 20 minutes (12 miles) to Montana de Oro State Park, one of the state’s largest coastal parks. Picnic at Spooner’s Cove or hike to the top of 1,347-foot-high Valencia Peak. Then back to the U.S. 101 North, but be sure to turn onto Highway 1 north to take in the sunset over Morro Rock, known as the “Gibraltar of the Pacific.”

Another option is to drive an hour north (44 km) to the opulent Hearst Castle. A tour of this “ranch” built for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst gives an insight into the lifestyles of the rich and famous. However you spend your day, end it with a meal in one of the coast’s less-settled beach towns: Morro Bay, Cayucos or Cambria.

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Head north on Highway 1 for the most scenic day’s drive of your entire trip. The two-lane highway here runs alongside the Big Sur mountains and many ocean views. From Cambria to the heart of Big Sur is 75 miles, but the beautiful scenery, winding road, and frequent road construction can make the drive last more than two hours. Be sure to make several stops to take in the scenery at places like Salmon Creek Falls, Sand Dollar Beach, and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Or choose a cozy riverside cabin at Glen Oaks Big Sur or a rustic room at the charming Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn.

Continue up Highway 1 for 45 minutes (just under 30 miles) through the upper part of Big Sur to the Monterey Peninsula. Take a hike at Carmel’s Point Lobos State Reserve or head to Carmel’s scenic beach. Then drive a few miles to Monterey to spend the afternoon at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Eat fresh seafood at Pacific Grove’s Passionfish, Sandbar & Grill in Monterey, Poke Lab in Monterey, or Phil’s Fish Market up Highway 1 in Moss Landing.

If you want to spend another day in the area, wander the galleries of Carmel-by-the-Sea, golf at Pebble Beach, or take the beach to Carmel Valley for wine tasting.

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Getting to Santa Cruz is a 50 minute drive (44 miles) up Highway 1 from the Monterey Peninsula. The eclectic beach town is the perfect place for fun whether you’re surfing, stand up paddleboarding, or walking through the redwood forest of Nisene Marks State Park or the coastal bluffs of Wilder Ranch State Park. Refuel with a healthy snack in the Picnic Basket before ending the day with a fun ride on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

If your adrenaline is still running from the Boardwalk ride, relax with a drink at Red Restaurant & Bar or Crepe Place.

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a classic stop on a California road trip. Photo © Ken Wolter/123rf.

Get up early and drive on Highway 1 from Santa Cruz in less than two hours (80 km) to San Francisco. In a

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