When we heard the news that Highway 1 near Big Sur is reopening early, visions of coastal road trips danced in our heads. When it comes to scenic drives, sunsets, and superb photo spots, you really can’t beat Highway 1.
For nature photographers, foodies, beach bums, and everyone in between, a Highway 1 road trip is what summer travel dreams are made of. You could take the scenic route from Los Angeles to San Francisco in one epic driving day, or you could easily spend weeks stopping for iconic California experiences.
Want to spend a week on the West Coast? Here are 7 can’t-miss stops for 7 days on Highway 1.
Day 1: Malibu
A Malibu sunset is an obvious but necessary SoCal experience. Grab coffee or ice cream in Malibu Country Mart and make your way to the beach to take in the cotton candy pink skies. You won’t have the beach to yourself, but you can usually find a spot where the gorgeous homes add to the view, and watching dogs play fetch along the beach makes it all the more enjoyable.
Day 2: Santa Barbara
The coastal city of Santa Barbara has something for everyone. It’s an ideal spot to try a water sport like kayaking or paddle boarding, or you can hike one of our favorite trails in nearby Gaviota State Park. Enjoy the Spanish architecture at Old Mission Santa Barbara, or travel less than an hour north to the Danish village of Solvang.
Day 3: Morro Bay
If you’re interested in photography (or in amazing views), you’ll definitely want to spend some time in Morro Bay. The city is best known for Morro Rock, a volcanic plug off the coast. You can enjoy the view on its own, or take it in while biking, hiking, kayaking, or boating in the area. If you’re able to plan ahead, Morro Bay also has some of the best coastal campsites in the state.
Day 4: Big Sur
Here’s where Highway 1 really shines. Currently, reaching Big Sur from the south involves at least an hour detour inland and would require a good amount of backtracking to see all of the area’s highlights. Once you’re able to take the scenic (and most direct) route of Highway 1, you’ll want to save at least a day for all of the viewpoints along the way.
You won’t want to miss the picturesque seaside village of Cambria or the natural beauty of Ragged Point. As you continue up the cliffside highway, you’ll pass Limekiln State Park and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Although there are beautiful views available in these areas, many of the trails are still closed due to fire damage and erosion. It might be worth continuing on to Pfeiffer Beach and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park instead to get the best of redwoods and beach views.
The unbelievable Big Sur views don’t stop at the state park. Just north of there is the Bixby Creek Bridge, where you can pull over for photos or a cliffside picnic. As you head out of Big Sur, pull over again less than ten minutes later for coastal hiking in Garrapata State Park.
Be warned: If you’re a fan of scenic picnics and relaxing walks, you might find yourself wanting to spend more than just a day in this section of Highway 1.
Day 5: Monterey
Start a day in the county of Monterey in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, where you’ll be able to spot seals and sea otters. You can explore the trails or dive into the underwater portion of the park with snorkeling or SCUBA. If you haven’t had enough of marine life, visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium next (re-opening May 15). Fine dining, golfing, and more sightseeing abound throughout the quaint towns that make up Monterey.
Day 6: Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz is best known for its surfing beaches and surfing history. So spend your day out on a board! If you’d rather stay on land, drive to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park to hike among the redwood trees.
Day 7: San Francisco
If San Francisco is your final destination, we highly recommend saving time for more than a day in the city. To squeeze some of the top attractions into a short time, start with the 49 mile scenic drive.
Ready to hit Highway 1 and never look back? Throughout the month of May, you can book a one-way Cabana trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco!