Say "California," and many people dream of one thing: driving the state's legendary coastal road. Buckle up.
Published May 25, 2018
Published a month ago
It's remarkable how many of California's signature attractions can be found along that fabled ribbon of highway ― sometimes a bucolic two-lane blacktop, sometimes a crowded freeway ― known as State Route 1 or, along parts of its 650 miles, the Pacific Coast Highway, Cabrillo Highway, Shoreline Highway, or Coast Highway. Picture majestic redwoods; the Golden Gate Bridge; Big Sur; the wine country near Santa Barbara and, further down, the state's sun-drenched beaches. Here, from Leggett in the north to L.A. in the south, is a love letter in photos to one of the world's great roads.
Mark Boster/LA Times via Getty ImagesLeggettThe northernmost town on Route 1 (which hits US 101 just nearby), Leggett features the "drive-thru" coastal redwood known as the Chandelier Tree, the centerpiece of 305-acre Underwood Park. The tallest trees and among the oldest living things on planet Earth, Sequoia sempervirens can be found in various groves and parks in Northern California and Southwest Oregon. Standing among them, one feels both very small and, if one has any soul at all, very protective of these ancient giants.
George Rose/Getty ImagesWestportAll along the California coast, one finds small, isolated towns and communities that can feel, at times, like West Coast versions of Brigadoon. It's easy to imagine that, once you've stopped for coffee, or lunch, and have climbed back into your car and driven away, the town you just visited will have vanished if you ever try and find it again. That's a romantic notion, of course. Life in a California coastal town can at times be just as tough and trying as anywhere else. But it's still hard to shake the feeling that the folks who live in places like Mendocino County (above: tiny Westport) somehow have it figured out.Wade EakleThe Sea RanchWhile the planned community known as The Sea Ranch on the very edge of the ocean in Sonoma County was born in conflict ― developers and the public clashed over how much land would be made available for general use, and how much would be set aside for Sea Ranch Association members ― the rugged trails and striking views are now enjoyed by residents, vacationers, and countless day-trippers throughout the year.Roberto Soncin GeromettaMarinHighway 1 in Marin County, just north of San Francisco, passes by or directly through so many eye-popping natural wonders ― Point Reyes National Seashore, Mt. Tamalpais State Park, Muir Woods National Monument, etc. ― that the idea that one can "do" Marin in one day is absurd. That said, a meal or even a stop-over for a night or two at one of the county's many convivial inns like the Pelican (seen here) is a wonderful way to feel like you've slowed time down.
Vetta/Getty Images; Scharvik/iStock/Getty ImagesRamin Talaie/Corbis via Getty ImagesGolden Gate Bridge And San FranciscoRoute 1 joins US 101 to pass over one of the world's most spectacular bridges, with one of the world's most spectacular views. Once in San Francisco itself, 101 and Route 1 split off from one another, with 101 heading through various neighborhoods on the eastern side of the city, near the bay, and Route 1 on the western side, closer to the Pacific. The two won't join up again for another 300-plus miles, down near Santa Barbara.Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesPigeon Point Lighthouse, San Mateo CountyBetween San Francisco and Santa Cruz, Highway 1 hugs the coast and passes through places like Half Moon Bay, Pescadero, Davenport and runs near to the likes of San Gregorio and other hidden gems. From San Francisco to just north of Santa Barbara, Highway 1 is called Cabrillo Highway.Roy ToftLone Cypress, CarmelAlong the famed 17-Mile Drive that runs in a loop off to the west of Route 1 through Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove on the Monterey Peninsula, one comes upon what might be the single most photographed tree in North America: the Lone Cypress. Several hundred years old, the tree has been held in place by half-hidden cables for more than six decades. By the way: It costs $10.00 per vehicle to cruise the 17-Mile Drive; it's on private property, after all.
James P. Blair/National Geographic/Getty ImagesBig Sur"Big Sur," wrote the novelist and iconoclast Henry Miller, who lived in this unique and stirring part of the world for 20 years, "is the California that men dreamed of years ago, this is the Pacific that Balboa looked at from the Peak of Darien, this is the face of the earth as the Creator intended it to look." Miller penned those words decades ago, and much has changed in the years since. But what has not changed is the elemental, profoundly natural aspect of the place. As Miller also wrote: "It was here at Big Sur that I first learned to say Amen!"
Paul Giamou; Abbie BrownGjon MiliHearst Castle, San SimeonOriginally planned as a hilltop bungalow for the 20th century media mogul (and model for the title character in Orson Welles' masterpiece, Citizen Kane) William Randolph Hearst, the project that would become Hearst Castle quickly ballooned into a colossal enterprise. Today, the Casa Grande, or castle itself, is more than 60,000 square feet. All the buildings on the "ranch," as it's colloquially called, comprise 90,000 square feet. Zebras roaming the grounds; an indoor "Roman Pool"; scores of bedrooms; ornate statuary -- Hearst Castle is everything one could hope to find in an impossibly wealthy family's estate. And then some.
George Rose/Getty ImagesSanta YnezJust north of Santa Barbara, a full moon rises over the hills in Santa Ynez. Located a few miles off of Route 1, Santa Ynez is at the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley wine country ― a magnet for thousands of oenophiles and casual wine drinkers from all over the state, and beyond.ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty ImagesGetty Villa, Pacific PalisadesLess than a mile north of the Pacific Coast Highway, the Getty Villa museum is notable not only for its world-class antiquities, but for its location: few cultural centers in the U.S. can boast a setting as downright stunning. Modeled after a large country house just outside of Herculaneum that had been buried by the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79 A.D., the Villa is the sort of place that, in its beauty, ambition and scale, makes one feel incredibly fortunate to visit.
nik wheeler; Joe Sohm/Visions of America/UIG via Getty ImagesMARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty ImagesMuscle Beach VeniceNot to be confused with the original Muscle Beach in Santa Monica, Muscle Beach Venice nevertheless continues the long tradition of unbelievably fit, muscled human beings training and competing against other godlike creatures in skimpy outfits, in public, year-round.
Mark Boster/LA Times via Getty ImagesDoheny State Beach, Dana PointThere are plenty of other, perhaps more famous California beaches north of Dana Point, but small, companionable Doheny State Beach, less than a mile from the official end of State Route 1 ― or the beginning, for those lucky drivers heading north ― is as good a place as any, and better than most, to end a southbound journey on the unforgettable Pacific Coast Highway.