travel guides, hotspots, horseback riding, inspiration
travel guides, hotspots, horseback riding, inspiration

Roadtrip on Highway 1

Everything you need to know about a road trip on Highway 1: Map, tips, facts, all the musts

Our route:

San Fransisco → Monterey →  Carmel → Big Sur → San Simeon → Santa Barbara →  Santa Monica

Highway 1 Pacific Coast Highway All rights reserved Resor och äventyr

Facts about Highway 1


  • Official name: California State Route 1, aka the Pacific coast highway
  • Completed: 1937
  • Lenght: 1 055 km, the distance between San Francisco and Los Angeles is c. 600 km
  • The ocean: The Pacific Ocean
  • Recommended time for a roadtrip: 2-5 days
  • Read: California by Joan Didion
  • Wow! moment: Big Sur

When to do a roadtrip on Highway 1

You may see whales from December to March (Monterey) when they are migrating from Alaska to Mexico. Just so you know: The winter months may be stormy resulting in closed roads.

We went in January and the weather was beautiful the whole time even though it was a little cold and very windy. If you are planning to rent a convertible you might want to think again.

However, it was not that touristy which was great.

The thick fog that sometimes covers the coast line may cause problems, especially during June, July and August. According to many, September, Octorber and May are the best months to go.

Rent a car

Usually, your home insurance provides good personal protection, but I would recommend purchasing an extra travel insurance as well.

If you book and pay for the car prior to departure in surance is included and you thus need no extra insurace if the car rental company would insist on one when you pick up the car.


Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr
Big Sur

We started off in San Francisco and drove down to Santa Monica in three days spending the night in Carmel and Santa Barbara. We were driving way too fast – I am thinking four or five days on the road would have been perfect.

Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr

My best tip for you is to plan your trip really well to get the best and the most out of your roadtrip.

If you have time, it might be nice to take a small detour inland, like taking the Narrow Palo Colorado Road which disappears into a magic redwood forest (by Notley’s landing between Carmel and Big Sur), or the somewhat treacherous Nacimiento Fergusson Road (between Big Sur and San Simeon) which continues up to the mountains (google it and try not to faint!) and into a valley. Sleep over on the small monastery of Mission San Antonio de Padua.

Generally speaking, it might be worth your while to check out small cozy hotels or BnBs a little off the Highway 1 because the prices are much lower.

It is also good to keep in mind that during the high season there are lots of people on the road, especially in the morning, when both the tourists are taking off and regular people are going to work. Plan to leave really early or a bit later.

Be sure to fill in the tank properly because there are not that many gas stations along the Highway 1. Also, gas is more expensive on HW1.

By the way, it is not only your vehicle that needs energy – oranges are delicious in California so make sure to buy a few.

The road trip

Before we took off from San Fran we had a lunch in Sausalito – big mistake! Start early instead and head for…

Santa Cruz

…which is known for its carousel, beautiful buildings and the beach walk  Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.  If you are interested in hiking or riding a bike you go for The Santa Cruz Mountains. Have lunch either in Santa Cruz or in Carmel.

The coastal line here is really beautiful but the landscape is not as dramatic as in Big Sur.

Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr
Highway 1 Pacific Coast Highway All rights reserved Resor och äventyr

There are a few rest areas with rest rooms. And it is windy, and a little cold, in January anyways.

Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr

Monterey

If you are interested in whale safari this is the place. You also find the  Monterey Aquarium here which is considered to be the best aquarium in the United States and is well worth a visit.

If you have time for an excursion take the  17 Mile Drive (toll), a really pretty coastal road lined up with glamorous villas, especially at Pebbles Beach. The world famous golf course Pebble Beach Golf Links, is located here. The drive takes 45 minutes.

We spent our first night in Carmel (please see below) but we booked a whale safari in Monterey. Ask the hotel staff to book tickets and don’t forget a warm jacket because it gets cold on the sea. The name of the company was Chris Whale Watching and I would recommend them.

