A small stretch in the Big Sur section of the scenic 1,055km highway had to be closed after a major landslide in May brought down a million tonnes of rock and dirt down on the road. A year and USD54 million later, the debris has been cleared and the road restored with reinforcements. The adventure is back on, warranting this checklist of scenic pit stops you should make along the highway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Read also: When is the best time to visit California?
#1 Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Santa Cruz
Assuming you’ve already done the requisite stops in and around San Francisco (consider the Golden Gate Bridge your starting point for extra summertime movie drama), the Santa Cruz boardwalk is easily one of the first stops you should make. The oceanfront amusement park is the perfect setting to fuel up and people-watch.
#2 Lone Cypress, Pebble Beach
Right after Santa Cruz, you’ll be treated to the beautiful sight of Monterey Bay, ending in Monterey city itself at the south. Further to the sea Pebble Beach, where you’ll find the Lone Cypress, which is something of an American icon – a single cypress tree growing out of a hillside facing the Pacific.
Honestly, kick yourself if you forget to bring your beach gear. Carmel has beautiful white sand beaches you’ll want to roll around in all day (well, not all day – you still have a long way to go!). A common feature of the charming town is the cottage-style architecture.
#4 Big Sur!
The start of the drive along Big Sur will have you cut through the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, so it’s all trees at first. And suddenly, you turn a corner and the view of the Pacific Ocean hits you like the chorus of your favourite summer anthem (you’ll want to get that song ready).
Along the way, photo opportunities are aplenty. Either wing it, or look out for these (in order of the drive south): China Cove, Calla Lily Valley (best to visit in the spring), Garrapata Beach, Castle Rock viewpoint, Hurricane Point view (one of the highest points in Big Sur), and Big Creek Bridge.
#5 Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur
Just a short drive off Highway 1 is Pfeiffer Beach, where a unique rock formation with a strategically placed keyhole arch that frames the setting sun like it’s the door to heaven.
#6 McWay Falls, Big Sur
You’ve probably seen this Big Sur attraction in photos before: a waterfall that empties straight into the ocean. But there’s nothing like actually seeing the 24m-tall McWay Falls for yourself, so it’s worth the short hike off the road.
#7 Elephant Seal Vista Point, San Simeon
There are actually a few other wild animal-viewing points throughout Highway 1, but the elephant seals are pretty popular. Possible events during your stop: elephant seals nursing pups, fighting, or demonstrating the perfect beach bum stance.
#8 Beaches! More beaches!
At this point in your trip you’d be glad for any chance to get out of the car, so be sure to see Pismo State Beach’s famous sand dunes and go for a walk at El Matador State Beach, where natural stone structures and shady caves will keep your camera shutter finger busy.
#9 La La Land
Congratulations! You’ve made it to Los Angeles! Let’s break out a pop culture reference/celebratory photo of that cute dance between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling! The city of angels is too big for us to sum up in a paragraph, so read up here to see where you should visit.
Read also: Our 6 favourite beaches in Los Angeles
Before you go
Remember, there are no set rules to your road trip. The best kinds are ones that you shape to suit you and your companions, so no list out there – even this one! – is the one. You should still have a few plans laid out in advance, as well as a mobile phone with internet access in case you get lost or want to make a other spontaneous stops on the way.
Read also: 7 of the world’s most epic road trips