We finally had the chance to explore our home state, California, from the comfort of our car. David and I both grew up in Santa Monica, CA and I lived in northern CA for 4 years (UC Davis for college), and we’ve done road trips here and there, but we’ve never taken the coast on Highway 1 the whole way. I don’t know why it didn’t happen sooner because it was an epic adventure! So I’m super excited to share my guide with you and hope it encourages you to get out of the comfort of your home and explore the beauty the California coast has to offer. I will most definitely be doing this drive again in the future!
Find more photo inspo on my instagram @sophcation !
SANTA MONICA, CA
We left around 8am and started our drive on PCH. One thing I prefer with driving vs flying is that you can pack AS MUCH AS YOU WANT and it’s so accessible. It’s a long drive so I recommend bringing water, tea, snacks for the road and using the bathroom before you leave the house. No one enjoys peeing in a gas station bathroom…
SANTA BARBARA, CA
Our first stop! We’ve been here a couple times already, but here’s a few things you can do: munch on some seafood along the wharf, visit the old mission, go on a whale watching tour, etc . Santa Barbara hands down has the most beautiful courthouse, so this time we stopped by to admire the old Spanish architecture!
SURF BEACH // LOMPOC, CA
We turned off our GPS and made the wrong turn, but it led us to the most beautiful beach in CA….. I COULD NOT believe it. Growing up in SM, our beaches were always muddy and brown and I always thought I had to travel far to find serene, white sand, turquoise water beaches. I never realized that there was one this close! It reminded me of the beaches in Cape Town, South Africa.
When you pull up, there is a small parking lot (maybe fits around 15 cars?) At first, we pulled over at this dead end to check our GPS, but something made me hop out the car and walk over to see what it was all about…. And when I walked past the parking lot over a slight hill, I looked down and saw the most precious and clean beach. I ran back to the car and told David that he HAD to come out and see it.
Surf Beach is a public beach located on Vandenberg Air Force Base. The areas north/south of Surf Beach are closed intermittently on March 1st-Sept 30 to protect the Snowy Plover bird nesting spots. If human violations reach over 50 times, the ENTIRE beach will be closed for the remainder of the nesting season. So be respectful, protect our wildlife/nature & don’t ever leave trash when visiting.. PLEASE.
ELEPHANT SEALS // SAN SIMEON, CA
This spot is located right off Highway 1 and is the ONLY elephant seal rookery in the world that is easily accessible. I am all about conservation and I have so much respect for the state for fencing the whole area off to protect these animals. Observing and witnessing these beauties in nature is such a gift.
The elephant seals birth and breed around December- March. There is a designated parking lot and a couple pathways for you to roam around. DO NOT throw food, taunt, disrespect, etc when you are visiting. The seals are protected by federal law so it is illegal to touch, throw things at them to cause a reaction… Use common sense and enjoy the wildlife here.
The stretch of highway from San Simeon to Big Sur is so incredibly picturesque. There are jaw dropping views in every twist and turn. We couldn’t help it and stopped every 5 minutes to enjoy the scenery! There are a ton of turn offs for you to pull over to take a photo. Make sure to slow down and put your signals on so cars behind you can be alerted since cars are going pretty fast here. Don’t be an idiot and hop over the fence to get a shot- it’s not safe.
BIG SUR, CA
Now this stretch of the drive was so enchanting. Take your time and pull over whenever you see something you want to explore. We had the windows down, and I heard some running water so we decided to pull over to find out. We found the Big Sur Creek and it was so magical and lush. It’s as if you walked into Disney’s Snow White movie with massive redwood trees all around you. Dip your feet into the creek for a refreshing break! I promise you won’t regret it! (*use bug spray to avoid bites)
BIXBY CREEK BRIDGE // BIG SUR, CA
You HAVE to pull over at the northern turnout and hop out to admire the beauty of architectural beauty. This iconic bridge was completed in 1932 and is one of the tallest single- span concrete bridges in the whole world.
I recommend taking photos on the North side of the bridge. The winds can get pretty strong here so please be careful and don’t get too close to the edge… Your life is more important than an epic photo on social media..
PEBBLE BEACH, CA
The popular 17 mile drive…. We did this drive a couple years ago and you have to do this drive in your lifestime. Inside the 17 mile drive, there is a special restaurant we fell in love with. We dined at The Bench and lucked out with the best seats! Highly recommend this restaurant- can be a bit pricy… but the food was delicious!!! Tip: order seafood whenever you’re seaside- it will never disappoint.
I took a class in high school called California Literature and we studied John Steinbeck religiously (Grapes of Wrath, Cannery Row, Of Mice and Men). At the end of the year, our class took a road trip up the coast and spent some time here in Monterey. John Steinbeck is one of the best known American literary figures and you can tour the house that inspired him to write the character “Doc” in Cannery Row. Last time David and I visited Monterey Bay, we visited Monterey Bay Aquarium and walked around the quaint fisherman’s wharf.
SAN JUAN BAUTISTA, CA
Lastly, we stayed in an eco friendly luxurious Airbnb tent at a working cattle ranch. The most chic way of “glamping” and honestly, the only way I could actually camp in a tent… haha don’t judge. It is a solar powered tent with a mini kichenette, fireplace, and separate cabin for bathroom. When you’re out in nature, there’s bound to be bugs everywhere, but this place was maintained and cleaned VERY well. You should still bring bug spray with high amounts of deet (listen I’ve tried the organic “all natural” bug spray… it doesn’t work. I got eaten alive in Thailand bc of it.) The host goes above and beyond by preparing wine, chocolates, cheese plate, and adds excellent touches in every corner of the tent. The bed/ pillows were EXTREMELY comfortable and clean. The bathroom had an outdoor shower with all the amenities you’d need and truly every detail that went into this was intentional & thoughtful. We loved the starry night, epic sunset, and morning birds chirping. It was quite a spectacular getaway. We highly recommend it and can’t wait to return.