We’re big fans of the road-trip holiday. There’s nothing like that sense of adventure, the freedom to stop and go whenever and wherever you please, and, of course, the exhilarating drive. Our travel expert Lianne recently returned from her visit to California, during which she jumped in the car in San Francisco and headed south down Highway 1: the coastal road carving its way down the stunning Californian shoreline. Here she shares with us her experience and tips for travellers who have their eye on an epic self-drive holiday.
My Highway 1 road-trip was full of surprises. I didn’t expect the drive south from San Francisco to LA to be so packed with stunning vistas at every single point. Every twist and turn in the road gives you a different view from the one before, encompassing soaring cliffs to rolling hills and eye-catching stretches of sand, and all the while the glittering Pacific Ocean remains a glorious companion throughout.
I wasn’t too impressed to be climbing out of bed before the crack of dawn, as I wasn’t sure that getting up so early was the point of a holiday. But once I headed out on the road and saw the sun peeking out above the horizon, hovering beneath the lowly-hung clouds, I saw that it was completely and utterly worth it. With the stretch of meandering road practically to ourselves, and that gorgeous sunrise casting a glow over the dramatic scenery as a backdrop, it felt exhilarating: you really can’t take your eyes off the view. As we bumbled along the highway, we caught sight of whales breaching close to the shore, and swerved into a stop-off point (of which there are many) to capture the moment. Not only can you spot whales, but sea lions, seals and otters also make regular appearances along the coast here, and it never gets tiring catching sight of them.
In contrast to the wildlife but also exciting to watch are the races down at Mazda Racecourse track, just around the corner from Monterey. It’s a national park so you can just pop in and see the cars zooming around the famous and impossible corkscrew bends. Over at Pebble Beach is the fantastic, historic golf course which hosts national tournaments such as the US Open, making it a must-see for fans of the sport.
After all this, it would be the ideal time to check in at the Carmel Valley Ranch. Surrounded by lush vineyards, this is your go-to for wine tasting, roasting marshmallows on the fire or sitting down for a meal amidst the vines. The gorgeous white sand at Carmel makes this a truly idyllic setting – just remember to ditch the heels before you stride down Carmel’s cobbled paths!
My next stop was the Big Sur, the iconic Highway 1 setting with unparalleled scenic views. Staying at the Ventana Inn was one of my most cherished memories of this trip, with its remote location and exclusive feel. Along the way you can stop off at Bixby Bridge, another photogenic landmark to admire, and Hearst Castle, a grand mansion with lavish decor and a delightful spot for lunch. Then there’s Pismo beach, a lovely stretch of sand popular with road-trippers for its pretty pier and surfing opportunities.
Once we had torn ourselves away from Ventana Inn, Santa Barbara was next on our route. A trendy hotspot on the Pacific Highway, this is where the ultimate Cali lifestyle reigns supreme. Packed with restaurants, beaches and fantastic nightlife, honeymooners in particular love the buzz of this hip beach-side town. Try paddle boarding and other water-sports, and stay at the Canary. Otherwise there’s Ojai, a more tranquil alternative to the buzzing Santa Barbara. Just off the highway, this is the remote location where best to delve into activities like cycling or golf; and if not there’s no reason why you shouldn’t sit back and enjoy the slow life here. I’d say the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa is the perfect pit-stop for such an occasion.
After seven days of incredible scenery, luxury hotels and fine dining, we rounded off the trip at Santa Monica, just 40 minutes from downtown L.A. Now I’m back at home, and already dreaming about when I can do it all over again – I’ll have to take two weeks off next time!
If you, like Lianne, enjoy the thrill of the open road, check out this Highway One road trip - great for couples and honeymooners, or take a look at some of our other Highway One itineraries here.