You’d be hard-pressed to find a more spectacularly awesome stretch of pavement for a road trip than Highway 1, aka California State Route 1, aka the 1. From breezy little beach towns to windy roads along rugged cliffs, stunning views of the Pacific to protected preserves full of wildlife, it’s a drive that everyone should take at least once. Whether you plan to do the entire stretch or break it up into shorter trips, we’ve laid out some of the most iconic stops along the way for you to make the most of the drive. Just don’t forget to pack some snacks.
Debatable: It’s Fine To Recline Your Seat On a Plane
If you want to get technical -- and we know you do -- you can start your journey at the southernmost point of Highway 1 just under the 5 at the end of Camino Las Ramblas. From there you can head down the road and grab a burger and a beer right on the sand of Doheny State Beach at Boneyard Beach Cafe, or there’s Two Left Forks for a slightly more upscale option -- think short rib poutine and cocktails. If you’re hoping to do a bit of whale- and dolphin-watching, Captain Dave has you covered with tours. Or if you dig historical ships (and who doesn’t?!), you’ll definitely want to check out the Pilgrim, a full-sized replica of a sailing brig from 1825 at the Ocean Institute. Or you could just cruise around the picturesque marina before hitting the road.
In case you didn’t believe us before when we told you that Newport Beach is actually a road trip-worthy destination, we thought we’d remind you of some of the awesome things to do here. Feel like drinking booze on a boat while cruising around the channel? Rent a Duffy. Or maybe you’d prefer to show off your athletic prowess and paddleboard around Balboa island? Totally cool, too. Heck, why not strap on a jetpack and fly above the harbor while you’re at it? Done and done. You could even hit the arcade and ride the Ferris wheel instead. No judgments here. And remember, if all else fails, there’s always money in the banana stand.
For anyone living in LA, this may not seem like the wildest stop on the 1, but if you’re taking a coastal cruise, you might as well at least stop for a selfie. And while you’re at it, maybe you want to devour some excellent fish & chips with an ocean view at Malibu Seafood. Just remember that it’s BYOB, and to expect a line. Or maybe you'll just soak in the view from Point Dume, or squeeze in a bit of beach time at El Matador.
LA County’s neighbors to the northwest are often overlooked for road trips because of sheer proximity, but there are plenty of great spots in Ventura to check out without having to venture far from the road. (And for sake of clarity, this is one of the points where the 1 overlaps or, ahem, runs concurrently with the 101, so nobody panic.) If you’re a bivalve fan, you’re definitely going to want to stop at San Buenaventura State Beach for the The Jolly Oyster’s food trucks -- one of which serves as a raw bar where you can shuck your own oysters and clams, the other hawking tasty prepared bites like oyster tacos or crab claws. You can also BYOB and post up at one of the picnic tables -- just get there early. There you can also rent some sweet chopper bicycles and cruise along the beach down to the Ventura Pier. And if you get thirsty from all of that fun, hit up Topa Topa Brewing or Anacapa Brewing Company for a cold one.
While you could easily carve out an extended visit to explore laid-back Santa Barbara -- aka the American Riviera -- there’s also plenty to check out even for a quick road-trip stop or a weekend escape. Just off the 1/101 (again the overlap here), you’ll want to hit up the Funk Zone, which (aside from describing the smell of your car after hours of driving) is a hip little hood with wine tasting rooms, good grub, art galleries, and shops. For an excellent wood-fired pizza or sandwich, turn up at the Lucky Penny, or for a more upscale option, hit up The Lark. For frosty beverages and live music, you can stop by Figueroa Mountain Brewing or sample local wines at the Santa Barbara Wine Collective. Or if you’re craving lobster tacos and a cool ocean breeze, head out to Stearns Wharf and check out the Santa Barbara Shellfish Co.
