California’s Highway 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway is one of America’s most beautiful drives. One summer we drove from Los Angeles to San Francisco and capped it with a Napa Valley visit at the end. Our 9 night itinerary for California Hwy1 and Napa Valley was as follows:-
- Los Angeles – 2 nights
- Pismo Beach – 1 night
- Cambria – 1 night
- Carmel/Monterey – 1 night
- San Francisco – 2 nights
- Napa Valley – 2 nights
Keep in mind that along the coast, early mornings and late evenings are foggy so ideally plan to drive late morning to afternoon for better visibility. Bring flashlights for use in the dark. We started our trip in LA.
Los Angeles needs no introduction. And if you have seen La La Land, you have already seen some of this ‘City of Stars’. Expect large crowds and bad traffic.
Some of the attractions around LA include:-
- The Getty Center
- Beverly Hills with its glamorous vibe
- Hollywood Walk of Fame
- Chinese Theatre and Dolby Theater
- Griffith Park Observatory
- Warner Brothers Studio Tour
- Madame Tussauds Wax museum which was surprisingly fun
- Santa Monica beach and pier
- The Getty Villa is well worth a visit as you leave LA
Best Western plus Carlyle Inn 1119 S Robertson Boulevard, LA is an inexpensive choice for lodging in LA. Dining options in the hotel vicinity include:-
- Indian restaurant at Sirtaj hotel
- Panini Café 9601 Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills
- Le Petit Greek 127 N Larchmont Blvd, Los Angeles
- Si Laa Thai 1128 S Robertson Blvd, Los Angeles
- Komodo 8809 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles
There are couple of tour options including one showing you various Hollywood star’s homes. The Griffith Park Observatory is a prime place for viewing the Hollywood sign. A recommended drive in LA is Mulholland from Cahuenga to Coldwater Canyon, stopping at the lookout points along the way for scenic views. Mulholland Scenic Parkway and Corridor at 7036 Mulholland Drive has the perfect viewing spot, the “Hollywood Bowl Overlook.”. Not only can you see the city, you’ll also see the Hollywood sign and Griffith Park.
Driving along the glamorous coast of Malibu, you will see small beaches and celebrity mansions. The Getty villa is on the Malibu coast.
From Malibu it’s a 1.5-hour drive to Santa Barbara, said to be one of California’s prettiest cities. Stretch your legs around this town or just drive through it. You can also see wine country along the Santa Ynez Valley, just north of Santa Barbara if you have time.
We stopped overnight at the Kon Tiki Inn in charming Pismo Beach which is a lovely boutique hotel on the beach itself. Steamers restaurant is next door. You could also drive straight to Cambria and skip this overnight stop.
Two hours north of Santa Barbara is the small city of San Luis Obispo filled with vineyards. San Simeon is where the Hearst Castle is located. Fog Catcher Inn at 6400 Moonstone Beach Drive, in Cambria is where we stayed.
Hearst Castle, you won’t regret visiting this. If ever there was an American palace this is one. Designed by Julia Morgan, California’s first female licensed architect, as the private residence of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, the complex, completed in 1947 is within one of California’s most visited state parks. Opulent and extravagant is this 165-room castle with 127 acres of terraced gardens, fountains, and pools. You can easily spend a few hours here seeing the castle and grounds.
Following Hwy 1, we now reach the stunning seaside region known as Big Sur. This stretch of road is considered one of the most beautiful in the world as Highway 1 traverses through coastal cliffs, narrow bridges and Redwood forests. Stop at one of the many viewpoints along the highway. The Big Sur Lodge is located inside the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, in the Redwood Forest and on the banks of the Big Sur River.
Just north of Big Sur is the town of Carmel-by-the-Sea. The Carmel Mission is one of the state’s most beautiful, and shady trails that go into Mission Trail Nature Preserve. Visit Point Lobos State Natural Reserve and Carmel Beach. In expensive Carmel, the Best Western Plus was again a reasonable option for lodging.
Wrapped by the Pacific on three sides, the Monterey Peninsula is lovely. See the world famous Pebble Beach Golf course and the multi-million dollar mansions along the 17 Mile Drive, a visual delight in unique home styles showcased by the natural beauty of the coast. Visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium in the town of Monterey if you have time.
Continue onto to the city of San Francisco which is quite different from other US cities. Here you will enjoy the city’s quaint cable cars, Fisherman’s wharf, Pier 39, Ghirardelli square and the Golden Gate bridge. Be prepared for the huge summer crowds. As with most popular tourist cities, San Francisco in the summer is overrun with tourists. Long lines and jam packed streets are pretty common.
American wineries and vineyards dot the Napa valley. Many can only be visited by appointment and will charge fees for visit and tasting. We enjoyed visiting the Castello di Amorosa winery which has a beautiful Italian style castle like building surrounded by vineyards.
Depending on the wineries you’ve chosen to visit, drive through Napa Valley on Highway 29 in one direction and on Silverado Trail in the other. Not only is Silverado Trail less busy than the main highway, but it’s more scenic, too.
You can also take in panoramic views from an aerial tram at Sterling Vineyards, or enjoy a taste of Persia at Darioush. The patio at Domaine Carneros south of the town of Napa on Hwy 121 is a nice place for lovely views. The Kuleto Winery in St. Helena is “off the beaten path”, about a 15-20 minute drive from the Napa Valley floor , at the Silverado Trail and the junction of Highway 128 but has beautiful views.
Dining options in the Napa Valley area include:-
- Singletree Café, Healdsburg
- Napa General Store & Cafe
- The Model Bakery Napa
- Black Bear Diner
- Mini Mango Thai
- Downtown Bakery & Creamery for pastries and cake, Healdsburg
- Tarla Mediterranean Grill, Napa
- Boon Fly Café, Napa
It is less than an hour from the town of Napa to the Golden Gate Bridge but could be longer in rush hour. In our case we returned back to San Francisco for our return flight home.
Here’s hoping that Mother Nature does not wreck any more damage on this lovely drive. A classic American road trip, the Pacific Coast Highway in California is an absolute delight.
A Worthy Thought
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Psalms 46