Pacific Coast Highway
Central Coast, California
As far as scenic drives go, there’s none more stunning or famous than central California’s Pacific Coast Highway, from Morro Bay to Carmel-by-the-Sea. Perhaps it’s the drive’s proximity to Hollywood or California’s long love affair with the car and freeway that have made this route the granddaddy of world-renowned road trips. Or maybe it’s simply the inspirational mix of splendid coastal scenery accentuated by picture-perfect towns on either end. Regardless, this drive is on the bucket list of many world travelers. This video essay begins on the southside. Morro Bay's charming harbor is framed by fishing boats with the imposing, round Morro Rock in the background. The drive heads north, stopping at Point Piedras Blancas, one of the world’s top spots to view elephant seals. After this, the road tightens, hanging onto cliffs high above the Pacific. It’s incredible to imagine prisoners from San Quentin helping to build this harrowing road. Inmates earned 35 cents a day and had their sentences reduced. Construction started in 1919 and finished 18 year later on June 17, 1937. During the build, millions of cubic yards of rock were blown away and 33 bridges were constructed. The highway features numerous pullouts and passes through several small communities including Big Sur, the most well-known town along the way. Although Highway 1 continues, the truly scenic part ends at a sunset-perfect beach in Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Best Time to Visit
Part of central California’s appeal is the pleasant year-round weather. So the highway is frequently busy, particularly on weekends. And it requires almost constant maintenance because of its precarious location. Rockslides and mudslides are always a concern so it’s essential to monitor conditions before heading out.
Route & Map
4 hours with stops
Morro Bay, Carmel-by-the-Sea and Big Sur each maintain useful travel planning websites. Big Sur also gives Highway 1 updates. Additionally, you can monitor road conditions with Caltrans, California’s Department of Transportation.