California is, hands down, one of the best places in the world for a road trip. It’s the third largest state in the nation, and its 164,000 square miles are absolutely packed with glorious, varied terrain highlighted by some 66 scenic byways. The 865 miles of coast are strewn with pockets of beach and stretches of sheer cliff. Rocky desert landscapes give way to rolling farmlands, and two-lane highways carve through quiet groves of towering sequoias before climbing into the high, rugged peaks of the 352 mountain ranges. With all that, it’s no wonder you simply cannot get to know the Golden State unless you hit the road. We’ve gathered together seven essential California road trips to get you started.
1. California’s Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1)
Distance: 656 miles
Start: Dana Point (Orange County)
End: Leggett (Mendocino County)
Following the California coastline, iconic State Route 1—or Highway 1—is one of the best road trips in the world. It is sometimes referred to as the Pacific Coast Highway (or “PCH”), though technically, the PCH is only a southern part of the route; other sections of Highway 1 are known as Cabrillo Highway, Coast Highway, or Shoreline Highway. Think of Highway 1 as a collection of the state’s greatest hits. You could drive the route in about five days, but there’s so much to do and see, we’d recommend getting out of the fast lane and giving yourself a week and a half or two weeks to really enjoy it all.
Start off with your toes in the Pacific at Huntington Beach, or Laguna Beach, or any one of the other scenic beaches of sunny southern California, then head north. Catch Spanish colonial architecture and sip local Santa Ynez valley wines in Santa Barbara; as you pass San Simeon, keep an ear out for elephant seals and an eye out for zebras and Hearst Castle. Then follow the forested road through Big Sur, stopping often to marvel at mountains that end abruptly in sea cliffs.
Be sure to pay homage to John Steinbeck at Cannery Row in Monterey, then bundle up to cut through the fog in San Francisco. Don’t worry, it tends to clear just after you cross the Golden Gate Bridge. From there, the road gets narrower and feels more remote as it winds through the hills of Marin County. Grab some oysters in Tomales Bay and picnic along the Point Reyes National Seashore.
Finish up your trip walking driftwood beaches and tree-lined trails in the sleepy coastal town of Mendocino, or if you’re feeling really intrepid, keep following the coast north. Highway 1 officially ends in Leggett, where it turns to Highway 101, but that route continues more or less along the Pacific all the way into Oregon.
Read more California Road trips, including Northern California, by clicking the link below.
Article by Maggie Fuller for Afar©
Photo by Chris LaBasco/Shutterstock