Looking for some great stops on your next road trip down California Highway 1? California’s Pacific Coast Highway is home to the most incredible views of the California Coast. The 600 mile route stretches from the northern town of Leggett, California down to Dana Point near Los Angeles. In total, the drive will take about 9 hours to complete from end to end, and about 2.5 of those hours will be driving through the remote coastlines of Big Sur. While driving this famous road, making these stops is necessary.
Here are the 20 Best Stops on Highway 1 in California
1.Glass Beach, Fort Bragg
This beach in Fort Bragg is known for Glass Beach, a well known southern beach in MacKerricher State Park. The area was formerly a dumping ground and after many years of waves grinding against the shore, became the beach today. This beach experiences tens of thousands of visits annually, and although glass collecting is not allowed, the glass is diminishing from the beach rapidly. Please leave the beach how you found it so others can enjoy it for years to come.
2. Point Reyes National Seashore
Famous for its lighthouse and miles of coastal trails, Point Reyes makes a great stop for photographers, backpackers, and hikers. Hikes in this area are relatively flat, coastal trails with spectacular views.
3. Mt. Tamalpais
Just north of San Francisco, near the John Muir Woods, is a great spot for spectacular views of the city and the nearby town of Stinson Beach. On certain nights, this location is popular with photographers for cloud inversions. Its a little ways out from Highway 1 but is surely one of the best stops you can make on your road trip.
4. San Francisco/ Golden Gate Bridge
There are so many things to do in this famous city on your drive. If you have the time the towns you will be passing through on Highway 1 are worth an extra day on their own. San Francisco is certainly no exception. Driving down route 1 will take you though the Golden Gate Bridge from the northern side- there is an $8 pay-by-mail fee associated with crossing the bridge this direction.
What are the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge?
– Chrissy Field (southeastern)
– Marin Headlands (northwestern)
– Land’s End (southwestern)
5. Montara State Beach
This gorgeous beach is located right off the road after the town of Pacifica (did you see the beachside Taco Bell cantina on your drive through?) There is a small parking lot at the beach but the turnouts leading up to the beach are also great spots to take a few photos. After exiting a tunnel after Pacifica, Montara State Beach will be to your right. You can pull off to the side of the road, or go a bit further for a parking area. One of the most beautiful and best stops on Highway 1, without a doubt.
6.Half Moon Bay
Half Moon Bay is famous for its world-renowned surfing spot, Mavericks. In the past, this had been a spot for the World Surfing League “Big-Wave” Competitions. When the forecast was predicated to be big surf, the competition would send out an announcement to big-wave surfers with a few days notice to get to Mavericks as soon as possible. Waves here routinely reach 25 feet and the largest wave ever recorded here was 60 feet.
I recommend checking out Half Moon Bay Brewery while you are here! Another one of my favorite spots is just down the road called Half Moon Bay Nursery. They have several different buildings of plants and relatively inexpensive pots for your huge-plant needs.
This small surf town is minutes away from Santa Cruz and is a popular quick-stop for photographers and travelers. Near the train tracks across the street from the main part of town, there is an overlook of the ruin bridge. If you can climb down the cliff to get down to the beach, there is a swing attached to the first pillar of the bridge that makes for a wonderful photo.
8. Shark Fin Cove
A few minutes south of Davenport, you’ll come across a pull off for Shark Fin Cove. Similar to Davenport, there is a way to get down to the beach but will require going down a narrow beach trail. Even from the above cliffs, this cove has an awesome view of a shark-fin rock formation in a picture-perfect setting.
9. Natural Bridges State Park
Natural Bridges State Park is known for its beautiful rock arch near the shore. If you find yourself here in the winter months, you may even get a chance to see the thousands of butterflies that call the eucalyptus grove here home!
