This last summer we finally did our road trip along the famous Pacific Coast Highway of California, also known as PCH or simply, the 1. We drove from Los Angeles to San Francisco in one day and stopped at different places on the way, taking the time we wanted at each stop.
I've detailed our itinerary to give you a good idea of the time needed between each stop in case you plan on taking the same route. We rented a Chevy SUV which was the perfect car for driving all those hours. It’s important to choose a comfortable car and preferably a jeep or a SUV because you will have more visibility and will feel safer considering that nearly everyone else in California has a big car.
We left LA at 9.30am and took the 101 North in direction of Ventura to then join the PCH whilst listening to a radio station called Soul Town playing songs of Sam Cooke, Carla Thomas, Four Tops and many others... It’s approximately a 1 hour drive to get to Santa Barbara if you don't hit too much traffic getting out of LA.
We arrived Santa Barbara around 10.30am and drove down State St which is the main street with all the shops, cafes and restaurants. We parked our car and headed towards Paseo Nuevo to have a stroll around and then walked down to the famous Stearns Wharf pier where we had lunch at the Shellfish Company. We shared a lobster roll and tried an Abalone which is a farmed shellfish that they quickly fry and serve sliced with rice and tomatoes cooked in a white wine sauce. It was rather interesting although I’m not sure if I would eat it again…
On the way back we enjoyed an ice-cream on the pier before hitting the road again at around 1pm in direction of San Luis Obispo on the 101 North. This part of the highway goes inland and is really pretty, with hectares of vineyards which was not what I expected outside of Napa Valley.
San Luis Obispo
We arrived a 2.50pm and only had a quick drive around San Luis Obispo as we didn’t feel that there was anything in particular that attracted our attention and we preferred to spend more time around Big Sur. From what I’ve read though, there are a lot of outdoor activities to do in the area if that’s something you’re looking for.
This part of the costal drive between Morro Bay and Big Sur was my favourite. For just over 2 hours we drove along this wonderful scenic road, passing by Morro Rock, Cayucos, Estero Bay, Moonstone Beach Park, Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery, and Ragged Point. The road gets rather bendy towards Big Sur and at some parts reaches really high levels. There are lots of beautiful spots on the road where you can stop for a breath of fresh ocean air and take some nice pictures. We could already feel the temperature getting cooler and it was extremely windy compared to our previous stop in Santa Barbara.
Big Sur is by far one of the prettiest parts of the PCH. The road is quite high up at this point and the views over the turquoise sea from the top of the cliffs are just outstanding. Brisky Bridge is one of the iconic spots to get a beautiful photo and you won’t miss it because everyone stops there. Unfortunately the weather wasn't in our favour that day and was just getting worse as we drove further north...
Carmel by the Sea
We arrived in Carmel at 6.30pm and it was a lot colder than we had expected for this time of the year. We had a little walk around the artistic town passing by the lovely quirky boutiques just before it got dark and then had dinner at the Dametra Cafe. This lively restaurant offers a mixture of Mediterranean and other world foods at very reasonable prices and I think it’s even the busiest restaurant in Carmel.
We then left at around 9pm and drove towards San Francisco at night which made it the hardest part of the journey and rather tiring (approximately a 2 hour drive). It was very foggy around Pacifica but this is apparently quite normal so do stay safe on the road.
We eventually arrived in San Francisco at 11pm and were both exhausted from a long day’s drive. We booked a room at the last minute in a hotel on Lombard Street and stayed the night. On the following day we walked around SF and tried to visit as much as possible because we had already planned to leave in the afternoon to continue our road trip.
At around 4.30pm we hit the road again towards Yosemite National Park taking the 580 East Highway. There was a lot of traffic getting out of SF and crossing Bay Bridge which added a couple of hours to our journey. It took us over 4 hours to reach Oakhurst where we stayed for the night.
Read more: The One and Only Yosemite National Park
Have you ever driven along the PCH? What's your favourite road trip to do in the US?
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English and French wanderer. Based in Paris. Tasting the world through one escape to another...