The California Pacific Coast Route
The Pacific Coast Highway in California is one of the most beautiful road trips in America. The twisting, meandering, and cliff-hugging route along the coast is designated as an All-American road trip, which starts 200 km south from San Francisco in Monterey and ends in Morro Bay, about 300 km north of Los Angeles. While Pacific Highway 1 runs through almost the entire state, the section between Monterey and Morro Bay is what critics call ‘the sweet spot.’ The Pacific Coast hugs the coast on one side, while mountains cascade along the other, and a small patch of asphalt is all you have in between. In your route south, you’ll pass the famous Big Sur Coast Highway while twisting through the wine fields and arty towns such as Carmel.
- Route name: The California Pacific Coast Route
- Distance: 166 KM
- Suggested duration: 5 hours
- Best by: car – The route can be tricky for RVs or other oversized vehicles.
- Start and end point: from Monterey to Morro Bay (from north to south)
- Best time of the year: All year round, although be aware of winter mudslides and snowfalls in the mountain part.
- Highlights: the arty town Carmel, the Big Sur Coast Highway, endless nature, unspoiled beaches, and Hearst Castle.
The California Pacific Coast Route
MONTEREY – CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA (5 KM)
Start your route in Monterey down Highway 1, about 200 km south of San Francisco. The city has survived under the reigns of Spain, Mexico and now the United States. In the 1900s, this capital of California was most famous for its sardine industry, however, overfishing caused the depletion of the fish in their natural habitat. Take the time to visit the touristy Fisherman’s Wharf, home of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where you can learn about the Bay Area marine life and ecosystem.
Continue your route to the southern artsy town Carmel-by-the-sea. On the way, you’ll pass by one of the world’s most famous golf resorts: Pebble Beach. When you’re driving along the Pacific Coast, be mindful of deer crossing the road, but you’ll have plenty of time to take in the breathtaking views. Within no time, you’ll come across one of the most photographed trees in North America: The Lone Cypress.
Arriving in Carmel, you’ll see the colorful French inspired cottages, the many restaurants, inns, shops, and art galleries that set the town’s cozy atmosphere. The most famous inhabitant of this artsy village is Clint Eastwood, the famous actor who was also the Mayor of Carmel.
CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA – POINT LOBOS STATE RESERVE (6 KM)
With only a little drive further, you’ll encounter Point Lobos State Reserve. This national park is a beautiful part of California where you can hike in tranquility, spot whales and enjoy the sea otters chilling on the rocks. The 550-acre park is full of tide pools, headlands, meadows, and America’s first undersea ecological reserve. The hiking trails lead you past Monterey cypress trees – known for growing only in this region and on Pebble Beach – and the park’s 250 different species of birds and mammals.
POINT LOBOS STATE RESERVE – HEARST CASTLE (145 KM)
As you leave Point Lobos State Reserve and continue down the west coast, you can see the changing landscape and then you’ll realize you’ve entered the Big Sur. The name of this region comes from the Spanish former name El País Grande del Sur (the Big Country of the South). The Big Sur stretches across 150 KM south of Carmel from Point Lobos, all the way to Hearst Castle along the sea, making the route one of the most memorable coastlines in California, and perhaps, in the country.
The route to Hearst Castle will reveal the rugged and untamed nature of the Big Sur. Besides the fact that there’s very little mobile phone reception, the landscape of granite cliffs above the sea makes you feel its elemental power. On your way, you’ll pass by the popular and frequently photographed Bixby Bridge and the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.
Once you’ve arrived at the town of San Simeon, you need to leave the car behind for a 8 km bus ride to Hearst Castle. The residence, created by the newspaperman William Randolph Hearst, is a 127-acre estate with a 115-room main house and guesthouses. The bizarre setting of Spanish cathedral architecture is contrasted by the surrounding environment of Southern California.
HEARST CASTLE – MORRO BAY (10 KM)
In the last part of your road trip towards Morro Bay, you’ll pass by the city of Cambria, where you can look for moonstones and California jade at Moonstone Beach.
Continuing on your route, you’ll encounter Morro Bay. The Morro Rock is a 23 million years old volcanic cone and is the most identifiable characteristic for the city of Morro Bay, located within Morro Bay State Park. In this national park, you’ll encounter plenty of lagoons, nature trails, unspoiled beaches, and bird-rich salt water. To learn more about the Native American culture of the area, you can visit the Morro Bay State Park Museum of Natural History.
Suggested reading for USA:
- Western Road Trips - USA & Canada
- The Road to Hana in Maui
- Pacific Highway Route in Oregon
- Las Vegas to Grand Canyon Route
- The Californian Redwood Route
- The Canadian Rocky Mountains Route