In mid-October every year, once the weather starts cooling down, Monarch Butterflies start their annual migration to the moderate climates of California. Santa Cruz happens to house a nearly perfect sanctuary for them in a grove filled with eucalyptus trees that is located in a small canyon. These butterflies will often group together for warmth and is a great Highway 1 stop you won’t want to miss.
10. Santa Cruz, California
A world-class surf town, Santa Cruz is worth some extra time to enjoy all it has to offer. There are so many activities to do here for anyone in the family or group. From surfing, to bike riding or kayaking the kelp forest to visiting local coffee shops.
I have an entire blog post on things you should do in Santa Cruz, from a locals perspective. You can read it here
11. Seacliff Beach, Aptos (Shipwreck Beach)
Seacliff State Beach is wonderful! This neat stop has a shipwreck right off the beach and is expansive. It is a great beach for playing games and enjoying the afternoon.
Once you enter Big Sur, there will be little to no spots will cell phone service. Make sure you know where your stops are and have enough gas to get to the middle section of the park (after that it is a while before you have another gas station). Download your music or podcasts for this portion of the trip! Some of my favorite playlists on Spotify are:
Podcast: Girls Gotta Eat
Playlist: Classic Road Trip Songs (Spotify)
Podcast: The Moth
Playlist: Your Daily Drive (Spotify)
Podcast: Backpacker Radio
12. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
Point Lobos will be the first stop you pass into the portion of Highway 1 known as Big Sur. This park has a wonderful walking trail that takes you along the rugged coastline. You can spot seals, enjoy the turquoise waters, and exercise a bit on your long drive
13. Bixby Bridge
Popularized for its appearance in the opening credits of Big Little Lies (year), Bixby Bridge is also popular amongst photographers for its grandeur in a beautiful landscape. Parking here can be a bit difficult on the weekends to make sure to be patient as people come and go quickly on the road. You will want to stop on the northern side of the bridge for the best photo opportunities.
14. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
Have any desire to visit Redwoods? This park will be perfect for you. Pfeiffer Big Sur has several hiking trails to explore varying less than a mile to backpacking treks.
15. Pfeiffer Beach
This beach is located down a side road, just south of Big Sur State Park. The road down to the beach is very narrow and may require pulling off to let other cars pass. After a heavy rainfall, parts of the road can also flood. Even if it takes a bit of extra time- I promise this will be worth the stop on Highway 1!
Once down at the beach, the iconic feature of it is the large rock arch that is central to the shore. During a clear night at sunset, photographers will line up in front of the arch to get photos of the golden sun-ray coming from the middle of the arch. It is truly a spectacular sight to see.
16. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
This park is just off the road on the southern end of Big Sur. Its famous feature is McWay Falls, a thin waterfall that cascades into the Pacific Ocean. If you don’t have a ton of time to enter the park, there is a pullout just before the park, on the right side, that you can view that waterfall from.
After Julia Pfeiffer, the roads of Big Sur will become much more windy and long. Put on some of you favorite tunes or podcasts and enjoy it.
17. Morro Beach
Once you hit the town of Morro Beach, stop to enjoy downtown! It is full of restaurants featuring fresh and delicious seafood (one of my favorites is Morro Bay Oyster Company!)
18. Santa Barbara
I always make sure to stop in Santa Barbara when coming down Highway 1. I love making a coffee-stop at Santa Barbara Coffee Company and walking around the downtown area.
19. Santa Monica
Santa Monica is a great stop for an L.A. fix without heading directly into the heart of the city. This stop has a great shopping center, beach, and pier to walk around.
20. Huntington Beach
One of the surfing capitals of the California, Huntington is a great place to explore the local surf culture. Surf shops around the area often have memorabilia from some of the world best surfers. Head out to the pier and you are sure to catch a great view of the surfers nearby.
These stops are just a start to the many things Highway 1 has to offer. Have you driven the PCH before? If so, tell me what I missed! What are your favorite stops to make on your road trips?
You can find my google map of all these places at: https://goo.gl/maps/q17bynGurnqyiu7D9