17 January 2019 by Simon Langley
Playing a starring role in the American Dream and Hollywood’s silver screen, road trips have become synonymous with the culture of the United States. And, from the beatnik movement of the 1950s to overloaded Dust-Bowl jalopies heading out west, California, at the terminus of Route 66, has always been the ultimate road-trip destination. It’s something that remains true to this day, with stunning coastal scenery linking some of the world’s greatest cities with vineyard delights and national-park wonders.
Then, within California, it’s the Pacific Coast Highway that’s become the iconic route. Connecting San Francisco in the north and Los Angeles in the south, it comprises some 600 miles of spectacular coastline. There’s also plenty more in between Hollywood’s glitz and the Bay Area’s Alcatraz islands and Golden-Gate treasures. Heading south from the Victorian rooftops of San Francisco, wooded hills will see you on to the dolphins and whales of Monterey, before you arrive at Big Sur – 71 miles of rugged coastline showcased on winding roads and hopping bridges. It’s one of the world’s most spectacular drives.
It’s then time for some white-sands relaxation at Pismo Beach, a step back to the 1950s complete with surfer chic and retro restaurants. Be sure to also head inland for some of the region’s most prestigious wineries, before you continue on to Santa Barbara’s famous lobster suppers. A drive past the millionaires’ mansions of Malibu will then see you finish in Santa Monica – a fitting conclusion to one of the world’s greatest road trips in the ultimate road-trip destination.
However, if you don’t want it all to end, you can easily add on plenty of iconic Californian experiences. Perhaps turn out of San Francisco to sample Napa’s award-winning wines, or continue south of Los Angeles to take in San Diego’s laidback idyll. You might even want to hop over to the bright lights of Las Vegas.
Our top trip: Pacific Coast Highway Tour
Taking in many of the destinations mentioned above, our recommended 12-day route is something of a who’s who of this most famous of roads. You’ll begin in San Francisco, marveling at the city’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge and exploring neighbourhoods both bohemian and cutting edge. It’s then time to hit the road, calling into Monterey before skirting the plunging sea cliffs of spectacular Big Sur. The landscapes flattens out, as sweeping vineyards and gold-sand beaches see you south, via pretty Cambria and its resident seals to laid-back Santa Barbara and, finally, Santa Monica at the northern tip of Los Angeles.