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McWay Falls at Big Sur California
4 Apr

Travel Tips and Tricks For Taking The Ultimate Road Trip on the Pacific Coast Highway

The Ultimate Roadtrip Tips and Tricks for Route 1, The Pacific Coast Highway
Whether you’re on a weekend break or a year-long trip of a lifetime, making entirely new memories is a unique experience. That’s why I love road trips! Every day brings something different, a new stone unturned, a new path untraveled, a new road un-driven!

Driving The Pacific Coast Highway is a journey that takes you through the heart of California’s spirit. With its heart stopping turns and stunning coastline vistas, it comes as no surprise that this highway is one of America’s unofficial pilgrimage routes. From surfers to food groupies to motoring enthusiasts, this particular road trip attracts thrill-seekers of all sorts.

View From Pacific Coast Highway California

There are conflicting opinions regarding which direction to travel in. From personal experience, I would recommend starting north in San Francisco and travelling south towards Los Angeles. This means you will be driving on the outside of the highway, affording unobstructed views across the Pacific Ocean.

A large proportion of Pacific Coast Highway road trippers tend to hire vehicles for the trip. Hiring a car also has a number of benefits: break down cover is usually included, meaning you won’t have to fork out an arm and a leg if you get stuck. Most car hire companies such as Economy Car Hire also offer one way hire. Simply pick up at your chosen start point and drop off at the end, saving you wasting petrol and time on a return journey.

San Francisco is a fantastic city and a great place to start your west coast road trip. With its lively nightlife in the Castro District and quirky personality nestled amongst the city’s hippie heart at Haight-Ashbury, it’s hard to beat. Make sure that you see the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and enjoy the impressive shopping on Market Street too. It’s definitely a place that you will continue to revisit again and again and never feel like you’ve truly seen it all!  While it’s a great a taste of north California, San Francisco is simply the first bite of a particularly rich pie. There’s no doubt that the coastal delights of highway 101 will be calling.

The first leg of the trip is a relatively short 90 minute drive to Santa Cruz. You should then have most of the day left to laze about on the beach, have a few rides on the fairground, wander along the vintage boardwalk then grab a surf & turf dinner on the pier. A popular spot for surfers, Santa Cruz also boasts a selection of surf schools and I would highly recommend trying your hand at this favoured water sport. Whilst I can’t say I was a natural on the board, it was a lot of fun and hugely entertaining for everyone else!

Santa Cruz Pacific Coast Highway

Once you have washed away the sand and sea salt of this hippie beach town, it’s time to hit the road again, stopping off in nearby Monterey for a delicious seafood dinner!  Home to the iconic Cannery Row from John Steinbeck’s novel, many visitors complain that this avenue of specialty shops, restaurants and attractions is too touristy.  I think its novelty is part of its charm! Arriving around peak dinner time, you’ll have to navigate your way round the numerous waiters standing outside their respective restaurants with free samples of clam chowder, each one more delicious than the last! Once you have satisfied your appetite, this funny little town is perfect for an after dinner stroll.

Nearby Carmel is a great spot for campers and is also home to lots of lovely hotels and B&Bs. Catch up on some sleep before starting the most scenic part of the road trip. Important Tip:  Make sure you’ve got plenty of cash and a full tank of petrol to last you the next few days. ATMs and petrol stations are few and far between in the Big Sur area.

As the highway snakes around the edge of the cliffs, switch off the radio, wind down the windows and ‘ooh’ and ‘aaah’ your way to Big Sur! Crossing the huge Brixby Canyon Bridge which soars over the Santa Lucia Mountain Range as it plunges into the sea is a genuinely exhilarating moment!

Redwoods at Big Sur

Top Tip! Whilst you will want to make the most of the dramatic views, keep an eye on the traffic! Highway 1 is only single lane in each direction for most of its length.  Add to that the hairpin bends and proximity to the cliffs’ edge, you don’t want to be encountering reckless drivers.

From the mini-hike to view McWay Falls to walks through redwood grove and the purple sands of Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur is a treasure trove of awe-inspiring vistas. Visitors can easily spend a week camping here, many staying until they’ve run out of supplies and are forced to get back on the road! Once you get started again though, you’ll be asking yourselves why you wanted to stop in the first place!

McWay Falls at Big Sur California

The next leg of the road trip is the longest. I’d recommend planning a rest stop in San Louis Obispo. If you can time it properly, on Thursday evenings the town comes alive with a farmers market that more closely resembles a street party! It’s definitely worth making time for it!

Top Tip! Driving in the heat of the summer sun, we made the mistake of guzzling gallons of water without thinking when the next rest stop was going to be. Make sure you ‘go’ before you set off to avoid an uncomfortable rush to find somewhere suitable to stop!

Upon reaching Santa Barbara, allow plenty of time to explore the Mediterranean town centre.  Browse the shops and soak up the South Californian sun. With its relaxed leisurely day time atmosphere combined with the vivacity of the city’s nightlife, Santa Barbara is a great place to recharge your batteries.

Venice Beach Pacific Coast Highway

Make your way to your final pit stop where your love affair with the California Coast comes to an end amongst the bright lights of Los Angeles. You need a car to get anywhere in L.A. and navigating the city and its highlights are a mini-road trip in itself! Spend the next couple of days exploring it a little bit at a time. Cycle from muscle beach to Santa Monica Pier and get a palm reading on Venice boardwalk. Sunbathe on Malibu Beach and plan a night out in Hollywood! After exploring the Californian landscape, finishing off your road trip in this particularly bright and shiny city may feel a little strange. However, you can’t say you’ve truly seen a place until you’ve seen every face it can show you.

This road trip is certainly a learning experience as well as a holiday; I know I haven’t learnt this much about a place since. It’s safe to say my friends and I will forever have a connection with California and this road trip is without a doubt the main link!

About The Author:  Marketing assistant and blogger at I am a travel enthusiast and always on the lookout for the next big adventure! Find me at Zest Car Rental.