Who needs the schmancy tasting rooms and rolling estates of wine country when you can sip quality vintages at the Lompoc Wine Ghetto? The ghetto-fabulously-named area features no-frills tasting rooms of great local wineries in a sort of office park neighborhood tucked behind the Home Depot. It’s also where the 1 crosses over with the 246, so you might as well make a pit stop. And should you decide that a round of disc golf is just what you need after the tasting rooms, head over to Beattie Park for the 18-hole course. Or if you’re more into things like freedom and horses, then make your way to the Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary.
San Luis Obispo
If you’re in need of a bit of beach time, want to explore some world-renowned sea caves, or maybe squeeze a visit to some hot springs, stop off the 1 at Avila Beach. Then you can head up to easy-going SLO, which is continually rated as one of the friendliest places in the country. Feel the love as you stroll through the pedestrian-friendly Downtown and grab the famous tri-tip sandwich at Firestone Grill or a beer at SLO Brew. And if you’ve got some ABC (already been chewed) gum, head over to Bubblegum Alley to add to the kinda gross, but totally impressive collection on the walls. If you’re staying the night, you really should stay at the Madonna Inn, the kitschy, 1950s-era hotel where each room is decorated more outlandishly than the last, like the stone walls of the Caveman Room, or the wagon wheels of the Yahoo room.
Cayucos is mostly a sleepy little seaside town, but if you’re passing this way, you must stop here to eat at Ruddell’s Smokehouse. Seriously. Order up several smoked fish tacos with apple slaw, grab a cold beverage from the liquor store around the corner, and sit out on the beach for lunch. You can thank us later. Oh yeah, and grab some road snacks at the Brown Butter Cookie Co.
While we don’t usually recommend visiting some old dead guy’s house on a road trip, we’ll make an exception for the former abode of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Man, did this guy know how to live. Head up to the stunning estate -- watch for roaming zebras as you take the tour bus up the hill (seriously!) -- and take a guided tour through the opulent rooms full of priceless works of art, check out the Neptune Pool, and wander around the palatial grounds while enjoying incredible views.
Cruising along one of the most gorgeous stretches of the California coastline, you really can’t go too wrong anywhere you look. But there are a few highlights of Big Sur that you don’t want to miss. For one, you’ll want to stop for a breathtaking view and photo op at McWay Falls, an 80ft waterfall that drops from granite cliffs onto the shore. If you’re looking to grab a bite with spectacular views, make your way to Nepenthe. Or, if you’d prefer to eat a delicious burger and drink a beer while sitting in a river, stop by The Big Sur River Inn. You’ll also probably want to visit the historic Point Sur Lighthouse for killer views, and definitely stop for a photo at the Bixby Creek Bridge, one of the tallest single-span concrete bridges in the world.
If you’re a fan of adorably charming and quaint seaside towns with colorful cottages, art galleries, and boutique shops, boy have we the place for you. And if you happened to bring your dog on the trip, they love dogs here. Also, fun facts: Clint Eastwood was once the mayor, and you must have a permit to wear high heels (for safety, people!). You can spend the day hanging on the beach, visit the historic Carmel Mission, grab a bite at La Bicyclette, or stock up on candy at the Cottage of Sweets. You could also take a detour along 17 Mile Dr to soak up views of the rugged coastline, the 250-year-old Lone Cypress tree, sea lions, and the famous Pebble Beach Golf Links. Just know you’ll have to pony up for the toll.
You’ll likely want to spend a bit of time in Monterey, just around the bend from Carmel. Prepare to fall in love with some otters and have your mind blown by the sea life at the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. And while historic Cannery Row is a bit on the touristy side, it’s still worth a stroll. If you’re looking for a great bite to eat in a landmark home, stop by 1833 Restaurant, where you can chow down on delicious bacon cheddar biscuits and order up an absinthe cart to your table.
There are tons of delicious reasons to stop in this mellow surf/college town for a bite and a drink, so you’ll likely want to plan on staying at least a night. If you’re a surfer or just a surfing fan, you’ll likely want to visit the Surfing Museum -- Santa Cruz is, after all, credited with being where surfing was first brought to the mainland -- followed by a stop at the Jack O’Neill Lounge for a great view and refreshments. And you’ll want to carve out time for the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, which -- despite being a little touristy -- is California’s oldest amusement park, and worth a visit. Now, whether you’re willing to ride one of the few remaining wooden roller-coasters there is up to you.
