California Route 1 – Pacifica to Santa Barbara

Supposed to be the most scenic drive in US, this route offers something for everyone.Starting from California’s northern border and extending down all the way to Southern California(ends in San Diego), the route is full of stunning coastal views,seaside towns,designated vista points,wineries,agricultural farmlands and untouched forests.We decided to drive the highway during Christmas weekend thinking that it would be less crowded but surprisingly,it was not.It was business as usual for most of the hotels,restaurants,shops and attractions.We decided to drive from Pacifica to Santa Barbara which was a 350 mile drive with many highlights during the road trip.The drive can be completed in 7hr 30mins at leisurely pace without stopping anywhere but we completed it in 2 days.This drive can be done anytime of the year,but be prepared for the chilly coastal winds.


Started early morning at 9am from Pacifica after having a delicious brunch at a local joint named Breakers Breakfast,Brunch and Lunch.It is a very small town spread along the coastal beaches and popular for surfing.

Violent waters of Pacifica

Santa Cruz

Passing through Half Moon bay and driving along the coast for about 1hr 30mins, you will find yourself in beautiful old school American town.Don’t forget to checkout the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk which is a oceanfront amusement park with a rollercoaster ride called “Giant Dipper”.Take a walk around to look for vintage things.

Santa Cruz



It takes another hour to reach Monterey. Situated at the southern end of Monterey bay, the city served as a capital of California during Spanish rule.Famous for its rich history,California’s mission trails,world class golf courses and one of the best aquarium in US.Its worth to spend couple of days and explore the surrounding region.We stayed here for a night.Highlights of the city are Fisherman’s Wharf,Cannery Row and Monterey Bay.Another interesting place to look out for is Monarch Grove butterfly sanctuary.Thousands of Monarch butterflies make a stop at Pacific grove Eucalyptus trees during their migration to warmer climate.They form clusters on the bark of the trees to maintain body temperature.Unfortunately, we were not able to spot any cluster in the sanctuary:-( .Their migration time is between October and February.

A rocky beach in Monterey


Another drive to explore in the region is 17 mile drive.It starts from Pacific Grove and ends at Pebble beach.Before entering the drive, you get well marked driving map with around 20 vista points to stop.Allow couple of hours to explore the region and violent sea.

Sunset – 17 Mile Drive


Carmel – By – The – Sea is another cute European Style beach town on Monterey’s peninsula which is worth a stop.Filled with shops,art galleries,cottages and white beaches makes it a perfect romantic weekend gateway.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park


Big Sur

Now comes the highlight of the entire drive – The Big Sur. It is the rugged stretch of 90 miles between Carmel and San Simeon full of breathtaking vista points,seaside cliffs,steep turning roads and rocky beaches with violent waves.Surrounded by mountains from one side and pacific ocean from another,the drive offers the picturesque coastal views.Get ready to stop the car every 5 mins.

One of the Vista point at Big Sur

Garrapata State park is another place to stop.Take a small hike on the cliff to get the exceptional coastline views. En route to one of the most photographed bridges in California due to its perfect location and magnificent architecture- Bixby bridge.

A Vista point overlooking Bixby bridge

There are many more well marked vista points and state parks on the Big Sur drive which will  catch your attention.About 4 miles ahead, Nepenthe is an indoor-outdoor restaurant above the sea and famous for its views,worth stopping and having a small bite.

View from Nepenthe


San Simeon

Hearst castle is the other place to stop if you would like to take the castle tour.The tour was closed on Christmas day so we couldn’t do it.

After passing through few more vista points, you will reach Piedras Blancas Elephant seal rookery.It is popular spot to observe elephant seals and has viewing areas.These lazy mammoth sized mammals arrive at the coast for breeding.Females are much smaller than their male counterparts.Males are first to arrive and they fight each other for dominance.Some fight ends with roaring and weird posturing.You can see seals fighting on the coast.Females associate themselves with dominant males.They give birth to a pup in few months and return back to the water.They were hunted for their oil and once reduced to the brink of extinction but the population is back under legal protection.

Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery


Morro Bay

It is a small coastal village in San Luis Obispo county, California.Famous for the Morro Rock – a rock standing isolated in the ocean.The scenic coastal view ends here.As you move further on Route 1 towards Santa Barbara, there are not many vista points to look for but the drive along the coast is good.The drive takes you through uncountable wineries,lush green agricultural farmlands and greenhouse horticultural fields.

On the way to Morro Bay


Santa Barbara

It takes another couple of hours to reach Santa Barbara from Morro Bay.The city is full of beautiful beaches with blue shores.Full of white buildings with red tile roof,palm trees and Santa Ynez mountains in the background reflecting the Spanish heritage.Downtown has many upscale restaurants(special mention – Galanga Thai restaurant) serving local wines.You might encounter many sand artists creating sand art on beach while taking a walk.We stayed in city for one night.You can explore more on Segway or on a bike depending upon the time in hand.

Santa Barbara beach


It is difficult to complete the entire Route 1 drive in one shot as there are so many things to see and explore.Because of limited time,we decided to finish the journey here and come back later for other half of Route 1(between Santa Barbara and San Diego).

Stay Tuned !


Route Map

Pacific Coast Highway






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