During our California trip, we left Yosemite a day early due to flood warnings. While we felt disappointed at first, the upside was having more time at our next destination: the coast!
And that extra time ended up being amazing. First, we were able to enjoy more time in Big Sur. After that, we drove back to SF by leisurely continuing along the ocean instead of hopping on one of the faster inland routes.
This gave us the opportunity to visit the incredible places listed here and get more QT with the Pacific before returning to New York.
Silver linings, right?!
If you find yourself in this beautiful corner of the world, here are 10 places to visit between Big Sur and San Francisco on or near Highway 1.
After spending the night at the Carmel Resort Inn, we started the next morning at Bright Coffee in nearby Monterey. The coffee bar shares its home base with a shop called Lilify. Lilify offers artisan goods in a beautifully curated space.
Let’s just say, you won’t get bored while you’re waiting for your mocha!
Coffee in hand, we drove down Monterey’s Cannery Row, the waterfront street that was once home to several sardine canning factories and was featured in John Steinbeck’s novel of the same name. Today you’ll find hotels, restaurants, fishing companies, and an aquarium.
We were planning to get out and take a look at the historic cannery buildings – the last of which closed in 1973 – but the area is very busy and prime parking is not easy to come by! If you’re driving through like us and want to make a pit stop, grab any spot you see as you approach the street and just walk over.
After Cannery Row, we continued along the water and ended up at Lovers Point Park in neighboring Pacific Grove. We walked out to the point and then sat by the beach to finish our coffee while soaking up some seriously spectacular California vibes.
This gorgeous road leads you along the Pacific and through the Del Monte Forest by way of the famous Pebble Beach Golf Links.
When you enter the drive, you’ll be given a guide with a map of the route and short descriptions of the 17 highlighted stops along the way, including Point Joe, Bird Rock, and Fanshell Beach.
The most famous stop along the drive is at the renowned Lone Cypress tree, whose likeness has become the logo for Pebble Beach. The formidable tree has stood atop its precarious seaside perch, steadfastly braving the elements, for more than 250 years – and looking photo-ready all the while!
Since the drive passes through the gated community of Pebble Beach, it’s a toll road for non-residents, and you have to pay $10.25 per vehicle just to gain access. Ever the budget travelers, we felt undecided on whether or not we wanted to pay this fee.
After chatting with our barista that morning, we decided to go for it, and in the end we felt like the drive was completely worth the price of admission. The beaches and views were so much fun to visit, especially as a one-time treat.
If you’d rather not pay, there are many other areas nearby where you can enjoy the coastline for free.
We entered 17-Mile Drive at its Pacific Grove entrance and exited in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Our first stop was at Carmel Beach, a gorgeous expanse of white sand and ocean.
While the beach was a highlight in its own right, I found myself unexpectedly enamored with the colorful and inviting town center.
In addition to a variety of Tudor Revival and Spanish Romantic Revival structures, the city is home to a number of English-inspired “fairytale cottages” designed and built by Hugh Comstock in the 1920s.
You can easily see them for yourself during your visit: eleven of them are clustered together right in downtown Carmel. Click here for a map.
While walking around, I would recommend a stop at Pilgrim’s Way Community Bookstore. Head through the back entrance and into their peaceful “secret garden” complete with plants, local goods, and pathways leading by more whimsical buildings to the other side of the block.
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A classic California city conjuring images of beaches and towering palm trees, I was excited to stop by Santa Cruz even if briefly.
We were hoping to check out the boardwalk amusement park, but our visit was on a Friday in October, and it was closed! (Click here to check hours before you go.)
I’m not hugely into rides, but I do love historic amusement parks. (This one dates back to 1907.) What’s better than vintage vibes at the seaside?
Not much of a rollercoaster girl, I had my sights set on the colorful Sky Glider. Next time!
After a quick stop by the wharf (not my favorite, but maybe it’s more vibrant during the summertime) we continued on to Lighthouse Point. This is a great spot to watch the surfers below. It also offers views over Lighthouse Field State Beach and further north toward popular Natural Bridges State Beach.
Swanton Berry Farm
This shop offers an extensive variety of pies, soups, cider, coffee and more. You can also pick your own organic strawberries and sample jams, many made with berries I had never heard of before our visit. (Olallieberry, anyone?)
Not your average roadside farm stand, you’ll be tempted to hang out at this inviting space for a while, maybe over one of the books or board games scattered around. It has a rich history, one of the highlights being its status as the first unionized organic farm in the country.
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We passed several other farm stands along this stretch of road, too, so keep an eye out and you’ll be spoiled for local snack options!
Waddell Creek Beach
We pulled off at this beautiful beach that’s popular for windsurfing and kiteboarding. Our timing was perfect as we were treated to a colorful show of both activities.
With more time we would have loved to explore Big Basin Redwoods State Park, stretching inland from the beach.
Año Nuevo State Park
This state park was a highlight of our time on the coast. The timing didn’t hurt – we arrived at golden hour, and the vivid sunlight accenting the trails and beach made for some stunning views.
We hiked a circular route, combining parts of three trails and a walk along the beach. You can read about all of the hike options and look at a trail map here.
Año Nuevo is also a great place to see elephant seals, but be sure to plan in advance; the viewing area is only accessible by a docent-led tour or a self-guided permit system. Visits become more restricted between mid-December and the end of May (the seals’ breeding season). Get all the details here.
Pigeon Point Lighthouse
On the lookout for a good place to watch the sunset, we ended up at Pigeon Point Lighthouse. It was the perfect viewing point and an especially scenic end to our day of driving. (The daylight portion, anyway!)
If you’re looking for a place to stay, there’s actually a hostel on-site.
Is any California road trip really a California road trip without a burger and shake at In-N-Out? Having never been before this visit, I was a big advocate for stopping on each of our big drives, and this was no exception.
Our bonus coastal drive between Big Sur and San Francisco was amazing. Being a last-minute addition, there was little to no planning. But that’s the beauty of California’s coast! Just follow Highway 1 and you are bound to pass countless places you’d like to explore, whether you’ve heard of them before or not.
Have you taken a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway? Where did you visit on yours?
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I’m sharing this post to one of my favorite blog link-ups: the Faraway Files, with Fifi + Hop, Hilary Style, Oregon Girl Around the World, and Suitcases and Sandcastles. Follow the links to check out their sites!