search Buscar

    Pacific Coast Highway and Big Sur: the road of the American dream

    Who I am
    Martí Micolau

    Item Feedback:

    content warning

    Also known as Route 1 o Highway 1 Pacific coast highway is the road of the American dream, a USA itinerary that offers splendid views of the coast, along the 1000 km that go from Orange County (near Dana Point, south of Los Angeles) to Mendocino County (just above San Francisco, at the height of Leggett), actually covering almost the entire California coast.

    Much of the Pacific coast highway it crosses wastelands and observation points that allow you to enjoy the rare and amazing natural beauty of the coast. The possibilities are endless but a common itinerary is to take the panoramic road gives Los Angeles to San Francisco (or vice versa), and often take the opportunity to stretch south to San Diego, a city with beautiful beaches and excellent temperatures.

    But Highway 1 does not only offer unforgettable panoramic views, even history lovers will find something for their teeth: it is along the Pacific coast that there are the many Franciscan missions that settled in California starting from the eighteenth century, all included in the historical itinerary El Camino Real. We begin our itinerary from the south, from the beaches of Orange County, heading north towards San Francisco Bay and beyond.


    • Map of attractions on Highway 1
    • Orange County south of Los Angeles
    • Give Los Angeles to Santa Barbara
    • Hearst Castle e la zona del Big Sur
    • La Monterey Peninsula
    • San Francisco Bay Area e Marin County
    • North of San Francisco: the final stretch of Highway 1
    • Distances and travel times

    Map of attractions on Highway 1

    Orange County south of Los Angeles

    Treasure Island Beach

    Usually the last stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway, which runs through Orange County, is driven en route from Los Angeles to San Diego. Known above all for the Disneyland park, Orange County is a region that can boast many arrows in its bow, including beautiful beaches and enchanting hidden coves, a prerogative of Laguna Beach, the most popular seaside destination in the area, but also interesting testimonies historical: San Juan Capistrano, 18 km south of Laguna Beach, boasts, in addition to its historic district, one of the most interesting missions of the entire Californian coast.

    Crystal Cove, Laguna Beach

    If you are a surf lover, there are some places where you can go in search of the perfect wave: starting with Huntington Beach, for many the real surfing capital of the United States (not surprisingly renamed "Surf City USA"), and then continue with Newport Beach e The Wedge, on the south end of the Balboa Peninsula.

    The stretch for the most part is not particularly suggestive to travel by car, however it can become very satisfying if you decide to stop in the various coves and inlets that the Laguna Beach area offers along the way (for example the cliffs of Treasure Island Park); for a list of recommended stops refer to our guide on Laguna Beach.

    Give Los Angeles to Santa Barbara

    Santa monica pier

    Continuing north, cross Long Beach and plan your next stop at Santa Monica, one of the most famous destinations in Greater Los Angeles, known throughout the world for its characteristic funfair on the pier (Santa Monica Pier) and for being the end of Route 66 Then continue to Malibu, a stretch of coast renamed "27 miles of great views", and then again to Santa Barbara, at the foot of the Santa Ynez mountains, a green valley full of vineyards and farms that you can also cross via the US-101, an alternative and faster route leading from Los Angeles and San Francisco.

    Santa Barbara Mission

    Santa Barbara it is a destination that really deserves a prolonged stop, above all for the various historical testimonies and for the many buildings in Hispanic style; and since you are nearby, take the opportunity to visit a decidedly unusual town, Solvang, a corner of Denmark in the USA.

    Hearst Castle e la zona del Big Sur

    Bixby Bridge

    Further north, the Pacific coast highway begins to show its most majestic and impressive stretch of highway, rising 500 to 1000 meters above the roar of the Pacific. Considered by many to be America's most glamorous road trip, the rugged and wild 90-mile stretch that stretches from Hearst Castle, shortly after the interesting towns of Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo, is bound to enter lovers' hearts. of road trips.

    Bordered by the rugged Santa Lucia Mountains to the east and the Pacific to the west, the del Big Sur it is certainly the most fascinating stretch of the coast, “A place of grandeur and eloquent silence”, as described by Henry Miller, author of the novel Tropic of Cancer.

    Virtually inaccessible before the Pacific coast highway was built thanks to the work of inmates and New Deal funds, Big Sur began attracting tourists starting in 1937. Its beauty has stimulated artists and writers such as Miller, whose books and photographs can be found at the Henry Miller Memorial Library, and alternative thinkers, some of whom helped found the Esalen Institute.

    Proudly protected by its 1.500 inhabitants, Big Sur it offers landscapes that seem to have been taken with both hands from a romantic painting: scenarios lapped by the impetuous waves of the ocean and circumscribed by curved and narrow roads that wind along the edge of the overhanging mountains. The point where to discharge your camera's battery is that of the Bixby Bridge, the famous bridge true symbol of this journey.

