Driving the stretch of Highway One between San Francisco and Los Angeles, California is the dream of many travelers. A little planning can help make a good trip into a great one.
When to Drive Highway One
It is true that Southern California is temperate and fairly warm year-round. However, the farther north you go, the more likely you are to run into cold and fog.
Summer can provide some of the foggiest weather and most tourists.
A better time to go is falling. (Either way, bring a sweater for chilly evenings.)
It is good to keep in mind that Highway One is a small, curvy, two-lane road that passes through many less populated areas.
Drivers not used to mountain driving, let alone driving on the side of a cliff, will probably want to avoid driving at night.
It is wise to plan ahead and leave plenty of time for possible delays. Certain areas, like Devil’s Slide just south of Pacifica, are especially prone to rockslides and road closures.
How Long it Takes to Drive Highway One
One of the biggest vacation mistakes people make is trying to do too much.
In the case of Highway One, some of the best stops are a little ways off the highway.
Even the close attractions may take longer than expected. Visiting Hearst Castle, for example, requires 2 to 3 hours minimum.
In ideal conditions, the drive between Los Angeles and San Francisco on Highway One takes about eight hours.
A two-day trip requires only four hours of driving per day but doesn’t leave enough time for any significant stops – just enough to see the coastal scenery.
A three-day trip leaves enough time for one or two longer stops.
Four days is even better.
A week leaves enough time to explore San Francisco and/or Los Angeles.
Where to Stop on Highway One
First and foremost, travelers drive the Pacific Coast Highway for the scenery.
Even those who only have time to pull off the road for a moment or two will have the experience of a lifetime.
But those who have more time should explore some of the parks along the way.
Big Sur may be the most famous, but travelers can also try an easy trail in one of many Santa Cruz County Parks.
There are plenty of opportunities for wildlife viewing in the area.
The Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery is a must.
Whales can sometimes be seen from the coast, but a better bet is to take a few hours on a whale-watching boat, perhaps from Monterey or Santa Cruz.
Also in Monterey is the justifiably famous Monterey Bay Aquarium.
The highway and surrounding area are dotted with quaint towns and small cities, each with a distinct personality.
Right off the highway are college towns like Santa Cruz and posh former artist colonies like Carmel.
A little further inland, visitors can explore Solvang, a Danish mountain village in the middle of California.
Another quintessential California experience is an afternoon of wine tasting.
While central coast wineries may be less known than those in Napa, they produce excellent wines.
Oenophiles can head directly to the winery or to one of the tasting rooms located in town.
Nothing beats a sunset coastal picnic with a bottle of local wine.