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Ultimate California Road Trip Pacific Coast Highway Guide


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We just completed the California road trip of a lifetime! Our favourite part of the California road trip Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) was between Monterey and Big Sur! It’s famously one of the best parts of this coastal highway with incredible lookout spots, amazing hiking trails and unique places to eat and sleep. With the help of Visit California and See Monterey we put together a handy guide to road tripping this region. 

For the rest of our California road trip Pacific Coast Highway recommendations visit our posts on 5 Unique Things to do in Sonoma: Ziplines, Treehouses, Wineries & More, and 8 Best Yosemite Hikes and Lookouts for Epic Photos.


Highway 1 lookout spot near Big Sur

1. Rocky Creek Bridge. Similar to the Bixby Bridge, this coastal concrete arch bridge on the coast of Big Sur is less popular and as a result easier to get photos of!

2. Hurricane Point. One of the highest points along Highway 1, this famous hiking spot overlooks the Pacific and the Bixby Bridge. Fun fact: It’s also the highest elevation during the Big Sur Marathon!

3. McWay Falls. An untouched beach, part of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, with an 80-foot waterfall that reaches the ocean at high tide. Hike to the viewpoint just half a mile off the parking lot.

California Road Trip Pacific Coast Highway
Bixby Bridge

4. Malpaso Creek Beach. Just south of the Carmel Highlands, this unmarked beach is a hidden gem in Northern California. Use the map app on your phone to find it! It’s a short hike down to the beach but because it’s so hidden you’ll likely have the beach to yourself. Enjoy the serene views of the ocean to the west and a Highway 1 bridge to the east.

5. Bixby Bridge. The most popular lookout spot because of its beautiful ocean views, viewpoints and the look of this unique bridge. Because it’s so popular we recommend checking out the Rocky Creek Bridge, a great alternative with similar architecture, views and a better chance at finding parking. If you want to see the Bixby Bridge we suggest going early in the morning when it’s less crowded.


Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. Hiking the Point Lobos loop trail is a must-do. And of course checking out the waterfront, where the turquoise water hits the lime stone beautifully. There are tons of wildlife in the area so stop and watch for some sea otters, sea lions or even whales. We love that this California road trip will bring you to so many sea animals! Note: There is a fee to enter this reserve. Arrive early to avoid lineups at the gate.

Spa Alila

Spa Alila. Zen out at the spa at Ventana Big Sur Resort where they have a unique Japanese bath which is rare to find in North American spas. Alila now offers day passes for non-hotel guests so you don’t have to stay at Ventana Big Sur to visit this spa anymore. The spa has its own bar area where guests can order drinks and food and enjoy them by the pool. There are beautiful views of the ocean and forest from many relaxation spots around the spa. We recommend booking a private outdoor cabana to experience nature overlooking a lush forest while you enjoy your spa services.

Kayak in Monterey Bay. Kayak the bay with Adventures by the Sea and visit the otters, seals, and sea lions, they’re so cute! We learned SO MUCH about sea animals during this kayaking tour. We’ll share some facts we learned but the rest you need to go and check out for yourself! Fun fact: Male sea lions live in the Monterey Bay area and the females live in Santa Barbara. The males can get up to 800 pounds! They migrate to each other during mating season but live separately the rest of the year! And, did you know? Sea otters are an endangered species and are protected in California. Kayakers need to stay at least 50 feet away from them at all times. While you’re in the area, check out the Santa Cruz boardwalk, or visit the aquarium. There is so much to do in Monterey Bay.

Downtown Monterey. The main street of downtown Monterey is Alvarado Street. Walk or bike down this main street and check out the many shops and restaurants throughout this historic area.


Spindrift Inn

Spindrift Inn. A boutique hotel in the heart of Monterey with so much character. Rooms have iconic oceanfront views, with an amazing location walking distance to Cannery Row, a row of amazing restaurants and shops. It’s also walking distance to the aquarium and easy access to the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail.

Ventana Big Sur – Alila Spa

Ventana Big Sur. An upscale nature resort set amongst the redwood forest with incredible views overlooking the Pacific ocean. A stay here includes all meals, non-alcoholic drinks, and participation in their wellbeing programs. It’s a truly unique place that really encourages you to relax, unwind and find yourself. We had such a peaceful stay here and recommend it to everyone!


Glass House at The Sur House

The Sur House. This is the restaurant at Ventana Big Sur, and actually if you stay there all of your meals here are included! The menu is Big Sur-inspired and features fresh ingredients from their expansive organic garden. For a private dining experience book at the “Glass House” and enjoy breathtaking views from your own little oasis. The Glass House is perfect for anniversaries, proposals and micro weddings. It has sunset views overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Nepenthe. Right off the highway, this uniquely decorated spot has the most incredible views. They serve traditional California fare and are famously known for their “Ambrosia Burger” and homemade desserts.

Wild Plum Cafe. If you’re like us and try to eat fairly healthy on vacation, you’ll want to try this cute little lunch spot while you’re in Monterey. It’s an eco-friendly spot serving fresh, organic and delicious cuisine.

Chez Noir

Chez Noir. Located in Carmel-by-the-Sea, this Michelin Star restaurant is unique in that they serve everyday meals in a luxurious way, using micro-seasonal ingredients sourced locally from the Monterey Peninsula. The atmosphere here is cozy, casual and inviting.

The drive along the highway from Monterey to Big Sur has views that will blow you away. We enjoyed some of the most incredible fresh food along the way, and of course relaxed at some beautiful and unique hotels. If you’re visiting California, we highly recommend doing a California road trip along the pacific coast highway.

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