Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

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I have been dreaming of driving the Pacific Coast Highway since I saw Doris Day in ‘Move Over, Darling’ (although I recently read that the footage was not of Monterey, but of the coast down near LA).  Then I read Jack Kerouac and Henry Miller and the dream became a desire… I needed to see where these wild tales took place.  The opportunity arose when my partner and I decided to elope to San Francisco in December 2015.  We had one week to explore San Francisco, and the Pacific Coast Highway for our honeymoon – it was perfect! Here is my guide to a Pacific Coast Highway road trip:
 

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 - Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip - HH Lifestyle Travel

 

Monterey

 

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…

 

Monterey Sunrise - Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip - HH Lifestyle Travel

 

Wildlife

 

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.

 

Pelicans in California - Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip - HH Lifestyle Travel

 

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.

 



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Bixby Bridge - Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip - HH Lifestyle Travel

 

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.

 

Hurricane Point - Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip - HH Lifestyle Travel

 

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)!

 

Big Sur - Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip - HH Lifestyle Travel

 

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.

 

Morro Rock - Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip - HH Lifestyle Travel

 

Cambria

 

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.

 

To Finish

 

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.

 



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Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip - HH Lifestyle Travel

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11 Comments

  • Niina says:

    Firstly: congrats! What a cool way to spend honeymoon! I’ve also always wanted to follow the footprints of Jack Kerouac to the Pacific Coast Highway. Thanks for lifting that dream to the surface again!

  • anu says:

    Road trips are always fun. I would love to pacific coast highway road trip for all the lovely birds and animals that you mention. it is difficult to find them in urban settings. The bridges also look beautiful.

  • Vasu says:

    Quite easily one of the top coastal highway. THe scenery is spectacular. Added to that the old bridges and quaint ton of Monterey, it looks like a photographers paradise!

  • Medha Verma says:

    What a fantastic road trip, along one of the prettiest coastlines i’ve seen! 3 days is a good amount of time to drive, relax, visit the towns on the way and stop of many pictures along the way. I know people sometimes even take longer, 4-5 days and still complain that they didn’t spend enough time, I can see why! The idea of being able to watch the whale migration from Monterey Bay is fantastic!

  • Leanne says:

    I love the California Coast. That stretch between SF and Monterey is beautiful. Sounds like you had a fabulous road trip!

  • Road trip and honeymoon sounds like a perfect match for me. More over the scenery along the Pacific Coast Highway is just mind blowing. I would definitely make a photo stop at Hurricane Point and also Monterey Bay for the whale migration! So happy that you have a beautiful journey here 😀

  • I love driving on Highway 1! it is certainly one of the most scenic roads in the US – especially the part around Big Sur. I was also inspired by Kerouac during my trip there – did you try to find his cabin under the Bixby Birdge?

    Unfortunately we were limited when we drove it last spring due to the land slides and road closures. DO they have all of that squared away Now?

  • Oh wow – three days. Many years ago i did this trip in about a day and a half. the scenery is beautiful but it definitely was not enough. i had no time to stop and really enjoy the incredible sights en route as my flight was calling me. I barely made it

  • Suruchi says:

    Road trips are always exciting and ai like the fact that you can stop your car anywhere to take pictures. The view of sky dazzled in neon shades looks awesome from you hotel balcony. Those bridges are so phogenic and lovely. OMG! those landscapes are actually breathtaking

  • Lucy says:

    Congratulations on your wedding and it looks like you had a great honeymoon. The Coastal scenery is beautiful and the Cannery Row Brewing Company sounds fun, especially the pretzel!

  • Megan Jerrard says:

    I love this part of the world – and how incredible that you eloped here! We did a road trip from San Diego to Alaska, up the Highway 101 – Monterey was one of my favorite stops, and you’re right, there’s so much wildlife! We missed the whale migration, but LOVED visiting the elephant seals. So glad you had a fabulous time – and congrats on the ELOPEMENT! I always dreamed of just taking off for an intimate ceremony and not telling anyone lol!

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