We left off in one of my favorite areas, Big Sur. Simply put -- and the main reason to include this in your road trip planning -- Big Sur offers stunning views. It’s that stretch of highway where land meets sea in a jaw-dropping way because the Santa Lucia Mountains rise like colossal sentries from the Pacific Ocean. I must confess to gripping the armrest a bit as we rounded some bends because of the sheer drop to the ocean below. Exhilarating!
While some would suggest a more direct route south by taking the inland Highway 101 or even the mid-land Highway 5, I recommend staying on Highway 1 for an unforgettable coastal road trip. This way, your Road Trip Planner will include highlights like hiking at Limekiln State Park, and treasure hunting at Jade Beach, one of the few places in the world where you can find quality Jade strewn about like pebbles.
After all that hiking and beach combing, settle into your road trip with a scenic drive along the Cabrillo Highway till it turns into the San Luis Obispo North Coast Highway. Soon you’ll find San Simeon, home of the opulent Hearst Castle. Hearst Castle is the palatial estate built by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. It’s one of the largest of historic house museums in the U.S. and well worth the ticket price for the informative tour. Believe me, you’ll be ogling all the sumptuous finery found here!
Now here’s where I’ll recommend cutting over to Highway 101 to discover a California city with a decidedly Danish twist, Solvang. I found it utterly charming, with stores offering delicate lace and handmade quilts, Danish cuisine in quaint restaurants, and a European flavor to the buildings lining the main streets.
Of course, you can’t be away from the ocean for too long and heading into Santa Barbara will give you the quintessential California coastal city experience. If you want to taste the salt air & be completely surrounded by water, then add to your road trip planner a stop near Oxford, where you can hop aboard the ferry to the Channel Islands. As you walk around these beaches, you’ll get a feel for what the land looked like before civilization descended because these islands have remained relatively isolated for 1000s of years. But if you’re looking more for culture than nature, then plan instead to take the ferry near Newport Beach to Santa Catalina Island & explore the appealing city of Avalon. This is a popular cruise stop destination so you can enjoy glass-bottom boat rides, take a trolley car up to some lush gardens, or enjoy snorkeling to the left of the pier (on the pier, facing land).
Below Oxnard, you’ll find the sexy city of Malibu, full of opulent homes on the lolling hills and beautiful bodies on the beaches. Be sure to enjoy the Santa Monica Pier as you continue south. It’s a fun place to spend the evening. But you’ll definitely want daylight to people-watch the myriad of characters found at Venice Beach.
By now, you’re in the thick of Southern California, a region where sunglasses, shorts, and flip-flops are the main attire. Newport Beach is another well-to-do city worthy of a stop in your road trip planning. As well as the Dana Point Harbor, one of the prettiest harbors I’ve seen in a long time. Nearby, you’ll find San Juan Capistrano, another great cultural stop, this time with a Spanish twist, as you stroll the grounds of the California icon, Mission San Juan Capistrano.
Now it’s San Diego time, the biggest southern city before you hit the Mexican border! There you’ll find a thriving city with distinct areas like Little Italy, the Gaslamp Quarter, and Balboa Park. Include in your road trip plans a fun side trip by driving to an island, compliments of the San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge. You’ll easily spot the famous Hotel Del Coronado, a sprawling white and red-roofed resort, which housed Presidents, movie stars & tycoons in its illustrious past. From there, scoot along the Silver Stand Highway just for the sheer enjoyment of cruising a highway flanked by water on both sides. For even more fun, enjoy a sunset gondola ride and pretend you’re in Venice, Italy! From there, you’re less than 5 miles from the Mexico border with San Ysidro being the southernmost California community.
So there you have it. Between this blog and Cruisin’ The Northern California Coastline Road Trip – Part I, you’ve now hugged the California coastline from bow to stern, complete with side-trips that the locals would recommend. To do this road trip justice, I’d recommend at least two weeks. But however you fill your Road Trip Planner, you’re guaranteed awesome photos, spectacular sunsets, and a lot of cool cruisin!