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We decided to drive the full highway 1 from San Francisco to Morro Bay in 3 days. It’s do-able, but I would recommend spending a week, as there are lots of things to do, places to stop and views to take in! The first leg, from San Francisco to Monterey is the lesser travelled section, but is beautiful – with lovely picnic spots and trails at San Gregorio and Pescadero State Beaches.
Monterey itself is terribly cute – this converted cannery town is now geared beautifully towards the tourists – with the obligatory tat stores, but also with some great attractions (the aquarium), and some great pubs and restaurants. We had dinner at the Cannery Row Brewing Company – and while it doesn’t actually brew the beer, it has an incredible range… AND it has an 18oz pretzel with a chilli cheese dipping sauce, which is one of the best things I ate on this visit!
We stayed at the far east end of Cannery Row, at the Monterey Bay Inn. We chose to be a little further away from the malaise of the main drag as we wanted a bit of a gap between the neon lights and the sunrise we were hoping for. Below is the view from our hotel balcony…
The California coast was just sublime for nature-watching – great big flocks of pelicans, sea lions, sea otters, cormorants and other marine birds – it was fabulous. We took an early morning walk down to the Coast Guard pier to see the sea lion colony, and were treated to a sea otter lolling about on his back in the shallows – just preening and enjoying the gentle morning sea – it was very special.
The next day we set off further down the PCH, towards Big Sur… and it was some of the most stunning landscape I have ever seen. The absolutely great thing about this road is that there are loads of places to pull over and take photos – they really have got the recipe right for those who come to see this beautiful place.
The Famous Bridges + Other Stops
One of the first photogenic things along this stretch of the PCH are the two 1932 bridges – Rocky Creek and Bixby… they span steep but narrow creeks and their arches are beautiful frames for this rocky scenery. Below is the view back to Bixby Bridge from Hurricane Point.
My poor husband isn’t great with heights, so it must’ve been a bit scary for him that I was leaping out of the car at the various lookouts and enjoying taking photos of the beautiful view down to the sea!
Along the way, there are plenty of places to stop – The California Sea Otter refuge; Pfeiffer Beach State Park; Post Range Inn & The Sierra Mar Restaurant; and the Henry Miller Memorial Library. Our wedding photographer had recommended Nepenthe Restaurant, so we stopped there for lunch. We had a table with a view looking out over the water, and the food was generous and tasty (in fact, the ‘half portion’ of fries was the size of a dinner plate)!
Between April and early December, you can often see the whale migration from Monterey Bay and from along the PCH lookouts! We visited out of this timeframe, but you can’t help but be blown away by the beauty of the coastline itself. We didn’t have time to spend another day here, but I would recommend you make time to stop around Ragged Point or San Simeon and visit Hearst Castle (the incredibly preserved and ostentatious estate of William Randolph Hearst); and the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery.
On our last night, we stayed at the Moonstone Landing Hotel at the wild and rocky Moonstone Beach in Cambria – there are hotels and B&Bs all along this stretch of coastline. The beach is wild and pebbly (hence the name), and there is a lovely boardwalk where you can admire the coastline. The next day we drove along to the stunning Morro Bay, and then headed back North to San Francisco along the 101 Highway.
This Pacific Coast Highway road trip took us 3 days (and 500 miles), but we could easily have spent another week on this coastline – the juxtaposition between the peace and tranquility and the wild sea of this coastline makes for a very special road trip. Move over, darling 😉
NOTE: The PCH is prone to slips and landslides, so please check the Visit California website with updates on which parts of the road might be closed.
All photos © Hannah Henderson and may not be used without permission (sharing this blog post is fine, though!). Images shot with a Canon DSLR T3i Rebel + Canon EF 35-80mm f/4-5.6 III; and an iPhone6s.