I had always heard how beautiful Pacific Coast Highway 1 was, so I had to experience the drive for myself. My roomie and I decided to rent a car and drive down the coast of California for a long weekend. The three-day trip started in San Francisco and ended in San Diego, and let me tell you, it exceeded any picture, any story, any expectation. With the beautiful seaside cliffs and ocean line views we truly experienced California.
I wanted to share with you some highlights of this three-day adventure. Places we stopped, towns we stayed in etc. I also felt like we learned a lot from this experience and wanted to share some do’s and don’ts if you are thinking of doing the drive yourself.
Day 1: San Fransisco
The first stop on our trip was San Fransisco. Since neither one of us had been here before we decided to spend the full day exploring. We decided to be real tourists starting the trip with a walk on the Golden Gate Bridge. Despite the overcast skies, the view from the bridge was beautiful.
Next up a ride on a trolly. I mean with the up and down hills I didn’t feel like walking that is for sure. We first took the trolly to Chinatown (the largest of such outside of Asia) and then we hopped on again to head to Union Square for dinner. My highlight in both of these places was the various local art. Really take the time to look around Union Square and check out the local work.
Since I am from Canada, dinner was pretty basic, a trip to the Cheesecake Factory (hey we don’t have those up here).
Day 2: San Fransisco to Long Beach
On the second day of the trip we started the actual driving portion. I am not going to lie it didn’t start off smoothly. I have trouble parking as is, try parking on those steep San Fran hills. It was pretty smooth sailing after that near accident. Once we made it on to Pacific Coast Highway 1 I was speechless. The views were spectacular. Cliffs on one side and the ocean on the other, it definitely isn’t for the fearful drivers.
Pit stop #1: Big Basin Redwoods State Park
What is really amazing about this drive is you start off in forest before you get to beach so we really wanted to take advantage of the different landscapes. We decided to take a quick stop at Big Basin Redwoods Park which offers some beautiful hiking trails. Giant trees, beautiful wildlife, and waterfalls made for some great pictures. While we didn’t have time to hike any full trails, it was great to get some fresh air.
Pit stop #2: Carmel By the Sea
Carmel by the Sea is a small beach town surrounded by fairytale like cottages and plenty of art galleries. The drive through this quaint town was what made us stop. We were told about the picturesque Senic Bluff Path which runs from the surf area of the beach to Carmel River State Beach which is known for its wildlife. Since the weather was a little chilly we decided to take a stroll on the path and trust me the views were amazing.
Pit Stop #3: Big Sur
When we decided to do this trip, I said the one place I absolutely needed to see was Big Sur. Our whole road trip revolved around a stop here. Big Sur is a rugged stretch of the coast with some of the most breathtaking beaches I have ever seen. In fact, it has been described as the greatest meeting of land and water in the world, and I tend to agree. Again it was a little chilly so we didn’t get in the water, but we walked around some of the beaches in the area. The red rock formations were incredible. And of course there were some great waves perfect for the surfers that were a lot braver than us.
We stopped for a delicious dinner at Nepenthe, which has some yummy American cuisine with one of the best view points in the area before continuing our trip to Long Beach.
We learned a valuable lesson on night one, and that was to map out our overnights a little better. We didn’t realize the distances from San Fransisco to Long Beach was over 6 hours on the coastal drive. By the time we started making our way to the hotel the sun was setting. Trust me, not only is driving along PCH in the dark disappointing because you are missing out on some spectacular views, but also super scary. I do not recommend this whatsoever.
Day 3: Long Beach to San Diego
We woke up nice and early to get a good start on today’s drive. Because we covered most of the previous day, we knew this meant we could spend a longer time at each pit stop.
Pit Stop #1: Huntington Beach
The first stop of the day was at a small surf town known as Huntington Beach. It was outlined by adorable beach cottages and cute coffee shops. Of course there was the white sand beach and crystal clear blue water. Again it was a little chilly ( I guess June gloom is a real thing) so we didn’t get in the water but was a really adorable town to stop bye.
Pit Stop #2: Laguna Beach
Well this was a childhood dream come true. After plenty of hours binge watching the MTV show Laguna Beach I needed to visit. The town consists of gorgeous mansions on top of rolling hills. We packed a picnic for the day and headed down to Aliso Creek County Beach ( less crowded than Main Beach). We grabbed a spot near the water and took in the smell of the ocean.
Pit Stop #3: La Jolla
Alas we made it to San Diego region and we were told we needed to check out La Jolla. La Jolla is considered the regions jewel by the sea and it was just that. I have never seen such a breathtaking town before. Cliffs down to the the calm and clear waters. We grabbed a coffee and then decided to take a cave tour. With the various rock formations, La Jolla has some amazing caves. On our tour we got really close to some of the locals aka seals that have populated the area.
Pit Stop #4: San Diego
All good things must come to an end right? We finished our drive in San Diego, which is one of my favourite cities in the world. Since we only had one night in San Diego we decided to make the most of it. We went to Florent for dinner which is a restaurant and nightclub combined into one. The modern American food menu is delicious and they have some awesome cocktails. My personal fav is the Maui Mule.
We capped off the night at a rooftop bar ( a must in San Diego). We decided to go to The Rooftop at STK at Andaz. Grab a drink and then grab a spot to overlook the breathtaking city views.
This marked the end of our incredible road trip. While it was an amazing experience, there were definitely wish we had done some more planning ahead of time and wanted to share some of the lessons I learned with you in case you are planning a PCH road trip. So the following are some of my do’s and don’ts
Do: Stop when you want to
One of the points of a road trip is to experience what is along the way. We had such a set map of the places we wanted to visit that I feel like we missed out on some really adorable towns on the way. If you see something that catches your eye stop and take a look
Don’t: Book a hotel too far away
This we definitely learned the hard way when we were forced to drive PCH at night time. Really map out the route and figure out how far apart the hotels are. This way you won’t feel rushed at your stops and you will really get to experience the beautiful drive.
Do: Get a convertible (if you can afford it)
One of the biggest regrets of the trip was not shelling out more money to drive with the top down. While a convertible seems cliche I think it is totally worth it. Especially with the views of the ocean that you sometimes miss with the windows up.
Do: Pack layers
Here I was thinking California was always sunny and hot, I was wrong. Only later did I find out about this June Gloom. It was overcast and chilly for the majority of the trip and I was so upset I didn’t pack a cute sweater and pair of jeans.
Driving PCH is scary, the road is winding all the time and there is only one lane of traffic on each side. You don’t want to lose control at any point and you really don’t know what is around each corner. Plus you may miss some amazing views if you are just speedy through.
Do: Drive North to South
I didn’t think of this before, but while on the trip I realized how smart we were. By driving from the North to the South means you will be on the ocean side of the road.
Do: Research for booking your car
There are so many car companies out there that you want to find a good deal but also a reliable dealer. We booked with Hertz and didn’t have any issues. I highly recommend checking them out.
Have you driven PCH? I would love to hear about your experience or I hope you find these tips helpful if you are planning a trip out there.
Happy traveling and can’t wait to share my next Mia goes M.I.A adventure with you