Half Moon Bay
While you may not be ready to take on the massive waves of Mavericks, the iconic surf spot of Half Moon Bay, there’s still plenty to check out along this stretch of coastline. Bring cash and enjoy some fried goodness at Barbara’s Fishtrap. Or head further up the road to the historic Moss Beach Distillery, which was a popular speakeasy during Prohibition and home to a ghost known as “The Blue Lady.” Then, if you aren’t too spooked, make your way to the Point Montara Lighthouse, a still-working lighthouse built in 1875, where you can take in the view while sipping an espresso. And if you need a place to crash, the lighthouse also happens to have a hostel.
Let’s see, there’s gotta be something to do around here. Hmmm... oh, right.
Assuming you’re cool with heights -- and at this point in the coastline, we hope you are -- then you’re definitely going to want to take the short trek down the stairs to the Muir Beach Overlook. The view is mind-bending. We just hope you have enough memory on your phone for all of the selfies you’re about to take. Also, you’ll probably want a picture inside one of those WWII artillery bunkers on the side of the stairs.
Oh man, there is so much to take in here, you’ll want to carve out a big chunk of time and be ready for windy roads. There are lush forests, sweeping vistas of the Pacific, beautiful beaches, meadows of wildflowers, roaming tule elk, and -- oh hey, wait, is that a meadery, where they make delicious sparkling mead? And is that Cowgirl Creamery, where they make ridiculously good cheese? And the awesome Hog Island Oyster Farm, with beautiful views of Tomales Bay? OK, time for a picnic stop to reflect on all that natural beauty. You’ll also probably want to make a side detour to visit the famous Cypress Tree Tunnel, which looks like a magical portal back to The Shire, before heading out to the Point Reyes Lighthouse.
Driving along the 1 through Sonoma County takes you along a particularly stunning stretch of coastline, beginning with beautiful Bodega Bay. Take a side trip out to Bodega Head, a small promontory with steep cliffs and gorgeous views, which nearly became the site of a nuclear power plant. Thanks to activists in the early ‘60s, it's now a great place to spot migrating gray whales. Bodega Bay is also where Hitchcock’s The Birds was filmed, so you’ll probably want to keep your eyes peeled skyward just in case. You’ll also want to stop in at the Spud Point Crab Company for a crab sandwich and a cup of clam chowder, and you may want to hit Gourmet Au Bay to sip wine flights on an adorable mini surfboard while enjoying views of the bay.
The Point Arena Lighthouse is tied with Pigeon Point (oh, you can stop there, too) as the tallest lighthouse on the West Coast at 115ft, and is definitely worth a visit. You’ll definitely want to make your way up the 145 steps to the top for incredible, 360-degree views. They even do night tours on the full moon of each month, which is either totally rad or totally spooky depending on who you ask. Before you get to the lighthouse, you also may want to stop at Bowling Ball Beach, where at low tide you can see rocks that look like, yep, you guessed it.
Normally we wouldn’t endorse dumping a bunch of trash on the beach. But thanks to the massive amounts of junk pushed over the cliffs by Fort Bragg residents in the first half of the 20th century, you can now enjoy beaches covered in colorful sea glass. Take lots of photos at Glass Beach, but like Honey Bunny, be cool and leave the glass behind for others to enjoy. You’ll also want to check out the historic Pudding Creek Trestle, a former railway bridge used for logging that is now a cool pedestrian walkway, but for some reason has no actual pudding. Bummer.
Congratulations, you’ve made it to the northern end of Highway 1! Or maybe you’re starting your road trip here? Either way, you totally deserve to drive your car through the Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree. Seriously, it’s a required photo op. Then stop by the Rising Sun Cafe for burgers and fried plantains because, again, you deserve it.
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Danny Jensen is a regular Thrillist contributor who is always down for a road trip, especially when it involves mead, oysters and mind-bending ocean views. You can find him with the engine running on Instagram and Twitter.