Driving through California’s Pacific Coast Highway Route 1 feels like being the star of your own fancy car commercial. Feel the breeze whipping at your hair as you sail down the smooth highway. Through dramatic mountainous landscapes and stunning coastlines, a road trip through this legendary highway is the best way to experience the beauty and luxury of the West Coast.
To make the most of your drive, make sure you check when are the best times of the year to visit California. Sure, it’s usually sunny, but better safe than sorry, right? And maybe take an EV like a Telsa Model 3 with fancy tires, instead of one of those polluting gas cars!
And also make sure you have enough songs on your playlist to last the entire journey. Oh, and if you have kids or tweens in the car, be sure to have some activities to keep them entertained!
Then, once you are set, be sure to hop off at these must-visit California hot spots that offer the best of this unique California experience.
Explore Hearst Castle
Located in San Simeon is Hearst Castle, a historical landmark that gives you a taste of culture and the arts on the West Coast. Built by the Hearst family in 1919, the Castle features a splendid art gallery, opulent gardens, and the luxurious Neptune Pool. A tour around the castle grounds or a dip in the pool would add a dash of sophistication to your weekend trip.
The Elephant Seals of Ano Nuevo State Park
For a touch of nature drop by Ano Nuevo State Park, home of the northern elephant seal. During the breeding season (December to March), dozens of elephant seals can be seen scattered across the shoreline: dominating males battle for mates as females give birth to pups on the sand dunes. Weaned pups can be found playing in the ocean, flapping, and making joyful noises.
To get to the viewing deck for the best seats for seal-watching, you must go on a nature hike through the lush, protected forests rich with a lot of other wildlife such as rabbits, lizards, pelicans, and birds. Watch out for the poison oak while at it!
The Santa Cruz Boardwalk
Santa Cruz is a great spot to stop on your road trip and also offers some attractions as well. One of the most popular is the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and amusement park which offers fun-filled activities for all ages. Stretched along the coast of Monterey Bay, the Boardwalk is famous for the Giant Dipper rollercoaster, one of the world’s best-known wooden coasters, and one of the most visible landmarks in Santa Cruz. Both the Dipper and the Looff Carousel, which houses the 342-pipe organ dating back to 1894, are officially declared as historical landmarks.
Strewn across the Boardwalk are more old-fashioned carnival games, a Casino Fun Center, an indoor miniature golf course, a laser tag arena, and several snack booths. The beach nearby is clean and well-kept, great for some beach volleyball or a refreshing saltwater swim.
The Paso Robles Wine Region
The breathtaking scenery of many vineyards across the lush, green countryside will enchant anyone who drives by the charming town of Paso Robles. Called the “Gateway to the Central Coast Wine Country”, this small bucolic town is more than meets the eye.
Take a tour around Paso Robles to enjoy its invigorating wine culture and rich Western heritage. Experience world-class wines and gastronomic pleasures in top-notch restaurants. Historical buildings and sophisticated shops await explorers of this so-called “Authentic California” Wine Country.
City of Solvang
This whimsical Danish-themed city never fails to leave a smile on its visitor’s faces. Located in the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County, Slovang was founded by Danish immigrants, incorporating their culture, architecture, and tradition in the town. While only a few Danish descendants remain as residents, Slovang’s tourism continued to push the city’s identity as “Danishland”. Anyone who’s interested in the Danish culture, Danish goods, or Americans pretending to be Danish would have a spanking good time at Slovang.
Trek through the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
For those who love nature hikes, the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park offers amazing waterfalls, redwood groves, open meadows, and fascinating wildlife unmatched in the region. Trek through oaks, conifers, sycamores, willows, and chaparrals while enjoying glorious landscapes and a peaceful ambience in what many call a “mini Yosemite”. Visitors can enjoy 8 miles of hiking trails in this 1000-acre Park that borders along the Ventana Wilderness (USFS). On hilltops, hikers can enjoy spectacular overlooking views of the Big Sur Valley and the Big Sur River Gorge. Of course, Big Sur is only one of many amazing State and National parks you have to visit in California, and should definitely be on your California bucket list in any case.
The Golden Gate Bridge
A grand finale to an awesome road trip is the wondrous Golden Gate Bridge. Once called “the bridge that couldn’t be built,” it is now one of the seven wonders of the modern world and the most famous landmark in San Francisco. An evening stroll on the sidewalks of the bridge with a magnificent view of the city skyline along the coast is the perfect way to end an exhausting yet exciting trip.
Planning The Route
It is also worth spending some time planning the route before you go. Things like figuring out how much distance you can and want to do in one day, and where you want to spend the night along the way. All of these things are super important.
You can also mark the spots you want to stop at, as well as places you need to stop for gas, or if you are using an electric car, where to charge your vehicle. There are even specific trip planners for that if you want to optimize your trip, stopping times, and battery charge.
No matter how you do it though, it is worthwhile paying some attention to these things and putting them in a plan before you leave. Unless you just want to wing it!