Hotell:

Restaurang:

Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr
Fisherman’s Wharf
Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr
Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr

Our guide knew all about the whales.

Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr
Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr
Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr
Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr

Finally, we saw a lot of whales (even though you might not think that we did looking at this pic. However, my fingers were so frozen by then I could not pick up the camera).

Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr

Carmel-by-the-Sea

We spent our first night in the cozy little village Carmel-by-the-Sea. Clint Eastwood was the mayor here 1986-1988.

It is so weird that there are no street lights at all in this town. When the sun sets it is pitch-black – if the stores are still open you have some light coming from the window displays.

We had booked at the Carmel Mission Inn  because we thought the location by the Highway 1 would be perfect and the hotel was quite alright, nothing fancy but alright. However, it was located a bit away from the town center and I would rather stay at a cozier boutique hotel and stroll around the town without giving a thought about the car.

Hotel:

Restaurant:

Wine tasting:

Point Lobos National Park

Point Lobos National Park is a natural reserve with phantastic views, sea lions and hiking trails. We chose not to stop here but if you have time stay for a couple of hours. The barren coast line is spectacular.

Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr
Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr
Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr
Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr
Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr

Big Sur

You don’t have to worry about missing Big Sur. The landscape becomes more and more dramatic the closer you get and when you go “wow” all the time you have arrived to Big Sur.

Big Sur is undeniebly the most amazing part of your trip and, of course, the most famous. Thus, the price of gas, lunch and a hotel night is rather high. But nothing else matters when you drive over the Bixby Bridge and get to admire the scenery.

Big Sur was particularly popular among the beatniks,  writers and artists during the 1950s. Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac lived here on and off.

Tips!

  • Pfeiffer Beach, a stunning beach easy to miss because there are no signs. Not for those wanting to swim but all the surfers, hikers and climbers will be very happy. Even so, you will be happy just hanging on the beach, I suppose.
  • The hiking trail Pine Ridge Trail to Sykes Hot Springs is supposed to be magic.

Hotell:

Restaurant:

  • Restaurant Nepenthe. The food is fine and so is the view.
Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr
Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr
Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr
Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr
Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr
Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr

Drive past Gorda and continue to…

Hearst Castle

…instead. The media mogul William Randolph Hearst’s private residence is filled with antiquities, luxorius objects, gardens and interesting architecture. And zebras.

Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Yvonne Lombard and Winston Churchill are just a few of all the fabulous people who frequently visited. Book the tickets in advance.

San Simeon

Don’t miss Piedras blancas with all the elephant seals lying on the rocky beach sunbathing, or the scarry males fighting with each other.

Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr
Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr
Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr
Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr
Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr

Cambria

Cambria is a picturesque small town and perfect for your next overnight stop, The people are nice, there are lots of antique shops, art galleries and several quite exquisite restaurants.

Hotel:

Restaurant:

Morro Bay

A nature conservation area and a paradise for bird watchers. Morro Rock, a vulcanic plug and a state historic landmark, stands proudly in the ocean.

Hotel: 

San Luis Obispo

One of the oldest towns in California. Lots of vineyards and beautiful nature.

Hotel:

  • Madonna Inn, an – well – interesting hotel. Roxette shot the music video the Centre of the Heart here.

When you reach the Pismo Beach you can either follow HW1 or take the route 101. Route 101 is faster and the scenery beautiful. If you would have cravings for pizza you should make a stop at Full of Life Flatbread in Los Alamos.

Santa Barbara

Vineyards, ever so cozy, relaxed, beautiful.

Santa Barbara Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr

Santa Barbara tips!

Hotel:

  • Canary Hotel. I really recommend the Canary hotel. It is located in a quite area close to the city centre.

Restaurant:

Santa Barbara Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr
Santa Barbara Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr
Santa Barbara Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr
Santa Barbara Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr
Santa Barbara Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr
Santa Barbara Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr
Santa Barbara Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr
Santa Barbara Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr
Santa Barbara Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr
Santa Barbara Highway 1 the Pacific coast highway USA © 2017 Resor och äventyr
  • Santa Monica

Our final destination.

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