    Hearst Castle

    Near Pfeiffer State Beach, with its violet sand and the suggestive stacks, is another unforgettable place, and if you are looking for a bit of relaxation stop for a drink from nepenthe, with its outdoor patio suspended 800 meters above the sea.

    For more details on what to do in the area, I refer you to our guide on like visiting Big Sur.

    La Monterey Peninsula

    Pacific Grove Monterey

    The most spectacular stretch is behind and yet the Highway 1 still has many goodies to give us: the Monterey peninsula contains many pearls to discover, starting with Carmel By the Sea, a fairytale town with a beautiful mission, Monterey, famous for its large aquarium and for the numerous historic buildings preserved, the 17 mile drive, a winding scenic drive that skirts the ocean in the Carmel Point area, Pebble Beach, an area for the rich where golf courses and patrician villas alternate with romantic views of the sea and trees with unlikely profiles, Pacific grove, with its jagged coast dotted with pink flowers and embellished by the suggestive Point Pinos lighthouse, Point lobos, a splendid protected area where you can go in search of the perfect cove.

    For a complete overview of everything that awaits you on this stretch of Pacific Coast Highway, you can refer to our guide to the Monterey Peninsula.

    San Francisco Bay Area e Marin County

    Golden Gate

    You have arrived in San Francisco and for many the ride along America's most scenic road ends here, yet this fascinating itinerary still has a lot to offer: Highway 1 continues on one of the most famous bridges in the world, I'm not talking about the aforementioned Bixby Bridge but del famous red bridge that crosses the bay (read our tips for crossing the Golden Gate Bridge by car) and that will take you to the giant sequoia forest of Muir Woods, but before getting there I recommend a small detour from the main road to enjoy one of the most scenic lighthouses of the West Coast, the Point Bonita Lighthouse.

    Point Reyes National Seashore

    Continuing further north, the coast of the Marin County it offers suggestive views of the stacks and cliffs, an area known as the Gulf of the Faraglioni and part of the protected natural area Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary; lighthouse lovers will be able to enjoy one of the most scenic and well-known specimens in California, the Point Reyes Lighthouse.

    Point Bonita Lighthouse

    North of San Francisco: the final stretch of Highway 1

    After Marin County, the less known and less touristy stretch of the coast awaits us. There Route 1 it continues for long stretches along the ocean and still offers some evocative views of the cliffs overlooking the sea. The first interesting stop is Bay Winery, which Hitchcock used as a set for The Birds; for one of the best views divert from Highway 1 and travel up to Bodega Head along the Westshore Road (the area is also recommended for whale watching).

    Point Cabrillo Lighthouse

    The Mendocino area, famous for being used as a set for Jessica Fletcher's Cabot Cove, is certainly the most evocative of this stretch, thanks to the stacks and cliffs of Headlands State Park. Those who love lighthouses will still find bread for their teeth: in this area they arise Point arena lighthouse e Point Cabrillo Lighthouse, both built after the devastating San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and reachable with a short detour from Highway 1.

    Mendocino Headlands

    The Pacific Coast Highway officially ends at Leggett, 85km north of Mendocino, joining the Highway 101, which leads to the area of ​​the highest sequoias in the world (Redwood National Park) and, across the border, on the Oregon coast, another on the road itinerary full of spectacular views.

    Distances and travel times

    Travel times are not to be taken lightly, if you are in a hurry this is not the right road for you, there are various alternatives that pass from the inside and that allow you to cover the distance more quickly (but alas what you will see will be less. fulfilling). To travel the main stretch, the one between Los Angeles and San Francisco, I advise you to plan 1 or 2 stops (for information on how to break the journey you can read my guide on where to sleep between Los Angeles and San Francisco). Here are some guides dedicated to the most important destinations that you will find along the way:

    • Santa Barbara
    • Morro bay
    • San Luis Obispo
    • Solvang
    • Hearst Castle
    • Big Sur
    • Point lobos
    • Carmel
    • Monterey

    If you want to continue to the end of the Pacific Coast Highway, keep in mind that driving from San Francisco Bay to Mendocino becomes slow and, depending on the length of the stops, you may need another stop to break the journey, for example example Gualala. Before Leggett, the best stop is Mendocino (about 1 hour and a half away). In our dedicated article you will find our advice on what to see and where to sleep in Mendocino.

    For in-depth information on finding accommodation in Los Angeles and San Francisco, I refer you to our in-depth information:

    • Where to sleep in San Francisco: neighborhoods and recommended areas
    • Where to sleep in Los Angeles: stay in the city and its surroundings

    La Pacific coast highway it truly embodies the ideal journey for those who dream of an on the road holiday, allowing you to admire the natural wonders of the Californian coast, one of the main routes for those who love to drive in the USA and conceive their trip as an adventure.

    add a comment from Pacific Coast Highway and Big Sur: the road of the American dream
    Comment sent successfully! We will review it in the next few hours.