Nothing beats a summer road trip – wind rippling through your hair, sunshine on your face, singing along to all your favorite songs – and there are few roads more beautiful to drive than the Pacific Coast Highway. Cruise across California on Highway 1 for the 655 miles of sun, surf, and scenery from Orange County in the south to Mendocino County in the north. On the way, be sure to stop and check out these quintessential road trip sights.
Start your adventure in Dana Point, the so-called birthplace of Suf Culture. Hang ten in the place where it all began, as you hit the surf in one of the world’s most famous beaches. Make sure to keep an eye out for marine life, Dana Point is also known as one of the best year-round whale watching sites in the world. Dolphins and blue whales are commonly spotted here as well as orcas and other marine mammals.
This beautiful beach is well-known for its extraordinary residents, the small and beautiful monarch butterflies. The Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove is one of the few places in the world that welcomes over 10,000 butterflies every year. These delicate, fluttering insects are most impressive between October and February when they move south in search of sunshine.
In San Simeon, the Hearst Castle is an infamous icon along the Pacific Coast Highway. Former home of media mogul William Randolph Hearst, the enormous castle is decadently adorned with ancient works of art and luxurious furnishings. Take a tour of the castle to see how Hearst and his esteemed guests lived, and explore the 123 acres of gardens including the terraces and two kingly swimming pools.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
One of the most well-known attractions along the Pacific Coast Highway, Big Sur offers breathtaking views of the West coast unlike any other. Be sure to adventure into the Julia Pfeffer Burns state park to snap a picture of the McWay Falls. Though the coastal waterfall is inaccessible, you can make your way down to Pfeiffer Beach to enjoy the unique purple sand and impressive rock formations. Come at sunset to catch a glimpse of the spectacular light coming through the Keyhole Arch.
Bixby Creek Bridge
For photography buffs and influencers, the Bixby Creek Bridge is an absolute must-see. This beautifully designed bridge is one of the most popularly photographed in the country and the coastal landscape makes a scenic background. The best spot for your photo op is just on the North side of the bridge towards Carmel, but be careful not to stand too close to the edge – it’s a long way down!
If you are looking for a little wholesome family fun make sure to stop in Santa Cruz. Stroll the boardwalk to find one of the best seaside amusement parks in the world, featuring historic roller coasters. Surfers will be in paradise at Steamer Lane and Pleasure Point; while adventure enthusiasts will be drawn to the “Mystery Spot” where the rules of physics simply do not apply!
Half Moon Bay
Stop in Half Moon Bay for an afternoon of discovery in the James V. Fitzgerald Marine Preserve. Be sure to come at low tide to investigate the tide pools for starfish, sea urchins, anemones, limpets, hermit crabs, and more! Watch the seagulls enjoying their catch of the day, and if you’re feeling a bit peckish yourself, head over to Sam’s Chowder House for famously fresh seafood.
Castello Di Amorosa
The 13th-century Tuscan-style Castello Di Amorosa will awe you with its grandiose architecture, and the interior won’t disappoint either! The castle is a winery in the middle of a spacious Napa Valley vineyard, specializing in tours and tastings. Choose from a variety of packages to tour the castle grounds and sample a variety of fresh local wines.
Fort Bragg has a lot to offer, from hiking and mountain biking to treasure hunting at the popular tourist attraction “Glass Beach”. Although much of the beach’s famous sea glass has been collected by souvenir-hungry tourists, a short climb down the rocky hillside will bring you to a cove with an abundance of sparkling glass. These little treasures make a great photo opportunity but should be left behind for everyone else to enjoy. If you’re looking for something a little more sporty try hiking or mountain biking through the stunning Russian Gulch State Park
Drive-Thru Tree Park & Humboldt Redwoods state park
Commemorate the end of your journey with a unique photo in the Drive-thru tree at Drive-thru Tree State Park. Then head over to Humboldt Redwoods state park for a walk through the towering redwoods. There are over 100 miles worth of trails to explore for hikers of all skill levels, and three different campgrounds for visitors who want to see it all!
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