Planning the PCH road trip was definitely fun, but daunting because there are so many little towns and scenic vista points that you can pull off at to take in the views. Before tackling the Napa & San Francisco travel guides I wanted to share my favorite stops we made along the highway.
Malibu || Just 30 minutes outside of Santa Monica, Malibu is situated along 27 miles of coastal beauty. Amazing homes, beaches & great shopping - this basically sums up Malibu for me. Before stopping for lunch we went to the Malibu Country Mart which is anything but country. It's an outdoor shopping mall with high end designers and quick, but delicious eateries. In an effort to see more of Malibu we went to Paradise Cove & ate outside at the cafe for lunch- then took a little time to walk around the beach.
Solvang & Santa Ynez Valley|| You could take or leave Solvang which is a Danish settlement in the Santa Ynez Valley complete with windmills and all. We made our way to Solvang via the valley after Santa Barbara which is about a 40 minute drive and the views of the mountains along the drive were worth the trip alone. We only spent about an hour walking through the little town center, but made sure to enjoy an Ebelskiver, a traditional Danish pancake!
Elephant Seal Beach || Right before we weren't able to go any further on the road to Monterey - we stopped at Elephant Seal Beach. There were so many of them sleeping & sunning themselves. It was really neat to see and they were adorable!
The risk you take doing a PCH trip is that the roads can often close without a warning - this can be due to slides, too much rain or any reason really. Unfortunately for us the road between Ragged Point and Big Sur was closed - meaning we couldn't drive all the way through on Highway 1 on our way to Monterey. So there was some backtracking that had to be done to see Bixby Bridge, but we saw it, which was all I was concerned with.
Carmel-by-the-Sea / Monterey || This was actually an overnight for us & one of my favorite stops during our trip. If you've been watching Big Little Lies this is basically where the entire show takes place and it's just as amazing as it seems on TV. We stayed in an Airbnb within the Pebble Beach Community. We were able to catch a sunset at the beach before dinner & it would have been amazing to stay at least one more night to actually enjoy the cute little beach town because the shopping looked amazing, but we'll just have to go back!
17 Mile drive is the stretch of the PCH that is in Pebble Beach Golf Resort. The golf course looks over the ocean & the houses are just incredible. We stopped 10 or so times just to look at all the houses! Usually there is a $10 fee to drive the stretch, but since we were staying within the gated community we didn't have to pay the fee - just an added bonus.
Big Sur || I was most excited for the Bixby Bridge in Big Sur. It's the one you see in practically every travel book of California and if you watch Big Little Lies, they drive over the bridge in every episode. Which fun fact - they actually don't have to since they all live in Monterey & there is no need to drive over the bridge for them - I think they do it for effect! For a lot of folks, Big Sur is an overnight stop, usually for a few days because there are national parks, springs & a lot to see and do if you didn't want to overnight in Monterey / Carmel-by-the-Sea. I'm actually pretty happy we chose not to make Big Sur a bigger part of our itinerary because it would have been thrown for a loop with the closures. The one time in my life NOT being outdoorsy came in handy!
Nice if you have the time ||
Morro Bay & San Luis Obispo || The guide book said that there was a "not to miss big rock" in Morro Bay - so we stopped to see the rock. Like I said, if you have the time this town is super cute to explore, but we literally hopped out of the car, took a picture near the rock & then continued on to Pismo Beach. You can drive up super close onto the actual "island" where the rock is, but we didn't. I guess I should say the rock is actually a volcanic plug - so that's what makes it interesting.
Santa Cruz || I think a few folks will be surprised that this is a "nice if you have the time" stop for me, but I just wasn't wowed by Santa Cruz. We stopped here for lunch on our way to Napa. It's a super eclectic and perhaps if we would have checked out the boardwalk this would have become a "must see" for me. It does have a few sister cities, including one in Italy & you can see it in the architecture. I also witnessed someone getting arrested which sort of freaked me out causing this to not be one of my favorite stops.
Hearst Castle || We didn't have enough time to check out Hearst Castle & didn't make a reservation for tickets ahead of time. If we were to go I would have been more interested in the outside of the property rather than how the castle was decorated so I'm sort of happy that it was overcast because I didn't feel like I missed anything.
I know this was super long, so if you got through it, thank you! I did want to mention, that while planning my own trip it was hard to find a full itinerary. I found a few that were 5 or 7 days long, but none that were 10 days. So at the end of all my travel guides, I will be sharing a full itinerary that will basically be a snapshot of everything we did.
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